Clarence is come—false,
fleeting, perjured Clarence,
That stabbed me in the field by Tewksbury.
It went and left awareness of the desert.
He saw himself as in mirrors.
The desert ached and became a place of thorns and briers and bewilderment. Then rose, like Antaeus, the taskmaster. “And what of all that—if I like life so?”
Sense of the villa and the roses and the nightingales in the coverts—sense of wide, mobile sweeps and flowing currents inwashing, indrawing, pleasure-crafts great and small—desire and desire for desire—lust for sweetness, lust for salt—the rose to be plucked, the grapes to be eaten—and all for self, all for Ian....
He started up from the rock above Como, and turned to descend to the boat. That within him that set itself to make thin cloud of the taskmaster pulled him back as by the hair of the head and cast him down upon the rocky floor.
He lay still, half upon his face buried in the bend of his arm. He felt misery.
“My soul is sick—a beggar—like to become an outcast!”
How long he lay here now he did not know. The nadir of night was passed, but there was cold and voidness, an abyss. He felt as one fallen from a great height long ago. “There is no help here! Let me only go to an eternal sleep—”
A wind began. In the east the sky grew whiter than elsewhere. There came a sword-blow from an unseen hand, ripping and tearing veils. Elspeth—Elspeth Barrow!
In a bitterness as of myrrh he came into touch with cleanness, purity, wholeness. Henceforth there was invisible light. Its first action was not to show him scorchingly the night of Egypt, but with the quietness of the whitening east to bring a larger understanding of Elspeth.
The caravan, having spent three days in a town the edge of the desert, set forth in the afternoon. The caravan was a considerable one. Three hundred camels, more than a hundred asses, went heavily laden. Twenty men rode excellent horses; ten, poorer steeds; the company of others mounted with the merchandise or, staff in hand, strode beside. In safe stretches occurred a long stringing out, with lagging at the rear; in stretches where robber bands or other dangers might be apprehended things became compact. Besides traders and their employ, there rode or walked a handful of chance folk who had occasion for the desert or for places beyond it. These paid some much, some little, but all something for the advantage of this convoy. The traders did not look to lose, whoever went with them. Altogether, several hundred men journeyed in company.
The elected chief of the caravan was a tall Arab, Zeyn al-Din. Twelve of the camels were his; he was a merchant of spices, of wrought stuff, girdles, and gems—a man of forty, bold and with scope. He rode a fine horse and kept usually at the head of the caravan. But now and again he went up and down, seeing to things. Then there was talking, loud or low, between the head man and units of the march.