A handful of police, shouting and struggling with the foremost ranks, were being swept resistlessly back towards the Mall—the main artery of Lahore; and a British police officer on horseback was sharing the same fate. Clearly nothing would check them save that formidable barrier of cavalry and armoured cars.
At sight of it they halted; but disperse and return they would not. They haggled; they imposed impossible conditions; they drowned official parleyings in shouts and yells.
For close on two hours, in the blazing sun, Lance Desmond and his men sat patiently in their saddles—machine-guns ready in the cars behind them—while the Civil Arm, derided and defied, peacefully persuaded those passively resisting thousands that the Mall was not deemed a suitable promenade for Lahore citizens in a highly processional mood.
For two hours the human tide swayed to and fro; the clamour rose and fell; till a local leader, after much vain speaking, begged the loan of a horse, and headed them off to a mass meeting at the Bradlaugh Hall.
The cavalry, dismissed, trotted back to the gardens, to remain at hand in case of need.
What the Indian officers and men thought of it all, who shall guess? What Lance Desmond thought, he frankly imparted to Roy.
“A fine exhibition of the masterly inactivity touch!” said he, with a twitch of his humorous lips. “But not exactly an edifying show for our men. Wonder what my old Dad would think of it all? You bet there’ll be a holy rumpus in the city to-night.”
“And then——?” mused Roy, his imagination leaping ahead. “This isn’t the last of it.”
“The last of it—will be bullets, not buckshot,” said Lance in his soldierly wisdom. “It’s the only argument for crowds. The soft-sawder lot may howl ‘militarism.’ But they’re jolly grateful for a dash of it when their skins are touched. It takes a soldier of the right sort to know just when a dash of cruelty is kindness—and the reverse—in dealing with backward peoples; and crowds, of any colour, are the backwardest peoples going! It would be just as well to get the women safely off the scene.”
He looked very straight at Roy, whose sensitive soul winced, at the impact of his thought. Since their brief talk, the fact of the engagement had been tacitly accepted—tacitly ignored. Lance had a positive genius for that sort of thing; and in this case it was a godsend to Roy.
“Quite so,” he agreed, returning the look.
“Well—you’re in a position to suggest it.”
“I’m not sure if it would be exactly appreciated. But I’ll have a shot at it to-morrow.”
* * * * *
The city, that night, duly enjoyed its ‘holy rumpus.’ But on Monday morning shops were open again; everything as normal as you please; and the cheerful prophets congratulated themselves that the explosion had proved a damp squib after all.