Meantime, a pity to waste this one; and there was poor little Miss Delawny sitting out, as usual, in her skimpy pink frock and black hat, trying so hard not to look forlorn that he felt sorry for her. She was tacitly barred by most of the men because she was ’cafe au lait’;—a delicate allusion to the precise amount of Indian blood in her veins.
He had not, so far, come across many specimens of these pathetic half-and-halfs, who seemed to inhabit a racial No-Man’s-Land. But Lahore was full of them; minor officials in the Railway and the Post Office; living, more or less, in a substratum of their own kind. He gathered that they were regarded as a ‘problem’ by the thoughtful few, and simply turned down by the rest. He felt an acute sympathy for them: also—in hidden depths—a vague distaste. Most of those he had encountered were so obviously of no particular caste, in either country’s estimate of the word, that he had never associated them with himself. He saw himself, rather, as of double caste; a fusion of the best in both races. The writer of that wonderful letter had said he was different; and presumably she knew. Whether the average Anglo-Indian would see any difference, he had not the remotest idea; and, so far, he had scarcely given the matter a thought.
Here, however, it was thrust upon his attention; nor had he failed to notice that Lance never mentioned the Jaipur cousins except when they were alone:—whether by chance or design, he did not choose to ask. And if either of the other fellows had noticed his mother’s photograph, or felt a glimmer of curiosity, no word had been said.
After all, what concern was it of these chance-met folk? He was nothing to them; and to him they were mainly a pleasant change from the absorbing business of his novel and the problems of India in transition.
And the poor little girl in the skimpy frock was an unconscious fragment of that problem. Too pathetic to see how she tried not to look round hopefully whenever masculine footsteps came her way. Why shouldn’t he give her a pleasant surprise?
She succeeded, this time, in not looking round; so the surprise came off to his satisfaction. She was nervous and unpractised, and he constantly found her feet where they had no business to be. But sooner than hurt her feelings, he piloted her twice round the room before stopping; and found himself next to Mrs Hunter-Ranyard, who ‘snuggled up’ to him (the phrase was Barnard’s) and proffered consolation after her kind.
“Bad boy! You missed the cream of the afternoon, but you’re not quite too late. I’m free for the next.”
Roy, fairly cornered, could only bow and smile his acceptance. And after his arduous prelude, Mrs Ranyard’s dancing was an effortless delight—if only she would not spoil it by her unceasing ripple of talk. His lack of response troubled her no whit. She was bubbling over with caustic comment on Mrs Elton’s latest adventure in matrimony.