“Oh, yes, you answered me,” he said, “as kindly and indulgently as if I had been prattling like Peggy Musgrave. I won’t put up with it any longer, my chicken. Understand?”
He put his hand under her chin and turned her face upwards.
She quivered a little and the tears sprang to her eyes. “I’m sorry, Nick,” she said.
He shook his head at her. “I won’t have you sorry. That’s just the grievance. Be hurt, be indignant, be angry! Sulk even! I know how to treat sulks. But don’t cry, and don’t be sorry! I shall be furious if you cry.”
She smiled up at him wistfully, saying nothing.
“Fact of the matter is,” proceeded Nick, “you’re spoilt. It’s high time I put my foot down. If you don’t wake up, I’ll make you take a cold bath every morning and swing dumb-bells for half an hour after it.”
She began to laugh. “I love to see you playing tyrant, Nick.”
He let her go. “I’m not playing, my child. I’m in sober, deadly earnest. Have you made up your mind yet what you’re going to say to young Noel when he asks you to marry him?”
She started. “Oh, really, Nick!” she said again, this time with a touch of annoyance in her tone.
He smiled as he heard it. “It’s coming, I assure you. You see, the station is short of girls, and our young friend is impressionable. He is the sort of amorous swain who gets engaged to a dozen before he settles down to marriage with one. The question for you to decide is, are you going to be one of the dozen?”
“No, that I certainly am not.” Olga spoke with undoubted emphasis, and having spoken rose and laid her hands upon Nick’s shoulders. “I don’t think he would be so silly as to ask me,” she said. “And if he did, I certainly should not be silly enough to say Yes.”
“I’m glad to hear that anyway,” said Nick briskly. “I was afraid you might accept him out of sheer boredom.”
“Nick! I’m not bored!”
He looked at her quizzically, as if he did not quite believe her.
“I am not bored,” she reiterated, with something like vehemence. “I am happier with you than with anyone else in the world.”
“Really?” said Nick, still smiling.
“Don’t you believe me?” she said.
He laughed. “Not quite, dear; but that’s not your fault. What are you going to wear to-night?”
Nick could switch himself from one subject to another as easily as a monkey leaps from tree to tree, and when once he had made the leap no persuasion could ever induce him to return. Olga knew this, and abandoned the discussion, albeit slightly dissatisfied.
They separated soon after to dress for the Rajah’s dinner. Olga had chosen a dress of palest mauve, and very fair and delicate she looked in it. In a crowd of girls she would doubtless have been passed over by all but the most observant, but she was not one of a crowd at Sharapura. There were not many girls in that region, or Noel Wyndham’s volatile fancy had scarcely strayed in her direction.