The Place of Honour by Ethel M. Dell
Chapter IV. An Unconventional Call
Audrey had been an only girl at home, and had run wild all her life amongst a host of brothers. She had seen next to nothing of the world previous to her marriage, consequently her knowledge of its ways was extremely slender.
That she had grown up headstrong and extremely unconventional was scarcely to be wondered at.
It had been entirely by her own choice that she had married Eustace Tudor. She had just awakened to the fact that the family nest, like the family purse, was of exceedingly narrow dimensions; and a passion for exploring both mentally and physically was hers.
They had met only a couple of months before he was due to sail for India, and his proposal to her had been necessarily somewhat precipitate. She had admired him wholeheartedly for he was a soldier of no mean repute, and the glamour of marriage had done the rest. She had married him and had, for nearly six weeks, thereafter, been supremely happy. True, he had not made much love to her; it was not apparently his way, but he had been full of kindness and consideration. And Audrey had been content.
But, arrived in that Indian Frontier station where all the world was gay, she had become at once the centre of attraction, of admiration; and, responding to this with girlish zest, she had begun to find something lacking in her husband's treatment.
It dawned upon her that, where others worshipped with open devotion, he did not so much as bend the knee. And, over and above this serious defect, he was critical of her actions and inclined to keep her in order.
This made her reckless at first, even defiant; but she found he could master her defiance, and that frightened her. It made her uncertain as to how far it was safe to resist him. And, being afraid of him, she shrank a little from too close or intimate a companionship with him.
She told herself that she valued her liberty too highly to part lightly with it; but the reason in her heart was not this, and with all her wilfulness, her childish self-sufficiency, she knew that it was not.
On the morning that followed the moonlight picnic she deliberately feigned sleep when he rose, lest he should think fit to prohibit her early ride. She had not slept well after her fright; but she had a project in her mind, and she fully meant to carry it out.
She lay chafing till his horse's hoof-beats told her that he was leaving the house behind him; then she, too, rose and ordered her own horse.
Phil Turner, haggard and depressed after a night of considerable pain, was sitting up in bed with his arm in a sling, drinking tea, when a fellow-subaltern, who with two others shared the bungalow with him, entered, half-dressed and dishevelled, with the astounding news that Mrs. Tudor was waiting in the compound to know how he was.
Phil shot upright in amazement.
"Good Heavens, man! She herself?" he ejaculated.
His brother officer nodded, grinning.
"What's to be done? Send out word that you're still alive though not too chirpy, and would she like anything to drink on the veranda? I can't go, you know; I'm not dressed."
"Don't be an ass! Clear out and send me my bearer."
Phil spoke with decision. Since Mrs. Tudor had elected to do this extraordinary thing, it was not for him to refuse to follow her lead. He was too far in her debt, even had he desired to do so.
His bearer, therefore, was dispatched with a courteous message, and when Phil entered the veranda a quarter of an hour later he found her awaiting him there.
"This is awfully kind of you," he said, as he grasped her outstretched hand. "I was horribly put out about you! You are none the worse?"
"Not a mite," she assured him. "And you? Your arm?"
He made a face.
"Raleigh was with me half the night, watching for dangerous symptoms; but they didn't develop. He cauterized my arm as a precaution--a beastly business. He hasn't been round again yet, but I believe it's better. Yes, it was a poisonous bite. It would have been the death of me in all probability, but for you. He told me so. I--I'm awfully obliged to you!"
He coloured deeply as he made his clumsy acknowledgments. He did not find it an easy task. As for Audrey, she put out her hands swiftly to stop him.
"Ah, don't!" she said. "You did a far greater thing for me." She shuddered and put the matter from her. "I'm sure you ought not to be up," she went on. "I shouldn't have waited, only I thought you might feel hurt if I went away after you had sent out word that you would see me. I think I'll go now. Good-bye!"
There came the jingle of spurs on the veranda, and both started. The colour rose in a great wave to the girl's face as she saw who it was, but she turned at once to meet the newcomer.
"Oh, Eustace," she said, "so you are back already from the parade-ground!"
He did not show any surprise at finding her there.
"Yes; just returned," he said, with no more than a quiet glance at her flushed face.
"How are you, Phil? Had any sleep?"
"Not much," Phil owned, with unmistakable embarrassment. "But Raleigh says I'm not going to die this time. It was good of you--and Mrs. Tudor--to look in. Won't you have something? That lazy beast Travers isn't dressed yet!"
"Oh, yes, he is!" said Travers, appearing at that moment. "I'll punch your head for you, my boy, when we're alone! Hullo, Major! Come to see the interesting invalid? You'll have some breakfast, won't you? Mrs. Tudor will pour out tea for us."
But Tudor declined their hospitality briefly but decidedly, and Audrey was obliged to support him.
Travers assisted her to mount, expressing his regret the while; and when they were gone he turned round to his comrade with a grin.
"The major seems to be in a genial mood this morning," he remarked. "Had they arranged to meet here?"
But Phil turned back into the bungalow with a heavy frown.
"The major's a bungling fool!" he said bitterly.