“I know. But one does sometimes pity men one never has seen, never will see, if one hears something frightful about them. Perhaps—don’t smile, Boris—perhaps it was seeing that liqueur, which he had actually made in the monastery when he was at peace with God, perhaps it was seeing that, that has made me realise—such trifles stir the imagination, set it working—at any rate—”
She broke off. After a minute, during which he said nothing, she continued:
“I believe the priest felt something of the same sort. He could not drink the liqueur that man had made, although he intended to.”
“But—that might have been for a different reason,” Androvsky said in a harsh voice; “priests have strange ideas. They often judge things cruelly, very cruelly.”
“Perhaps they do. Yes; I can imagine that Father Roubier of Beni-Mora might, though he is a good man and leads a saintly life.”
“Those are sometimes the most cruel. They do not understand.”
“Perhaps not. It may be so. But this priest—he’s not like that.”
She thought of his genial, bearded face, his expression when he said, “We are ruffians of the sun,” including himself with the desert men, his boisterous laugh.
“His fault might be the other way.”
“Too great a tolerance.”
“Can a man be too tolerant towards his fellow-man?” said Androvsky.
There was a strange sound of emotion in his deep voice which moved her. It seemed to her—why, she did not know—to steal out of the depth of something their mutual love had created.
“The greatest of all tolerance is God’s,” she said. “I’m sure—quite sure—of that.”
Androvsky came in out of the shadow of the tent, took her in his arms with passion, laid his lips on hers with passion, hot, burning force and fire, and a hard tenderness that was hard because it was intense.
“God will bless you,” he said. “God will bless you. Whatever life brings you at the end you must—you must be blessed by Him.”
“But He has blessed me,” she whispered, through tears that rushed from her eyes, stirred from their well-springs by his sudden outburst of love for her. “He has blessed me. He has given me you, your love, your truth.”
Androvsky released her as abruptly as he had taken her in his arms, turned, and went out into the desert.
True to his promise, on the following day the priest called to inquire after Androvsky’s health. He happened to come just before dejeuner was ready, and met Androvsky on the sand before the tent door.
“It’s not fever then, Monsieur,” he said, after they had shaken hands.
“No, no,” Androvsky replied. “I am quite well this morning.”
The priest looked at him closely with an unembarrassed scrutiny.
“Have you been long in the desert, Monsieur?” he asked.