“It is not Larbi. He would not go in there. It must be——”
He paused. A tall, middle-aged man had come to the doorway of the little room and looked out into the garden with bright eyes.
Domini drew back and glanced at Smain. She was not accustomed to feeling intrusive, and the sudden sensation rendered her uneasy.
“It is Monsieur the Count,” Smain said calmly and quite aloud.
The man in the doorway took off his soft hat, as if the words effected an introduction between Domini and him.
“You were coming to see my little room, Madame?” he said in French. “If I may show it to you I shall feel honoured.”
The timbre of his voice was harsh and grating, yet it was a very interesting, even a seductive, voice, and, Domini thought, peculiarly full of vivid life, though not of energy. His manner at once banished her momentary discomfort. There is a freemasonry between people born in the same social world. By the way in which Count Anteoni took off his hat and spoke she knew at once that all was right.
“Thank you, Monsieur,” she answered. “I was told at the gate you gave permission to travellers to visit your garden.”
He spoke a few words in fluent Arabic to Smain, who turned away and disappeared among the trees.
“I hope you will allow me to accompany you through the rest of the garden,” he said, turning again to Domini. “It will give me great pleasure.”
“It is very kind of you.”
The way in which the change of companion had been effected made it seem a pleasant, inevitable courtesy, which neither implied nor demanded anything.
“This is my little retreat,” Count Anteoni continued, standing aside from the doorway that Domini might enter.
She drew a long breath when she was within.
The floor was of fine sand, beaten flat and hard, and strewn with Eastern rugs of faint and delicate hues, dim greens and faded rose colours, grey-blues and misty topaz yellows. Round the white walls ran broad divans, also white, covered with prayer rugs from Bagdad, and large cushions, elaborately worked in dull gold and silver thread, with patterns of ibises and flamingoes in flight. In the four angles of the room stood four tiny smoking-tables of rough palm wood, holding hammered ash-trays of bronze, green bronze torches for the lighting of cigarettes, and vases of Chinese dragon china filled with velvety red roses, gardenias and sprigs of orange blossom. Leather footstools, covered with Tunisian thread-work, lay beside them. From the arches of the window-spaces hung old Moorish lamps of copper, fitted with small panes of dull jewelled glass, such as may be seen in venerable church windows. In a round copper brazier, set on one of the window-seats, incense twigs were drowsily burning and giving out thin, dwarf columns of scented smoke. Through the archways and the narrow doorway the dense walls of leafage were visible standing on guard about this airy hermitage, and the hot purple blossoms of the bougainvillea shed a cloud of colour through the bosky dimness.