She made a quick, passionate gesture of protest, and moved away from him.
“Have you any alternative in your mind?” he asked.
She remained with her back to him.
“I shall go away,” she said, a sudden note of recklessness in her voice. “I shall travel.”
“Alone?” he questioned.
“Yes, alone.” This time her voice rang defiance. She wheeled round quivering from head to foot. “But for you,” she said, “but for your unwarrantable interference I should never have been placed in this hateful, this impossible, position. I should have been with my friends in London. It would have been my wedding-day.”
The attack was plainly unexpected. Even Caryl was taken by surprise. But the next moment he was ready for her.
“Then by all means,” he said, “let me take you to your friends in London. Doubtless your chivalrous lover has found his way thither long ere this.”
She stamped like a little fury.
“Do you think I would marry him—now? Do you think I would marry any one after—after what happened last night? Oh, I hate you—I hate you all!”
Her voice broke. She covered her face, with tempestuous sobbing, and sank into a chair.
Caryl stood silent, biting his lip as if in irresolution. He did not try to comfort her.
After a while, her weeping still continuing, he leant across the table.
“Doris,” he said, “leave off crying and listen to me. I know it is out of the question for you to marry that scoundrel whom I had the pleasure of thrashing last night. It always has been out of the question. That is one reason why I have been keeping such a hold upon you. Now that you admit the impossibility of it, I set you free. But you will be wise to think well before you accept your freedom from me. You are in an intolerable position, and I am quite powerless to help you unless you place yourself unreservedly in my hands and give me the right to protect you. It means a good deal, I know. It means, Doris, the sacrifice of your independence. But it also means a safe haven, peace, comfort, if not happiness. You may not love me. I never seriously thought that you did. But if you will give me your trust—I shall try to be satisfied with that.”
Love! She had never heard the word on his lips before. It sent a curious thrill through her to hear it then. She had listened to him with her face hidden, though her tears had ceased. But as he ended, she slowly raised her head and looked at him.
“Are you asking me to marry you?” she said.
“I am,” said Caryl.
She lowered her eyes from his, and began to trace a design on the table-cloth with one finger.
“I don’t want to marry you,” she said at length.
“I know,” said Caryl.
She did not look up.
“No, you don’t know. That’s just it. You think you know everything. But you don’t.