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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #60 on: March 31, 2009, 01:22:48 pm »

think that that is devoid of interest? A plague upon you for being hard to please."

"I spoke of practical value," I said. "You won't deny that this controversy is only the affair of cabinet geographers and office explorers."

Morhange kept on smiling.

"Dear friend, don't wither me. Deign to recall that your mission was confided to you by the Ministry of War, while I hold mine on behalf of the Ministry of Public Instruction. A different origin justifies our different aims. It certainly explains, I readily concede that to you, why what I am in search of has no practical value."

"You are also authorized by the Ministry of Commerce," I replied, playing my next card. "By this chief you are instructed to study the possibility of restoring the old trade route of the ninth century. But on this point don't attempt to mislead me; with your knowledge of the history and geography of the Sahara, your mind must have been made up before you left Paris. The road from Djerid to the Niger is dead, stone dead. You knew that no important traffic would pass by this route before you undertook to study the possibility of restoring it."

Morhange looked me full in the face.

"And if that should be so," he said with the most charming attitude, "if I had before leaving the conviction you say, what do you conclude from that?"

"I should prefer to have you tell me."

p. 61

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #61 on: March 31, 2009, 01:23:01 pm »

"Simply, my dear boy, that I had less skill than you in finding the pretext for my voyage, that I furnished less good reasons for the true motives that brought me here."

"A pretext? I don't see . . ."

"Be sincere in your turn, if you please. I am sure that you have the greatest desire to inform the Arabian Office about the practices of the Senouissis. But admit that the information that you will obtain is not the sole and innermost aim of your excursion. You are a geologist, my friend. You have found a chance to gratify your taste in this trip. No one would think of blaming you because you have known how to reconcile what is useful to your country and agreeable to yourself. But, for the love of God, don't deny it; I need no other proof than your presence here on this side of the Tidifest, a very curious place from a mineralogical point of view, but some hundred and fifty kilometers south of your official route."

It was not possible to have countered me with a better grace. I parried by attacking.

"Am I to conclude from all this that I do not know the real aims of your trip, and that they have nothing to do with the official motives?"

I had gone a bit too far. I felt it from the seriousness with which Morhange's reply was delivered.

"No, my dear friend, you must not conclude just that. I should have no taste for a lie which was

p. 62

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #62 on: March 31, 2009, 01:23:15 pm »

based on fraud towards the estimable constitutional bodies which have judged me worthy of their confidence and their support. The ends that they have assigned to me I shall do my best to attain. But I have no reason for hiding from you that there is another, quite personal, which is far nearer to my heart. Let us say, if you will, to use a terminology that is otherwise deplorable, that this is the end while the others are the means."

"Would there be any indiscretion? . . ."

"None," replied my companion. "Shikh-Salah is only a few days distant. He whose first steps you have guided with such solicitude in the desert should have nothing hidden from you."

We had halted in the valley of a little dry well where a few sickly plants were growing. A spring near by was circled by a crown of gray verdure. The camels had been unsaddled for the night, and were seeking vainly, at every stride, to nibble the spiny tufts of had. The black and polished sides of the Tidifest Mountains rose, almost vertically, above our heads. Already the blue smoke of the fire on which Bou-Djema was cooking dinner rose through the motionless air.

Not a sound, not a breath. The smoke mounted straight, straight and slowly up the pale steps of the firmament.

"Have you ever heard of the Atlas of Christianity?" asked Morhange.

p. 63

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #63 on: March 31, 2009, 01:23:29 pm »

"I think so. Isn't it a geographical work published by the Benedictines under the direction of a certain Dom Granger?"

"Your memory is correct," said Morhange. "Even so let me explain a little more fully some of the things you have not had as much reason as I to interest yourself in. The Atlas of Christianity proposes to establish the boundaries of that great tide of Christianity through all the ages, and for all parts of the globe. An undertaking worthy of the Benedictine learning, worthy of such a prodigy of erudition as Dom Granger himself."

"And it is these boundaries that you have come to determine here, no doubt," I murmured.

"Just so," replied my companion.

He was silent, and I respected his silence, prepared by now to be astonished at nothing.

"It is not possible to give confidences by halves, without being ridiculous," he continued after several minutes of meditation, speaking gravely, in a voice which held no suggestion of that flashing humor which had a month before enchanted the young officers at Wargla. "I have begun on mine. I will tell you everything. Trust my discretion, however, and do not insist upon certain events of my private life. If, four years ago, at the close of these events, I resolved to enter a monastery, it does not concern you to know my reasons. I can marvel at it myself, that the passage in my life of a being absolutely devoid

p. 64

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #64 on: March 31, 2009, 01:23:42 pm »

of interest should have sufficed to change the current of that life. I can marvel that a creature whose sole merit was her beauty should have been permitted by the Creator to swing my destiny to such an unforeseen direction. The monastery at whose doors I knocked had the most valid reasons for doubting the stability of my vocation. What the world loses in such fashion it often calls back as readily. In short, I cannot blame the Father Abbot for having forbidden me to apply for my army discharge. By his instructions, I asked for, and obtained, permission to be placed on the inactive list for three years. At the end of those three years of consecration it would be seen whether the world was definitely dead to your servant.

"The first day of my arrival at the cloister I was assigned to Dom Granger, and placed by him at work on the Atlas of Christianity. A brief examination decided him as to what kind of service I was best fitted to render. This is how I came to enter the studio devoted to the cartography of Northern Africa. I did not know one word of Arabic, but it happened that in garrison at Lyon I had taken at the Faculté des Lettres, a course with Berlioux,—a very erudite geographer no doubt, but obsessed by one idea, the influence the Greek and Roman civilizations had exercised on Africa. This detail of my life was enough for Dom Granger. He provided me straightway with Berber vocabularies by Venture,

p. 65

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #65 on: March 31, 2009, 01:23:53 pm »

by Delaporte, by Brosselard; with the Grammatical Sketch of the Temahaq by Stanley Fleeman, and the Essai de Grammaire de la langue Temachek by Major Hanoteau. At the end of three months I was able to decipher any inscriptions in Tifinar. You know that Tifinar is the national writing of the Tuareg, the expression of this Terachek language which seems to us the most curious protest of the Targui race against its Mohammedan enemies.

"Dom Granger, in fact, believed that the Tuareg are Christians, dating from a period which it was necessary to ascertain, but which coincided no doubt with the splendor of the church of Hippon. Even better than I, you know that the cross is with them the symbol of fate in decoration. Duveyrier has claimed that it figures in their alphabet, on their arms, among the designs of their clothes. The only tattooing that they wear on the forehead, on the back of the hand, is a cross with four equal branches; the pummels of their saddles, the handles of their sabres, of their poignards, are cross-shaped. And is it necessary to remind you that, although Islam forbids bells as a sign of Christianity, the harness of Tuareg camels are trimmed with bells?

"Neither Dom Granger nor I attach an exaggerated importance to such proofs, which resemble too much those which make such a display in the Genius of Christianity. But it is indeed impossible to refuse

p. 66

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #66 on: March 31, 2009, 01:24:06 pm »

all credence to certain theological arguments. Amanai, the God of the Tuareg, unquestionably the Adonai of the Bible, is unique. They have a hell, 'Timsi-tan-elekhaft,' the last fire, where reigns Iblis, our Lucifer. Their Paradise, where they are rewarded for good deeds, is inhabited by 'andjelousen,' our angels. And do not urge the resemblance of this theology to the Koran, for I will meet you with historic arguments and remind you that the Tuareg have struggled all through the ages at the cost of partial extermination, to maintain their faith against the encroachments of Mohammedan fanaticism.

"Many times I have studied with Dom Granger that formidable epoch when the aborigines opposed the conquering Arabs. With him I have seen how the army of Sidi-Okba, one of the companions of the Prophet, invaded this desert to reduce the Tuareg tribes and impose on them Musselman rules. These tribes were then rich and prosperous. They were the Ihbggaren, the Imededren, the Ouadelen, the Kel-Gueress, the Kel-Air. But internal quarrels sapped their strength. Still, it was not until after a long and cruel war that the Arabians succeeded in getting possession of the capital of the Berbers, which had proved such a redoubtable stronghold. They destroyed it after they had massacred the inhabitants. On the ruins Okba constructed a new city. This city is Es-Souk. The one that Sidi-Okba

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #67 on: March 31, 2009, 01:24:17 pm »

destroyed was the Berber Tadmekka. What Dom Granger asked of me was precisely that I should try to exhume from the ruins of the Musselman Es-Souk the ruins of Tadmekka, which was Berber, and perhaps Christian.

"I understand," I murmured.

"So far, so good," said Morhange. "But what you must grasp now is the practical sense of these religious men, my masters. You remember that, even after three years of monastic life, they preserved their doubts as to the stability of my vocation. They found at the same time means of testing it once for all, and of adapting official facilities to their particular purposes. One morning I was called before the Father Abbot, and this is what he said to me, in the presence of Dom Granger, who expressed silent approval.

"'Your term of inactive service expires in fifteen days. You will return to Paris, and apply at the Ministry to be reinstated. With what you have learned here, and the relationships we have been able to maintain at Headquarters, you will have no difficulty in being attached to the Geographical Staff of the army. When you reach the rue de Grenelle you will receive our instructions.'

"I was astonished at their confidence in my knowledge. When I was reestablished as Captain again in the Geographical Service I understood. At the monastery, the daily association with Dom Granger

p. 68

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #68 on: March 31, 2009, 01:24:29 pm »

and his pupils had kept me constantly convinced of the inferiority of my knowledge. When I came in contact with my military brethren I realized the superiority of the instruction I had received. I did not have to concern myself with the details of my mission. The Ministries invited me to undertake it. My initiative asserted itself on only one occasion. When I learned that you were going to leave Wargla on the present expedition, having reason to distrust my practical qualifications as an explorer, I did my best to retard your departure, so that I might join you. I hope that you have forgiven me by now."

 

The light in the west was fading, where the sun had already sunk into a matchless luxury of violet draperies. We were alone in this immensity, at the feet of the rigid black rocks. Nothing but ourselves. Nothing, nothing but ourselves.

I held out my hand to Morhange, and he pressed it. Then he said:

"If they still seem infinitely long to me, the several thousand kilometers which separate me from the instant when, my task accomplished, I shall at last find oblivion in the cloister for the things for which I was not made, let me tell you this;—the several hundred kilometers which still separate us from Shikh-Salah seem to me infinitely short to traverse in your company."

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #69 on: March 31, 2009, 01:24:40 pm »

On the pale water of the little pool, motionless and fixed like a silver nail, a star had just been born.

"Shikh-Salah," I murmured, my heart full of an indefinable sadness. "Patience, we are not there yet."

 

In truth, we never were to be there.



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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #70 on: March 31, 2009, 01:24:56 pm »

p. 70

CHAPTER V
THE INSCRIPTION
With a blow of the tip of his cane Morhange knocked a fragment of rock from the black flank of the mountain.

"What is it?" he asked, holding it out to me.

"A basaltic peridot," I said.

"It can't be very interesting, you barely glanced at it."

"It is very interesting, on the contrary. But, for the moment, I admit that I am otherwise preoccupied."

"How?"

"Look this way a bit," I said, showing towards the west, on the horizon, a black spot across the white plain.

It was six o'clock in the morning. The sun had risen. But it could not be found in the surprisingly polished air. And not a breath of air, not a breath. Suddenly one of the camels called. An enormous antelope had just come in sight, and had stopped in its flight, terrified, facing the wall of rock. It stayed there at a little distance from us, dazed, trembling on its slender legs.

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #71 on: March 31, 2009, 01:25:13 pm »

Bou-Djema had rejoined us.

"When the legs of the mohor tremble it is because the firmament is shaken," he muttered.

"A storm?"

"Yes, a storm."

"And you find that alarming?"

I did not answer immediately. I was exchanging several brief words with Bou-Djema, who was occupied in soothing the camels which were giving signs of being restive.

Morhange repeated his question. I shrugged my shoulders.

"Alarming? I don't know. I have never seen a storm on the Hoggar. But I distrust it. And the signs are that this is going to be a big one. See there already."

A slight dust had risen before the cliff. In the still air a few grains of sand had begun to whirl round and round, with a speed which increased to dizziness, giving us in advance the spectacle in miniature of what would soon be breaking upon us.

With harsh cries a flock of wild geese appeared, flying low. They came out of the west.

"They are fleeing towards the Sebkha d’Amanghor," said Bou-Djema.

There could be no greater mistake, I thought. Morhange looked at me curiously.

"What must we do?" he asked.

"Mount our camels immediately, before they are

p. 72

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #72 on: March 31, 2009, 01:25:28 pm »

completely demoralized, and hurry to find shelter in some high places. Take account of our situation. It is easy to follow the bed of a stream. But within a quarter of an hour perhaps the storm will have burst. Within a half hour a perfect torrent will be rushing here. On this soil, which is almost impermeable, rain will roll like a pail of water thrown on a bituminous pavement. No depth, all height. Look at this."

And I showed him, a dozen meters high, long hollow gouges, marks of former erosions on the rocky wall.

"In an hour the waters will reach that height. Those are the marks of the last inundation. Let us get started. There is not an instant to lose."

"All right," Morhange replied tranquilly.

We had the greatest difficulty to make the camels kneel. When we had thrown ourselves into the saddle they started off at a pace which their terror rendered more and more disorderly.

Of a sudden the wind began, a formidable wind, and almost at the same time the light was eclipsed in the ravine. Above our heads the sky had become, in the flash of an eye, darker than the walls of the canyon which we were descending at a breathless pace.

"A path, a stairway in the wall," I screamed against the wind to my companions. "If we don't find one in a minute we are lost."

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #73 on: March 31, 2009, 01:25:41 pm »

They did not hear me, but, turning in my saddle, I saw that they had lost no distance, Morhange following me, and Bou-Djema in the rear driving the two baggage camels masterfully before him.

A blinding streak of lightning rent the obscurity. A peal of thunder, re-echoed to infinity by the rocky wall, rang out, and immediately great tepid drops began to fall. In an instant, our burnouses, which had been blown out behind by the speed with which we were traveling, were stuck tight to our streaming bodies.

"Saved!" I exclaimed suddenly.

Abruptly on our right a crevice opened in the midst of the wall. It was the almost perpendicular bed of a stream, an affluent of the one we had had the unfortunate idea of following that morning. Already a veritable torrent was gushing over it with a fine uproar.

I have never better appreciated the incomparable surefootedness of camels in the most precipitate places. Bracing themselves, stretching out their great legs, balancing themselves among the rocks that were beginning to be swept loose, our camels accomplished at that moment what the mules of the Pyrenees might have failed in.

After several moments of superhuman effort we found ourselves at last out of danger, on a kind of basaltic terrace, elevated some fifty meters above the channel of the stream we had just left. Luck was

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #74 on: March 31, 2009, 01:26:11 pm »

with us; a little grotto opened out behind. Bou-Djema succeeded in sheltering the camels there. From its threshold we had leisure to contemplate in silence the prodigious spectacle spread out before us.

You have, I believe, been at the Camp of Chalons for artillery drills. You have seen when the shell bursts how the chalky soil of the Marne effervesces like the inkwells at school, when we used to throw a piece of calcium carbonate into them. Well, it was almost like that, but in the midst of the desert, in the midst of obscurity. The white waters rushed into the depths of the black hole, and rose and rose towards the pedestal on which we stood. And there was the uninterrupted noise of thunder, and still louder, the sound of whole walls of rock, undermined by the flood, collapsing in a heap and dissolving in a few seconds of time in the midst of the rising water.

All the time that this deluge lasted, one hour, perhaps two, Morhange and I stayed bending over this fantastic foaming vat; anxious to see, to see everything, to see in spite of everything; rejoicing with a kind of ineffable horror when we felt the shelf of basalt on which we had taken refuge swaying beneath us from the battering impact of the water. I believe that never for an instant did we think, so beautiful it was, of wishing for the end of that gigantic nightmare.

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