“You were very nearly too late,” she told him. “Why didn’t you come before?”
He looked awkward for a moment. Then—
“I was busy,” he said rather shortly. “I’m one of the stewards.”
He scrawled his initials across her card and left her again. Audrey concluded in her girlish way that something had made him cross, and dismissed him from her mind.
When at length he came to claim her she was hot and tired and suggested sitting out.
He frowned at the idea, but, upon Audrey waxing imperious, he yielded. They sat out together, but not in the cool dark of the veranda as she had anticipated, but in the full glare of the ballroom amidst all the hubbub of the dancers.
Audrey was annoyed, and showed it.
“I am sure we might find a seat on the veranda,” she said.
But Phil was obstinate.
“I assure you, Mrs. Tudor,” he said, “I looked in there just now, and every seat was occupied.”
“I don’t believe you are telling the truth,” she returned.
He raised his eyebrows.
“Thank you!” he said briefly.
Something in the curt reply caught her attention, and she gave him a quick glance. He was looking remarkably handsome in his red and gold uniform with the scarlet cummerbund across his shirt. Vexed as she was with him, Audrey could not help admitting it to herself. His brown, resolute face attracted her irresistibly.
She allowed a considerable pause to ensue before she went to the inevitable attack. Somehow, notwithstanding his surliness, she had not the faintest desire to quarrel with him.
“You’re very grumpy to-night,” she remarked at length in her cheery young voice. “What’s the matter?”
He started and looked intensely uncomfortable.
“Nothing—of course!” he said.
“Why of course? I wonder. With me it’s the other way round. I am never cross without a reason.”
Audrey was still cheery.
He smiled faintly.
“I congratulate you,” he said.
Audrey smiled also. Fully exposed as was their position, there was no one near enough to overhear.
“Well, don’t be cross any more, Phil,” she said persuasively. “Cheer up, and come to tiffin with me to-morrow. Will you? I shall be quite alone.”
Phil’s smile departed instantly. He glanced at her for a second, and then fixed his eyes steadily upon the ground between his feet.
“You’re awfully good!” he said at last. “But—thanks very much—I can’t.”
“Can’t?” echoed Audrey, with genuine disappointment. “Oh, I’m sure that’s nonsense! Why can’t you? You’re not on duty?”
“No,” he said, speaking slowly, “I’m not on duty; but—fact is, I’m going up to the Hills shooting for a few days and—I shall be busy, packing guns and things. Besides—”
“Oh, do stop!” she broke in, with sudden impatience. “I know you are only making up as you go along. It’s very horrid of you, besides being contemptible. Why can’t you say at once that you are not coming because you don’t want to come?”