Laghouat, built among rocks, some of which were white, showed up high above the plain; and, notwithstanding his desire for food and shelter, he sat on his horse at gaze, interested in the ramparts of this black town, defended by towers, outlined upon a grey sky.
“When a woman has seen the guest she no longer cares for the master.” An old hunter had told him this proverb, a lame, one-eyed man, an outcast from his tribe, or very nearly, whose wife was so old that Owen’s presence afforded him no cause for jealousy, a friend of the hunter who owned the eagles, so Owen discovered, but not until the end of a week’s acquaintance, which was strange, for he had seen a great deal of this man in the last few days. The explanation he gave one night in the cafe where Owen went to talk and drink with the Spahis; coming in suddenly, and taking Owen away into a corner, he explained that he had not told him before that his friend Tahar, he who owned the eagles, had gone away to live in another oasis, because it had not occurred to him that Owen was seeking Tahar, fancying somehow that it was another—as if there were hundreds of people in the Sahara who hunted gazelles with eagles!
“Grand Dieu!” and Owen turned to his own dragoman, who happened to be present. “A-t-on jamais!... Ici depuis trois semaines!”
The dragoman, who expected an outburst, reminded Owen of the progress he had made in Arabic, and of the storms of the last three weeks, the rain and wind which had made travelling in the desert impossible, and when Owen spoke of starting on the morrow the dragoman shook his head, and the wind in the street convinced Owen that he must remain where he was.
“Mais si j’avais su—”
The dragoman pointed out to him the terrible weather they had experienced, and how glad he had been to find shelter in Laghouat.
“Oui, Sidna, vous etes maintenant au comble de regrets, mats pour rien au monde vous n’auriez fait ces etapes vers le sud.”
Owen felt that the man was right, though he would not admit it; the camels themselves could hardly have been persuaded to undertake another day’s march; his horse—well, the vultures might have been tearing him if he had persevered, so instead of going off in one of his squibby little rages, which would have made him ridiculous, Owen suddenly grew sad and invited the hunter to drink with him, and it was arranged that as soon as the wind dropped the quest for Tahar should be pursued.