“I’m blest if I know what you’re driving at!” he flashed out, his temper rising.
But she only laughed her tinkling laugh and shook her riding-whip at him.
“Souvent femme varie! Have you ever heard that, you blessed innocent? And the general impression is—there’s already been one private engagement—if not more. I was trying to tell you that afternoon to save your poor fingers——”
“It’s all rot—spiteful rot!” The pain of increasing conviction made Roy careless of his manners. “The women are jealous of her beauty, so they invent any tale that’s likely to be swallowed——”
“Possibly, my dear boy. But I can’t tell my neighbours to their faces that they lie! After all, if you win a beautiful girl of six-and-twenty you’ve got to swallow the fact, with a good grace, that there must have been others; and thank God you’re IT—if not the only IT that ever was on land or sea!—After that maternal homily, allow me to congratulate you. I’ve already congratulated her, de mon plein coeur!”
“Thanks very much. More than I deserve!” said Roy, only half mollified. “But I’m afraid I must hurry on now. Desmond asked me not to be late.”
“Confound the women!” was his ungallant reflection, as he rode away.
Mrs Ranyard’s tongue had virtually undone the effect of his peaceful two hours with Rose. After that—clash or no clash—he must have the thing out with Lance, at the first available moment.
[Footnote 34: “Hai! Hai! George is dead.”]
“In you I most discern, in your brave spirit,
Erect and certain, flashing deeds of light,
A pure jet from the fountain of all Being;
A scripture clearer than all else to read.”
Roy returned to an empty bungalow.
On inquiry, he learnt that the Major Sahib had gone over to see the Colonel Sahib; and Wazir Khan—Desmond’s bearer—abused, in lurid terms, the bastard son of a pig who had dared to assault the first Sahib in creation.
Roy, sitting down at his table, pushed aside a half-written page of his novel, and his pen raced over the paper in a headlong letter to Jeffers:—an outlet, merely, for his pent-up sensations; and a salve to his conscience. He had neglected Jeffers lately, as well as his novel. He had been demoralised, utterly, these last few weeks: and to-day, by way of crowning demoralisation, he felt by no means certain what the end would be—for himself; still less, for India.
The damaged Major Sahib—untroubled by animosity—appeared only just in time to change for Mess; his cheek unbecomingly plastered, his hand in a sling.