Part 4 out of 8
THE JESTER'S RETURN
The gradual coming of spring that year was like a benediction after the
prolonged rigour of the frost. The lengthening evenings were wrapped in
pearly mystery, through which the soft rain fell in showers of blessing
upon the waiting earth. To Anne, it was as though a great peace had
descended upon all things, quelling all tumult. She had resolutely taken
up her new burden, which was so infinitely easier than the old, and she
found a strange happiness in the bearing of it. The management of her
husband's estate kept her very fully occupied, so that she had no time
for perplexing problems. She took each day as it came, and each day left
Once only had she been to Baronmead since the masquerade on the ice. It
was in fulfilment of her promise to Nap, but she had not seen him; and as
the weeks slipped by she began to wonder at his prolonged silence. For
no word of any sort reached her from him. He seemed to have forgotten her
very existence. That he was well again she knew from Lucas, who often
came over in the motor with his mother.
As his brother had predicted he had made a rapid recovery; but no sooner
was he well than he was gone with a suddenness that surprised no one but
Anne. She concluded that his family knew where he was to be found, but no
news of his whereabouts reached her. Nap was the one subject upon which
neither Mrs. Errol nor her elder son ever expanded, and for some nameless
reason Anne shrank from asking any questions regarding him. She was
convinced that he would return sooner or later. She was convinced that,
whatever appearances might be, he had not relinquished the bond of
friendship that linked them. She did not understand him. She believed him
to be headlong and fiercely passionate, but beneath all there seemed to
her to be a certain stability, a tenacity of purpose, that no
circumstance, however tragic, could thwart. She knew, deep in the heart
of her she knew, that he would come back.
She would not spend much thought upon him in those days. Something
stood ever in the path of thought. Invariably she encountered it, and
as invariably she turned aside, counting her new peace as too precious
Meanwhile she went her quiet way, sometimes aided by Lucas, but more
often settling her affairs alone, neither attempting nor desiring to
look into the future.
The news of Sir Giles's illness spread rapidly through the neighbourhood,
and people began to be very kind to her. She knew no one intimately. Her
husband's churlishness had deprived her of almost all social intercourse,
but never before had she realised how completely he was held responsible
for her aloofness.
Privately, she would have preferred to maintain her seclusion, but it was
not in her to be ungracious. She felt bound to accept the ready sympathy
extended to her. It touched her, even though, had the choice been hers,
she would have done without it. Lucas also urged her in his kindly
fashion not to lead a hermit's existence. Mrs. Errol was insistent upon
"Don't you do it, dear," was her exhortation. "There may not be much good
to be got out of society, I'll admit. But it's one better than solitude.
Don't you shut yourself up and fret. I reckon the Lord didn't herd us
together for nothing, and it's His scheme of creation anyway."
And so Anne tried to be cordial; with the result that on a certain
morning in early May there reached her a short friendly note from Mrs.
Damer, wife of the M.F.H., begging her to dine with them quite informally
on the following night.
"There will only be a few of us, all intimate friends," the note said.
"Do come. I have been longing to ask you for such an age."
Anne's brows drew together a little over the note. She had always liked
Mrs. Damer, but her taste for dinner-parties was a minus quantity. Yet
she knew that the invitation had been sent in sheer kindness. Mrs. Damer
was always kind to everyone, and it was not the fashion among her circle
of friends to disappoint her.
Anne considered the matter, contemplated an excuse, finally rejected it,
and wrote an acceptance.
She wore the dress of shimmering green in which she had appeared at the
Hunt Ball. Vividly the memory of that night swept across her. She had not
worn it since, and scarcely knew what impulse moved her to don it now. It
well became her stately figure. Dimsdale, awaiting her departure at the
hall-door, looked at her with the admiring reverence he might have
bestowed upon a queen.
Again, during her drive through the dark, the memory of that winter night
flashed back upon her. She recalled that smooth, noiseless journey in
which she had seemed to be borne upon wings. She recalled her misery and
her weariness, her dream and her awakening. Nap had been very good to her
that night. He had won her confidence, her gratitude, her friendship. His
reputation notwithstanding, she had trusted him fully, and she had not
found him wanting. A faint sigh rose to her lips. She was beginning to
miss this friend of hers.
But the next moment she had drawn back sharply and swiftly, as if she
had encountered an angel with a flaming sword. This was the path down
which she would not wander. Why should she wish to do so? There were so
many other paths open to her now.
When she stepped at length from the carriage her face was serene and
quiet as the soft spring night behind her.
Upstairs she encountered the doctor's wife patting her hair before a
mirror. She turned at Anne's entrance.
"Why, Lady Carfax! This is indeed a pleasure. I am so glad to see
There was genuine pleasure in her voice, and Anne remembered with a smile
that Mrs. Randal liked her.
They chatted as she removed her wraps, and finally descended together,
Mrs. Randal turning at the head of the stairs to whisper: "There's that
horrid old gossip, Major Shirley. I know he will fall to my lot. He
always does. How shall I direct the conversation into safe channels?"
Anne could only shake her head. She knew that Mrs. Randal was not
celebrated for discretion.
Entering the drawing-room, they found Major Shirley with his wife and
daughter, Ralph and Dot Waring, and the doctor, assembled with their host
Mrs. Damer glanced at the clock after greeting them. "The Errols
Anne chanced to be speaking to Dot at the moment, and the girl's magic
change of countenance called her attention to the words. She wondered if
her own face changed, and became uneasily aware of a sudden quickening of
the heart. Quietly she passed on to speak to the Shirleys. The major
looked her up and down briefly and offensively as his manner was, and she
escaped from his vicinity as speedily as possible. His wife, a powdered,
elderly lady, sought to detain her, but after a few moments Anne very
gently detached herself, accepting the seat which young Ralph Waring
eagerly offered her.
There followed a somewhat lengthy and by no means easy pause.
Conversation was spasmodic. Everyone was listening for the arrival of the
last guests, and when after some minutes there came the rush of wheels
under the window and the loud hoot of a motor everyone jumped. Mrs.
Damer, who had talked hard through the silences, made no comment but
looked unutterably relieved.
Dot openly and eagerly watched the door, and Anne with a conscious effort
suppressed an inclination to do likewise.
When it opened she looked up quite naturally, and surely no one suspected
the wild leaping of her heart.
Nap entered--sleek, trim, complacent; followed by Bertie, whose brown
face looked unmistakably sullen.
"Sorry we are late," drawled Nap, "Bertie will make our excuses."
But Bertie said nothing, and it was left to Mrs. Damer to step into
She did so quite gallantly, if somewhat clumsily. "I am very pleased to
see you, Nap; but, you know, it was your brother whom we expected. I
didn't so much as know that you were at home."
"Oh, quite so," smiled Nap. "Don't apologise--please!" He bent slightly
over her hand. "So good of you not to mind the exchange. I know I am a
poor substitute. But my brother is entertaining an old friend who has
arrived unexpectedly, so I persuaded him to send me in his place. He
charged me with all manner of excuses and apologies, which I have not
delivered since I know them to be unnecessary."
Mrs. Damer found it impossible not to smile at his calm effrontery, even
though she knew Major Shirley to be frowning behind her back.
"When did you return?" she asked. "Someone said you were in the States."
"I was," said Nap. "I returned half an hour ago; hence our late arrival,
for which I humbly beg to apologise, and to entreat you not to blame
Bertie, who, as you perceive, is still speechless with suspense."
"Oh, you Americans!" laughed Mrs. Damer. "You are never at a loss. Do let
us go in to dinner. No, Nap! The doctor will take me. Will you take Miss
Waring? But you won't be able to sit together. You have disarranged all
my plans, so I shall treat you as of no importance."
"Miss Waring won't quarrel with either you or me on that account,"
commented Nap, as he offered his arm to the rector's daughter with
ironical courtesy. "Come along, Miss Waring! Shut your eyes and bolt me.
It will soon be over."
Dot was young enough to make a face at him, but the hard stare with which
he countered it reduced her almost instantly to confusion. Whereupon he
transferred his attention and looked at her no more.
But compensation was in store for her, for at the dinner-table she found
herself placed between Bertie and the doctor, a pleasing situation in
which she speedily recovered her spirits, since the doctor talked to his
hostess, and Bertie's partner, Mrs. Shirley, strenuously occupied the
attention of her host, who was seated on her other side.
Major Shirley fell as usual to Mrs. Randal, over which circumstance Anne,
catching a tragic glance from the latter, failed somewhat conspicuously
to repress a smile.
"Yes, it's mighty funny, isn't it?" said Nap, and with a sharp start she
discovered that he was seated upon her right.
"I--didn't see you," she faltered.
"No?" he said coolly. "Well, it's all right. I was told to sit
here--obviously decreed by the gods. You'll think me uncanny if I tell
you that it was just this that I came for."
"You are uncanny," she said.
He made her a brief bow. It seemed to her that a mocking spirit gleamed
in his eyes. She had never felt less confident of him, less at her ease
with him, than at that moment. She felt as if in some subtle fashion,
wholly beyond her comprehension, he were playing some deep-laid game, as
if he were weaving some intricate web too secret and too intangible to be
understood or grappled with. Upon one point only was she quite clear. He
would suffer no reference to their last meeting. Whatever the effect of
that terrible punishment upon him, he did not choose that she should see
it. She had seen him in the utmost extremity of his humiliation, but she
should never see the scars that were left.
This much of his attitude she could understand, and understanding could
pardon that part which baffled her. But she could not feel at her ease.
"And so you are afraid," said Nap. "That's a new thing for you."
She glanced round the table. In the general hubbub of talk they were as
isolated as though they were actually alone together.
"No," she said. "Why should I be afraid? But--I feel as if I am talking
"Perhaps you are," said Nap.
He uttered a laugh she could not fathom, and then with a certain
recklessness: "Permit me to present to your majesty," he said, "the Knave
There was that in his tone that hurt her vaguely, little as she
understood it. She smiled with a hint of wistfulness.
"Surely I have met him before!" she said.
"Without knowing him," said Nap.
"No," she maintained. "I have known him for a long while now. I believe
him to be my very good friend."
"What?" he said.
She glanced at him, half startled by the brief query; but instantly she
looked away again with a curious, tingling sense of shock. For it was to
her as though she had looked into the heart of a consuming fire.
"Aren't you rather behind the times?" he drawled. "That was--as you
say--a long while ago."
The shock passed, leaving her strangely giddy, as one on the edge of
inconceivable depth. She could say no word in answer. She was utterly and
hopelessly at a loss.
With scarcely a pause Nap turned to Violet Shirley, who was seated on his
right, and plunged without preliminary into a gay flirtation to which all
the world was at liberty to listen if it could not approve. Ralph Waring,
thus deprived of his rightful partner, solaced himself with Mrs. Randal,
who was always easy to please; and the major on her other side relapsed
into bearish gloom.
It was with unspeakable relief that Anne rose at length from that
dinner-table. She had a deep longing to escape altogether, to go back to
the quiet Manor, where at least all was peace. He had hurt her more
subtly than she could have deemed possible. Had his friendship really
meant so much to her? Or was it only her pride that suffered to think he
valued hers so lightly? It seemed that he was fickle then, fickle as
everyone declared him to be. And yet in her heart she did not for a
moment believe it. That single glimpse she had had, past the gibing devil
in his eyes, deep into the man himself, had told her something different.
He hated her then, he hated her as the cause of his downfall. This seemed
the more likely. And yet--and yet--did she really believe this either?
"Dear Lady Carfax, do play to us!" urged her hostess. "It will be such a
treat to hear you."
She rose half-mechanically and went to the piano, struck a few chords and
began to play, still so deep in her maze of conjecture that she hardly
knew what she had chosen.
Mrs. Randal came to sit near her. Mrs. Shirley edged close to Mrs. Damer
and began to whisper. The two girls went softly into the conservatory.
Anne's fingers played on. Now and then Mrs. Randal spoke to her, thanked
her or begged her to continue. But presently she moved away and Anne did
not miss her. She was far too deeply engrossed in her own thoughts.
She started, every nerve suddenly on the alert.
"Don't stop playing!" he said, and as it were involuntarily she
continued to play.
"I am coming to see you to-morrow," he went on. "What time would you like
me to call?"
She was silent. But the blood had risen in a great wave to her face and
neck. She could feel it racing in every vein.
"Won't you answer me?" he said. "Won't you fix a time?"
There was that in his voice that made her long earnestly to see his face,
but she could not. With a great effort she answered:
"I am generally at home in the afternoon."
"Then will you be out to the rest of the world?" he said.
She stilled the wild tumult of her heart with desperate resolution. "I
think you must take your chance of that."
"I am not taking any chances," he said. "I will come at the fashionable
hour if you prefer it. But--"
He left the sentence unfinished with a significance that was more
imperious than a definite command.
Anne's fingers were trembling over the keys. Sudden uncertainty seized
her. She forgot what she was playing, forgot all in the overwhelming
desire to see his face. She muffled her confusion in a few soft chords
and turned round.
He was gone.
THE KERNEL OF THE DIFFICULTY
"I want to know!" said Capper, with extreme deliberation.
He was the best-known surgeon in the United States, and he looked like
nothing so much as a seedy Evangelical parson. Hair, face, beard, all
bore the same distinguishing qualities, were long and thin and yellow.
He sat coiled like a much-knotted piece of string, and he seemed to
possess the power of moving any joint in his body independently of the
rest. He cracked his fingers persistently when he talked after a fashion
that would have been intolerable in anyone but Capper. His hands were
always in some ungainly attitude, and yet they were wonderful hands,
strong and sensitive, the colour of ivory. His eyes were small and
green, sharp as the eyes of a lizard. They seemed to take in everything
and divulge nothing.
"What do you want to know?" said Lucas.
He was lying in bed with the spring sunshine full upon him. His eyes were
drawn a little. He had just undergone a lengthy examination at the hands
of the great doctor.
"Many things," said Capper, somewhat snappishly. "Chief among them, why
your tomfool brother--you call him your brother, I suppose?--brought me
over here on a fool's errand."
"He is my brother," said Lucas quietly. "And why a fool's errand? Is
there something about my case you don't like?"
"There is nothing whatever," said Capper, with an exasperated tug at his
pointed beard. "I could make a sound man of you. It wouldn't be easy.
But I could do it--given one thing, which I shan't get. Is the sun
He suddenly left his chair, bent over and with infinite gentleness raised
his patient to an easier posture and drew forward the curtain.
"I guess I won't talk to you now," he said. "I've given you as much as
you can stand and then some already. How's that? Is it comfort?"
"Absolute," Lucas said with a smile. "Don't go, doctor. I am quite able
to talk. I suppose matters haven't altered very materially since you
saw me last?"
"I don't see why you should suppose that," said Capper. "As a matter of
fact things have altered--altered considerably. Say, you don't have those
fainting attacks any more?"
"No. I've learnt not to faint." There was a boyishly pathetic note about
the words though the lips that uttered them still smiled.
Capper nodded comprehendingly. "But the pain is just as infernal, eh?
Only you've the grit to stand against it. Remember the last time I
overhauled you? You fainted twice. That's how I knew you would never face
it. But I've hurt you worse to-day, and I'm damned if I know how you
managed to come up smiling."
"Then why do you surmise that you have been brought here on a fool's
errand?" Lucas asked.
"I don't surmise," said Capper. "I never surmise. I know." He began to
crack his fingers impatiently, and presently fell to whistling below his
breath. "No," he said suddenly, "you've got the physical strength and
you've got the spunk to lick creation, but what you haven't got is zeal.
You're gallant enough, Heaven knows, but you are not keen. You are
passive, you are lethargic. And you ought to be in a fever!"
His fingers dropped abruptly upon Lucas's wrist, and tightened upon it.
"That brother of yours that you're so fond of, now if it were he, I could
pull him out of the very jaws of hell. He'd catch and hold. But you--you
are too near the other place to care. Say, you don't care, do you, not a
single red cent? It's all one to you--under Providence--whether you live
or die. And if I operated on you to-morrow you'd die--not at once, but
sooner or later--from sheer lack of enthusiasm. That's my difficulty.
It's too long a business. You would never keep it up."
Lucas did not immediately reply. He lay in the stillness habitual to
him, gazing with heavy eyes at the motes that danced in the sunshine.
"I guess I'm too old, doctor," he said at last. "But you are wrong in one
sense. I do care. I don't want to die at present."
"Private reasons?" demanded Capper keenly.
"Not particularly. You see, I am the head of the family. I hold myself
responsible. My brothers want looking after, more or less."
"Brothers!" sniffed Capper, with supreme contempt. "That
consideration wouldn't keep you out of heaven. It's only another
reason for holding back."
"Exactly," Lucas said quietly. "I don't know what Nap will say to me. He
will call me a shirker. But on the whole, doctor, I think I must hold
back a little longer."
"He'd better let me hear him!" growled Capper. "I wish to heaven you
were married. That's the kernel of the difficulty. You want a wife.
You'd be keen enough then. I shouldn't be afraid of your letting go when
I wasn't looking."
"Ah!" Lucas said, faintly smiling. "But what of the wife?"
"She'd be in her element," maintained Capper stoutly. "She'd be to you
what the mainspring is to a watch, and glory in it. Haven't you seen such
women? I have, scores of 'em, ready made for the purpose. No, you will
only go through my treatment with a woman to hold you up. It's a process
that needs the utmost vitality, the utmost courage, and--something great
to live for--a motive power behind to push you on. There's only one
motive power that I can think of strong enough to keep you moving. And
that is most unfortunately absent. Find the woman, I tell you, find the
woman! And--under Providence--I'll do the rest!"
He dropped back in his chair, cracking his fingers fiercely, his keen
eyes narrowly observant of every shade of expression on his patient's
Lucas was still smiling, but his eyes had grown absent. He looked
"Yes," he said slowly at length. "I am afraid you have asked the
impossible of me now. But, notwithstanding that, if I could see my way
to it, I would place myself in your hands without reservation--and take
my chance. There are times now and then--now and then--" his words
quickened a little, "when a man would almost give the very soul out of
his body to be at peace--to be at peace; times when it's downright agony
to watch a fly buzzing up and down the pane and know he hasn't even the
strength for that--when every muscle is in torture, and every movement
means hell--" He broke off; his lips usually so steady had begun to
twitch. "I'm a fool, Capper," he murmured apologetically. "Make
allowances for a sick man!"
"Look here!" said Capper. "This is a big decision for you to make
off-hand. You can take three months anyway to think it over. You are
getting stronger, you know. By then you'll be stronger still. You won't
be well. Nothing but surgical measures can ever make you well. And you'll
go on suffering that infernal pain. But three months one way or another
won't make much difference. I am due in London in September for the
Schultz Medical Conference. I'll run over then and see if you've made up
"Will you, doctor? That's real kind of you." Lucas's eyes brightened. He
stretched out a hand which Capper grasped and laid gently down. "And if
you undertake the job--"
"If you are fit to go through it," Capper broke in, "I'll do it right
away before I leave. You'll spend the winter on your back. And in the
spring I'll come again and finish the business. That second operation is
a more delicate affair than the first, but I don't consider it more
dangerous. By this time next year, or soon after, you'll be walking like
an ordinary human being. I'll have you as lissom as an Indian."
He cracked his fingers one after the other in quick succession and rose.
A moment he stood looking down at the smooth face that had flushed
unwontedly at his words; then bending, he lightly tapped his patient's
chest. "Meanwhile, my friend," he said, "you keep a stiff upper lip, and
_cherchez la femme--cherchez la femme toujours_! You'll be a sound man
some day and she won't mind waiting if she's the right sort."
"Ah!" Lucas said. "You will have to forego that condition, doctor. I am
no ladies' man. Shall I tell you what a woman said to me the other day?"
"That I was like a mother to her." Again without much mirth he smiled.
His lips were steady enough now.
"I should like to meet that woman," said Capper.
The doctor's hand sought his beard. "P'r'aps she'd tell me I was like a
father. Who knows?"
Lucas looked at him curiously. "Are you fond of women?"
"I adore them," said Capper without enthusiasm. He never satisfied
Lucas's eyes fell away baffled. "I'll take you to see her this afternoon
if you can spare the time," he said.
"Oh, I can spend the afternoon philandering so long as I catch the night
train to Liverpool," Capper answered promptly. "Meanwhile you must get a
rest while I go and take a dose of air and sunshine in the yard."
His straight, gaunt figure passed to the door, opened it, and disappeared
with a directness wholly at variance with his lack of repose when seated.
As for Lucas, he lay quite still for a long while, steadily watching the
motes that danced and swam giddily in the sunshine.
Nearly half an hour went by before he stirred at all. And then a heavy
sigh burst suddenly from him, shaking his whole body, sending a flicker
of pain across his drooping eyelids.
"_Cherchez la femme_!" he said to himself. And again with a quivering
smile, "_Cherchez la femme_! God knows she isn't far to seek. But--my
THE FIRST ORDEAL
All the birds in the Manor garden were singing on that afternoon in May.
The fruit trees were in bloom. The air was full of the indescribable
fragrance of bursting flowers. There was no single note of sadness in all
the splendid day. But the woman who paced slowly to and fro under the
opening lilacs because she could not rest knew nothing of its sweetness.
The precious peace of the past few weeks had been snatched from her. She
was face to face once more with the problem that had confronted her for a
few horror-stricken minutes on that awful evening in March. Then she had
thrust it from her. Since she had resolutely turned her back upon it. But
to-day it was with her, and there was no escaping it. It glared at her
whichever way she turned, a monster of destruction waiting to devour. And
she was afraid, horribly, unspeakably afraid, with a fear that was
neither physical nor cowardly, yet which set her very soul a-trembling.
Restlessly she wandered up and down, up and down. It was a day for
dreams, but she was terribly and tragically awake.
When Nap Errol came to her at length with his quick, light tread that was
wary and noiseless as a cat's, she knew of his coming long before he
reached her, was vividly, painfully aware of him before she turned to
look. Yesterday she had longed to look him in the face, but to-day she
felt she dared not.
Slim and active he moved across the grass, and there came to her ears a
slight jingle of spurs. He had ridden then. A sudden memory of the man's
free insolence in the saddle swept over her, his domination, his
imperial arrogance. Turning to meet him, she knew that she was quivering
from head to foot.
He came straight up to her, halted before her. "Have you no welcome for
me?" he said.
By sheer physical effort she compelled herself to face him, to meet the
fierce, challenging scrutiny which she knew awaited her. She held out her
hand to him. "I am always glad to see you, Nap," she said.
He took her hand in a sinewy, compelling grip. "Although you prefer good
men," he said.
The ground on which she stood seemed to be shaking, yet she forced
herself to smile, ignoring his words.
"Let us go and sit down," she said.
Close by was a seat under a great lilac tree in full purple bloom. She
moved to it and sat down, but Nap remained upon his feet, watching
The air was laden with perfume--the wonderful indescribable essences of
spring. Away in the distance, faintly heard, arose the bleating of lambs.
Near at hand, throned among the purple flowers above their heads, a
thrush was pouring out the rapture that thrilled his tiny life. The whole
world pulsed to the one great melody--the universal, wordless song. Only
the man and the woman were silent as intruders in a sacred place.
Anne moved at last. She looked up very steadily, and spoke. "It seems
like holy ground," she said.
Her voice was hushed, yet it had in it a note of pleading. Her eyes
And in answer Nap leaned down with a sudden, tigerish movement and laid
his hand on hers. "What have I to do with holiness?" he said. "Anne, come
down from that high pedestal of yours! I'm tired of worshipping a
goddess. I want a woman--a woman! I shall worship you none the less
because I hold you in my arms."
It was done. The spell was broken. Those quick, passionate words had
swept away her last hope of escape. She was forced to meet him face to
face, to meet him and to do battle.
For a long second she sat quite still, almost as if stunned. Then sharply
she turned her face aside, as one turns from the unbearable heat and
radiance when the door of a blast-furnace is suddenly opened.
"Oh, Nap," she said, and there was a sound of heart-break in her words,
"What a pity! What a pity!"
"Why?" he demanded fiercely. "I have the right to speak--to claim my own.
Are you going to deny it--you who always speak the truth?"
"You have no right," she answered, still with her face averted. "No man
has ever the faintest right to say to another man's wife what you have
just said to me."
"And you think I will give you up," he said, "for that?"
She did not at once reply. Only after a moment she freed her hands from
his hold, and the action seemed to give her strength. She spoke, her
voice very clear and resolute. "I am not going to say anything unkind to
you. You have already borne too much for my sake. But--you must know that
this is the end of everything. It is the dividing of the ways--where we
must say good-bye."
"Is it?" he said. He looked down at her with his brief, thin-lipped
smile. "Then--if that's so--look at me--look at me, Anne, and tell me
that you don't love me!"
She made an almost convulsive gesture of protest and sat silent.
For a little he waited. Then, "That being so," he said very deliberately,
"there is no power on earth--I swear--I swear--that shall ultimately
come between us!"
"Oh, hush!" she said. "Hush!" She turned towards him, her face white
and agitated. "I will not listen to you, Nap. I cannot listen to you!
You must go."
She stretched a hand towards him appealingly, and he caught it, crushing
it against his breast. For a moment he seemed about to kneel, and then he
altered his purpose and drew her to her feet. Again she was aware of that
subtle, mysterious force within him, battling with her, seeking to
dominate, to conquer, to overwhelm her. Again there came to her that
sense of depth, depth unutterable, appalling. She seemed to totter on the
very edge of the pit of destruction.
Very quietly at length his voice came to her. It held just a touch of
ridicule. "What! Still doing sacrifice to the great god Convention? My
dear girl, but you are preposterous! Do you seriously believe that I will
suffer that drunken maniac to come between us--now?"
He flung his head back with the words. His fiery eyes seemed to scorch
her. And overhead the rapturous bird-voice pealed forth a perfect paean
But Anne stood rigid, unresponsive as an image of stone. "He is my
husband," she said.
She felt his hand tighten upon hers, till the pressure was almost more
than she could endure. "You never felt a spark of love for him!" he said.
"You married him--curse him!--against your will!"
"Nevertheless, I married him," she said.
He showed his teeth for a moment, and was silent. Then imperiously he
swept up his forces for the charge. "These things are provided for in the
States," he said. "If you won't come to me without the sanction of the
law, I will wait while you get it. I will wait till you are free--till I
can make you my lawful wife. That's a fair offer anyway." He began to
smile. "See what a slave you have made of me!" he said. "I've never
offered any woman marriage before."
But Anne broke in upon him almost fiercely. "Oh, don't you know me better
than that?" she said. "Nap, I am not the sort of woman to throw off the
yoke like that. It is true that I never loved him, and I do not think
that I shall ever live with him again. But still--I married him, and
while he lives I shall never be free--never, never!"
"Yet you are mine," he said.
She sought to free her hand, but he kept it. "Look at me!" he said. "Do
you remember that day in March--the day you saw me whipped like a dog?"
Involuntarily she raised her eyes to his. "Oh, don't!" she whispered,
But he persisted. "You felt that thrashing far more than I did, though it
made a murderer of me. You were furious for my sake. Did you never ask
yourself why?" Then in a lower voice, bending towards her, "Do you think
I didn't know the moment I saw your face above mine? Do you think I
didn't feel the love in your arms, holding me up? Do you think it isn't
in your eyes--even now?"
"Oh, hush!" she said again piteously. "Nap, you are hurting me. I cannot
bear it. Even if it were so, love--true love--is a sacred thing--not to
be turned into sin."
"Sin!" he said. "What is sin? Is it sin to fulfil the very purpose for
which you were created?"
But at that she winced so sharply that he knew he had gone too far.
It was characteristic of the man that he made no attempt to recover
"I'm a wicked pagan no doubt," he said, with a touch of recklessness.
"Everyone will tell you so. I fancy I've told you so myself more than
once. Yet you needn't shrink as if I were unclean. I have done nothing
that you would hate me for since I have known you."
He paused and seemed to listen, then very quietly released her hand. A
curious expression flickered across his face as he did so, and a little
chill went through her. It was like the closing of the furnace door.
"I am going," he said. "But I shall come back--I shall come back." His
smile, sudden and magnetic, gleamed for an instant and was gone.
"Do you remember the missing heart?" he said "There are some things that
I never forget."
And so, without farewell, he turned and left her, moving swiftly and
easily over the grass. She heard the jingle of his spurs, but no sound of
any footfall as he went.
THE FATAL STREAK
Anne looked up with a start. She had been sitting with closed eyes under
the lilac tree.
Dimsdale, discreet and deferential as ever, stood before her.
"Mr. Lucas Errol is here," he told her, "with another gentleman. I knew
your ladyship would wish to be at home to him."
"Oh, certainly," she answered, rising. "I am always at home to Mr. Lucas
Errol. Please tell him I am coming immediately."
But she did not instantly follow Dimsdale. She stood instead quite
motionless, with her face to the sky, breathing deeply.
When she turned at length she had recovered all her customary serenity.
With the quiet dignity peculiar to her, she passed up the garden path,
leaving the thrush still singing, singing, singing, behind her.
She found her visitors in the drawing-room, which she entered by the
open window. Lucas greeted her with his quiet smile and introduced
Capper--"a very great friend of mine, and incidentally the finest
doctor in the U.S.A."
She shook hands with the great man, feeling the small green eyes running
over her, and conscious that she blushed under their scrutiny. She
wondered why, with a vague feeling of resentment. She also wondered what
had moved Lucas to bring him.
As she sat at the tea-table and dispensed hospitality to her guests it
was Lucas who kept the conversation going. She thought he seemed in
wonderful spirits despite the heavy droop of his eyelids.
Capper sat in almost unbroken silence, studying his hostess so
perpetually that Anne's nerves began to creak at last under the strain.
Quite suddenly at length he set down his cup. "Lady Carfax," he said
abruptly, "I'm told you have a herb garden, and I'm just mad on herbs.
Will you take me to see it while Lucas enjoys a much-needed and
Anne glanced up in surprise. They were almost the first words he had
spoken. Capper was already upon his feet. He stood impatiently cracking
his fingers one by one.
She rose. "Of course I will do so with pleasure if Mr. Errol
"Certainly not, Lady Carfax," smiled Lucas. "I am extremely comfortable.
Pray give him what he wants. It is the only way to pacify him."
Anne smiled and turned to the window. They went out together into the
golden spring evening.
The herb garden was some distance from the house. Capper strode along in
silence, with bent brows. More than ever Anne wondered what had brought
him. She did not try to make conversation for him, realising by instinct
that such effort would be vain as well as unwelcome. She merely walked
quietly beside him, directing their steps whither he had desired to go.
They were out of sight of the house before he spoke. "Say, madam,
I'm told you know the Errol family off by heart without needing to
look 'em up."
She glanced at him in surprise. "Of course I know them. Yes, I know
"Well?" he demanded.
"Oh, quite well." Almost involuntarily she began to explain the intimacy.
"I was taken to their house after a hunting accident, and I was an
invalid there for several weeks."
"That so?" Again piercingly the American's eyes scanned her. "You're real
friendly then? With which in particular?"
She hesitated momentarily. Then, "I am very fond of Mrs. Errol," she
said, speaking very quietly. "But Nap was my first friend, and
There was such withering contempt in the exclamation that she had
perforce to remark it.
"Nap is evidently no favourite with you," she said.
He raised his brows till they nearly met his hair. "Nap, my dear lady,"
he drily observed, "is doubtless all right in his own sphere. It isn't
mine, and it isn't yours. I came over to this country at his request and
in his company, and a queerer devil it has never been my lot to
encounter. But what can you expect? I've never yet seen him in a blanket
and moccasins, but I imagine that he'd be considerably preferable that
way. I guess he's just a fish out of water on this side of civilisation."
"What can you mean?" Anne said.
For the second time that afternoon she felt as if the ground beneath her
had begun to tremble. She looked up at him with troubled eyes. Surely the
whole world was rocking!
"I mean what I say, madam," he told her curtly. "It's a habit of mine.
There is a powerful streak of red in Nap Errol's blood, or I am much
"Ah!" Anne said, and that was all. In a flash she understood him. She
felt as if he had performed some ruthless operation upon her, and she was
too exhausted to say more. Unconsciously her hand pressed her heart. It
was beating strangely, spasmodically; sometimes it did not beat at all.
For she knew beyond all doubting that what he said was true.
"I don't say the fellow is an out-and-out savage," Capper was saying.
"P'r'aps he'd be more tolerable if he were. But the fatal streak is
there. Never noticed it? I thought you women noticed everything. Oh, I
can tell you he's made things hum on our side more times than I've
troubled to count. Talk of the devil in New York and you very soon find
the conversation drifting round to Nap Errol. Now and then he has a lapse
into sheer savagery, and then there is no controlling him. It's just as
the fit takes him. He's never to be trusted. It's an ineradicable taint."
She shivered at the words, but still she did not speak.
Capper went unconcernedly on. "I fancy Lucas once thought he was going to
make a gentleman of him. A gentleman, ye gods! Teach a tiger to sit up
and beg! He has a most amazing patience, but I guess even he realises by
now that the beast is untamable. Mrs. Errol saw it long ago. There's a
fine woman for you--A.1., gilt-edged, quality of the best. You know Mrs.
Errol, you say?"
"Yes, I know her." Anne heard the words, but was not conscious of
Capper gave her a single straight look. "You wouldn't think, would you,"
said he, "that that woman carries a broken heart about with her? But I
assure you that's so. Nap Errol was the tragedy of her life."
That quickened her to interest. She was conscious of a gradual sinking
downwards of her dismay till it came to rest somewhere deep in her inmost
soul, leaving the surface free for other impressions.
"He came out of nowhere," Capper went on. "She never tried to account for
him. He was her husband's son. She made him hers. But he's been a tiger's
cub all his life, a hurricane, a firebrand. He and Bertie are usually at
daggers drawn and Lucas spends his time keeping the peace; which is about
as wearing an occupation for a sick man as I can imagine. I want to put a
stop to it, Lady Carfax. I speak as one family friend to another. Lucas
seems to like you. I believe you could make him see reason if you took
the trouble. Women are proverbially ingenious."
Anne's faint smile showed for a moment. They had entered the herb garden
and were passing slowly down the central path. It was a small enclosure
surrounded by clipped yew hedges and intersected by green walks. The
evening sunlight slanting down upon her, had turned her brown hair to
ruddiest gold. There was no agitation about her now. The grey eyes were
She bent presently to pluck a sprig of rosemary. "Will you tell me," she
said, "what it is that you want to do?"
Capper shot her a keen side-glance. "I want to cure him," he said. "I
want to make a whole man of him."
"Could you?" she asked.
"I could." Abruptly Capper stopped. His yellow face was curiously aglow.
"I say I could," he asserted almost fiercely, "if I could choose my
conditions. If I could banish that pestilent brother of his, if I could
rouse him to something like energy, if I could turn his will in one
direction only, I could do it. Given his whole-hearted co-operation, I
could do it. Without it, I am powerless. He would simply die of
"It would mean an operation then? A very serious one?" Anne had paused
upon the green path. Her eyes sought Capper's.
He answered her with curt directness. "My dear lady, it would mean not
one, but two. I won't trouble you with technical details which you
wouldn't understand. Put briefly, it would mean in the first place a
pulling down and in the second a building up. Both operations would be a
serious tax upon his strength, but I am satisfied that he has the
strength for both. Six months would elapse between the two, and during
that time he would be flat on his back. If he could hold on for those six
months he would come through all right. Of that I am convinced. But those
six months are my stumbling-block. Freedom from all anxiety is essential.
He wants a stanch friend continually beside him to keep him cheery and at
peace. That fellow Nap is the principle obstacle. He stirs up hell and
tommy wherever he goes, and he's never absent for long. Lucas himself
admits that his brothers are a care to him. Oh, it's all an infernal
tangle. I sometimes think family ties are the very deuce."
Capper tugged at his beard with restless fingers and ground his heel
into the turf.
"If you consider Nap an obstacle--why don't you speak to him?" Anne asked
in her quiet voice.
Capper shrugged his shoulders. "He hates me--and small wonder! I've told
him the brutal truth too often."
Anne passed the matter by. "And Lucas does not wish to undergo the
"That's just the infernal part of it!" burst forth Capper. "He would
undergo it to-morrow if he didn't consider himself indispensable to these
young whelps. But that isn't all. Lady Carfax, he wants help. He wants
someone strong to stand by. I believe you could do it--if you would. You
are the sort of woman that men turn to in trouble. I've been watching
you. I know."
Again very faintly Anne smiled, with more of patience than amusement.
"Dr. Capper, has Lucas been telling you about me?"
Capper thrust out a hand. "Yes."
"You know how I am situated?" she questioned.
"I do." There was no sympathy in Capper's voice or face; only in the
grasp of his hand.
"And you think I could be of use to him?"
"I don't think," said Capper. "I know." He released her hand as abruptly
as he had taken it. His long fingers began to curve and crack
mechanically. "I'll tell you something," he said. "Don't know why I
should, but I will. I love Lucas Errol as if he were my son."
"Ah!" Anne said gently. "I think we all love him in our different ways."
"That so?" said the American keenly. "Then I shall leave the matter in
your charge, Lady Carfax. I can see you're a capable woman. I'm coming
back in September to perform that operation. You will have a willing
patient ready for me--by willing I mean something gayer than
resigned--and my bugbear, Nap--that most lurid specimen of civilised
devilry--hunting scalps on the other side of the Atlantic."
"Oh, I don't know!" Anne said quickly. "I don't know!"
She spoke breathlessly, as one suddenly plunged into a strong current.
Her face was bent over the sprig of rosemary which she was threading in
her dress. Her fingers were trembling.
Capper watched her silently.
"Let me!" he said at last.
He took the sprig from her with a hand that was perfectly steady, held it
a moment, seemed to hesitate, finally withdrew it and planted it in his
"I guess I'll keep it myself," he said, "with your permission, in memory
of a good woman."
Anne commanded herself and looked up. "Keep it, by all means," she said.
"But do not expect too much from me. No woman is always good. The best
of us fail sometimes."
"But you will do your best when the time comes?" he said, in a tone that
was a curious blend of demand and entreaty.
She met his eyes quite fully. "Yes," she said, "I will do my best."
"Then I'm not afraid," said Capper. "We shall pull him through between
us. It will be a miracle, of course, but"--a sudden smile flashed across
his face, transforming him completely--"miracles happen, Lady Carfax."
Slowly Anne drew aside the curtain and looked forth into the night, a
magic night, soft and wonderful, infinitely peaceful. A full moon shone
high in the sky with an immense arc of light around it, many-rayed,
faintly prismatic. There was the scent of coming rain in the air, but no
clouds were visible. The stars were dim and remote, almost quenched in
that flood of moonlight.
Across the quiet garden came the song of a nightingale in one of the
shrubberies, now soft and far like the notes of a fairy flute, now close
at hand and filling the whole world with music. Anne stood, a silent
listener, on the edge of the magic circle.
She had just risen from the piano, where for the past hour or more she
had been striving to forget the fever that burned within. Now at last she
had relinquished the piteous, vain attempt, and utterly wearied she stood
drinking in the spring sweetness.
It was drawing towards midnight, and all but herself had retired. She
knew she ought to bolt the window and go to rest also; only she knew,
too, that no rest awaited her. The silver peace into which she gazed was
like balm to her tired spirit, but yet she could only stand, as it were,
upon the edge.
A great longing was upon her, a voiceless, indescribable desire, that
made within her so deep a restlessness that no outside influence seemed
able to touch it. She leaned her head against the window-frame, conscious
of suffering but scarcely aware of thought.
With no effort of hers the events of that afternoon passed before her.
She heard again the ardent voice of the friend who had become the lover.
He had loved her from the first, it seemed, and she had not known it.
Could it be that she had loved him also, all unknowing?
There came again to her the memory of those fierce, compelling eyes, the
dogged mastery with which he had fought her resolution, the sudden magic
softening of the harsh face when he smiled. There came again the
passionate thrilling of his voice; again her hands tingled in that close
grip; again she thought she felt the beating of the savage heart.
She raised her arms above her head with the gesture of one who wards off
something immense, but they fell almost immediately. She was so tired--so
tired. She had fought so hard and so long. Oh, why was there no peace for
her? What had she done to be thus tortured? Why had love come to her at
all? In all her barren life she had never asked for love.
And now that it had come it was only to be ruthlessly dashed against the
stones. What had she to do with love--love, moreover, for a man who could
offer her but the fiery passion of a savage, a man from whom her every
instinct shrank, who mocked at holy things and overthrew all barriers of
convention with a cynicism that silenced all protest. What--ah, what
indeed!--had she to do with love?
She had lived a pure life. She had put out the fires of youth long ago,
with no hesitating hand. She had dwelt in the desert, and made of it her
home. Was it her fault that those fires had been kindled afresh? Was she
to blame because the desert had suddenly blossomed? Could she be held
responsible for these things, she who had walked in blindness till the
transforming miracle had touched her also and opened her eyes?
She shivered a little. Oh, for a helping hand! Oh, for a deliverer from
this maze of misery!
She saw again the quiet garden lying sleeping before her in the
moonlight, and felt as if God must be very far away. She was very
terribly alone that night.
The impulse came to her to pass out into the dewy stillness, and she
obeyed it, scarcely knowing what she did. Over the silver grass,
ghost-like, she moved. It was as if a voice had called her. On to the
lilac trees with their burden of fragrant blossoms, where the thrush
had raised his song of rapture, where she had faced that first fiery
ordeal of love.
She reached the bench where she had sat that afternoon. There was not a
leaf that stirred. The nightingale's song sounded away in the distance.
The midnight peace lay like a shroud upon all things. But suddenly fear
stabbed her, piercing every nerve to quivering activity. She knew--how,
she could not have said--that she was no longer alone.
She stood quite still, but the beating of her heart rose quick and
insistent in her ears, like the beat of a drum. Swift came the conviction
that it was no inner impulse that had brought her hither. She had obeyed
a voice that called.
For many seconds she stood motionless, not breathing, not daring to turn
her head. Then, as her strength partially returned, she took two steps
forward to the seat under the lilac tree, and, her hand upon the back of
it, she spoke.
He came, gliding like a shadow behind her. Slowly she turned and
He was still in riding-dress. She heard again the faint jingle of his
spurs. Yet the moonlight shone strangely down upon him, revealing in him
something foreign, something incongruous, that she marvelled that she had
never before noticed. The fierce, dusky face with its glittering eyes and
savage mouth was oddly unfamiliar to her, though she knew it all by
heart. In imagination she clothed him with the blanket and moccasins of
Capper's uncouth speech; and she was afraid.
She did not know how to break the silence. The heart within her was
leaping like a wild thing in captivity.
"Why are you here?" she said at last, and she knew that her voice shook.
He answered her instantly, with a certain doggedness. "I want to know
what Capper has been saying to you."
She started almost guiltily. Her nerves were on edge that night.
"You may as well tell me," he said coolly. "Sooner or later I am
bound to know."
With an effort she quieted her agitation. "Then it must be later," she
said. "I cannot stay to talk with you now."
"Why not?" he said.
Desperately she faced him, for her heart still quaked within her. The
shock of Capper's revelation was still upon her. He had come to her too
soon. "Nap," she said, "I ask you to leave me, and I mean it. Please go!"
But he only drew nearer to her, and she saw that his face was stern. He
thrust it forward, and regarded her closely.
"So," he said slowly, "he has told you all about me, has he?"
She bent her head. It was useless to attempt to evade the matter now.
"I am mightily obliged to him," said Nap. "I wanted you to know."
Anne was silent.
After a moment he went on. "I meant to have told you myself. I even began
to tell you once, but somehow you put me off. It was that night at
Baronmead--you remember?--the night you wanted to help me."
Well she remembered that night--the man's scarcely veiled despair, his
bitter railing against the ironies of life. So this had been the meaning
of it all. A thrill of pity went through her.
"Yes," he said. "I knew you'd be sorry for me. I guess pity is about the
cheapest commodity on the market. But--you'll hardly believe it--I don't
want your pity. After all, a man is himself, and it can't be of much
importance where he springs from--anyway, to the woman who loves him."
He spoke recklessly, and yet she seemed to detect a vein of entreaty
in his words. She steeled her heart against it, but it affected her
none the less.
"Nap," she said firmly, "there must be no more talk of love between us. I
told you this afternoon that I would not listen, and I will not. Do you
understand me? It must end here and now. I am in earnest."
"You don't say!" said Nap.
He was standing close to her, and again fear stabbed her--fear that was
almost abhorrence. There was something about him that was horribly
suggestive of a menacing animal.
"I am in earnest," she said again. But she could not meet his eyes any
longer. She dared not let him read her soul just then.
"I am in earnest too," said Nap. "But you needn't be afraid of me on that
account. I may be a savage, but I'm not despicable. If I take more than
you are prepared to offer it's only because I know it to be my own." He
bent towards her, trying to see her face. "My own, Anne!" he said again
very softly. "My own!"
But at his movement she drew back sharply, with a gesture of such
instinctive, such involuntary recoil, that in an instant she knew that
she had betrayed that which she had sought to hide.
He stiffened as if at a blow, and she saw his hands clench. In the
silence that followed she stood waiting for the storm to burst, waiting
for his savagery to tear asunder all restraining bonds and leap forth in
devilish fury. But--by what means she knew not--he held it back.
"So," he said at last, his voice very low, "the Queen has no further use
for her jester!"
Her heart smote her. What had she done? She felt as if she had cruelly
wounded a friend. But because he demanded of her more than friendship,
she dared not attempt to allay the hurt. She stood silent.
"Can't you find another _role_ for me?" he said. "You will find it
difficult to exclude me altogether from the cast."
Something in his tone pierced her, compelled her. She glanced up swiftly,
met his eyes, and was suddenly caught, as it were, in fiery chains, so
that she could not look away. And there before her the gates of hell
opened, and she saw a man's soul in torment. She saw the flames mount
higher and higher, scorching and shrivelling and destroying, till at last
she could bear the sight no longer. She covered her face with her hands
and blotted it out.
"Oh, Nap," she moaned, "if you love me--if you love me--"
"If I love you--" he said.
He put his hand on her shoulder and she trembled from head to foot.
"Prove your love!" she whispered, her face still hidden.
He stood awhile motionless, still with his hand upon her. But at last it
"You doubt my love then?" he said, and his voice sounded strange to
her, almost cold. "You think my love is unworthy of you? You have--lost
faith in me?"
She was silent.
"Is it so?" he persisted. "Tell me the truth. I may as well know it. You
think--because I am not what Capper would, term a thoroughbred--that I
am incapable of love. Isn't that so?"
But still she did not answer him. Only, being free, she turned to the
garden-seat and sank down upon it, her arms stretched along the back,
her head bowed low.
He began to pace up and down like a caged animal, pausing each time he
passed her, and each time moving on again as if invisibly urged. At last
very suddenly he stopped with his back to her, and stood like a statue in
She did not look at him. She was too near the end of her strength. Her
heart was beating very slowly, like a run-down watch. She felt like an
old, old woman, utterly tired of life. And she was cold--cold from
head to foot.
Minutes passed. Somewhere away in the night an owl hooted, and Nap
turned his head sharply, as one accustomed to take note of every sound.
A while longer he stood, seeming to listen, every limb alert and tense,
then swiftly he wheeled and gazed full at the drooping woman's figure on
Slowly his attitude changed. Something that was bestial went out of it;
something that was human took its place. Quietly at length he crossed
the moonlit space that intervened between them, reached her, knelt
"Anne," he said, and all her life she remembered the deep melancholy of
his voice, "I am a savage--a brute--a devil. But I swear that I have it
in me to love you--as you deserve to be loved. Won't you have patience
with me? Won't you give me a chance--the only chance I've ever had--of
getting above myself, of learning what love can be? Won't you trust me
with your friendship once more? Believe me, I'm not all brute."
She thrilled like a dead thing waked to life. Her dread of the man passed
away like an evil dream, such was the magic he had for her. She slipped
one of her cold hands down to him.
He caught it, bowed his head upon it, pressed it against his eyes, then
lifted his face and looked up at her.
"It is not the end then? You haven't given me up in disgust?"
And she answered him in the only way possible to her. "I will be
your friend still, only--only let there never again be any talk of
love between us. That alone will end our friendship. Can I trust
you? Nap, can I?"
He jerked back his head at the question, and showed her his face in the
full moonlight. And she saw that his eyes were still and passionless,
unfathomable as a mountain pool.
"If you can bring yourself--if you will stoop--to kiss me," he said, "I
think you will know."
She started at the words, but she knew instantly that she had nought to
fear. His voice was as steady as his eyes. He asked this thing of her as
a sign of her forgiveness, of her friendship, of her trust; and every
generous impulse urged her to grant it. She knew that if she refused he
would get up and go away, cut to the heart. She seemed to feel him
pleading with her, earnestly beseeching her, reasoning against prejudice,
against the shackles of conventionality, against reason itself. And
through it all her love for the man throbbed at the very heart of her,
overriding all doubt.
She leaned towards him; she laid her hands upon his shoulders.
"In token of my trust!" she said, and bent to kiss his forehead.
But he gave her his lips instead--the thin, cynical lips that were wont
to smile so bitterly. There was no bitterness about them now. They were
only grave to sternness. And so, after a moment, she kissed him as he
wished, and he kissed her in return.
Afterwards, he rose in unbroken silence, and went away.
THE BURIAL OF A HATCHET
During the weeks that followed, something of her former tranquillity came
back to Anne. It was evident that Nap was determined to show himself
worthy of her trust, for never by word or look did he make the slightest
reference to what had passed between them. He came and went after his
customary sudden fashion. He never informed any one of his movements, nor
did even Lucas know when he might be expected at Baronmead. But his
absences were never of long duration, and Anne met him fairly frequently.
She herself was more at leisure now than she had been for years, for
Lucas had found an agent for her and the sole care of her husband's
estate no longer lay upon her. She spent much of her time with Mrs.
Errol. Her happiest hours were those she spent with Lucas and his mother
in the great music-room at Baronmead. It was here also that she learned
to know of that hidden, vital quantity, elusive as flame, that was Nap
Errol's soul. For here he would often join them, and the music he drew
from his violin, weirdly passionate, with a pathos no words could ever
utter, was to Anne the very expression of the man's complex being. There
were times when she could hardly hear that wild music of his without
tears. It was like the crying of something that was lost.
Often, after having accompanied him for a long time, she would take her
hands from the piano and sit silent with a strange and bitter sense of
impotence, as if he were leading whither she could not follow. And Nap
would play on and on in the quiet room, as though he played for her
alone, with the sure hand of a master upon the quivering strings of her
But he never spoke to her of love. His eyes conveyed no message at any
time. His straight gaze was impenetrable. He never even touched her hand
unless she offered it to him. And gradually her confidence in him grew
stronger. The instinct that bade her beware of him ceased to disquiet
her. She found herself able to meet him without misgiving, believing that
he had conquered himself for her sake, believing that he bowed to the
inevitable and was willing to content himself with her friendship.
Undoubtedly a change had passed over him. Lucas was aware of it also,
felt it in his very touch, marked it a hundred times in the gentleness of
his speech and action. He attributed it to the influence of a good woman.
It seemed that Nap had found his soul at last.
Bertie alone marked it with uneasiness, but Bertie was no impartial
critic. He had distrusted Nap, not without reason, from his boyhood. But
matters of a more personal nature were occupying his attention at that
time, and he did not bestow much of it upon home affairs. For some reason
he had begun to study in earnest, and was reading diligently for the
Perhaps Mrs. Errol could have pierced the veil of civilisation in which
Nap had wrapped himself had she desired to do so, but she was the last
person in the world to attempt such an invasion. There never had been the
faintest streak of sympathy between them. Neither was there any tangible
antagonism, for each by mutual consent avoided all debatable ground. But
there existed very curiously a certain understanding each of the other
which induced respect if it did not inspire confidence. Without
deliberately avoiding each other they yet never deliberately came in
contact, and, though perfectly friendly in their relations, neither ever
offered to cross the subtle dividing line that stretched between them.
They were content to be acquaintances merely.
Anne often marvelled in private at Mrs. Errol's attitude towards her
adopted son, but the subject was never mentioned between them. Often she
would recall Capper's words and wonder if they had expressed the literal
truth. She wondered, too, what Capper would say to his ally when he
returned at the end of the summer and found the charge he had laid upon
her unfulfilled. But, after all, Capper was scarcely more than a
stranger, and it seemed to her, upon mature reflection, that he had been
inclined to exaggerate the whole matter. She did not believe that Lucas's
welfare depended upon Nap's absence. Indeed, there were times when it
actually seemed to her that he relied upon Nap for support that none
other could give. Moreover, he was growing daily stronger, and this of
itself seemed proof sufficient that Nap was at least no hindrance to his
progress. She knew also that Nap was using his utmost influence to
persuade him to undergo the operation when Capper should return in
September; but she had no opportunity for furthering his efforts, for
Lucas never referred to the matter in her hearing. If he had yet made his
decision he imparted it to none. He seemed to her to be like a soldier
awaiting orders to move, with that steadfast patience which had become
his second nature. She knew that he would never act upon impulse, and she
admired him for it.
Dot, who heard all from Bertie, wondered how he could ever hesitate. But
Dot was young and possessed of an abundant energy which knew no flagging.
Her vigorous young life was full of schemes, and she knew not what it was
to stand and wait. She was keenly engaged just then in company with Mrs.
Damer, Mrs. Randal, and a few more, in organising an entertainment in
support of the Town Hall and Reading Club, to which Lucas Errol had
promised his liberal support. It was no secret that he had offered to
supply the whole of the necessary funds, but, as Dot remarked, it was not
to be a charity and Baronford was not so poor-spirited as to be entirely
dependent upon American generosity. So Lucas was invited to give his
substantial help after Baronford had helped itself, which Dot was fully
determined it should do to the utmost of its capacity.
Many schemes were in consequence discussed and rejected before the Town
Hall Committee finally decided in favour of amateur theatricals.
Here again Lucas Errol's assistance was cordially invited, since no place
suitable for such an entertainment existed in Baronford. It was naively
intimated to him by Dot that he might provide the theatre and the
scenery, so that the profits might be quite unencumbered.
Lucas forthwith purchased an enormous marquee (the cost of which far
exceeded any possible profits from the projected entertainment), which
he had erected upon his own ground under Dot's superintendence, and
thenceforth preparations went gaily forward; not, however, without
many a hitch, which Lucas generally managed directly or indirectly to
It was Lucas who pressed Nap into the service as stage-manager, a post
which had been unanimously urged upon himself, but for which he declared
himself to be morally and physically unfit. It was Lucas who persuaded
Anne to accept a minor _role_ though fully aware that she would have
infinitely preferred that of onlooker. He had taken her under his
protection on that night in March, and he had never relinquished the
responsibility then assumed. With a smile, as was his wont with all, he
asserted his authority, and with a smile, in common with all who knew
him, she yielded even against her own strong inclination.
Nap laughed when he heard of it, despite the fact that he had himself
yielded to the same power.
"You seem to find Luke irresistible," he said.
"I do," she admitted simply. "He is somehow too magnificent to refuse.
Surely you have felt the same?"
"I?" said Nap. "Oh, I always do what I am told. He rules me with a
rod of iron."
Glancing at him, she had a momentary glimpse of a curious, wistful
expression on his face that made her vaguely sorry.
Instinctively she went on speaking as if she had not seen it. "I think
with Bertie that he is a born king among men. He is better than good. He
is great. One feels it even in trifles. He has such an immense patience."
"Colossal," said Nap, and smiled a twisted smile. "That is why he is
everybody's own and particular pal. He takes the trouble to find out
what's inside. One wonders what on earth he finds to interest him.
There's so mighty little in human nature that's worthy of study."
"I don't agree with you," Anne said in her quiet, direct way.
He laughed again and turned the subject. He was always quick to divine
her wishes, and to defer to them. Their intercourse never led them
through difficult places, a fact which Anne was conscious that she owed
to his consideration rather than to her own skill.
She was glad for more than one reason that Lucas had not pressed a very
onerous part upon her. She had a suspicion, very soon confirmed, that Nap
as stage-manager would prove no indulgent task-master. He certainly would
not spare himself, nor would he spare anyone else.
Disputes were rife when he first assumed command, and she wondered much
if he would succeed in establishing order, for he possessed none of his
brother's winning charm of manner and but a very limited popularity. But
Nap showed himself from the outset fully equal to his undertaking. He
grappled with one difficulty after another with a lightning alertness, a
prompt decision, which soon earned for him the respect of his unruly
subordinates. He never quarrelled, neither did he consider the feelings
of any. A cynical comment was the utmost he ever permitted himself in
the way of retaliation, but he held his own unerringly, evolving order
from confusion with a masterly disregard of opposition that carried all
Dot, who was not without a very decided prejudice in favour of her own
way, literally gasped in astonishment at his methods. She would have
liked to defy him openly a dozen times in a day, but Nap simply would
not be defied. He looked over her head with disconcerting arrogance, and
Dot found herself defeated and impotent. Dot had been selected for an
important part, and it was not very long before she came bitterly to
regret the fact. He did not bully her, but he gave her no peace. Over and
over again he sent her back to the same place; and over and over again he
found some fresh fault, till there came at length a day when Dot, weary
and exasperated, subsided suddenly in the midst of rehearsal into
Nap merely raised his eyebrows and turned his attention elsewhere, while
Anne drew the sobbing girl away, and tried to soothe her back to
composure in privacy.
But it was some time before Dot would be comforted. Her grievance against
Nap was very deeply rooted, and it needed but this additional provocation
to break its bounds. It was not long before, clinging very tightly to
Anne, the whole story came out; how she and Bertie loved each other
"better than best," how no one was to know of it and they scarcely dared
to exchange a glance in public in consequence, how there could never,
never be any engagement, all because that horrid, horrid Nap had dared to
hint that she was pursuing Bertie for his money.
"I hate him!" sobbed Dot. "I do hate him! He's cruel and malicious and
vindictive. I know he means to prevent our ever being happy together.
And--and I know Bertie's afraid of him--and so am I!"
To all of which Anne listened with grave sympathy and such words of
comfort as seemed most likely to induce in Dot a calmer and more
reasonable state of mind.
But Dot was not to be reassured quickly. It was very seldom that her
equanimity was disturbed, only in fact when her deepest feelings were
concerned, and this made her breakdown the more complete. She
apologised tearfully for her foolishness at rehearsal, which she set
down to bodily fatigue. She had been to see poor Squinny that morning,
and she thought he really was dying at last. He had cried so, and she
hadn't known how to comfort him, and then when she had got home there
had been no time for luncheon, so she had just changed and come away
without it. And oh,--this with her arms tightly about Anne's neck--she
did wish she had a mother to help her. Poor Dad was very sweet, but he
didn't understand a bit.
Anne sat with her for the greater part of an hour, comforting her with a
grave tenderness that Dot found infinitely soothing. It might have been
half a lifetime instead of a brief seven years that stretched between
them. For Anne had been a woman long before her time, and Dot for all her
self-reliance was still but a child.
She grew calm at last, and presently reverted to the theatricals. Did
Lady Carfax think she might withdraw? Nap made her so nervous. She was
sure she could never be successful under his management.
Anne strongly advised her not to think of such a thing. In consideration
of the fact that Dot had been the moving spirit of the whole scheme such
a proceeding would be little short of disastrous. No doubt a substitute
could be found, but it would mean an open breach with Nap. Bertie would
quarrel with him in consequence, and Lucas would be grievously
"We mustn't hurt Lucas," Anne urged. "He has so much to bear already.
And--and he has been so much happier about Nap lately."
"Does Nap worry him too, then?" asked Dot, quickly. "Isn't he hateful?
He upsets everybody."
"No--no!" Anne said. "Nap would do anything for Lucas. It is his one
It was at this point that the door opened with a noiseless swing, and
Nap himself entered. He advanced with the assured air of one whose
welcome is secure.
"Give the devil his due, Lady Carfax!" he drawled. "He has one
Even Anne was for the moment disconcerted by the abruptness of his
entrance. Dot sprang to her feet with burning cheeks. It was her evident
intention to escape, but he intercepted her.
"My business is with you," he said, "not with Lady Carfax. Do you mind
waiting a minute?"
Dot waited, striving for dignity. Nap was looking at her narrowly.
In the pause that ensued, Anne rose and passed her arm reassuringly
Nap glanced at her. "That's rather shabby of you," he declared. "I was
just going to ask for your support myself."
She smiled at him faintly. "I think you can manage without it. Dot will
not refuse her forgiveness if you ask for it properly."
"Won't she?" said Nap, still keenly watching the girl's half-averted
face. "I should if I were Dot. You see our feud is of very long standing.
We always cut each other when we meet in the street--very pointedly so
that no one could possibly imagine for a moment that we were strangers.
We don't like doing it in the least, but we are both so infernally proud
that there is no alternative. And so we have got to keep it up all our
days, long after the primary reason for it all has sunk into oblivion. By
the way, I have forgotten already what the primary reason was."
"I--haven't," said Dot, in a very low voice. Her lower lip was quivering.
She bit it desperately.
"No?" said Nap.
"No!" Dot turned her flushed face suddenly upon him. "You never meant me
to forget," she said, in a voice that shook beyond control.
"It must have been something very venomous," he said.
"It was!" she answered, fighting with, herself. "You--you know it was!"
"It's not worth crying about anyway," said Nap. "My sting may be
poisonous, but it has never yet proved fatal. Tell me where the mischief
is, and p'r'aps I can remove it."
He was smiling as he made the suggestion, smiling without malice, and,
though Dot could not bring herself to smile in return, she was none the
"What was it?" he persisted, pressing his advantage. "Something beastly
I said or looked or did? I often do, you know. It's just my way. Do you
know what it was, Lady Carfax?"
She nodded. "And I think you do too," she said.
"I don't," he asserted, "on my honour."
Dot looked incredulous. "Don't you remember that day in February," she
said, "the first day I ever came here--the day you accused me of--of
running after Bertie for--his money?"
"Great Christopher!" said Nap. "You don't say you took me seriously?"
"Of course I did," she said, on the verge of tears. "You--you were
"Ye gods!" said Nap. "And I've been wondering why on earth you and Bertie
couldn't make up your minds! So I've been the obstacle, have I? And
that's why you have been hating me so badly all this time--as if I were
the arch-fiend himself! By Jove!" He swung round on his heel. "We'll put
this right at once. Where's Bertie?"
"Oh, no!" Dot said nervously. "No! Don't call him! He'll see I've been
She disengaged herself from Anne, and sprang after him, seizing him
impetuously by the arm.
"I mean--Mr. Errol!" she substituted in confusion.
He clapped his hand upon hers and wheeled. "You can call me anything
under the sun that occurs to you as suitable," he said. "You may kick me
also if you like--which is a privilege I don't accord to everybody. You
won't believe me, I daresay. Few people do. But I'm sorry I was a beast
to you that day. I don't deal in excuses, but when I tell you that I was
rather badly up against something, p'r'aps you'll be magnanimous enough
to forgive me. Will you?"
He looked her straight in the face with the words. There was little of
humility about him notwithstanding them, but there was something of
melancholy that touched her warm heart.
"Of course I will!" she said impulsively. "Let's be friends, shall we?"
He gripped her hand till she felt the bones crack. "Suppose we go and get
some tea," he said. "Are you coming, Lady Carfax?"
"I'm not fit to be seen," objected Dot, hanging back.
He drew her on, her hand still fast in his. "Don't be shy, my dear
girl! You look all right. Will you lead the way, Lady Carfax? In the
hall, you know."
Very reluctantly Dot submitted. She had not the faintest inkling of his
intentions or her docility would have vanished on the instant. As it was,
fortified by Anne's presence, she yielded to his insistence.
The hall was full of people to whom Mrs. Errol was dispensing tea,
assisted by Bertie, who had emerged from his den for the purpose.
Bertie's studies did not permit him to take any part in the theatricals.
Possibly Nap's position at the head of affairs had assisted his
resolution in this respect.
He was sitting on the arm of Lucas's chair, hastily gulping some tea in
an interval snatched from his ministrations, when Anne entered, closely
followed by Dot and his brother. Some instinct moved him to turn and
look, for in the general buzz of talk and laughter around him he could
have heard nothing of their approach. He looked, then stared, finally
stood up and set down his cup abruptly.
As Nap came towards him, still holding Dot by the hand, he turned white
to the lips and moved forward.
A sudden silence fell as they met. They were the centre of the crowd, the
centre of observation, the centre of an unseen whirlpool of emotions that
threatened to be overwhelming.
And then with a smile Nap put an end to a tension of expectancy that had
"Hullo, Bertie!" he said, and smote him on the shoulder with a
vigorous hand. "I've just been hearing about your engagement, my dear
fellow. Congratulations! May you and Dot have the best of everything
all your lives!"
Poor Dot would have fled had that been possible, but she was hedged in
too closely for that. Moreover, Nap had transferred her hand to Bertie's,
and the boy's warm grasp renewed her fainting courage. She knew he was as
amazed as she was herself at Nap's sudden move, and she determined that
she would stand by him at whatever cost.
And after all, the difficult moment passed very quickly. People crowded
round them with kindly words, shook hands with them, chaffed them both,
and seemed to be genuinely pleased with the turn of events. Mrs. Errol
came forward in her hearty way and kissed them; and in the end Dot found
herself in Bertie's vacated place on the arm of Lucas's chair, with his
steady hand holding hers, and his quiet, sincere voice telling her that
he was "real glad that the thing was fixed up at last."
Later Bertie took her home in the motor, and explained the situation to
the rector, who was mildly bewildered but raised no definite objection to
the announcement of the engagement. He was something of a philosopher,
and Bertie had always been a favourite of his. Nap in fact was the only
member of the Errol family for whom he did not entertain the most
sincere esteem; but, as Dot remarked that night, Nap was a puzzle to
everybody. It seemed highly probable after all that he carried a kind
heart behind his cynical exterior. She was sure that Lady Carfax thought
so, since she invariably treated him as an intimate friend.
The rector admitted that she might be right, but after Dot had gone to
bed he leaned his elbow on his writing-table and sat long in thought.
"I wonder," he murmured to himself presently, "I wonder if Lady Carfax
knows what she is doing. She really is too young, poor girl, to be so
A QUESTION OF TRUST
The theatricals were arranged to take place on an evening in the
beginning of July, and for that one night Mrs. Errol persuaded Anne to
sleep at Baronmead. She would not consent to leave the Manor for longer,
for she still superintended much of the management of the estate and
overlooked the agent's work. She had begun to wonder if all her days
would be spent thus, for the reports which reached her regularly of her
husband's state of health were seldom of a hopeful nature. In fact they
varied very little, and a brain specialist had given it as his opinion
that, though it was impossible to speak with certainty, Sir Giles might
remain in his present condition of insanity for years, even possibly for
as long as he lived. He was the last of his family, and the title would
die with him. And Anne wondered--often she wondered--if it were to be her
lot to live out the rest of her life alone.
She did not mind solitude, nor was she altogether unhappy, but she was
too young not to feel now and then the deep stirrings of her youth. And
she had lived so little in all her twenty-five years of life. Yet with
that habit of self-control which had grown up with her, and which made
many think her cold, she would not suffer her thoughts to dwell upon past
or future. Her world was very small, and, as she had once told Nap, she
contented herself with "the work that was nearest". If it did not greatly
warm her heart, it kept her from brooding over trouble.
On the morning of the day fixed for the theatricals he came over in the
motor to fetch her. It was a glorious day of summer, and Anne was in the
garden. He joined her there, and they walked for awhile in the green
solitudes, talking of the coming entertainment.
They came in their wanderings to the seat under the lilac trees. She
wondered afterwards if he had purposely directed their steps thither.
They had not been together there since that night when the lilac had been
in bloom, that night of perfect spring, the night when their compact had
been made and sealed. Did he think of it, she wondered as they passed. If
so, he made no sign, but talked on in casual strain as if she were no
more than the most casual of friends. Very faithfully he had kept his
part of the compact, so faithfully that when they were past she was
conscious of a sense of chill mingling with her relief. He had stifled
his passion for her, it seemed, and perhaps it was only by comparison
that his friendship felt so cold and measured.
She was glad when they reached Baronmead at length. It was like going
into sudden sunshine to enter Lucas's presence and feel the warmth of his
welcome about her heart. She stayed long talking with him. Here was a
friend indeed, a friend to trust, a friend to confide in, a friend to
love. He might be "everybody's own and particular pal," as Nap had said,
but she knew intuitively that this friend of hers kept a corner for her
that was exclusively her own, a safe refuge in which she had found
shelter for the first time on that night that seemed so long ago when he
had held her in his arms and comforted her as though he had been a woman,
and which she knew had been open to her ever since.
There was a final rehearsal in the afternoon which went remarkably
smoothly. Anne's part was not a lengthy one, and as soon as it was over
she went back to the house in search of Mrs. Errol. She had left
directions for her letters to be sent after her, and she found two or
three awaiting her in the hall. She picked them up, and passed into the
Here she found Lucas reading some correspondence of his own.
He looked up with a smile. "Oh, Lady Carfax! I was just thinking of you.
I have a letter here from my friend Capper. You remember Dr. Capper?"
"Very well indeed," she said, stifling a sudden pang at the name.
He lay motionless in his chair, studying her with those shrewd blue eyes
that she never desired to avoid. "I believe Capper took you more or less
into his confidence," he said. "It's a risky thing for a doctor to do,
but he is a student of human nature as well as human anatomy. He
generally knows what he is about. Won't you sit down?"
She took the seat near him that he indicated. Somehow the mention of
Capper had made her cold. She was conscious of a shrinking that was
almost physical from the thought of ever seeing him again.
"Capper wants to have the shaping of my destiny," Lucas went on
meditatively. "In other words, he wants to pull me to pieces and make a
new man of me. Sometimes I am strongly tempted to let him try. At other
times," he was looking at her fully, "I hesitate."
She put her shrinking from her and faced him. "Will you tell me why?"
"Because," he said slowly, "I have a fear that I might be absent
"But you are always wanted," she said quickly.
He smiled. "Thank you, Lady Carfax. But that was not my meaning. I think
you understand me. I think Capper must have told you. I am speaking with
regard to--my brother Nap."
He spoke the last words very deliberately. He was still looking at her
kindly but very intently. She felt the blood rush to her heart. For the
first time her eyes fell before his.
He went on speaking at once, as if to reassure her, to give her time.
"You've been a stanch friend to him, I know, and you've done a big thing
for him. You've tamed him, shaped him, made a man of him. I felt your
influence upon him before I ever met you. I sensed your courage, your
steadfastness, your goodness. But you are only a woman, eh, Lady Carfax?
And Rome wasn't built in a day. There may come a time when the savage
gets the upper hand of him again. And then, if I were not by to hold him
in, he might gallop to his own or someone else's destruction. That is
what I have to think of before I decide."
"But--can you always hold him?" Anne said.
"Always, Lady Carfax." Very quietly, with absolute confidence, came the
reply. "You may put your last dollar on that, and you won't lose it. We
settled that many years ago, once and for all. But I've been asking
myself lately if I need be so anxious, if possibly Rome may be nearer
completion than I imagine. Is it so? Is it so? I sometimes think you know
him better than I do myself."
"I!" Anne said.
"You, Lady Carfax."
With an effort she looked up. His eyes were no longer closely studying
her. He seemed to be looking beyond.
"If you can trust him," he said quietly, "I know that I can. The question
He waited very quietly for her answer, still not looking at her. But it
was long in coming.
At last. "I do not feel that I know him as I once did," she said, her
voice very low, "nor is my influence over him what it was. But I think,
if you trust him, he will not disappoint you."
The kindly eyes rested upon her again for a moment, but he made no
comment upon the form in which she had couched her reply.
He merely, after the briefest pause, smiled and thanked her.
A SUDDEN BLOW
Anne found herself the first to enter the drawing room that night before
dinner. It was still early, barely half-past seven. The theatricals were
to begin at nine.
She had her unopened letters with her, and she sat down to peruse them by
an open window. The evening sun poured full upon her in fiery splendour.
She leaned her head against the woodwork, a little wearied.
She opened the first letter mechanically. Her thoughts were wandering.
Without much interest she withdrew it from the envelope, saw it to be
unimportant, and returned it after the briefest inspection. The next was
of the same order, and received a similar treatment. The third and last
she held for several seconds in her hand, and finally opened with obvious
reluctance. It was from a doctor in the asylum in which her husband had
been placed. Slowly her eyes travelled along the page.
When she turned it at length her hands were shaking, shaking so much
that the paper rattled and quivered like a living thing. The writing
ended on the further page, but before her eyes reached the signature the
letter had fallen from her grasp. Anne, the calm, the self-contained, the
stately, sat huddled in her chair--a trembling, stricken woman, with her
hands pressed tightly over her eyes, as if to shut out some dread vision.
In the silence that followed someone entered the room with a light,
cat-like tread, and approached the window against which she sat. But so
overwhelmed was she for the moment that she was unaware of any presence
till Nap's voice spoke to her, and she started to find him close to her,
within reach of her hand.
She lifted her white face then, while mechanically she groped for the
letter. It had fallen to the ground. He picked it up.
"What is it?" he said, and she thought his voice sounded harsh. "You have
had bad news?"
She held out her hand for the letter. "No, it is good. I--am a little
tired, that's all."
"That is not all," he said, and she heard the dogged note in his
voice that she had come to know as the signal of indomitable
resolution. He sat down on the window seat close to her, still
keeping the letter in his hand.
She made a little hopeless gesture and sat silent, striving for
composure. She knew that during the seconds that followed, his eyes never
stirred from her face. It was his old trick of making her feel the
compulsion of his will. Often before she had resisted it. To-night she
was taken at a disadvantage. He had caught her unarmed. She was
She turned her head at last and spoke. "You may read that letter," she
The thin lips smiled contemptuously for an instant. "I have read it
already," he said.
She started slightly, meeting his eyes. "You have read it?"
"In your face," he told her coolly. "It contains news of the man you call
your husband. It is to say he is better--and--coming--home."
He spoke the last words as though he were actually reading them one by
one in her tragic eyes.
"It is an experiment," she whispered. "He wishes it himself, it seems,
and they think the change might prove beneficial. He is decidedly
better--marvellously so. And he has expressed the desire to see me. Of
course"--she faltered a little--"I should not be--alone with him. There
would be an attendant. But--but you mustn't think I am afraid. It wasn't
that. Only--only--I did not expect it. It has come rather suddenly. I am
not so easily upset as a rule."
She spoke hurriedly, almost as though she were pleading with him to
understand and to pardon her weakness.
But her words quivered into silence. Nap said nothing whatever. He
sat motionless, the letter still in his hand, his eyes unswervingly
fixed upon her,
That sphinx-like stare became unbearable at last. She gathered her
strength and rose.
"You came upon me at an unlucky moment," she said. "Please forget it."
He still stared at her stonily without moving or speaking. Something that
was almost fear gripped her. The very stillness of the man was in a
She stood before him, erect, and at least outwardly calm. "May I have my
letter?" she said.
The words were a distinct command, and after a very decided pause he
responded to it. He rose with a quick, lithe movement, and handed her the
letter with a brief bow.
An instant later, while she still waited for him to speak, he turned on
his heel and left her.
Very soon after, Mrs. Errol came in, and then one after another those who
were staying in the house for the entertainment. But Anne had commanded
herself by that time. No one noticed anything unusual in her demeanour.
Nap was absent from the dinner--table. Someone said that he was
superintending some slight alteration on the stage. It was so ordinary an
occurrence for him to fail to appear at a meal that no one was surprised.
Only Anne covered a deep uneasiness beneath her resolute serenity of