What matter? To the uncritical Eastern eye, colour is all.
And, as the day wore on, colour, and yet more colour, was spilled abroad in the wide main streets that are an arresting feature of Jaipur. Men, women, and children, in gala turbans and gala draperies, laughing and talking at full pitch of their lungs; gala elephants sheathed in cloth of gold, their trunks and foreheads patterned in divers colours; scarlet outriders clearing a pathway through the maze of turbans that bobbed to and fro like a bed of parrot-tulips in a wind. Crimson, agate, and apricot, copper and flame colour, greens and yellows; every conceivable harmony and discord; nothing to rival it anywhere, Sir Lakshman told Roy; save perhaps in Gwalior or Mandalay.
Roy had spent most of the morning in the city, lunching with his grandfather and imbibing large draughts of colour from an airy minaret on the roof top. Then home to the Residency for tea, only to insist on carrying them all back in the car—Thea, Aruna, Flossie, and the children, who must have their share of strange sweets and toys, if only ‘for luck,’ the watchword of Dewali.
As for Aruna—to-day everything in the world seemed to hang on the frail thread of those two words. And what of to-night...?
All had been arranged in conjunction with Roy. His insistence on the cousinly privilege of protecting her had arisen from a private confession that she shrank from joining the orthodox group of maidens who would go forth at sundown, to try their fate. She was other than they were; out of purdah; out of caste; a being apart. And for most of them it was little more than a ‘game of play.’ For her—but that she kept to herself—this symbolical act of faith, this childish appeal for a sign, was a matter of life and death. So—to her chosen angle of the tank, she would go alone; and there—unwatched, save by Dewali lights of earth and heaven—she would confide her lamp to the waters and the breeze that rippled them in the first hour of darkness.
But Roy would not hear of her wandering alone in a Dewali crowd. In Dyan’s absence, he claimed the right to accompany her, to be somewhere within hail. Having shed the Eastern protection of purdah, she must accept the Western protection of escort. And straightway there sprang an inspiration: he would wear his Indian dress, ready and waiting in every detail, at Sir Lakshman’s house. From there, he could set out unnoticed on the Delhi adventure—which his grandfather happily approved, with what profound heart-searchings and heart-stirrings Roy did not even dimly guess.
At sundown the Residency party would drive through the city and finish up at the gardens, before going on to dine at the Palace. That would be Aruna’s moment for slipping away. Roy—having slipped away in advance—would rejoin her at a given spot. And then——?
The rest was a tremulous blur of hopes and fears and the thrill of his presence, conjured into one of her own people....