Roy, still new to Anglo-India, was amazed at the way these haphazard humans were thawed into a passing intimacy by the sunshine of Thea’s personality. For himself, it was the nearest approach to the real thing that he had known since that dear and dreamlike Christmas of 1916. It warmed his heart, and renewed the well-spring of careless happiness that had gone from him utterly since the blow fell; gone, so he believed, for ever.
Something of this she divined—and was glad. Yet her exigent heart was not altogether at ease. His reaction to Lance, though unmistakable, fell short of her confident expectation. He was still squandering far too much time on the other two. Sometimes she felt almost angry with him: jealous—for Lance. She knew how deeply he cared underneath; because she too was a Desmond. And Desmonds could not care by halves.
This morning, for instance, the wretch was out riding with Dyan; and there was Lance, alone in the drawing-room strumming the accompaniments of things they would play to-night: just a wandering succession of chords in a minor key; but he had his father’s gift of touch, that no training can impart, and the same trick of playing pensively to himself, almost as if he were thinking aloud. It was five years since she had seen her father; and those pensive chords brought sudden tears to her eyes.
What did Lance mean by it—mooning about the piano like that? Had he fallen in love? That was one of the few questions she did not dare ask him. But here was her chance to ‘put in a word’ about Roy.
So she strolled into the drawing-room and leaned over the grand piano. His smile acknowledged her presence, and his pensive chords went wandering softly away into the bass.
“Idiot—what are you doing?” she asked briskly, because the music was creeping down her spine. “Talking to yourself?”
“More or less.”
“Well—give over. I’m here. And it’s a bad habit.”
He shook his head, and went wandering on. “In this form I find it soothing and companionable.”
“Well, you oughtn’t to be needing either at Christmas time under my roof, with Roy here and all—if he’d only behave. Sometimes I want to shake him——”
“Why—what’s the matter with Roy?”—That innocent query checked her rush of protest in mid career. Had he not even noticed? Men were the queerest, dearest things!——“He looks awfully fit. Better all round. He’s pulling up. You never saw him—you don’t realise——”
“But, my dear boy, do you realise that he’s getting rather badly bitten with all this—Indian problems and Indian cousins——”
Lance nodded. “I’ve been afraid of that. But one can’t say much.”
“I can’t. I was counting on you as the God-given antidote. And there he is, still fooling round with Dyan, when you’ve come all this way ... It makes me wild. It isn’t fair——”