“Oh, no. She is quite a girl.”
“A real live girl in this wilderness!” ejaculated Noel. “I say, may I drop in a little later and see her? Dear Mrs. Musgrave, say Yes!” He stooped and gallantly kissed her hand. “As your daughter’s fiance, I think you might ask me to dine. I’ll be so awfully good if you will. I say, Peggy, ask Mummy to invite me to dinner to-night, and I’ll come and say good-night to you in bed.”
“Oh, yes!” cried Peggy, jumping with eagerness. “He may come, mayn’t he, Mummy? And I’ll save up my prayers,” she added to Noel, “and say them to you!”
“Hear, hear!” said Noel. “Come, Mrs. Musgrave, you haven’t the heart to refuse me such an innocent pleasure as that. I’m sure you haven’t, so thank you kindly, I’ll come. Shall I?”
“Of course you are quite irresistible,” said Mrs. Musgrave. “But I don’t—really—think it would be very kind of me to have guests on their first night. The poor child is sure to be too tired for chatter.”
“But I shan’t chatter,” protested Noel. “I’ll be as quiet as a mouse. Come, Mrs. Musgrave, don’t be cruel! Remember you’re dealing with your future son-in-law, who is absolutely devoted to you; and don’t refuse me the only favour I’ve ever asked!”
He gained his end. Noel Wyndham was an adept at that, having made a study of it all his life.
Mrs. Musgrave, reflecting that the most fascinating young officer in the cantonment could scarcely be unwelcome in the eyes of a young English girl, however tired she might be, finally allowed herself to be persuaded by cajolery on his part and earnest pleading on Peggy’s to include him at her dinner-table.
“If you don’t mind taking the risk of being de trop,” she said, “you may come.”
“I’ll take any risk,” he declared ardently; and, having gained his point, kissed her hand again and departed to summon her ’rickshaw, with Peggy mounted on his shoulder.
THE SELF-INVITED GUEST
When Noel Wyndham entered Mrs. Musgrave’s drawing-room that night, he was wearing his most alluring smile. He was evidently prepared to charm and be charmed; and his host, who privately regarded this addition to the party as a decided nuisance, could not but extend to him a cordial welcome. Will Musgrave, though grave and even by some deemed austere, was never churlish. He was a civil engineer of some repute, and had earned for himself a reputation for hard work which was certainly well deserved.
Nick Ratcliffe had been his close friend from boyhood, and the chance that had stationed him within a short distance of the native city of Sharapura in which Nick was for the next few months to take up his abode was regarded by both as a singularly happy one. It was not surprising therefore that he could not bring himself to look upon Noel’s advent on that, their first evening together, with much enthusiasm.