It was foolish, perhaps—a woman’s vagrant fancy—but she wished he had mounted with her.
It was noon in the desert.
The voice of the Mueddin died away on the minaret, and the golden silence that comes out of the heart of the sun sank down once more softly over everything. Nature seemed unnaturally still in the heat. The slight winds were not at play, and the palms of Beni-Mora stood motionless as palm trees in a dream. The day was like a dream, intense and passionate, yet touched with something unearthly, something almost spiritual. In the cloudless blue of the sky there seemed a magical depth, regions of colour infinitely prolonged. In the vision of the distances, where desert blent with sky, earth surely curving up to meet the downward curving heaven, the dimness was like a voice whispering strange petitions. The ranges of mountains slept in the burning sand, and the light slept in their clefts like the languid in cool places. For there was a glorious languor even in the light, as if the sun were faintly oppressed by the marvel of his power. The clearness of the atmosphere in the remote desert was not obscured, but was impregnated with the mystery that is the wonder child of shadows. The far-off gold that kept it seemed to contain a secret darkness. In the oasis of Beni-Mora men, who had slowly roused themselves to pray, sank down to sleep again in the warm twilight of shrouded gardens or the warm night of windowless rooms.
In the garden of Count Anteoni Larbi’s flute was silent.
“It is like noon in a mirage,” Domini said softly.
Count Anteoni nodded.
“I feel as if I were looking at myself a long way off,” she added. “As if I saw myself as I saw the grey sea and the islands on the way to Sidi-Zerzour. What magic there is here. And I can’t get accustomed to it. Each day I wonder at it more and find it more inexplicable. It almost frightens me.”
“You could be frightened?”
“Not easily by outside things—it least I hope not.”
“But what then?”
“I scarcely know. Sometimes I think all the outside things, which do what are called the violent deeds in life, are tame, and timid, and ridiculously impotent in comparison with the things we can’t see, which do the deeds we can’t describe.”
“In the mirage of this land you begin to see the exterior life as a mirage? You are learning, you are learning.”
There was a creeping sound of something that was almost impish in his voice.
“Are you a secret agent?” Domini asked him.
“Of whom, Madame?”
She was silent. She seemed to be considering. He watched her with curiosity in his bright eyes.
“Of the desert,” she answered at length, quite seriously.
“A secret agent has always a definite object. What is mine?”