And still the flute of Larbi showered soft, clear, whimsical music from some hidden place close by.
Domini looked at her host, who was standing by the doorway, leaning one arm against the ivory-white wall.
“This is my first day in Africa,” she said simply. “You may imagine what I think of your garden, what I feel in it. I needn’t tell you. Indeed, I am sure the travellers you so kindly let in must often have worried you with their raptures.”
“No,” he answered, with a still gravity which yet suggested kindness, “for I leave nearly always before the travellers come. That sounds a little rude? But you would not be in Beni-Mora at this season, Madame, if it could include you.”
“I have come here for peace,” Domini replied simply.
She said it because she felt as if it was already understood by her companion.
Count Anteoni took down his arm from the white wall and pulled a branch of the purple flowers slowly towards him through the doorway.
“There is peace—what is generally called so, at least—in Beni-Mora,” he answered rather slowly and meditatively. “That is to say, there is similarity of day with day, night with night. The sun shines untiringly over the desert, and the desert always hints at peace.”
He let the flowers go, and they sprang softly back, and hung quivering in the space beyond his thin figure. Then he added:
“Perhaps one should not say more than that.”
Domini sat down for a moment. She looked up at him with her direct eyes and at the shaking flowers. The sound of Larbi’s flute was always in her ears.
“But may not one think, feel a little more?” she asked.
“Oh, why not? If one can, if one must? But how? Africa is as fierce and full of meaning as a furnace, you know.”
“Yes, I know—already,” she replied.
His words expressed what she had already felt here in Beni-Mora, surreptitiously and yet powerfully. He said it, and last night the African hautboy had said it. Peace and a flame. Could they exist together, blended, married?
“Africa seems to me to agree through contradiction,” she added, smiling a little, and touching the snowy wall with her right hand. “But then, this is my first day.”
“Mine was when I was a boy of sixteen.”
“This garden wasn’t here then?”
“No. I had it made. I came here with my mother. She spoilt me. She let me have my whim.”
“This garden is your boy’s whim?”
“It was. Now it is a man’s——”
He seemed to hesitate.
“Paradise,” suggested Domini.
“I think I was going to say hiding-place.”
There was no bitterness in his odd, ugly voice, yet surely the words implied bitterness. The wounded, the fearful, the disappointed, the condemned hide. Perhaps he remembered this, for he added rather quickly: