Noel’s candid adoration was beginning to assume somewhat alarming proportions, and she had a feeling that it was undermining her resolution. She was not exactly afraid, but she did not feel secure. He appealed, in some fashion wholly inexplicable, to her inner soul. His very daring attracted her. By sheer audacity he weakened her powers of resistance. And yet she knew that he would not press her too hard. With all his impetuosity, he was so quick to understand her wishes, so swift to respond to the curb. No, he would not capture her against her will. But therein she found no comfort. For he was drawing her by a subtler method than that. His boyish homage, his winning ardour, these were weapons that were infinitely harder to resist. There was scarcely a woman in Noel Wyndham’s acquaintance who had not at one time or another felt the force of his fascination. He exerted it instinctively, often almost unconsciously, and now that he had deliberately set himself to attract he wielded his power with marvellous effect. His warmth, his gaiety, his persistence, all combined to make of him a very gallant knight; and Olga was beginning to find that it hurt her to resist the magnetism by which he held her. And yet—and yet—deep in the soul of her she knew how little she had to give. That haunting memory which yet invariably eluded her made her vaguely conscious that far down in the most secret corner of her heart was a locked door which would never open to him. She herself scarcely knew what lay behind it, but none the less was it sacred. Not even to Nick—trusted counsellor and confidant—would that door ever open; perhaps to none....
The Christmas service roused her somewhat from the contemplation of her perplexities, and after it there were friends to greet—Colonel Bradlaw and his merry little wife, Will Musgrave, Daisy, and the radiant Peggy.
They made a cheery crowd as they assembled in the hot sunshine before Nick’s bungalow a little later and discussed their final arrangements for the picnic at Khantali.
The Bradlaws had a waggonette, and Daisy and Peggy were to drive with them. Noel had a dog-cart in which he boldly announced that Olga must accompany him.
Olga wanted to ride, but Nick declared that this would overtire her, adding with a grin that he would occupy the back seat in the dog-cart if Noel had no objection.
Noel grinned also, and expressed his delight; but at the last moment a couple of his brother-subalterns came up and took forcible possession of Nick, protesting that such a celebrity could not be permitted to take a back seat and insisting that he should travel in the place of honour in their dog-cart. Nick, finding himself outnumbered, submitted with no visible discomfiture, and the procession, being completed by about a dozen equestrians, finally started with much laughter and badinage upon the long, rough journey through the jungle to Khantali.