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.