Very reluctantly Dot submitted. She had not the faintest inkling of his intentions or her docility would have vanished on the instant. As it was, fortified by Anne’s presence, she yielded to his insistence.
The hall was full of people to whom Mrs. Errol was dispensing tea, assisted by Bertie, who had emerged from his den for the purpose. Bertie’s studies did not permit him to take any part in the theatricals. Possibly Nap’s position at the head of affairs had assisted his resolution in this respect.
He was sitting on the arm of Lucas’s chair, hastily gulping some tea in an interval snatched from his ministrations, when Anne entered, closely followed by Dot and his brother. Some instinct moved him to turn and look, for in the general buzz of talk and laughter around him he could have heard nothing of their approach. He looked, then stared, finally stood up and set down his cup abruptly.
As Nap came towards him, still holding Dot by the hand, he turned white to the lips and moved forward.
A sudden silence fell as they met. They were the centre of the crowd, the centre of observation, the centre of an unseen whirlpool of emotions that threatened to be overwhelming.
And then with a smile Nap put an end to a tension of expectancy that had become painful.
“Hullo, Bertie!” he said, and smote him on the shoulder with a vigorous hand. “I’ve just been hearing about your engagement, my dear fellow. Congratulations! May you and Dot have the best of everything all your lives!”
Poor Dot would have fled had that been possible, but she was hedged in too closely for that. Moreover, Nap had transferred her hand to Bertie’s, and the boy’s warm grasp renewed her fainting courage. She knew he was as amazed as she was herself at Nap’s sudden move, and she determined that she would stand by him at whatever cost.
And after all, the difficult moment passed very quickly. People crowded round them with kindly words, shook hands with them, chaffed them both, and seemed to be genuinely pleased with the turn of events. Mrs. Errol came forward in her hearty way and kissed them; and in the end Dot found herself in Bertie’s vacated place on the arm of Lucas’s chair, with his steady hand holding hers, and his quiet, sincere voice telling her that he was “real glad that the thing was fixed up at last.”
Later Bertie took her home in the motor, and explained the situation to the rector, who was mildly bewildered but raised no definite objection to the announcement of the engagement. He was something of a philosopher, and Bertie had always been a favourite of his. Nap in fact was the only member of the Errol family for whom he did not entertain the most sincere esteem; but, as Dot remarked that night, Nap was a puzzle to everybody. It seemed highly probable after all that he carried a kind heart behind his cynical exterior. She was sure that Lady Carfax thought so, since she invariably treated him as an intimate friend.