“Free? Roy—don’t you realise ... I care. You’ve made me care.”
“Yes; simply by being what you are—so gifted, so detached ... so different from the others ... the service pattern....”
“Oh yes—in a way ... I’m different.”—Strange, how little it moved him, just then, her frank avowal, her praise.—“And now you know—why. I’m sorry if it upsets you. But I can’t have ... that side of me accepted ... on sufferance——”
To his greater amazement, she leaned forward and kissed him, deliberately, on the mouth.
“Will that stop you—saying such things?” There was repressed passion in her low tone, “I’m not accepting ... any of you on sufferance. And, really, you’re not a bit like ... not the same....”
“No!” She smiled at the fierce monosyllable. “All that lot—the poor devils you despise—are mostly made from the wrong sort of both races—in point of breeding, I mean. And that’s a supreme point, in spite of the twaddle that’s talked about equality. Women of good family, East or West, don’t intermarry much. And quite right too. I’m proud of my share of India. But I think, on principle, it’s a great mistake....”
“Yes—yes. That’s how I feel. I’m not rabid. It’s not my way. But ... I suppose you know, Roy, that ... on this subject, many Anglo-Indians are.”
“You mean—your people?”
“Well—I don’t know about Pater. He’s built on large lines, outside and in. But mother’s only large to the naked eye; and she’s Anglo-Indian to the bone.”
“You think ... she’ll raise objections?”
“She won’t get the chance. It’s my affair—not hers. There’d be arguments, at the very least. She tramples tactlessly. And it’s plain you’re abnormally sensitive; and rather fierce under your gentleness——!”
“But, Rose—I must speak. I refuse to treat—my mother as if she was—a family skeleton——”
“No—not that,” she soothed him with voice and gesture. “Of course they shall know—later on. It’s only ... I couldn’t bear any jar at the start. You might, Roy—out of consideration for me. It would be quite simple. You need only say, just now, that your father is a widower. It isn’t as if—she was alive——”
The words staggered him like a blow. With an incoherent exclamation, he swung round and walked quickly away from her towards the house, his blood tingling in a manner altogether different from last night. Had she not been a woman, he could have knocked her down.
Dismayed and startled, she hurried after him. “Roy, my dear—dearest,” she called softly. But he did not heed.
She overtook him, however, and caught his arm with both hands, forcing him to stop.
“Darling—forgive me,” she murmured, her face appealingly close to his. “I didn’t mean—I was only trying to ease things for you, a little—you quiver-full of sensibilities.”