“Or were I in the wildest
Sae black and bare, sae black and bare,
The desert were a paradise
If thou wert there, if thou wert there.
Or were I monarch o’ the globe,
Wi’ thee to reign, wi’ thee to reign,
The brightest jewel in my crown
Wad be my queen, wad be my queen.”
The song was ended; the banjo throbbed itself into silence. Olga’s hands went up to her face. She wanted to keep the silence, to hold it fast, while she chased down that elusive phantom that dodged her memory.
Ah! A voice beside her, Nick’s arm through hers! She raised her face. The phantom had fled.
“After that serenade, I move that we take our departure,” said Nick. “The youngster has a decent voice, so far as my poor judgment goes. Are you ready?”
Yes, she was ready. She longed to be gone, to get away from the careless, chattering crowd, to work out her problem in solitude and silence.
With scarcely a word she went with him, and they made their farewells together.
At the last moment Noel, his eyes very bright and coaxingly friendly, caught her hand and boldly held it.
“Did you catch it?” he asked.
She looked at him uncomprehendingly. “Catch what?”
He laughed. The pressure of his fingers was intimately close. “That glimpse I promised you,” he said.
“Ah!” Understanding dawned in Olga’s eyes, and in the same instant she removed her hand. “No, I’m afraid I didn’t. I was thinking of something else. Good-bye!”
“Oh, I say!” protested Noel, actually crest-fallen for once.
Nick swallowed a chuckle, and clapped him on the shoulder. “Good-night, minstrel boy! Mind you bring the harp along to my Christmas picnic! We are not all so unappreciative as Olga.”
Noel looked for a second as if he were on the verge of losing his temper, but the next he changed his mind and laughed.
“You bet I will, old chap!” he said, and wrung Nick’s hand with cordiality.
Nick’s chuckle became audible as they drove away. “He can’t accuse you of encouraging him anyhow, Olga mia,” he remarked. “If you keep it up at this pace, you’ll soon choke him off.”
Olga’s answer was to draw very close to him, and to utter a great sigh.
“Wherefore?” whispered Nick.
She was silent for a moment, then: “I sometimes wish you were the only man in the world, Nick,” she said, with quivering emphasis.
“Gracious heaven!” said Nick. “Don’t make me giddy!”
She laughed a little, but there was a sound of tears behind. “Men are so silly,” she said.
“Abject fools!” said Nick. “There’s never more than one worth crying about.”
“What do you mean, Nick?”
“Nothing—nothing!” said Nick. “I was just demonstrating my foolishness, that’s all.”
Whereat she laughed again in a somewhat doubtful key, and asked no more.