Through the wild hurry of her thoughts his voice pierced once more. It had an odd inflection that was curiously like a note of concern.
“I say, Muriel, are you crying?”
“Crying!” She pulled herself together hastily. “No! Why should I?”
“I can tell you why you shouldn’t,” he answered whimsically. “No one ever ought to cry before breakfast. It’s shocking for the appetite and may ruin the complexion for the rest of the day. Besides,—you’ve nothing to cry for.”
“Oh, don’t be absurd!” she flung back again almost fiercely. “I’m not crying!”
“Quite sure?” said Nick.
“Absolutely certain,” she declared.
“All right then,” he rejoined. “That being so, you had better dry your eyes very carefully, for I am coming to see for myself.”
She awaited him still sitting on the bench and striving vainly to quiet her thumping heart. She heard him come lightly up behind her, but she did not turn her head though she had no tears to conceal. She was possessed by an insane desire to spring up and flee. It took all her resolution to remain where she was.
And so Nick drew near unwelcomed—a lithe, alert figure in European attire, bare-headed, eager-faced. He was smiling to himself as he came, but when he reached her the smile was gone.
He bent and looked into her white, downcast face; then laid his hand upon her shoulder.
“But Muriel—” he said.
And that was all. Yet Muriel suddenly hid her face and wept.
He did not attempt to restrain her. Perhaps he realised that tears such as those must have their way. But the touch of his hand was in some fashion soothing. It stilled the tempest within her, comforting her inexplicably.
She reached up at last, and drew it down between her own, holding it fast.
“I’m such a fool, Nick,” she whispered shakily. “You—you must try to bear with me.”
She felt his fingers close and gradually tighten upon her own until their grip was actual pain.
“Haven’t I borne with you long enough?” he said. “Can’t you come to the point?”
She shook her head slightly. Her trembling had not wholly ceased. She was not—even yet she was not—wholly sure of him.
“Afraid?” he questioned.
And she answered him meekly, with bowed head. “Yes, Nick; afraid.”
“Don’t you think you might look me in the face if you tried very hard?” he suggested.
“No, Nick.” She almost shrank at the bare thought.
“Oh, but you haven’t tried,” he said.
His voice sounded very close. She knew he was bending down. She even fancied she could feel his breath upon her neck.
Her head sank a little lower. “Don’t!” she whispered, with a sob.
“What are you afraid of?” he said. “You weren’t afraid to send me a message. You weren’t afraid to save my life last night. What is it frightens you?”