The mask was slipping. Only a flimsy veil of sentiment now over his rash will. Only a light pretense of her freedom, of his courtesy. He was beginning to declare himself....
But she must not let him suspect that she knew. She must not.
Her spirit responded fiercely to this tense demand upon it. The dread, the panic of the night was gone. The fear that had shaken her was beaten down like a cowardly dog. Excitement burned in her blood. Everything depended upon her coolness and her wit, upon a look, perhaps, the turn of a phrase, the droop of an eye, and she was passionately resolved that neither coolness nor wit should fail her, nor words nor looks nor eyes betray the heart of her. She would play her role with every breath she drew.
* * * * *
She crossed the room at the luncheon summons in the nervous tensity of mood that an actress might go to play a part in which her career would live or die. Every half hour with Kerissen was now a duel, every minute was a stroke to be parried, and she flung herself into that duel with the desperate exhilaration of such daring. Her hands were icy, and her cheeks were flaming with the excitement which consumed her, but she revealed no other trace of it, and she wondered to herself at the inscrutable fairness of the face which, looked back at her from the glass.
None of the record of those frightened, sleepless hours was written there, none of her furious pride, her fixed intensity. Only the soft shadows under the blue eyes gave her face a look of added delicacy for all the unnatural flare of brilliant color, and a faint wistfulness in those eyes seemed to overlay the smiles she practiced, like a cloud shadow on a brook. And never, never, in all her glad, care-free days, had she been as distractingly pretty as she was that moment. With an angry little pang she recognized it, pinning on the lace hat with its enchanting rose, and then desperately she resolved to employ it and added two of Kerissen’s pink roses to the costume.
She thought the scene was very like a stage, when she came out through the narrow door which the old woman unlocked from a key she carried on a girdle, and slowly descended the stone steps. Beneath the wide-spreading lebbek a low table was laid for luncheon with two wicker chairs beside it. The green of the fresh turf was as vivid as stage grass; the lilies loomed unreally large and white; the poinsettias flaunted like red paper flowers behind the vivid picture that the Captain made in a dazzling buff and green uniform picked out with gold. His bow was theatric, so was the deep look of exaggerated admiration he bent upon her—it was strange to remember that her danger was not theatric also. But that was deadly real, and real, too, was the sudden surge of color into the young man’s sallow face.