Today's Reading

She was looking up at him and suddenly it struck Christopher that her eyes were like great deep sapphire pools, sparkling with summer light. It also struck him that Gwendolyn Penhallow was, in fact, beautiful. Tall, willowy, with delicate features and bright golden hair and a mouth the color of a ripe peach. She was right: girls did get married at fourteen. To cover a rush of confused—confusing—emotions, he said sarcastically:

"I thought girls were supposed to wait for a proposal."

She waved a delicate-looking hand in the air. "Oh, who cares? Besides, wouldn't it be a splendid adventure? We could leave in the dead of night and slip away to Scotland! Gretna Green's only fifty miles away. I checked in our atlas. Just think of it," she went on, dreamily. "Married over the anvil, just like a hero and heroine in a romantic story."

Revolted, he said, "It sounds ghastly."

"I'd have to leave a note, of course." Gwendolyn's expression was still dreamy. "The heroine usually does. She leaves it on her dresser, and sometimes it's all splotched with her tears. Although you'd think the ink would run and make the note difficult to read, wouldn't you? I won't cry, naturally, but I do think a note is important. I'd hate for Mama and everyone to be worried about us. Would you leave a note for your father and Diana?"

Christopher straightened up, his mind racing. A note. What would he say? Take that, you old windbag. Father was always prosing on about university, the importance of getting good marks, the need to be prudent and cautious, how he was looking forward to Christopher joining him in his offices (a damned horrid stuffy place filled with people who sat around shuffling papers back and forth), and on and on till Christopher all too frequently felt as if he would explode with anger and impatience.

Now, picturing Father's reaction upon discovering that his only son had, at seventeen, embarked on a runaway marriage—a decidedly imprudent, incautious act—Christopher felt defiant glee overtake him. Ha! How furious Father would be. He tossed his axe aside.

"Let's do it."

Gwendolyn laughed and gave a little bounce on her toes. "Oh, Christopher, that's wonderful! It'll solve everything. Thank you very much. By the way, did you know we have a cousin in Scotland? He's a chieftain named Alasdair who lives in the Highlands. We've never met him but I'm positive he's one of those fierce, bloodthirsty sorts, so we'd probably better avoid that part of Scotland. Although wouldn't it be a lark to meet a real Scottish chieftain? Do you think he wears kilts every day? Will you start wearing kilts? I wonder if your knees will get cold."

Revolted all over again, Christopher said, "Focus, for God's sake. When shall we leave?"

"Oh, the sooner the better! And at night, don't you think? The moon will be full in a few days, which means we can travel more quickly. Also it will be more romantic that way."

Romantic or not, she was right about the moon making it easier to travel. And that it would be better to leave under the cover of darkness. What else? He'd need to pay for their coach fares, and for lodgings and food also. After they were married, they could travel further north, up into the coastal wilds of western Scotland (and, he supposed, bypassing her unsavory relation Alasdair). How much money did he have on hand? He thought about it. Probably thirty pounds or so. It was enough to get them away from here. And gone forever. No more useless arguments with Father, ever again. Freedom beckoned—

Then he remembered something.

A small, minute, critically important detail. Oh, bloody hell, but he was fortune's fool.

He told her, "I won't come into my money till I'm twenty-one. You can have it. You can have all of it. But not now."

Even as he said it, he saw the happiness fade from Gwendolyn's exquisitely pretty face.

"But that's years from now. That won't do at all. Oh, Christopher, we need it right away."

Well, that was that, then. His world closed in upon him again—his many failures, Father's disappointment and disapproval, Diana fluttering around him like a small maddening moth in a house far too big for just the three of them—and Christopher could feel his scowl returning, his brows drawing together, the quick downturn of his mouth. He shrugged, turned away, picked up his axe. "Sorry," he said, and didn't wait for her to leave before he brought the axe down into another yew log and sundered it in two.

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