She paused, looking back over it all; felt Roy’s hold slacken and unobtrusively withdrew her hand.
“Soon after Kapurthala, he was angry again. And that time, I’m afraid I reminded him that our engagement was only ‘on’ conditionally; that if he started worrying at me, it would soon be unconditionally off——”
“So it should have been!” Roy jerked up on to his elbow, and confronted her with challenging directness. “Once you could speak like that, feel like that, you’d no right to keep him hanging on—hoping when there was practically no hope. It wasn’t playing the game——”
This time she kept her eyes averted, and a slow colour invaded her face. There was a point beyond which feminine frankness could not go. She could not—would not—tell this unflatteringly critical lover of hers that it was not in her nature to let the one man go till she felt morally sure of the other.
Roy had only a profile view of her warm cheek, her sensitive nostril a-quiver, her lip drawn in. And when she spoke, it was in the tense, passionate tone of that evening at Anarkalli.
“Oh yes—it’s easy work sitting in judgment on other people. I told you I hadn’t much of a case—I asked you to make allowances. You clearly can’t. He asked you—not to hurt me. You clearly feel you must. Yet—in justice to you both—I’m doing what I can. I’ve never before condescended to explain myself—almost excuse myself—to any man; and I certainly never shall again. It strikes me you’d better apply your own indictment ... to your own case. If you can think and feel ... as you seem to do, better face the fact and be done with it——”
But Roy, startled and penitent, was sitting upright by now; and, when she would have risen, he seized her, crushing her to him, would she or no. In her pain and anger she more than ever drew him. In his utter heart-loneliness, he more than ever needed her. And the reminder of Lance crowned all.
“My darling—don’t go off at a tangent, that way,” he implored her, his lips against her hair. “For me—it’s a sacred bond. It can’t be snapped in a fit of temper—like a bit of knotted thread. I’ll accept ... what I can’t see clear. We’ll stand by each other, as you said. Learn one another—Rose...! My dearest girl—don’t——!”
He strained her closer, in mingled bewilderment and distress. For Rose—who trod lightly on the hearts of men, Rose—the serene and self-assured—was sobbing brokenly in his arms....
Before the end of the evening, they were more or less themselves again; the threatened storm averted; the trouble patched up and summarily dismissed, as only lovers can dismiss a cloud that intrudes upon their heaven of blue.
“Le pire douleur est de
ne pas, pleurer ce qu’on a perdu.”
But as days passed, both grew increasingly aware of the patch; and both very carefully concealed the fact. They spent a week of peaceful seclusion from Simla and her restless activities. Roy scarcely set eyes on Mrs Elton; but—Rose having skilfully prepared the ground—he merely gave her credit for her mother’s unusual display of tact.