True, she was of age; and her father’s small legacy gave her a measure of independence. But how could one set about getting married in the face of open opposition? And—how keep the truth from Roy? Or tone it down, so that he would not go off at a tangent straightaway?
Assuredly the Fates had conspired to strip her headlong romance of its gilded trappings. But her moment for marriage had come. She was sick to death of the Anglo-Indian round—from the unattached standpoint, at least. Roy fascinated her as few men had done; and she had been deliberately trying to ignore the effect of her mother’s brutal frankness. Their coming together again, in these changed conditions, would be the ultimate test. Such a chasm of distance seemed to yawn between that tender parting in her boudoir and this critical reunion—in another world....
Sounds of arrival brought her to her feet; but she checked the natural impulse to welcome him in the verandah. Her innate sense of drama shrank from possible awkwardness, a false step, at the start.
And now he appeared in the doorway—very straight and slim in his grey suit, with the sorrowful black band on his arm.
“Rose!” he cried—and stood gazing at her, pulses hammering, brain dizzy. The mere sight of her brought back too vividly the memory of those April days that he had been resolutely shutting out of his mind.
His pause—the shock of his changed aspect—held her motionless also. He looked older, more sallow; his sensitive mouth compressed; no lurking gleam in his eyes. He seemed actually less good-looking than she remembered; for anguish is no beautifier.
So standing, they mutely confronted the change in themselves—in each other; then Rose swept forward, both hands held out.
“Roy—my darling—what you must have been through! Can you—will you—in spite of all——?”
Next moment, in his silent, vehement fashion, he was straining her to him; kissing her eyes, her hair, her lips; not in simple lover’s ecstasy, but in a fervour of repressed passion, touched with tragedy, with pain....
Then he held her from him, to refresh his tired eyes with the sheer beauty of her; and was struck at once by the absence of colour; the wide black sash, the black velvet round her throat and hair.
He touched the velvet, looking his question. She nodded, drawing in her lip to steady it.
“I felt—I must. You don’t mind?”
“Mind——?—Sometimes I wonder if I shall ever really mind things any more.”
His face worked. That queer dizziness took him again. With an incoherent apology, he sat down rather abruptly, and leaned forward, his head between his hands, hiding the emotion he could not altogether control.
Rose stood beside him, feeling helpless and vaguely aggrieved. He had just got back to her, after a two weeks’ parting, and he sat there lost in an access of grief that left her quite out of account. Inadvertently there flashed the thought, “Whatever Lance might have suffered, he would not succumb.” It startled her. She had never so compared them before....