“Not to come, Nick! Why, I thought it was all settled!”
Nick grinned. “Her heart has failed her at the last moment. She doesn’t like immoral States.” He waved a letter jubilantly in the air. “No matter, my dear. We shall get on excellently without her. She isn’t your sort at all.” He broke into a laugh. “She’s the only woman of my acquaintance I don’t love, and the only one—literally—who doesn’t love me.”
“How horrid of her, Nick! I’m sure I should hate her.”
“I’m sure you would, dear. So it’s just as well—all things considered—that you are not going to meet. Well, I must go and get respectable.” He rose with a quick, lithe movement, but paused, looking down at her quizzically to ask: “What did you think of my friend the moonstone-seller? Pretty, isn’t he?”
She smiled for the first time. “I’m sure he’s quite disreputable. He disappeared in the most mysterious fashion. I wonder if he’s lurking about anywhere still, waiting to murder us in our beds.”
“I wonder,” said Nick.
But he did not trouble himself to look round for the mysterious one, nor did the possibility of being murdered seem to disturb him greatly. He went away to his room, humming a love-song below his breath. And Olga knew that his thoughts were far away in England, where Muriel was waiting to welcome him Home.
THE GATHERING STORM
Looking back in after days, the time that elapsed between the coming of Sir Reginald Bassett and the night of the Fancy-Dress Ball at the mess-house was to Olga as a whirling nightmare. She took part in all the gaieties that she and Noel had so busily planned, but she went through them as one in the grip of some ghastly dream, beholding through all the festivities the shadow of inexorable Fate drawing near. For she was caught in the net at last, hopelessly, irrevocably enmeshed. From the very outset she had realized that. There could no longer be any way of escape for her, for she could not accept deliverance at the price that must be paid for it. She did not so much as seek to escape, knowing her utter helplessness. Rebellion was a thing of the past. Her spirit was broken. Had she been still engaged to Max, the struggle, though hopeless, would have been more fierce. But since that was over, there was little left to fight for on her own account. Hate and loathe the man as she might, she was forced to own his mastery. To pass from the desert to an inferno was not so racking a contrast as if he had dragged her direct from her paradise.
Later, when the first paralysis of despair had passed, when her captor came to take full possession, she would rebel again wildly, madly. There would be a frightful struggle between them, the last fierce effort of her instinct to be free from a bondage that revolted her. Vaguely, from afar, she viewed that inevitable battle, and in her mind the conviction grew that she would not survive it. The thing was too monstrous. It would kill her.