“Isn’t he a nice boy?” said Daisy impetuously. “Look at him in the saddle—so splendidly young and free!”
Hunt-Goring was silent a moment. Then, as he took out his cigarette-case, he remarked: “He is so altogether charming, Mrs. Musgrave, that I can’t help thinking that he must be one of those fortunate people ‘whom the gods love.’”
“But what a horrid thing to say!” protested Daisy. “I’m sure Noel won’t die young. He is so full of vitality. He couldn’t!”
Hunt-Goring smiled upon his cigarettes. “I wonder,” he said slowly, and chose one with the words. “I—wonder!”
THE POWER OF THE ENEMY
It so chanced that Noel did not find himself in any intimate conversation with Olga again until the great week arrived, and General Sir Reginald Bassett came upon the scene with much military pomp and ceremony.
Olga avoided all talk of a confidential nature with him with so obvious a reluctance that he could not force it upon her in the brief spaces of time which he had at his disposal when they met. They had become close friends, but the feeling that this friendship depended mainly upon his forbearance never left Noel, and he could not fail to see that she shrank from the bare mention of Max’s name.
He bided his time, therefore, since there was no urgent need to broach the subject forthwith and he was still by no means sure of his ground. He would have discussed the matter with Nick, but Nick was never to be found. He came and went with astonishing rapidity, bewildering even Olga by the suddenness of his moves. Vaguely she heard of unrest in the city, but definite information she had none. Nick eluded all enquiries; but it seemed to her that the yellow face grew more wrinkled every day, and the shrewd eyes took on a vigilant, sleepless look that troubled her much in secret. The thought of him kept her from brooding overmuch upon her own trouble. She did not want to brood. If her own nights were sleepless, she took a book and resolutely read. She would not yield an inch to the ceaseless, weary ache of her heart, and very sternly she denied herself the relief of tears. Too much of her life had been wasted already, in the pursuit of what was not. She would not waste still more of it in bitter, fruitless mourning over that which was.
Perhaps it was the bravest stand she had ever made, and what it cost her not even Nick might guess. Certainly he had less time to bestow upon her than ever before. They met at meals, and very often that was all. But Olga, with her curious, new reserve, was not needing his companionship just then. Her attitude towards her beloved hero had subtly changed. Beloved he was still and would ever be, but he no longer dwelt apart from all other men on the special little pedestal on which her worship had placed him. He was no longer the demi-god of her childish adoration.