He came at once, like a shadow gliding over the waste.
“Bring us coffee for two, Ouardi, biscuits”—she glanced at her visitor—“bon-bons, yes, the bon-bons in the white box, and the cigars. And take the soldier with you and entertain him well. Give him whatever he likes.”
Ouardi went away with the soldier, talking frantically, and Domini returned to the tent, where she found the priest gleaming with joyous anticipation. They sat down in the comfortable basket chairs before the tent door, through which they could see the shining of the city’s lights and hear the distant sound of its throbbing and wailing music.
“My husband has gone to see the city,” Domini said after she had told the priest her name and been informed that his was Max Beret.
“We only arrived this evening.”
“I know, Madame.”
He beamed on her, and stroked his thick beard with his broad, sunburnt hand. “Everyone in Amara knows, and everyone in the tents. We know, too, how many tents you have, how many servants, how many camels, horses, dogs.”
He broke into a hearty laugh.
“We know what you’ve just had for dinner!”
Domini laughed too.
“Well, I heard in the camp that it was soup and stewed mutton. But never mind! You must forgive us. We are barbarians! We are sand-rascals! We are ruffians of the sun!”
His laugh was infectious. He leaned back in his chair and shook with the mirth his own remarks had roused.
“We are ruffians of the sun!” he repeated with gusto. “And we must be forgiven everything.”
Although clad in a soutane he looked, at that moment, like a type of the most joyous tolerance, and Domini could not help mentally comparing him with the priest of Beni-Mora. What would Father Roubier think of Father Beret?
“It is easy to forgive in the sun,” Domini said.
The priest laid his hands on his knees, setting his feet well apart. She noticed that his hands were not scrupulously clean.
“Madame,” he said, “it is impossible to be anything but lenient in the sun. That is my experience. Excuse me but are you a Catholic?”
“So much the better. You must let me show you the chapel. It is in the building with the cupolas. The congregation consists of five on a full Sunday.” His laugh broke out again. “I hope the day after to-morrow you and your husband will make it seven. But, as I was saying, the sun teaches one a lesson of charity. When I first came to live in Africa in the midst of the sand-rascals—eh; Madame!—I suppose as a priest I ought to have been shocked by their goings-on. And indeed I tried to be, I conscientiously did my best. But it was no good. I couldn’t be shocked. The sunshine drove it all out of me. I could only say, ’It is not for me to question le bon Dieu, and le bon Dieu has created these people and set them here in the