Chapter XII
 

During the whole three weeks of the voyage Hone took no further action.

Nina saw him every day of those interminable weeks, but he made no sign. He did not seek her out, neither did he avoid her, but continually he mystified her by the cheery indifference of his bearing.

He became--as was almost inevitable--an immense favourite on board. He was in the thick of every amusement, and no entertainment was complete without him. No rumour of the extraordinary circumstances that had led to his undertaking the voyage had reached their fellow passengers. No one suspected that anything unusual existed between the winning, frank-faced Irishman and the silent young widow who so seldom looked his way. No one had heard of the wedding party that had lacked a bride.

But everyone welcomed Hone, V.C., as a tremendous acquisition, and Hone, V.C., laughed his humorous, good-tempered laugh, and placed himself unreservedly and impartially at everyone's disposal.

Nina never saw him in private. In public he treated her with the kindly courtesy he extended to every woman on board. There was not in his manner the faintest hint of anything deeper. He would laugh into her eyes with absolute friendliness. And yet from the depths of her soul she feared him. She knew that he was continuing the game that she had wantonly begun. She knew that there was more to come, that he had not done with her, that he was merely waiting, as an experienced player knows how to wait, till the time arrived to play his final card.

What that final card could be she had not the remotest idea, but she awaited it with an almost morbid sense of dread. His very forbearance seemed ominous.

On the night before their arrival there was a dance on board. Nina, who had not joined in any of these gaieties for the simple reason that she had no heart for them, rose from dinner with the intention of going to her cabin. But as she passed out of the saloon, Hone stepped forward and intercepted her.

"Will you give me a dance, Mrs. Perceval?"

She looked up at him, meeting his eyes with an effort.

"I am not dancing," she said.

"Just one," he pleaded, with that air of gallantry that cloaked she knew not what.

She hesitated, and then, almost in spite of herself, with something of the old regal graciousness, she yielded.

"Just one, then, Major Hone, since to-morrow it will be good-bye."

He thanked her with a deep bow, and promptly led her away.

They danced the first waltz together in unbroken silence. Nina kept her face studiously turned over her shoulder. Not once did she glance at her partner, whose quiet dancing and steady arm told her nothing.

When it was over, he led her to a seat in full view of the other dancers, and sat down beside her. For a few seconds he maintained his silence, then quietly he turned and spoke.

"Are you going to stay in London?"

The direct question surprised her. Somehow, though he had given her small reason to do so, she had come to expect naught but subtle strategy from him.

"I shall spend one night there," she said, after a moment's thought.

"No longer?"

She faced him calmly, though her heart had begun to leap and race within her.

"Why do you ask?"

"Why don't you answer?" said Hone.

He was smiling faintly, but there was determination in the set of his jaw.

"Because," she said slowly, "I am not sure that I want you to know."

"Why not?" said Hone. She shook her head in silence. "It's sorry I am to hear it," he said, after a brief pause. "For if it's to be a game of hide-and-seek I shall soon run you to earth."

She raised her eyebrows. Had they been alone together she knew that she could not have disguised her fear. It had grown upon her marvellously of late. But the publicity of their intercourse endued her with a certain courage.

"What is it that you want of me?" she said.

He met her eyes with absolute steadiness.

"I will tell you," he said, "the next time we meet."

She tried to laugh to hide the wild tumult his words stirred up.

"Is that a promise?"

"My solemn bond," said Hone.

She rose.

"I shall stay at the Seton Ward Hotel for a week," she said. "Good-night!"

He rose also; they stood for a moment face to face.

"Alone?" he asked.

And again, with a reckless sense of throwing herself upon his mercy, she made brief reply.

"I haven't a friend in the world."

He gave her his arm.

"Any enemies?" he asked.

They were at the door before she answered.

"Yes--one."

For an instant his arm grew tense, detaining her.

"And that?" he questioned.

She withdrew her hand sharply.

"Myself," she said, and swiftly, without another glance, she left him.