“I know,” he assented. “I was asked, but I didn’t see the fun of it. It puts my back up to see Penelope monopolized by that fellow,” he added gloomily.
“Well, listen to what I have to say,” the Duchess went on. “Something happened there—I don’t know what—to upset Penelope very much. She never spoke a word coming home, and she has gone straight up to her room and locked herself in. Somehow or other the Prince managed to offend her. I am sure of that, Charlie!”
“I’m beastly sorry,” Somerfield answered. “I meant to say that I was jolly glad to hear it.”
The Duchess coughed.
“I didn’t quite hear what you said before,” she said severely. “Perhaps it is just as well. I rang up to say that you had better come round and dine with us tonight. You will probably find Penelope in a more reasonable frame of mind.”
“Awfully good of you,” Somerfield declared heartily. “I’ll come with pleasure.”
Dinner at Devenham House that evening was certainly a domestic meal. Even the Duke was away, attending a political gathering. Penelope was pale, but otherwise entirely her accustomed self. She talked even more than usual, and though she spoke of a headache, she declined all remedies. To Somerfield’s surprise, she made not the slightest objection when he followed her into the library after dinner.
“Penelope,” he said, “something has gone wrong. Won’t you tell me what it is? You look worried.”
She returned his anxious gaze, dry-eyed but speechless.
“Has that fellow, Prince Maiyo, done or said anything—”
She interrupted him.
“No!” she cried. “No! don’t mention his name, please! I don’t want to hear his name again just now.”
“For my part,” Somerfield said bitterly, “I never want to hear it again as long as I live!”
There was a short silence. Suddenly she turned towards him.
“Charlie,” she said, “you have asked me to marry you six times.”
“Seven,” he corrected. “I ask you again now—that makes eight.”
“Very well,” she answered, “I accept—on one condition.”
“On any,” he exclaimed, his voice trembling with joy. “Penelope, it sounds too good to be true. You can’t be in earnest.”
“I am,” she declared. “I will marry you if you will see that our engagement is announced everywhere tomorrow, and that you do not ask me for anything at all, mind, not even—not anything—for three months’ time, at least. Promise that until then you will not let me hear the sound of the word marriage?”
“I promise,” he said firmly. “Penelope, you mean it? You mean this seriously?”
She gave him her hands and a very sad little smile.
“I mean it, Charlie,” she answered. “I will keep my word.”
CHAPTER XV. PENELOPE EXPLAINS
Once more Penelope found herself in the library of the great house in Park Lane, where Mr. Blaine-Harvey presided over the interests of his country. This time she came as an uninvited, even an unexpected guest. The Ambassador, indeed, had been fetched away by her urgent message from the reception rooms, where his wife was entertaining a stream of callers. Penelope refused to sit down.