All the contrasts of this land were exquisite to Domini and, in some mysterious way, suggested eternal things; whispering through colour, gleam, and shadow, through the pattern of leaf and rock, through the air, now fresh, now tenderly warm and perfumed, through the silence that hung like a filmy cloud in the golden heaven.
She and Batouch entered the tunnel, passing at once into definite evening. The quiet of these gardens was delicious, and was only interrupted now and then by the sound of wheels upon the road as a carriage rolled by to some house which was hidden in the distance of the oasis. The seated Arabs scarcely disturbed it by their murmured talk. Many of them indeed said nothing, but rested like lotus-eaters in graceful attitudes, with hanging hands, and eyes, soft as the eyes of gazelles, that regarded the shadowy paths and creeping waters with a grave serenity born of the inmost spirit of idleness.
But Batouch loved to talk, and soon began a languid monologue.
He told Domini that he had been in Paris, where he had been the guest of a French poet who adored the East; that he himself was “instructed,” and not like other Arabs; that he smoked the hashish and could sing the love songs of the Sahara; that he had travelled far in the desert, to Souf and to Ouargla beyond the ramparts of the Dunes; that he composed verses in the night when the uninstructed, the brawlers, the drinkers of absinthe and the domino players were sleeping or wasting their time in the darkness over the pastimes of the lewd, when the sybarites were sweating under the smoky arches of the Moorish baths, and the marechale of the dancing-girls sat in her flat-roofed house guarding the jewels and the amulets of her gay confederation. These verses were written both in Arabic and in French, and the poet of Paris and his friends had found them beautiful as the dawn, and as the palm trees of Ourlana by the Artesian wells. All the girls of the Ouled Nails were celebrated in these poems—Aishoush and Irena, Fatma and Baali. In them also were enshrined legends of the venerable marabouts who slept in the Paradise of Allah, and tales of the great warriors who had fought above the rocky precipices of Constantine and far off among the sands of the South. They told the stories of the Koulouglis, whose mothers were Moorish slaves, and romances in which figured the dark-skinned Beni M’Zab and the freed negroes who had fled away from the lands in the very heart of the sun.