“No,” Merryon said. “It can’t be done, child. I can’t risk that. Besides, there’d be no one to look after you.”
She slipped to her feet in a flare of indignation. “You’re a pig, Billikins! You’re a pig!” she cried, and tore her hands free. “I’ve a good mind to run away from you and never come back. It’s what you deserve, and what you’ll get, if you aren’t careful!”
She was gone with the words—gone like a flashing insect disturbing the silence for a moment, and leaving a deeper silence behind.
Merryon looked after her for a second or two, and then philosophically continued his meal. But the slight frown remained between his brows. The veranda seemed empty and colourless now that she was gone.
The Burtons’ dinner-party was a very cheerful affair. The Burtons were young and newly married, and they liked to gather round them all the youth and gaiety of the station. It was for that reason that Puck’s presence had been secured, for she was the life of every gathering; and her husband had been included in the invitation simply and solely because from the very outset she had refused to go anywhere without him. It was the only item of her behaviour of which worthy Mrs. Paget could conscientiously approve.
As a matter of fact Merryon had not the smallest desire to go, but he would not say so; and all through the evening he sat and watched his young wife with a curious hunger at his heart. He hated to think that he had hurt her.
There was no sign of depression about Puck, however, and he alone noticed that she never once glanced in his direction. She kept everyone up to a pitch of frivolity that certainly none would have attained without her, and an odd feeling began to stir in Merryon, a sensation of jealousy such as he had never before experienced. They seemed to forget, all of them, that this flashing, brilliant creature was his.
She seemed to have forgotten it also. Or was it only that deep-seated, inimitable coquetry of hers that prompted her thus to ignore him?
He could not decide; but throughout the evening the determination grew in him to make this one point clear to her. Trifle as she might, she must be made to understand that she belonged to him, and him alone. Comrades they might be, but he held a vested right in her, whether he chose to assert it or not.
They returned at length to their little gimcrack bungalow—the Match-box, as Puck called it—on foot under a blaze of stars. The distance was not great, and Puck despised rickshaws.
She flitted by his side in her airy way, chatting inconsequently, not troubling about response, as elusive as a fairy and—the man felt it in the rising fever of his veins—as maddeningly attractive.
They reached the bungalow. She went up the steps to the rose-twined veranda as though she floated on wings of gossamer. “The roses are all asleep, Billikins,” she said. “They look like alabaster, don’t they?”