“It’s very kind of your little daughter to think of asking me,” she said. “But really, I shouldn’t be any good. I get tired so quickly. No, there’s nothing the matter with me,” seeing his intent look. “I’m not ill. I never have been actually ill. Only—” her voice quivered a little—“I think I always shall be tired for the rest of my life.”
“Skittles!” he returned bluntly. “That isn’t what’s the matter with you. Go out into the open air. Go out into the north-east wind and sweep the snow away. Shall I tell you what is wrong with you? You’re stiff from inaction. It’s a species of cramp, my dear, and there’s only one remedy for it. Are you going to take it of your own accord, or must I come round with a physic spoon and make you?”
She laughed a little, though the deep pathos of her shadowed eyes never varied. Daisy’s merry voice rose from the lower regions gaily chaffing her cousin.
“Goodness, Blake! I shouldn’t have known you. You’re as gaunt as a camel. Haven’t you got over your picnic at Fort Wara yet? You’re almost as scanty a bag of bones as Nick was six months ago.”
Blake’s answer was inaudible. Dr. Ratcliffe did not listen for it. He had seen the swift look of horror that the brief allusion had sent into the girl’s sad face, and he understood it though he made no sign.
“Very well,” he said, turning towards the nursery. “Then I take you in hand from this day forward. And if I don’t find you in the hockey-field on Saturday, I shall come myself and fetch you.”
There was nothing even vaguely suggestive of Nick about him, but Muriel knew as surely as if Nick had said it that he would keep his word.
“Now,” said Daisy briskly, “you two will just have to entertain each other for a little while, for I am going up to sit with my son while ayah is off duty.”
“Mayn’t we come too?” suggested her cousin, as he rose to open the door.
She stood a moment and contemplated him with shining eyes. “You are too magnificent altogether for this doll’s house of ours,” she declared. “I am sure this humble roof has never before sheltered such a lion as Captain Blake Grange, V.C.”
“Only an ass in a lion’s skin, my dear Daisy,” said Grange modestly.
She laughed. “An excellent simile, my worthy cousin. I wish I had thought of it myself.”
She went lightly away with this thrust, and Grange, after a brief pause, turned slowly back into the room.
Muriel was seated in a low chair before the fire. She was working at some tiny woollen socks, knitting swiftly in dead silence.
He moved to the hearthrug, and stood there, obviously ill at ease. A certain shyness was in his nature, and Muriel’s nervousness reacted upon him. He did not know how to break the silence.