[Footnote 35: It is an order.]
“Why did’st thou promise such a beauteous day,
* * * * *
To let base clouds o’ertake
me in my way,
Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke!”
And away up in Simla, Rose Arden was enduring her own minor form of purgatory. The news of Lance Desmond’s sudden death had startled and saddened her; had pierced through her surface serenity to the deep places of a nature that was not altogether shallow under its veneer of egotism and coquetry.
On a morning, near the end of April, she sat alone in the garden under deodar boughs tasselled with tips of young green. In a border, beyond the lawn, spring flowers were awake; the bank was starred with white violets and wild-strawberry blossoms; and through a gap in the ilex trees beyond, she had a vision of far hills and flashing snow-peaks, blue-white in the sun, cobalt in shadow. Overhead, among the higher branches, a bird was trilling out an ecstatic love-song.
But the year’s renewal, the familiar flutter of Simla’s awakening, sharpened, rather, that new ache at her heart; the haunting, incredible thought that down there, in the stifling dusty plains, Lance Desmond lay dead in the springtime of his splendid manhood; dead of his own generous impulse to save Roy from hurt.
Since the news came, she had avoided sociabilities and, unobtrusively, worn no colours. Foolish and fatuous, was it? Perhaps. She only knew that—Lance being gone—she could not make no difference in her daily round, whatever others might think or say.
And the mere fact of his being gone seemed strangely to revive the memory of his love for her, of her own genuine, if inadequate, response. For she had been more nearly in love with him than with any of his predecessors (and there had been several), who had been admitted to the privileged intimacies of the half-accepted lover. More: he had commanded her admiration; and she had not been woman could she have held out indefinitely against his passionate, whole-hearted devotion.
After months of patient wooing—and he by nature impatient—he had insisted that matters be settled, one way or the other, before he went on leave; and she had almost reached the point of decision, when Roy, with his careless charm and challenging detachment, appeared on the scene....
And now—Lance was gone; Roy was hers; Bramleigh Beeches and a prospective title were hers; but still....