“Au revoir,” she said, turning to go down.
“May I—might I see you get up?” said Androvsky.
“Get up!” she said.
“Up on the horse?”
She could not help smiling at his fashion of expressing the act of mounting. He was not a sportsman evidently, despite his muscular strength.
“Certainly, if you like. Come along.”
Without thinking of it she spoke rather as to a schoolboy, not with superiority, but with the sort of bluffness age sometimes uses good-naturedly to youth. He did not seem to resent it and followed her down to the arcade.
The side saddle was on and the poet held the grey by the bridle. Some Arab boys had assembled under the arcade to see what was going forward. The Arab waiter lounged at the door with the tassel of his fez swinging against his pale cheek. The horse fidgetted and tugged against the rein, lifting his delicate feet uneasily from the ground, flicking his narrow quarters with his long tail, and glancing sideways with his dark and brilliant eyes, which were alive with a nervous intelligence that was almost hectic. Domini went up to him and caressed him with her hand. He reared up and snorted. His whole body seemed a-quiver with the desire to gallop furiously away alone into some far distant place.
Androvsky stood near the waiter, looking at Domini and at the horse with wonder and alarm in his eyes.
The animal, irritated by inaction, began to plunge violently and to get out of hand.
“Give me the reins,” Domini said to the poet. “That’s it. Now put your hand for me.”
Batouch obeyed. Her foot just touched his hand and she was in the saddle.
Androvsky sprang forward on to the pavement. His eyes were blazing with anxiety. She saw it and laughed gaily.
“Oh, he’s not vicious,” she said. “And vice is the only thing that’s dangerous. His mouth is perfect, but he’s nervous and wants handling. I’ll just take him up the gardens and back.”
She had been reining him in. Now she let him go, and galloped up the straight track between the palms towards the station. The priest had come out into his little garden with Bous-Bous, and leaned over his brushwood fence to look after her. Bous-Bous barked in a light soprano. The Arab boys jumped on their bare toes, and one of them, who was a bootblack, waved his board over his shaven head. The Arab waiter smiled as if with satisfaction at beholding perfect competence. But Androvsky stood quite still looking down the dusty road at the diminishing forms of horse and rider, and when they disappeared, leaving behind them a light cloud of sand films whirling in the sun, he sighed heavily and dropped his chin on his chest as if fatigued.
“I can get a horse for Monsieur too. Would Monsieur like to have a horse?”
It was the poet’s amply seductive voice. Androvsky started.
“I don’t ride,” he said curtly.