Back to her face had come all the softness which had been lost, the hard lines were gone, the tender curves had returned, her lashes looked as if they were moist. Anne, sitting rigidly and gazing at her, was afraid to speak, knowing that she was not for the time on earth, but that the sound of a voice would bring her back to it, and that ’twas well she should be away as long as she might.
She read the letter, not once, but thrice, dwelling upon every word, ’twas plain; and when she had reached the last one, turning back the pages and beginning again. When she looked up at last, ’twas with an almost wild little smile, for she had indeed for that one moment forgotten.
“Locked in each other’s arms,” she said—“locked in each other’s arms. My Gerald! My Gerald! ’What surely is my own—my own’!”
Anne rose and came to her, laying her hand on her arm. She spoke in a voice low, hushed, and strained.
“Come away, sister,” she said, “for a little while—come away.”
That she must leave the Panelled Parlour at her usual hour, or attract attention by doing that to which her household was unaccustomed, she well knew, her manner of life being ever stately and ceremonious in its regularity. When she dined at home she and Anne partook of their repast together in the large dining-room, the table loaded with silver dishes and massive glittering glass, their powdered, gold-laced lacqueys in attendance, as though a score of guests had shared the meal with them. Since her lord’s death there had been nights when her ladyship had sat late writing letters and reading documents pertaining to her estates, the management of which, though in a measure controlled by stewards and attorneys, was not left to them, as the business of most great ladies is generally left to others. All papers were examined by her, all leases and agreements clearly understood before she signed them, and if there were aught unsatisfactory, both stewards and lawyers were called to her presence to explain.