“Does it matter?” he asked very quietly.
Nancy looked up from her plate. There was a flicker of a smile in the eyes that a moment before had expressed only apprehension. She shook her head.
“I don’t know—yet,” she said. Her smile deepened. “You see, I refused to dine with him here to-night. I excused myself on a plea of weariness. I really did want rest. But—well, I didn’t want to dine with him, anyway. He’s seen me—with you.”
“Do you often dine with him?”
The man had no smile in response, and his question came swiftly.
“I’ve never dined with him.”
Bull sat back. His eyes were smiling.
“Well, I guess the answer’s easy.
You’re here fighting for the
Skandinavia. And I’d say you’ve been doing it mighty well. Maybe
Peterman’ll feel sore, but he’ll see it that way after—awhile.”
Nancy thought long and earnestly over her breakfast. She thought deeply as she proceeded to her office. Even the business of again taking up the thread of her work failed to absorb her.
Apprehension disturbed, and a certain sense of guilt weighed upon her. The vision of the tall figure of Elas Peterman as it moved down the dining-room at the Chateau remained with her. She had caught the glance of his dark eyes. She knew he had recognised her; and there had been neither smile nor recognition in the swift exchange that had passed between them.
So she answered the usual morning summons of her chief without any pleasant anticipation. She expected a bad time, and strove to prepare herself for it.
But alarm vanished the moment she ushered herself into the man’s presence. He was not at his desk poring over his littered correspondence. She found him standing before his favourite window, gazing out reflectively upon the grey light of the early winter day. He turned at the sound of her entry, and his smile of greeting lacked nothing of its usual cordiality.
Had she observed him a moment before it must have been different. But she had been spared all sight of the mood that had driven him to abandon urgent correspondence in favour of the drab outlook beyond the window. It was a bad expression. It was the expression of a man of fierce cruelty. It was not an expression of open, hot anger, which flares up, passes, and is forgotten like the fury of a summer storm. It was rather the slowly banking clouds of winter, piling up for a climax that should be devastating. And through it all he had smiled, smiled with angry eyes that seemed to grow colder and harder every moment.
Nancy knew little of the world, and less of men and women. It could not have been otherwise. Vital with a youthful optimism and strong purpose, she had devoted herself to work to the exclusion of everything else. And before that there had only been the scrupulous care of the good matrons of Marypoint. A wider experience, a maturer mind would have yielded her doubt as she beheld the man’s smiling greeting now. She would have reminded herself of her offence, and understood its enormity in the eyes of a man. She would have had a better appreciation of her own attractions, and would have long since understood this man’s regard for her.