“It’s mostly that.”
To Lance Desmond, very much a man, it seemed the queerest state of things; and he knew only a fragment of the truth.
“Look here, Roy,” he urged again. “Wouldn’t the Punjab really be best? Aren’t you plunging a bit too deep——? Does your father realise? Thea feels——”
“Yes. Thea feels, bless her! But there’s a thing or two she doesn’t know!” He lifted his head and spoke in an easier voice. “One queer thing—it may interest you. Those few weeks of living as an Indian among Indians—amazingly intensified all the other side of me. I never felt keener on the Sinclair heritage and all it stands for. I never felt keener on you two than all this time while I’ve been concentrating every faculty on—the other two. Sounds odd. But it’s a fact.”
“Good. And does—your cousin know ... about the guarantee?”
“N—no. That’s still to come.”
Roy straightly returned his friend’s challenging gaze. “Damn you!” he said softly. Then, in a graver tone: “You’re right. I’ve been shirking it. Seemed a shame to spoil Christmas. Remains—the New Year. I fixed it up—while you were playing that thing, to be exact.”
“You did—if that gives you any satisfaction!” He rose, stretched himself and yawned ostentatiously. “My God, I wish it was over.”
Desmond said nothing. If Roy loved him more for one quality than another, it was for his admirable gift of silence.
[Footnote 18: Dress of honour.]
“Yet shall I bear
in my heart this honour of the burden of
pain—this gift of thine.”—RABINDRANATH TAGORE.
It was the last day of the year; the last moon of the year, almost at her zenith. Of all the Christmas guests Lance alone remained; and Thea had promised him before leaving, a moonlight vision of Amber, the Sleeping Beauty of Rajasthan. The event had been delayed till now, partly because they waited on the moon; partly because they did not want it to be a promiscuous affair.
To Thea’s lively imagination—and to Roy’s no less—Amber was more than a mere city of ghosts and marble halls. It was a symbol of Rajput womanhood—strong and beautiful, withdrawn from the clamour of the market-place, given over to her dreams and her gods. For though kings have deserted Amber, the gods remain. There is still life in her temples and the blood of sacrifice on her altar stones. Therefore she must not be approached in the spirit of the tourist. And, emphatically, she must not be approached in a motor-car; at least so far as Thea’s guests were concerned. Of course one knew she was approached by irreverent cars; also by tourists—unspeakable ones, who made contemptible jokes about ’a slump in house property.’ But for these vandalisms Thea Leigh was not responsible.