He had just been giving her tea and wedding-cake, of which latter she had eaten the sugar and he the cake, a wise division which had pleased them both.
“Will we have a cake just like this when we’re married, Noel?” she asked seductively, casting an affectionate glance towards the empty plate.
“Oh, rather!” said Noel. “Several storeys high, big enough to last a whole year.”
“Oh, Noel!” she murmured ecstatically.
And, “Oh, Noel!” said her mother, suddenly coming up behind them.
The chief bridesmaid laughed roguishly over Noel’s shoulder. “I like weddin’s,” she said.
Noel set her down and rose. “My dear Mrs. Musgrave, I’ve been hunting for you everywhere. Have you had any tea?”
She smiled at him with amused reproof. A very sweet smile had Mrs. Musgrave, but it was never very mirthful. She had lost all her mirth with her youth. Though she could not have been much over thirty, her hair was silver white.
“I was only in the next room,” she said. “Yes, thank you; the padre gave me tea. We must be going. Peggy and I. Will left some time ago, directly after the bride and bridegroom.”
“Ah, Will is a paragon of industry. I believe he thinks more of that beastly old reservoir of his than of the whole population of Sharapura put together. But surely you needn’t go yet? Don’t!” pleaded Noel, with his most persuasive smile.
“No, don’t let’s, Mummy!” begged the child, clinging to her hero’s hand. “Noel and me, we’re goin’ to be married, we are.”
“So we are,” said Noel. “And we’re going to church on the Rajah’s state elephant, and we’re going to make him trumpet all the way there and all the way back. I hope we are not springing it on you too suddenly,” he added, with a laugh. “It’s the usual thing, isn’t it, for the best man to marry the chief bridesmaid?”
“I should say it depended a little on their respective ages,” smiled Mrs. Musgrave. “Are you going to find my ’rickshaw? It is later than I thought, and I am expecting visitors.”
“Ah, I know,” said Noel. “Captain and Mrs. Nick of Wara, isn’t it?”
“Not Mrs. Nick,” she corrected him. “I wish it had been. She is my greatest friend. But she can’t leave England because of their child.”
“There’s a lady of some description coming in his train,” asserted Noel. “I have it on unimpeachable authority.”
“Yes, she is his niece. I knew her as a child, a giddy little thing—rather like Nick himself.”
“Mrs. Musgrave! Is that how you describe one of our most celebrated heroes? Nick Ratcliffe—the one and only—the most romantic specimen of our modern British chivalry—beloved of women like yourself, respected by men like me! Did I hear aright?”
She laughed. “Oh, don’t be absurd! He is the least imposing person in the world, I assure you.”
“And the lady, his niece?” questioned Noel. “Is she married by the way?”