He loved every phase of the work; from the initial thrill of inception to the nice balance of a phrase and the very look of his favourite words. His childish love of them for their own sake still prevailed. For him, they were still live things, possessing a character and charm all their own.
And now, the house being blessedly empty, his pencil sped off again on its wild career. The men and women he had loved into life were thronging his brain. Everything else was forgotten—Lance and Miss Arden and the wedding and the afternoon dancing at the Hall....
“Which is the
more perilous, to meet the temptings of Eve, or to
pique her?”—GEORGE MEREDITH.
Of course he reached the Lawrence Hall egregiously late, to find the afternoon dancing, that Lahore prescribes three times a week, in full swing.
The lofty pillared Hall—an aristocrat among Station Clubs—was more crowded than usual. Half the polished floor was uncovered; the rest carpeted and furnished, for lookers-on. Here Mrs Elton still diffused her exuberant air of patronage; sailing majestically from group to group of her recent guests, and looking more than life size in lavender satin besprinkled with old lace.
Roy hurried past, lest she discover him; and, from the security of an arched alcove, scanned the more interesting half of the Hall. There went little Mrs Hunter-Ranyard, a fluffy pussy-cat person, with soft eyes and soft manners—and claws. She was one of those disconnected wives whom he was beginning to recognise as a feature of the country: unobtrusively owned by a dyspeptic-looking Divisional Judge; hospitable and lively, and an infallible authority on other people’s private affairs. Like too many modern Anglo-Indians, she prided herself on keeping airily apart from the country of her exile. Natives gave her ‘the creeps.’ Useless to argue. Her retort was unvarying and unanswerable. “East is East—and I’m not. It’s a country of horrors, under a thin layer of tinsel. Don’t talk to me——!” Lance Desmond had achieved fame among the subalterns by christening her the Banter-Wrangle; but he liked her well enough, on the whole, to hope she would never find him out.
She whirled past now, on the arm of Talbot Hayes, senior Assistant Commissioner; an exceedingly superior person who shared her views about ‘the country.’ Catching Roy’s eye, she feigned exaggerated surprise and fluttered a friendly hand.
His response was automatic. He had just discovered Miss Arden—with Lance, of course—looking supreme in a moon-coloured gown with a dull gold sash carelessly knotted on one side. Her graceful hat was of gold tissue, unadorned. Near the edge of the brim lay one yellow rose; and a rope of amber beads hung well below her waist.
Roy—son of Lilamani—had an artist’s eye for details of dress, for harmony of tone and line, which this girl probably achieved by mere feminine instinct. The fool he was, to have come so late. When they stopped, he would catch her and plead for an extra, at least.