BOOK I. PRELUDE
The fatigue caused by a rough sea journey, and, perhaps, the consciousness that she would have to be dressed before dawn to catch the train for Beni-Mora, prevented Domini Enfilden from sleeping. There was deep silence in the Hotel de la Mer at Robertville. The French officers who took their pension there had long since ascended the hill of Addouna to the barracks. The cafes had closed their doors to the drinkers and domino players. The lounging Arab boys had deserted the sandy Place de la Marine. In their small and dusky bazaars the Israelites had reckoned up the takings of the day, and curled themselves up in gaudy quilts on their low divans to rest. Only two or three gendarmes were still about, and a few French and Spaniards at the Port, where, moored against the wharf, lay the steamer Le General Bertrand, in which Domini had arrived that evening from Marseilles.
In the hotel the fair and plump Italian waiter, who had drifted to North Africa from Pisa, had swept up the crumbs from the two long tables in the salle-a-manger, smoked a thin, dark cigar over a copy of the Depeche Algerienne, put the paper down, scratched his blonde head, on which the hair stood up in bristles, stared for a while at nothing in the firm manner of weary men who are at the same time thoughtless and depressed, and thrown himself on his narrow bed in the dusty corner of the little room on the stairs near the front door. Madame, the landlady, had laid aside her front and said her prayer to the Virgin. Monsieur, the landlord, had muttered his last curse against the Jews and drunk his last glass of rum. They snored like honest people recruiting their strength for the morrow. In number two Suzanne Charpot, Domini’s maid, was dreaming of the Rue de Rivoli.
But Domini with wide-open eyes, was staring from her big, square pillow at the red brick floor of her bedroom, on which stood various trunks marked by the officials of the Douane. There were two windows in the room looking out towards the Place de la Marine, below which lay the station. Closed persiennes of brownish-green, blistered wood protected them. One of these windows was open. Yet the candle at Domini’s bedside burnt steadily. The night was warm and quiet, without wind.
As she lay there, Domini still felt the movement of the sea. The passage had been a bad one. The ship, crammed with French recruits for the African regiments, had pitched and rolled almost incessantly for thirty-one hours, and Domini and most of the recruits had been ill. Domini had had an inner cabin, with a skylight opening on to the lower deck, and heard above the sound of the waves and winds their groans and exclamations, rough laughter, and half-timid, half-defiant conversations as she shook in her berth. At Marseilles she had seen them come on board, one