As for Lucas, he lay quite still for a long while, steadily watching the motes that danced and swam giddily in the sunshine.
Nearly half an hour went by before he stirred at all. And then a heavy sigh burst suddenly from him, shaking his whole body, sending a flicker of pain across his drooping eyelids.
“Cherchez la femme!” he said to himself. And again with a quivering smile, “Cherchez la femme! God knows she isn’t far to seek. But—my dear—my dear!”
THE FIRST ORDEAL
All the birds in the Manor garden were singing on that afternoon in May. The fruit trees were in bloom. The air was full of the indescribable fragrance of bursting flowers. There was no single note of sadness in all the splendid day. But the woman who paced slowly to and fro under the opening lilacs because she could not rest knew nothing of its sweetness.
The precious peace of the past few weeks had been snatched from her. She was face to face once more with the problem that had confronted her for a few horror-stricken minutes on that awful evening in March. Then she had thrust it from her. Since she had resolutely turned her back upon it. But to-day it was with her, and there was no escaping it. It glared at her whichever way she turned, a monster of destruction waiting to devour. And she was afraid, horribly, unspeakably afraid, with a fear that was neither physical nor cowardly, yet which set her very soul a-trembling.
Restlessly she wandered up and down, up and down. It was a day for dreams, but she was terribly and tragically awake.
When Nap Errol came to her at length with his quick, light tread that was wary and noiseless as a cat’s, she knew of his coming long before he reached her, was vividly, painfully aware of him before she turned to look. Yesterday she had longed to look him in the face, but to-day she felt she dared not.
Slim and active he moved across the grass, and there came to her ears a slight jingle of spurs. He had ridden then. A sudden memory of the man’s free insolence in the saddle swept over her, his domination, his imperial arrogance. Turning to meet him, she knew that she was quivering from head to foot.
He came straight up to her, halted before her. “Have you no welcome for me?” he said.
By sheer physical effort she compelled herself to face him, to meet the fierce, challenging scrutiny which she knew awaited her. She held out her hand to him. “I am always glad to see you, Nap,” she said.
He took her hand in a sinewy, compelling grip. “Although you prefer good men,” he said.
The ground on which she stood seemed to be shaking, yet she forced herself to smile, ignoring his words.
“Let us go and sit down,” she said.
Close by was a seat under a great lilac tree in full purple bloom. She moved to it and sat down, but Nap remained upon his feet, watching her still.