“It is cold,” she said, by way of explanation. “It is freezing hard, and we came all the way by road.”
“Yes,” he said, in his deep, slow voice. “I saw you.”
“You saw me?” Nan’s eyebrows went up; she was furiously conscious that she blushed.
“I passed you in a motor,” he explained.
“Oh!” She withdrew her hand, and turned to the fire with a little laugh, raging inwardly at the fate that had betrayed her.
Standing by the hearth, she pulled off her gloves, and spread her hands to the blaze. It was a mere pretence, for she was hot all over by that time, hot and quivering and fiercely resentful. There was another feeling also behind her resentment, a feeling which she would not own, that made her heart thump oddly, as it had thumped only once before in her life—when this man had touched her face with his lips.
“Well,” she said, standing up after a few minutes, “I must go and dress, and so must you, dad. We are going to the Hunt Ball to-night,” she added, with a brief glance in her husband’s direction.
He made no reply of any sort. His eyes were fixed upon her left hand. After a moment she became aware of this, and slipped it carelessly into her pocket. Whistling softly, she turned to go.
At the foot of the stairs she heard her father’s voice, and paused.
“You had better come, too,” he was saying to his son-in-law.
Nan wheeled sharply, almost as if she would protest, but she checked her words unspoken.
Quietly Piet Cradock was making reply:
“Thank you, Colonel. I think I had better.”
Across the hall Nan met his gaze still unwaveringly fixed upon her, and she returned it with the utmost defiance of which she was capable. Did he actually fancy that she could be coerced into joining him, she asked herself—she who had always been free as the air? Well, he would soon discover his mistake. She would begin to teach him from that moment.
With her head still held high, she turned and mounted the stairs.
Mona was waiting for her in much disturbance of spirit.
“He arrived early this afternoon,” was her report. “We were all so astonished. He has come for you, Nan, and he says he must start back next week without fail. Isn’t it short notice? I wish he had written to say he was coming. He sat and talked to dad all the afternoon. And then, as you didn’t come, he started off in his motor to find you. He must have gone to the station first, or he would have met you sooner.”
To all this Nan listened with a set face, while she raced through her dressing. She made no comment whatever. The only signs that she heard lay in her tense expression and unsteady fingers.
They did not descend till the last minute, just as the carriage containing the Colonel and three more of his daughters was driving away.
Piet was standing like a massive statue in the hall. As the two girls came down, he moved forward.