“Beastly nuisance; Hukm hai," he explained in response to Roy’s glance of inquiry. “Collins says it’s a bit inflamed. I’ve been confabbing with Paul over the deferred wedding. But, of course, there’s no chance of things settling down, unless we declare martial law. The police are played out; and as for the impression we made this morning—the D.C.’s just telephoned in for a hundred British troops and armoured cars to picket and patrol bungalows in Lahore. Seems he’s received an authentic report that the city people are planning to rush civil lines, loot the bungalows, and assault our women—damn them. So, by way of precaution, he has very wisely asked for troops.—Are they off—those two?”
“To-morrow night,” said Roy, feeling so horribly constrained that the influx of Barnard and Meredith was, for once, almost a relief.
Then there was Mess; fresh speculations, fresh tales, and a certain amount of chaff over Desmond having ‘stopped a brick’; Barnard, in satirical vein, regretting to report a bloody encounter: one casualty: enemy sprinkled with buckshot, retired according to plan.
Before the meal was over, Roy fancied he detected a change in Lance; his talk and laughter seemed a trifle strained; his lips set, now and then, as if he were in pain.
Later on he came up and remarked casually: “I’m not feeling very bright. I think I’ll turn in. Perhaps the sun touched me up a bit.” Clearly Roy’s face betrayed him; for Lance added in an imperative undertone: “Don’t look at me like that. I’m going to slip off quietly—not to worry Paul.”
“Well, I’m going to slip off too,” Roy retorted with decision. “I feel used up; and my beast of a bruise hurts like blazes.”
“Drive me home, then,” said Lance; and his changed tone, no less than the surprising request, told Roy he would be glad of his company.
They said little during the drive; Roy, because he felt vaguely anxious, and knew it would annoy Lance if he betrayed concern, or inquired after symptoms. It seemed a shame to worry the poor fellow in this state; but silence had now become impossible.
“Are you for bed, old man?” he asked when they got in.
“Rather not. I just felt a bit queer. Wanted to get away from them all and be quiet.”
His normal manner eased Roy’s anxiety a little. Without more ado, they settled into long veranda chairs and called for ‘pegs.’ The night was utterly still. A red distorted moon hung just above the tree-tops. Yelling and spitting crowds seemed to belong to another world.
Lance leaned back in the shadow, the tip of his cigar glowing like a fierce planet. Roy sat forward, tense and purposeful: hating what he had to say; yet goaded by the knowledge that he could have no peace of mind till it was said.
He was silent a few moments, pulling at his cigar: then, “Look here, Lance,” he said. “I’ve got a question to ask. You won’t like it. I don’t either. But the truth is ... I’m bothered to know what is ... or has been ... between you and....”