“I can’t think how it is I’m so foolish,” she told him. “You are good to me, Blake. I feel so safe when I am with you.”
His heart smote him, yet he bent and kissed her. “You’re not quite strong yet, dear,” he said. “It takes a long time to get over all that you had to bear last year.”
“Yes,” she agreed with a sigh. “And do you know I thought I was so much stronger than I am? I actually thought that I shouldn’t mind—much—when he came. And yet I did mind—horribly. I—I—told him about our engagement, Blake.”
“Yes, dear,” said Blake.
“Yes, I told him. And he laughed and offered his congratulations. I don’t think he cared,” said Muriel, again with that curious, inexplicable sensation of pain at her heart.
“Why should he?” said Blake.
She looked at him with momentary irresolution. “You know, Blake, I never told you. But I was—I was—engaged to him for about a fortnight that dreadful time at Simla.”
To her relief she marked no change in Blake’s courteously attentive face.
“You need not have told me that, dear,” he said quietly.
“No, I know,” she answered, pressing his arm. “It wouldn’t make any difference to you. You are too great. And it was always a little bit against my will. But the breaking with him was terrible—terrible. He was so angry. I almost thought he would have killed me.”
“My dear,” Blake said, “you shouldn’t dwell on these things. They are better forgotten.”
“I know, I know,” she answered. “But they are just the very hardest of all things to forget. You must help me, Blake. Will you?”
“I will help you,” he answered steadily.
And the resolution with which he spoke was an unspeakable comfort to her. Once more there darted across her mind the wonder at her father’s choice for her. How was it—how was it—that he had passed over this man and chosen Nick?
Blake’s own explanation of the mystery seemed to her suddenly weak and inadequate. She simply could not bring herself to believe that in a supreme moment he could be found wanting. It was unthinkable that the giant frame and mighty sinews could belong to a personality that was lacking in a corresponding greatness.
So she clung to her illusion, finding comfort therein, wholly blind to those failings in her protector which to the woman who had loved him from her earliest girlhood were as obvious and well-nigh as precious as his virtues.
OLD FRIENDS MEET
“I must be getting back,” said Nick.
He was sprawling at ease on the sofa in Jim’s study, blinking comfortably at the ceiling, as he made this remark.
Jim himself had just entered the room. He drew up a chair to Nick’s side.
“You will be doing nothing of the sort to-night,” he returned, with a certain grimness. “The motor has gone back to Redlands for your things. I saw to that an hour ago.”