He laughed softly, his cheek laid to hers. “Ah, Stella!” he said. “What a queen you have been to-night! I have been watching you with the rest of the world, and I shouldn’t mind laying pretty heavy odds that there isn’t a single man among ’em that doesn’t envy me.”
Stella drew a deep breath as if she laboured against some oppression. “It’s nice to be envied, isn’t it?” she said.
He kissed her again. “Ah! You’re a prize!” he said. “It was just a question of first in, and I never was one to let the grass grow. I plucked the fruit while all the rest were just looking at it. Stella—mine! Stella—mine!”
His lips pressed hers between the words closely, possessively, and again involuntarily she shivered. She could not return his caresses that night.
His hold relaxed at last. “How cold you are, my Star of the North!” he said. “What is it? Surely you are not nervous at the thought of to-morrow after your triumph to-night! You will carry all before you, never fear!”
She answered him in a voice so flat and emotionless that it sounded foreign even to herself. “Oh, no, I am not nervous. I’m too tired to feel anything to-night.”
He took her face between his hands. “Ah, well, you will be all mine this time to-morrow. One kiss and I will let you go. You witch—you enchantress! I never thought you would draw old Monck too into your toils.”
Again she drew that deep breath as of one borne down by some heavy weight. “Nor I,” she said, and gave him wearily the kiss for which he bargained.
He did not stay much longer, possibly realizing his inability to awake any genuine response in her that night. Her remoteness must have chilled any man less ardent. But he went from her too encompassed with blissful anticipation to attach any importance to the obvious lack of corresponding delight on her part. She was already in his estimation his own property, and the thought of her happiness was one which scarcely entered into his consideration. She had accepted him, and no doubt she realized that she was doing very well for herself. He had no misgivings on that point. Stella was a young woman who knew her own mind very thoroughly. She had secured the finest catch within reach, and she was not likely to repent of her bargain at this stage.
So, unconcernedly, he went his way, throwing a couple of annas with careless generosity to a beggar who followed him along the road whining for alms, well-satisfied with himself and with all the world on that wonderful night that had witnessed the final triumph of the woman whom he had chosen for his bride, asking nought of the gods save that which they had deigned to bestow—Fortune’s favourite whom every man must envy.
It was remarked by Tommy’s brother-officers on the following day that it was he rather than the bride who displayed all the shyness that befitted the occasion.