“How can I know? How can I tell what the desert desires?”
“Already you personify it!”
The network of wrinkles showed itself in his brown face as he smiled, surely with triumph.
“I think I did that from the first,” she answered gravely. “I know I did.”
“And what sort of personage does the desert seem to you?”
“You ask me a great many questions to-day.”
“Mirage questions, perhaps. Forgive me. Let us listen to the question—or is it the demand?—of the desert in this noontide hour, the greatest hour of all the twenty-four in such a land as this.”
They were silent again, watching the noon, listening to it, feeling it, as they had been silent when the Mueddin’s nasal voice rose in the call to prayer.
Count Anteoni stood in the sunshine by the low white parapet of the garden. Domini sat on a low chair in the shadow cast by a great jamelon tree. At her feet was a bush of vivid scarlet geraniums, against which her white linen dress looked curiously blanched. There was a half-drowsy, yet imaginative light in her gipsy eyes, and her motionless figure, her quiet hands, covered with white gloves, lying loosely in her lap, looked attentive and yet languid, as if some spell began to bind her but had not completed its work of stilling all the pulses of life that throbbed within her. And in truth there was a spell upon her, the spell of the golden noon. By turns she gave herself to it consciously, then consciously strove to deny herself to its subtle summons. And each time she tried to withdraw it seemed to her that the spell was a little stronger, her power a little weaker. Then her lips curved in a smile that was neither joyous nor sad, that was perhaps rather part perplexed and part expectant.
After a minute of this silence Count Anteoni drew back from the sun and sat down in a chair beside Domini. He took out his watch.
“Twenty-five minutes,” he said, “and my guests will be here.”
“Guests!” she said with an accent of surprise.
“I invited the priest to make an even number.”
“You don’t dislike him?”
“I like him. I respect him.”
“But I’m afraid you aren’t pleased?”
Domini looked him straight in the face.
“Why did you invite Father Roubier?” she said.
“Isn’t four better than three?”
“You don’t want to tell me.”
“I am a little malicious. You have divined it, so why should I not acknowledge it? I asked Father Roubier because I wished to see the man of prayer with the man who fled from prayer.”
“Mussulman prayer,” she said quickly.
“Prayer,” he said.
His voice was peculiarly harsh at that moment. It grated like an instrument on a rough surface. Domini knew that secretly he was standing up for the Arab faith, that her last words had seemed to strike against the religion of the people whom he loved with an odd, concealed passion whose fire she began to feel at moments as she grew to know him better.