He had passed out of sight behind some trees, but as she turned she heard a footfall in the wood close at hand, and almost simultaneously a man emerged carrying a gun.
He stopped at sight of her, and on the instant Doris made a swift movement of recognition.
“Why Hugh!” she said.
He came straight to her, with hand outstretched. “My dear, dear girl!” he said.
Her hand lay in his, held in a clasp such as Hugh Chesyl had never before given her, and then all in a moment she withdrew it.
“Why, where have you come from?” she said, with a little nervous laugh.
His eyes looked straight down to hers. “I’ve been yachting,” he said, “along Argyll and Skye. I didn’t know till the day before yesterday about the poor old Colonel. I came straight back directly I knew, got here this morning, but heard that you had gone to town. I was going to follow you straightway, but the squire wouldn’t hear of it. You know what he is. So I had to compromise and spend one night with him. By Jove! it’s a bit of luck finding you here. I’m pleased, Doris, jolly pleased. I’ve been worried to death about you—never moved so fast in my life.”
“Haven’t you?” said Doris; she was still smiling a small, tired smile. “But why? I don’t see.”
“Don’t you?” said Hugh. “How shall I explain? You have got such a rooted impression of me as a slacker that I am half afraid of taking your breath away.”
She laughed again, not very steadily. “Oh, are you turning over a new leaf? I am delighted to hear it.”
He smiled also, his eyes upon hers. “Well, I am, in a way. It’s come to me lately that I’ve been an utter ass all this time. I expect you’ve been thinking the same, haven’t you?”
“No, I don’t think so,” said Doris.
“No? That’s nice of you,” said Hugh. “But it’s the truth nevertheless. I haven’t studied the art of expressing myself properly. I can’t do it even yet. But it occurred to me—it just occurred to me—that perhaps I’d never succeeded in making you understand how awfully badly I want to marry you. I think I never told you so. I always somehow took it for granted that you knew. But now—especially now, Doris, when you’re in trouble—I want you more than ever. Even if you can’t love me as I love you—”
He stopped, for she had flung out her hands with an almost agonized gesture, and her eyes implored him though she spoke no word.
“Won’t you listen to me just this once—just this once?” he pleaded. “My dear, I love you so. I love you enough for both if you’ll only marry me, and give me the chance of making you happy.”
An unwonted note of feeling sounded in his voice. He stretched out his hand to her.
“Doris, darling, won’t you change your mind? I’m miserable without you.”
And then very suddenly Doris found her voice. She spoke with breathless entreaty. “Hugh, don’t—don’t! I can’t listen to you. I married Jeff Ironside this morning.”