The bride snatched her hand from his knee with a swiftness of action that could hardly be mistaken. He might have been speaking in fun, but, even so, it was an ugly jest. More probably he had meant the sting that his words conveyed, for, owing to a delicate knee-cap that had once been splintered by a bullet and still at times gave him trouble, Major Tudor was a non-dancer. Whatever his meaning, the remark came upon her flushed triumph like the icy chill before the dawn, dispelling dreams.
“I am sorry,” she said, with all the haste of youth, “that you sacrificed yourself to please me. I hope you will not do so again. Now that I am married, I do not need a chaperon. I could quite well return alone.”
It was childishly spoken, but then she was a child, and the admiration she had enjoyed throughout the evening had slightly turned her head. He did not reply to her speech. Indeed, it was as if he had not heard it. And her indignation mounted. There was not another man of her acquaintance who would have treated her with a like lack of courtesy. Did he think, because he was her husband, that she belonged to him so completely that he could behave to her exactly as he saw fit? Perhaps. She did not know him very well; nor apparently did he know her. For during the brief six weeks of their married life she had been a little shy, a little constrained, in his presence. But her success had, as it were, unshackled her. Without hesitation she gave her feelings the rein.
“Do you consider that I am not to be trusted?” she asked him sharply.
“I beg your pardon?”
There was a note of surprised interrogation in his voice. She did not look at him, but she knew that his eyebrows were raised, and a faint—quite a faint—sense of misgiving stole over her.
“I asked if you thought me untrustworthy,” she asked.
He relapsed into silence again, and she became exasperated.
“Why don’t you answer me?” she said, with quick impatience.
He turned his head deliberately and looked at her; and again she tingled with an apprehension which no previous word or action of his had ever justified.
“Unprofitable questions,” he said coolly, “like ill-timed jests, are better left alone.”
It was the first intentional snub he had ever administered to her, and she quivered under it, furious but impotent. All the evening’s enjoyment had gone out of her. She was conscious only of a desire to strike back and wound him as he had wounded her.
She did not utter another word during the drive, and when they reached their bungalow—the daintiest and most luxurious in the station—she alighted without touching the hand he offered her.
Refreshments awaited them in the dining-room, and the bride swept in and helped herself, suffering her cloak to fall from her shoulders. He picked it up and threw it over a chair. His dark face was quite composed and inscrutable. He was not a handsome man, but there was something undeniably striking about him, a strength of personality that made him somehow formidable. The red and gold uniform he wore served to emphasise the breadth of shoulder, which his height did not justify. He was a splendid wrestler. There was not a man in the mess whom he could not throw.