Mustapha pointed to the pictures of the city. Then he, too, dropped down and pressed his forehead against the matting. Domini glanced round for Androvsky. He was not there. She stood alone before the tomb of Zerzour, the only human being in the great, dim building who was not worshipping. And she felt a terrible isolation, as if she were excommunicated, as if she dared not pray, for a moment almost as if the God to whom this torrent of worship flowed were hostile to her alone.
Had her father ever felt such a sensation of unutterable solitude?
It passed quickly, and, standing under the votive lamps before the painted doors, she prayed too, silently. She shut her eyes and imagined a church of her religion—the little church of Beni-Mora. She tried to imagine the voice of prayer all about her, the voice of the great Catholic Church. But that was not possible. Even when she saw nothing, and turned her soul inward upon itself, and strove to set this new world into which she had come far off, she heard in the long murmur that filled it a sound that surely rose from the sand, from the heart and the spirit of the sand, from the heart and the spirit of desert places, and that went up in the darkness of the mosque and floated under the arches through the doorway, above the palms and the flat-roofed houses, and that winged its fierce way, like a desert eagle, towards the sun.
Mustapha’s hand was on her arm. The guardian, too, had risen from his knees and drawn from his robe and lit a candle. She came to a tiny doorway, passed through it and began to mount a winding stair. The sound of prayer mounted with her from the mosque, and when she came out upon the platform enclosed in the summit of the minaret she heard it still and it was multiplied. For all the voices from the outside courts joined it, and many voices from the roofs of the houses round about.
Men were praying there too, praying in the glare of the sun upon their housetops. She saw them from the minaret, and she saw the town that had sprung up round the tomb of the saint, and all the palms of the oasis, and beyond them immeasurable spaces of desert.
She was above the eternal cry now. She had mounted like a prayer towards the sun, like a living, pulsing prayer, like the soul of prayer. She gazed at the far-off desert and saw prayer travelling, the soul of prayer travelling—whither? Where was the end? Where was the halting-place, with at last the pitched tent, the camp fires, and the long, the long repose?
* * * * *
When she came down and reached the court she found the old man still striking at the mosque and shrieking out his trembling imprecation. And she found Androvsky still standing by him with fascinated eyes.
She had mounted with the voice of prayer into the sunshine, surely a little way towards God.
Androvsky had remained in the dark shadow with a curse.