Then Androvsky came back quickly till he reached the place where Domini was standing. He put his hands on her shoulders. Then he sank down on the sand, letting his hands slip down over her breast and along her whole body till they clasped themselves round her knees. He pressed his face into her dress against her knees.
“I love you,” he said. “I love you but don’t listen to me—you mustn’t hear it—you mustn’t. But I must say it. I can’t—I can’t go till I say it. I love you—I love you.”
She heard him sobbing against her knees, and the sound was as the sound of strength made audible. She put her hands against his temples.
“I am listening,” she said. “I must hear it.”
He looked up, rose to his feet, put his hands behind her shoulders, held her, and set his lips on hers, pressing his whole body against hers.
“Hear it!” he said, muttering against her lips. “Hear it. I love you—I love you.”
The two birds they had seen flew back beneath the trees, turned in an airy circle, rose above the trees into the blue sky, and, side by side, winged their way out of the garden to the desert.
In the evening before the day of Domini’s marriage with Androvsky there was a strange sunset, which attracted even the attention and roused the comment of the Arabs. The day had been calm and beautiful, one of the most lovely days of the North African spring, and Batouch, resting from the triumphant labour of superintending the final preparations for a long desert journey, augured a morning of Paradise for the departure along the straight road that led at last to Tombouctou. But as the radiant afternoon drew to its end there came into the blue sky a whiteness that suggested a heaven turning pale in the contemplation of some act that was piteous and terrible. And under this blanching heaven the desert, and all things and people of the oasis of Beni-Mora, assumed an aspect of apprehension, as if they felt themselves to be in the thrall of some power whose omnipotence they could not question and whose purpose they feared. This whiteness was shot, at the hour of sunset, with streaks of sulphur yellow and dappled with small, ribbed clouds tinged with yellow-green, a bitter and cruel shade of green that distressed the eyes as a merciless light distresses them, but these colours quickly faded, and again the whiteness prevailed for a brief space of time before the heavy falling of a darkness unpierced by stars. With this darkness came a faint moaning of hollow wind from the desert, a lamentable murmur that shuddered over the great spaces, crept among the palms and the flat-roofed houses, and died away at the foot of the brown mountains beyond the Hammam Salahine. The succeeding silence, short and intense, was like a sound of fear, like the cry of a voice lifted up in protest against the approach of an unknown, but dreaded, fate. Then the wind came again with a stronger moaning and a lengthened life, not yet forceful, not yet with all its powers, but more tenacious, more acquainted with itself and the deeds that it might do when the night was black among the vast sands which were its birth-place, among the crouching plains and the trembling palm groves that would be its battle-ground.