Out of a long silence came Max’s voice. “When did you say you were starting for the East?”
“Three weeks next Friday,” said Nick.
Max grunted, and the silence was renewed.
It was Nick’s voice, cracked and careless, that next broke the spell. He seemed to speak on the edge of a laugh. “It’s just six years ago since the woman I wanted went to India. Curious, isn’t it?”
“What’s curious?” said Max.
Nick explained, still with a suspicion of humour in his words: “Well, the funny part of it was that she hoped and believed she was going to get away from me. However, I viewed the matter otherwise, and—I followed her.”
“Did you though?” said Max. “And how did the lady take it? Was she pleased?”
“My dear chap, she didn’t know.” The laugh was more apparent now. Nick removed his cigar to indulge it. “I was most careful not to get in her way, you understand. I was simply there—if wanted.”
“And events proved you justified, I suppose?” Max sounded interested after a cynical and quite impersonal fashion.
“They did,” said Nick. His own elastic grin appeared for an instant and was gone. “Events can generally be trimmed to suit your purpose,” he said, “if you are sufficiently in earnest.”
“That has not been my experience,” observed Max briefly.
“Perhaps you haven’t tried,” said Nick.
Silence descended once more, and Nick was rude enough to fall asleep.
An hour later he awoke with extreme alertness in response to a remark from Max as to the lateness of the hour.
“Yes, by Jove,” he said. “I must be getting back. By the way, Wyndham, did I mention to you that Sharapura is the name of the place we are going to? It’s quite an interesting corner of the Empire, and declared by medical experts to be a top-hole neighbourhood for studying malaria.”
“Is that a recommendation?” asked Max grimly.
Nick’s smile was geniality itself. “It is,” he answered; “a very strong recommendation.” He thrust out a friendly hand. “Good-night, my son, and good luck to you!”
Max’s grip was hard and sustained. He looked into the grinning, humorous face, and almost in spite of himself his own mouth took a humorous twist.
“So that’s what you came to say, is it?” he said. “Well, good-night, you old rotter, and—thanks!”
Nick mounted his horse and rode back in the moonlight, singing a tuneless but very sentimental love lyric to the stars.
“It must be great fun gettin’ married,” said the chief bridesmaid pensively to the best man. “Why don’t you go and get married, Noel?”
“I’m going to,” said Noel.
“Oh, are you?” with suddenly-awakened interest. “Soon?”