“So do I. But still ... Mother’s been clamouring for you to come up with us and guard the hairs of our heads! But I deftly squashed the idea.”
“Bless you, darling!” He drew her close, and she leaned her cheek against him with a sigh, in which present content and prospective sadness were strangely mingled. It was in these gentle, pensive moods that Roy came near to loving her as he had dreamed of loving the girl he would make his wife.
“I’m still jealous of the Gilgit plan,” she murmured. “And, of course, I wish you were coming up to-morrow—even more than Mother does! But at least I’ve the grace to be glad you’re not—which is rather an advance for me!”
Their parting, if less passionate, was more tender than usual; and Roy rode away with a distinct ache in his heart at thought of losing her; a nascent reluctance to make mountains out of molehills in respect of her and Lance....
Riding back along the Mall, he noticed absently an approaching horsewoman, and recognised—too late for escape—Mrs Hunter-Ranyard. By timely flight on Thursday, he had evaded her congratulations. Intuition told him she would say things that jarred. Now he flicked Suraj with the base intent of merely greeting her as he passed.
But she was a woman of experience and resource. She beckoned him airily with her riding-crop.
“Mr Sinclair? What luck! I’m dying to hear how the ‘March Past’ went off. Did you get thunders of applause?”
“Oh, thunders. The Monsoon variety!”
“I saw you all in the distance, coming in from my early ride. You looked very imposing with your attendant aeroplanes!—May I?” She turned her pony’s head without awaiting permission, and rode beside him at a foot’s pace, clamouring for details.
He supplied them fluently, in the hope of heading her off personalities. A vain hope: for personalities were her daily bread.
She took advantage of the first pause to ask, with an ineffable look: “Are you still feeling very shy of being engaged? You bolted on Thursday. I hadn’t a chance. And I’m rather specially interested.” The look became almost caressing. “Did it ever occur to your exquisite modesty, I wonder, that I rather wanted, you for my cavalier. You seemed so young—in experience, that I thought a little innocuous education might be an advantage before you plunged. But she snatched—oh, she did!—without seeming to lift an eyebrow, in her inimitable way. Very clever. In fact, she’s been distinctly clever all round. She’s eluded her ‘coming man’ on one side; and ructions over her soldier man on the other——”
“Look here—I’m engaged to her,” Roy protested, trying not to be aware of a sick sensation inside. “And you know I hate that sort of talk——”
“I ought to, by this time!” She made tenderly apologetic eyes at him. “But I’m afraid I’m incurable. Don’t be angry, Sir Galahad! You’ve won the Kohinoor; and although you seem to live in the clouds, you’ve had the sense to make things pukka straightaway. ‘Understandings’ and private engagements are the root of all evil!”