He had half-apologised for his offering. “If you think it premature, don’t wear it!” he had said.
And she had slipped it on to her right hand and worn it ever since.
She recalled the kindling of his tired eyes at her action, and smiled sadly to herself. How little she had to give him after all! And yet he was content!
Sitting there, she raised her hand and looked closely at the gift. It was a complete circle of diamonds. She had never seen such a ring before. It must have cost a fortune. She wondered if she ought to wear it. Again memory began to crowd upon her, strive though she would.
“Do you like diamonds?” asked a casual voice.
Her hand fell into her lap. She sat as one watching a scene upon a stage, rapt and listening. She wanted to rise and move away, to break the magic spell that bound her, to flee—to flee—but she was powerless.
“No,” said the voice. “You haven’t a passion for anything at present. You will have soon.”
There fell a silence in her soul, a brief darkness, then again words, no longer casual, but quick, burning, passionate.
“I am mad—I am mad for you, Anne! Goddess—queen—woman—you are mine—you are mine—you are mine!” And then, less fiery, less vehement, but infinitely more compelling: “Where is your love for me? I will swear that you loved me once!”
The voice ceased, was lost in the wild throbbing of her heart, and Anne’s hands clenched unconsciously. In that moment there came to her the conviction, inexplicable but extraordinarily vivid, that across the world Nap Errol had called to her—and had called in vain.
Minutes passed. She sat as one in a trance. Her eyes were wide and fixed. Her face was grey.
She rose at last and stood looking down into the red depths of the fire. The coals sank together under her eyes, and a sudden flame flared fiercely for a moment and died. It was like the opening and the shutting of a furnace door. A long, long shiver went through her. She turned away....
Anne Carfax did not look in her glass again that day. For the third time in her life she was afraid to meet her own eyes.
And all night long her brain thrummed like a vibrating wire to a voice that sometimes pleaded but more often gibed. “Has the Queen no further use for her jester?”
THE UNINVITED GUEST
Spring came early that year, and the day fixed for the opening of the Baronford Town Hall was brilliantly fine and warm. Anne was staying at Baronmead for the event. The end of February was approaching. Lucas was decidedly better. His sleep was becoming less broken. He suffered considerably less; and he took a keen interest in all that passed.
On the morning before the ceremony he greeted Anne with an eagerness that almost amounted to impatience. “Come in! Come in! I’ve something to show you.”