FAR TO SEEK
A Romance of England and India
BY MAUD DIVER
AUTHOR OF 'CAPTAIN DESMOND, V.C.,' 'LILAMANI,' 'DESMOND'S DAUGHTER,' ETC.
"I am athirst for far-away things. My soul goes out in longing to touch the skirt of the dim distance.... O Far-to-Seek! O the keen call of thy flute...!" —RABINDRANATH TAGORE.
"His hidden meaning dwells in our endeavours; Our valours are our best gods." —JOHN FLETCHER.
William Blackwood & Sons Ltd.
Edinburgh and London
* * * * *
_TO MY BLUE BIRD,
BRINGER OF HAPPINESS TO MYSELF AND OTHERS,
I DEDICATE THIS IDYLL OF A MOTHER AND SON.
* * * * *
"The dawn sleeps behind the shadowy hills, The stars hold their breath, counting the hours.... There is only your own pair of wings and the pathless sky, Bird, oh my Bird, listen to me—do not close your wings." —RABINDRANATH TAGORE.
As part of my book is set in Lahore, at the time of the outbreak, in April 1919, I wish to state clearly that, while the main events are true to fact, the characters concerned, both English and Indian, are purely imaginary. At the same time, the opinions expressed by my Indian characters on the present outlook are all based on the written or spoken opinions of actual Indians—loyal or disaffected, as the case may be.
There were no serious British casualties in Lahore, though there were many elsewhere. I have imagined one locally, for purposes of my story. In all other respects I have kept close to recorded facts.
PHASE I. THE GLORY AND THE DREAM 1
PHASE II. THE VISIONARY GLEAM 65
PHASE III. PISGAH HEIGHTS 135
PHASE IV. DUST OF THE ACTUAL 283
PHASE V. A STAR IN DARKNESS 417
THE GLORY AND THE DREAM
"Thou art the sky, and thou art the nest as well." —Tagore.
By the shimmer of blue under the beeches Roy knew that summer—"really truly summer!"—had come back at last. And summer meant picnics and strawberries and out-of-door lessons, and the lovely hot smell of pine-needles in the pine-wood, and the lovelier cool smell of moss cushions in the beech-wood—home of squirrels and birds and bluebells; unfailing wonderland of discovery and adventure.
Roy was an imaginative creature, isolated a little by the fact of being three and a half years older than Christine, and "miles older" than Jerry and George, mere babies, for whom the magic word adventure held no meaning at all.
Luckily, there was Tara, from the black-and-white house: Tara, who shared his lessons and, in spite of the drawback of being a girl, had long ago won her way into his private world of knight-errantry and romance. Tara was eight years and five weeks old; quite a reasonable age in the eyes of Roy, whose full name was Nevil Le Roy Sinclair, and who would be nine in June. With the exception of grown-ups, who didn't count, there was no one older than nine in his immediate neighbourhood. Tara came nearest: but she wouldn't be nine till next year; and by that time, he would be ten. The point was, she couldn't catch him up if she tried ever so.
It was Tara's mother, Lady Despard, who had the happy idea of sharing lessons, that would otherwise be rather a lonely affair for both. But it was Roy's mother who had the still happier idea of teaching them herself. Tara's mother joined in now and then; but Roy's mother—who loved it beyond everything—secured the lion's share. And Roy was old enough by now to be proudly aware of his own good fortune. Most other children of his acquaintance were afflicted with tiresome governesses, who wore ugly jackets and hats, who said "Don't drink with your mouth full," and "Don't argue the point!"—Roy's favourite sin—and always told you to "Look in the dictionary" when you found a scrumptious new word and wanted to hear all about it. The dictionary, indeed! Roy privately regarded it as one of the many mean evasions to which grown-ups were addicted.
His ripe experience on the subject was gleaned partly from neighbouring families, partly from infrequent visits to "Aunt Jane"—whom he hated with a deep unreasoned hate—and "Uncle George," who had a kind, stupid face, but anyhow tried to be funny and made futile bids for favour with pen-knives and half-crowns. Possibly it was these uncongenial visits that quickened in him very early the consciousness that his own beautiful home was, in some special way, different from other boys' homes, and his mother—in a still more special way—different from other boys' mothers....
And that proud conviction was no mere myth born of his young adoration. In all the County, perhaps in all the Kingdom, there could be found no mother in the least like Lilamani Sinclair, descendant of Rajput chiefs and wife of an English Baronet, who, in the face of formidable barriers, had dared to accept all risks and follow the promptings of his heart. One of these days there would dawn on Roy the knowledge that he was the child of a unique romance, of a mutual love and courage that had run the gauntlet of prejudices and antagonisms, of fightings without and fears within; yet, in the end, had triumphed as they triumph who will not admit defeat. All this initial blending of ecstasy and pain, of spiritual striving and mastery, had gone to the making of Roy, who in the fulness of time would realise—perhaps with pride, perhaps with secret trouble and misgiving—the high and complex heritage that was his.
* * * * *
Meanwhile he only knew that he was fearfully happy, especially in summer time; that his father—who had smiling eyes and loved messing with paints like a boy—was kinder than anyone else's, so long as you didn't tell bad fibs or meddle with his brushes; that his idolised mother, in her soft coloured silks and saris, her bangles and silver shoes, was the "very most beautiful" being in the whole world. And Roy's response to the appeal of beauty was abnormally quick and keen. It could hardly be otherwise with the son of these two. He loved, with a fervour beyond his years, the clear pale oval of his mother's face; the coils of her dark hair, seen always through a film of softest muslin—moon-yellow or apple-blossom pink, or deep dark blue like the sky out of his window at night spangled with stars. He loved the glimmer of her jewels, the sheen and feel of her wonderful Indian silks, that seemed to smell like the big sandalwood box in the drawing-room. And beyond everything he loved her smile and the touch of her hand, and her voice that could charm away all nightmare terrors, all questionings and rebellions, of his excitable brain.
Yet, in outward bearing, he was not a sentimental boy. The Sinclairs did not run to sentiment; and the blood of two virile races—English and Rajput—was mingled in his veins. Already his budding masculinity bade him keep the feelings of 'that other Roy' locked in the most secret corner of his heart. Only his mother, and sometimes Tara, caught a glimpse of him now and then. Lady Sinclair, herself, never guessed that, in the vivid imaginations of both children, she herself was the ever-varying incarnation of the fairy princesses and Rajputni heroines of her own tales. Their appetite for these was insatiable; and her store of them seemed never ending: folk tales of East and West; true tales of Crusaders, of Arthur and his knights; of Rajput Kings and Queens, in the far-off days when Rajasthan—a word like a trumpet call—was holding her desert cities against hordes of invaders, and heroes scorned to die in their beds. Much of it all was frankly beyond them; but the colour and the movement, the atmosphere of heroism and high endeavour quickened imagination and fellow-feeling, and left an impress on both children that would not pass with the years.
To their great good fortune, these tales and talks were a part of her simple, individual plan of education. An even greater good fortune—in their eyes—was her instinctive response to the seasons. She shared to the full their clear conviction that schoolroom lessons and a radiant day of summer were a glaring misfit; and she trimmed her sails, or rather her time-table, accordingly.
"Sentimental folly and thoroughly demoralising," was the verdict of Aunt Jane, overheard by Roy, who was not supposed to understand. "They will grow up without an inch of moral backbone. And you can't say I didn't warn you. Lady Despard's a crank, of course; but Nevil is a fool to allow it. Goodness knows he was bad enough, though he was reared on the good old lines. And you are not giving his son a chance. The sooner the boy's packed off to school the better. I shall tell him so."
And his mother had answered with her dignified unruffled sweetness—that made her so beautifully different from ordinary people, who got red and excited and made foolish faces: "He will not agree. He shares my believing that children are in love with life. It is their first love. Pity to crush it too soon; putting their minds in tight boxes with no chink for Nature to creep in. If they first find knowledge by their young life-love, afterwards, they will perhaps give up their life-love to gain it."
Roy could not follow all that; but the music of the words, matched with the music of his mother's voice, convinced him that her victory over horrid interfering Aunt Jane was complete. And it was comforting to know that his father agreed about not putting their minds in tight boxes. For Aunt Jane's drastic prescription alarmed him. Of course school would have to come some day; but his was not the temperament that hankers for it at an early age. As to a moral backbone—whatever sort of an affliction that might be—if it meant growing up ugly and 'disagreeable,' like Aunt Jane or the Aunt Jane cousins, he fervently hoped he would never have one—or Tara either....
But on this particular morning he feared no manner of bogey—not even school or a moral backbone—because the bluebells were alight under his beeches—hundreds and hundreds of them—and 'really truly' summer had come back at last!
Roy knew it the moment he sprang out of bed and stood barefoot on the warm patch of carpet near the window, stretching his slim shapely body, instinctively responsive to the sun's caress. No less instinctive was his profound conviction that nothing possibly could go wrong on a day like this.
In the first place it meant lessons under their favourite tree. In the second, it was history and poetry day; and Roy's delight in both made them hardly seem lessons at all. He thought it very clever of his mother, having them together. The depth of her wisdom he did not yet discern. She allowed them within reason, to choose their own poems: and Roy, exploring her bookcase, had lighted on Shelley's 'Cloud'—the musical flow of words, the more entrancing because only half understood. He had straightway learnt the first three verses for a surprise. He crooned them now, his head flung back a little, his gaze intent on a gossamer film that floated just above the pine tops—'still as a brooding dove.'...
Standing there, in full sunlight—the modelling of his young limbs veiled, yet not hidden, by his silk night-suit; the carriage of head and shoulders betraying innate pride of race—he looked, on every count, no unworthy heir to the House of Sinclair and its simple honourable traditions: one that might conceivably live to challenge family prejudices and qualms. The thick dark hair, ruffled from sleep, was his mother's; and hers the semi-opaque ivory tint of his skin. The clean-cut forehead and nose, the blue-grey eyes, with the lurking smile in them, were Nevil Sinclair's own. In him, at least, it would seem that love was justified of her children.
But of family features, as of family qualms, he was, as yet, radiantly unaware. Snatching his towel, he scampered barefoot down the passage to the nursery bathroom, where the tap was already running.
Fifteen minutes later, dressed, but hatless and still barefoot, he was racing over the vast dew-drenched lawn, leaving a trail of grey-green smudges on its silvered surface, chanting the opening lines of Shelley's 'Cloud' to breakfast-hunting birds.
"Those first affections, Those shadowy recollections,... Are yet the fountain-light of all our day; Are yet the master-light of all our seeing." —WORDSWORTH.
The blue rug under Roy's beech-tree was splashed with freckles of sunshine; freckles that were never still, because a fussy little wind kept swaying the top-most branches, where the youngest beech-leaves flickered, like golden-green butterflies bewitched by some malicious fairy, so that they could never fly into the sky till summer was over, and all the leaf butterflies in the world would be free to scamper with the wind.
That was Roy's foolish fancy as he lay full length, to the obvious detriment of his moral backbone—chin cupped in the hollow of his hands. Close beside him lay Prince, his golden retriever; so close that he could feel the dog's warm body through his thin shirt. At the foot of the tree, in a nest of pale cushions, sat his mother, in her apple-blossom sari and a silk dress like the lining of a shell. No jewels in the morning, except the star that fastened her sari on one shoulder and a slender gold bangle—never removed—the wedding-ring of her own land. The boy, mutely adoring, could, in some dim way, feel the harmony of those pale tones with the olive skin, faintly aglow, and the delicate arch of her eyebrows poised like outspread wings above the brown, limpid depths of her eyes. He could not tell that she was still little more than a girl; barely eight-and-twenty. For him she was ageless:—protector and playfellow, essence of all that was most real, yet most magical, in the home that was his world. Unknown to him, the Eastern mother in her was evoking, already, the Eastern spirit of worship in her son.
Very close to her nestled Tara, a vivid, eager slip of a girl, with wild-rose petals in her cheeks and blue hyacinths in her eyes and sunbeams tangled in her hair, that rippled to her waist in a mass almost too abundant for the small head and elfin face it framed. In temperament, she suggested a flame rather than a flower, this singularly vital child. She loved and she hated, she played and she quarrelled with an intensity, a singleness of aim, surprising and a little disquieting in a creature not yet nine. She was the despair of nurses and had never crossed swords with a governess, which was a merciful escape—for the governess. Juvenile fiction and fairy tales she frankly scorned. Legends of Asgard and Arthur, the virile tales of Rajputana and her warrior chiefs, she drank in as the earth drinks dew. Roy had a secret weakness for a happy ending—in his own phrase, "a beautiful marry." Tara's rebel spirit rose to tragedy as a flame leaps to the stars; and there was no lack of high tragedy in the records of Chitor—Queen of cities—thrice sacked by Moslem invaders; deserted at last, and left in ruins—a sacred relic of great days gone by.
This morning Rajputana held the field. Lilamani, with a thrill in her low voice, was half reading, half telling the adventures of Prithvi Raj (King of the Earth) and his Amazon Princess, Tara—the Star of Bednore: verily a star among women for beauty, wisdom, and courage. Many princes were rivals for her hand; but none would she call "lord" save the man who restored to her father the Kingdom snatched from him by an Afghan marauder. "On the faith of a Rajput, I will restore it," said Prithvi Raj. So, in the faith of a Rajputni, she married him:—and together, by a daring device, they fulfilled her vow.
Here, indeed, was Roy's 'beautiful marry,' fit prelude for the tale of that heroic pair. For in life—Lilamani told them—marriage is the beginning, not the end. That is only for fairy tales.
And close against her shoulder, listening entranced, sat the child Tara, with her wild-flower face and the flickering star in her heart—a creature born out of time into an unromantic world; hands clasped round her upraised knees, her wide eyes gazing past the bluebells and the beech-leaves at some fanciful inner vision of it all; lost in it, as Roy was lost in contemplation of his Mother's face....
And this unorthodox fashion of imbibing knowledge in the very lap of the Earth Mother, was Lilamani Sinclair's impracticable idea of 'giving lessons'! Shades of Aunt Jane! Of governess and copy-books and rulers!
Happily for all three, Lady Roscoe never desecrated their paradise in the flesh. She was aware that her very regrettable sister-in-law had 'queer notions' and had flatly refused to engage a governess of high qualifications chosen by herself; but the half was not told her. It never is told to those who condemn on principle what they cannot understand. At their coming all the little private gateways into the delectable Garden of Intimacy shut with a gentle, decisive click. So it was with Jane Roscoe, as worthy and unlikeable a woman as ever organised a household to perfection and alienated every member of her family.
The trouble was that she could not rest satisfied with this achievement. She was afflicted with a vehement desire—she called it a sense of duty—to organise the homes of her less capable relations. If they resented, they were written down ungrateful. And Nevil's ingratitude had become a byword. For Nevil Sinclair was that unaccountable, uncomfortable thing—an artist; which is to say he was no true Sinclair, but the son of his mother whose name he bore. No one, not even Jane, had succeeded in organising him—nor ever would.
So Lilamani carried on, unmolested, her miniature attempt at the forest school of an earlier day. Her simple programme included a good deal more than tales of heroism and adventure. This morning there had been rhythmical exercises, a lively interlude of 'sums without slates' and their poems—a great moment for Roy. Only by a superhuman effort he had kept his treasure locked inside him for two whole days. And his mother's surprise was genuine: not the acted surprise of grown-ups, that was so patent and so irritating and made them look so silly. The smile in her eyes as she listened had sent a warm tingly feeling all through him, as if the spring sunshine itself ran in his veins. Naturally he could not express it so; but he felt it so. And now, as he lay looking and listening, he felt it still. The wonder of her face and her voice, and all the many wonders that made her so beautiful, had hitherto been as much a part of him as the air he breathed. But this morning, in some dim way, things were different—and he could not tell why....
His own puzzled thoughts and her face and her voice became entangled with the chivalrous story of Prithvi Raj holding court in his hill fortress with Tara—fit wife for a hero, since she could ride and fling a lance and bend a bow with the best of them. When Roy caught him up, he was in the midst of a great battle with his uncle, who had broken out in rebellion against the old Rana of Chitor.
"All day long they were fighting, and all night long they were lying awake beside great watch-fires, waiting till there came dawn to fight again...."
His mother was telling, not reading now. He knew it at once from the change in her tone.
"And when evening came, what did Prithvi Raj? He was carelessly strolling over to the enemy's camp, carelessly walking into his Uncle's tent to ask if he is well, in spite of many wounds. And his uncle, full of surprise, made answer: 'Quite well, my child, since I have the pleasure to see you.' And when he heard that Prithvi had come even before eating any dinner, he gave orders for food: and they two, who were all day seeking each other's life, sat there together eating from one plate.
"'In the morning we will end our battle, Uncle,' said Prithvi Raj, when time came to go.
"'Very well, child, come early,' said Surajmul.
"So Prithvi Raj came early and put his Uncle's whole army to flight. But that was not enough. He must be driven from the kingdom. So when Prithvi heard that broken army was hiding in the depths of a mighty forest, there he went with his bravest horsemen, and suddenly, on a dark night, sprang into their midst. Then there was great shouting and fighting; and soon they came together, uncle and nephew, striking at each other, yet never hating, though they must make battle because of Chitor and the Kingdom of Mewar.
"To none would Suraj yield, but only to Prithvi, bravest of the brave. So suddenly in a loud voice he cried—'Stay the fight, nephew. If I am killed, no great matter. But if you are killed, what will become of Chitor? I would bear shame for ever.'
"By those generous words he made submission greater than victory. Uncle and nephew embraced, heart to heart, and all those who had been fighting each other sat down together in peace, because Surajmul, true Rajput, could not bring harm, even in anger, upon the sacred city of Chitor."
She paused—her eyes on Roy, who had lost his own puzzling sensations in the clash of the fight and its chivalrous climax.
"Oh, I love it," he said. "Is that all?"
"No, there is more."
"Is it sad?"
She shook her head at him—smiling.
"Yes, Roy. It is sad."
He wrinkled his forehead.
"Oh dear! I like it to end the nice way."
"But I am not making tales, Sonling. I am telling history."
Tara's head nudged her shoulder. "Go on—please," she murmured, resenting interruptions.
So Lilamani—still looking at Roy—told how Prithvi Raj went on his last quest to Mount Abu, to punish the chief, who had married his sister and was ill-treating her.
"In answer to her cry he went; and climbing her palace walls in the night, he gave sharp punishment to that undeserving prince. But when penance was over, his noble nature was ready, like before, to embrace and be friends. Only that mean one, not able to kill him in battle, put poison in the sweets he gave at parting and Prithvi ate them, thinking no harm. So when he came on the hill near his palace the evil work was done. Helpless he, the all-conqueror, sent word to Tara that he might see her before death. But even that could not be. And she, loyal wife, had only one thought in her heart. 'Can the blossom live when the tree is cut down?' Calm, without tears, she bade his weeping warriors build up the funeral pyre, putting the torch with her own hand. Then, before them all, she climbed on that couch of fire and went through the leaping scorching flames to meet her lord——"
The low clear voice fell silent—and the silence stayed. The vague thrill of a tragedy they could hardly grasp laid a spell upon the children. It made Roy feel as he did in Church, when the deepest notes of the organ quivered through him; and it brought a lump in his throat, which must be manfully swallowed down on account of being a boy....
And suddenly the spell was broken by the voice of Roger the footman, who had approached noiselessly along the mossy track.
"If you please, m'lady, Sir Nevil sent word as Lord and Lady Roscoe 'ave arrived unexpected; and if convenient, can you come in?"
They all started visibly and their dream-world of desert and rose-red mountains and battle-fields and leaping flames shivered like a soap-bubble at the touch of a careless hand.
Lilamani rose, gentle and dignified. "Thank you, Roger. Tell Sir Nevil I am coming."
Roy suppressed a groan. The mere mention of Aunt Jane made one feel vaguely guilty. To his nimble fancy it was almost as if her very person had invaded their sanctuary, in her neat hard coat and skirt and her neat hard summer hat with its one fierce wing, that, disdaining the tenderness of curves, seemed to stab the air, as her eyes so often seemed to stab Roy's hyper-sensitive brain.
"Oh dear!" he sighed. "Will they stop for lunch?"
"I expect so."
He wrinkled his nose in a wicked grimace.
"Bad boy!" said Lilamani's lips, but her eyes said other things. He knew, and she knew that he knew how, in her heart, she shared his innate antagonism. Was it not of her own bestowing—a heritage of certain memories—ineffaceable, unforgiveable—during her early days of marriage? But in spite of that mutual knowledge, Roy was never allowed to speak disrespectfully of his formidable aunt.
"You can stay out and play till half-past twelve, not one minute later," she said—and left them to their own delectable devices.
Roy had been promoted to a silver watch on his eighth birthday, so he could be relied on; and he still enjoyed a private sense of importance when the fact was recognised.
Left alone they had only to pick up the threads of their game; a sort of interminable serial story, in which they lived and moved and had their being. But first Tara—in her own person—had a piece of news to impart. Hunching up her knees, she tilted back her head till it touched the satin-grey hole of the tree and all her hair lay shimmering against it like a stream of pale sunshine.
"What do you think?" she nodded at Roy with her elfin smile. "We've got a Boy-on-a-visit and his mother, from India. They came last night. He's rather a large boy."
"Is he nine?" Roy asked, standing up very straight and slim, a defensive gleam in his eye.
"He's ten and a half. And he looks bigger'n that. He goes to school. And he's been quite a lot in India."
"Not my India."
"I don't know. He called it 'Mballa. That letter I brought from Mummy was asking if she could bring them for tea."
"Well, I don't want him for tea. I don't like your Boy-on-a-visit. I'll tell Mummy."
"Oh, Roy—you mustn't." She made reproachful eyes at him. "Coz then I couldn't come. And he's quite nice—only rather lumpy. And you can't not like someb'dy you've never seen."
"I can, I often do." The possibility had only just occurred to him. He saw it as a distinction and made the most of it. "Course if you're going to make a fuss——"
Tara's eyes opened wider still. "Oh, Roy, you are——! 'Tisn't me that's making fusses."
Though Roy knew nothing as yet about woman and the last word, he instinctively took refuge in the masculine dignity that spurns descent to the dusty arena when it feels defeat in the air.
"Girls don't never fuss—do they?" he queried suavely. "Let's get on with the Game and not bother about your Boy-of-ten."
"And a half," Tara insisted tactlessly, with her sweetest smile. But when Roy chose to be impassive pin-pricks were thrown away on him.
"Where'd we stop?" he mused, ignoring her remark. "Oh—I know. The Knight was going forth to quest the Elephant with golden tusks for the High Tower Princess who wanted them in her crown. Why do Princesses always want what the knights can't find?"
Tara's feminine intuition leaped at a solution.
"I 'spec it's just to show off they are Princesses and to keep the Knights from bothering round.—So away he went and the Princess climbed up to her highest tower and waved her lily hand——"
In the same breath she, Tara, sprang to her feet and swung herself astride a downward sweeping branch just above Roy's head. There she perched like a slim blue flower, dangling her tan-stockinged legs and shaking her hair at him like golden rain. She was in one of her impish moods; reaction, perhaps,—though she knew it not—from the high tragedy of that other Tara, her namesake, and the great greatest-possible grandmother of her adored 'Aunt Lila.' Suddenly a fresh impulse seized her. Clutching her bough, she leaned down and lightly ruffled his hair.
He started and looked reproachful. "Don't rumple me. I'm going."
"You needn't, if you don't want to," she cooed caressingly. "I'm going to the tipmost top to see out over the world. And the Princess doesn't care a bean about the Golden Tusks—truly."
"She's jolly pleased with the knight that finds them," said Roy with a deeper wisdom than he knew. "And you can't be stopped off quests that way. Come on, Prince."
At a bend in the mossy path, he looked back and she waved her lily hand.
* * * * *
To be alone in the deep of the wood in bluebell time was, for Roy, a sensation by itself. In a moment, you stepped through some unseen door straight into fairy-land—or was it a looking-glass world? For here the sky lay all around your feet in a shimmer of bluebells: and high overhead were domes of cool green light, where the sun came flickering and filtering through millions of leaves. Always, as far as he could remember, the magical feeling had been there. But this morning it came over him in a queer way. This morning—though he could not quite make it out—there was the Roy that felt and the Roy that knew he felt, just as there had suddenly been when he was watching his mother's face. And this magical world was his kingdom. In some far-off time, it would all be his very own. That uplifting thought eclipsed every other....
Lost in one of his dreaming moods, he wandered on and on, with Prince at his heels. He forgot all about Tara and his knighthood and his quest; till suddenly—where the trees fell apart—his eye was arrested by twin shafts of sunlight that struck downward through the green gloom.
He caught his breath and stood still. "I've found them! The Golden Tusks!" he murmured ecstatically.
The pity was he couldn't carry them back with him as trophies. He could only watch them fascinated, wondering how you could explain what you didn't understand yourself. All he knew was that they made him feel 'dazzled inside,' and he wanted to watch them more.
It was beautiful out in the open with the sunshine pouring down and a big lazy white cloud tangled in tree-tops. So he flung himself on the moss, hands under his head, and lay there, Prince beside him, looking up, up into the far blue, listening to the swish and rustle of the wind talking secrets to the leaves, and all the tiny mysterious noises that make up the silence of a wood in summer.
And again he forgot about Tara and the Game and the silver watch that made him reliable. He simply lay there in a trance-like stillness, that was not of the West, absorbing it all, with his eyes and his dazzled brain and with every sentient nerve in his body. And again—as when his mother smiled her praise—the Spring sunshine itself seemed to flow through his veins....
* * * * *
Suddenly he came alive and sat upright. Something was happening. The Golden Tusks had disappeared, and the domes of cool green light and the far blue sky and the lazy white cloud. Under the beeches it was almost twilight—a creepy twilight, as if a giant had blown out the sun. Was it really evening? Had he been asleep? Only his watch could answer that, and never had he loved it more dearly. No—it was daytime. Twenty past twelve—and he would be late——
A long rumbling growl, that seemed to shudder through the wood, so startled him that it set little hammers beating all over his body. Then the wind grew angrier—not whispering secrets now, but tearing at the tree-tops and lashing the branches this way and that. And every minute the wood grew darker, and the sky overhead was darkest of all—the colour of spilled ink. And there was Tara—his forgotten Princess—waiting for him in her high tower; or perhaps she had given up waiting and gone home.
"Come on, Prince," he said, "we must run!"
The sound of his own voice was vaguely comforting: but the moment he began to run, he felt as if some one—or Something—was running after him. He knew there was nothing. He knew it was babyish. But what could you do if your legs were in a fearful hurry of their own accord? Besides, Tara was waiting. Somehow Tara seemed the point of safety. He didn't believe she was ever afraid——
All in a moment the eerie darkness quivered and broke into startling light. Twigs and leaves and bluebell spears and tiny patterns of moss seemed to leap at him and vanish as he ran: and two minutes after, high above the agitated tree-tops, the thunder spoke. No mere growl now; but crash on crash that seemed to be tearing the sky in two and set the little hammers inside him beating faster than ever.
He had often watched storms from a window: but to be out in the very middle of one all alone was an adventure of the first magnitude. The grandeur and terror of it clutched at his heart and thrilled along his nerves as the thunder went rumbling and grumbling off to the other end of the world, leaving the wood so quiet and still that the little hammers inside seemed almost as loud as the plop-plop of the first big raindrops on the leaves. But, in spite of secret tremors, he wanted tremendously to hear the thunder speak again. The childish feeling of pursuit was gone. His legs that had been in such a fearful hurry, came to a sudden standstill; and he discovered, to his immense surprise, that he was back again——
There lay the rug and the cushions under the downward sweeping branches with their cascades of bright new leaves. No sign of Tara—and the heavy drops came faster, though they hardly amounted to a shower.
Flinging down bow and arrows, he ran under the tree and peered up into a maze of silver grey and young green. Still no sign.
"Tara!" he called. "Are you there?"
"'Course I am." Her disembodied voice had a ring of triumph. "I'm at the tipmost top. It's rather shaky, but scrumshous. Come up—quick!"
Craning his neck he could just see one leg and the edge of her frock. Temptation tugged at him; but he could not bear to disobey his mother—not because it was naughty, but it was her.
"I can't—now," he called back. "It's late and it's raining. You must come down."
"I will—if you come up."
"I tell you, I can't!"
"Only one little minute, Roy. The storm's rolling away. I can see miles and miles—to Farthest End."
Temptation tugged harder. You couldn't carry on an argument with one tan shoe and stocking and a flutter of blue frock, and he wanted badly to tell about the Golden Tusks. Should he go on alone, or should he climb up and fetch her——?
The answer to that came from the top of the tree. A crack, a rustle and a shriek from Tara, who seemed to be coming down faster than she cared about.
Another shriek. "Oh, Roy! I'm stuck! Do come!"
Stuck! She was dangling from the end of a jagged bough that had caught in her skirt as she fell. There she hung ignominiously—his High Tower Princess—her hair floating like seaweed, her hands clutching at the nearest branches that were too pliable for support. If her skirt should tear, or the bough should break——
"Keep stuck!" he commanded superfluously; and like a squirrel he sped up the great beech, its every foothold as familiar to him as the ground he walked on.
But to release her skirt and give her a hand he must trust himself on the jagged bough, hoping it would bear the double weight. It looked rather a dead one, and its sharp end was sticking through a hole in Tara's frock. He set foot on it cautiously and proffered a hand.
"Now—catch hold!" he said.
Agile as he, she swung herself up somehow and clutched at him with both hands. The half-dead bough, resenting these gymnastics, cracked ominously. There was a gasp, a scuffle. Roy hung on valiantly, dragging her nearer for a firmer foothold.
And suddenly down below Prince began to bark—a deep, booming note of welcome.
"Hullo, Roy!" It was his father's voice. "Are you murdering Tara up there? Come out of it!"
Roy, having lost his footing, was in no position to look down—or to disobey: and they proceeded to come out of it, with rather more haste than dignity.
Roy, swinging from a high branch for his final jump—a bit of pure bravado because he felt nervous inside—discovered, with mingled terror and joy, that his vagrant foot had narrowly shaved Aunt Jane's neat hard summer hat: Aunt Jane—of all people—at such a moment, when you couldn't properly explain. He half wished he had kicked the fierce little feather and broken its back——
He was on the ground now, shaking hands with her, his sensitive clean-cut face a mask of mere politeness: and Tara was standing by him—a jagged hole in her blue frock, a scratch across her cheek, and her hair ribbon gone—looking suspiciously as if he had been trying to murder her instead of doing her a knightly service.
She couldn't help it, of course. But still—it was a distinct score for Aunt Jane, who, as usual, went straight to the point.
"You nearly kicked my head just now. A little gentleman would apologise."
He did apologise—not with the best grace.
"My turn next," his father struck in. "What the dickens were you up to—tearing slices out of my finest tree!" His twinkly eyes were almost grave and his voice was almost stern. ("Just because of Aunt Jane!" thought Roy.)
Aloud he said: "I'm awfully sorry, Daddy. It was only ... Tara got in a muddle. I had to help her."
The twinkle came back to his father's eyes.
"The woman tempted me!" was all he said; and Roy, hopelessly mystified, wondered how he could possibly know. It was very clever of him. But Aunt Jane seemed shocked.
"Nevil, be quiet!" she commanded in a crisp undertone; and Roy, simply hating her, pulled out his watch.
"We've got to hurry, Daddy. Mother said 'not later than half-past.' And it is later."
"Scoot, then. She'll be anxious because of the storm."
But though Roy, grasping Tara's hand, faithfully hurried ahead because of mother, he managed to keep just within earshot; and he listened shamelessly, because of Aunt Jane. You couldn't trust her. She didn't play fair. She would bite you behind your back. That's the kind of woman she was.
And this is what he heard.
"Nevil, it's perfectly disgraceful. Letting them run wild like that; damaging the trees and scaring the birds."
She meant the pheasants of course. No other winged beings were sacred in her eyes.
"Sorry, old girl. But they appear to survive it." (The cool good-humour of his father's tone was balm to Roy's heart.) "And frankly, with us, if it's a case of the children or the birds, the children win, hands down."
Aunt Jane snorted. You could call it nothing else. It was a sound peculiarly her own, and it implied unutterable things. Roy would have gloried had he known what a score for his father was that delicately implied identity with his wife.
But the snort was no admission of defeat.
"In my opinion—if it counts for anything," she persisted, "this harum-scarum state of things is quite as bad for the children as for the birds. I suppose you have a glimmering concern for the boy's future, as heir to the old place?"
Nevil Sinclair chuckled.
"By Jove! That's quite a bright idea. Really, Jane, you've a positive flair for the obvious."
(Roy hugely wanted to know what a "flair for the obvious" might be. His eager brain pounced on new words as a dog pounces on a bone.)
"I wish I could say the same for you," Lady Roscoe retorted unabashed. "The obvious, in this case—though you can't or won't see it—is that the boy is thoroughly spoilt, and in September he ought to go to school. You couldn't do better than Coombe Friars."
His father said something quickly in a low tone and he couldn't catch Aunt Jane's next remark. Evidently he was to hear no more. What he had heard was bad enough.
"I don't care. I jolly well won't," he said between his teeth—which looked as if Aunt Jane was not quite wrong about the spoiling.
"No, don't," said Tara, who had also listened without shame. And they hurried on in earnest.
"Tara," Roy whispered, suddenly recalling his quest. "I found the Golden Tusks. I'll tell it you after."
"Oh, Roy, you are a wonder!" She gave his hand a convulsive squeeze and they broke into a run.
The "bits of blue" had spread half over the sky. The thunder still grumbled to itself at intervals and a sharp little shower whipped out of a passing cloud. Then the sun flashed through it and the shadows crept round the great twin beeches on the lawn—and the day was as lovely as ever again.
And yet—for Roy, it was not the same loveliness. Aunt Jane's repeated threat of school brooded over his sensitive spirit, like the thundercloud in the wood that was the colour of spilled ink. And the Boy-of-ten—a potential enemy—was coming to tea....
Yet this morning he had felt so beautifully sure that nothing could go wrong on a day like this! It was his first lesson, and not by any means his last, that Fate—unmoved by 'light of smiles or tears'—is no respecter of profound convictions or of beautiful days.
"Man am I grown; a man's work I must do." —TENNYSON.
Tara was right. The Boy-of-ten (Roy persistently ignored the half) was rather a large boy: also rather lumpy. He had little eyes and freckles and what Christine called a "turnip nose." He wore a very new school blazer and real cricket trousers, with a flannel shirt and school tie that gave Roy's tussore shirt and soft brown bow almost a girlish air. Something in his manner and the way he aired his school slang, made Roy—who never shone with strangers—feel "miles younger," which did not help to put him at ease.
His name was Joe Bradley. He had been in India till he was nearly eight; and he talked about India, as he talked about school, in a rather important voice, as befitted the only person present who knew anything of either.
Roy was quite convinced he knew nothing at all about Rajputana or Chitor or Prithvi Raj or the sacred peacocks of Jaipur. But somehow he could not make himself talk about these things simply for "show off," because a strange boy, with bad manners, was putting on airs.
Besides, he never much wanted to talk when he was eating, though he could not have explained why. So he devoted his attention chiefly to a plate of chocolate cakes, leaving the Boy-of-ten conversationally in command of the field.
He was full of a recent cricket match, and his talk bristled with such unknown phrases as "square leg," "cover point" and "caught out." But for some reason—pure perversity perhaps—they stirred in Roy no flicker of curiosity, like his father's "flair for the obvious." He didn't know what they meant—and he didn't care, which was not the least like Roy. Tara, who owned big brothers, seemed to know all about it, or looked as if she did; and to show you didn't understand what a girl understood, would be the last indignity.
When the cricket show-off was finished, Joe talked India and ragged Tara, in a big-brotherly way, ignored Christine, as if five and a half simply didn't count. That roused Roy; and by way of tacit rebuke, he bestowed such marked attention on his small sister, that Christine (who adored him, and was feeling miserably shy) sparkled like a dewdrop when the sun flashes out.
She was a tiny creature, exquisitely proportioned; fair, like her father, yet in essence a replica of her mother, with the same wing-like brows and dark limpid eyes. Dimly jealous of Tara, she was the only one of the three who relished the presence of the intruder and wished strange boys oftener came to tea.
Millicent, the nursery-maid, presided. She was tall and smiling and obviously a lady. She watched and listened and said little during the meal.
Once, in the course of it, Lilamani came in and hovered round them, filling Roy's tea-cup, spreading Christine's honey—extra thick. Her Eastern birthright of service, her joy in waiting on those she loved, had survived ten years of English marriage, and would survive ten more. It was as much an essential part of her as the rhythm of her pulses and the blood in her veins.
She was no longer the apple-blossom vision of the morning. She wore her mother-o'-pearl sari with its narrow gold border. Her dress, that was the colour of a dove's wing, shimmered changefully as she moved, and her aquamarine pendant gleamed like drops of sea water on its silver chain.
Roy loved her in the mother-o'-pearl mood best of all; and he saw, with a throb of pride, how the important Boy-from-India seemed too absorbed in watching her even to show off. She did not stay many minutes and she said very little. She was still, by preference, quiet during a meal; and it gave her a secret thrill of pleasure to see the habit of her own race reappearing as an instinct in Roy. So, with merely a word or two, she just smiled at them and gave them things and patted their heads. And when she was gone, Roy felt better. The scales had swung even again. What was a school blazer and twenty runs at cricket, compared with the glory of having a mother like that?
But if tea was not much fun, after tea was worse.
They were told to run and play in the garden; and obediently they ran out, dog and all. But what could you play at with a superior being who had made twenty runs not out, in a House Match—whatever that might be? They showed him their ring-doves and their rabbits; but he didn't even pretend to be interested, though Tara did her best, because it was she who had brought this infliction on Roy.
"How about the summer-house?" she suggested, hopefully. For the summer-house locker contained an assortment of old tennis-bats, mallets and balls, that might prove more stimulating than rabbits and doves. Roy offered no objection; so they straggled across a corner of the lawn to a narrower strip behind the tall yew hedge.
The grown-ups were gathered under the twin beeches; and away at the far end of the lawn Roy's mother and Tara's mother were strolling up and down in the sun.
Again Roy noticed how Joe Bradley stared: and as they rounded the corner of the hedge he remarked suddenly "I say! There's that swagger ayah of yours walking with Lady Despard. She's jolly smart, for an ayah. Did you bring her from India? You never said you'd been there."
Roy started and went hot all over. "Well, I have—just on a visit. And she's not an ayah. She's my Mummy!"
Joe Bradley opened his mouth as well as his eyes, which made him look plainer than ever.
"Golly! what a tale! White people don't have ayahs for Mothers—not in my India. I s'pose your Pater married her out there?"
"He didn't. And I tell you she's not an ayah."
Roy's low voice quivered with anger. It was as if ten thousand little flames had come alight inside him. But you had to try and be polite to visitors; so he added with a virtuous effort: "She's a really and truly Princess—so there!"
But that unspeakable boy, instead of being impressed, laughed in the rudest way.
"Don't excite, you silly kid. I'm not as green as you are. Besides—who cares——?"
It flashed on Roy, through the blur of his bewildered rage, that perhaps the Boy-from-India was jealous. He tried to speak. Something clutched at his throat; but instinct told him he had a pair of hands....
To the utter amazement of Tara, and of the enemy, he silently sprang at the bigger boy; grabbed him unscientifically by the knot of his superior neck-tie and hit out, with more fury than precision, at cheeks and eyes and nose——
For a few exciting seconds he had it all his own way. Then the enemy—recovered from the first shock of surprise—spluttered wrathfully and hit out in return. He had weight in his favour. He tried to bend Roy backwards; and failing began to kick viciously wherever he could get at him. It hurt rather badly and made Roy angrier than ever. In a white heat of rage, he shook and pummelled, regardless of choking sounds and fingers clutching at his hair....
Tara, half excited and half frightened, could only grab Prince's collar, to keep him from rushing into the fray; and when Joe started kicking, it was all she could do not to let him go. But she knew Athol—her dearest brother—would say it wasn't fair play. So she tugged, and Prince tugged; while the boys, fiercely silent, rocked to and fro; and Christine sobbed piteously—"He's hurting Roy—he's killing Roy!"
Tara, fully occupied with Prince, could only jerk out: "Don't be a baby, Chris. Roy's all right. He loves it." Which Christine simply didn't believe. There was blood on his tussore shirt. It mightn't be his, but still——
It made even Tara feel rather sick; and when a young gardener appeared on the scene she called out: "Oh, Mudford, do stop them—or something'll happen."
But Mudford—British to the bone—would do nothing of the kind. He saw at once that Roy was getting the better of an opponent nearly twice his weight; and setting down his barrow he shamelessly applauded his young master.
By now, the enemy's nose was bleeding freely and spoiling the brand-new blazer. He gasped and spluttered: "Drop it, you little beast!" But Roy, fired by Mudford's applause, only hit out harder.
"'Pologise—'pologise! Say she isn't!"
His forward jerk on the words took Joe unawares. The edge of the lawn tripped him up and they rolled on the grass, Joe undermost in a close embrace——
And at that critical moment there came strolling round the corner of the hedge a group of grown-ups—Sir Nevil Sinclair with Mrs Bradley, Lady Roscoe, Lady Despard and Roy's godfather, the distinguished novelist, Cuthbert Broome.
Mudford and his barrow departed; and Tara looked appealingly at her mother.
Roy—intent on the prostrate foe—suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder and heard his father's voice say sharply: "Get up, Roy, and explain yourself!"
They got up, both of them—and stood there, looking shy and stupefied and very much the worse for wear:—hair ruffled, faces discoloured, shirts torn open. One of Roy's stockings was slipping down; and, in the midst of his confused sensations, he heard the excited voice of Mrs Bradley urgently demanding to know what her "poor dear boy" could have done to be treated like that.
No one seemed to answer her; and the poor dear boy was too busy comforting his nose to take much interest in the proceedings.
Lady Despard (you could tell at a glance she was Tara's mother) was on her knees comforting Christine; and as Roy's senses cleared, he saw with a throb of relief that his mother was not there. But Aunt Jane was—and Uncle Cuthbert——
He seemed to stand there panting and aching in an endless silence, full of eyes. He did not know that his father was giving him a few seconds to recover himself.
Then: "What do you mean by it, Roy?" he asked; and this time his voice was really stern. It hurt more than the bruises. "Gentlemen don't hammer their guests." This was an unexpected blow. And it wasn't fair. How could he explain before "all those"? His cheeks were burning, his head was aching; and tears, that must not be allowed to fall, were pricking like needles under his lids.
It was Tara who spoke—still clutching Prince, lest he overwhelm Roy and upset his hardly maintained dignity.
"Joe made him angry—he did," she thrust in with feminine officiousness; and was checked by her mother's warning finger.
Mrs Bradley—long and thin and beaky—bore down upon her battered son, who edged away sullenly from proffered caresses.
Sir Nevil, not daring to meet the humorous eye of Cuthbert Broome—still contemplated the dishevelled dignity of his own small son—half puzzled, half vexed.
"You've done it now, Roy. Say you're sorry," he prompted; his voice a shade less stern than he intended.
Roy shook his head.
"It's him to say—not me."
"Did he begin it?"
"Of course he didn't," snapped the injured mother. "He's been properly brought up," which was not exactly polite, but she was beside herself—simply an irate mother-creature, all beak and ruffled feathers. "You deserve to be whipped. You've hurt him badly."
"Oh, dry up, mother," Joe murmured behind his sanguinary handkerchief, edging still further away from maternal fussings and possible catechism.
Nevil Sinclair saw clearly that his son would neither apologise nor explain. At heart he suspected young Bradley, if only on account of his insufferable mother, but the laws of hospitality must be upheld.
"Go to your own room, Roy," he said with creditable severity, "and stay there till I come."
Roy gave him one look—mutely reproachful. Then—to every one's surprise and Tara's delight—he walked straight up to the Enemy.
"I did hammer hardest. 'Pologise!"
The older boy mumbled something suspiciously like the fatal word: a suspicion confirmed by Roy's next remark: "I'm sorry your blazer's spoilt. But you made me."
And the elders, watching with amused approbation, had no inkling that the words were spoken not by Roy Sinclair but by Prithvi Raj.
The Enemy, twice humbled, answered nothing; and Roy,—his dignity unimpaired by such trifles as a lump on his cheek, a dishevelled tie and one stocking curled lovingly round his ankle—walked leisurely away, with never a glance in the direction of the "grown-ups," who had no concern whatever with this—the most important event of his life——
Tara—torn between wrath and admiration—watched him go. In her eyes he was a hero, a victim of injustice and the density of grown-ups.
She promptly released Prince, who bounded after his master. She wanted to go too. It was all her fault, bringing that horrid boy to tea. She did hope Roy would explain things properly. But boys were stupid sometimes and she wanted to make sure. While her mother was tactfully suggesting a homeward move, she slipped up to Sir Nevil and insinuated a small hand into his.
"Uncle Nevil, do believe," she whispered urgently. "Truly it isn't fair——"
His quick frown warned her to say no more; but the pressure of his hand comforted her a little.
All the same she hated going home. She hated 'that putrid boy'—a forbidden adjective; but what else could you call him? She was glad he would be gone the day after to-morrow. She was even more glad his nose was bleeding and his eye bunged up and his important blazer all bloodied. Girl though she was, there ran a fiercer strain in her than in Roy.
As they moved off, she had an inspiration. She was given that way.
"Mummy darling," she said in her small clear voice, "mayn't I stay back a little and play with Chris. She's so unhappy. Alice could fetch me—couldn't she? Please."
The innocent request was underlined by an unmistakable glance through her lashes at Joe. She wanted him to hear; and she didn't care if he understood—him and his beaky mother! Clearly her own Mummy understood. She was nibbling her lips, trying not to smile.
"Very well, dear," she said. "I'll send Alice at half-past six. Run along."
Tara gave her hand a grateful little squeeze—and ran.
She would have hated the "beaky mother" worse than ever could she have heard her remark to Lady Despard, when they were alone.
"Really, a most obstinate, ungoverned child. His mother, of course—a very pretty creature—but what can you expect? Natives always ruin boys."
Lady Despard—Lilamani Sinclair's earliest champion and friend—could be trusted to deal effectually with a remark of that quality.
As for Tara—once "the creatures" were out of sight they were extinct. All the embryo mother in her was centred on Roy. It was a shame sending him to his room, like a naughty boy, when he was really a champion, a King-Arthur's-Knight. But if only he properly explained, Uncle Nevil would surely understand——
And suddenly there sprang a dilemma. How could Roy make himself repeat to Uncle Nevil the rude remarks of that abominable boy? And if not—how was he going to properly explain——?
"What a great day came and passed; Unknown then, but known at last." —ALICE MEYNELL.
That very problem was puzzling Roy as he lay on his bed, with Prince's head against his shoulder, aching a a good deal, exulting at thought of his new-born knighthood, wondering how long he was to be treated like a sinner,—and, through it all, simply longing for his mother....
It was the conscious craving for her sympathy, her applause, that awakened him to his dilemma.
He had championed her with all his might against that lumpy Boy-of-ten,—who kicked in the meanest way; and he couldn't explain why, so she couldn't know ever. The memory of those insulting words hurt him so that he shrank from repeating them to anyone—least of all to her. Yet how could he see her and feel her and not tell her everything? She would surely ask—she would want to know—and then—when he tried to think beyond that point he felt simply lost.
It was an impasse none the less tragic because he was only nine. To tell her every little thing was as simple a necessity of life as eating or sleeping; and—till this bewildering moment—as much a matter of course. For Lilamani Sinclair, with her Eastern mother-genius, had forged between herself and her first-born a link woven of the tenderest, most subtle fibres of heart and spirit; a link so vital, yet so unassertive, that it bid fair to stand the strain of absence, the test of time. So close a link with any human heart, while it makes for beauty, makes also for pain and perplexity,—as Roy was just realising to his dismay.
At the sound of footsteps he sat up, suddenly very much aware of his unheroic dishevelment. He tugged at the fallen stocking and made hasty dabs at his hair. But it was only Esther the housemaid with an envelope on a tray. Envelopes, however, were always mysterious and exciting.
His name was scribbled on this one in Tara's hand; and as Esther retreated he opened it, wondering....
It contained a half-sheet of note-paper, and between the folds lay a circle of narrow blue ribbon plaited in three strands. But only two of the strands were ribbon; the third was a tress of her gleaming hair. Roy gazed at it a moment, lost in admiration, still wondering; then he glanced at Tara's letter—not scrawled, but written with laboured neatness and precision.
"DEAR ROY,—It was splendid. You are Prithvi Raj. I am sending you the bangel like Aunt Lila told us. It can't be gold or jewels. But I pulled the ribbin out of my petticote and put in sum of my hair to make it spangly. So now you are Braselet Bound Brother. Don't forget. From TARA."
"I hope you aren't hurting much. Do splain to Uncle Nevil properly and come down soon. I am hear playing with Chris. TARA."
Roy sat looking from the letter to the bangle with a distinctly pleasant kind of mixed-up feeling inside. He was so surprised, so comforted, so elated by this tribute from his High Tower Princess, who was an exacting person in the matter of heroes. Now—besides being a Knight and a champion he was Bracelet-Bound Brother as well.
Only the other day his mother had told them a tale about this old custom of bracelet-sending in Rajputana:—how, on a certain holy day, any woman—married or not married—may send her bracelet token to any man. If he accepts it, and sends in return an embroidered bodice, he becomes from that hour her bracelet brother, vowed to her service, like a Christian Knight in the days of chivalry. The bracelet may be of gold or jewels or even of silk interwoven with spangles—like Tara's impromptu token. The two who are bracelet-bound might possibly never meet face to face. Yet she, who sends, may ask of him who accepts, any service she pleases; and he may not deny it—even though it involve the risk of his life.
The ancient custom, she told them, still holds good, though it has declined in use, like all things chivalrous, in an age deafened by the clamour of industrial strife; an age grown blind to the beauty of service, that, in defiance of "progress," still remains the keynote of an Indian woman's life.
So these privileged children had heard much of it, through the medium of Lilamani's Indian tales; and this particular one had made a deeper impression on Tara than on Roy; perhaps because the budding woman in her relished the power of choice and command it conferred on her own sex. Certainly no thought of possible future commands dawned on Roy. It was her pride in his achievement, so characteristically expressed that flattered his incipient masculine vanity and added a cubit to his stature. He knew now what he meant to be when he grew up. Not a painter, or a soldier or a gardener—but a Bracelet-Bound Brother....
Gingerly, almost shyly, he slipped over his hand the deftly woven, trifle of ribbon and gleaming hair. As the first glow of pleasure subsided, there sprang the instinctive thought—"Won't Mummy be pleased!" And straightway he was caught afresh in the toils of his dilemma—How could he possibly explain——?
What was she doing? Why didn't she come——?
There——! His ear caught far-off footsteps—too heavy for hers. He slipped off the Bracelet, folded it in Tara's letter and tucked it away inside his shirt.
Hurriedly—a little nervously—he tied his brown bow and got upon his feet, just as the door opened and his father came in.
"Well, Roy!" he said, and for a few seconds he steadily regarded his small son with eyes that tried very hard to be grave and judicial. Scoldings and assertions of authority were not in his line: and the tug at his heart-strings was peculiarly strong in the case of Roy. Fair himself, as the boy was dark, their intrinsic likeness of form and feature was yet so striking that there were moments—as now—when it gave Nevil Sinclair an eerie sense of looking into his own eyes,—which was awkward, as he had come steeled for chastisement, if needs must, though his every instinct revolted from the mutual indignity. He had only once inflicted it on Roy for open defiance in one of his stormy ebullitions of temper; and, at this moment, he did not seem to see a humble penitent before him.
"What have you got to say for yourself?" he went on, hoping the pause had been impressive; strongly suspecting it had been nothing of the kind. "Gentlemen, as I told you, don't hammer their guests. It was rather a bad hammering, to judge from his handkerchief. And you don't look particularly sorry about it either."
"I'm not—not one littlest bit."
This was disconcerting; but Nevil held his ground.
"Then I suppose I've got to whack you. If boys aren't sorry for their sins, it's the only way."
Roy's eyelids flickered a little.
"You better not," he said with the same impersonal air of conviction. "You see, it wouldn't make me sorry. And you don't hurt badly. Not half as much as Joe did. He was mean. He kicked. I wouldn't have stopped, all the same—if you hadn't come."
The note of reproach was more disconcerting than ever.
"Well, if whacking's no use, what am I to do with you? Shut you up here till bedtime—eh?"
Roy considered that dismal proposition, with his eyes on the summer world outside.
"Well—you can if you like. But it wouldn't be fair." A pause. "You don't know what a horrid boy he was, Daddy. You'd have hit him harder—even if he was a guest."
"I wonder!" Nevil fatally admitted. "Of course it would all depend on the provocation."
The instant alertness, over a new word, brought back the smile to Nevil's eyes.
"It means—saying or doing something bad enough to make it right for you to be angry."
"Well, it was bad enough. It was"—a portentous pause—"about Mummy."
"About Mummy?" The sharp change in his father's tone was at once startling and comforting. "Look here, Roy. No more mysteries. This is my affair as much as yours. Come here."
Pulling a bedside chair near the window, he sat down and drew Roy close to him, taking his shoulders between his hands.
"Now then, old boy, tell me just exactly what happened—as man to man."
The appeal was irresistible. But—how could he——? The very change in his father's manner made the telling at once more difficult and more urgent.
"Daddy—it hurts too much. I don't know how to say it——" he faltered, and the blood tingled in his cheeks.
If Nevil Sinclair was not a stern father, neither was he a very demonstrative one. Even his closest relations were tinged with something of the artist's detachment, and innate respect for the individual even in embryo. But at sight of Roy's distress and delicacy of feeling, his heart melted in him. Without a word, he slipped an arm round the boy's shoulder and drew him closer still.
"That better, eh? You've got to pull it through, somehow," he said gently, so holding him that Roy could, if he chose, nestle against him. He did choose. It might be babyish; but he hated telling: and it was a wee bit easier with his face hidden. So, in broken phrases and in a small voice that quivered with anger revived—he told.
While he was telling, his father said nothing; and when it was over, he still said nothing. He seemed to be looking out of the window, and Roy felt him draw one big breath.
"Have you got to whack me—now, Daddy?" he asked, still in his small voice.
His father's hand closed on his arm. "No. You were right, Roy," he said. "I would have hit harder. Ill-mannered little beast! All the same——"
A pause. He, no less than Roy, found speech difficult. He had fancied himself, by now, inured to this kind of jar—so frequent in the early years of his daringly unconventional marriage. It seemed he was mistaken. He had been vaguely on edge all the afternoon. What young Joe had rudely blurted out, Mrs Bradley's manner had tacitly expressed. He had succeeded in smothering his own sensations, only to be confronted with the effect of it all on Roy—who must somehow be made to understand.
"The fact is, old man," he went on, trying to speak in his normal voice, "young Bradley and a good many of his betters spend years in India without coming to know very much about the real people over there. You'll understand why when you're older. They all have Indians for servants, and they see Indians working in shops and villages, just like plenty of our people do here. But they don't often meet many of the other sort—like Mummy and Grandfather and Uncle Rama—except sometimes in England. And then—they make stupid mistakes—just because they don't know better. But they needn't be rude about it, like Joe; and I'm glad you punched him—hard."
"So'm I. Fearfully glad." He stood upright now, his head erect:—proud of his father's approval, and being treated as "man to man." "But, Daddy—what are we going to do ... about Mummy? I do want her to know ... it was for her. But I couldn't tell—what Joe said. Could you?"
Nevil shook his head.
"You leave it to me, Roy. I'll make things clear without repeating Joe's rude remarks. She'd have been up before this; but I had to see you first—because of the whacking!" His eye twinkled. "She's longing to get at your bruises——"
"Oh nev' mind my bruises. They're all right now."
"And beautiful to behold!" He lightly touched the lump on Roy's cheek. "I'd let her dab them, though. Women love fussing over us when we're hurt—especially if we've been fighting for them!"
"Yes—they do," Roy agreed gravely; and to his surprise, his father drew him close and kissed his forehead.
* * * * *
His mother did not keep him waiting long. First the quick flutter of her footsteps; then the door gently opened—and she flew to him, her sari blowing out in beautiful curves. Then he was in her arms, gathered into her silken softness and the faint scent of sandalwood; while her lips, light as butterfly wings, caressed the bruise on his cheek.
"Oh, what a bad, wicked Sonling!" she murmured, gathering him close.
He loved her upside-down fashion of praise and endearment; never guessing its Eastern significance—to avert the watchfulness of jealous gods swift to spy out our dearest treasures, that hinder detachment, and snatch them from us. "Such a big rude boy—and you tried to kill him only because he did not understand your queer kind of mother! That you will find often, Roy; because it is not custom. Everywhere it is the same. For some kind of people not to be like custom is much worse than not to be good. And that boy has a mother too much like custom. Not surprising if he didn't understand."
"I made him though—I did," Roy exulted shamelessly, marvelling at his father's cleverness, wondering how much he had told. "I hammered hard. And I'm not sorry a bit. Nor Daddy isn't either."
For answer she gave him a convulsive little squeeze—and felt the crackle of paper under his shirt. "Something hidden there! What is it, Sonling?" she asked with laughing eyes: and suddenly shyness overwhelmed him. For the moment he had forgotten his treasure; and now he was wondering if he could show it—even to her.
"It is Tara—I think it's rather a secret——" he began.
"But I may see?" Then as he still hesitated, she added with grave tenderness: "Only if you are wishing it, son of my heart. To-day—you are a man."
From his father that recognition had been sufficiently uplifting. And now—from her...! The subtle flattery of it and the deeper prompting of his own heart demolished his budding attempt at reserve.
"I am—truly," he said: and she, sitting where his father had sat, unfolded Tara's letter—and the bangle lay revealed.
Roy had not guessed how surprised she would be—and how pleased! She gave a little quick gasp and murmured something he could not catch. Then she looked at him with shining eyes, and her voice had its low serious note that stirred him like music.
"Now—you are Bracelet-Bound, my son. So young!"
Roy felt a throb of pride. It was clearly a fine thing to be.
"Must I give a 'broidered bodice'?"
"I will broider a bodice—the most beautiful; and you shall give it. Remember, Roy, it is not a little matter. It is for always."
"Even when I'm a grown-up man?"
"Yes, even then. If she shall ask from you any service, you must not refuse—ever."
Roy wrinkled his forehead. He had forgotten that part of it. Tara might ask anything. You couldn't tell with girls. He had a moment of apprehension.
"But, Mummy, I don't think—Tara didn't mean all that. It's only—our sort of game of play——"
Unerringly she read his thoughts, and shook her head at him with smiling eyes, as when he made naughty faces about Aunt Jane.
"Too sacred thing for only game of play, Roy. By keeping the bracelet, you are bound." Her smile deepened. "You were not afraid of the big rude boy. Yet you are just so much afraid—for Tara." She indicated the amount with the rose-pink tip of her smallest finger. "Tara—almost like sister—would never ask anything that could be wrong to do."
At this gentle rebuke he flushed and held his head a shade higher.
"I'm not afraid, Mummy. And I will keep the bracelet—and I am bound."
"That is my brave son."
"She said—I am Prithvi Raj."
"She said true." Her hand caressed his hair. "Now you can run down and tell you are forgiven."
"You too, Mummy?"
"In a little time. Not just now. But see——" Her brows flew up. "I was coming to mend your poor bruises!"
"I haven't got any bruises."
The engaging touch of swagger delighted her. A man to-day—in very deed. Her gaze dwelt upon him. It was as if she looked through the eyes of her husband into the heart of her son.
Gravely she entered into his mood.
"That is good. Then we will just make you tidy—and one littlest dab for this not-bruise on your cheek."
So much he graciously permitted: then he ran off to receive the ovation awaiting him from Tara and Chris.
"Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts, For there reigns love, and all love's loving parts." —SHAKSPERE.
"Women are not only deities of the household fire, but the flame of the soul itself."—RABINDRANATH TAGORE.
Left to herself, Lilamani moved back to the window with her innate, deliberate grace. There she sat down again, very still, resting her cheek on her hand; drinking in the serenity, the translucent stillness of clear green spaces robed in early evening light, like a bride arrayed for the coming of her lord. The higher tree-tops were haloed with glory. Young leaves of beeches and poplars gleamed like minted gold; and on the lawn, the great twin beeches cast a stealthily encroaching continent of shadow. Among the shrubs, under her window, birds were trilling out their ecstasy of welcome to the sun, in his Hour of Union with Earth—the Divine Mother, of whom every human mother is, in Eastern eyes, a part, a symbol, however imperfect.
Yet, beneath her carven tranquillity, heart and spirit were deeply stirred. For all Nevil's skill in editing the tale of Roy's championship, she had read his hidden thoughts as unerringly as she had divined Mrs Bradley's curiosity and faint hostility beneath the veneer of good manners, not yet imparted to her son.
Helen Despard—wife of a retired Lieut.-Governor—had scores of Anglo-Indian friends; but not all of them shared her enthusiasm for India,—her sympathetic understanding of its peoples. Lilamani had too soon discovered that the ardent declaration, "I love India," was apt to mean merely that the speaker loved riding and dancing and sunshine and vast spaces, with 'the real India' for a dim effective background. And by now, she could almost tell at a glance which were the right and which the wrong kind of Anglo-Indian, so far as she and Nevil were concerned. It was not like Helen to inflict the wrong kind on her; but it had all been Mrs Bradley's doing. She had been tactlessly insistent in her demand to see the beautiful old garden and the famous artist-Baronet, who had so boldly flouted tradition. Helen's lame excuses had been airily dismissed, and the discourtesy of a point-blank refusal was beyond her.
She had frankly explained matters to her beloved Lilamani as they strolled together on the lawn, while Roy was enlightening Joe on the farther side of the yew hedge.
His championship had moved her more profoundly than she dared let him see without revealing all she knew. For the same reason, she could not show Nevil her full appreciation of his tact and delicacy. How useless—trying to hide his thoughts—he ought to know by now: but how beautiful—how endearing!
That she, who had boldly defied all gods and godlings, all claims of caste and family, should have reaped so rich a harvest——! For her—high priestess of the inner life—that was the miracle of miracles: scarcely less so to-day than in that crowning hour when she had placed, her first man-child in the arms of her husband—still, at heart, lord of her being. For the tale of her inner life might almost be told in two words—she loved.
Even now—so many years after—she thrilled to remember how, in that one magical moment, without nearness or speech or touch, the floating strands of their destinies had become so miraculously entangled, that neither gods nor godlings, nor household despots of East or West, had power to sever them. From one swift pencil sketch, stolen without leave—he sitting on the path below, she dreaming on the Hotel balcony above—had blossomed the twin flower of their love: the deeper revealing of marriage—its living texture woven of joy and pain; and the wonder of their after-life together—a wonder that, to her ardent, sensitive spirit, still seemed new every morning, like the coming of the sun. A poet in essence, she shared with all true poets that sense of eternal freshness in familiar things that, perhaps, more than any other gift of God, keeps the bloom on every phase and every relation of life. By her temperament of genius, she had quickened in her husband the flickering spark that might else have been smothered under opposing influences. Each, in a quite unusual degree, had fulfilled the life of the other, and so wrought harmony from conflicting elements of race and religion that seemed fated to wreck their brave adventure. To gain all, they had risked all: and events had amazingly justified them.
Within a year of his ill-considered marriage Sir Nevil had astonished all who knew him with the unique Exhibition of the now famous Ramayana pictures, inspired by his wife: a series of arresting canvases, setting forth the story of India's great epic, her confession of faith in the two supreme loyalties—of the Queen to her husband, of the King to his people. His daring venture had proved successful beyond hope. Artistic and critical London had hailed him as a newcomer of promise, amounting to genius: and Lilamani Sinclair, daughter of Rajputs, had only escaped becoming the craze of the moment by her precipitate withdrawal to Antibes, where she had come within an ace of losing all, largely through the malign influence of Jane—her evil genius during those wonderful, difficult, early months of marriage.
Nevil had returned to find himself a man of note; a prophet, even in his own county, where feathers had been ruffled a little by his erratic proceedings. Hence a discreetly changed attitude in the neighbourhood, when Lilamani, barely nineteen, had presented her husband with a son.
But—for all the gracious condescension of the elderly, and the frank curiosity of the young—only a discerning few had made any real headway with this attractive, oddly disconcerting child of another continent; this creature of queer reserves and aloofness and passionate pride of race. The friendliest were baffled by her incomprehensible lack of social instinct, the fruit of India's purdah system. Loyal wives and mothers who 'adored' their children—yet spent most of their day in pursuit of other interests—were nonplussed by her complete absorption in the joys and sanctities of home. Yet, in course of time, her patent simplicity and sincerity had disarmed prejudice. The least perceptive could not choose but see that she was genuinely, intrinsically different, not merely in the matter of iridescent silks and saris, but in the very colour of her soul.
Not that they would have expressed it so. To talk about the soul and its colour savoured of being psychic or morbid—which Heaven forbid! The soul of the right-minded Bramleigh matron was a neutral-tinted, decently veiled phantom, officially recognised morning and evening, also on Sundays, but by no means permitted to interfere with the realities of life.
The soul of Lilamani Sinclair—tremulous, passionate and aspiring—was a living flame, that lighted her thoughts, her prayers, her desires; and burned with clearer intensity because her religion had been stripped of all feastings and forms and ceremonies by a marriage that set her for ever outside caste. The inner Reality—free of earth-born mists and clouds—none could take from her.
God manifest through Nature, the Divine Mother, must surely accept her incense and sacrifice of the spirit, since no other was permitted. Her father had given her that assurance; and to it she clung, as a child in a crowd clings confidingly to the one familiar hand.
She was none the less eager to glean all she could assimilate of the religion to which her husband conformed, but in which, it seemed, he did not ardently believe. Her secret pangs on this score had been eased a little by later knowledge that it was he who shielded her from tacit pressure to make the change of faith expected of her by certain members of his family. Jane—out of regard for his wishes—had refrained from frontal attacks; but more than one flank movement had been executed by means of the Vicar (a second cousin) and of Aunt Julia—a mild elder Sinclair, addicted to foreign missions.
She had not told Nevil of these tentative fishings for her soul, lest they annoy him and he put a final veto on them. Being well versed in their Holy Book, she wanted to try and fathom their strange illogical way of believing. The Christianity of Christ she could accept. It was a faith of the heart and the life. But its crystallised forms and dogmas proved a stumbling-block to this embarrassing slip of a Hindu girl, who calmly reminded the Reverend Jeffrey Sale that the creed of his Church had not really been inspired by Christ, but dictated by Constantine and the Council of Nicea; who wanted to know why, in so great a religion, was there no true worship of woman—no recognising, in the creative principle, the Divine Motherhood of God? Finally, she had scandalised them both by quarrelling with their exclusive belief in one single instance, through endless ages, of the All-embracing, and All-creating revealed in terms of human life. Was not that same idea a part of her own religion—a world-wide doctrine of Indo-Aryan origin? Was every other revealing false, except that one made to an unbelieving race only two thousand years ago? To her—unregenerate but not unbelieving—the message of Krishna seemed to strike a deeper note of promise. "Wherever irreligion prevails and true religion declines, there I manifest myself in a human form to establish righteousness and to destroy evil."
So she questioned and argued, in no spirit of irreverence, but simply with the logic of her race, and the sweet reasonableness that is a vital element of the Hindu faith at its best. But, after that final confession, Aunt Julia, pained and bewildered, had retired from the field. And Lilamani, flung back on the God within, had evolved a private creed of her own;—shedding the husks of Christian dogmas and the grosser superstitions of her own faith, and weaving together the mystical elements that are the life-blood of all religious beliefs.
For the lamps are many, but the flame is one....
* * * * *
Not till the consummation of motherhood had lifted her status—in her own eyes at least—did she venture to speak intimately with Nevil on this vital matter. Though debarred from sharing of sacred ceremonies, she could still aspire to be true Sahardamini—'spiritual helpmate.' But to that end he also must co-operate; he must feel the deeper need....
For many weeks after the coming of Roy she had hesitated, before she found courage to adventure farther into the misty region of his faith or unfaith, in things not seen.
"If I am bothering you with troublesome questions—forgive. But, in our Indian way of marriage, it is taught that without sharing spiritual life there cannot arrive true union," she had explained, not without secret tremors lest she fail to evoke full response. And what such failure would mean, for her, she could hardly expect him to understand.
But—by the blessing of Sarasvati, Giver of Wisdom—she had succeeded, beyond hope, in dispelling the shy reluctance of his race to talk of the 'big little things.' Even to-day she could recall the thrill of that moment:—he, kneeling beside the great chair in his studio—their sanctuary; she holding the warm bundle of new life against her breast.
In one long look his eyes had answered her. "Nothing short of 'true union' will satisfy me," he had said with a quiet seriousness more impressive than any lovers' fervour. "God knows if I'm worthy to enter your inner shrine. But unwilling—never. In the 'big little things' you are pre-eminent. I am simply your extra child—mother of my son."
That tribute was her charter of wifehood. It linked love with life; it set her, once for all, beyond the lurking fear of Jane; and gave her courage to face the promised visit to India, when Roy was six months old, to present him to his grandfather, Sir Lakshman Singh.
They had stayed nearly a year; a wonderful year of increasing knowledge, of fuller awakening ... and yet!
The ache of anticipation had been too poignant. The foolish half-hope that Mataji might relent and sanctify this first grandchild with her blessing, was—in the nature of things Oriental—foredoomed to failure. And not till she found herself back among sights and sounds hauntingly familiar, did she fully awake to the changes wrought in her by marriage with one of another race. For, if she had profoundly affected Nevil's personality, he had no less profoundly influenced her sense of values both in art and life.
She had also to reckon with the insidious process of idealising the absent. Indian to the core, she was deeply imbued with the higher tenets of Hindu philosophy—that lofty spiritual fabric woven of moonlight and mysticism, of logic and dreams. But the new Lilamani, of Nevil's making, could not shut her eyes to debasing forms of worship, to subterranean caverns of gross superstition, and lurking demons of cruelty and despair. While Nevil was imbibing impressions of Indian Art, Lilamani was secretly weighing and probing the Indian spirit that inspired it; sifting the grain from the chaff—a process closely linked with her personal life; because, for India, religion and life are one.
But no shadow had clouded the joy of reunion with her father; for both were adepts in the fine art of loving, the touchstone of every human relation. And in talk with him she could straighten out her tangle of impressions, her secret doubts and fears.
Also there had been Rama, elder brother, studying at college and loving as ever to the sister transformed into English-wife—yet sister still. And there had been fuller revelation of the wonders of India, in their travels northward, even to the Himalayas, abode of Shiva, where Nevil must go to escape the heat and paint more pictures—always more pictures. Travelling did not suit her. She was too innately a creature of shrines and sanctities. And in India—home of her spirit—there seemed no true home for her any more....
* * * * *
Five years later, when Roy was six and Christine two and a half, they had been tempted to repeat their visit, even in the teeth of stern protests from Jane, who regarded the least contact with India as fatal to the children they had been misguided enough to bring into the world. That second time, things had been easier; and there had been the added delight of Roy's eager interest; his increasing devotion to the grandfather, whose pride and joy in him rivalled her own.
"In this little man we have the hope of England and India!" he would say, only half in joke. "With East and West in his soul—the best of each—he will cast out the devils of conflict and suspicion and draw the two into closer understanding of one another."
And, in secret, Lilamani dreamed and prayed that some day ... possibly ... who could tell——?
Yet, still there had persisted the sense of a widening gulf between her and her own people, leaving her doubtful if she ever wanted to see India again. The spiritual link would be there always; for the rest—was she not wife of Nevil, mother of Roy? Ungrateful to grieve if a price must be paid for such supreme good fortune.
For herself she paid it willingly. But—must Roy pay also? And in what fashion? How could she fail to imbue him with the finest ideals of her race? But how if the magnet of India proved too strong——? To hold the scales even was a hard task for human frailty. And the time of her absolute dominion was so swiftly slipping away from her. Always, in the back of her mind, loomed the dread shadow of school; and her Eastern soul could not accept it without a struggle. Only yesterday, Nevil had spoken of it again—no doubt because Jane made trouble—saying too long delay would be unfair for Roy. So it must be not later than September next year. Just only fifteen months! Nevil had told her, laughing, it would not banish him to another planet. But it would plunge him into a world apart—utterly foreign to her. Of its dangers, its ideals, its mysterious influences, she knew herself abysmally ignorant. She must read. She must try and understand. She must believe Nevil knew best—she, who had not enough knowledge and too much love. But she was upheld by no sustaining faith in this English fashion of school, with its decree of too early separation from the supreme influences of mother and father—and home....
* * * * *
Later on, that evening, when she knelt by Roy's bed for good-night talk and prayer, his arms round her neck, his cool cheek against hers, the rebellion she could not altogether stifle surged up in her afresh. But she said not a word.
It was Roy who spoke, as if he had read her heart.
"Mummy, Aunt Jane's been talking to Daddy again about school. Oh, I do hate her!" (This in fervent parenthesis.)
She only tightened her hold and felt a small quiver run through him.
"Will it be fearfully soon? Has Daddy told you?"
"Yes, my darling. But not too fearfully soon, because he knows I don't wish that."
"Not till next year, in the autumn. September."
"Oh, you good—goodest Mummy!"
He clutched her in an ecstasy of relief. For him a year's respite was a lifetime. For her it would pass like a watch in the night.
"Thou knowest how, alike, to give and take gentleness in due season ... the noble temper of thy sires shineth forth in thee."—PINDAR.
It was a clear mild Sunday afternoon of November;—pale sunlight, pale sky, long films of laminated cloud. From the base of orange-tawny cliffs, the sands swept out with the tide, shining like rippled silk, where the sea had uncovered them; and sunlight was spilled in pools and tiny furrows: the sea itself grey-green and very still, with streaks and blotches of purple shadow flung by no visible cloud. The beauty and the mystery of them fascinated Roy, who was irresistibly attracted by the thing he could not understand.
He was sitting alone, near the edge of a wooded cliff; troubles forgotten for the moment; imbibing it all....
His fifteen months of reprieve had flown faster than anyone could have believed. It was over—everything was over. No more lessons with Tara under their beech-tree. No more happy hours in the studio, exploring the mysteries of 'maths' and Homer, of form and colour, with his father, who seemed to know the 'Why' of everything. Worse than all—no more Mummy, to make the whole world beautiful with the colours of her saris and the loveliness and the dearness of her face, and her laugh and her voice.
It was all over. He was at school: not Coombe Friars, decreed by Aunt Jane; but St Rupert's, because the Head was an artist friend of his father, and would take a personal interest in Roy.
But the Head, however kind, was a distant being; and the boys, who could not exactly be called kind, hemmed him in on every side. His shy sensitive spirit shrank fastidiously from the strange faces and bodies that herded round him, at meals, at bedtime, in the schoolroom, on the playground; some curious and friendly; others curious and hostile:—a very nightmare of boys, who would not let him be. And the more they hemmed him in, the more he felt utterly, miserably alone.