“But we have!” he said impetuously. “At least I have. Oh, damn!—a million apologies! I couldn’t help it!—here’s that brute Hunt-Goring. You’re not going to dance with him? Say you’re full up!”
Hunt-Goring, attired as a Turk, was crossing the room towards them. Olga cast a single glance over her shoulder, and turned to Noel with panic in her eyes.
“I’ve forgotten something,” she said in a palpitating whisper. “I must run back to the cloak-room. Wait for me!”
She was gone with the words, fleeing like a hunted creature, till the gathering crowd hid her from sight.
Hunt-Goring smiled, and turned aside. He had no pressing desire for a public meeting. His turn was coming,—the very fact of her flight proclaimed it,—and he could very well afford to wait. He would make her pay full measure for that same waiting.
He passed Noel’s scowl with a lazy sneer. The young man would pay also, and that reflection was nectar to his soul. Carelessly he betook himself to the verandah. The dancing did not attract him—so he had told Daisy Musgrave earlier in the day, a remark of which she had been swift to take advantage. For her weariness of her guest was very nearly apparent by that time, and it was a relief to be able to relax her duties as hostess for that evening at least.
The dancing began to the strains of the regimental band, and soon the motley throng were all gathered in the ball-room. It did not look like an all-British assembly, but the nationality of the laughing voices was quite unmistakable. All talked and laughed as they danced, and the hubbub was considerable.
Into it Olga came stealing back, and paused nervously in the doorway to look on. Daisy, dressed as a water-nymph, waved her a gay greeting over her husband’s shoulder. Olga smiled and waved back, striving to smother away out of sight the sick fear at her heart.
Someone touched her shoulder, and she started round almost with a cry.
Noel bent to her. “Sorry I made you jump. Look here! There’s no one in the ante-room. Come and sit out with me!”
He offered his arm, and she took it thankfully without a word. They went away together.
The ante-room was dimly lighted, and comparatively quiet, though the music and laughter and swish of dancing feet were fully audible there. Noel found her a comfortable chair, and seated himself upon the arm thereof.
He did not speak at once, but after a little, as Olga sat in silence, he turned and looked down at her.
She raised her eyes at once and smiled. “You must think me very foolish,” she said.
“No, I don’t,” he rejoined bluntly. “That brute is enough to scare any woman. You hate him, don’t you?”
There was insistence in his tone, insistence mingled with a touch of anxiety. But Olga did not answer him.
“Don’t let us talk about him!” she said, with a shiver she could not repress.