About him the Arabs were seeking a heron and hawks; a falconer galloped across the plain, waving a lure, in pursuit of another hawk, so Owen was informed by his dragoman—as if falcon or heron could interest him at that moment—and he continued to peer into the inscription, leaving the Arabs to find the birds. And they were discovered presently among some marbles, the heron’s wings outstretched in death, the great red wound in its breast making it seem still more beautiful.
The lake water was salt, but there was a spring among the hills, and when the hawks were resting (they rested every second day) Owen liked to go there and lie under the tamarisks, dreaming of Sicily, of “the visionary flocks” and their shepherds no less visionary, comparing the ideal with the real, for before him flocks grazed up the hillside and his eyes followed the goats straying in quest of branches, their horns tipped with the wonderful light which threw everything into relief—the bournous of the passing bedouin, the woman’s veil, whether blue or grey, the queer architecture of the camels and dromedaries coming up through a fold in the hills from the lake, following the track of the caravans, their long, bird-like necks swinging, looking, Owen thought, like a great flock of migrating ostriches.
It was pleasant to lie and dream this pastoral country and its people, seen through a haze of fine weather which looked as if it would never end. The swallows had just come over and were tired; Owen was provoking enough to drive them out of the tamarisks just to see how tired they were, and was sorry for one poor bird which could hardly keep out of his way. Whence had they come? he asked, returning to a couch of moss. Had any of them come from Riversdale? Perhaps some had been hatched under his own eaves? (Any mention of Riversdale was sufficient to soften Owen’s heart.) And now under the tamarisks his thoughts floated about that bleak house and its colonnade, thinking of a white swallow which had appeared in the park one year; friends were staying with him, every one had wanted to shoot it, but leave had not been granted; and his natural kindness of heart interested him as he lay in the shade of the tamarisks, asking himself if the white swallow would appear, thinking that the bird ought to nod to him as it passed, smiling at the thought, and the smile dying as his dragoman approached; for he was coming to teach him Arabic. Owen liked to exercise his intelligence idly; a number of little phrases had already been picked up, and his learning he tried on the bedouins as they came up the hill from the lake, preferring speech with them rather than with his own people, for his own people might affect to understand him, his dragoman might have prompted them, whereas the new arrivals afforded a more certain examination, and Owen was pleased when the bedouin understood him.