Again far up the hillside a jackal laughed; another and another—as if in derision. She shivered; and he loosed his hold, still keeping an arm round her. To-night they were betrothed. He owed her all he had the right to give.
“Your cloak. You’ll catch your death....” He stopped short—and flung up his head. “What was that? There—again—in those trees——”
“Some monkey perhaps,” she whispered, startled by his look and tone.
“Hush—listen!” His grip tightened and they stood rigidly still, Roy straining every nerve to locate those stealthy sounds. They were almost under the arch; strong mellow light on one side, nethermost darkness on the other. And from all sides the large unheeded night seemed to close in on them—threatening, full of hidden danger.
Presently the sounds came again, unmistakably nearer; faint rustlings and creakings, then a distinct crumbling, as of loosened earth and stones. The shadowy plumes of acacia that crowned the arch stirred perceptibly, though no breeze was abroad:—and not the acacia only. To Aruna’s excited fancy it seemed that the loose upper stones of the arch itself moved ever so slightly. But was it fancy? No—there again——!
And before the truth dawned on Roy, she had pushed him with all her force, so vehemently that he stumbled backward and let go of her.
Before he recovered himself, down crashed two large stones and a shower of small ones—on Aruna, not on him. With a stifled scream she tottered and fell, knocking her head against the slab of rock.
Instantly he was on his knees beside her; stanching the cut on her forehead, binding it with his handkerchief; consumed with rage and concern;—rage at himself and the dastardly intruder,—no monkey, that was certain.
His quick ear caught the stealthy rustling again, lower down; and, yes—unmistakably—a human sound, like a stifled exclamation of dismay.
“Aruna—I must get at that devil,” he whispered. “Does your head feel better? Dare I leave you a moment?”
“Yes—oh yes,” she whispered back. “Nothing will harm me. Only take care—please take care.”
Hastily he made a pillow of his overcoat and covered her with the cloak; then, stooping down, he kissed her fervently—and was gone.
“Then was I rapt
away by the impulse, one
Immeasurable ... wave of a need
To abolish that detested life.”
Lithe and noiseless as a cat, Roy crept through the archway into outer darkness. It was hateful leaving Aruna; but rage at her hurt and the primitive instinct of pursuit were not to be denied. And she might have been killed. And she had done it for him:—coals of fire, indeed! Also, the others would be getting anxious. Let him only catch that mysterious skulker, and he could shout across to the Palace roof. They would hear.