And there, on his writing-table, stood her picture mutely reproaching him. With a pang he realised how completely she had been crowded out of his thoughts during those weeks of ferment. What would she think of it all? The question—what would Rose think of her simply did not arise. She was still supreme, she who had once said, “So long as you are thinking first of me, you may be sure That Other has not yet arrived”.
Was Rose Arden—for all her beauty and witchery—genuinely That Other?
Beguiled by her visible perfections, he had taken her spiritually for granted. And he knew well enough that it is not through the senses a man first approaches love—if he is capable of that high and complex emotion; but rather through imagination and admiration, sympathy and humour. As it was, he had not a glimmering idea how she would consort with his very individual inner self. Yet matters were virtually settled....
And suddenly, like a javelin, one word pierced his brain—Lance! Whatever there was between them, he felt sure his news would not please Lance, to say the least of it. And, as for their Kashmir plan...?
Why the devil was life such a confoundedly complex affair? By rights, he ought to be ‘all over himself’, having won such a wife. Was it something wrong with him? Or did all accepted lovers feel like this—the morning after? A greater number, perhaps, than poets or novelists or lovers themselves are ever likely to admit. Very certainly he would not admit his present sensations to any living soul.
Springing out of bed, he shouted for chota hazri and shaving water; drank thirstily; ate hungrily; and had just cleared his face of lather when Lance came in, booted and spurred, bringing with him his magnetic atmosphere of vitality and vigour.
Standing behind Roy, he ran his left hand lightly up the back of his hair, gripped the extra thickness at the top, and gave it a distinct tug; friendly, but sharp enough to make Roy wince.
“Slacker! Waster! You ought to have been out riding off the effects. You were jolly well going it last night. And you jolly well look it this morning. Good thing I’m free on the fifteenth to haul you away from all this”.
Perhaps because they had first met at an age when eighteen months seemed an immense gap between them, Lance had never quite dropped the elder-brotherly attitude of St Rupert days.
“Yes—a rare good thing——” Roy echoed, and stopped with a visible jerk.
“Well, what’s the hitch? Hit out, man. Don’t mind me.”
There was a flash of impatience, an undernote of foreknowledge, in his tone, that made confession at once easier and harder for Roy.
“I suppose it was—pretty glaring”, he admitted, twitching his head away from those strong friendly fingers. “The fact is—we’re ... as good as engaged——”
Again he broke off, arrested by the mask-like stillness of Desmond’s face.