“It depends,” said Daisy.
“He’s breaking his heart for you, like a silly ass,” said Nick. “How long has Muriel been engaged to Grange?”
Daisy started at the sudden question.
“It’s all right,” Nick assured her. “I’m not a bit savage. It’ll be a little experience for her. When did it begin?”
Daisy hesitated. “Some weeks ago now.”
Nick nodded. “Exactly. As soon as she heard I was coming. Funny of her. And what of Grange? Is he smitten?”
Daisy flushed painfully, and tried to laugh. “Don’t be so cold-blooded, Nick. Of course he—he’s fond of her.”
“Oh, he—he’s fond of her, is he?” said Nick. He looked at her suddenly, and laughed with clenched teeth. “I’m infernally rude, I know. But why put it in that way? Should you say I was ‘fond’ of her?”
Daisy met his darting, elusive glance with a distinct effort. “I shouldn’t say you were fond of any one, Nick. The term doesn’t apply where you are concerned. There never were two men more totally different than you and Blake. But he isn’t despicable for all that. He’s a child compared to you, but he’s a good child. He would never do wrong unless some one tempted him.”
“That’s so with a good many of us,” remarked Nick, sneering faintly. “Let us hope that when the account comes to be totted up, allowance will be made.”
Daisy’s hand upon his banished the sneer. “Be fair, Nick,” she urged. “We are not all made with wills of iron. I know you are bitter because you think he isn’t good enough for her. But would you think any man good enough? Don’t think I wanted this. I was on your side. But I—I was busy at the time with—other things. And I didn’t see it coming.”
Nick’s face softened. He said nothing.
She bent towards him. “I would have given anything to have stopped it when I knew. But it was too late. Will you forgive me, Nick?”
He patted her hand lightly. “Of course, of course. Don’t fret on my account.”
“But I do,” she whispered vehemently. “I do. I know—how horribly—it hurts.”
Nick’s fingers closed suddenly upon hers. His eyes went beyond her.
“Mrs. Musgrave,” he said, “I am gifted with a superhuman intelligence, remember. I know some cards by their backs.”
Daisy withdrew her hand swiftly. His tone had been one of warning. She threw him a look of sharp uneasiness. She did not ask him what he meant.
“Tell me some more about Will,” she said. “I was thinking of writing to him to-day.”
And Nick forthwith plunged into a graphic account of the man who was slaving night and day in the burning Plains of the East for the woman of his heart.
AN OFFER OF FRIENDSHIP
It was with unspeakable relief that Muriel learned of Nick’s departure. That he had elected to take Olga with him surprised her considerably and caused her some regret. Grange had discovered some urgent business that demanded his presence in town, and she missed the child in consequence more than she would otherwise have done.