“You’d sooner marry him?” Noel stared at her incredulously.
She flung out her hands with a wide, despairing gesture. “Yes—yes—I would sooner marry him!”
The music had stopped. There came the sound of approaching voices. Their privacy was at an end.
Yet for full ten seconds Noel stood widely gazing at the girl before him with eyes in which surprise, hurt pride, and smouldering passion mingled; then very abruptly, as the first chattering couple reached the half-open door, he swung away from her.
“All right!” he said. “Good-bye!”
He went straight out without a glance behind, nearly running into the gay invaders.
Olga, with the instinct to escape notice, turned as swiftly to the window. She went out upon the verandah, blindly groping her way, scarcely aware of her surroundings. And a figure waiting there in the dimness laughed a cruel laugh and roughly caught her.
“‘You’d sooner marry him,’ eh?” gibed a voice close to her ear. “My dear, that’s the wisest resolution you ever made in your life!”
She did not cry out or attempt to resist him. She had known that her fate was sealed. Only, as his lips sought hers, she shrank away with every fibre of her being in sick revolt, and for the first time in her life she begged for mercy.
“Please—please—give me to-night!” she pleaded. “Only to-night! Yes, I will marry you. But don’t—don’t ask—any more of me—to-night!”
He paused, still holding her in his arms, feeling the wild beat of her heart against his own, softened in spite of himself by that quivering, agonized appeal.
“And if I let you go to-night, what will you give me to-morrow?” he said.
“I shall be—your fiancee—to-morrow,” she whispered, gasping.
“And you will marry me—when?”
“You shall decide,” she murmured faintly.
He laughed rather brutally. “A somewhat empty favour, my dear, since I should have decided in any case. But if you give me your promise to come to me like a sensible girl, without any more nonsense of any kind—”
“I will!” she said. “I will!”
“Then—” he released her with the words—“I give you your freedom—till to-morrow. Go—and make the most of it!”
He had not kissed her. She slipped from his arms, thankful for his forbearance, and sped away down the veranda like a shadow.
As for Hunt-Goring, he cursed himself for a soft fool and took out his cigarettes to wile away what promised to be an evening of infernal dullness.
THE GIFT OF THE RAJAH
Olga danced that night with the feeling that she danced upon her grave, reminding herself continually, as the hours slipped by, that it was her last night of freedom.
The failure of Nick to appear for the supper-dances diverted her thoughts from this but to send them with ever-growing anxiety into a new channel. Where was Nick? What was happening to him? What could be delaying him?