“I’ll tell you in two words what to do. The whole thing is absurdly simple. You love this man and he loves you, and all that kept you apart before was the fact that he could not afford to marry you. Now that he is rich, there is no obstacle at all. I simply won’t let you look on me and my feelings as an obstacle. Rule me out altogether. Your father’s mistake has made the situation a little more complicated than it need have been, but that can easily be remedied. Imitate the excellent example of Reggie Byng. He was in a position where it would have been embarrassing to announce what he intended to do, so he very sensibly went quietly off and did it and left everybody to find out after it was done. I’m bound to say I never looked on Reggie as a master mind, but, when it came to find a way out of embarrassing situations, one has to admit he had the right idea. Do what he did!”
Maud started. She half rose from the stone seat. George could hear the quick intake of her breath.
“You mean—run away?”
“Exactly. Run away!”
An automobile swung round the corner of the castle from the direction of the garage, and drew up, purring, at the steps. There was a flood of light and the sound of voices, as the great door opened. Maud rose.
“People are leaving,” she said. “I didn’t know it was so late.” She stood irresolutely. “I suppose I ought to go in and say good-bye. But I don’t think I can.”
“Stay where you are. Nobody will see you.”
More automobiles arrived. The quiet of the night was shattered by the noise of their engines. Maud sat down again.
“I suppose they will think it very odd of me not being there.”
“Never mind what people think. Reggie Byng didn’t.”
Maud’s foot traced circles on the dry turf.
“What a lovely night,” she said. “There’s no dew at all.”
The automobiles snorted, tooted, back-fired, and passed away. Their clamour died in the distance, leaving the night a thing of peace and magic once more. The door of the castle closed with a bang.
“I suppose I ought to be going in now,” said Maud.
“I suppose so. And I ought to be there, too, politely making my farewells. But something seems to tell me that Lady Caroline and your brother will be quite ready to dispense with the formalities. I shall go home.”
They faced each other in the darkness.
“Would you really do that?” asked Maud. “Run away, I mean, and get married in London.”
“It’s the only thing to do.”
“But . . . can one get married as quickly as that?”
“At a registrar’s? Nothing simpler. You should have seen Reggie Byng’s wedding. It was over before one realized it had started. A snuffy little man in a black coat with a cold in his head asked a few questions, wrote a few words, and the thing was done.”
“That sounds rather . . . dreadful.”