THE EVERLASTING CHAIN
It was a very thoughtful face that met Nick at the breakfast table on the following morning. But Nick’s greeting was as airy as usual. He made no comments and asked no questions.
The day was Sunday, a perfect day of Indian winter, cloudless and serene. The tamarisks in the compound waved their pink spikes to the sun, and in the palm-trees behind them bright-eyed squirrels dodged and flirted. A line of cypresses bounded the garden, and the sky against which they stood was an ardent blue.
“What is the programme for to-day?” said Nick, when the meal was nearly over.
Olga leaned her chin on her hand, and looked across at him. “Shall you go to church, Nick?”
The cantonments boasted a small church and a visiting chaplain who held one service in it every Sunday.
Nick considered the matter in all its bearings while he stirred his coffee.
“No,” he said finally; “I think I shall stay at home with you this morning.”
“How do you know I am not going?” said Olga.
Nick grinned. “I’m awfully good at guessing, Olga mia.”
She smiled rather wanly. “Well, I’m not going, as a matter of fact. I had a stupid sort of night.”
Nick nodded. “I shan’t take you out to dinner again for a long time.”
“It wasn’t that,” she said. “At least, I don’t think so. It was that song. Why did Noel sing it?”
“For reasons best known to himself,” said Nick, taking out his cigarette-case.
She rose and went round to his side to strike a match for him, but reaching him she suddenly knelt and clasped her arms about his neck.
“Nick,” she whispered, “I’m frightened.”
His arm went round her instantly. “What is it, my chicken?”
She held him closely for a while in silence; then, her face hidden, she told him of the trouble at her heart.
“That song has been haunting me all night long. I feel as if—as if—someone—were calling me, and I can’t quite hear or understand. Nick, where—where is Violet?”
It had come at last. Once before she had confronted him with that question, and he had turned it aside. But to-day, he knew that he must face and answer it.
He laid his cheek against her hair. “Olga darling, I think you know, but I’ll tell you all the same. She has—gone on.”
Very gently he spoke the words, and after them there fell a silence broken only by the scolding of a couple of parroquets in a mimosa-tree near the verandah.
Nick did not stir. His lips twitched a little above the fair head, and his yellow face showed many lines; but there was no tension in his attitude. His pose was alert rather than anxious.
Olga lifted her face at last. She was very white, but fully as composed as he.
“That,” she said slowly, “was the thing I couldn’t remember.”