THE EAGLE SWOOPS
He came in as lightly and unceremoniously as though they had parted but the day before, a smile of greeting upon his humorous, yellow face, words of careless good-fellowship upon his lips.
He took her hand for an instant, and she felt rather than saw that he gave her a single, scrutinising glance from under eyelids that flickered incessantly.
“I see you are better,” he said, “so I won’t put you to the trouble of saying so. I suppose dear Lady Bassett has gone to the Vice-Regal garden-party. But it’s all right. I told her I was coming. Did you have to persuade her very hard to let you see me?”
Muriel stiffened a little at this inquiry. Her agitation was rapidly subsiding. It left her vaguely chilled, even disappointed. She had forgotten how cheerily inconsequent Nick could be.
“I didn’t persuade her at all,” she said coldly. “I simply told her that I should see you in order—”
“Yes?” queried Nick, looking delighted. “In order—”
To her annoyance she felt herself flushing. With a gesture of weariness she dismissed the sentence and sat down. She had meant to make him a brief and gracious speech of gratitude for his past care of her, but somehow it stuck in her throat. Besides, it was quite obvious that he did not expect it.
He came and sat down beside her on the sofa. “Let’s talk things over,” he said. “You are out of the doctor’s hands, I’m told.”
Muriel was leaning back against the cushions. She did not raise her heavy eyes to answer. “Oh, yes, ever so long ago. I’m quite well, only rather tired still.”
She frowned slightly as she gave this explanation. Though his face was not turned in her direction, she had a feeling that he was still closely observant of her.
He nodded to himself twice while he listened and then suddenly he reached out and laid his hand upon both of hers as they rested in her lap. “I’m awfully pleased to hear you are quite well,” he said, in a voice that seemed to crack on a note of laughter. “It makes my business all the easier. I’ve come to ask you, dear, how soon you can possibly make it convenient to marry me. To-day? To-morrow? Next week? I don’t of course want to hurry you unduly, but there doesn’t seem to be anything to wait for. And—personally—I abhor waiting. Don’t you?”
He turned towards her with the last words. He had spoken very gently, but there seemed to be an element of humour in all that he said.
Muriel’s eyes were wide open by the time he ended. She was staring at him in blank astonishment. The flush on her face had deepened to crimson.
“Marry you?” she gasped at length, stammering in her confusion. “I? Why—why—whatever made you dream of such a thing?”