And wherefore? She put her hand to her throat, feeling suffocated, as the memory of that last interview with him on the shore raced with every fiery detail through her brain. He had marked her down for himself, long, long ago, and whatever Dr. Jim might say, he had never abandoned the pursuit. He meant to capture her at last. She might flee, but he was following, tireless, fleet, determined. Presently he would swoop like an eagle upon his prey, and she would be utterly at his mercy. He had beaten Grange, and there was no one left to help her.
“Oh, Muriel,”—it was Olga’s voice from the window—“come here, quick, quick! I can see a hawk.”
She started as one starts from a horrible dream, and looked round with dazed eyes.
“It’s hovering!” cried Olga excitedly. “It’s hovering! There! Now it has struck!”
“And something is dead,” said Muriel, in a voiceless whisper.
The child turned round, saw something unusual in her friend’s face, and went impetuously to her.
“Muriel, darling, you look so strange. Is anything the matter?”
Muriel put an arm around her. “No, nothing,” she said. “Olga, will it surprise you very much to hear that I am not going to marry Captain Grange after all?”
“No, dear,” said Olga. “I never somehow thought you would, and I didn’t want you to either.”
“Why not?” Muriel looked up in some surprise. “I thought you liked him.”
“Oh, yes, of course I do,” said Olga. “But he isn’t half the man Nick is, even though he is a V.C. Oh, Muriel, I wish,—I do wish—you would marry Nick. Perhaps you will now.”
But at that Muriel cried out sharply and sprang to her feet, almost thrusting Olga from her.
“No, never!” she exclaimed, “Never,—never,—never!” Then, seeing Olga’s hurt face, “Oh, forgive me, dear! I didn’t mean to be unkind. But please don’t ever dream of such a thing again. It—it’s impossible—quite. Ah, there is the gong for tea. Let us go down.”
They went down hand in hand. But Olga was very quiet for the rest of the evening; and she did not cling to Muriel as usual when she said good-night.
THE HARDEST FIGHT OF ALL
It was growing late on that same evening when to Daisy, packing in her room with feverish haste, a message was brought that Captain Ratcliffe was waiting, and desired to see her.
Her first impulse was to excuse herself from the interview, for she and Nick had never stood upon ceremony; but a very brief consideration decided her to see him. Since he had come at an unusual hour, it seemed probable that he had some special object in view, and if that were so, she would find it hard to turn him from his purpose. But she resolved to make the interview as brief as possible. She had no place for Nick in her life just then.
She entered the little parlour with a certain impetuosity, that was not wholly spontaneous. “My dear Nick,” she said, as she did so, “I can give you exactly five minutes, not one second more, for I am frightfully busy packing up my things to leave to-morrow.”