“What ho!” he said lightly. “Then I’m in time to dance at the wedding. Pray accept my heartiest congratulations!”
Muriel murmured her thanks with her face averted. She was no longer afraid merely, but strangely, inexplicably ashamed.
THE LION’S SKIN
The news of Nick’s return spread like wildfire through the doctor’s house, and the whole establishment assembled to greet him. Jim himself came striding out into the rain to shake his hand and escort him in.
His “Hullo, you scapegrace!” had in it little of sentiment, but there was nothing wanting in his welcome in the opinion of the recipient thereof.
Nick’s rejoinder of “Hullo, you old buffer!” was equally free from any gloss of eloquence, but he hooked his hand in the doctor’s arm as he made it, and kept it there.
Jim gave him one straight, keen look that took in every detail, but he made no verbal comment of any sort. His heavy brows drew together for an instant, that was all.
It was an exceedingly clamorous home-coming. The children, having arrived in the motor, swarmed all about the returned hero, who was more than equal to the occasion, and obviously enjoyed his boisterous reception to the uttermost. There never had been any shyness about Nick.
Muriel, standing watching in the background with a queer, unaccountable pain at her heart, assured herself that the news of her engagement had meant nothing to him whatever. He had managed to deceive her as usual. She realised it with burning cheeks, and ardently wished that she had borne herself more proudly. Well, she was not wanted here. Even Olga, her faithful and loving admirer, had eyes only for Nick just then. As for Dr. Jim, he had not even noticed her.
Quietly she stole away from the merry, chattering group. The hall-door stood open, and she saw that it was raining heavily; but she did not hesitate. With a haste that was urged from within by something that was passionate, she ran out hatless into the storm.
The cracked, careless laugh she knew so well pursued her as she went, and once she fancied that some one called her by name. But she did not slacken speed to listen. She only dashed on a little faster than before.
Drenched and breathless, she reached home at length, to be met upon the threshold by Blake. In her exhaustion she almost fell into his arms.
“Hullo!” he said, steadying her. “You shouldn’t run like that. I never dreamed you would come back in this, or I would have come across with an umbrella to fetch you.”
She sank into a chair in the hall, speechless and gasping, her hair hanging about her neck in wildest disorder.
Blake stood beside her. He was wearing his worried, moody look.
“You shouldn’t,” he said again. “It’s horribly bad for you.”
“Ah, I’m better,” she gasped back. “I had to run—all the way—because of the rain.”