“It happened out in the district. I heard it from a friend.” She leaned nearer and spoke in a confidential undertone. “He got news that some neighbouring town was in a ferment. Only a handful of Europeans there; an American mission; and no troops. So the ‘mish’ people begged him to come in and politely wave his official wand. You must be very polite to badmashes these days, if you’re a mere Sahib; or you hear of it from some little Tin God sitting safe in his office, hundreds of miles away. Well, off he went—a twenty-mile drive; found the mission in a flutter—I don’t blame them—armed with rifles and revolvers; expecting-every-moment-to-be-their-next sort of thing; and the town in an uproar. Some religious tamasha. He talked like a father to the headmen; and assured the ‘mish’ people it would be all right.
“They begged him to stay and see them through. So he said he would sleep at the dak bungalow. ‘All alone?’ they asked. ‘No one to guard you?’ ‘Quite unnecessary,’ he said:—and they were simply amazed!
“It was rather hot; so he had his bed put in the garden. Then he sent for the leading men and said: ’I hear there’s a disturbance going on. I don’t intimate you have anything to do with it. But you are responsible; and I expect you to keep the people in hand. I’m sleeping here to-night. If there is trouble, you can report to me. But it is for you to keep order in your own town.’
“They salaamed and departed. No one came near him. And he drove off next morning, leaving those Americans, with their rifles and revolvers, more amazed than ever! I was told it made a great impression on the natives, his sleeping alone in the garden, without so much as a sentry. And the cream of it is,” she added—her eyes on Elton’s unheroic figure—“the man who could do that is terrified of walking across a ballroom or saying polite things to a woman!”
Distinctly, to-night, she was in a new vein, more attractive to Roy than all her feminine crafts and lures. Sitting, friendly and at ease over the fire, they discussed human idiosyncrasies—a pet subject with him.
Then, suddenly, she looked him in the eyes;—and he was aware of her again, in the old disturbing way.
Yet she was merely remarking, with a small sigh, “You can’t think how refreshing it is to get a little real talk sometimes with a cultivated man who is neither a soldier nor a civilian. Even in a big station, we’re so boxed in with ‘shop’ and personalities. The men are luckier. They can escape now and then; shake off the women as one shakes off burrs——!”
Another glance here; half sceptical, wholly captivating.
“It’s easier said than done,” admitted Roy, recalling his own partial failure.
“Charming of you to confess it! Dare I confess that I’ve found the Hall and the tennis rather flat these few days—without imperilling your phenomenal modesty?”
“I think you dare.” It was he who looked full at her now. “My modesty badly needs bucking up—this evening.”