“Wouldn’t it have saved a lot of trouble,” she said, her voice very low but no longer uncertain, “if you had given me my freedom in the first place? Don’t you think you ought to have done that?”
“I don’t know,” Merrivale said. “That fellow spoilt my game. So I offer it to you now—with apologies.”
“I should have appreciated it—in the first place,” said Hilary, and suddenly there was a ripple of laughter in her voice like an echo of the water below them. “But now I—I—have no use for it. It’s too late. Do you know, Jack, I’m not sure he did spoil your game after all!”
He turned towards her swiftly, and she thrust out her hands to him with a quick sob that became a laugh as she felt his arms about her.
“You hairless monster!” she said. “What woman ever wanted freedom when she could have—Love?”
* * * * *
Two days later Viscount Merrivale’s friends at the club read with interest and some amusement the announcement that his marriage to Miss Hilary St. Orme had been fixed to take place on the last day of the month.
* * * * *
A high laugh rang with a note of childlike merriment from the far end of the coffee-room as Bernard Merefleet, who was generally considered a bear on account of his retiring disposition, entered and took his seat near the door. It was a decidedly infectious laugh and perhaps for this reason it was the first detail to catch his attention and to excite his disapproval.
He frowned as he glanced at the menu in front of him.
He had arrived in England after an absence of twenty years in America, where he had made a huge fortune. He was hungering for the quiet unhurried speech of his fellow-countrymen, for the sights and sounds and general atmosphere of English life which for so long had been denied to him. And the first thing he heard on entering the coffee-room of this English hotel was the laugh of an American woman.
He had thought that in this remote corner of England—this little, old-world fishing town, with its total lack of entertainment, its unfashionable beach, and its wild North Sea breakers—no unit of the great Western race would have set foot. He had believed its entire absence of attraction to be a sure safeguard, and he was unfeignedly disgusted to discover that this was not the case.
As he ate his dinner the high laugh broke in on his meditations again and again, and his annoyance grew to a sense of savage irritation. He had come over to England for a rest after a severe illness, and with an intense craving, after his twenty years of stress and toil, to stand aside and watch the world—the English, conservative world he loved—dawdle by.
He wanted to bury himself in an unknown fishing-town and associate with the simple, unflurried fisher-folk alone. It was a dream of his—a dream which he had imagined near its fulfilment when he had arrived in the peaceful little world of Old Silverstrand.