To those who knew her best—to Nick, to Daisy, and to Noel—she was changed, though it was a change of which she herself was scarcely aware. Her re-awakened spontaneity had gone again. She asked sympathy of none. Even to Nick she made no confidences. She had become wholly woman, and she had learned as it were to stand alone. She preferred her solitude.
Of Noel she seemed a little shy at first, until by frank good-fellowship he overcame this. Noel’s courtship was apparently at a standstill. He made no open attempt to further his cause with her, though every day he sought her out with cheery friendliness, never overstepping the mark, never giving her the smallest occasion for embarrassment. And thus every day her confidence in him grew. She came to rely upon him in a fashion that she scarcely realized, depending upon his consideration and unfailing chivalry more than she knew. She had never liked him better than she liked him then, in the first desperate bitterness of her trouble. He asked so little of her, was so readily pleased with her mere friendship, and though at the back of her mind she knew that this was only his pleasant method of marking time she was none the less grateful to him for his patience. He helped her through her dark hours without seeming in the least aware that she needed help. He demanded rather than offered sympathy, and in giving it she found herself oddly soothed. She was glad that Noel wanted her, glad that he regarded her co-operation as quite indispensable to his schemes. He occupied her thoughts at a time when private reflection was torture. The misery was there perpetually at her heart, but he gave her no time to dwell upon it. He carried her along with him with an impetus which she had no desire to resist.
Nick watched his tactics from afar with unwilling admiration, wryly admitting to himself that they were precisely the tactics he would have pursued. He saw that the fulfilment of his prediction was merely a matter of time, and prepared himself to yield to the inevitable with as good a grace as he could muster. He was in fact more in sympathy with Noel than with Olga just then. The boy was undoubtedly developing under this new influence. The spoilt side of his nature was giving place to a new manliness that was infinitely more attractive, and Nick found it impossible not to accept him with approval.
Sir Reginald Bassett’s visit was to take place early in February, and great were the preparations in progress for his entertainment. Daisy Musgrave found herself swept into the vortex of Noel’s energies, and she on her part did her best to interest her guest therein. It was a futile effort on her part. Hunt-Goring only laughed at her and paid her lazy compliments. Why he stayed on was a problem that she was wholly at a loss to solve. Quite privately she had begun to wish very much that he would go. She was heartily tired of being for ever on her guard, and she never dared to be otherwise with him. Not that she found it really difficult to keep him at a distance. He was too indolent for that. When she withdrew herself, he never troubled to pursue. His attentions were never ardent. But he never failed to take advantage of the smallest lapse on her part. She could never be at her ease with him.