The village was full of the wan presage of the coming of the moon. The night was very still and very warm. As they skirted the long gardens Domini saw a light in the priest’s house. It made her wonder how he passed his solitary evenings when he went home from the hotel, and she fancied him sitting in some plainly-furnished little room with Bous-Bous and a few books, smoking a pipe and thinking sadly of the White Fathers of Africa and of his frustrated desire for complete renunciation. With this last thought blended the still remote sound of the hautboy. It suggested anything rather than renunciation; mysterious melancholy—successor to passion—the cry of longing, the wail of the unknown that draws some men and women to splendid follies and to ardent pilgrimages whose goal is the mirage.
Hadj was talking in a low voice, but Domini did not listen to him. She was vaguely aware that he was abusing Batouch, saying that he was a liar, inclined to theft, a keef smoker, and in a general way steeped to the lips in crime. But the moon was rising, the distant music was becoming more distinct. She could not listen to Hadj.
As they turned into the street of the sand-diviner the first ray of the moon fell on the white road. Far away at the end of the street Domini could see the black foliage of the trees in the Gazelles’ garden, and beyond, to the left, a dimness of shadowy palms at the desert edge. The desert itself was not visible. Two Arabs passed, shrouded in burnouses, with the hoods drawn up over their heads. Only their black beards could be seen. They were talking violently and waving their arms. Suzanne shuddered and drew close to the poet. Her plump face worked and she glanced appealingly at her mistress. But Domini was not thinking of her, or of violence or danger. The sound of the tomtoms and hautboys seemed suddenly much louder now that the moon began to shine, making a whiteness among the white houses of the village, the white robes of the inhabitants, a greater whiteness on the white road that lay before them. And she was thinking that the moon whiteness of Beni-Mora was more passionate than pure, more like the blanched face of a lover than the cool, pale cheek of a virgin. There was excitement in it, suggestion greater even than the suggestion of the tremendous coloured scenes of the evening that preceded such a night. And she mused of white heat and of what it means—the white heat of the brain blazing with thoughts that govern, the white heat of the heart blazing with emotions that make such thoughts seem cold. She had never known either. Was she incapable of knowing them? Could she imagine them till there was physical heat in her body if she was incapable of knowing them? Suzanne and the two Arabs were distant shadows to her when that first moon-ray touched their feet. The passion of the night began to burn her, and she thought she would like to take her soul and hold it out to the white flame.