In view of his misery, Mr. Ridgeway was growing thin, morose, and subject to long fits of despondency which Grace alone could comprehend. Both were dissatisfied with the trip. That they could not be together constantly, as they had expected, caused them hours of misery. They were praying for the twenty-third of May to come, praying with all their hearts. Beside whom did Hugh walk during the deck strolls and at Port Said? With his sister? No, indeed; that would have been unnatural. Who was Grace’s natural companion? Henry Veath or any one of a dozen attractive young officers. How could it have been otherwise?
She was popular and in constant demand. There were not many young women aboard and certainly but two or three attractive ones. From morning till far in the night she was besieged by men—always men. They ignored Hugh with all the indifference that falls to the lot of a brother. Time after time they actually pounced upon the couple and dragged her away without so much as “By your leave.” They danced with her, sang with her, walked with her and openly tried to make love to her, all before the blazing eyes of one Hugh Ridgeway. On more than one occasion he had gone without his dinner because some presumptuous officer unceremoniously usurped his seat at table, grinning amiably when Hugh appeared.
The sweet, dear little moments of privacy that Hugh and Grace obtained, however, were morsels of joy which were now becoming more precious than the fondest dreams of the wedded state to come. They coveted these moments with a greediness that was almost sinful.
On many nights Grace would whisper to Hugh at the dinner table and would creep quietly on deck, meal half finished, where he would join her like a thief. Then they would hide from interruption as long as possible.
One night they enjoyed themselves more unrestrainedly than ever before in their lives. They were walking self-consciously and almost guiltily near the forward end of the deck-house when they saw Veath approaching far behind. Their speed accelerated, and for half an hour they walked like pedestrians in a racing match, always keeping some distance ahead of poor Veath, who finally, like the sly fox, sat down and waited for them to hurry around and come upon him unexpectedly. He, of course, never knew that they were trying to avoid him, nor could he imagine why brother and sister were so flushed, happy and excited when he at last had the pleasure of joining them in their walk. And, strange to say, although they had been wildly happy in this little love chase, they felt that they had mistreated a very good fellow and were saying as much to each other when they almost bumped into him.
Womanly perception told Grace that Veath’s regard for her was beginning to assume a form quite beyond that of ordinary friendship. She intuitively felt that he was beginning to love her. Perhaps he was already in love, and was releasing those helpless little signs which a woman understands, and which a man thinks he conceals impenetrably. The Queen was leaving Port Said and she was leaning on the rail beside the big Indianian.