He greeted her with his usual gruff indulgence.
“Hallo, you mad-cap! I was just wondering whether I would scour the country for you, or leave the door open and go to bed. I think it was going to be the last, though, to be sure, it would have served you right if I had locked you out. Had any dinner?”
“No, darling, supper—any amount of it.” Nan dropped a kiss upon his bald head in passing. “I’ve been with Jerry,” she said, “on the lake the whole day long. We watched the moon rise. It was so romantic.”
The Colonel grunted.
“More rheumatic than romantic I should have thought. Better have a glass of grog.”
Nan screwed up her bright face with a laugh.
“Heaven forbid, dad! And on a night like this. Oh, bother! Is that a letter for me?”
Colonel Everard was pointing to an envelope on the mantelpiece. She crossed the hall without eagerness, and picked it up.
“I’ve had one, too,” said the Colonel, after a brief pause, speaking with a jerk as if the words insisted upon being uttered in spite of him.
“You!” Nan paused with one finger already inserted in the flap. “What for?”
Her father was staring steadily at the end of his cigar, or he might have seen a hint of panic in her dark eyes.
“You will see for yourself,” he said, still in that uncomfortable, jerky style. “He seems to think—Well, I must say it sounds reasonable enough since he can’t get back at present; but you will see for yourself.”
A little tremor went through Nan as she opened the letter. With frowning brows she perused it.
It did not take long to read. The thick, upright writing was almost arrogantly distinct, recalling the writer with startling vividness.
He had written with his accustomed brevity, but there was much more than usual in his letter. He saw no prospect, so he told her, of being able to leave the country for some time to come. Affairs were unsettled, and likely to remain so. At the same time, there was no reason, now that her health was restored, that she should not join him, and he was writing to ask her father to take her out to him. He would meet them at Cape Town, and if the Colonel cared to do so he would be very pleased if he would spend a few months with them.
The plan was expressed concisely but with absolute kindness. Nevertheless there was about the letter a certain tone of mastery which gave Nan very clearly to understand that the writer thereof did not expect to be disappointed. It was emphatically the letter of a husband to his wife, not of a lover to his beloved.
She looked up from it with a very blank face.
“My dear dad!” she ejaculated. “What can he be thinking of?”
Colonel Everard smiled somewhat ruefully.
“You, apparently,” he said, with an effort to speak lightly. “What shall we say to him—eh, Nan? You’ll like to go on the spree with your old dad to take care of you.”