“I dared not have suggested it myself,” said Noel, with an ease that belied him. “If we do that, we may as well pretend we’re old acquaintances at once.”
“Perhaps,” said Olga. She was searching for her hostess’s rings and spoke with a somewhat absent air.
“Especially as my name is Wyndham,” he said.
She stopped short in her search and seemed to stiffen. Then slowly she turned towards him. “You are Max’s—Dr. Wyndham’s—brother!”
“I have that honour,” said Noel drily.
She stood quite still for a moment; then: “I knew he had a brother in India,” she said. “But I didn’t know we were likely to meet.”
“That,” said Noel, “was partly his doing and partly mine. He wrote and told me that Captain Ratcliffe was coming to Sharapura, and I at once took steps to get myself transferred to the battalion here.”
“Oh! Then you know Nick?”
“By repute,” smiled Noel. “A good many people in India can say the same, though he may be without honour in his own country.”
“Indeed he isn’t!” said Olga proudly. “He is a hero wherever he goes.”
“And you have come to take care of him?” asked Noel.
She faced him. “Did you know I was coming?”
“No. I thought it was Mrs. Ratcliffe. Max writes an abominable fist.”
She seemed relieved. “Yes, I have come to take care of him. He never takes care of himself.”
“And you know how to make him do as he is told?” asked Noel.
She smiled. “Oh, yes, I am quite capable. It isn’t the first time I have taken care of him. We are very old pals.”
“I envy you both,” said Noel. “Is this what you are looking for?”
He had spied a ring under the edge of Peggy’s biscuit-plate. He held it out to her with a graceful flourish.
But at this point Peggy, who had begun to feel neglected, overcame her shyness and shrilly intervened.
“Noel, that’s not the way! You should say, ‘With this ring—’”
“Peggy!” Noel interrupted, “you’re going too fast. I’m much too old to travel at that pace. I will say good-night to you before you get me into trouble.”
He stooped to kiss her, but Peggy was clinging like a marmoset round his neck when he stood up again. His brown face laughed through her curls.
“We’re a horribly spoony couple,” he said to Olga. “We’ve known each other just six weeks, and we got engaged to-day.”
“Do you often get engaged like that?” asked Olga.
“Oh, rather!” said Noel. “It’s much more fun than getting married. Cheaper too, and not so monotonous!” Again he laughed. “I assure you it’s the easiest thing in the world to get engaged. Never tried it?”
It was unpardonably audacious; but that was Noel Wyndham’s way, and somehow no one ever took offence.
Olga did not take offence, but she winced ever so slightly; a fact which Noel obviously failed to observe, being occupied with the difficult task of releasing himself from Peggy’s ardent embraces.