“For the future,” Anne said, “there must be no correspondence between us at all. I know it seems unreasonable to you, but that cannot be helped. Mr. Errol, surely you are generous enough—chivalrous enough—to understand.”
“No, I don’t understand,” Nap said. “I don’t understand how you can, by the widest stretch of the imagination, believe it your duty to conform to the caprices of a maniac.”
“How can I help it?” she said very sadly.
He was silent a moment. His hands were still gripping hers; she could feel her wedding-ring being forced into her flesh. “Like our mutual friend, Major Shirley,” he said slowly, “I wonder why you stick to the man.”
She turned her face away with a sound that was almost a moan.
“You never loved him,” he said with conviction.
She was silent. Yet after a little, as he waited, she spoke as one compelled.
“I live with him because he gave me that for which I married him. He fulfilled his part of the bargain. I must fulfil mine. I was nothing but his bailiff’s daughter, remember; a bailiff who had robbed him—for whose escape from penal servitude I paid the price.”
“Great Heavens!” said Nap.
She turned to him quickly, with an impulsiveness that was almost girlish. “I have never told anyone else,” she said. “I tell you because I know you are my friend and because I want you to understand. We will never—please—speak of it again.”
“Wait!” Nap’s voice rang stern. “Was it part of the bargain that he should insult you, trample on you, make you lead a dog’s life without a single friend to make it bearable?”
She did not attempt to answer him. “Let us go back,” she said.
He wheeled at once, still holding her hands.
They skated a few yards in silence. Then suddenly, almost under his breath, he spoke. “I am not going to give up my friendship with you. Let that be clearly understood.”
“You are very good to me,” she said simply.
“No. I am not. I am human, that’s all. I don’t think this state of affairs can last much longer.”
She shuddered. Her husband’s condition had been very much worse of late, but she did not tell him so.
They were skating rapidly back towards the head of the lake. In front of them sounded the swirling rush of skates and the laughter of many voices.
“I’m sorry I’ve been a beast to you,” Nap said abruptly. “You mustn’t mind me. It’s just my way.”
“Oh, I don’t mind you, Nap,” she answered gently.
“Thanks!” he said.
And with that he stooped suddenly and shot forward like a meteor, bearing her with him.
They flashed back into the gay throng of masqueraders, and mingled with the crowd as though they had never left it.
THE DESCENT FROM OLYMPUS