“But, I say, won’t the absent one be savage?” suggested Jerry.
Nan tossed her head. “I’m sure I don’t know. Anyhow it doesn’t matter.”
“Do you really mean that?” he persisted. “Don’t you really care?”
Nan threw herself back in the boat with her face to the stars.
“Why, of course not,” she declared, with regal indifference. “How can you be so absurd?”
And in face of such sublime recklessness, he was obliged to be convinced.
Nan’s picnic on the lake was not concluded much before ten o’clock.
She ran home through the moonlight, bareheaded, whistling as carelessly as a boy. Night and day were the same thing to her in the place in which she had lived all her life. There was not one of the village folk whom she did not know, not one for whom the doings of the wild Everards did not provide food for discussion. For Nan undoubtedly was an Everard still, her grand wedding notwithstanding. No one ever dreamed of applying any other title to her than the familiar “Miss Nan” that she had borne from her babyhood. There was, in fact, a general feeling that the unknown husband of Miss Nan was scarcely worthy of the high honour that had been bestowed upon him. His desertion of her on the very day succeeding the wedding had been freely criticised, and in many quarters condemned out of hand. No one knew the exact circumstances of the case, but all were agreed in pronouncing Miss Nan’s husband a defaulter.
That Miss Nan herself was very far from fretting over the situation was abundantly evident, but this fact did not in any way tend to justify the offender, of whom it was beginning to be opined round the bars of the village inns that he was “one o’ them queer sort of cusses that it was best for women to steer clear of.”
Naturally these interesting shreds of gossip never reached Nan’s ears. She was, as she had ever been, supremely free from self-consciousness of any description, and it never occurred to her that the situation in which she was placed was sufficiently peculiar to cause comment. The Everards had ever been a law unto themselves, and it was inconceivable that anyone should attempt to apply to them the conventional rules by which other people chose to let their lives be governed. Of course they were different from the rest of the world. It had been an accepted fact as long as she could remember, and it certainly had never troubled her, nor was it ever likely to do so.
She was sublimely unconscious of all criticism as she ran down the village street that night, nodding carelessly to any that she met, and finally turned lightly in at her father’s gates, walking with elastic tread under the great arching beech trees that blotted the moonlight from her path.
The front door stood hospitably open, and she entered to find her father stretched in his favourite chair, smoking.