She felt that there was something morbid in his horror of the crowd, and the same strength of her nature said to her, “Uproot it!”
Their camp was pitched on the sand-hills, to the north of the city near the French and Arab cemeteries. They reached it only when darkness was falling, going out of the city on foot by the great wall of dressed stone which enclosed the Kasba of the native soldiers, and ascending and descending various slopes of deep sand, over which the airs of night blew with a peculiar thin freshness that renewed Domini’s sense of being at the end of the world. Everything here whispered the same message, said, “We are the denizens of far-away.”
In their walk to the camp they were accompanied by a little procession. Shabah, the Caid of Amara, a shortish man whose immense dignity made him almost gigantic, insisted upon attending them to the tents, with his young brother, a pretty, libertine boy of sixteen, the brother’s tutor, an Arab black as a negro but without the negro’s look of having been freshly oiled, and two attendants. To them joined himself the Caid of the Nomads, a swarthy potentate who not only looked, but actually was, immense, his four servants, and his uncle, a venerable person like a shepherd king. These worthies surrounded Domini and Androvsky, and behind streamed the curious, the envious, the greedy and the desultory Arabs, who follow in the trail of every stranger, hopeful of the crumbs that are said to fall from the rich man’s table. Shabah spoke French and led the conversation, which was devoted chiefly to his condition of health. Some years before an attempt had been made upon his life by poison, and since that time, as he himself expressed it, his stomach had been “perturbed as a guard dog in the night when robbers are approaching.” All efforts to console or to inspire him with hope of future cure were met with a stern hopelessness, a brusque certainty of perpetual suffering. The idea that his stomach could again know peace evidently shocked and distressed him, and as they all waded together through the sand, pioneered by the glorified Batouch, Domini was obliged to yield to his emphatic despair, and to join with him in his appreciation of the perpetual indigestion which set him apart from the rest of the world like some God within a shrine. The skittish boy, his brother, who wore kid gloves, cast at her sly glances of admiration which asked for a return. The black tutor grinned. And the Caid of the Nomads punctuated their progress with loud grunts of heavy satisfaction, occasionally making use of Batouch as interpreter to express his hopes that they would visit his palace in the town, and devour a cous-cous on his carpet.
When they came to the tents it was necessary to entertain these personages with coffee, and they finally departed promising a speedy return, and full of invitations, which were cordially accepted by Batouch on his employer’s behalf before either Domini or Androvsky had time to say a word.