“May the sun always shine on you, my mem-sahib!” he said.
Stella realized afterwards that in action and in words there lay a tacit acceptance of her as mistress which was to become the allegiance of a lifelong service.
She stepped into the carriage with a feeling of warmth at her heart which was very different from the icy constriction that had bound it when she had arrived at the church a brief half-hour before with Tommy.
Her husband’s arm was about her as they drove away. He pressed her to his side. “Oh, Star of my heart, how superb you are!” he said. “I feel as if I had married a queen. And you weren’t even nervous.”
She bent her head, not looking at him. “Poor Tommy was,” she said.
He smiled tolerantly. “Tommy’s such a youngster.”
She smiled also. “Exactly one year younger than I am.”
He drew her nearer, his eyes devouring her. “You, Stella!” he said. “You are as ageless as the stars.”
She laughed faintly, not yielding herself to the closer pressure though not actually resisting it. “That is merely a form of telling me that I am much older than I seem,” she said. “And you are quite right. I am.”
His arm compelled her. “You are you,” he said. “And you are so divinely young and beautiful that there is no measuring you by ordinary standards. They all know it. That is why you weren’t received into the community with open arms. You are utterly above and beyond them all.”
She flinched slightly at the allusion. “I hope I am not so extraordinary as all that,” she said.
His arm became insistent. “You are unique,” he said. “You are superb.”
There was passion barely suppressed in his hold and a sudden swift shiver went through her. “Oh, Ralph,” she said, “don’t—– don’t worship me too much!”
Her voice quivered in its appeal, but somehow its pathos passed him by. He saw only her beauty, and it thrilled every pulse in his body. Fiercely almost, he strained her to him. And he did not so much as notice that her lips trembled too piteously to return his kiss, or that her submission to his embrace was eloquent of mute endurance rather than glad surrender. He stood as a conqueror on the threshold of a newly acquired kingdom and exulted over the splendour of its treasures because it was all his own.
It did not even occur to him to doubt that her happiness fully equalled his. Stella was a woman and reserved; but she was happy enough, oh, she was happy enough. With complacence he reflected that if every man in the mess envied him, probably every woman in the station would have gladly changed places with her. Was he not Fortune’s favourite? What happier fate could any woman desire than to be his bride?