Presently, still in this perplexity of spirit, she left England with only her maid as companion. After a short tour in the south of Europe, with which she was too familiar, she crossed the sea to Africa, which she had never seen. Her destination was Beni-Mora. She had chosen it because she liked its name, because she saw on the map that it was an oasis in the Sahara Desert, because she knew it was small, quiet, yet face to face with an immensity of which she had often dreamed. Idly she fancied that perhaps in the sunny solitude of Beni-Mora, far from all the friends and reminiscences of her old life, she might learn to understand herself. How? She did not know. She did not seek to know. Here was a vague pilgrimage, as many pilgrimages are in this world—the journey of the searcher who knew not what she sought. And so now she lay in the dark, and heard the rustle of the warm African rain, and smelt the perfumes rising from the ground, and felt that the unknown was very near her—the unknown with all its blessed possibilities of change.
Long before dawn the Italian waiter rolled off his little bed, put a cap on his head, and knocked at Domini’s and at Suzanne Charpot’s doors.
It was still dark, and still raining, when the two women came out to get into the carriage that was to take them to the station. The place de la Marine was a sea of mud, brown and sticky as nougat. Wet palms dripped by the railing near a desolate kiosk painted green and blue. The sky was grey and low. Curtains of tarpaulin were let down on each side of the carriage, and the coachman, who looked like a Maltese, and wore a round cap edged with pale yellow fur, was muffled up to the ears. Suzanne’s round, white face was puffy with fatigue, and her dark eyes, generally good-natured and hopeful, were dreary, and squinted slightly, as she tipped the Italian waiter, and handed her mistress’s dressing-bag and rug into the carriage. The waiter stood an the discoloured step, yawning from ear to ear. Even the tip could not excite him. Before the carriage started he had gone into the hotel and banged the door. The horses trotted quickly through the mud, descending the hill. One of the tarpaulin curtains had been left unbuttoned by the coachman. It flapped to and fro, and when its movement was outward Domini could catch short glimpses of mud, of glistening palm-leaves with yellow stems, of gas-lamps, and of something that was like an extended grey nothingness. This was the sea. Twice she saw Arabs trudging along, holding their skirts up in a bunch sideways, and showing legs bare beyond the knees. Hoods hid their faces. They appeared to be agitated by the weather, and to be continually trying to plant their naked feet in dry places. Suzanne, who sat opposite to Domini, had her eyes shut. If she had not from time to time passed her tongue quickly over her full, pale lips she would have looked like a dead thing.