The Sunrise Silents Library
THE GARDEN OF ALLAH (BOOK VI)
By ROBERT HICHENS
CONTENTSBOOK I. PRELUDE
BOOK II. THE VOICE OF PRAYER
BOOK III. THE GARDEN
BOOK IV. THE JOURNEY
BOOK V. BOOK V. THE REVELATION
BOOK VI. THE JOURNEY BACK
CHAPTERS (BOOK VI)CHAPTER XXVII
BOOK VI. THE JOURNEY BACK
The good priest of Amara, strolling by chance at the dinner-hour of the following day towards the camp of the hospitable strangers, was surprised and saddened to find only the sand-hill strewn with debris. The tents, the camels, the mules, the horses—all were gone. No servants greeted him. No cook was busy. No kind hostess bade him come in and stay to dine. Forlornly he glanced around and made inquiry. An Arab told him that in the morning the camp had been struck and ere noon was far on its way towards the north. The priest had been on horseback to an neighbouring oasis, so had heard nothing of this flitting. He asked its explanation, and was told a hundred lies. The one most often repeated was to the effect that Monsieur, the husband of Madame, was overcome by the heat, and that for this reason the travellers were making their way towards the cooler climate that lay beyond the desert.
As he heard this a sensation of loneliness came to the priest. His usually cheerful countenance was overcast with gloom. For a moment he loathed his fate in the sands and sighed for the fleshpots of civilisation. With his white umbrella spread above his helmet he stood still and gazed towards the north across the vast spaces that were lemon-yellow in the sunset. He fancied that on the horizon he saw faintly a cloud of sand grains whirling, and imagined it stirred up by the strangers' caravan. Then he thought of the rich lands of the Tell, of the olive groves of Tunis, of the blue Mediterranean, of France, his country which he had not seen for many years. He sighed profoundly.
"Happy people," he thought to himself. "Rich, free, able to do as they like, to go where they will! Why was I born to live in the sand and to be alone?"
He was moved by envy. But then he remembered his intercourse with Androvsky on the previous day.
"After all," he thought more comfortably, "he did not look a happy man!" And he took himself to task for his sin of envy, and strolled to the inn by the fountain where he paid his pension.
The same day, in the house of the marabout of Beni-Hassan, Count Anteoni received a letter brought from Amara by an Arab. It was as follows:
"MY DEAR FRIEND: Good-bye. We are just leaving. I had expected to be here longer, but we must go. We are returning to the north and shall not penetrate farther into the desert. I shall think of you, and of your journey on among the people of your faith. You said to me, when we sat in the tent door, that now you could pray in the desert. Pray in the desert for us. And one thing more. If you never return to Beni-Mora, and your garden is to pass into other hands, don't let it go into the hands of a stranger. I could not bear that. Let it come to me. At any price you name. Forgive me for writing thus. Perhaps you will return, or perhaps, even if you do not, you will keep your garden.—Your Friend, DOMINI."
In a postscript was an address which would always find her.
Count Anteoni read this letter two or three times carefully, with a grave face.
"Why did she not put Domini Androvsky?" he said to himself. He locked the letter in a drawer. All that night he was haunted by thoughts of the garden. Again and again it seemed to him that he stood with Domini beside the white wall and saw, in the burning distance of the desert, at the call of the Mueddin, the Arabs bowing themselves in prayer, and the man—the man to whom now she had bound herself by the most holy tie—fleeing from prayer as if in horror.
"But it was written," he murmured to himself. "It was written in the sand and in fire: 'The fate of every man have we bound about his neck.'"
In the dawn when, turning towards the rising sun, he prayed, he remembered Domini and her words: "Pray in the desert for us." And in the Garden of Allah he prayed to Allah for her, and for Androvsky.
Meanwhile the camp had been struck, and the first stage of the journey northward, the journey back, had been accomplished. Domini had given the order of departure, but she had first spoken with Androvsky.
After his narrative, and her words that followed it, he did not come into the tent. She did not ask him to. She did not see him in the moonlight beyond the tent, or when the moonlight waned before the coming of the dawn. She was upon her knees, her face hidden in her hands, striving as surely few human beings have ever had to strive in the difficult paths of life. At first she had felt almost calm. When she had spoken to Androvsky there had even been a strange sensation that was not unlike triumph in her heart. In this triumph she had felt disembodied, as if she were a spirit standing there, removed from earthly suffering, but able to contemplate, to understand, to pity it, removed from earthly sin, but able to commit an action that might help to purge it.
When she said to Androvsky, "Now you can pray," she had passed into a region where self had no existence. Her whole soul was intent upon this man to whom she had given all the treasures of her heart and whom she knew to be writhing as souls writhe in Purgatory. He had spoken at last, he had laid bare his misery, his crime, he had laid bare the agony of one who had insulted God, but who repented his insult, who had wandered far away from God, but who could never be happy in his wandering, who could never be at peace even in a mighty human love unless that love was consecrated by God's contentment with it. As she stood there Domini had had an instant of absolutely clear sight into the depths of another's heart, another's nature. She had seen the monk in Androvsky, not slain by his act of rejection, but alive, sorrow- stricken, quivering, scourged. And she had been able to tell this monk —as God seemed to be telling her, making of her his messenger—that now at last he might pray to a God who again would hear him, as He had heard him in the garden of El-Largani, in his cell, in the chapel, in the fields. She had been able to do this. Then she had turned away, gone into the tent and fallen upon her knees.
But with that personal action her sense of triumph passed away. As her body sank down her soul seemed to sink down with it into bottomless depths of blackness where no light had ever been, into an underworld, airless, peopled with invisible violence. And it seemed to her as if it was her previous flight upward which had caused this descent into a place which had surely never before been visited by a human soul. All the selflessness suddenly vanished from her, and was replaced by a burning sense of her own personality, of what was due to it, of what had been done to it, of what it now was. She saw it like a cloth that had been white and that now was stained with indelible filth. And anger came upon her, a bitter fury, in which she was inclined to cry out, not only against man, but against God. The strength of her nature was driven into a wild bitterness, the sweet waters became acrid with salt. She had been able a moment before to say to Androvsky, almost with tenderness, "Now at last you can pray." Now she was on her knees hating him, hating—yes, surely hating—God. It was a frightful sensation.
Soul and body felt defiled. She saw Androvsky coming into her clean life, seizing her like a prey, rolling her in filth that could never be cleansed. And who had allowed him to do her this deadly wrong? God. And she was on her knees to this God who had permitted this! She was in the attitude of worship. Her whole being rebelled against prayer. It seemed to her as if she made a furious physical effort to rise from her knees, but as if her body was paralysed and could not obey her will. She remained kneeling, therefore, like a woman tied down, like a blasphemer bound by cords in the attitude of prayer, whose soul was shrieking insults against heaven.
Presently she remembered that outside Androvsky was praying, that she had meant to join with him in prayer. She had contemplated, then, a further, deeper union with him. Was she a madwoman? Was she a slave? Was she as one of those women of history who, seized in a rape, resigned themselves to love and obey their captors? She began to hate herself. And still she knelt. Anyone coming in at the tent door would have seen a woman apparently entranced in an ecstasy of worship.
This great love of hers, to what had it brought her? This awakening of her soul, what was its meaning? God had sent a man to rouse her from sleep that she might look down into hell. Again and again, with ceaseless reiteration, she recalled the incidents of her passion in the desert. She thought of the night at Arba when Androvsky blew out the lamp. That night had been to her a night of consecration. Nothing in her soul had risen up to warn her. No instinct, no woman's instinct, had stayed her from unwitting sin. The sand-diviner had been wiser than she; Count Anteoni more far-seeing; the priest of Beni-Mora more guided by holiness, by the inner flame that flickers before the wind that blows out of the caverns of evil. God had blinded her in order that she might fall, had brought Androvsky to her in order that her religion, her Catholic faith, might be made hideous to her for ever. She trembled all over as she knelt. Her life had been sad, even tormented. And she had set out upon a pilgrimage to find peace. She had been led to Beni-Mora. She remembered her arrival in Africa, its spell descending upon her, her sensation of being far off, of having left her former life with its sorrows for ever. She remembered the entrancing quiet of Count Anteoni's garden, how as she entered it she seemed to be entering an earthly Paradise, a place prepared by God for one who was weary as she was weary, for one who longed to be renewed as she longed to be renewed. And in that Paradise, in the inmost recess of it, she had put her hands against Androvsky's temples and given her life, her fate, her heart into his keeping. That was why the garden was there, that she might be led to commit this frightful action in it. Her soul felt physically sick. As to her body—but just then she scarcely thought of the body. For she was thinking of her soul as of a body, as if it were the core of the body blackened, sullied, destroyed for ever. She was hot with shame, she was hot with a fiery indignation. Always, since she was a child, if she were suddenly touched by anyone whom she did not love, she had had an inclination to strike a blow on the one who touched her. Now it was as if an unclean hand had been laid on her soul. And the soul quivered with longing to strike back.
Again she thought of Beni-Mora, of all that had taken place there. She realised that during her stay there a crescendo of calm had taken place within her, calm of the spirit, a crescendo of strength, spiritual strength, a crescendo of faith and of hope. The religion which had almost seemed to be slipping from her she had grasped firmly again. Her soul had arrived in Beni-Mora an invalid and had become a convalescent.
It had been reclining wearily, fretfully. In Beni-Mora it had stood up, walked, sung as the morning stars sang together. But then—why? If this was to be the end—why—why?
And at this question she paused, as before a great portal that was shut. She went back. She thought again of this beautiful crescendo, of this gradual approach to the God from whom she had been if not entirely separated at any rate set a little apart. Could it have been only in order that her catastrophe might be the more complete, her downfall the more absolute?
And then, she knew not why, she seemed to see in the hands that were pressed against her face words written in fire, and to read them slowly as a child spelling out a great lesson, with an intense attention, with a labour whose result would be eternal recollection:
"Love watcheth, and sleeping, slumbereth not. When weary it is not tired; when straitened it is not constrained; when frightened it is not disturbed; but like a vivid flame and a burning torch it mounteth upwards and securely passeth through all. Whosover loveth knoweth the cry of this voice."
The cry of this voice! At that moment, in the vast silence of the desert, she seemed to hear it. And it was the cry of her own voice. It was the cry of the voice of her own soul. Startled, she lifted her face from her hands and listened. She did not look out at the tent door, but she saw the moonlight falling upon the matting that was spread upon the sand within the tent, and she repeated, "Love watcheth—Love watcheth—Love watcheth," moving her lips like the child who reads with difficulty. Then came the thought, "I am watching."
The passion of personal anger had died away as suddenly as it had come. She felt numb and yet excited. She leaned forward and once more laid her face in her hands.
"Love watcheth—I am watching." Then a moment—then—"God is watching me."
She whispered the words over again and again. And the numbness began to pass away. And the anger was dead. Always she had felt as if she had been led to Africa for some definite end. Did not the freed negroes, far out in the Desert, sing their song of the deeper mysteries—"No one but God and I knows what is in my heart"? And had not she heard it again and again, and each time with a sense of awe? She had always thought that the words were wonderful and beautiful. But she had thought that perhaps they were not true. She had said to Androvsky that he knew what was in her heart. And now, in this night, in its intense stillness, close to the man who for so long had not dared to pray but who now was praying, again she thought that they were not quite true. It seemed to her that she did not know what was in her heart, and that she was waiting there for God to come and tell her. Would He come? She waited. Patience entered into her.
The silence was long. Night was travelling, turning her thoughts to a distant world. The moon waned, and a faint breath of wind that was almost cold stole over the sands, among the graves in the cemetery, to the man and the woman who were keeping vigil upon their knees. The wind died away almost ere it had risen, and the rigid silence that precedes the dawn held the desert in its grasp. And God came to Domini in the silence, Allah through Allah's garden that was shrouded still in the shadows of night. Once, as she journeyed through the roaring of the storm, she had listened for the voice of the desert. And as the desert took her its voice had spoken to her in a sudden and magical silence, in a falling of the wind. Now, in a more magical silence, the voice of God spoke to her. And the voice of the desert and of God were as one. As she knelt she heard God telling her what was in her heart. It was a strange and passionate revelation. She trembled as she heard. And sometimes she was inclined to say, "It is not so." And sometimes she was afraid, afraid of what this—all this that was in her heart— would lead her to do. For God told her of a strength which she had not known her heart possessed, which—so it seemed to her—she did not wish it to possess, of a strength from which something within her shrank, against which something within her protested. But God would not be denied. He told her she had this strength. He told her that she must use it. He told her that she would use it. And she began to understand something of the mystery of the purposes of God in relation to herself, and to understand, with it, how closely companioned even those who strive after effacement of self are by selfishness—how closely companioned she had been on her African pilgrimage. Everything that had happened in Africa she had quietly taken to herself, as a gift made to her for herself.
The peace that had descended upon her was balm for her soul, and was sent merely for that, to stop the pain she suffered from old wounds that she might be comfortably at rest. The crescendo—the beautiful crescendo—of calm, of strength, of faith, of hope which she had, as it were, heard like a noble music within her spirit had been the David sent to play upon the harp to her Saul, that from her Saul the black demon of unrest, of despair, might depart. That was what she had believed. She had believed that she had come to Africa for herself, and now God, in the silence, was telling her that this was not so, that He had brought her to Africa to sacrifice herself in the redemption of another. And as she listened—listened, with bowed head, and eyes in which tears were gathering, from which tears were falling upon her clasped hands—she knew that it was true, she knew that God meant her to put away her selfishness, to rise above it. Those eagle's wings of which she had thought—she must spread them. She must soar towards the place of the angels, whither good women soar in the great moments of their love, borne up by the winds of God. On the minaret of the mosque of Sidi-Zerzour, while Androvsky remained in the dark shadow with a curse, she had mounted, with prayer, surely a little way towards God. And now God said to her, "Mount higher, come nearer to me, bring another with you. That was my purpose in leading you to Beni-Mora, in leading you far out into the desert, in leading you into the heart of the desert."
She had been led to Africa for a definite end, and now she knew what that end was. On the mosque of the minaret of Sidi-Zerzour she had surely seen prayer travelling, the soul of prayer travelling. And she had asked herself—"Whither?" She had asked herself where was the halting-place, with at last the pitched tent, the camp fires, and the long, the long repose? And when she came down into the court of the mosque and found Androvsky watching the old Arab who struck against the mosque and cursed, she had wished that Androvsky had mounted with her a little way towards God.
He should mount with her. Always she had longed to see him above her. Could she leave him below? She knew she could not. She understood that God did not mean her to. She understood perfectly. And tears streamed from her eyes. For now there came upon her a full comprehension of her love for Androvsky. His revelation had not killed it, as, for a moment, in her passionate personal anger, she had been inclined to think. Indeed it seemed to her now that, till this hour of silence, she had never really loved him, never known how to love. Even in the tent at Arba she had not fully loved him, perfectly loved him. For the thought of self, the desires of self, the passion of self, had entered into and been mingled with her love. But now she loved him perfectly, because she loved as God intended her to love. She loved him as God's envoy sent to him.
She was still weeping, but she began to feel calm, as if the stillness of this hour before the dawn entered into her soul. She thought of herself now only as a vessel into which God was pouring His purpose and His love.
Just as dawn was breaking, as the first streak of light stole into the east and threw a frail spear of gold upon the sands, she was conscious again of a thrill of life within her, of the movement of her unborn child. Then she lifted her head from her hand, looking towards the east, and whispered:
"Give me strength for one more thing—give me strength to be silent!"
She waited as if for an answer. Then she rose from her knees, bathed her face and went out to the tent door to Androvsky.
"Boris!" she said.
He rose from his knees and looked at her, holding the little wooden crucifix in his hand.
"Domini?" he said in an uncertain voice.
"Put it back into your breast. Keep it for ever, Boris."
As if mechanically, and not removing his eyes from her, he put the crucifix into his breast. After a moment she spoke again, quietly.
"Boris, you never wished to stay here. You meant to stay here for me. Let us go away from Amara. Let us go to-day, now, in the dawn."
"Us!" he said.
There was a profound amazement in his voice.
"Yes," she answered.
"Away from Amara—you and I—together?"
"Yes, Boris, together."
"Where—where can we go?"
The amazement seemed to deepen in his voice. His eyes were watching her with an almost fierce intentness. In a flash of insight she realised that, just then, he was wondering about her as he had never wondered before, wondering whether she was really the good woman at whose feet his sin-stricken soul had worshipped. Yes, he was asking himself that question.
"Boris," she said, "will you leave yourself in my hands? We have talked of our future life. We have wondered what we should do. Will you let me do as I will, let the future be as I choose?"
In her heart she said "as God chooses."
"Yes, Domini," he answered. "I am in your hands, utterly in your hands."
"No," she said.
Neither of them spoke after that till the sunlight lay above the towers and minarets of Amara. Then Domini said:
"We will go to-day—now."
And that morning the camp was struck, and the new journey began—the journey back.
A silence had fallen between Domini and Androvsky which neither seemed able to break. They rode on side by side across the sands towards the north through the long day. The tower of Amara faded in the sunshine above the white crests of the dunes. The Arab villages upon their little hills disappeared in the quivering gold. New vistas of desert opened before them, oases crowded with palms, salt lakes and stony ground. They passed by native towns. They saw the negro gardeners laughing among the rills of yellow water, or climbing with bare feet the wrinkled tree trunks to lop away dead branches. They heard tiny goatherds piping, solitary, in the wastes. Dreams of the mirage rose and faded far off on the horizon, rose and faded mystically, leaving no trembling trace behind. And they were silent as the mirage, she in her purpose, he in his wonder. And the long day waned, and towards evening the camp was pitched and the evening meal was prepared. And still they could not speak.
Sometimes Androvsky watched her, and there was a great calm in her face, but there was no rebuke, no smallness of anger, no hint of despair. Always he had felt her strength of mind and body, but never so much as now. Could he rest on it? Dared he? He did not know. And the day seemed to him to become a dream, and the silence recalled to him the silence of the monastery in which he had worshipped God before the stranger came. He thought that in this silence he ought to feel that she was deliberately raising barriers between them, but—it was strange—he could not feel this. In her silence there was no bitterness. When is there bitterness in strength? He rode on and on beside her, and his sense of a dream deepened, helped by the influence of the desert. Where were they going? He did not know. What was her purpose? He could not tell. But he felt that she had a purpose, that her mind was resolved. Now and then, tearing himself with an effort from the dream, he asked himself what it could be. What could be in store for him, for them, after the thing he had told? What could be their mutual life? Must it not be for ever at an end? Was it not shattered? Was it not dust, like the dust of the desert that rose round their horses' feet? The silence did not tell him, and again he ceased from wondering and the dream closed round him. Were they not travelling in a mirage, mirage people, unreal, phantomlike, who would presently fade away into the spaces of the sun? The sand muffled the tread of the horses' feet. The desert understood their silence, clothed it in a silence more vast and more impenetrable. And Androvsky had made his effort. He had spoken the truth at last. He could do no more. He was incapable of any further action. As Domini felt herself to be in the hands of God, he felt himself to be in the hands of this woman who had received his confession with this wonderful calm, who was leading him he knew not whither in this wonderful silence.
When the camp was pitched, however, he noticed something that caught him sharply away from the dreamlike, unreal feeling, and set him face to face with fact that was cold as steel. Always till now the dressing-tent had been pitched beside their sleeping-tent, with the flap of the entrance removed so that the two tents communicated. To-night it stood apart, near the sleeping-tent, and in it was placed one of the small camp beds. Androvsky was alone when he saw this. On reaching the halting-place he had walked a little way into the desert. When he returned he found this change. It told him something of what was passing in Domini's mind, and it marked the transformation of their mutual life. As he gazed at the two tents he felt stricken, yet he felt a curious sense of something that was like—was it not like— relief? It was as if his body had received a frightful blow and on his soul a saint's hand had been gently laid, as if something fell about him in ruins, and at the same time a building which he loved, and which for a moment he had thought tottering, stood firm before him founded upon rock. He was a man capable of a passionate belief, despite his sin, and he had always had a passionate belief in Domini's religion. That morning, when she came out to him in the sand, a momentary doubt had assailed him. He had known the thought, "Does she love me still—does she love me more than she loves God, more than she loves his dictates manifested in the Catholic religion?" When she said that word "together" that had been his thought. Now, as he looked at the two tents, a white light seemed to fall upon Domini's character, and in this white light stood the ruin and the house that was founded upon a rock. He was torn by conflicting sensations of despair and triumph. She was what he had believed. That made the triumph. But since she was that where was his future with her? The monk and the man who had fled from the monastery stood up within him to do battle. The monk knew triumph, but the man was in torment.
Presently, as Androvsky looked at the two tents, the monk in him seemed to die a new death, the man who had left the monastery to know a new resurrection. He was seized by a furious desire to go backward in time, to go backward but a few hours, to the moment when Domini did not know what now she knew. He cursed himself for what he had done. At last he had been able to pray. Yes, but what was prayer now, what was prayer to the man who looked at the two tents and understood what they meant? He moved away and began to walk up and down near to the two tents. He did not know where Domini was. At a little distance he saw the servants busy preparing the evening meal. Smoke rose up before the cook's tent, curling away stealthily among a group of palm trees, beneath which some Arab boys were huddled, staring with wide eyes at the unusual sight of travellers. They came from a tiny village at a short distance off, half hidden among palm gardens. The camels were feeding. A mule was rolling voluptuously in the sand. At a well a shepherd was watering his flocks, which crowded about him baaing expectantly. The air seemed to breathe out a subtle aroma of peace and of liberty. And this apparent presence of peace, this vision of the calm of others, human beings and animals, added to the torture of Androvsky. As he walked to and fro he felt as if he were being devoured by his passions, as if he were losing the last vestiges of self-control. Never in the monastery, never even in the night when he left it, had he been tormented like this. For now he had a terrible companion whom, at that time, he had not known. Memory walked with him before the tents, the memory of his body, recalling and calling for the past.
He had destroyed that past himself. But for him it might have been also the present, the future. It might have lasted for years, perhaps till death took him or Domini. Why not? He had only had to keep silence, to insist on remaining in the desert, far from the busy ways of men. They could have lived as certain others lived, who loved the free, the solitary life, in an oasis of their own, tending their gardens of palms. Life would have gone like a sunlit dream. And death? At that thought he shuddered. Death—what would that have been to him? What would it be now when it came? He put the thought from him with force, as a man thrusts away from him the filthy hand of a clamouring stranger assailing him in the street.
This evening he had no time to think of death. Life was enough, life with this terror which he had deliberately placed in it.
He thought of himself as a madman for having spoken to Domini. He cursed himself as a madman. For he knew, although he strove furiously not to know, how irrevocable was his act, in consequence of the great strength of her nature. He knew that though she had been to him a woman of fire she might be to him a woman of iron—even to him whom she loved.
How she had loved him!
He walked faster before the tents, to and fro.
How she had loved him! How she loved him still, at this moment after she knew what he was, what he had done to her. He had no doubt of her love as he walked there. He felt it, like a tender hand upon him. But that hand was inflexible too. In its softness there was firmness— firmness that would never yield to any strength in him.
Those two tents told him the story of her strength. As he looked at them he was looking into her soul. And her soul was in direct conflict with his. That was what he felt. She had thought, she had made up her mind. Quietly, silently she had acted. By that action, without a word, she had spoken to him, told him a tremendous thing. And the man—the passionate man who had left the monastery—loose in him now was aflame with an impotent desire that was like a heat of fury against her, while the monk, hidden far down in him, was secretly worshipping her cleanliness of spirit.
But the man who had left the monastery was in the ascendant in him, and at last drove him to a determination that the monk secretly knew to be utterly vain. He made up his mind to enter into conflict with Domini's strength. He felt that he must, that he could not quietly, without a word, accept this sudden new life of separation symbolised for him by the two tents standing apart.
He stood still. In the distance, under the palms, he saw Batouch laughing with Ouardi. Near them Ali was reposing on a mat, moving his head from side to side, smiling with half-shut, vacant eyes, and singing a languid song.
This music maddened him.
"Batouch!" he called out sharply. "Batouch!"
Batouch stopped laughing, glanced round, then came towards him with a large pace, swinging from his hips.
"Batouch!" Androvsky said.
But he could not go on. He could not say anything about the two tents to a servant.
"Where—where is Madame?" he said almost stammering.
"Out there, Monsieur."
With a sweeping arm the poet pointed towards a hump of sand crowned by a few palms. Domini was sitting there, surrounded by Arab children, to whom she was giving sweets out of a box. As Androvsky saw her the anger in him burnt up more fiercely. This action of Domini's, simple, natural though it was, seemed to him in his present condition cruelly heartless. He thought of her giving the order about the tents and then going calmly to play with these children, while he—while he——
"You can go, Batouch," he said. "Go away."
The poet stared at him with a superb surprise, then moved slowly towards Ouardi, holding his burnous with his large hands.
Androvsky looked again at the two tents as a man looks at two enemies. Then, walking quickly, he went towards the hump of sand. As he approached it Domini had her side face turned towards him. She did not see him. The little Arabs were dancing round her on their naked feet, laughing, showing their white teeth and opening their mouths wide for the sugar-plums—gaiety incarnate. Androvsky gazed at the woman who was causing this childish joy, and he saw a profound sadness. Never had he seen Domini's face look like this. It was always white, but now its whiteness was like a whiteness of marble. She moved her head, turning to feed one of the little gaping mouths, and he saw her eyes, tearless, but sadder than if they had been full of tears. She was looking at these children as a mother looks at her children who are fatherless. He did not—how could he?—understand the look, but it went to his heart. He stopped, watching. One of the children saw him, shrieked, pointed. Domini glanced round. As she saw him she smiled, threw the last sugar-plums and came towards him.
"Do you want me?" she said, coming up to him.
His lips trembled.
"Yes," he said, "I want you."
Something in his voice seemed to startle her, but she said nothing more, only stood looking at him. The children, who had followed her, crowded round them, touching their clothes curiously.
"Send them away," he said.
She made the children go, pushing them gently, pointing to the village, and showing the empty box to them. Reluctantly at last they went towards the village, turning their heads to stare at her till they were a long way off, then holding up their skirts and racing for the houses.
"Domini—Domini," he said. "You can—you can play with children— to-day."
"I wanted to feel I could give a little happiness to-day," she answered—"even to-day."
"To-day when—when to me—to me—you are giving——"
But before her steady gaze all the words he had meant to say, all the words of furious protest, died on his lips.
"To me—to me—" he repeated.
Then he was silent.
"Boris," she said, "I want to give you one thing, the thing that you have lost. I want to give you back peace."
"You never can."
"I must try. Even if I cannot I shall know that I have tried."
"You are giving me—you are giving me not peace, but a sword," he said.
She understood that he had seen the two tents.
"Sometimes a sword can give peace."
"The peace of death."
"Boris—my dear one—there are many kinds of deaths. Try to trust me. Leave me to act as I must act. Let me try to be guided—only let me try."
He did not say another word.
That night they slept apart for the first time since their marriage.
"Domini, where are you taking me? Where are we going?"
* * * * * *
The camp was struck once more and they were riding through the desert. Domini hesitated to answer his question. It had been put with a sort of terror.
"I know nothing," he continued. "I am in your hands like a child. It cannot be always so. I must know, I must understand. What is our life to be? What is our future? A man cannot—"
He paused. Then he said:
"I feel that you have come to some resolve. I feel it perpetually. It is as if you were in light and I in darkness, you in knowledge and I in ignorance. You—you must tell me. I have told you all now. You must tell me."
But she hesitated.
"Not now," she answered. "Not yet."
"We are to journey on day by day like this, and I am not to know where we are going! I cannot, Domini—I will not."
"Boris, I shall tell you."
"Will you trust me, Boris, completely? Can you?"
"Boris, I have prayed so much for you that at last I feel that I can act for you. Don't think me presumptuous. If you could see into my heart you would see that—indeed, I don't think it would be possible to feel more humble than I do in regard to you."
"Humble—you, Domini! You can feel humble when you think of me, when you are with me."
"Yes. You have suffered so terribly. God has led you. I feel that He has been—oh, I don't know how to say it quite naturally, quite as I feel it—that He has been more intent on you than on anyone I have ever known. I feel that His meaning in regarding to you is intense, Boris, as if He would not let you go."
"He let me go when I left the monastery."
"Does one never return?"
Again a sensation almost of terror assailed him. He felt as if he were fighting in darkness something that he could not see.
"Return!" he said. "What do you mean?"
She saw the expression of almost angry fear in his face. It warned her not to give the reins to her natural impulse, which was always towards a great frankness.
"Boris, you fled from God, but do you not think it possible that you could ever return to Him? Have you not taken the first step? Have you not prayed?" His face changed, grew slightly calmer.
"You told me I could pray," he answered, almost like a child. "Otherwise I—I should not have dared to. I should have felt that I was insulting God."
"If you trusted me in such a thing, can you not trust me now?"
"But"—he said uneasily—"but this is different, a worldly matter, a matter of daily life. I shall have to know."
"Then why should I not know now? At any moment I could ask Batouch."
"Batouch only knows from day to day. I have a map of the desert. I got it before we left Beni-Mora."
Something—perhaps a very slight hesitation in her voice just before she said the last words—startled him. He turned on his horse and looked at her hard.
"Domini," he said, "are we—we are not going back to Beni-Mora?"
"I will tell you to-night," she replied in a low voice. "Let me tell you tonight."
He said no more, but he gazed at her for a long time as if striving passionately to read her thoughts. But he could not. Her white face was calm, and she rode looking straight before her, as one that looked towards some distant goal to which all her soul was journeying with her body. There was something mystical in her face, in that straight, far-seeing glance, that surely pierced beyond the blue horizon line and reached a faroff world. What world? He asked himself the question, but no answer came, and he dropped his eyes. A new and horrible sadness came to him, a new sensation of separation from Domini. She had set their bodies apart, and he had yielded. Now, was she not setting something else apart? For, in spite of all, in spite of his treacherous existence with her, he had so deeply and entirely loved her that he had sometimes felt, dared to feel, that in their passion in the desert their souls had been fused together. His was black—he knew it—and hers was white. But had not the fire and the depth of their love conquered all differences, made even their souls one as their bodies had been one? And now was she not silently, subtly, withdrawing her soul from his? A sensation of acute despair swept over him, of utter impotence.
"Domini!" he said, "Domini!"
"Yes," she answered.
And this time she withdrew her eyes from the blue distance and looked at him.
"Domini, you must trust me."
He was thinking of the two tents set the one apart from the other.
"Domini, I've borne something in silence. I haven't spoken. I wanted to speak. I tried—but I did not. I bore my punishment—you don't know, you'll never know what I felt last—last night—when—I've borne that. But there's one thing I can't bear. I've lived a lie with you. My love for you overcame me. I fell. I have told you that I fell. Don't—don't because of that—don't take away your heart from me entirely. Domini—Domini—don't do that."
She heard a sound of despair in his voice.
"Oh, Boris," she said, "if you knew! There was only one moment when I fancied my heart was leaving you. It passed almost before it came, and now—"
"But," he interrupted, "do you know—do you know that since—since I spoke, since I told you, you've—you've never touched me?"
"Yes, I know it," she replied quietly.
Something told him to be silent then. Something told him to wait till the night came and the camp was pitched once more.
They rested at noon for several hours, as it was impossible to travel in the heat of the day. The camp started an hour before they did. Only Batouch remained behind to show them the way to Ain-la-Hammam, where they would pass the following night. When Batouch brought the horses he said:
"Does Madame know the meaning of Ain-la-Hammam?"
"No," said Domini. "What is it?"
"Source des tourterelles," replied Batouch. "I was there once with an English traveller."
"Source des tourterelles," repeated Domini. "Is it beautiful, Batouch? It sounds as if it ought to be beautiful."
She scarcely knew why, but she had a longing that Ain-la-Hammam might be tender, calm, a place to soothe the spirit, a place in which Androvsky might be influenced to listen to what she had to tell him without revolt, without despair. Once he had spoken about the influence of place, about rising superior to it. But she believed in it, and she waited, almost anxiously, for the reply of Batouch. As usual it was enigmatic.
"Madame will see," he answered. "Madame will see. But the Englishman——"
"The Englishman was ravished. 'This,' he said to me, 'this, Batouch, is a little Paradise!' And there was no moon then. To-night there will be a moon."
"Paradise!" exclaimed Androvsky.
He sprang upon his horse and pulled up the reins. Domini said no more. They had started late. It was night when they reached Ain-la-Hammam. As they drew near Domini looked before her eagerly through the pale gloom that hung over the sand. She saw no village, only a very small grove of palms and near it the outline of a bordj. The place was set in a cup of the Sahara. All around it rose low hummocks of sand. On two or three of them were isolated clumps of palms. Here the eyes roamed over no vast distances. There was little suggestion of space. She drew up her horse on one of the hummocks and gazed down. She heard doves murmuring in their soft voices among the trees. The tents were pitched near the bordj.
"What does Madame think?" asked Batouch. "Does Madame agree with the Englishman?"
"It is a strange little place," she answered.
She listened to the voices of the doves. A dog barked by the bordj.
"It is almost like a hiding-place," she added.
Androvsky said nothing, but he, too, was gazing intently at the trees below them, he, too, was listening to the voices of the doves. After a moment he looked at her.
"Domini," he whispered. "Here—won't you—won't you let me touch your hand again here?"
"Come, Boris," she answered. "It is late."
They rode down into Ain-la-Hammam.
The tents had all been pitched near together on the south of the bordj, and separated by it from the tiny oasis. Opposite to them was a Cafe Maure of the humblest kind, a hovel of baked earth and brushwood, with earthen divans and a coffee niche. Before this was squatting a group of five dirty desert men, the sole inhabitants of Ain-la-Hammam. Just before dinner Domini gave an order to Batouch, and, while they were dining, Androvsky noticed that their people were busy unpegging the two sleeping-tents.
"What are they doing?" he said to Domini, uneasily. In his present condition everything roused in him anxiety. In every unusual action he discerned the beginning of some tragedy which might affect his life.
"I told Batouch to put our tents on the other side of the bordj," she answered.
"Yes. But why?"
"I thought that to-night it would be better if we were a little more alone than we are here, just opposite to that Cafe Maure, and with the servants. And on the other side there are the palms and the water. And the doves were talking there as we rode in. When we have finished dinner we can go and sit there and be quiet."
"Together," he said.
An eager light had come into his eyes. He leaned forward towards her over the little table and stretched out his hand.
"Yes, together," she said.
But she did not take his hand.
"Domini!" he said, still keeping his hand on the table, "Domini!"
An expression, that was like an expression of agony, flitted over her face and died away, leaving it calm.
"Let us finish," she said quietly. "Look, they have taken the tents! In a moment we can go."
The doves were silent. The night was very still in this nest of the Sahara. Ouardi brought them coffee, and Batouch came to say that the tents were ready.
"We shall want nothing more to-night, Batouch," Domini said. "Don't disturb us."
Batouch glanced towards the Cafe Maure. A red light gleamed through its low doorway. One or two Arabs were moving within. Some of the camp attendants had joined the squatting men without. A noise of busy voices reached the tents.
"To-night, Madame," Batouch said proudly, "I am going to tell stories from the Thousand and One Nights. I am going to tell the story of the young Prince of the Indies, and the story of Ganem, the Slave of Love. It is not often that in Ain-la-Hammam a poet—"
"No, indeed. Go to them, Batouch. They must be impatient for you."
Batouch smiled broadly.
"Madame begins to understand the Arabs," he rejoined. "Madame will soon be as the Arabs."
"Go, Batouch. Look—they are longing for you."
She pointed to the desert men, who were gesticulating and gazing towards the tents.
"It is better so, Madame," he answered. "They know that I am here only for one night, and they are eager as the hungry jackal is eager for food among the yellow dunes of the sand."
He threw his burnous over his shoulder and moved away smiling, and murmuring in a luscious voice the first words of Ganem, the Slave of Love.
"Let us go now, Boris," Domini said.
He got up at once from the table, and they walked together round the bordj.
On its further side there was no sign of life. No traveller was resting there that night, and the big door that led into the inner court was closed and barred. The guardian had gone to join the Arabs at the Cafe Maure. Between the shadow cast by the bordj and the shadow cast by the palm trees stood the two tents on a patch of sand. The oasis was enclosed in a low earth wall, along the top of which was a ragged edging of brushwood. In this wall were several gaps. Through one, opposite to the tents, was visible a shallow pool of still water by which tall reeds were growing. They stood up like spears, absolutely motionless. A frog was piping from some hidden place, giving forth a clear flute-like note that suggested glass. It reminded Domini of her ride into the desert at Beni-Mora to see the moon rise. On that night Androvsky had told her that he was going away. That had been the night of his tremendous struggle with himself. When he had spoken she had felt a sensation as if everything that supported her in the atmosphere of life and of happiness had foundered. And now—now she was going to speak to him—to tell him—what was she going to tell him? How much could she, dared she, tell him? She prayed silently to be given strength.
In the clear sky the young moon hung. Beneath it, to the left, was one star like an attendant, the star of Venus. The faint light of the moon fell upon the water of the pool. Unceasingly the frog uttered its nocturne.
Domini stood for a moment looking at the water listening. Then she glanced up at the moon and the solitary star. Androvsky stood by her.
"Shall we—let us sit on the wall, where the gap is," she said. "The water is beautiful, beautiful with that light on it, and the palms— palms are always beautiful, especially at night. I shall never love any other trees as I love palm trees."
"Nor I," he answered.
They sat down on the wall. At first they did not speak any more. The stillness of the water, the stillness of reeds and palms, was against speech. And the little flute-like note that came to them again and again at regular intervals was like a magical measuring of the silence of the night in the desert. At last Domini said, in a low voice:
"I heard that note on the night when I rode out of Beni-Mora to see the moon rise in the desert. Boris, you remember that night?"
"Yes," he answered.
He was gazing at the pool, with his face partly averted from her, one hand on the wall, the other resting on his knee.
"You were brave that night, Boris," she said.
"I—I wished to be—I tried to be. And if I had been—"
He stopped, then went on: "If I had been, Domini, really brave, if I had done what I meant to do that night, what would our lives have been to-day?"
"I don't know. We mustn't think of that to-night. We must think of the future. Boris, there's no life, no real life without bravery. No man or woman is worthy of living who is not brave."
He said nothing.
"Boris, let us—you and I—be worthy of living to-night—and in the future."
"Give me your hand then," he answered. "Give it me, Domini."
But she did not give it to him. Instead she went on, speaking a little more rapidly:
"Boris, don't rely too much on my strength. I am only a woman, and I have to struggle. I have had to struggle more than perhaps you will ever know. You—must not make—make things impossible for me. I am trying—very hard—to—I'm—you must not touch me to-night, Boris."
She drew a little farther away from him. A faint breath of air made the leaves of the palm trees rustle slightly, made the reeds move for an instant by the pool. He laid his hand again on the wall from which he had lifted it. There was a pleading sound in her voice which made him feel as if it were speaking close against his heart.
"I said I would tell you to-night where we are going."
"Tell me now."
"We are going back to Beni-Mora. We are not very far off from Beni- Mora to-night—not very far."
"We are going to Beni-Mora!" he repeated in a dull voice. "We are——"
He sat up on the wall, looking straight into her face.
"Why?" he said. His voice was sharp now, sharp with fear.
"Boris, do you want to be at peace, not with me, but with God? Do you want to get rid of your burden of misery, which increases—I know it— day by day?"
"How can I?" he said hopelessly.
"Isn't expiation the only way? I think it is."
"Expiation! How—how can—I can never expiate my sin."
"There's no sin that cannot be expiated. God isn't merciless. Come back with me to Beni-Mora. That little church—where you married me— come back to it with me. You could not confess to the—to Father Beret. I feel as if I knew why. Where you married me you will—you must—make your confession."
"To the priest who—to Father Roubier!"
There was fierce protest in his voice.
"It does not matter who is the priest who will receive your confession. Only make it there—make it in the church at Beni-Mora where you married me."
"That was your purpose! That is where you are taking me! I can't go, I won't! Domini, think what you are doing! You are asking too much—"
"I feel that God is asking that of you. Don't refuse Him."
"I cannot go—at Beni-Mora where we—where everything will remind us—"
"Ah, don't you think I shall feel it too? Don't you think I shall suffer?"
He felt horribly ashamed when she said that, bowed down with an overwhelming weight of shame.
"But our lives"—he stammered—"but—if I go—afterwards—if I make my confession—afterwards—afterwards?"
"Isn't it enough to think of that one thing? Isn't it better to put everything else, every other thought, away? It seems so clear to me that we should go to Beni-Mora. I feel as if I had been told—as a child is told to do something by its father."
She looked up into the clear sky.
"I am sure I have been told," she added. "I know I have."
There was a long silence between them. Androvsky felt that he did not dare to break it. Something in Domini's face and voice cast out from him the instinct of revolt, of protest. He began to feel exhausted, without power, like a sick man who is being carried by bearers in a litter, and who looks at the landscape through which he is passing with listless eyes, and who scarcely has the force to care whither he is being borne.
"Domini," he said at last, and his voice sounded very tired, "if you say I must go to Beni-Mora I will go. I have done you a great wrong and—and—"
"Don't think of me any more," she said. "Think—think as I do—of— of—— What am I? I have loved you, I shall always love you, but I am as you are, here for a little while, elsewhere for all eternity. You told him—that man in the monastery—that we are shadows set in a world of shadows."
"That was a lie," he interrupted, and the weariness had gone out of his voice. "When I said that I had never loved, I had never loved you."
"Or was it a half-truth? Aren't we, perhaps, shadow now in comparison —comparison to what we shall be? Isn't this world, even this—this desert, this pool with the light on it, this silence of the night around us—isn't all this a shadow in comparison to the world where we are going, you and I? Boris, I think if we are brave now we shall be together in that world. But if we are cowards now, I think, I am sure, that in that world—the real world—we shall be separated for ever. You and I, whatever we may be, whatever we may have done, at least are one thing—we are believers. We don't think this is all. If we did it would be different. But we can't change the truth that is in our souls, and as we can't change it we must live by it, we must act by it. We can't do anything else. I can't—and you? Don't you feel, don't you know, that you can't?"
"To-night," he said, "I feel that I know nothing—nothing except that I am suffering."
His voice broke on the last words. Tears were shining in his eyes. After a long silence he said:
"Domini, take me where you will. If it is to Beni-Mora I will go. But —but—afterwards?"
"Afterwards——" she said.
Then she stopped.
The little note of the frog sounded again and again by the still water among the reeds. The moon was higher in the sky. "Don't let us think of afterwards, Boris," she said at length. "That song we have heard together, that song we love—'No one but God and I knows what is in my heart.' I hear it now so often, always almost. It seems to gather meaning, it seems to—God knows what is in your heart and mine. He will take care of the—afterwards. Perhaps in our hearts already He has put a secret knowledge of the end."
"Has He—has He put it—that knowledge—into yours?"
"Hush!" she said.
They spoke no more that night.
The caravan of Domini and Androvsky was leaving Arba.
Already the tents and the attendants, with the camels and the mules, were winding slowly along the plain through the scrub in the direction of the mountains, and the dark shadow which indicated the oasis of Beni-Mora. Batouch was with them. Domini and Androvsky were going to be alone on this last stage of their desert journey. They had mounted their horses before the great door of the bordj, said goodbye to the Sheikh of Arba, scattered some money among the ragged Arabs gathered to watch them go, and cast one last look behind them.
In that mutual, instinctive look back they were both bidding a silent farewell to the desert, that had sheltered their passion, surely taken part in the joy of their love, watched the sorrow and the terror grow in it to the climax at Amara, and was now whispering to them a faint and mysterious farewell.
To Domini the desert had always been as a great and significant personality, a personality that had called her persistently to come to it. Now, as she turned on her horse, she felt as if it were calling her no longer, as if its mission to her were accomplished, as if its voice had sunk into a deep and breathless silence. She wondered if Androvsky felt this too, but she did not ask him. His face was pale and severe. His eyes stared into the distance. His hands lay on his horse's neck like tired things with no more power to grip and hold. His lips were slightly parted, and she heard the sound of his breath coming and going like the breath of a man who is struggling. This sound warned her not to try his strength or hers.
"Come, Boris," she said, and her voice held none of the passionate regret that was in her heart, "we mustn't linger, or it will be night before we reach Beni-Mora."
"Let it be night," he said. "Dark night!"
The horses moved slowly on, descending the hill on which stood the bordj.
"Dark—dark night!" he said again.
She said nothing. They rode into the plain. When they were there he said:
"Domini, do you understand—do you realise?"
"What, Boris?" she asked quietly.
"All that we are leaving to-day?"
"Yes, I understand."
"Are we—are we leaving it for ever?"
"We must not think of that."
"How can we help it? What else can we think of? Can one govern the mind?"
"Surely, if we can govern the heart."
"Sometimes," he said, "sometimes I wonder——"
He looked at her. Something in her face made it impossible for him to go on, to say what he had been going to say. But she understood the unfinished sentence.
"If you can wonder, Boris," she said, "you don't know me, you don't know me at all!"
"Domini," he said, "I don't wonder. But sometimes I understand your strength, and sometimes it seems to me scarcely human, scarcely the strength of a woman."
She lifted her whip and pointed to the dark shadow far away.
"I can just see the tower," she said. "Can't you?"
"I will not look," he said. "I cannot. If you can, you are stronger than I. When I remember that it was on that tower you first spoke to me—oh, Domini, if we could only go back! It is in our power. We have only to draw a rein and—and—"
"I look at the tower," she said, "as once I looked at the desert. It calls us, the shadow of the palm trees calls us, as once the desert did."
"But the voice—what a different voice! Can you listen to it?"
"I have been listening to it ever since we left Amara. Yes, it is a different voice, but we must obey it as we obeyed the voice of the desert. Don't you feel that?"
"If I do it is because you tell me to feel it; you tell me that I must feel it."
His words seemed to hurt her. An expression of pain came into her face.
"Boris," she said, "don't make me regret too terribly that I ever came into your life. When you speak like that I feel almost as if you were putting me in the place of—of—I feel as if you were depending upon me for everything that you are doing, as if you were letting your own will fall asleep. The desert brings dreams. I know that. But we, you and I, we must not dream any more."
"A dream, you call it—the life we have lived together, our desert life?"
"Boris, I only mean that we must live strongly now, act strongly now, that we must be brave. I have always felt that there was strength in you."
"Strength!" he said bitterly.
"Yes. Otherwise I could never have loved you. Don't ever prove to me that I was utterly wrong. I can bear a great deal. But that—I don't feel as if I could bear that."
After a moment he answered:
"I will try to give you nothing more to bear for me."
And he lifted his eyes and fixed them upon the tower with a sort of stern intentness, as a man looks at something cruel, terrible.
She saw him do this.
"Let us ride quicker," she said. "To-night we must be in Beni-Mora."
He said nothing, but he touched his horse with his heel. His eyes were always fixed upon the tower, as if they feared to look at the desert any more. She understood that when he had said "I will try to give you nothing more to bear for me," he had not spoken idly. He had waked up from the egoism of his despair. He had been able to see more clearly into her heart, to feel more rightly what she was feeling than he had before. As she watched him watching the tower, she had a sensation that a bond, a new bond between them, was chaining them together in a new way. Was it not a bond that would be strong and lasting, that the future, whatever it held, would not be able to break? Ties, sacred ties, that had bound them together might, must, be snapped asunder. And the end was not yet. She saw, as she gazed at the darkness of the palms of Beni-Mora, a greater darkness approaching, deeper than any darkness of palms, than any darkness of night. But now she saw also a ray of light in the gloom, the light of the dawning strength, the dawning unselfishness in Androvsky. And she resolved to fix her eyes upon it as he fixed his eyes upon the tower.
Just after sunset they rode into Beni-Mora in advance of the camp, which they had passed upon their way. To the right were the trees of Count Anteoni's garden. Domini felt them, but she did not look towards them. Nor did Androvsky. They kept their eyes fixed upon the distance of the white road. Only when they reached the great hotel, now closed and deserted, did she glance away. She could not pass the tower without seeing it. But she saw it through a mist of tears, and her hands trembled upon the reins they held. For a moment she felt that she must break down, that she had no more strength left in her. But they came to the statue of the Cardinal holding the double cross towards the desert like a weapon. And she looked at it and saw the Christ.
"Boris," she whispered, "there is the Christ. Let us think only of that tonight."
She saw him look at it steadily.
"You remember," she said, at the bottom of the avenue of cypresses—at El-Largani—Factus obediens usque ad mortem Crucis?"
"We can be obedient too. Let us be obedient too."
When she said that, and looked at him, Androvsky felt as if he were on his knees before her, as he was upon his knees in the garden when he could not go away. But he felt, too, that then, though he had loved her, he had not known how to love her, how to love anyone. She had taught him now. The lesson sank into his heart like a sword and like balm. It was as if he were slain and healed by the same stroke.
That night, as Domini lay in the lonely room in the hotel, with the French windows open to the verandah, she heard the church clock chime the hour and the distant sound of the African hautboy in the street of the dancers, she heard again the two voices. The hautboy was barbarous and provocative, but she thought that it was no more shrill with a persistent triumph. Presently the church bell chimed again.
Was it the bell of the church of Beni-Mora, or the bell of the chapel of El-Largani? Or was it not rather the voice of the great religion to which she belonged, to which Androvsky was returning?
When it ceased she whispered to herself, "Factus obediens usque ad mortem Crucis." And with these words upon her lips towards dawn she fell asleep. They had dined upstairs in the little room that had formerly been Domini's salon, and had not seen Father Roubier, who always came to the hotel to take his evening meal. In the morning, after they had breakfasted, Androvsky said:
"Domini, I will go. I will go now."
He got up and stood by her, looking down at her. In his face there was a sort of sternness, a set expression.
"To Father Roubier, Boris?" she said.
"Yes. Before I go won't you—won't you give me your hand?"
She understood all the agony of spirit he was enduring, all the shame against which he was fighting. She longed to spring up, to take him in her arms, to comfort him as only the woman he loves and who loves him can comfort a man, without words, by the pressure of her arms, the pressure of her lips, the beating of her heart against his heart. She longed to do this so ardently that she moved restlessly, looking up at him with a light in her eyes that he had never seen in them before, not even when they watched the fire dying down at Arba. But she did not lift her hand to his.
"Boris," she said, "go. God will be with you."
After a moment she added:
"And all my heart."
He stood, as if waiting, a long time. She had ceased from moving and had withdrawn her eyes from his. In his soul a voice was saying, "If she does not touch you now she will never touch you again." And he waited. He could not help waiting.
"Boris," she whispered, "good-bye."
"Good-bye?" he said.
"Come to me—afterwards. Come to me in the garden. I shall be there where we—I shall be there waiting for you."
He went out without another word.
When he was gone she went on to the verandah quickly and looked over the parapet. She saw him come out from beneath the arcade and walk slowly across the road to the little gate of the enclosure before the house of the priest. As he lifted his hands to open the gate there was the sound of a bark, and she saw Bous-Bous run out with a manner of stern inquiry, which quickly changed to joyful welcome as he recognised an old acquaintance. Androvsky bent down, took up the little dog in his arms, and, holding him, walked to the house door. In a moment it was opened and he went in. Then Domini set out towards the garden, avoiding the village street, and taking a byway which skirted the desert. She walked quickly. She longed to be within the shadows of the garden behind the white wall. She did not feel much, think much, as she walked. Without self-consciously knowing it she was holding all her nature, the whole of herself, fiercely in check. She did not look about her, did not see the sunlit reaches of the desert, or the walls of the houses of Beni-Mora, or the palm trees. Only when she had passed the hotel and the negro village and turned to the left, to the track at the edge of which the villa of Count Anteoni stood, did she lift her eyes from the ground. They rested on the white arcade framing the fierce blue of the cloudless sky. She stopped short. Her nature seemed to escape from the leash by which she had held it in with a rush, to leap forward, to be in the garden and in the past, in the past with its passion and its fiery hopes, its magnificent looking forward, its holy desires of joy that would crown her woman's life, of love that would teach her all the depth, and the height, and the force and the submission of her womanhood. And then, from that past, it strove on into the present. The shock was as the shock of battle. There were noises in her ears, voices clamouring in her heart. All her pulses throbbed like hammers, and then suddenly she felt as weak as a little sick child, and as if she must lie down there on the dust of the white road in the sunshine, lie down and die at the edge of the desert that had treated her cruelly, that had slain the hopes it had given to her and brought into her heart this terrible despair.
For now she knew a moment of utter despair, in which all things seemed to dissolve into atoms and sink down out of her sight. She stood quivering in blackness. She stood absolutely alone, more absolutely alone than any woman had ever been, than any human being had ever been. She seemed presently, as the blackness faded into something pale, like a ghastly twilight, to see herself—her wraith, as it were —standing in a vast landscape, vast as the desert, companionless, lost, forgotten, out of mind, watching for something that would never come, listening for some voice that was hushed in eternal silence.
That was to be her life, she thought—could she face it? Could she endure it? And everything within her said to her that she could not.
And then, just then, when she felt that she must sink down and give up the battle of life, she seemed to see by her side a shape, a little shape like a child. And it lifted up a hand to her hand.
And she knew that the vast landscape was God's garden, the Garden of Allah, and that no day, no night could ever pass without God walking in it.
Hearing a knock upon the great gate of the garden Smain uncurled himself on his mat within the tent, rose lazily to his feet, and, without a rose, strolled languidly to open to the visitor. Domini stood without. When he saw her he smiled quietly, with no surprise.
"Madame has returned?"
Domini smiled at him, but her lips were trembling, and she said nothing.
Smain observed her with a dawning of curiosity.
"Madame is changed," he said at length. "Madame looks tired. The sun is hot in the desert now. It is better here in the garden."
With an effort she controlled herself.
"Yes, Smain," she answered, "it is better here. But I can not stay here long."
"You are going away?"
"Yes, I am going away."
She saw more quiet questions fluttering on his lips, and added:
"And now I want to walk in the garden alone."
He waved his hand towards the trees.
"It is all for Madame. Monsieur the Count has always said so. But Monsieur?"
"He is in Beni-Mora. He is coming presently to fetch me."
Then she turned away and walked slowly across the great sweep of sand towards the trees and was taken by their darkness. She heard again the liquid bubbling of the hidden waterfall, and was again companioned by the mystery of this desert Paradise, but it no longer whispered to her of peace for her. It murmured only its own personal peace and accentuated her own personal agony and struggle. All that it had been it still was, but all that she had been in it was changed. And she felt the full terror of Nature's equanimity environing the fierce and tortured lives of men.
As she walked towards the deepest recesses of the garden along the winding tracks between the rills she had no sensation of approaching the hidden home of the Geni of the garden. Yet she remembered acutely all her first feelings there. Not one was forgotten. They returned to her like spectres stealing across the sand. They lurked like spectres among the dense masses of the trees. She strove not to see their pale shapes, not to hear their terrible voices. She strove to draw calm once more from this infinite calm of silently-growing things aspiring towards the sun. But with each step she took the torment in her heart increased. At last she came to the deeper darkness and the blanched sand, and saw pine needles strewed about her feet. Then she stood still, instinctively listening for a sound that would complete the magic of the garden and her own despair. She waited for it. She even felt, strangely, that she wanted, that she needed it—the sound of the flute of Larbi playing his amorous tune. But his flute to-day was silent. Had he fallen out of an old love and not yet found a new? or had he, perhaps, gone away? or was he dead? For a long time she stood there, thinking about Larbi. He and his flute and his love were mingled with her life in the desert. And she felt that she could not leave the desert without bidding them farewell.
But the silence lasted and she went on and came to the fumoir. She went into it at once and sat down. She was going to wait for Androvsky here.
Her mind was straying curiously to-day. Suddenly she found herself thinking of the fanatical religious performance she had seen with Hadj on the night when she had ridden out to watch the moon rise. She saw in imagination the bowing bodies, the foaming mouths, the glassy eyes of the young priests of the Sahara. She saw the spikes behind their eyeballs, the struggling scorpions descending into their throats, the flaming coals under their arm-pits, the nails driven into their heads. She heard them growling as they saw the glass, like hungry beasts at the sight of meat. And all this was to them religion. This madness was their conception of worship. A voice seemed to whisper to her: "And your madness?"
It was like the voice that whispered to Androvsky in the cemetery of El-Largani, "Come out with me into that world, that beautiful world which God made for men. Why do you reject it?"
For a moment she saw all religions, all the practices, the renunciations of the religions of the world, as varying forms of madness. She compared the self-denial of the monk with the fetish worship of the savage. And a wild thrill of something that was almost like joy rushed through her, the joy that sometimes comes to the unbelievers when they are about to commit some act which they feel would be contrary to God's will if there were a God. It was a thrill of almost insolent human emancipation. The soul cried out: "I have no master. When I thought I had a master I was mad. Now I am sane."
But it passed almost as it came, like a false thing slinking from the sunlight, and Domini bowed her head in the obscurity of Count Anteoni's thinking-place and returned to her true self. That moment had been like the moment upon the tower when she saw below her the Jewess dancing upon the roof for the soldiers, a black speck settling for an instant upon whiteness, then carried away by a purifying wind. She knew that she would always be subject to such moments so long as she was a human being, that there would always be in her blood something that was self-willed. Otherwise, would she not be already in Paradise? She sat and prayed for strength in the battle of life, that could never be anything else but a battle.
At last something within her told her to look up, to look out through the window-space into the garden. She had not heard a step, but she knew that Androvsky was approaching, and, as she looked up, she prepared herself for a sight that would be terrible. She remembered his face when he came to bid her good-bye in the garden, and she feared to see his face now. But she schooled herself to be strong, for herself and for him.
He was near her on the path coming towards her. As she saw him she uttered a little cry and stood up. An immense surprise came to her, followed in a moment by an immense joy—the greatest joy, she thought, that she had ever experienced. For she looked on a face in which she saw for the first time a pale dawning of peace. There was sadness in it, there was awe, but there was a light of calm, such as sometimes settles upon the faces of men who have died quietly without agony or fear. And she felt fully, as she saw it, the rapture of having refused cowardice and grasped the hand of bravery. Directly afterwards there came to her a sensation of wonder that at this moment of their lives she and Androvsky should be capable of a feeling of joy, of peace. When the wonder passed it was as if she had seen God and knew for ever the meaning of His divine compensations.
Androvsky came to the doorway of the fumoir without looking up, stood still there—just where Count Anteoni had stood during his first interview with Domini—and said:
"Domini, I have been to the priest. I have made my confession."
"Yes," she said. "Yes, Boris!"
He came into the fumoir and sat down near her, but not close to her, on one of the divans. Now the sad look in his face had deepened and the peace seemed to be fading. She had thought of the dawn—that pale light which is growing into day. Now she thought of the twilight which is fading into night. And the terrible knowledge struck her, "I am the troubler of his peace. Without me only could he ever regain fully the peace which he has lost."
"Domini," he said, looking up at her, "you know the rest. You meant it to be as it will be when we left Amara."
"Was there any other way? Was there any other possible life for us— for you—for me?"
"For you!" he said, and there was a sound almost of despair in his voice. "But what is to be your life? I have never protected you—you have protected me. I have never been strong for you—you have been strong for me. But to leave you—all alone, Domini, must I do that? Must I think of you out in the world alone?"
For a moment she was tempted to break her silence, to tell him the truth, that she would perhaps not be alone, that another life, sprung from his and hers, was coming to be with her, was coming to share the great loneliness that lay before her. But she resisted the temptation and only said:
"Do not think of me, Boris."
"You tell me not to think of you!" he said with an almost fierce wonder. "Do you—do you wish me not to think of you?"
"What I wish—that is so little, but—no, Boris, I can't say—I don't think I could ever truly say that I wish you to think no more of me. After all, one has a heart, and I think if it's worth anything it must be often a rebellious heart. I know mine is rebellious. But if you don't think too much of me—when you are there—"
She paused, and they looked at each other for a moment in silence. Then she continued:
"Surely it will be easier for you, happier for you."
Androvsky clenched his right hand on the divan and turned round till he was facing her full. His eyes blazed.
"Domini," he said, "you are truthful. I'll be truthful to you. Till the end of my life I'll think of you—every day, every hour. If it were mortal sin to think of you I would commit it—yes, Domini, deliberately, I would commit it. But—God doesn't ask so much of us; no, God doesn't. I've made my confession. I know what I must do. I'll do it. You are right—you are always right—you are guided, I know that. But I will think of you. And I'll tell you something—don't shirk from it, because it's truth, the truth of my soul, and you love truth. Domini—"
Suddenly he got up from the divan and stood before her, looking down at her steadily.
"Domini, I can't regret that I have seen you, that we have been together, that we have loved each other, that we do love each other for ever. I can't regret it; I can't even try or wish to. I can't regret that I have learned from you the meaning of life. I know that God has punished me for what I have done. In my love for you—till I told you the truth, that other truth—I never had a moment of peace— of exultation, yes, of passionate exultation; but never, never a moment of peace. For always, even in the most beautiful moments, there has been agony for me. For always I have known that I was sinning against God and you, against myself, my eternal vows. And yet now I tell you, Domini, as I have told God since I have been able to pray again, that I am glad, thankful, that I have loved you, been loved by you. Is it wicked? I don't know. I can scarcely even care, because it's true. And how can I deny the truth, strive against truth? I am as I am, and I am that. God has made me that. God will forgive me for being as I am. I'm not afraid. I believe—I dare to believe—that He wishes me to think of you always till the end of my life. I dare to believe that He would almost hate me if I could ever cease from loving you. That's my other confession—my confession to you. I was born, perhaps, to be a monk. But I was born, too, that I might love you and know your love, your beauty, your tenderness, your divinity. If I had not known you, if I had died a monk, a good monk who had never denied his vows, I should have died—I feel it, Domini—in a great, a terrible ignorance. I should have known the goodness of God, but I should never have known part, a beautiful part, of His goodness. For I should never have known the goodness that He has put into you. He has taught me through you. He has tortured me through you; yes, but through you, too, He has made me understand Him. When I was in the monastery, when I was at peace, when I lost myself in prayer, when I was absolutely pure, absolutely—so I thought—the child of God, I never really knew God. Now, Domini, now I know Him. In the worst moments of the new agony that I must meet at least I shall always have that help. I shall always feel that I know what God is. I shall always, when I think of you, when I remember you, be able to say, 'God is love.'"
He was silent, but his face still spoke to her, his eyes read her eyes. And in that moment at last they understood each other fully and for ever. "It was written"—that was Domini's thought—"it was written by God." Far away the church bell chimed.
"Boris," Domini said quietly, "we must go to-day. We must leave Beni- Mora. You know that?"
"Yes," he said, "I know."
He looked out into the garden. The almost fierce resolution, that had something in it of triumph, faded from him.
"Yes," he said, "this is the end, the real end, for—there, it will all be different—it will be terrible."
"Let us sit here for a little while together," Domini said, "and be quiet. Is it like the garden of El-Largani, Boris?"
"No. But when I first came here, when I saw the white walls, the great door, when I saw the poor Arabs gathered there to receive alms, it made me feel almost as if I were at El-Largani. That was why——" he paused.
"I understand, Boris, I understand everything now."
And then they were silent. Such a silence as theirs was then could never be interpreted to others. In it the sorrows, the aspirations, the struggles, the triumphs, the torturing regrets, the brave determinations of poor, great, feeble, noble humanity were enclosed as in a casket—a casket which contains many kinds of jewels, but surely none that are not precious.
And the garden listened, and beyond the garden the desert listened— that other garden of Allah. And in this garden was not Allah, too, listening to this silence of his children, this last mutual silence of theirs in the garden where they had wandered, where they had loved, where they had learned a great lesson and drawn near to a great victory?
They might have sat thus for hours; they had lost all count of time. But presently, in the distance among the trees, there rose a light, frail sound that struck into both their hearts like a thin weapon. It was the flute of Larbi, and it reminded them—of what did it not remind them? All their passionate love of the body, all their lawlessness, all the joy of liberty and of life, of the barbaric life that is liberty, all their wandering in the great spaces of the sun, were set before them in Larbi's fluttering tune, that was like the call of a siren, the call of danger, the call of earth and of earthly things, summoning them to abandon the summons of the spirit. Domini got up swiftly.
"Come, Boris," she said, without looking at him.
He obeyed her and rose to his feet.
"Let us go to the wall," she said, "and look out once more on the desert. It must be nearly noon. Perhaps—perhaps we shall hear the call to prayer."
They walked down the winding alleys towards the edge of the garden. The sound of the flute of Larbi died away gradually into silence. Soon they saw before them the great spaces of the Sahara flooded with the blinding glory of the summer sunlight. They stood and looked out over it from the shelter of some pepper trees. No caravans were passing. No Arabs were visible. The desert seemed utterly empty, given over, naked, to the dominion of the sun. While they stood there the nasal voice of the Mueddin rose from the minaret of the mosque of Beni-Mora, uttered its fourfold cry, and died away.
"Boris," Domini said, "that is for the Arabs, but for us, too, for we belong to the garden of Allah as they do, perhaps even more than they."
She remembered how, long ago, Count Anteoni had stood there with her and repeated the words of the angel to the Prophet, and she murmured them now:
"O thou that art covered, arise, and magnify thy Lord, and purify thy clothes, and depart from uncleanness."
Then, standing side by side, they prayed, looking at the desert.
In the evening of that day they left Beni-Mora.
Domini wished to go quietly, but, knowing the Arabs, she feared it would be impossible. Nevertheless, when she paid Batouch in the hotel and thanked him for all his services, she said:
"We'll say adieu here, Batouch."
The poet displayed a large surprise.
"But I will accompany Madame to the station. I will—"
"It is not necessary."
Batouch looked offended but obstinate. His ample person became almost rigid.
"If I am not at the station, Madame, what will Hadj think, and Ali, and Ouardi, and—"
"They will be there?"
"Of course, Madame. Where else should they be? Does Madame wish to leave us like a thief in the night, or like—"
"No, no, Batouch. I am very grateful to you all, but especially to you."
Batouch began to smile.
"Madame has entered into our hearts as no other stranger has ever done," he remarked. "Madame understands the Arabs. We shall all come to say au revoir and to wish Madame and Monsieur a happy journey."
For the moment the irony of her situation struck Domini so forcibly that she could say nothing. She only looked at Batouch in silence.
"What is it? But I know. Madame is sad at leaving the desert, at leaving Beni-Mora."
"Yes, Batouch. I am sad at leaving Beni-Mora."
"But Madame will return?"
"I know. The desert has a spell. He who has once seen the desert must see it again. The desert calls and its voice is always heard. Madame will hear it when she is far away, and some day she will feel, 'I must come back to the land of the sun and to the beautiful land of forgetfulness.'"
"I shall see you at the station, Batouch," Domini said quickly. "Good- bye till then."
The train for Tunis started at sundown, in order that the travellers might avoid the intense heat of the day. All the afternoon they kept within doors. The Arabs were sleeping in dark rooms. The gardens were deserted. Domini could not sleep. She sat near the French window that opened on to the verandah and said a silent good-bye to life. For that was what she felt—that life was leaving her, life with its intensity, its fierce meaning. She had come out of a sort of death to find life in Beni-Mora, and now she felt that she was going back again to something that would be like death. After her strife there came a numbness of the spirit, a heavy dullness. Time passed and she sat there without moving. Sometimes she looked at the trunks lying on the floor ready for the journey, at the labels on which was written "Tunis via Constantine." And then she tried to imagine what it would be like to travel in the train after her long travelling in the desert, and what it would be like to be in a city. But she could not. The heat was intense. Perhaps it affected her mind through her body. Faintly, far down in her mind and heart, she knew that she was wishing, even longing, to realise all that these last hours in Beni-Mora meant, to gather up in them all the threads of her life and her sensations there, to survey, as from a height, the panorama of the change that had come to her in Africa. But she was frustrated.
The hours fled, and she remained cold, listless. Often she was hardly thinking at all. When the Arab servant came in to tell her that it was time to start for the station she got up slowly and looked at him vaguely.
"Time to go already?" she asked.
"Yes, Madame. I have told Monsieur."
At this moment Androvsky came into the room.
"The carriage is waiting," he said.
She felt almost as if a stranger was speaking to her.
"I am ready," she said.
And without looking round the room she went downstairs and got into the carriage.
They drove to the station without speaking. She had not seen Father Roubier. Androvsky took the tickets. When they came out upon the platform they found there a small crowd of Arab friends, with Batouch in command. Among them were the servants who had accompanied them upon their desert journey, and Hadj. He came forward smiling to shake hands. When she saw him Domini remembered Irena, and, forgetting that it is not etiquette to inquire after an Arab's womenfolk, she said:
"Ah, Hadj, and are you happy now? How is Irena?"
Hadj's face fell, and he showed his pointed teeth in a snarl. For a moment he hesitated, looking round at the other Arabs. Then he said:
"I am always happy, Madame."
Domini saw that she had made a mistake. She took out her purse and gave him five francs.
"A parting present," she said.
Hadj shook his head with recovered cheerfulness, tucked in his chin and laughed. Domini turned away, shook hands with all her dark acquaintances, and climbed up into the train, followed by Androvsky. Batouch sprang upon the step as the porter shut the door.
"Madame!" he exclaimed.
"What is it, Batouch?"
"To-day you have put Hadj to shame."
He smiled broadly.
"I? How? What have I done?"
"Irena is dancing at Onargla, far away in the desert beyond Amara."
"She could not live shut up in a room. She could not wear the veil for Hadj."
"She has divorced him, Madame. It is easy here. For a few francs one can—"
The whistle sounded. The train jerked. Batouch seized her hand, seized Androvsky's, sprang back to the platform.
"Good-bye, Batouch! Good-bye, Ouardi! Good-bye, Smain!"
The train moved on. As it reached the end of the platform Domini saw an emaciated figure standing there alone, a thin face with glittering eyes turned towards her with a glaring scrutiny. It was the sand- diviner. He smiled at her, and his smile contracted the wound upon his face, making it look wicked and grotesque like the face of a demon. She sank down on the seat. For a moment, a hideous moment, she felt as if he personified Beni-Mora, as if this smile were Beni-Mora's farewell to her and to Androvsky.
And Irena was dancing at Onargla, far away in the desert.
She remembered the night in the dancing-house, Irena's attack upon Hadj.
That love of Africa was at an end. Was not everything at an end? Yet Larbi still played upon his flute in the garden of Count Anteoni, still played the little tune that was as the leit motif of the eternal renewal of life. And within herself she carried God's mystery of renewal, even she, with her numbed mind, her tired heart. She, too, was to help to carry forward the banner of life.
She had come to Beni-Mora in the sunset, and now, in the sunset, she was leaving it. But she did not lean from the carriage window to watch the pageant that was flaming in the west. Instead, she shut her eyes and remembered it as it was on that evening when they, who now were journeying away from the desert together, had been journeying towards it together. Strangers who had never spoken to each other. And the evening came, and the train stole into the gorge of El-Akbara, and still she kept her eyes closed. Only when the desert was finally left behind, divided from them by the great wall of rock, did she look up and speak to Androvsky.
"We met here, Boris," she said.
"Yes," he answered, "at the gate of the desert. I shall never be here again."
Soon the night fell around them.
* * * * * *
In the evening of the following day they reached Tunis, and drove to the Hotel d'Orient, where they had written to engage rooms for one night. They had expected that the city would be almost deserted by its European inhabitants now the summer had set in, but when they drove up to the door of the hotel the proprietor came out to inform them that, owing to the arrival of a ship full of American tourists who, personally conducted, were "viewing" Tunis after an excursion to the East and to the Holy Land, he had been unable to keep for them a private sitting-room. With many apologies he explained that all the sitting-rooms in the house had been turned into bedrooms, but only for one night. On the morrow the personally-conducted ones would depart and Madame and Monsieur could have a charming salon. They listened silently to his explanations and apologies, standing in the narrow entrance hall, which was blocked up with piles of luggage. "Tomorrow," he kept on repeating, "to-morrow" all would be different.
Domini glanced at Androvsky, who stood with his head bent down, looking on the ground.
"Shall we try another hotel?" she asked.
"If you wish," he answered in a low voice.
"It would be useless, Madame," said the proprietor. "All the hotels are full. In the others you will not find even a bedroom."
"Perhaps we had better stay here," she said to Androvsky.
Her voice, too, was low and tired. In her heart something seemed to say, "Do not strive any more. In the garden it was finished. Already you are face to face with the end."
When she was alone in her small bedroom, which was full of the noises of the street, and had washed and put on another dress, she began to realise how much she had secretly been counting on one more evening alone with Androvsky. She had imagined herself dining with him in their sitting-room unwatched, sitting together afterwards, for an hour or two, in silence perhaps, but at least alone. She had imagined a last solitude with him with the darkness of the African night around them. She had counted upon that. She realised it now. Her whole heart and soul had been asking for that, believing that at least that would be granted to her. But it was not to be. She must go down with him into a crowd of American tourists, must—her heart sickened. It seemed to her for a moment that if only she could have this one more evening quietly with the man she loved she could brace herself to bear anything afterwards, but that if she could not have it she must break down. She felt desperate.
A gong sounded below. She did not move, though she heard it, knew what it meant. After a few minutes there was a tap at the door.
"What is it?" she said.
"Dinner is ready, Madame," said a voice in English with a strong foreign accent.
Domini went to the door and opened it.
"Does Monsieur know?"
"Monsieur is already in the hall waiting for Madame."
She went down and found Androvsky.
They dined at a small table in a room fiercely lit up with electric light and restless with revolving fans. Close to them, at an immense table decorated with flowers, dined the American tourists. The women wore hats with large hanging veils. The men were in travelling suits. They looked sunburnt and gay, and talked and laughed with an intense vivacity. Afterwards they were going in a body to see the dances of the Almees. Androvsky shot one glance at them as he came in, then looked away quickly. The lines near his mouth deepened. For a moment he shut his eyes. Domini did not speak to him, did not attempt to talk. Enveloped by the nasal uproar of the gay tourists they ate in silence. When the short meal was over they got up and went out into the hall. The public drawing-room opened out of it on the left. They looked into it and saw red plush settees, a large centre table covered with a rummage of newspapers, a Jew with a bald head writing a letter, and two old German ladies with caps drinking coffee and knitting stockings.
"The desert!" Androvsky whispered.
Suddenly he drew away from the door and walked out into the street. Lines of carriages stood there waiting to be hired. He beckoned to one, a victoria with a pair of small Arab horses. When it was in front of the hotel he said to Domini:
"Will you get in, Domini?"
She obeyed. Androvsky said to the mettse driver:
"Drive to the Belvedere. Drive round the park till I tell you to return."
The man whipped his horses, and they rattled down the broad street, past the brilliantly-lighted cafes, the Cercle Militaire, the palace of the Resident, where Zouaves were standing, turned to the left and were soon out on a road where a tram line stretched between villas, waste ground and flat fields. In front of them rose a hill with a darkness of trees scattered over it. They reached it, and began to mount it slowly. The lights of the city shone below them. Domini saw great sloping lawns dotted with streets and by trees. Scents of hidden flowers came to her in the night, and she heard a whirr of insects. Still they mounted, and presently reached the top of the hill.
"Stop!" said Androvsky to the driver.
He drew up his horses.
"Wait for us here."
Androvsky got out.
"Shall we walk a little way?" he said to Domini.
She got out too, and they walked slowly along the deserted road. Below them she saw the lights of ships gliding upon the lakes, the bright eyes of a lighthouse, the distant lamps of scattered villages along the shores, and, very far off, a yellow gleam that dominated the sea beyond the lakes and seemed to watch patiently all those who came and went, the pilgrims to and from Africa. That gleam shone in Carthage.
From the sea over the flats came to them a breeze that had a savour of freshness, of cool and delicate life.
They walked for some time without speaking, then Domini said:
"From the cemetery of El-Largani you looked out over this, didn't you, Boris?"
"Yes, Domini," he answered. "It was then that the voice spoke to me."
"It will never speak again. God will not let it speak again."
"How can you know that?"
"We are tried in the fire, Boris, but we are not burnt to death."
She said it for herself, to reassure herself, to give a little comfort to her own soul.
"To-night I feel as if it were not so," he answered. "When we came to the hotel it seemed—I thought that I could not go on."
"Now I do not know anything except that this is my last night with you. And, Domini, that seems to me to be absolutely incredible although I know it. I cannot imagine any future away from you, any life in which I do not see you. I feel as if in parting from you I am parting from myself, as if the thing left would be no more a man, but only a broken husk. Can I pray without you, love God without you?"
"Best without me."
"But can I live without you, Domini? Can I wake day after day to the sunshine, and know that I shall never see you again, and go on living? Can I do that? I don't feel as if it could be. Perhaps, when I have done my penance, God will have mercy."
"Perhaps He will let me die."
"Let us fix all the thoughts of our hearts on the life in which He may let us be together once more. Look, Boris, there are lights in the darkness, there will always be lights."
"I can't see them," he said.
She looked at him and saw that tears were running down his cheeks. Again, on this last night of companionship, God summoned her to be strong for him. On the edge of the hill, close to them, she saw a Moorish temple built of marble, with narrow arches and columns, and marble seats.
"Let us sit here for a moment, Boris," she said.
He followed her up the marble steps. Two or three times he stumbled, but she did not give him her hand. They sat down between the slender columns and looked out over the city, whose blanched domes and minarets were faintly visible in the night. Androvsky was shaken with sobs.
"How can I part from you?" he said brokenly. "How am I to do it? How can I—how can I? Why was I given this love for you, this terrible thing, this crying out, this reaching out of the flesh and heart and soul to you? Domini—Domini—what does it all mean—this mystery of torture—this scourging of the body—this tearing in pieces of my soul and yours? Domini, shall we know—shall we ever know?"
"I am sure we shall know, we shall all know some day, the meaning of the mystery of pain. And then, perhaps, then surely, we shall each of us be glad that we have suffered. The suffering will make the glory of our happiness. Even now sometimes when I am suffering, Boris, I feel as if there were a kind of splendour, even a kind of nobility in what I am doing, as if I were proving my own soul, proving the force that God has put into me. Boris, let us—you and I—learn to say in all this terror, 'I am unconquered, I am unconquerable.'"
"I feel that I could say that, be it in the most frightful circumstances, if only I could sometimes see you—even far away as now I see those lights."
"You will see me in your prayers every day, and I shall see you in mine."
"But the cry of the body, Domini, of the eyes, of the hands, to see, to touch—it's so fierce, it's so—it's so—"
"I know, I hear it too, always. But there is another voice, which will be strong when the other has faded into eternal silence. In all bodily things, even the most beautiful, there is something finite. We must reach out our poor, feeble, trembling hands to the infinite. I think everyone who is born does that through life, often without being conscious of it. We shall do it consciously, you and I. We shall be able to do it because of our dreadful suffering. We shall want, we shall have to do it, you—where you are going, and I——"
"Where will you be?"
"I don't know, I don't know. I won't think of the afterwards now, in these last few hours—in these last——"
Her voice faltered and broke. Then the tears came to her also, and for a while she could not see the distant lights.
Then she spoke again; she said:
"Boris, let us go now."
He got up without a word. They found the carriage and drove back to Tunis.
When they reached the hotel they came into the midst of the American tourists, who were excitedly discussing the dances they had seen, and calling for cooling drinks to allay the thirst created by the heat of the close rooms of Oriental houses.
Early next morning a carriage was at the door. When they had got into it the coachman looked round.
"Where shall I drive to, Monsieur?"
Androvsky looked at him and made no reply.
"To El-Largani," Domini said.
"To the monastery, Madame?"
He whistled to his horses gaily. As they trotted on bells chimed about their necks, chimed a merry peal to the sunshine that lay over the land. They passed soldiers marching, and heard the call of bugles, the rattle of drums. And each sound seemed distant and each moving figure far away. This world of Africa, fiercely distinct in the clear air under the cloudless sky, was unreal to them both, was vague as a northern land wrapped in a mist of autumn. The unreal was about them. Within themselves was the real. They sat beside each other without speaking. Words to them now were useless things. What more had they to say? Everything and nothing. Lifetimes would not have been long enough for them to speak their thoughts for each other, of each other, to speak their emotions, all that was in their minds and hearts during that drive from the city to the monastery that stood upon the hill. Yet did not their mutual action of that morning say all that need be said? The silence of the Trappists surely floated out to them over the plains and the pale waters of the bitter lakes and held them silent.
But the bells on the horses' necks rang always gaily, and the coachman, who would presently drive Domini back alone to Tunis, whistled and sang on his high seat.
Presently they came to a great wooden cross standing on a pedestal of stone by the roadside at the edge of a grove of olive trees. It marked the beginning of the domain of El-Largani. When Domini saw it she looked at Androvsky, and his eyes answered her silent question. The coachman whipped his horses into a canter, as if he were in haste to reach his destination. He was thinking of the good red wine of the monks. In a cloud of white dust the carriage rolled onwards between vineyards in which, here and there, labourers were working, sheltered from the sun by immense straw hats. A long line of waggons, laden with barrels and drawn by mules covered with bells, sheltered from the flies by leaves, met them. In the distance Domini saw forests of eucalyptus trees. Suddenly it seemed to her as if she saw Androvsky coming from them towards the white road, helping a man who was pale, and who stumbled as if half-fainting, yet whose face was full of a fierce passion of joy—the stranger whose influence had driven him out of the monastery into the world. She bent down her head and hid her face in her hands, praying, praying with all her strength for courage in this supreme moment of her life. But almost directly the prayers died on her lips and in her heart, and she found herself repeating the words of The Imitation:
"Love watcheth, and sleeping, slumbereth not. When weary it is not tired; when straitened it is not constrained; when frightened it is not disturbed; but like a vivid flame and a burning torch it mounteth upwards and securely passeth through all. Whosoever loveth knoweth the cry of this voice."
Again and again she said the words: "It securely passeth through all— it securely passeth through all." Now, at last, she was to know the uttermost truth of those words which she had loved in her happiness, which she clung to now as a little child clings to its father's hand.
The carriage turned to the right, went on a little way, then stopped.
Domini lifted her face from her hands. She saw before her a great door which stood open. Above it was a statue of the Madonna and Child, and on either side were two angels with swords and stars. Underneath was written, in great letters:
Beyond, through the doorway, she saw an open space upon which the sunlight streamed, three palm trees, and a second door which was shut. Above this second door was written:
"Les dames n'entrent pas ici."
As she looked the figure of a very old monk with a long white beard shuffled slowly across the patch of sunlight and disappeared.
The coachman turned round.
"You descend here," he said in a cheerful voice. "Madame will be entertained in the parlour on the right of the first door, but Monsieur can go on to the hotellerie. It's over there."
He pointed with his whip and turned his back to them again.
Domini sat quite still. Her lips moved, once more repeating the words of The Imitation. Androvsky got up from his seat, stepped heavily out of the carriage, and stood beside it. The coachman was busy lighting a long cigar. Androvsky leaned forward towards Domini with his arms on the carriage and looked at her with tearless eyes.
"Domini," at last he whispered. "Domini!"
Then she turned to him, bent towards him, put her hands on his shoulders and looked into his face for a long time, as if she were trying to see it now for all the years that were perhaps to come. Her eyes, too, were tearless.
At last she leaned down and touched his forehead with her lips.
She said nothing. Her hands dropped from his shoulders, she turned away and her lips moved once more.
Then Androvsky moved slowly in through the doorway of the monastery, crossed the patch of sunlight, lifted his hand and rang the bell at the second door.
"Drive back to Tunis, please."
"Madame!" said the coachman.
"Drive back to Tunis."
"Madame is not going to enter! But Monsieur—"
"Drive back to Tunis!"
Something in the voice that spoke to him startled the coachman. He hesitated a moment, staring at Domini from his seat, then, with a muttered curse, he turned his horses' heads and plied the whip ferociously.
* * * * * *
"Love watcheth. and sleeping, slumbereth not. When weary it is not tired. When weary—it—is not—tired."
Domini's lips ceased to move. She could not speak any more. She could not even pray without words.
Yet, in that moment, she did not feel alone.
In the garden of Count Anteoni, which has now passed into other hands, a little boy may often be seen playing. He is gay, as children are, and sometimes he is naughty and, as if out of sheer wantonness, he destroys the pyramids of sand erected by the Arab gardeners upon the narrow paths between the hills, or tears off the petals of the geraniums and scatters them to the breezes that whisper among the trees. But when Larbi's flute calls to him he runs to hear. He sits at the feet of that persistent lover, and watches the big fingers fluttering at the holes of the reed, and his small face becomes earnest and dreamy, as if it looked on far-off things, or watched the pale pageant of the mirages rising mysteriously out of the sunlit spaces of the sands to fade again, leaving no trace behind.
Only one other song he loves more than the twittering tune of Larbi.
Sometimes, when twilight is falling over the Sahara, his mother calls him to her, to the white wall where she is sitting beneath a jamelon tree.
"Listen, Boris!" she whispers.
The little boy climbs up on her knee, leans his face against her breast and obeys. An Arab is passing below on the desert track, singing to himself as he goes towards his home in the oasis:
"No one but God and I
Knows what is in my heart."
He is singing the song of the freed negroes. When his voice has died away the mother puts the little boy down. It is bed time, and Smain is there to lead him to the white villa, where he will sleep dreamlessly till morning.
But the mother stays alone by the wall till the night falls and the desert is hidden.
"No one but God and I
Knows what is in my heart."
She whispers the words to herself. The cool wind of the night blows over the vast spaces of the Sahara and touches her cheek, reminding her of the wind that, at Arba, carried fire towards her as she sat before the tent, reminding her of her glorious days of liberty, of the passion that came to her soul like fire in the desert.
But she does not rebel.
For always, when night falls, she sees the form of a man praying who once fled from prayer in the desert; she sees a wanderer who at last has reached his home.
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