Native soldiers went by to the Kasba on the height, or strolled down towards the Cafes Maures smoking cigarettes. Circles of grave men bent over card games, dominoes and draughts—called by the Arabs the Ladies’ Game. Khodjas made their way with dignity towards the Bureau Arabe. Veiled women, fat and lethargic, jingling with ornaments, waddled through the arches of the arcades, carrying in their painted and perspiring hands blocks of sweetmeats which drew the flies. Children played in the dust by little heaps of refuse, which they stirred up into clouds with their dancing, naked feet. In front, as if from the first palms of the oasis, rose the roar of beaten drums from the negroes’ quarter, and from the hill-top at the feet of the minarets came the fierce and piteous noise that is the leit-motif of the desert, the multitudinous complaining of camels dominating all other sounds.
As Domini and Androvsky rode into this whirlpool of humanity, above which the sky was red like a great wound, it flowed and eddied round them, making them its centre. The arrival of a stranger-woman was a rare, if not an unparalleled, event in Amara, and Batouch had been very busy in spreading the fame of his mistress.
“Madame should dismount,” said Batouch. “Ali will take the horses, and I will escort Madame and Monsieur up the hill to the place of the fountain. Shabah will be there to greet Madame.”
“What an uproar!” Domini exclaimed, half laughing, half confused. “Who on earth is Shabah?”
“Shabah is the Caid of Amara,” replied Batouch with dignity. “The greatest man of the city. He awaits Madame by the fountain.” Domini cast a glance at Androvsky.
“Well?” she said.
He shrugged his shoulders like a man who thinks strife useless and the moment come for giving in to Fate.
“The monster has opened his jaws for us,” he said, forcing a laugh. “We had better walk in, I suppose. But—O Domini!—the silence of the wastes!”
“We shall know it again. This is only for the moment. We shall have all its joy again.”
“Who knows?” he said, as he had said when they were riding up the sand slope. “Who knows?”
Then they got off their horses and were taken by the crowd.