He took her hand into his own again, with a grasp that was warm and comforting. “My dear,” he said very kindly, “I shall always remember that you once told me so.”
THE FIRST FLIGHT
Muriel lay awake for hours that night, going over and over that interview with Nick till her tired brain reeled. She was not exactly frightened by this new element that had come into her life. The very fact of having something definite to look forward to was a relief after dwelling for so long in the sunless void of non-expectancy. But she was by no means sure that she welcomed so violent a disturbance at the actual heart of her darkened existence. She could not, moreover, wholly forget her fear of the man who had saved her by main force from the fate she would fain have shared with her father. His patience—his almost womanly gentleness—notwithstanding, she could not forget the demon of violence and bloodshed that she knew to be hidden away somewhere behind that smiling, yellow mask.
She marvelled at herself for her tame surrender, but she felt it to be irrevocable nevertheless. So broken was she by adversity, that she lacked the energy to resist him or even to desire to do so. She tried to comfort herself with the thought that she was carrying out her father’s wishes for her; but this did not take her very far. She could not help the doubt arising as to whether he had ever really gauged Nick’s exceedingly elusive character.
Tired out, at last she slept, and dreamed that an eagle had caught her and was bearing her swiftly, swiftly, through wide spaces to his eyrie in the mountains.
It was a long, breathless flight fraught with excitement and a nameless exultation that pierced her like pain. She awoke from it with a cry that was more of disappointment than relief, and started up gasping to hear horses’ hoofs dancing in the compound below her window to the sound of a cracked, hilarious voice.
She almost laughed as she realised what it was, and in a moment all her misgivings of the night vanished like wraiths of the darkness. He had extracted a promise from her to ride with him at dawn, and he meant to keep her to it. She got up and pulled aside the blind.
A wild view-halloa greeted her, and she dropped it again sharply; but not before she had seen Nick prancing about the drive on a giddy, long-limbed Waler, and making frantic signs to her to join him. Another horse with a side-saddle was waiting, held by a grinning little saice. The sun was already rising rapidly behind the mountains. She began to race through her toilet at a speed that showed her to have caught some of the fever of her cavalier’s impatience.
She wondered what Lady Bassett thought of the disturbance (Lady Bassett never rose early), and nearly laughed aloud.
Hastening out at length she found Nick dismounted and waiting for her by the verandah-steps. He sprang up to meet her with an eager whoop of greeting.