He was gone like a shadow; the garden lay deserted; Noel’s bitterness of soul returned. He glanced towards the darkness of the cypresses where they had walked only that morning, and a great misery rose and engulfed his spirit. A second or two he stood hesitating, irresolute. Should he go in and see her? Vividly her pale face came before him, but glorified with a radiance that was not for him. No, he could not endure it. By to-morrow he would have schooled himself. To-morrow he would wish her joy. But to-night—to-night—he drained the cup of disappointment for the first time in his gay young life and found it bitter as gall.
With a fierce gesture he flung round and tramped away.
THE FAITHFUL WOUND OF A FRIEND
All the social circle of Sharapura and most of the native population usually assembled on the polo-ground to witness the great annual match between the Rajah’s team and the officers stationed at the cantonments. It was to be followed by a dance at the mess-house in the evening, to which all English residents far and near had been bidden, and which the Rajah himself and his chief Minister, Kobad Shikan, had promised to attend.
The day was a brilliant one, and Olga looked forward to its festivities with a light heart. The thought of Noel was the only bitter drop in her cup of happiness, but instinct told her that his wound would be but a superficial one. She was sorry on his behalf, but not overwhelmingly so. As Nick had wisely observed, it would be far more fitting for him to wait and marry Peggy Musgrave. They were eminently well suited to each other, and would be playfellows all their lives.
She expected Max to present himself in the course of the morning, and he did not disappoint her. He made his casual appearance soon after Nick had departed for the Palace, and found her in the garden. Not alone, however, for Daisy had arrived before him to see how Olga fared after the previous day’s adventure.
Max, strolling out to them, was met by Olga in a glowing embarrassment which he was far from sharing, and introduced forthwith to Daisy as “Noel’s brother.”
Daisy, who had just been listening to a somewhat halting account of his unexpected arrival the day before, marked her very evident confusion and leaped to instant comprehension. So this was the cause of Noel’s reticence! She shook hands with Max with a very decided sense of disappointment, resenting his intrusion on Noel’s behalf, and with womanly criticism marvelling that this thick-set unromantic Englishman could ever have held the girl’s fancy when Noel, the handsomest officer in the district, had been so obviously at her feet.
She heaved a little sigh for Noel even while she said, smiling, “I have just been hearing of your dramatic arrival yesterday, Dr. Wyndham. You could scarcely have chosen a more thrilling moment.”