Seizing her hand, he kissed it fervently.
“Darling—after all that, a mere promise would be a fatuous superfluity. If you say ‘No Indian wife,’ that’s enough for me. I suppose I must rest content with the high privilege of possessing an Indian mother.”
Her radiant surprise was a beautiful thing to see. Leaning forward, she took his head in her hands and kissed him between his eyebrows where the caste-mark should be.
“Must it be October—so soon?” she asked.
He told her of Dyan, and she sighed. “Poor Dyan! I wonder? It is so difficult—even with the best kind—this mixing of English education and Indian life. I hope it will make no harm for those two——”
Then they started, almost like lovers; for the drooping branches rustled and Tara stood before them—a very vision of June; in her straight frock of Delphinium blue; one shell-pink rose in her hat and its counterpart in her waist-belt. Canvas shoes and tennis-racquet betrayed her fell design on Roy.
“Am I despritly superfluous?” she queried, smiling from one to the other.
“Quite too despritly,” Roy assured her with emphasis.
She wrinkled her nose at him, so far as its delicate aquiline would permit. “Speak for yourself, spoilt boy!”
But she favoured him with her left hand, which he retained, while she stooped over the hammock and kissed Lilamani on both cheeks. Then she stood up and gently disengaged her hand.
“Christine’s to blame. She guessed you were here. I came over in hopes of tennis. It’s just perfect. Not too hot.”
“Still more perfect in here, lazing with Mummy,” said graceless Roy.
“I disown you, I am ashamed!” Lilamani rebuked him only half in jest. “No more lazing now. I have done with you. Only you have to get me out of this.”
They got her out, between them; fussed over her and laughed at her; and then went off together for Roy’s racquet.
She stood in the silvery sunlight watching them till they disappeared round the corner of the house. Not surprising that Nevil said—“No hurry!” If he would only wait...! He was still too young, too much in love with India—with herself. Yet, had he already begun inditing sonnets, even to the most acceptable eyebrow, her perverse heart would doubtless have known the prick of jealousy—as in Desmond’s day.
Instead she suddenly knew the first insidious prick of middle age; felt dazed, for a mere moment, by the careless radiance of their youth; to them an unconsidered thing: but to those who feel it relentlessly slipping through their fingers ...
Her small fine hands clenched in unconscious response to her thought. She was nearing forty. In her own land she would be reckoned almost an old woman. But some magic in the air and way of life in this cool green England seemed to keep age at bay: and there remained within a flame-like youth of the spirit—not so easy, even for the Arch-Thief to steal away....