Batouch looked grave as he listened to the wind and the creaking of the palm stems one against another. Sand came upon his face. He pulled the hood of his burnous over his turban and across his cheeks, covered his mouth with a fold of his haik and stared into the blackness, like an animal in search of something his instinct has detected approaching from a distance.
Ali was beside him in the doorway of the Cafe Maure, a slim Arab boy, bronze-coloured and serious as an idol, who was a troubadour of the Sahara, singer of “Janat” and many lovesongs, player of the guitar backed with sand tortoise and faced with stretched goatskin. Behind them swung an oil lamp fastened to a beam of palm, and the red ashes glowed in the coffee niche and shed a ray upon the shelf of small white cups with faint designs of gold. In a corner, his black face and arms faintly relieved against the wall, an old negro crouched, gazing into vacancy with bulging eyes, and beating with a curved palm stem upon an oval drum, whose murmur was deep and hollow as the murmur of the wind, and seemed indeed its echo prisoned within the room and striving to escape.
“There is sand on my eyelids,” said Batouch. “It is bad for to-morrow. When Allah sends the sands we should cover the face and play the ladies’ game within the cafe, we should not travel on the road towards the south.”
Ali said nothing, but drew up his haik over his mouth and nose, and looked into the night, folding his thin hands in his burnous.
“Achmed will sleep in the Bordj of Arba,” continued Batouch in a low, murmuring voice, as if speaking to himself. “And the beasts will be in the court. Nothing can remain outside, for there will be a greater roaring of the wind at Arba. Can it be the will of Allah that we rest in the tents to-morrow?”
Ali made no answer. The wind had suddenly died down.
The sand grains came no more against their eyelids and the folds of their haiks. Behind them the negro’s drum gave out monotonously its echo of the wind, filling the silence of the night.
“Whatever Allah sends,” Batouch went on softly after a pause, “Madame will go. She is brave as the lion. There is no jackal in Madame. Irena is not more brave than she is. But Madame will never wear the veil for a man’s sake. She will not wear the veil, but she could give a knife-thrust if he were to look at another woman as he has looked at her, as he will look at her to-morrow. She is proud as a Touareg and there is fierceness in her. But he will never look at another woman as he will look at her to-morrow. The Roumi is not as we are.”
The wind came back to join its sound with the drum, imprisoning the two Arabs in a muttering circle.
“They will not care,” said Batouch. “They will go out into the storm without fear.”