Her Hero by Ethel M. Dell
A musical soiree was to follow that interminable dinner, and for a time Priscilla was occupied in helping Lady Raffold to receive the after-dinner guests. She longed to escape before the contingent from the dining-room arrived upstairs, but she soon realised the impossibility of this. Her stepmother seemed to want her at every turn, and when at length she found herself free, young Lord Harfield appeared at her elbow.
It was intolerable. She turned upon him without pity.
"Oh, please," she said, "I've dropped my fan in the dining-room or on the stairs. Would you be so kind----"
He departed, not suspecting her of treachery; and she slipped forthwith into a tiny conservatory behind the piano. It was her only refuge. She could but hope that no one had seen her retire thither. Her need for solitude just then was intense. She felt herself physically incapable of facing the crowd in the music-room any longer. The first crashing chords of the piano covered her retreat. She shut herself softly in, and sank into the only chair the little place contained.
Her mind was a chaos of conflicting emotions. Anger, disappointment, and an almost insane exultation fought together for the mastery. She longed to be rational, to think the matter out quietly and impartially, and decide how to treat it. But her most determined efforts were vain. The music disturbed her. She felt as if the chords were hammering upon her brain. Yet when it suddenly ceased, the unexpected silence was almost harder to bear.
In the buzz of applause that ensued, the door behind her opened, and a man entered.
She heard the click of the key in the lock, and turned sharply to protest. But the words died on her lips, for there was that in his brown, resolute face that silenced her. She became suddenly breathless and quivering before him, as she had been that day on the down when he had taken her into his arms.
He withdrew the key, and dropped it into her lap.
"Open if you will," he said, in the quiet voice, half tender, half humorous, that she had come to know so well. "I am closely followed by the infant with the scowl."
Priscilla sat silent in her chair. What could she say to him?
"Well?" he said, after a moment. "The end of the story--is it written yet?"
She shook her head dumbly. Curiously, the throbbing anger had left her heart at the mere sound of his voice.
He waited for about three seconds, then knelt quietly down beside her.
"Say," he drawled, "I kind of like Raffold Abbey, sweetheart. Wouldn't it be nice to spend our honeymoon there? Do you think they would let us?" He laid his hand upon both of hers. "Wouldn't it be good?" he said softly. "I should think there would be room for two, eh, sweetheart?"
With an effort she sought to withstand him before he wholly dominated her.
"And every one will call it a mariage de convenance!"
"Let them!" he answered, with suppressed indifference. "I reckon we shall have the laugh. But it isn't so unusual, you know. Americans always fall in love at first sight."
He was unanswerable. He was sublime. She marvelled that she could have ever even attempted to resist him.
With a sudden, tremulous laugh, she caught his hand to her, holding it fast.
"Not Americans only!" she said. And swiftly, passionately, she bent and pressed her lips to the red, seared scar upon her hero's wrist.