Her heart quickened at the bare thought. How gladly would she set herself to make a living when once this burden had been lifted from her!
But she would not relinquish it without his sanction. She would be faithful to the last, true to that bargain she had struck with him so long ago. Yet surely he could not refuse it. She was convinced that he hated her.
Again she felt that strange new life thrilling in her veins. Again she felt herself almost young. To be free! To be free! To choose her own friends without fear; to live her own life in peace; to know no further tumults or petty tyrannies—to be free!
The prospect dazzled her. She lifted her face and gasped for breath.
Then, hearing a sound at her door, she turned.
A white-faced servant stood on the threshold. “If you please, my lady, your coat is in a dreadful state. I was afraid there must have been an accident.”
Anne stared at the woman for a few seconds with the dazed eyes of one suddenly awakened.
“Yes,” she said slowly at length. “There was—an accident. Mr. Nap Errol was—hurt while skiing.”
The woman looked at her with frank curiosity, but there was that about her mistress at the moment that did not encourage inquiry or comment.
She stood for a little silent; then, “What had I better do with the coat, my lady?” she asked diffidently.
Anne made an abrupt gesture. The dazed look in her eyes had given place to horror. “Take it away!” she said sharply. “Do what you like with it! I never want to see it again.”
“Very good, my lady.”
The woman withdrew, and Anne covered her face with her hands once more, and shuddered from head to foot.
AT THE MERCY OF A DEMON
Some time later Anne seated herself at her writing-table.
The idea of writing to her husband had come to her as an inspiration; not because she shirked an interview—she knew that to be inevitable—but because she realised that the first step taken thus would make the final decision easier for them both.
She did not find it hard to put her thoughts into words. Her mind was very clear upon the matter in hand. She knew exactly what she desired to say. Only upon the subject of her friendship with Nap she could not bring herself to touch. A day earlier she could have spoken of it, even in the face of his hateful suspicion, without restraint. But to-night she could not. It was as if a spell of silence had been laid upon her, a spell which she dared not attempt to break. She dared not even think of Nap just then.
It was not a very long letter that she wrote, sitting there in the silence of her room, and it did not take her long to write. But when it was finished, closed and directed, she sat on with her chin upon her hand, thinking. It seemed scarcely conceivable that he would refuse to let her go.