I cool desire
By looking at those lovely eyes of hers,
That passionate love prefers
To his own brand, for setting hearts on fire.”
But neither the work he loved, nor his budding intimacy with Miss Arden, deterred him from accepting a week-end invitation from the Maharajah of Kapurthala—the friendly, hospitable ruler of a neighbouring Sikh State. The Colonel was going, and Lance, and half a dozen other good sportsmen. They set out on Thursday, the military holiday, in a state of high good-humour with themselves and their host; to return on Sunday evening, renewed in body and mind by the pursuit of pig and the spirit of Shikar, that keeps a man sane and virile, and tempers the insidious effect, on the white races, of life and work in the climate of India. It draws men away from the rather cramping station atmosphere. It sets their feet in a large room. And in this case it did not fail to dispel the light cloud that had hovered between Lance and Roy since the day of the wedding.
In the friendly rivalries of sport, it was possible to forget woman complications; even to feel it a trifle derogatory that one should be so ignominiously at the mercy of the thing. Thus Roy, indulging in a spasmodic declaration of independence; glorying in the virile excitement of pig-sticking, and the triumph of getting first spear.
But returning on Saturday, from a day after snipe and teal, he found himself instinctively allotting the pick of his ‘bag’ to Miss Arden; just a complimentary attention; the sort of thing she would appreciate. Having refused a ride with her because of this outing, it seemed the least he could do.
Apparently the same strikingly original idea had occurred to Lance; and by the merest fluke they found one another out. To Roy’s relief, Lance greeted the embarrassing discovery with a gust of laughter.
“I say—this won’t do. You give over. It’s too much of a joke. Besides—cheek on your part.”
Though he spoke lightly, the hint of command in his tone promptly put Roy on the defensive.
“Rot! Why shouldn’t I? But—the two of them...! A bit overwhelming!” And suddenly he remembered his declaration of independence. “After all—why should either of us? Can’t we let be, just for four days? Look here, Lance. You give over too. Don’t send yours. And I won’t send mine.”
Lance—having considered that inspired proposal—turned a speculative eye on Roy.
“Lord, what a kid you are, still!”
“Well, I mean it. Out here, we’re clear of all that. Over there, the women call the tune—we dance. Sport’s the God-given antidote! Though it won’t be so much longer—the way things are going. We shall soon have ’em after pig and on the polo ground——”
“God forbid!” It came out with such fervour that Roy laughed.