Altogether, he seemed to have retired into a shell out of which he refused to be drawn. They were friendly as ever, but distinctly less intimate; and Roy felt vaguely responsible, yet powerless to put things straight. For intimacy—in its essence a mutual impulse—cannot be induced to order. If one spoke of Miss Arden, or doings in Lahore, Lance would respond without enthusiasm, and unobtrusively change the subject. Roy could only infer that his interest in the girl had never gone very deep and had now fizzled out altogether. But he would have given a good deal to feel sure that the fizzling out had no connection with his own appearance on the scene. It bothered him to remember that, at first, in an odd, repressed fashion Lance had seemed unmistakably keen. But if he would persist in playing the Trappist monk, what the devil was a fellow to do?
Even over the Gymkhana programme, there had been an undercurrent of friction. Lance—in his new vein—had wanted to keep the women out of it; while Roy—in his new vein—couldn’t keep at least one of them out, if he tried. In particular, both were keen about the Cockade Tournament: a glorified version of fencing on horseback: the wire masks adorned with a small coloured feather for plume. He was victor whose fencing-stick detached his opponent’s feather. The prize—Bachelor’s Purse—had been well subscribed for and supplemented by Gymkhana funds. So, on all accounts, it was a popular event. There were twenty-two names down; and Roy, in a romantic impulse, had proposed making a real joust of it; each knight to wear a lady’s favour; a Queen of Beauty and Love to be chosen for the prize-giving, as in the days of chivalry.
Lance had rather hotly objected; and a few inveterate bachelors had backed him up. But the bulk of men are sentimental at heart; none more than the soldier. So Roy’s idea had caught on, and the matter was settled. There was little doubt who would be chosen for prize-giver; and scarcely less doubt whose favour Roy would wear.
Desmond’s flash of annoyance had been brief; but he had stipulated that favours should not be compulsory. If they were, he for one would ‘scratch.’ This time he had a larger backing; and, amid a good deal of chaff and laughter, had carried his point.
That open clash between them—slight though it was—had jarred Roy a good deal. Lance, characteristically, had ignored the whole thing.
But not even the inner jar could blunt Roy’s keen anticipation of the whole affair. Miss Arden was his partner in one of the few mixed events. He was to wear her favour for the Tournament—a Marechal Mel rose; and, infatuated as he was, he saw it for a guarantee of victory....
In view of that intoxicating possibility, nothing else mattered inordinately, at the moment: though there reposed in his pocket a letter from Dyan—with a Delhi post-mark—giving a detailed account of serious trouble caused by the recent hartal: all shops closed; tram-cars and gharris held up by threatening crowds; helpless passengers forced to proceed on foot in the blazing heat and dust; troops and police violently assaulted; till a few rounds of buckshot cooled the ardour of ignorant masses, doubtless worked up to concert pitch by wandering agitators of the Chandranath persuasion.