Still later on, when he bade her good-night in the Residency drawing-room, she moved away carrying her head like a crowned queen. It certainly made her feel a few degrees braver than when she had crouched in the shadows praying vain prayers—shedding vain tears....
If only one could keep it up——!
[Footnote 13: Holy man.]
[Footnote 14: Prayer.]
[Footnote 15: Crocodile.]
“Thou dost beset the path to every shrine;
* * * * *
And if I turn from but one sin,
Unto a smile of thine.”
For Roy himself, no less than Aruna, the passing of those golden October weeks had been an experience as beautiful as it was unique. The very beauty and bewilderment of it had blinded him, at first, to the underlying danger for himself and her. Bewilderment sprang from an eerie sense—vivid to the verge of illusion—that his mother was with him again in the person of Aruna:—a fancy enhanced by the fact that his entire knowledge of Indian womanhood—the turns of thought and phrase, the charm, at once sensuous and spiritual—was linked indissolubly with her. And the perilous charm had penetrated insidiously deeper than he knew. By the time he realised what was happening, the spell was upon him; his will held captive in silken meshes he had not the heart to snap.
As often as not, in that early stage, he craved sight and sound of her simply because she wore a sari and carried her head and moved her hands just so; because her mere presence stirred him with a thrill that blended exquisite pleasure, exquisite pain. There were times he would contrive to be alone in the room with her; not talking; not even looking at her—because her face disturbed the illusion; simply letting the feel of her presence ease that inner ache—subdued, not stilled—for the mother who had remained more vitally one with him than nine mothers in ten are able, or willing, to remain with their grown-up sons.
Thea Leigh, watching unobtrusively, had caught a glimpse of the strange dual influence at work in him. She had occasionally seen him with his mother; and had gleaned some idea of their unique relation; partly from Lance, partly from her intimate link with her own Theo, half a world away; nearly eighteen now, and eager to join up before all was over. So her troubled scrutiny was tempered with a measure of understanding. Roy had always attracted her. And now, unmothered—the wound not yet healed—she metaphorically gathered him to her heart; would have done so physically without hesitation; but that Vincent had his dear and foolish qualms about her promiscuous capacity for affection. But Aruna was her ewe lamb of the moment; and not even Roy must be allowed to make things harder for her than they were already....