“Cheer up, darling!” besought Doris. “There is not the smallest cause for a wrinkled brow. Perhaps the experiment will turn out a success this time. Who knows? And even if it doesn’t, no one will be any the worse. I am sure Vivian Caryl will never break his heart for me.”
But Vera Abingdon shook her head.
“I don’t like you to be so wild, Dot. It makes people think lightly of you. And you know how angry Phil was last time.”
Dot snapped her fingers airily and rose.
“Who cares for Phil? Besides, it really was not my fault last time, whatever any one may say. Are you going to ask my fiance down to Rivermead for Easter? Because if so, I do beg you won’t tell everybody we are engaged. It is quite an informal arrangement, and perhaps, considering all the circumstances, the less said about it the better.”
She stopped and kissed Vera’s grave face, laughed again as though she could not help it, and flitted like a butterfly from the room.
“Where is Doris?” asked Phil Abingdon, looking round upon the guests assembled in his drawing-room at Rivermead. “We are all waiting for her.”
“I think we had better go in without her,” said his wife, with her nervous smile. “She arranged to motor down with Mrs. Lockyard and her party this afternoon. Possibly they have persuaded her to dine with them.”
“She would never do that surely,” said Phil, with an involuntary glance at Vivian Caryl who had just entered.
“If you are talking about my fiance, I think it more than probable that she would,” the latter remarked. “Mrs. Lockyard’s place is just across the river, I understand? Shall I punt over and fetch Doris?”
“No, no!” broke in his hostess anxiously. “I am sure she wouldn’t come if you did. Besides—”
“Oh, as to that,” said Vivian Caryl, with a grim smile, “I think, with all deference to your opinion, that the odds would be in my favour. However, let us dine first, if you prefer it.”
Mrs. Abingdon did prefer it, and said so hastily. She seemed to have a morbid dread of a rupture between Doris Fielding and her fiance, a feeling with which Caryl quite obviously had no sympathy. There was nothing very remarkable about the man save this somewhat supercilious demeanour which had caused Vera to marvel many times at Doris’s choice.
They went in to dinner without further discussion. Caryl sat on Vera’s left, and amazed her by his utter unconcern regarding the absentee. He seemed to be in excellent spirits, and his dry humour provoked a good deal of merriment.
She led the way back to the drawing-room as soon as possible. There was a billiard-room beyond to which the members of her party speedily betook themselves, and here most of the men joined them soon after. Neither Caryl nor Abingdon was with them, and Vera counted the minutes of their absence with a sinking heart while her guests buzzed all unheeding around her.