It was then that Olga came very suddenly out of her silence, moved impulsively to him, and knelt by his side, her hands on his.
“Noel!” she said.
He turned to her swiftly, gathering her hands up to his lips. “What, darling?”
“Noel,—” she paused an instant, then with a rush came the words—“let us be married very soon! Let us be married—before the operation!”
“My darling girl!” said Noel in astonishment.
“Yes,” she said rapidly. “I mean it! I wish it! Dad knows that I wish it. So does Nick. Nick is very good, you know. He—he is going to settle some money on me on my twenty-first birthday. So that needn’t be a difficulty. We shall have enough to live upon.”
“And you think I’m going to live on you?” said Noel, still with her hands pressed hard against his cheek.
“No,” she said. “No. You’ve got something, I expect. That—with mine—would be enough.”
“I’ve got what my good brother-in-law allows me—besides my pay,” said Noel. “I daresay—if the worst happened—he would make a settlement too. But I can’t count on that. Besides—the worst isn’t going to happen. So cheer up, darling! I shall go back to Badgers yet. Poor old boy! It was decent of him to pay me the compliment of being so cut up, wasn’t it? I mustn’t forget to send him a cable when the deed is done.”
He was switching the conversation into more normal channels with airy inconsequence, but Olga gently brought him back to the point.
“Won’t you consider my suggestion?” she said.
He smiled then, his quick, boyish smile. “My darling, I have considered it. I’m afraid it isn’t practicable. But thank you a million times over all the same!”
“Noel!” There was keen disappointment in her voice. “Why isn’t it practicable?”
He let her hands go, and reached out, drawing her to him. “Don’t tempt me, sweetheart!” he said softly. “I’m hound enough as it is to dream of letting you join your life to mine under present conditions. But this other is out of the question. I simply won’t do it, dear, so don’t ask me!”
“But why not?” she pleaded very earnestly. “I have told you I wish it.”
He smiled—a smile that was very tender and yet whimsical also. “So like you, darling,” he said. “But it can’t be done. There are always chances to be taken in a serious operation; but I don’t mean to take more than I can help. I’m not going to chance making you a widow almost before you are a wife.”
“Oh, but, Noel—” she protested.
“Yes, really, darling. It’s my final word on the subject. We will be married just as soon after the operation as can be decently managed. But not before it, sweetheart. Any fellow who let you do that would be a cur of the lowest degree.”
He was holding her in his arms with the words. Her head was against his shoulder. A man had entered the conservatory behind them from an adjoining room, lounging in with his feet in carpet slippers that made no sound.