There was no signature of any sort; none was needed, she hid the message away again, and for the rest of the afternoon she was almost feverishly gay to hide the turmoil of indecision at her heart.
She saw little of Caryl after luncheon, but he re-appeared again in time to drive her back in the dog-cart as they had come. She found him very quiet and preoccupied, on the return journey, but his presence no longer dismayed her. It was the consciousness that a way of escape was open to her that emboldened her.
They were nearing the end of the drive, when he at length laid aside his preoccupation and spoke:
“Have you made up your mind yet?”
That query of his was the turning point with her. Had he shown the smallest sign of relenting from his grim purpose, had he so much as couched his question in terms of kindness, he might have melted her even then; for she was impulsive ever and quick to respond to any warmth. But the coldness of his question, the unyielding mastery of his manner, impelled her to final rebellion. In the moment that intervened between his question and her reply her decision was made.
“You shall have my answer to-night,” she said.
He turned from her without a word, and a little wonder quivered through her as to the meaning of his silence. She was glad when they reached Rivermead and she could take refuge in her own room.
Here once more she read Brandon’s message; read it with a thumping heart, but no thought of drawing back. It was the only way out for her.
She dressed for dinner, and then made a few hasty preparations for her flight. She laid no elaborate plans for effecting it, for she anticipated no difficulty. The night would be dark, and she could rely upon her ingenuity for the rest. Failure was unthinkable.
When they rose from the table she waited for Vera and slipped a hand into her arm.
“Do make an excuse for me,” she whispered. “I have had a dreadful day, and I can’t stand any more. I am going upstairs.”
“My dear!” murmured back Vera, by way of protest.
Nevertheless she made the excuse almost as soon as they entered the drawing-room, and Doris fled upstairs on winged feet. At the head she met Caryl about to descend; almost collided with him. He had evidently been up to his room to fetch something.
He stood aside for her at once.
“You are not retiring yet?” he asked.
She scarcely glanced at him. She would not give herself time to be disconcerted.
“I am coming down again,” she said, and ran on.
Barely a quarter of an hour after the encounter with Caryl, dressed in a long dark motoring coat and closely veiled, she slipped down the back stairs that led to the servants’ quarters, stood listening against a baize door that led into the front hall, then whisked it open and fled across to open the conservatory door, noiseless as a shadow.