“I was let loose into life, but, with my freedom, the wish to live seemed to die in me. I was afraid of life. I was haunted by terrors. I had been a monk so long that I did not know how to live as other men. I did not live, I never lived—till I met you. And then—then I realised what life may be. And then, too, I realised fully what I was. I struggled, I fought myself. You know—now, if you look back, I think you know that I tried—sometimes, often—I tried to—to—I tried to——”
His voice broke.
“That last day in the garden I thought that I had conquered myself, and it was in that moment that I fell for ever. When I knew you loved me I could fight no more. Do you understand? You have seen me, you have lived with me, you have divined my misery. But don’t—don’t think, Domini, that it ever came from you. It was the consciousness of my lie to you, my lie to God, that—that—I can’t go on—I can’t tell you—I can’t tell you—you know.”
He was silent. Domini said nothing, did not move. He did not look at her, but her silence seemed to terrify him. He drew back from it sharply and turned to the desert. He stared across the vast spaces lit up by the moon. Still she did not move.
“I’ll go—I’ll go!” he muttered.
And he stepped forward. Then Domini spoke.
“Boris!” she said.
“What is it?” he murmured hoarsely.
“Boris, now at last you—you can pray.”
He looked at her as if awe-stricken.
“Pray!” he whispered. “You tell me I can pray—now!”
“Now at last.”
She went into the tent and left him alone. He stood where he was for a moment. He knew that, in the tent, she was praying. He stood, trying to listen to her prayer. Then, with an uncertain hand, he felt in his breast. He drew out the wooden crucifix. He bent down his head, touched it with his lips, and fell upon his knees in the desert.
The music had ceased in the city. There was a great silence.
The good priest of Amara, strolling by chance at the dinner-hour of the following day towards the camp of the hospitable strangers, was surprised and saddened to find only the sand-hill strewn with debris. The tents, the camels, the mules, the horses—all were gone. No servants greeted him. No cook was busy. No kind hostess bade him come in and stay to dine. Forlornly he glanced around and made inquiry. An Arab told him that in the morning the camp had been struck and ere noon was far on its way towards the north. The priest had been on horseback to an neighbouring oasis, so had heard nothing of this flitting. He asked its explanation, and was told a hundred lies. The one most often repeated was to the effect that Monsieur, the husband of Madame, was overcome by the heat, and that for this reason the travellers were making their way towards the cooler climate that lay beyond the desert.