Her quick pride had taken fire at sound of his deliberate excuse; and, as was its wont upon provocation, her anger flamed high at a moment’s notice.
Phil did not look at her. His expression was decidedly uneasy, but there was a certain grimness about him that did not seem to indicate the probability of any excessive show of docility in face of a browbeating.
“I don’t say it,” he said doggedly at length, “because, besides being rude, it wouldn’t be strictly true.”
“I shouldn’t have thought you would have had any scruples of that sort,” rejoined Audrey, hitting her hardest because he had managed to hurt her. “They haven’t been very apparent to-night.”
Phil made no protest, but he was frowning heavily.
She leant slightly towards him, speaking behind her fan.
“Be honest just for a second,” she said, “if you can, and tell me; are you tired of calling yourself a friend of mine? Are you trying to get out of it? Because, if you are, it’s quite the easiest thing in the world to do so. But once done—”
She paused. Phil was looking at her at last, and there was something in his eyes that startled her. A sudden pity rushed over her heart. She felt as she had felt once long ago in England when a dog—an old friend of hers—had been injured. He had looked at her with just such eyes as those that were fixed upon her now. Their dumb pleading had been almost more than she could bear.
Involuntarily she laid her hand on his arm, music and dancers all forgotten in that moment of swift emotion.
“Phil,” she whispered tremulously, “what is it? What is it?”
He did not answer her by a single word. He simply rose to his feet, as if by her action she had suggested it, and whirled her in among the dancers.
He kept her going to the very last chord, she too full of wonder and uncertainty to protest; and then he led her straight through the room to where Mrs. Raleigh stood, surrounded by the usual crowd of subalterns, muttered an excuse, and left her there.
It was nearly a week later that Audrey, riding home alone in a rickshaw from a polo-match, was overtaken by young Gerald Devereux, a subaltern, who was tearing along on foot as if on some urgent errand. Recognising her, he reduced his speed and dropped into a jog-trot by her side.
“You haven’t heard, of course?” he jerked out breathlessly. “Beastly bad news! Those hill tribes—always up to some devilry! Poor old Phil—infernal luck!”
“What?” exclaimed Audrey. “What has happened to him? Tell me, quick, quick!”
She turned as white as paper, and Devereux cursed himself for a clumsy fool.
“It may not be the worst,” he gasped back. “Dash it! I’m so winded! We hope, you know, we hope—but it’s usually a knife and good-bye with these ruffians. Still, there’s a chance—just a chance.”