Domini waited for the return of Marelle. Her mood had changed. A glow of cordial humanity chased away her melancholy. The hostess that lurks in every woman—that housewife-hostess sense which goes hand-in-hand with the mother sense—was alive in her. She was keenly anxious to play the good fairy simply, unostentatiously, to these exhausted men who had come to Mogar out of the jaws of Death, to see their weary faces shine under the influence of repose and good cheer. But the tower looked desolate. The camp was gayer, cosier. Suddenly she resolved to invite them all to dine in the camp that night.
Marelle returned with Batouch. She saw them from a distance coming through the darkness with blazing torches in their hands. When they came to her she said:
“Batouch, I want you to order dinner in camp for the soldiers.”
A broad and radiant smile irradiated the blunt Breton features of Marelle.
“And Monsieur the officer will dine with me and Monsieur. Give us all you can. Perhaps there will be some gazelle.”
She saw him opening his lips to say that the dinner would be poor and stopped him.
“You are to open some of the champagne—the Pommery. We will drink to all safe returns. Now, give me the brand and go and tell the cook.”
As he took his torch and disappeared into the darkness De Trevignac came out from the tower. He still looked exhausted and walked with some difficulty, but he had washed the sand from his face with water from the artesian well behind the tower, changed his uniform, brushed the sand from his yellow hair, and put on a smart gold-laced cap instead of his sun-helmet. The spectacles were gone from his eyes, and between his lips was a large Havana—his last, kept by him among the dunes as a possible solace in the dreadful hour of death.
“Monsieur de Trevignac, I want you to dine with us in camp to-night—only to dine. We won’t keep you from your bed one moment after the coffee and the cognac. You must seal the triple alliance—France, Russia, England—in some champagne.”
She had spoken gaily, cordially. She added more gravely:
“One doesn’t escape from death among the dunes every day. Will you come?”
She held out her hand frankly, as a man might to another man. He pressed it as a man presses a woman’s hand when he is feeling very soft and tender.
“Madame, what can I say, but that you are too good to us poor fellows and that you will find it very difficult to get rid of us, for we shall be so happy in your camp that we shall forget all about our tower.”
“That’s settled then.”
With the brand in her hand she walked to the edge of the hill. De Trevignac followed her. He had taken the other brand from Marelle. They stood side by side, overlooking the immense desolation that was now almost hidden in the night.
“You are going to signal to your husband, Madame?”