“Come in out of the sunshine,” said the Count. “It is too strong. Try this chair. Coffee will be—ah, here it is!”
Two servants appeared, carrying it.
“Thank you, Monsieur,” Androvsky said with reluctant courtesy.
He came towards them with determination and sat down, drawing forward his chair till he was facing Domini. Directly he was quiet Bous-Bous sprang upon his knee and lay down hastily, blinking his eyes, which were almost concealed by hair, and heaving a sigh which made the priest look kindly at him, even while he said deprecatingly:
“Bous-Bous! Bous-Bous! Little rascal, little pig—down, down!”
“Oh, leave him, Monsieur!” muttered Androvsky. “It’s all the same to me.”
“He really has no shame where his heart is concerned.”
“Arab!” said the Count. “He has learnt it in Beni-Mora.”
“Perhaps he has taken lessons from Larbi,” said Domini. “Hark! He is playing to-day. For whom?”
“I never ask now,” said the Count. “The name changes so often.”
“Constancy is not an Arab fault?” Domini asked.
“You say ‘fault,’ Madame,” interposed the priest.
“Yes, Father,” she returned with a light touch of conscious cynicism. “Surely in this world that which is apt to bring inevitable misery with it must be accounted a fault.”
“But can constancy do that?”
“Don’t you think so, into a world of ceaseless change?”
“Then how shall we reckon truth in a world of lies?” asked the Count. “Is that a fault, too?”
“Ask Monsieur Androvsky,” said Domini, quickly.
“I obey,” said the Count, looking over at his guest.
“Ah, but I am sure I know,” Domini added. “I am sure you think truth a thing we should all avoid in such a world as this. Don’t you, Monsieur?”
“If you are sure, Madame, why ask me?” Androvsky replied.
There was in his voice a sound that was startling. Suddenly the priest reached out his hand and lifted Bous-Bous on to his knee, and Count Anteoni very lightly and indifferently interposed.
“Truth-telling among Arabs becomes a dire necessity to Europeans. One cannot out-lie them, and it doesn’t pay to run second to Orientals. So one learns, with tears, to be sincere. Father Roubier is shocked by my apologia for my own blatant truthfulness.”
The priest laughed.
“I live so little in what is called ‘the world’ that I’m afraid I’m very ready to take drollery for a serious expression of opinion.”
He stroked Bous-Bous’s white back, and added, with a simple geniality that seemed to spring rather from a desire to be kind than from any temperamental source:
“But I hope I shall always be able to enjoy innocent fun.”
As he spoke his eyes rested on Androvsky’s face, and suddenly he looked grave and put Bous-Bous gently down on the floor.
“I’m afraid I must be going,” he said.