“Why?” said Caryl.
“Because I—I can’t possibly decide upon the spur of the moment,” she said confusedly.
Was he going to refuse her even this small request? It almost seemed that he was.
“How long will it take you?” he asked. “Will you give me an answer to-night?”
Her heart leapt to a sudden hope called to life by his words.
“To-morrow!” she said quickly.
“I said to-night.”
“Very well,” she rejoined, yielding. “To-night, if you prefer it.”
“Thanks. I do.”
They were his last words on the subject. He seemed to think it ended there, and there was nothing more to be said.
As for Doris, she sat by his side, outwardly calm but inwardly shaken to the depths. To be thus firmly caught in the meshes of her own net was an experience so new and so terrifying that she was utterly at a loss as to how to cope with it. Yet there was a chance, one ray of hope to help her. There was Major Brandon, the man who had offered her freedom. He was to have his answer to-day. For the first time she began seriously to ponder what that answer should be.
THE WAY TO FREEDOM
So far as Doris was concerned the aviation meeting was not a success. There were some wonderful exhibitions of flying, but she was too preoccupied to pay more than a very superficial attention to what she saw.
They lunched at a great hotel overlooking the aviation ground. The place was crowded, and they experienced some difficulty in finding places. Eventually Doris found herself seated at a square table with Caryl and two others in the middle of the great room.
She was studying a menu as a pretext for avoiding conversation with her fiance, when a man’s voice murmured hurriedly in her ear:
“Will you allow me for a moment please? The lady who has just left this table thinks she must have dropped one of her gloves under it.”
Doris pushed back her chair and would have risen, but the speaker was already on his knees and laid a hasty, restraining hand upon her. It found hers and, under cover of the table-cloth, pressed a screw of paper into her fingers.
The next instant he emerged, very red in the face, but triumphant, a lady’s gauntlet glove in his hand.
“Awfully obliged!” he declared. “Sorry to have disturbed you. Thought I should find it here.”
He smiled, bowed, and departed, leaving Doris amazed at his audacity. She had met this young man often at Mrs. Lockyard’s house, where he was invariably referred to as “the little Fricker boy.”
She threw a furtive glance at Caryl, but he had plainly noticed nothing. With an uneasy sense of shame she slipped the note into her glove.
She perused it on the earliest opportunity. It contained but one sentence:
“If you still wish for freedom, you can find it down by the river at any hour to-night.”