“It is because you are so quiet a mouse, Anne,” my lady said, with her dazzling smile, “that you seem never in the way; and yet I should miss you if I knew you were not within the house. When the duke takes me to Camylotte you must be with me even then. It is so great a house that in it I can find you a bower in which you can be happy even if you see us but little. ’Tis a heavenly place I am told, and of great splendour and beauty. The park and flower-gardens are the envy of all England.”
“You—will be very happy, sister,” said Anne, “and—and like a queen.”
“Yes,” was her sister’s answer—“yes.” And ’twas spoken with a deep in-drawn breath.
After the repast was ended she went back to the Panelled Parlour.
“You may sit with me till bedtime if you desire, Anne,” she said; “but ’twill be but dull for you, as I go to sit at work. I have some documents of import to examine and much writing to do. I shall sit up late.” And upon this she turned to the lacquey holding open the door for her passing through. “If before half-past ten there comes a message from Sir John Oxon,” she gave order, “it must be brought to me at once; but later I must not be disturbed—it will keep until morning.”
Yet as she spoke there was before her as distinct a picture as ever of what lay waiting and gazing in the room to which she went.
Until twelve o’clock she sat at her table, a despatch box by her side, papers outspread before her. Within three feet of her was the divan, but she gave no glance to it, sitting writing, reading, and comparing documents. At twelve o’clock she rose and rang the bell.
“I shall be later than I thought,” she said. “I need none of you who are below stairs. Go you all to bed. Tell my woman that she also may lie down. I will ring when I come to my chamber and have need of her. There is yet no message from Sir John?”
“None, my lady,” the man answered.
He went away with a relieved countenance, as she made no comment. He knew that his fellows as well as himself would be pleased enough to be released from duty for the night. They were a pampered lot, and had no fancy for late hours when there were no great entertainments being held which pleased them and gave them chances to receive vails.
Mistress Anne sat in a large chair, huddled into a small heap, and looking colourless and shrunken. As she heard bolts being shot and bars put up for the closing of the house, she knew that her own dismissal was at hand. Doors were shut below stairs, and when all was done the silence of night reigned as it does in all households when those who work have gone to rest. ’Twas a common thing enough, and yet this night there was one woman who felt the stillness so deep that it made her breathing seem a sound too loud.
“Go to bed, Anne,” she said. “You have stayed up too long.”
Anne arose from her chair and drew near to her.