A Question of Trust by Ethel M. Dell
And Stephanie slept. From her paroxysm of weeping she passed into deep, untroubled slumber, and hour after hour slipped over her unconscious head while she lay at rest.
When she awoke at last the evening sun was streaming in through the tiny porthole by the head of her couch, and she knew that she must have slept throughout the day. She was very drowsy still, and for a while she lay motionless, listening to the monotonous beat of the yacht's engines, and watching the white spray as it tossed past.
Very gradually she began to remember what had happened to her. She glanced at her wounded hand, swathed in bandages and resting upon a cushion. Who had arranged it so, she wondered? How had it been done without her waking?
At the back of her mind hovered the answers to both these questions, but she could not bring herself to face them--not yet. She was loth to withdraw herself from the haze of sleep that still hung about her. She shrank intuitively from a full awakening.
And then, while she still loitered on the way to consciousness, there came a soft movement near her, and in a moment all her repose was shattered.
Pierre, his dark face grimly inscrutable, bent over her with a cup of something steaming in his hand.
She shrank at the sight of him. Her whole body seemed to contract. Involuntarily almost she shut her eyes. Her heart leapt and palpitated within her like a chained thing seeking to escape.
Then suddenly it stood still. He was speaking.
"Mademoiselle Stephanie," he said, "I beg you will not agitate yourself. You have no cause for agitation. It is not by my own wish that I intrude upon you. I have no choice."
It was curtly uttered. It sounded rigidly uncompromising. Yet, for some reason wholly inexplicable to herself, she was conscious of relief. She opened her eyes, though she did not dare to raise them.
"How is that, monsieur?" she said faintly.
He was silent for a moment; then:
"There is no woman on board besides yourself," he told her briefly. "Your own people deserted you. I had no time to search for others."
She felt as if his eyes were drawing her own. Against her will she looked up and met them. They told her nothing, but at least they did not frighten her afresh.
"Where are you going to take me?" she asked.
"We will speak of that later," he said. "Will you drink this now? You need it."
"What is it, monsieur?"
For an instant she saw his faint, hard smile.
"It is broth, mademoiselle, nothing more."
"Nothing?" she said, still hesitating. "You--I think you gave me a narcotic before!"
"I did," said Pierre. "And it did you good."
She did not attempt to contradict him. The repression of his manner held her silent. Without further demur she sought to raise herself.
But her head swam the moment she lifted it from the pillow, and she sank down again with closed eyes and drawn brows.
"In a moment," she whispered.
"Permit me," said Pierre quietly; and slipped his arm under her pillow.
She looked up sharply to protest, but the words died on her lips. She saw that he would not be denied.
He supported her with absolute steadiness while she drank, not uttering a word. Finally, he lowered her again, and spoke:
"It is time that your wound was attended to. With your permission I will proceed with it at once."
"Is it serious, monsieur?" she asked.
"I can tell you better when I have seen it," he rejoined, beginning to loosen the bandage. "Does it pain you?" as she winced.
"A little," she acknowledged, with quivering lips.
He glanced at her, and for the first time in all her experience of him he spoke with a hint of kindness.
"It will not take long, Mademoiselle Stephanie. Shut your eyes till it is over."
She obeyed him mutely. Her fear of the man was merging into a curious feeling of reliance. She was beginning to realise that her enforced dependence upon him had in some fashion altered his attitude towards her.
"No," he said at last. "It is not a very serious matter, though it may give you some trouble till it is healed. You will need to keep very quiet, mademoiselle, and"--again momentarily she saw his smile--"avoid agitating yourself as much as possible."
"You may rely upon me to do that, monsieur," she returned with dignity; "if I am allowed to do so."
Again for an instant she felt his eyes upon her, and she thought he frowned; but he made no comment.
Quietly he finished his bandaging before he spoke again.
"If there is any other way in which I can serve you," he said then, "you have only to command me."
She turned upon her pillow and faced him. The gradual reviving of her physical strength helped her at least to simulate some of her ancient pride that he had trampled so ruthlessly underfoot.
"What do you mean by that?" she questioned calmly.
He met her look fully and sternly.
"I mean, Mademoiselle Stephanie, precisely what I have said--no more, no less!"
In spite of her utmost effort, she flinched a little. Yet she would not be conquered by a look.
"I am to treat you as my servant, then, monsieur?" she questioned.
He dropped his eyes suddenly from hers.
"If it suits you to do so," he said.
"The situation is not of my choosing," she reminded him.
"Nor mine," he answered drily.
Her heart sank, but with an effort she maintained a fair show of courage.
"Monsieur Dumaresq," she said, "I think that you mean to be kind. I shall act upon that assumption. Since I am thrown upon your hospitality under circumstances which neither of us would have chosen----"
"I did not say that, mademoiselle," he interposed. "I have no quarrel with the gods that govern circumstance. My only regret is that, as my guest, you should be inefficiently served. If you find yourself able to treat me as a servant it will be my pleasure to serve you."
She did not understand his tone. It seemed to her that he was trying in some fashion to warn her. Again the memory of his kiss swept over her; again to the very heart of her she shrank.
"I think," she said slowly, "that I am more your prisoner than your guest, Monsieur Dumaresq."
"It is not always quite wise to express our thoughts," he rejoined, with deliberate cynicism. "I have ventured to point that out to you before."
Again he baffled her. She looked at him doubtfully. He was standing up beside her on the point of departure. He returned her gaze with his steely eyes almost as though he challenged her to penetrate to the citadel they guarded.
With a sharp sigh she abandoned the contest. "I wish I understood you," she said.
He jerked his shoulders expressively.
"You knew me a week ago better than I knew myself," he remarked. "What more would you have?"
She did not answer him. She only moved her head upon the pillow with a gesture of weariness. She knew that she would search those pitiless eyes in vain for the key to the puzzle, and she only longed to be left alone. He could not, surely, refuse to grant her unspoken desire.
Yet for a moment it seemed that he would prolong the interview. He stood above her, motionless, arrogant, frowning downwards as though he had something more to say. Then, while she waited tensely, dreading the very sound of his voice, his attitude suddenly underwent a change. The thin lips tightened sharply. He turned away.