“No. It would choke me,” he said with smothered passion. “If I’ve got to go—I’m going.”
He stood up, bracing his shoulders. She stood up also, confronting him. Neither could see the other’s face quite clear.
Then: “Only six weeks!” she said very low. “Roy—we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.”
“I am—heartily,” he confessed. “I was never more so.”
She was looking down now, twisting her ring. “I’m afraid ... I’m not talented in that line. Somehow ... except for Lance, I can’t regret it.” She slid the ring over her knuckle.
“Oh, keep the beastly thing!” he flung out in an access of pain. “Or throw it down the khud. I said it would bring bad luck.”
She sighed. “All the same—poor thing! It’s too lovely....”
“Well then, don’t wear it; but keep it”—his tone changed—“as a reminder. We have been something to one another ... if it couldn’t be everything.”
Her eyes were still lowered, her lips not quite steady.
“You’ve been ... very near it to me. Yet—it seemed, the more ... I cared, the less I could get over ... that. And I felt as if you—wouldn’t get over.. Lance.”
“My God! It’s been a bitter, contrary business all round! I can’t bear hurting you. And—the talk and all that——” She nodded. For her that was not the least bitter part of it all. “And you——? Oh, Lord—will it be Hayes to the fore again?”
“No!” Reproach underlay her vehemence. “Mother may rage. I shall go with Dolly Smyth to Kashmir.—And you——?”
“Oh, I’ll go out to Narkhanda.”
“Alone? But you’re ill. You want looking after.”
“Can’t be helped. Azim Khan’s a treasure. And really I don’t care a damn what comes to me.”
“Oh, but I do——!”
It was a cry from her heart. The strain of repression snapped. She swayed, just perceptibly——
In a moment his arms were round her; and they clung together a long while, in the only complete form of nearness they had known....
For Roy, that last passionate kiss was dead-sea fruit. For Rose, it was her moment of completest surrender to an elemental force she had deliberately played with only to find herself the sport of it at last....
When it was over—all was over. Words were impertinent. He held her hands close, a moment, looking into her tear-filled eyes. Then he took up hat and stick and stumbled blindly down the verandah steps....
* * * * *
Back in his bachelor room at the Club, he realised that fever was on him again: his eyeballs burning; little hammers beating all over his head. Mechanically, he picked up two letters that lay awaiting him: one from his father, one from Jeffers, congratulating him, in rather guarded phrases, on his engagement to Miss Arden.
It was the last straw.