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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 6. Christmas Morning
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The Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 6. Christmas Morning Post by :Maruli Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1491

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The Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 6. Christmas Morning


It was the strangest Christmas Day Olga had ever known, but she certainly had no time to be homesick.

She was roused by Nick scratching seductively at her window from the verandah, and, admitting him, she found him waiting to present a jeweller's box which contained a string of moonstones exquisitely set in silver. It was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen, and she was delighted with it.

Through the medium of her _ayah she had purchased a carved sandal-wood box from the bazaar for Nick, which she now presented, modestly hoping he didn't hate the smell.

"I adore it," declared Nick, sniffing it loudly. "It's just the East to me. I shall steep my ties in it. Many thanks, Olga _mia! Thine ancient uncle values the gift for the sake of the giver." He kissed her, and sat down on the edge of the bed, dangling his feet in a pair of violently coloured Oriental slippers. "I see His Excellency has sent us a thing like a clothes-basket full of fruit. Very kind of him, but a trifle overwhelming. There is no mail in yet, but some local parcels have arrived which the _khit is sorting with the face of a judge. Ah, here comes your little lot!" as the _ayah softly opened the door. "Shall I remove myself?"

"Of course not, Nick! Smoke a cigarette while I open them. They can't be anything very much."

The _ayah, smiling broadly, laid two parcels on the table by Olga's bedside. A third one, which was very small, she dropped with a mysterious gesture into her hand.

"What can this be?" questioned Olga. "Sambaji, what is it?"

But Sambaji shook her head. "Miss _sahib, how should I know?"

Olga suddenly turned crimson. She held out the tiny packet to Nick.

"You open it!" she said. "I'm sure it's something I don't want."

Nick made no movement to take it! "Sorry, dear. Two hands are better than one," he said.

Sambaji withdrew, still smiling.

Olga looked at the thing in the palm of her hand. She was trembling a little. "I don't want it, Nick," she said almost piteously.

Nick was heartless enough to laugh.

"Don't!" she pleaded, real distress in her tone. "Can't I send it back unopened?"

"Whom do you propose to send it to?" asked Nick, still chuckling.

She smiled faintly in spite of herself. "It's pretty certain where it comes from, isn't it?"

"Is it?" said Nick.

"Well, isn't it?" she persisted, still dubiously eyeing the unwelcome gift.

"I really can't say. But I don't see why you should be afraid of it in any case. To judge by the size of it, I shouldn't say it could be a very dangerous explosive."

She smiled again with obvious reluctance, and began to study the address on the packet. It was written in a very minute hand.

There followed a pause; then with abrupt resolution Olga's fingers began to work at the outer covering.

Nick watched her, amusement on his yellow face. "I'm not quite sure that two hands are better than one when they shake like that," he observed. "Ah, here comes the dedication!" as a tiny strip of paper fluttered from Olga's fingers. "It reminds me--vividly--of my own courtship. Quite sure you don't want me to go?"

"Nick!" she protested, with burning cheeks. "It's very horrid of you to laugh. Do you know what it is?"

"I can almost guess," he said, as a small leather case emerged from the paper. "I've seen 'em before."

Olga opened the case. It was lined with white velvet, and in the centre of it there flashed and glittered a diamond and emerald ring.

"Hullo!" said Nick.

Olga looked up at him with gleaming eyes. "Nick! How--how dare he!"

"It is pretty daring certainly," agreed Nick. "It's a valuable trifle--that."

Olga closed the case with a resolute snap. "I shall send it back at once."

"Hadn't you better read the dedication?" suggested Nick.

She took up the strip of paper, stretched it out, frowned at it. The writing on this also was minute. After a moment she read it out. "'_Dum spiro spero. N.W.' Just as I thought!"

"Do you know what it means?" asked Nick.

She shook her head vigorously. "And I don't want to know."

"Oh, that's a pity," he said. "Pray let me enlighten your ignorance. It means, '_While I breathe I hope_'--a very proper sentiment which does the young man infinite credit."

"I can't imagine how you can laugh," said Olga fierily, tearing the strip to fragments. "Can't you see I'm really angry?"

"My dear child, that's why!" chuckled Nick. "It's the best thing I've seen for a long time. The young man has all my gratitude. He has done more for my little pal than I with the best intentions could ever do myself."

She stretched out her hand to him then with a little smile. "Nick, you silly old boy! Well, tell me what to do!"

"Quite sure you don't like him?" questioned Nick.

"No. I do like him." Olga's smile deepened. "But I think it was outrageous of him to send me this thing. And I shall have to tell him so."

"I should," said Nick. "You will have ample opportunities when we get to Khantali. Take the thing with you and give it back to him there. Afterwards, if it seems necessary, I'll tell him to moderate the pace if you like. But the boy's a gentleman. I don't think it will be necessary." He smiled at her quizzically. "I knew it was coming, Olga _mia_. I can smell a love affair fifty miles away. But I shouldn't be persuaded to have him if I were you. He's altogether too young for matrimony by about ten years. Let him wait for Peggy Musgrave to grow up. He will be of a marriageable age by that time."

Olga laughed, and turned to her other parcels. Nick's worldly wisdom struck her as being a little funny when she knew herself to be so infinitely wiser than he.

She found the two remaining packets to contain presents from the Musgraves, some beautiful Indian embroidery from Daisy and a pair of little Hindu gods in carved ivory from Will. Nick stopped to admire these, and then betook himself to his own room to dress.

Left alone, Olga took up the ring-case once more, and slowly opened it. The stones glinted in the morning light, the diamonds white and intense, the emeralds piercingly green. She wondered why he had chosen emeralds; they seemed to her to belong to something in which he had no part. At the back of her mind there hovered a vague, elusive something like an insect on the wing. Suddenly it flashed into her full consciousness, and her eyes widened and grew dazed. She saw not the shimmering iridescence of the stones, but a darting green dragon-fly which for one fleeting instant poised before her vision and the next was gone. A sharp shudder assailed her. She closed the case....

When she met Nick again there was no trace of agitation about her. She seated herself behind the coffee-pot, and told him she had decided to go to church.

"I congratulate you," said Nick. "So have I."

They were half-way through breakfast when there came the ring of spurred heels on the verandah.

"Hullo!" said Nick. "Enter amorous swain!"

The colour leaped to Olga's face. She said nothing, and she certainly did not smile a welcome when Noel's brown face peered merrily in upon them.

"Happy Christmas to you, good people! May I come and break my fast, with you? I've been all round the town and this is the last port of call."

"Come in by all means!" said Nick. "Have you brought your harp?"

Noel clapped a free and easy hand upon his shoulder. "No, I haven't. I can't harp on a full heart alone. I've tied the Tempest to your garden palings. I hope he won't carry 'em away, for I can't pay any damages, being broke in every sense of the word! Good-morning, Olga! I'm calling everyone by their Christian names this morning in honour of the day. It's my birthday, by the way; hence my romantic appellation."

He dropped into a bamboo-chair and stretched out his arms with a smile of great benignity.

"I've even been to see Badgers," he said. "He was in his bath and didn't want to admit me. However, I gained my end, I generally do," said Noel complacently, with one eye cocked at Olga's rigidly unresponsive face.

"Who is Badgers?" asked Nick.

"Why, the C.O. of course. I didn't find him in at all a Christmas spirit; but it was beginning to sprout before I left. I say, I hope you are providing lots of beef for our consumption, Nick. It's the first Christmas I've spent out of England, and I don't want to be homesick. Any form of indigestion rather than that!" He turned suddenly upon Olga. "Why does the lady of the ceremonies preserve so uncompromising an attitude? I feel chilled to the marrow."

She controlled her blush before it could overwhelm her, and very sedately she made answer. "I am not feeling very pleased with you; that's why."

"Great heaven!" said Noel. "What on earth have I done?"

"You might have the decency to let me finish my breakfast in peace," protested Nick. "My appetite can't thrive in a stormy atmosphere."

Noel turned to him, smiling persuasively. "Can't you take your breakfast into the garden, old chap? I want to thresh this matter out at once. I'm sure you have your niece's permission to retire."

But at that, Olga rose from the table. "Suppose we go into the garden, Mr. Wyndham," she said.

Noel sprang up with a jingle of spurs. "By all means!"

"Get a hat, Olga!" said Nick.

She threw him a fleeting smile and departed.

Noel propped himself against the window-frame and waited. He did not appear greatly disconcerted by the turn of events. Without an effort he conversed with Nick on the chances of the forthcoming polo-match.

When Olga came along the verandah a minute later he stepped out and joined her with a smile.

They passed side by side down the winding path that led to the cypress walk. Olga's face was pale. She looked very full of resolution.

"I am quite sure you know what I am going to say," she said very quietly at length.

"You haven't wished me a happy Christmas yet," remarked Noel, still smiling his audacious smile. "Can it be that?"

Olga's face remained grave. "No," she said. "I don't feel friendly enough for that."

"I say, what have I done?" said Noel.

She stopped and faced him, and he suddenly saw that she was very nervous. She held out to him a little packet wrapped in tissue-paper.

"Mr. Wyndham," she said, speaking rapidly to cover her agitation, "you couldn't seriously expect me to accept this, whatever your motive for sending it. Please take it back, and let me forget all about it as quickly as possible!"

Noel's hand clasped hers instantly, packet and all. "My dear girl," he said softly, "don't be upset,--but you're making a mistake."

She looked up, meeting the Irish eyes with a tremor of reluctance. In spite of herself, she spoke almost with entreaty. For there was something about him that stirred her very deeply. "Please don't make things hard!" she said. "You know you have no right. I never gave you the smallest reason to imagine I would take such a gift from you."

Noel was still smiling; but there was nothing impudent about his smile. Rather he looked as if he wished to reassure her. "How did you know where it came from?" he said.

The colour she had been so studiously restraining rushed in a wave over her face. "Of course--of course I knew! Besides, there was a line with it."

"May I see the line?" said Noel.

She stared at him, her agitation increasing. What right had he to be so cool and unabashed?

"I tore it up," she said.

"What for?" said Noel.

Her eyes gleamed momentarily. "I was angry."

"Angry with me?" he questioned.


"Does it make you angry to know that a man cares for you?" he said.

Her eyes fell before the sudden fire that kindled in his with the words. "Don't!" she said rather breathlessly. "Please don't!"

"You ought to be sorry for me," he whispered, "not angry."

She turned her face aside. "Of course--that--would not make me angry. Only--only--you had no right to--to send me--a present--a valuable present."

"And if I didn't?" said Noel.

She looked at him in sheer astonishment. He still held her hand with the packet clasped in it.

"What if I am not the delinquent after all?" he said.

"What do you mean?" Her eyes met his again, wide and incredulous.

"What if I tell you that this packet--whatever it contains--did not come from me?"

He asked the question with a faint smile that set some chord of memory vibrating strangely in her soul. But she could not stop to wrestle with memory then. His words demanded her instant attention.

"Not come from you!" she repeated, as one dazed. "But it did! Surely it did!"

"Most surely it didn't!" said Noel.

She freed her hand and opened it, gazing at the subject of their discussion almost with fear. "Mr. Wyndham!"

"Call me Noel!" he said. "There's nothing in that. Everybody does it. And don't be upset on my account! It was a perfectly natural mistake. I'm deeply in love with you. But--all the same--this present did not come from me."

"It had your initials," she said, still only half believing.

"Then it was probably a hoax," said Noel.

"Oh, no! That's not possible. It--it--you see, it's valuable." Olga's voice was almost piteous.

"I say, don't mind!" he said. "It's just some other fellow's impudence. I'll kick him for you if I get the chance. You're quite sure about my initials?"

"Quite," she said.

"And what else was there?"

She frowned, "Only a Latin motto."

"Tell me!" he said persuasively.

She continued to frown. "It was '_Dum spiro spero_.'"

"Great Scott!" he said. "Do you think I should have been as presumptuous as that? I should have just said, '_With Noel's love_,' and you wouldn't have had the heart to fling it back again."

She smiled, not very willingly. "I can't understand it at all."

"I can," he said boldly. "I've known there was another fellow, ever since the first night I met you. But I've been hoping against hope that he didn't count. Does he count then?"

Olga turned sharply from him. She was suddenly trembling. "No!" she whispered.

He drew a step nearer to her. "Olga--forgive me--is that the truth?"

She controlled herself and turned back to him. "There is no one in India who would have sent me this," she said. "I can't account for it--in any way. Please forgive me for accusing you of what you haven't done. And--and--"

She stopped short, for he had caught her hands in an eager, boyish clasp. "Olga, don't--there's a dear!" he begged with headlong ardour. "I don't love you any the less because I didn't do it. I believe myself it's a beastly hoax, and I'm just as furious as you are. But, I say, can't we found a partnership on it? Is it asking too much? Pull me up if it is! I don't want to be premature. Only I won't have you sick or sorry about it, anyhow so far as I am concerned. You were quite right in thinking that I loved you. I do, dear, I do!"

"But you mustn't!" she said. She left her hands in his, but the face she raised was tired and sad and unresponsive. "I feel a dreadful pig, Noel," she said, speaking as if it were an effort. "I almost made you say it, didn't I? And it's just the one thing I mustn't let you say. You're so nice, so kind, such a jolly friend. But you're not--not--not--"

"Not eligible as a husband," suggested Noel.

"Don't use that horrid adjective!" she protested. "You make me feel worse and worse."

He laughed, his sudden, boyish laugh. "No, but there's nothing to feel bad about, really. And you didn't make me say it. I said it because I wanted to. Also, you're not bound to take me seriously. I'm not always in earnest--as you may have discovered. Look here, you've warned me off. Can't we talk about something else now?"

"If you're sure you don't mind," she said, smiling rather wistfully.

He cocked his eyebrows humorously. "Of course I mind. I mind enormously. But that's of no consequence. By the way, I suppose your funny little uncle isn't given to playing practical jokes?"

"Nick? Why no!" Olga surveyed him in astonishment. "Nick is the soul of wisdom," she said.

"Is he though?" Noel looked amused. "I must get him to give me a few hints," he observed. "I wonder if he has left any breakfast. You know, I haven't had any yet."

"Oh, let us go back!" said Olga turning. "And please do forget all about this tiresome misunderstanding! Promise you will!"

He waved his hand. "The subject is closed and will never be reopened by me without your permission. At the same time, let me confess that I have presumed so far as to procure a small Christmas offering for your acceptance. You won't refuse it, will you?"

Olga looked up dubiously; but the handsome young face that looked back would only laugh.

"What is it?" she said at length.

Gaily he made answer. "It's a parrot--quite a youngster. I picked him up in the bazaar. He isn't properly fledged yet, but he promises well. I'm keeping him for a bit to educate him. But if you won't have him, I shall wring his neck."

"I'm sure you wouldn't!" she exclaimed.

He continued to laugh, though her face expressed horror. "And you will be morally responsible; think of that! It's tantamount to being guilty of murder. Horrible idea, isn't it? You--who never in your life killed so much as a moth! Hullo! What's up?"

For Olga had made a sudden, very curious gesture, almost as if she winced from a threatened blow. Her face was white and strained; she pressed her hands very tightly over her heart.

"What's up?" he repeated, in surprise.

She gazed at him with the eyes of one coming out of a stupor. "I don't know," she said. "I had a queer feeling as if--as if--" She paused, seeming to wrestle with some inner, elusive vision. "There! It's gone!" she said, after a moment, disappointment and relief curiously mingled in her voice. "What were we talking about? Oh, yes, the parrot! It's very kind of you. I shall like to have it."

"I've christened it Noel," he remarked, with some complacence. "It's a Christmas present, you see."

"I see," said Olga, beginning to smile. "And you are teaching it to talk?"

"I'm only going to teach it one sentence," he said.

"Oh, what is it?"

He gave her a sidelong glance. "I don't think I'd better tell you."

"But why not?"

"It'll make you cross."

Olga laughed. Somehow she could not help feeling indulgent. Moreover, the interview was nearly at an end, for they were nearing the bungalow, and Nick's white figure was visible on the verandah.

"In that case," she said, "you had better not educate it any further."

"Oh, it won't make you cross on the bird's lips," Noel assured her.

"Has it got lips?" she asked. "What a curious specimen it must be!"

"I say, don't laugh!" he besought her, with dancing eyes. "It's not a joke, I assure you. I'll tell you what I'm teaching it to say if you like. But I shall have to whisper it. Do you mind?"

Again she found him hard to resist, albeit she did not want to yield. "Well?" she said.

They were close to the bungalow now. Noel came very near. "Of course you can wring the little brute's neck if it displeases you," he said, "but it's a corky youngster and I don't much think you will. He's learning to say, 'I love you, Olga.'"

Olga looked up on the verge of protest, but before she could utter it Nick's gay, cracked voice hailed them from above; and Noel, briskly answering, deprived her of the opportunity.

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