Roy looked pathetic. “But I’m simply up to the eyes. The truth is, I can’t be bothered. I’ll turn up for the dancing at the Hall.”
“And I’m to make your giddy excuses?”
“If any one happens to notice my absence, you can say something pretty——”
He was interrupted by the appearance of Barnard at the verandah door. “Dog-cart’s ready and waiting, Major. What’s the hitch?”
“Sinclair’s discovered he’s too busy to come!”
“What—the favoured one? The fair Rose won’t relish that touching mark of attention. On whom she smiles, from him she expects gold, frankincense, and myrrh——”
“Drop it, Barnard,” Desmond cut in imperatively; and Roy remarked almost in the same breath, “Thanks for the tip. I’ll write to Bombay for the best brand of all three against another occasion.”
“But this is the occasion! Copy—my dear chap, copy! Anglo-India in excelsis and ’Oh ‘Ell’ in all her glory!”
It may be mentioned that Mrs Elton’s name was Olive; that she saw soldiers as trees walking. And subalterns retaliated—strictly behind her back.
But Roy remained unmoved. “If you two are in such a fluster over your precious wedding, I vote you get out—and let me get on.”
Barnard asked nothing better. Miss Arden was his May-fly of the moment. “Come along, Major,” he cried, and vanished forthwith.
As Lance moved away, Roy remarked casually: “Be a good chap and ask Miss Arden, with my best salaams, to save me a dance or two, in case I’m late turning up!”
Lance gave him a straight look. “Not I. My pockets will be bulging with your apologies. You can get some one else to do your commissions in the other line.”
Sheer astonishment silenced Roy; and Desmond, from the threshold, added more seriously, “Don’t let the women here give you a swelled head, Roy. They’ll do their damnedest between them.”
When he had gone, Roy sat staring idly at the patch of sunlight outside his door. What the devil did Lance mean by it? Moods were not in his line. To make a half-joking request, and find Lance taking it seriously, wasn’t in the natural order of things. And the way he jumped on Barnard, too. Could there possibly have been a rebuff in that quarter? He couldn’t picture any girl in her senses refusing Lance. Besides, they seemed on quite friendly terms. Nothing beyond that—so far as Roy could see. He would very much like to feel sure. But, for all their intimacy, he knew precisely how far one could go with Lance: and one couldn’t go as far as that.
As for the remark about a swelled head, Lance must have been rotting. He wasn’t troubling about women or girls—except for tennis and dancing; and Miss Arden was a superlative performer; in fact, rather superlative all round. As a new experience, she seemed distinctly worth cultivating, so long as that process did not seriously hamper the novel,—that was unashamedly his first consideration, at the moment.