Everyone in the station wanted to know Merryon’s bride. People had begun by being distant, but that phase was long past. Puck Merryon had stormed the citadel within a fortnight of her arrival, no one quite knew how. Everyone knew her now. She went everywhere, though never without her husband, who found himself dragged into gaieties for which he had scant liking, and sought after by people who had never seemed aware of him before. She had, in short, become the rage, and so gaily did she revel in her triumph that he could not bring himself to deny her the fruits thereof.
On that particular morning in March he had gone to an early parade without seeing her, for there had been a regimental ball the night before, and she had danced every dance. Dancing seemed her one passion, and to Merryon, who did not dance, the ball had been an unmitigated weariness. He had at last, in sheer boredom, joined a party of bridge-players, with the result that he had not seen much of his young wife throughout the evening.
Returning from the parade-ground, he wondered if he would find her up, and then caught sight of her waving away the marauders in scanty attire on the veranda.
He called a greeting to her, and she instantly vanished into her room. He made his way to the table set in the shade of the cluster-roses, and sat down to await her.
She remained invisible, but her voice at once accosted him. “Good-morning, Billikins! Tell the khit you’re ready! I shall be out in two shakes.”
None but she would have dreamed of bestowing so frivolous an appellation upon the sober Merryon. But from her it came so naturally that Merryon scarcely noticed it. He had been “Billikins” to her throughout the brief three months that had elapsed since their marriage. Of course, Mrs. Paget disapproved, but then Mrs. Paget was Mrs. Paget. She disapproved of everything young and gay.
Merryon gave the required order, and then sat in stolid patience to await his wife’s coming. She did not keep him long. Very soon she came lightly out and joined him, an impudent smile on her sallow little face, dancing merriment in her eyes.
“Oh, poor old Billikins!” she said, commiseratingly. “You were bored last night, weren’t you? I wonder if I could teach you to dance.”
“I wonder,” said Merryon.
His eyes dwelt upon her in her fresh white muslin. What a child she looked! Not pretty—no, not pretty; but what a magic smile she had!
She sat down at the table facing him, and leaned her elbows upon it. “I wonder if I could!” she said again, and then broke into her sudden laugh.
“What’s the joke?” asked Merryon.
“Oh, nothing!” she said, recovering herself. “It suddenly came over me, that’s all—poor old Mother Paget’s face, supposing she had seen me last night.”
“Didn’t she see you last night? I thought you were more or less in the public eye,” said Merryon.