“‘Read it for me!’ he said. ‘I can’t see—I can’t see anything.’
“I took the letter. He covered his eyes with his hands. I opened it and read:
“’GRAND HOTEL, TUNIS.
“’I have found out where you are. I have come. Forgive me—if you can. I will marry you—or I will live with you. As you please; but I cannot live without you. I know women are not admitted to the monastery. Come out on the road that leads to Tunis. I am there. At least come for a moment and speak to me. VERONIQUE.’
“Domini, I read this slowly; and it was as if I read my own fate. When I had finished he got up. He was still pale as ashes and trembling.
“‘Which is the way to the road?’ he said. ‘Do you know?’
“‘Take me there. Give me your arm, Father.’
“He took it, leaned on it heavily. We walked through the wood towards the highroad. I had almost to support him. The way seemed long. I felt tired, sick, as if I could scarcely move, as if I were bearing—as if I were bearing a cross that was too heavy for me. We came at last out of the shadow of the trees into the glare of the sun. A flat field divided us from the white road.
“‘Is there—is there a carriage?’ he whispered in my ear.
“I looked across the field and saw on the road a carriage waiting.
“‘Yes,’ I said.
“I stopped, and tried to take his arm from mine.
“‘Go,’ I said. ‘Go on!’
“‘I can’t. Come with me, Father.’
“We went on in the blinding sun. I looked down on the dry earth as I walked. Presently I saw at my feet the white dust of the road. At the same time I heard a woman’s cry. The stranger took his arm violently from mine.
“‘Father,’ he said. ‘Good-bye—God bless you!’
“He was gone. I stood there. In a moment I heard a roll of wheels. Then I looked up. I saw a man and a woman together, Domini. Their faces were like angels’ faces—with happiness. The dust flew up in the sunshine. The wheels died away—I was alone.
“Presently—I think after a very long time—I turned and went back to the monastery. Domini, that night I left the monastery. I was as one mad. The wish to live had given place to the determination to live. I thought of nothing else. In the chapel that evening I heard nothing—I did not see the monks. I did not attempt to pray, for I knew that I was going. To go was an easy matter for me. I slept alone in the hotellerie, of which I had the key. When it was night I unlocked the door. I walked to the cemetery—between the Stations of the Cross. Domini, I did not see them. In the cemetery was a ladder, as I told you.
“Just before dawn I reached my brother’s house outside of Tunis, not far from the Bardo. I knocked. My brother himself came down to know who was there. He, as I told you, was without religion, and had always hated my being a monk. I told him all, without reserve. I said, ’Help me to go away. Let me go anywhere—alone.’ He gave me clothes, money. I shaved off my beard and moustache. I shaved my head, so that the tonsure was no longer visible. In the afternoon of that day I left Tunis. I was let loose into life. Domini—Domini, I won’t tell you where I wandered till I came to the desert, till I met you.