The plot had been of Kobad Shikan’s devising. Nick had been on the watch for it for some time, had penetrated the city nightly in the garb of a moonstone-seller, collecting evidence, and—most masterly stroke of all—he had drawn the Rajah into partnership with him. It was due to Nick’s influence alone that the Rajah had not been caught in Kobad Shikan’s toils. Thanks to Nick’s steady call upon his loyalty, he had remained staunch. But Kobad Shikan had been too powerful a tactician to overthrow openly. They had been forced to work against him in secret.
“The Rajah calls Nick his brother,” said Olga.
“Like his cheek!” said Noel. “Not that I can talk myself. I took the liberty of kicking him off his own premises once.” He chuckled involuntarily at the recollection and commanded her to continue.
So Olga went on to tell of old Kobad’s final coup and of how the Rajah, receiving news of some mischief afoot, had sent an urgent message of warning that had taken Nick straight to the Palace. Thence he had gone in disguise to the haunts of Kobad Shikan’s conspirators, but here he had received a check. Kobad Shikan, fearing treachery among his followers, had taken elaborate precautions to conceal his proceedings, and for hours Nick had been kept searching vainly for a clue. Then at last he had succeeded in running the truth to earth, had discovered the whole ghastly plot barely half an hour before the time fixed for its consummation, and had raced to the mess-house with his warning.
“And that’s all, is it?” said Noel.
“Yes, that’s all; except that old Kobad has disappeared. Nick seems sorry, but everyone else is glad.”
“And what about—Hunt-Goring?” said Noel at last.
Olga’s fingers tightened in his hold. “Oh, did you know he was there?” she said.
Briefly he made answer. “Yes, he tripped me. I believe he was half-drunk with opium or something. What happened? Was he killed?”
Noel’s voice was imperious. She answered him instantly, seeing he demanded it.
Noel drew a deep breath. “Thank God for that!” he said. “Then you are free’”
Olga was silent.
“You are free?” he repeated, with quick interrogation.
Yet an instant longer she hesitated. Then she leaned her head against his pillow with a little sob. “No,—I’m not free, Noel. I—have given myself—to you!”
“Because I’m blind!” he said.
“No, dear, no! Once free—I should have come to you—in any case.”
“Would you?” he said. “Would you? You’re quite sure? You’re not saying it out of pity? I won’t have you marry me out of pity, Olga. I couldn’t stand it.”
“Oh, you needn’t be afraid of that!” she said. Then a moment later, “When I marry you,” she murmured softly, “it will be—for love.”
There was no mistaking the sincerity of the words, though even then as it were in spite of himself he knew that the passionate adoration he had poured out to her had awakened no answering rapture in her heart. The very fashion of her surrender told him this. He might come first with her indeed, but the full gift was no longer hers to offer.