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 is—Can you?”
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.