“There need be no scene,” he said. “You have only to come to me and give me the right to defend you. I ask for nothing better. Even Caryl would scarcely have the impertinence to dispute it. As my wife you will be absolutely secure from any interference.”
She was gazing at him wide-eyed.
“Do you mean a runaway marriage?” she questioned slowly.
He drew nearer still, and possessed himself of her hands.
“Yes, just that,” he said. “It would take a little courage, but you have plenty of that. And the rest I would see to. It wouldn’t be so very difficult, you know. Mrs. Lockyard would help us, and you would be absolutely safe with me. I haven’t much to offer you, I admit. I’m as poor as a church mouse. But at least you would find me”—he smiled into her startled eyes—“a very easy-going husband, I assure you.”
“Oh, I don’t know!” Doris said. “I don’t know!”
Yet still she left her hands in his and still she listened to him. That airy reference of his to his poverty affected her favourably. He would scarcely have made it, she told herself, with an unconscious effort to silence unacknowledged misgivings, if her fortune had been the sole attraction.
“Look here,” he said, breaking in upon these hasty meditations, “I don’t want you to do anything in a hurry. Take a little while to think it over. Let me know to-morrow. I am not leaving till the evening. You shall do nothing, so far as I am concerned, against your will. I want you, now and always, to do exactly as you like. You believe that?”
“I quite believe you mean it at the present moment,” she said with a decidedly doubtful smile.
“It will be so always,” said Brandon, “whether you believe it or not.”
And with considerable ceremony he raised her hands to his lips and deliberately kissed them. It seemed to Doris at that moment that even so headlong a scheme as this was not without its very material advantages. There were so many drawbacks to being betrothed.
AT CLOSE QUARTERS
When Doris descended to breakfast on the following morning she found an animated party in the dining-room discussing the best means of spending the day. Abingdon himself and most of his guests were in favour of attending an aviation meeting at Wynhampton a few miles away.
Caryl was not present, but as she passed through the hall a little later, he came in at the front door.
“I was just coming to you,” he remarked, pausing to flick the ash from his cigarette before closing the door. “I have been making arrangements for you to drive to Wynhampton with me.”
Doris made a stiff movement that seemed almost mechanical. But the next moment she recovered her self-control. Why was she afraid of this man, she asked herself desperately? No man had ever managed to frighten her before.