“Oh, he’s quite ridiculous. Let us open some of the others.”
She thrust a sheaf into his hand, and busied herself with the remainder.
He did not attempt to open any of them, but stood silently watching her glowing face as she opened one after another and tossed them down.
Suddenly she raised her eyes, and met his look fully, with a certain pride.
“Is anything the matter?”
He pointed quite calmly to the scrap of paper she held crumpled in her hand.
“Are you not going to read that?” he asked, in slow, rather careful English.
Her colour deepened; it rose to her forehead in a burning wave.
“Presently,” she returned briefly.
His eyes held hers with a curious insistence.
“You need not be afraid,” he said very quietly; “I shall not try to look over.”
Nan stared at him, too amazed for speech. The hot blood ebbed from her face as swiftly as it had risen, leaving her as white as the orange-blossoms in her hair.
At length suddenly, with a passionate gesture, she thrust out her hand to him with the ball of paper on her palm.
“Pray take it and read it,” she said, her voice quivering with anger, “since it interests you so much.”
He made no movement to comply.
“I do not wish to read it, Anne,” he said gravely.
Her lip curled. It was the first time he had ever called her by her Christian name, and there was something exceedingly formal in the way he uttered it now. Moreover, no one ever called her anything but Nan. For some reason she was hotly indignant at this unfamiliar mode of address. It increased her anger against him tenfold.
“Take it and read it!” she reiterated, with stubborn persistence. “I wish you to do so!”
The first carriage-load of guests was approaching the house as she spoke. Cradock paused for a single instant as if irresolute, then, without more ado, he took her at her word. He smoothed the paper out without the smallest change of countenance, and read it, while she stood quivering with impotent fury by his side. It was a long telegram, and it took some seconds to read; but he did not look up till he had mastered it.
“Good-bye, sweetheart, good-bye,” so ran the message—“It is no red-letter day for me, but I wish you joy with all my heart. Spare a thought now and then for the good old times and the boy you left behind you.—Your loving Jerry.”
Amid a buzz of congratulation, Piet Cradock handed the missive back to his bride with a simple “Thank you!” that revealed nothing whatever of what was in his mind.
She took it, without looking at him, with nervous promptitude, and the incident passed.
The guests were many, and Nan’s attention was very fully occupied. No casual observer, seeing her smiling face, would have suspected the turmoil of doubt that underlay her serenity.