Only Mona, her favourite sister, had the smallest inkling of it, but even Mona was not in Nan’s confidence just then. No intimate word of any sort passed between them up in the old bedroom that they had shared all their lives during the fleeting half-hour that Nan spent preparing for her journey. They could neither of them bear to speak of the coming separation, and that embodied everything.
The only allusion that Nan made to it was as she passed out of the room with her arm round her sister’s shoulders, and whispered:
“Don’t sleep by yourself to-night, darling. Make Lucy join you.”
They descended the stairs, holding closely to each other. Old Colonel Everard, very red and tearful, met them at the foot, and folded Nan tightly in his arms, murmuring inarticulate words of blessing.
Nan emerged from his embrace pale but quite tearless.
“Au revoir, dad!” she said, in her sprightliest tone. “You will be having me back like a bad half-penny before you can turn round.”
Still laughing, she went from one to another of her family with words of careless farewell, and finally rah the gauntlet of her well-wishers to the waiting carriage, into which she dived without ceremony to avoid the hail of rice that pursued her.
Her husband followed her closely, and they were off almost before he took his seat beside her.
“Thank goodness, that’s over!” said Nan, with fervour. “I’ll never marry again if I live to be a hundred! I am sure being buried must be much more fun, and not nearly so ignominious.”
She leaned forward with the words, and was on the point of letting down the window, when there was a sudden, deafening report close to them. The carriage jerked and swerved violently, and in an instant it was being whirled down the drive at the top speed of two terrified horses.
Instinctively Nan turned to the man beside her.
“It’s the boys!” she exclaimed. “They said they should fire a salute! But—but—”
She broke off, amazed to find his arms gripping her tightly, forcing her back in her seat, holding her pressed to him with a strength that took her breath away.
It all came—a multitude of impressions—crowded into a few brief seconds; yet every racing detail was engraved with awful distinctness upon the girl’s mind, never to be forgotten.
She struggled wildly in that suffocating hold, struggled fruitlessly to lift her face from her husband’s shoulder into which it was ruthlessly pressed, and only ceased to struggle when the end of that terrible flight came with a jolt and a jar and a final, sickening crash that flung her headlong into a dreadful gulf of emptiness into which no light or echo of sound could even vaguely penetrate.
Nan opened her eyes in her own sunny bedroom, and gazed wonderingly about her, dimly conscious of something wrong.