The Knave of Diamonds
by Ethel May Dell
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Never," said Anne firmly.

He took his coat and began to wriggle into it, surveying her meantime with a smile half-speculative, half-rueful.

"Well, that's a weight off my mind, anyway," he remarked at length. "For I have a staggering piece of news for you which I hardly dare to impart. Oh, it's no good looking at your watch. It's hopelessly late, nearly six o'clock, and in any case I can't get you home to-night. There's no petrol."

"Nap!" Anne's voice was a curious compound of consternation and relief. Somehow—doubtless it was the effect of thunder in the atmosphere—she had expected something in the nature of tragedy.

Nap put on his most contrite air. "Do be a brick and take it nicely!" he pleaded. "I know I was an all-fired fool not to see to it for myself. But I was called away, and so I had to leave it to those dunderheads at the garage. I only made the discovery when I left you a couple of hours ago. There was just enough left to take me to Rodding, so I pelted off at once to some motorworks I knew of there, only to find the place was empty. It's a hole of a town. There was some game on, and I couldn't get a conveyance anywhere. So I just put up the motor and came back across country on foot. I don't see what else I could have done, do you?"

Anne did not for the moment, but she was considering the situation too rapidly to answer him.

"My only consolation," he went on, "is that you have got a change of raiment, which is more than I have. Oh, yes, I had the sense to think of that contingency. Your bag is at the inn here, waiting for you."

"You had better have taken me back with you to Rodding," Anne said.

"Yes, I know. But I expected to be back in half an hour if all went well. It's easy to be wise after the event, isn't it? I've thought of that myself since." Nap picked up a twig and bit it viciously. "Anyway, there is some tea waiting for us. Shall we go back?"

Anne turned beside him. "Then what do you propose to do?"

He glanced at her. "Nothing before morning, I'm afraid. There is no vehicle to be had here. I will send someone down to Rodding in the morning for a conveyance. We can take the train from there to Staps, where I can get some petrol. We ought by that means to reach home sometime in the afternoon. It is the only feasible plan, I am afraid; unless you can suggest a better."

He looked at her keenly, still biting at the twig between his teeth.

Anne walked for several seconds in silence. At last, "Would it be quite impossible to walk to Rodding now?" she asked.

"Not at all," said Nap. "It is about eight miles through the woods. We should be benighted, of course. Also I fancy there is a storm coming up. But if you wish to make the attempt—"

"I was only wondering," she said quietly, "if we could get an evening train to Staps. That, I know, is on the main line. You could put up there, and I could take the night train to town."

"Oh, quite so," said Nap. "Shall we have tea before we start?"

They had emerged from the wood and were beginning to climb the hill. The veiled sunlight gave an unreal effect to the landscape. The broom bushes looked ghostly.

Anne gave an uneasy glance around. "I believe you are right about the storm," she said.

"I generally am right," observed Nap.

They walked on. "I shouldn't like to be benighted in the woods," she said presently.

His scoffing smile showed for an instant. "Alone with me too! Most improper!"

"I was thinking we might miss the way," Anne returned with dignity. "I wonder—shall we risk it?"

She turned to him as if consulting him, but Nap's face was to the sky. "That is for you to decide," he said. "We might do it. The storm won't break at present."

"It will be violent when it does," she said.

He nodded. "It will."

She quickened her steps instinctively, and he lengthened his stride. The smile had ceased to twitch his lips.

"Have you decided?" he asked her suddenly, and his voice sounded almost stern.

They were nearing the top of the hill. She paused, panting a little. "Yes. I will spend the night here."

He gave her a glance of approval. "You are a wise woman."

"I hope so," said Anne. "I must telegraph at once to Dimsdale and tell him not to expect me."

Nap's glance fell away from her. He said nothing whatever.



"Thank the gods, we are the only guests!" said Nap that evening, as they sat down to dine at the table at which they had lunched.

The glare of a lurid sunset streamed across the sky and earth. There was a waiting stillness upon all things. It was the hush before the storm.

An unwonted restlessness had taken possession of Anne. She did not echo his thanksgiving, an omission which he did not fail to note, but upon which he made no comment.

It was in fact scarcely a place for any but day visitors, being some considerable distance from the beaten track. The dinner placed before them was not of a very tempting description, and Anne's appetite dwindled very rapidly.

"You must eat something," urged Nap. "Satisfy your hunger with strawberries and cream."

But Anne had no hunger to satisfy, and she presently rose from the table with something like a sigh of relief.

They went into the drawing-room, a room smelling strongly of musk, and littered largely with furniture of every description. Nap opened wide a door-window that led into a miniature rosegarden. Beyond stretched the common, every detail standing out with marvellous vividness in the weird storm-light.

"St. Christopher!" he murmured softly. "We are going to catch it."

Anne sat down in a low chair near him, gazing forth in silence, her chin on her hand.

He turned a little and looked down at her, and thus some minutes slipped away, the man as tensely still as the awe-stricken world without, the woman deep in thought.

He moved at last with a curious gesture as if he freed and restrained himself by the same action.

"Why don't you think out loud?" he said.

She raised her eyes for a moment. "I was thinking of my husband," she said.

He made a sharp movement—a movement that was almost fierce—and again seemed to take a fresh grip upon himself. His black brows met above his brooding eyes. "Can't you leave him out of the reckoning for this one night?" he asked.

"I think not," she answered quietly.

He turned his face to the sinking sun. It shone like a smouldering furnace behind bars of inky cloud.

"You told me once," he said, speaking with obvious constraint, "that you did not think you would ever live with him again."

She stifled a sigh in her throat. "I thought so then."

"And what has happened to make you change your mind?"

Anne was silent. She could not have seen the fire that leapt and darted in the dusky eyes had she been looking at him, but she was not looking. Her chin was back upon her hand. She was gazing out into the darkening world with the eyes of a woman who sees once more departed visions.

"I think," she said slowly at length, as he waited immovably for her answer, "that I see my duty more clearly now than then."

"Duty! Duty!" he said impatiently. "Duty is your fetish. You sacrifice your whole life to it. And what do you get in return? A sense of virtue perhaps, nothing more. There isn't much warming power in virtue. I've tried it and I know!" He broke off to utter a very bitter laugh. "And so I've given it up," he said. "It's a trail that leads to nowhere."

Anne's brows drew together for an instant. "I hoped you might come to think otherwise," she said.

He shrugged his shoulders. "How can I? I've lived the life of a saint for the past six months, and I am no nearer heaven than when I began. It's too slow a process for me. I wasn't made to plough an endless furrow."

"We all of us say that," said Anne, with her faint smile. "But do we any of us really know what we were made for? Are we not all in the making still?"

He thrust out his chin. "I can't be abstruse tonight. I know what I was made for, and I know what you were made for. That—anyway for tonight—is all that matters."

He spoke almost brutally, yet still he held himself as it were aloof. He was staring unblinking into the sunset. Already the furnace was dying down. The thunder-clouds were closing up. The black bars had drawn together into one immense mass, advancing, ominous. Only through a single narrow slit the red light still shone.

Mutely they watched it pass, Anne with her sad eyes fixed and thoughtful, Nap still with that suggestion of restrained activity as if he watched for a signal.

Gradually the rift closed, and a breathless darkness came.

Anne uttered a little sigh. "I wish the storm would break," she said. "I am tired of waiting."

As if in answer, out of the west there rose a long low rumble.

"Ah!" she said, and no more.

For as if the signal had come, Nap turned with a movement incredibly swift, a movement that was almost a spring, and caught her up into his arms.

"Are you tired of waiting, my Queen—my Queen?" he said, and there was a note of fierce laughter in his words. "Then—by heaven—you shall wait no longer!"

His quick breath scorched her face, and in a moment, almost before she knew what was happening, his lips were on her own. He kissed her as she had never been kissed before—a single fiery kiss that sent all the blood in tumult to her heart. She shrank and quivered under it, but she was powerless to escape. There was sheer unshackled savagery in the holding of his arms, and dismay thrilled her through and through.

Yet, as his lips left hers, she managed to speak, though her voice was no more than a gasping whisper. "Nap, are you mad? Let me go!"

But he only held her faster, faster still.

"Yes, I am mad," he said, and the words came quick and passionate, the lips that uttered them still close to her own. "I am mad for you, Anne. I worship you. And I swear that while I live no other man shall ever hold you in his arms again. Anne—goddess—queen—woman—you are mine—you are mine—you are mine!"

Again his lips pressed hers, and again from head to foot she felt as if a flame had scorched her. Desperately she began to resist him though terribly conscious that he had her at his mercy. But he quelled her resistance instantly, with a mastery that made her know more thoroughly her utter impotence.

"Do you think that you can hold me in check for ever?" he said. "I tell you it only makes me worse. I am a savage, and chains of that sort won't hold me. What is the good of fighting against fate? You have done it as long as I have known you; but you are beaten at last. Oh, you may turn your face from me. It makes no difference now. I've played for this, and I've won! You have been goddess to me ever since the day I met you. To-night—you shall be woman!"

He broke into a low, exultant laugh. She could feel the fierce beating of his heart, and her own died within her. The blaze of his passion ringed her round like a forest fire in which all things perish.

But even then she knew that somewhere, somewhere, there was a way of escape, and with the instinct of the hunted creature she sought it.

"To-night," she said, "I shall know whether you have ever really loved me."

"What?" he said. "You dare to question that now? Do you want to put me to the proof then? Shall I show you how much I love you?"

"No," she said. "Take your arms away!"

She did not expect his obedience, but on the instant he spread them wide and released her.

"And now?" he said.

She almost tottered, so amazing had been his compliance. And then as swiftly—came the knowledge that he had not really set her free. It had pleased him to humour her, that was all. He stood before her with all the arrogance of a conqueror. And through the gathering darkness his eyes shone like the eyes of a tiger—two flames piercing the gloom.

She mustered all her strength to face him, confronting him with that unconscious majesty that first had drawn him to her.

"And now," she said, "let us once and for all understand one another."

"What?" he said. "Don't you understand me yet? Don't you realise—yet—that when a man of my stamp wants a woman he—takes her?"

Again there throbbed in his voice that deep note of savagery, such savagery as made her quail. But it was no moment for shrinking. She knew instinctively that at the first sign of weakness he would take her back into his arms.

She straightened herself therefore, summoning all her pride. "Do you really think I am the sort of woman to be taken so?" she asked. "Do you really think I am yours for the taking? If so, then you have never known me. Nor—till this moment—have I known you."

He heard her without the faintest hint of astonishment or shame, standing before her with that careless animal grace of his that made him in some fashion superb.

"Yes," he said, "I really do think you are mine for the taking this time, but you will admit I've been patient. And I've taken the trouble to make things easy for you. I've spirited you away without putting you through any ordeals of hesitation or suspense. I've done it all quite unobtrusively. To-morrow we go to London, after that to Paris, and after that—whithersoever you will—anywhere under the sun where we can be alone. As to knowing each other"—his voice changed subtly, became soft, with something of a purring quality—"we have all our lives before us, and we shall be learning every day."

His absolute assurance struck her dumb. There was something implacable about it, something unassailable—a stronghold which she felt powerless to attack.

"Doesn't that programme attract you?" he said, drawing nearer to her. "Can you suggest a better? The whole world is before us. Shall we go exploring, you and I, alone in the wilds, and find some Eden that no man has ever trodden before? Shall we, Anne? Shall we? Right away from everywhere, somewhere in the sun, where I can teach you to be happy and you can teach me to be—good."

But at his movement she moved also, drawing back. "No!" she said. Her voice was low, but not lacking in strength. Having spoken, she went on almost without effort. "You are building upon a false foundation. If it were not so, I don't think I could possibly forgive you. As it is, I think when you realise your mistake you will find it hard to forgive yourself. I have treated you as a friend because I thought I could do so with safety. I thought for the sake of my friendship you had given up all thought of anything else. I thought you were to be trusted and I trusted you. Oh, I admit I ought to have known you better. But I shall never make that mistake again."

"No," Nap said. "I don't think you will."

He spoke deliberately; he almost drawled. Yet a sense of danger stabbed her. His sudden coldness was more terrible than his heat.

"But why say this to me now?" he said. "Do you think it will make any difference?"

He had not moved as he uttered the words, and yet she felt as if he menaced her. He made her think of a crouching tiger—a tiger whose devotion had turned to sudden animosity.

She did not shrink from him, but her heart quickened. "It must make a difference," she said. "You have utterly misunderstood me, or you would never have brought me here."

"Don't be too sure of that," he returned. "It may be that you can deceive yourself more easily than you can deceive me. Or again, it may be that I have come to the end of my patience and have decided to take by storm what cannot be won by waiting."

She drew herself up proudly. "And you call that—love!" she said, with a scorn that she had never before turned against him. "You dare to call that—love!"

"Call it what you will!" he flashed back. "It is something that can crush your cold virtue into atoms, something that can turn you from a marble saint into a living woman of flesh and blood. For your sake I've tried—I've agonised—to reach your level. And I've failed because I can't breathe there. To-night you shall come down from your heights to mine. You who have never lived yet shall know life—as I know it—to-night!"

Fiercely he flung the words, and the breath of his passion was like a fiery blast blown from the heart of a raging furnace. But still she did not shrink before him. Proud and calm she waited, bearing herself with a queenly courage that never faltered.

And it was as if she stood in a magic circle, for he raised no hand to touch her. Without word or movement she kept him at bay. Erect, unflinching, regal, she held her own.

He caught his breath as he faced her. The beast in him slunk back afraid, but the devil urged him forward. He came close to her, peering into her face, searching for that weak place in every woman's armour which the devil generally knows how to find. But still he did not offer to touch her. He had let her go out of his arms when he had believed her his own, and now he could not take her again.

"Anne," he said suddenly, "where is your love for me? I will swear you loved me once."

"I never loved you," she answered, her words clear-cut, cold as steel. "I never loved you. Once, it is true, I fancied that you were such a man as I could have loved. But that passed. I did not know you in those days. I know you now."

"And hate me for what you know?" he said.

"No," she answered. "I do not even hate you."

"What then?" he gibed. "You are—sorry for me perhaps?"

"No!" Very distinct and steady came her reply. "I only despise you now."

"What?" he said.

"I despise you," she repeated slowly, "knowing what you might be, and knowing—what you are."

The words passed out in silence—a silence so tense that it seemed as if the world itself had stopped. Through it after many seconds came Nap's voice, so softly that it scarcely seemed to break it.

"It is not always wise to despise an enemy, Lady Carfax—especially if you chance to be in that enemy's power."

She did not deign to answer; but her gaze did not flinch from his, nor did her pride waver.

He drew something abruptly from his pocket and held it up before her. "Do you see this?"

She stirred then, ever so slightly, a movement wholly involuntary, instantly checked. "Are you going to shoot me?" she asked.

"I thought that would make you speak," he remarked. "And you still despise me?"

Her breathing had quickened, but her answer was instant; for the first time it held a throb of anger. "I despise you for a coward. You are even viler than I thought."

He returned the weapon to his pocket. "It is not for you," he said. "I am more primitive than that. It is for the man who stands between us, for the man who thought he could whip Nap Errol—and live. I have never gone unarmed since."

He paused a moment, grimly regarding her. Then, "There is only one thing I will take in exchange for that man's life," he said. "Only—one—thing!"

But she stood like a statue, uttering no word.

A sudden gust of passion swept over him, lashing him to headlong fury. "And that one thing I mean to have!" he told her violently. "No power in heaven or hell shall keep you from me. I tell you"—his voice rose, and in the darkness those two flames glowed more redly, such flames as had surely never burned before in the face of a man—"whatever you may say, you are mine, and in your heart you know it. Sooner or later—sooner or later—I will make you own it." His voice sank suddenly to a whisper, no longer passionate, only inexpressibly evil. "Will you despise me then, Queen Anne? I wonder!—I wonder!"

She moved at last, raised her hand, stiffly pointed. "Go!" she said. "Go!"

Yet for a space he still stood in the doorway, menacing her, a vital figure, lithe, erect, dominant. The tension was terrible. It seemed to be strained to snapping point, and yet it held.

It was the fiercest battle she had ever known—a battle in which his will grappled with hers in a mighty, all-mastering grip, increasing every instant till she felt crushed, impotent, lost, as if all the powers of evil were let loose and seething around her, dragging her down.

Her resolution began to falter at last. She became conscious of a numbing sense of physical weakness, an oppression so overwhelming that she thought her heart would never beat again. Once more she seemed to totter on the edge of a depth too immense to contemplate, to hover above the very pit of destruction...

And then suddenly the ordeal was over. A blinding flash of lightning lit the room, glimmered weirdly, splitting the gloom as a sword rending a curtain, and was gone. There came a sound like the snarl of a startled animal, and the next instant a frightful crash of thunder.

Anne reeled back, dazed, stunned, utterly unnerved, and sank into a chair.

When she came to herself she was alone.



A puff of rain-washed air wandered in through the wide-flung window, and Lucas Errol turned his head languidly upon the pillow to feel it on his face. He sighed as he moved, as if even that slight exertion cost him some resolution. His eyes had a heavy, drugged look. They seemed more deeply sunken than usual, but there was no sleep in them, only the utter weariness that follows the sleep of morphia.

At the soft opening of the door a faint frown drew his forehead, but it turned to a smile as Bertie came forward with cautious tread.

"That you, dear fellow? I am awake."

Bertie came to his side, his brown face full of concern. "Are you better, old chap?"

"Yes, better, thanks. Only so dog-tired. Sit down. Have you brought the budget?"

"There's nothing much to-day. Only that chap Cradock writing again for instructions about the Arizona ranch, and a few Wall Street tips from Marsh by cable. Say, Luke, I don't think Cradock is overweighted with spunk, never have thought so. Guess that ranch wants a bigger man."

"I'll see his letter," said Lucas. "Presently will do. What about Marsh?"

"Oh, he's behind the scenes as usual. You'd better read him now. The rest will keep. When you've done that I want to talk to you."

"So I gathered. Stuff in another pillow behind me, will you? I can think better sitting up."

"I shouldn't, old chap, really. You're always easier lying down."

"Oh, shucks, Bertie! Do as you're told. And don't look at me like that, you old duffer. It's a mean advantage to take of a sick man. Steady now, steady! Go slow! You mustn't slam a creaking gate. It's bad for the hinges."

But notwithstanding Bertie's utmost care there were heavy drops on his brother's forehead as he sank again upon his pillows. Bertie wiped them away with a hand that trembled a little, and Lucas smiled up at him with twitching lips.

"Thanks, boy! It was only a twinge. Sit down again, and give me Marsh's cipher and the morning papers. The letters you shall read to me presently."

He straightway immersed himself in business matters with the shrewdness and concentration that ever aroused his young brother's deepest admiration.

"What a marvellous grip you've got on things, Luke!" he exclaimed at the end of it. "No wonder you are always on the top! You're great, man, you're great!"

"I guess it's just my speciality," the millionaire said, with his weary smile. "I must be getting another secretary soon, boy. It's a shame to eat up your time like this. What is it you want to talk to me about? Going to get married?"

Bertie shook his head. "The padre won't hear of it yet, and Dot herself—well, you know, I said I'd wait."

"Don't wait too long," said Lucas quietly. "You shall have the old Dower House to live in. Tell the padre that. It's only a stone's throw from the Rectory. We'll build a garage too, eh, Bertie? The wife must have her motor. And presently, when you are called to the Bar, you will want a flat in town."

"You're a brick, Luke!" the boy declared, with shining eyes. "Between ourselves, I don't expect to do much at the Bar, but I'm sticking to it just to show 'em I can work like the rest of creation. I'd sooner be your secretary for all time, and you know it."

"That so?" Lucas stretched a hand towards him. "But I guess you're right. I don't want you to depend on me for employment. If I were to go out one of these days you'd feel rather left. It's better you should have other resources."

"Luke, I say! Luke!"

But the quick distress of the words was checked by the gentle restraint of Lucas's hand. "I know! I know! But we've all got to die sooner or later, and one doesn't want to tear a larger hole than one need. That's all right, Bertie boy. We'll shunt the subject. Only, if you want to please me, get that nice little girl to marry you soon. Now what was it you wanted to say? Something about Nap?"

"Yes. How did you know? It's an infernal shame to worry you when you're not fit for it. But the mother and I both think you ought to know."

"Go ahead, dear fellow! I'm tougher than you think. What has become of Nap?"

"That's just the question. You know he went off in the car with Lady Carfax yesterday morning?"

"I didn't know," murmured Lucas. "That's a detail. Go on."

"Late last night the car had not returned, and the mother began to wonder. Of course if Lady Carfax hadn't been there it wouldn't have mattered much, but as it was we got anxious, and in the end I posted off to the Manor to know if she had arrived. She had not. But while I was there a wire came for the butler from a place called Bramhurst, which is about fifty miles away, to say that the car had broken down and they couldn't return before to-day. Well, that looked to me deuced queer. I'm convinced that Nap is up to some devilry. What on earth induced her to go there with him anyway? The mother was real bothered about it, and so was I. We couldn't rest, either of us. And in the end she ordered the big Daimler and went off to Bramhurst herself. I wanted to go with her, but she wouldn't have me at any price. You know the mother. So I stopped to look after things here. Everyone cleared off this morning, thank the gods. I don't think anyone smelt a rat. I told them the mother had gone to nurse a sick friend, and it seemed to go down all right."

Lucas had listened to the recital with closed eyes and a perfectly expressionless face. He did not speak for a few moments when Bertie ended. At length, "And the mother is not back yet?" he asked.

"No. But I'm not afraid for her. She knows how to hold her own."

"That's so," Lucas conceded; and fell silent again.

He was frowning a little as if in contemplation of some difficulty, but his composure was absolute.

"There may be nothing in it," he said at last.

Bertie grunted. "I knew he was in a wild beast mood before they started. He nearly rode the black mare to death in the early morning."

"Why wasn't I told of that?" Lucas opened his eyes with the question and looked directly at his brother's worried countenance.

"My dear fellow, you were too sick to be bothered. Besides, you were taking morphia. He saw to that."

Lucas closed his eyes again without comment, A long pause ensued before he spoke again.

Then: "Bertie," he said, "go down to the garage and leave word that as soon as Nap returns I want to speak to him."

"He won't return," said Bertie, with conviction.

"I think he will. It is even possible that he has returned already. In any case, go and tell them. Ah, Tawny, what is it?"

The valet came to his master's side. His hideous features wore an expression that made them almost benign. The dumb devotion of an animal looked out of his eyes.

"A note, sir, from the Manor."

"Who brought it?" asked Lucas.

"A groom, sir."

"Waiting for an answer?"

"Yes, sir."

Lucas opened the note. It was from Anne.

He read a few lines, then glanced at Bertie. "It's all right, Bertie. Go and give that message, will you? Say it's important—an urgent matter of business."

Bertie departed, and Lucas's eyes returned to the sheet he held.

Tawny Hudson stood motionless beside him, and several silent seconds ticked away. His master spoke at length.

"Pen and paper, Tawny. Yes, that's right. Now put your arm behind the pillows and give me a hoist. Slowly now, slowly!"

And then, as the man supported him, very slowly and unsteadily he traced a few words.

"Don't worry. All's well.—Lucas."

Abruptly the pen fell from his fingers; his head dropped back. His face was drawn and ghastly as he uttered a few gasping whispers. "Tawny, give me something—quick! This pain is—killing me!"

The man lowered him again, and took a bottle from a side-table. As he measured some drops into a glass the only sound in the room was his master's agonised breathing.

Yet he knew without turning that someone had entered, and he betrayed no surprise when Nap's hand suddenly whisked the glass from his hold and held it to the panting lips.



The first words Lucas uttered when utterance became possible to him were, "No morphia!"

Nap was deftly drawing away the pillows to ease his position. "All right, old fellow," he made answer. "But you know you can't sit up when you are like this. What possessed you to try?"

"Business," murmured Lucas. "Don't go again, Boney. I want you."

"So I've been told. I am quite at your service. Don't speak till you feel better."

"Ah! I am better now. There's magic about you, I believe. Or is it electricity?" Lucas's eyes rested on the grim face above him with a certain wistfulness.

Nap only smiled cynically. "Is Hudson to take this note? Can I address it for you?"

If he expected to cause any discomfiture by the suggestion he was disappointed. Lucas answered him with absolute composure.

"Yes; to Lady Carfax at the Manor. It is to go at once."

Nap thrust it into an envelope with a perfectly inscrutable countenance, scrawled the address, and handed it to the valet. "You needn't come back till you are rung for," he said.

And with that he calmly seated himself by his brother's side with the air of a man with ample leisure at his disposal.

As the door closed he spoke. "Hadn't you better have a smoke?"

"No. I must talk first. I wish you would sit where I can see you."

Nap pulled his chair round at once and sat in the full glare of the noonday sun. "Is that enough lime-light for you? Now, what ails the great chief? Does he think his brother will run away while he sleeps?"

There was a hint of tenderness underlying the banter in his voice. He stooped with the words and picked up a letter that lay on the floor. "This yours?"

Lucas's half-extended hand fell. "And you may read it," he said.

"Many thanks! I don't read women's letters unless they chance to be addressed to me—no, not even if they concern me very nearly." Nap's teeth gleamed for a moment. "I'm afraid you must play off your own bat, my worthy brother, though if you take my advice you'll postpone it. You're about used up, and I'm deuced thirsty. It's not a peaceful combination."

Again, despite the nonchalance of his speech, it was not without a certain gentleness. He laid the letter on the bed within reach of his brother's hand.

"I won't leave the premises till you have had your turn," he said. "I guess that's a fair offer anyway. Now curl up and rest."

But Lucas negatived the suggestion instantly though very quietly. "I'll take my turn now if you've no objection. That ranch in Arizona, Boney, is beginning to worry me some. I want you to take it in hand. It's a little job peculiarly suited to your abilities."

Nap jerked up his head with an odd gesture, not solely indicative of surprise. "What do you know of my abilities?"

"More than most." Very steadily Lucas made answer. "I depend on you in a fashion you little dream of, and I guess you won't fail me."

Nap's jaw slowly hardened. "I'm not very likely to disappoint you," he observed, "more especially as I have no intention of removing to Arizona at present."



"Not if I make a point of it?" Lucas spoke heavily, as if the effort of speech were great. His hand had clenched upon Anne's letter.

Nap leaned forward without replying, the sunlight still shining upon his face, and looked at him attentively.

"Yes," Lucas said very wearily. "It has come to that. I can't have you here disturbing the public peace. I won't have my own brother arraigned as a murderer. Nor will I have Anne Carfax pilloried by you for all England to throw mud at. I've stood a good deal from you, Boney, but I'm damned if I'm going to stand this."

"The only question is, Can you prevent it?" said Nap, without the faintest change of countenance.

"I am going to prevent it."

"If you can."

"I am going to prevent it," Lucas repeated. "Before we go any further, give me that shooter of yours."

Nap hesitated for a single instant, then, with a gesture openly contemptuous, he took the revolver from his pocket and tossed it on to the bed.

Lucas laid his hand upon it. He was looking full into Nap's face. "Now, I want you to tell me something," he said. "I seem to remember your saying to me once in this very room that you and Lady Carfax were friends, no more, no less. You were mighty anxious that I shouldn't misunderstand. Remember that episode?"

"Perfectly," said Nap.

"I surmised that you told me that because you honestly cared for her as a friend. Was that so?"

Nap made a slight movement, such a movement as a man makes when he catches sight of a stone to his path too late to avoid it.

"You may say so if you wish," he said.

"Meaning that things have changed since then?" questioned Lucas, in his tired drawl.

Nap threw up his head with the action of a jibbing horse. "You can put it how you like. You can say—if you like—that I am a bigger blackguard now than I was then. It makes no difference how you put it."

"But I want to know," said Lucas quietly. "Are you a blackguard, Boney?"

His eyes were fixed steadily upon the dusky face with its prominent cheek-bones and mocking mouth. Perhaps he knew, what Anne had discovered long before, that those sensitive lips might easily reveal what the fierce eyes hid.

"A matter of opinion," threw back Nap. "If I am, Anne Carfax has made me so."

"Anne Carfax," said Lucas very deliberately, "has done her best to make a man of you. It is not her fault if she has failed. It is not her fault that you have chosen to drag her friendship through the mire."

"Friendship!" broke in Nap. "She gave me more than that."

Lucas's brows contracted as if at a sudden dart of pain, but his voice was perfectly level as he made reply: "Whatever she gave you was the gift of a good woman of which you have proved yourself utterly unworthy."

Nap sprang to his feet. "Be it so!" he exclaimed harshly. "I am unworthy. What of it? She always knew I was."

"Yet she trusted you."

"She trusted me, yes. Having cast out the devil she found in possession, she thought there was nothing more to me. She thought that I should be content to wander empty all my days through dry places, seeking rest. She forgot the sequel, forgot what was bound to happen when I found none. You seem to have forgotten that too. Or do you think that I am indeed that interesting vacuum that you are pleased to call a gentleman?" He flung his arms wide with a sudden, passionate laugh. "Why, my good fellow, I'd sooner rank myself with the beasts that perish. And I'd sooner perish too; yes, die with a rope round my throat in the good old English fashion. There's nothing in that. I'd as soon die that way as any other. It may not be so artistic as our method, but it's quite a clean process, and the ultimate result is the same."

"Do you mind sitting down?" said Lucas.

Nap looked at him sharply. "In pain again?"

"Sit down," Lucas reiterated. "You can't do anything more than that. Now will you take the trouble to make me understand what exactly are your present intentions, and why?"

"Doesn't that letter tell you?" said Nap.

"This letter," Lucas answered, "is the desperate appeal of a very unhappy woman who is in mortal dread of your murdering her husband."

"That all?" said Nap. The red glare of savagery flickered for an instant in his eyes. "She has no fears on her own account then?"

"Will you explain?"

"Oh, certainly, if you need explanation. I mean that the death of Sir Giles Carfax is no more than a stepping-stone, a means to an end. So long as he lives, he will stand in my way. Therefore Sir Giles will go. And mark me, any other man who attempts to come between us I will kill also. Heaven knows what there is in her that attracts me, but there is something—something I have never seen in any other woman—something that goes to my head. Oh, I'm not in love with her. I'm long past that stage. One can't be in love for ever, and she is as cold as the North Star anyway. But she has driven me mad, and I warn you—I warn you—you had better not interfere with me!"

He flung the words like a challenge. His lower jaw was thrust forward. He looked like a savage animal menacing his keeper.

But Lucas lay without moving a muscle, lay still and quiet, without tension and without emotion of any description, simply watching, as a disinterested spectator might watch, the fiery rebellion that had kindled against him.

At length very deliberately he held out the revolver.

"Well," he drawled, "my life isn't worth much, it's true. And you are quite welcome to take your gun and end it here and now if you feel so disposed. For I warn you, Nap Errol, that you'll find me considerably more in your way than Sir Giles Carfax or any other man. I stand between you already, and while I live you won't shunt me."

Nap's lips showed their scoffing smile. "Unfortunately—or otherwise—you are out of the reckoning," he said.

"Am I? And how long have I been that?"

Nap was silent. He looked suddenly stubborn.

Lucas waited. There was even a hint of humour in his steady eyes.

"And that's where you begin to make a mistake," he said presently. "You're a poor sort of blackguard at best, Boney, and that's why you can't break away. Take this thing! I've no use for it. But maybe in Arizona you'll find it advisable to carry arms. Come over here and read Cradock's letter."

But Nap swung away with a gesture of fierce unrest. He fell to prowling to and fro, stopping short of the bed at each turn, refusing doggedly to face the quiet eyes of the man who lay there.

Minutes passed. Lucas was still watching, but he was no longer at his ease. His brows were drawn heavily. He looked like a man undergoing torture. His hand was still fast closed upon Anne's letter.

He spoke at last, seeming to grind out the words through clenched teeth. "I guess there's no help for it, Boney. We've figured it out before, you and I. I'm no great swell at fighting, but—I can hold my own against you. And if it comes to a tug-of-war—you'll lose."

Nap came to his side at last and stood there, still not looking at him. "You seem almighty sure of that," he said.

"That's so," said Lucas simply. "And if you care to know why, I'll tell you. It's just because your heart isn't in it. One half of you is on my side. You're just not blackguard enough."

"And so you want to send me to Arizona to mature?" suggested Nap grimly.

"Or to find yourself," Lucas substituted. "Say, Boney, if you don't give in pretty soon I'll make you take me along."

"You!" Nap's eyes came down at last to the drawn face. He gave a slight start, and the next moment stooped to lift the tortured frame to another position. "If Capper were here he'd say I was killing you," he said. "For Heaven's sake, man, rest!"

"No," gasped Lucas. "No! I haven't finished—yet. Boney, you—you've got to listen. There's no quarrel between us. Only if you will be so damned headstrong, I must be headstrong too. I mean what I say. If you won't go to Arizona alone, you will go with me. And we'll start to-night."

Nap's thin lips twitched, but with no impulse to ridicule. He rearranged the pillows with his usual dexterous rapidity, then deliberately laid his hand upon the lined forehead and stood so in utter silence, staring unblinking straight before him.

For many seconds Lucas also lay passive. His eyelids drooped heavily, but he would not suffer them to close. He was yet watching, watching narrowly, the flame that still smouldered and might blaze afresh at any moment.

"Give it up, Boney!" he said at last. "I'll go with you to the ends of the earth sooner than let you do this thing, and you'll find me a very considerable encumbrance. Do you honestly believe yourself capable of shunting me at will?"

"I honestly believe you'll kill yourself if you don't rest," Nap said.

He looked down suddenly into the tired eyes. The fierce glare had gone utterly out of his own. His very pose had altered.

"Then I shall die in a good cause," Lucas murmured, with the ghost of a smile. "You needn't say any more, Boney. I guess I shall rest now."

"Because you think you've beaten me," Nap said curtly.

"Guess it's your victory, dear fellow, not mine," Lucas answered very gently.

A gleam that was not a smile crossed the harsh face, softening but not gladdening. "It's a mighty hollow one anyway. And I'm not going for nothing—not even to please you."

"Anything—to the half of my kingdom," Lucas said.

Nap sat down on the edge of the bed. The madness had passed, or he had thrust it back out of sight in the darkest recesses of his soul. He laid a hand upon his brother's arm and felt it speculatively.

"No sinew, no flesh, and scarcely any blood!" he said. "And yet"—his mouth twisted a little—"my master! Luke, you're a genius!"

"Oh, shucks, Boney! What's brute strength anyway?"

"Not much," Nap admitted. "But you—you haven't the force of a day-old puppy. Maybe, when I'm out of the way fighting my devils in the desert, you'll give Capper a free hand, and let him make of you what you were always intended to be—a human masterpiece. There won't be any obstacles when I'm out of the way."

Lucas's hand felt for and closed upon his. "If that's your condition, it's a bargain," he said simply.

"And you'll put up a fight for it, eh, Luke? You're rather apt to slack when I'm not by." Was there a hint of wistfulness in the words? It almost seemed so.

A very tender look came into the elder man's eyes. "With God's help, Boney," he said, "I'll pull through."

Nap rose as if that ended the interview. Yet, rising, he still gripped the weak hand of the man who was his master.

A moment he stood, then suddenly bent very low and touched it with his forehead.

"I leave to-night," he said, and turning went very quickly and noiselessly from the room.



It was a very cheery Dot Waring who ran across the wet fields that afternoon to the Manor to acquaint Lady Carfax with the gratifying intelligence that the proceeds of the great entertainment at which she had so kindly assisted actually amounted to close upon thirty pounds. Baronford had done its humble best towards providing itself with a Town Hall, had in fact transcended all expectations, and Dot was in high spirits in consequence.

It was something of a disappointment to be met by old Dimsdale with the intelligence that her ladyship was very tired and resting. He added, seeing Dot's face fall, that Mrs. Errol was spending a few days at the Manor and would no doubt be very pleased to see her.

So Dot entered, and was presently embraced by Mrs. Errol and invited to take tea with her in the conservatory.

"Yes, dear Anne's in bed," she said. "She and Nap went for a motor ride yesterday, and broke down and were benighted. Nap always was sort of reckless. We had a message late last night telling us what had happened, and I went off at once in the big car and brought Anne back. Nap had to wait for his own car, but I guess he's back by this time. And poor Anne was so worn out when we got back that I persuaded her to go to bed right away. And I stopped to take care of her."

In view of the fact that Mrs. Errol was never happier than when she had someone to take care of, this seemed but natural, and Dot's straightforward mind found nothing unusual in the story.

She remained for nearly an hour, chattering gaily upon a thousand topics. She was always at her ease with Mrs. Errol.

At parting, the latter held her for a moment very closely. "Happy, dearie?" she asked.

"Oh, ever so happy," said Dot, with warm arms round her friend's neck.

Mrs. Errol sighed a little, smiled and kissed her. "God keep you so, child!" she said.

And Dot went forth again into the hazy summer sunshine with a vague wonder if dear Mrs. Errol were quite happy too. Somehow she had not liked to ask.

Her way lay over the shoulder of a hill, that same hill on which Sir Giles Carfax had once wreaked his mad vengeance upon his enemy.

A mist lay along the valley, and Dot kept on the ridge as long as she could. She was essentially a creature of sunshine.

She was obliged, however, at last to strike downwards, and with regret she left the sunshine behind.

The moment it was out of her eyes she caught sight of something she had not expected to see in the valley below her. It was not a hundred yards away, but the mist rising from the marshy ground partially obscured it. A dark object, curiously shapeless, that yet had the look of an animal, was lying in a hollow, and over it bent the figure of a man.

Dot's heart quickened a little. Had there been an accident, she asked herself? She hastened her steps and drew near.

As she did so, the man straightened himself suddenly, and turned round, and instantly a thrill of recognition and of horror went through the girl. It was Nap Errol, and the thing on the ground was his black mare.

She knew in a flash what had happened. Bertie had predicted disaster too often for her not to know. A great wave of repulsion surged through her. She was for the moment too horrified for speech.

Nap stood, erect, motionless, waiting for her. There was a terrible set smile on his face like the smile on a death-mask. He did not utter a word as she came up.

The mare was quite dead. The starting, bloodshot eyes were already glazing. She lay in a huddled heap, mud-stained, froth-splashed, with blood upon her flanks. White-faced and speechless, Dot stood and looked. It was the first time that tragedy had ever touched her gay young life.

She stooped at last, and with trembling, pitiful fingers touched the velvet muzzle. Then suddenly indignation, fierce, overwhelming, headlong, swept over her, crowding out even her horror. She stood up and faced Nap in such a tornado of fury as had never before shaken her.

"You brute!" she said. "You fiend! You—you—"

"Devil," said Nap. "Why not say it? I shan't contradict you."

He spoke quite quietly, so quietly that, even in the wild tempest of her anger she was awed. There was something unfathomable about him, something that nevertheless arrested her at the very height of her fury. His manner was so still, so deadly still, and so utterly free from cynicism.

She stood and stared at him, a queer sensation of dread making her very heart feel cold.

"I should go if I were you," he said.

But Dot stood still, as if struck powerless.

"You can't do any good," he went on, his tone quite gentle, even remotely kind. "I had to kill something, but it was a pity you chanced to see it. You had better go home and forget it."

Dot's white lips began to move, but it was several seconds before any sound came from them. "What are you going to do?"

"That's my affair," said Nap.

He was still faintly smiling, but his smile appalled her. It was so cold, so impersonal, so void of all vitality.

"Really, you had better go," he said.

But Dot's dread had begun to take tangible form. Perhaps the very shock she had undergone had served to awaken in her some of the dormant instincts of her womanhood.

She stood her ground, obedient to an inner prompting that she dared not ignore. "Will you—walk a little way with me?" she said at last.

For the first time Nap's eyes looked at her intently, searched her closely, unsparingly. She faced the scrutiny bravely, but she trembled under it.

At the end of a lengthy pause he spoke. "Are you going to faint?"

"No," she answered quickly. "I never faint. Only—only—I do feel—rather sick."

He put his hand under her arm with a suddenness that allowed of no protest and began to march her up the hill.

Long before they reached the top Dot's face was scarlet with exertion and she was gasping painfully for breath; but he would not let her rest till they were over the summit and out of sight of the valley and what lay there.

Then, to her relief, he stopped. "Better now?"

"Yes," she panted.

His hand fell away from her. He turned to go. But swiftly she turned also and caught his arm "Nap, please—" she begged, "please—"

He stood still, and again his eyes scanned her. "Yes?"

The brief word sounded stern, but Dot was too anxious to take any note of that.

"Come a little farther," she urged. "It—it's lonely through the wood."

"What are you afraid of?" said Nap.

She could not tell him the truth, and she hesitated to lie. But his eyes read her through and through without effort. When he turned and walked beside her she was quite sure that he had fathomed the unspeakable dread which had been steadily growing within her since the moment of their meeting.

He did not say another word, merely paced along with his silent tread till they reached the small wood through which her path lay. Dot's anger had wholly left her, but her fear remained. A terrible sense of responsibility was upon her, and she was utterly at a loss as to how to cope with it. Her influence over this man she believed to be absolutely nil. She had not the faintest notion how to deal with him. Lady Carfax would have known, she reflected, and she wished with all her heart that Lady Carfax had been there.

He vaulted the stile into the wood, and held up his hand to her. As she placed hers within it she summoned her resolution and spoke.

"Nap, I'm sorry I said what I did just now."

He raised his brows for the fraction of a second. "I forget what you said."

She flushed a little. "Because you don't choose to remember. But I am sorry I spoke all the same. I lost my temper, and I—I suppose I had no right to."

"Pray don't apologise," he said. "It made no difference, I assure you."

But this was not what Dot wanted. She descended to the ground and tried again. It was something at least to have broken the silence.

"Nap," she said, standing still with her hands nervously clasped behind her, "please don't think me—impertinent, or anything of that sort. But I can't help knowing that you are feeling pretty bad about it. And—and" she began to falter—"I know you are not a brute really. You didn't mean to do it."

A curious little smile came into Nap's face. "It's good of you to make excuses for me," he observed. "You happen to know me rather well, don't you?"

"I know you are in trouble," she answered rather piteously. "And—I'm sorry."

"Thanks!" he said. "Do we part here?"

She thrust out her hand impulsively. "I thought we decided to be—friends," she said, a sharp quiver in her voice.

"Well?" said Nap. He did not touch her hand. His fingers were wound in the thong of his riding-crop and strained at it incessantly as if seeking to snap it asunder.

Dot was on the verge of tears. She choked them back desperately. "You might behave as if we were," she said.

He continued to tug grimly at the whip-lash. "I'm not friends with anyone at the present moment," he said. "But it isn't worth crying over anyway. Why don't you run home and play draughts with Bertie?"

"Because I'm not what you take me for!" Dot suddenly laid trembling hands on the creaking leather and faced him with all her courage. "I can't help what you think of me," she said rather breathlessly. "But I'm not going to leave you here by yourself. You may be as furious as you like. I simply won't!"

He pulled the whip sharply from her grasp. She thought for the moment that he actually was furious and braced herself to meet the tempest of his wrath. And then to her amazement he spoke in a tone that held neither sarcasm nor resentment, only a detached sort of curiosity.

"Are you quite sure I'm worth all this trouble?"

"Quite sure," she answered emphatically.

"And I wonder how you arrived at that conclusion," he said with a twist of the mouth that was scarcely humorous.

She did not answer, for she felt utterly unequal to the discussion.

They began to walk on down the mossy pathway. Suddenly an idea came to Dot. "I only wish Lady Carfax were here," she exclaimed impetuously. "She would know how to convince you of that."

"Would she?" said Nap. He shot a swift look at the girl beside him, then: "You see, Lady Carfax has thrown me over," he told her very deliberately.

Dot gave a great start. "Oh, surely not! She would never throw over anyone. And you have always been such friends."

"Till I offended her," said Nap.

"Oh, but couldn't you go and apologise?" urged Dot eagerly. "She is so sweet. I know she would forgive anybody."

He jerked up his head. "I don't happen to want her forgiveness. And even if I did, I shouldn't ask for it. I'm not particularly great at humbling myself."

"Isn't that rather a mistake?" said Dot.

"No," he rejoined briefly. "Not when I'm despised already for a savage and the descendant of savages."

"I am afraid I don't understand," she said.

He uttered a sudden harsh laugh. "I see you don't. Or you would be despising me too."

"I shall never do that," she said quickly.

He looked at her again, still with a mocking smile upon his lips. He bore himself with a certain royal pride that made her feel decidedly small.

"You will never say that again," he remarked.

"Why not?" she demanded.

"Because," he answered, with a drawling sneer, "you are like the rest of creation. You put breed before everything. Unless a man has what you are pleased to term pure blood in his veins he is beyond the pale."

"Whatever are you talking about?" said Dot, frankly mystified.

He stopped dead and faced her. "I am talking of myself, if you want to know," he told her very bitterly. "I am beyond the pale, an illegitimate son, with a strain of Red Indian in my veins to complete my damnation."

"Good gracious!" said Dot.

She stared at him for a few seconds mutely, as if the sudden announcement had taken her breath away.

At last: "Then—then—Mrs. Errol—" she stammered.

"Is not my mother," he informed her grimly. "Did you ever seriously think she was?" He flung back his shoulders arrogantly. "You're almighty blind, you English."

Dot continued to contemplate him with her frank eyes, as if viewing for the first time a specimen of some rarity.

"Well, I don't see that it makes any difference," she said at length. "You are you just the same. I—I really don't see quite why you told me."

"No?" said Nap, staring back at her with eyes that told her nothing. "P'r'aps I just wanted to show you that you are wasting your solicitude on an object of no value."

"How—funny of you!" said Dot.

She paused a moment, still looking at him; then with a quick, childish movement she slipped her hand through his arm. Quite suddenly she knew how to deal with him.

"You seem to forget," she said with a little smile, "that I'm going to be your sister one day."

He stiffened at her action, and for a single moment she wondered if she could have made a mistake. And then as suddenly he relaxed. He took the hand that rested on his arm and squeezed it hard.

And Dot knew that in some fashion, by a means which she scarcely understood, she had gained a victory.

They went on together along the mossy, winding path. A fleeting shower was falling, and the patter of it sounded on the leaves.

Nap walked with his face turned up to the raindrops, sure-footed, with the gait of a panther. He did not speak a word to the girl beside him, but his silence, did not disconcert her. There was even something in it that reassured her.

They were approaching the farther end of the wood when he abruptly spoke.

"So you think it makes no difference?"

Was there a touch of pathos in the question? She could not have said. But she answered it swiftly, with all the confidence—and ignorance—of youth.

"Of course I do! How could it make a difference? Do you suppose—if it had been Bertie—I should have cared?"

"Bertie!" he said. "Bertie is a law-abiding citizen. And you—pardon me for saying so—are young."

"Oh, yes, I know," she admitted. "But I've got some sense all the same. And—and—Nap, may I say something rather straight?"

The flicker of a smile shone and died in his eyes. "Don't mind me!" he said. "The role of an evangelist becomes you better than some."

"Don't!" said Dot, turning very red.

"I didn't," said Nap. "I'm only being brotherly. Hit as straight as you like."

"I was going to say," she said, taking him at his word, "that if a man is a good sort and does his duty, I don't believe one person in a million cares a rap about what his parents were. I don't indeed."

She spoke with great earnestness; it was quite obvious that she meant every word. It was Dot's straightforward way to speak from her heart.

"And I'm sure Lady Carfax doesn't either," she added.

But at that Nap set his teeth. "My child, you don't chance to know Lady Carfax as I do. Moreover, suppose the man doesn't chance to be a good sort and loathes the very word 'duty'? It brings down the house of cards rather fast, eh?"

An older woman might have been discouraged; experience would probably have sadly acquiesced. But Dot possessed neither age nor experience, and so she only lost her patience.

"Oh, but you are absurd!" she exclaimed, shaking his arm with characteristic vigour. "How can you be so disgustingly flabby? You're worse than old Squinny, who sends for Dad or me every other day to see him die. He's fearfully keen on going to heaven, but that's all he ever does to get there."

Nap broke into a brief laugh. They had reached the stile and he faced round with extended hand. "After that—good-bye!" he said. "With your permission we'll keep this encounter to ourselves. But you certainly are a rousing evangelist. When you mount the padre's pulpit I'll come and sit under it."

Dot's fingers held fast for a moment. "It'll be all right, will it?" she asked bluntly. "I mean—you'll be sensible?"

He smiled at her in a way she did not wholly understand, yet which went straight to her quick heart.

"So long, little sister!" he said. "Yes, it will be quite all right. I'll continue to cumber the ground a little longer, if you call that being sensible. And if you think my chances of heaven are likely to be improved by your kind intervention, p'r'aps you'll put up a prayer now and then on my behalf to the Power that casts out devils—for we are many."

"I will, Nap, I will!" she said very earnestly.

When he was gone she mounted the stile and paused with her face to the sky. "Take care of him, please, God!" she said.



Notwithstanding her largeness of heart, Mrs. Errol was something of a despot, and when once she had assumed command she was slow to relinquish it.

"I guess you must let me have my own way, dear Anne," she said, "for I've never had a daughter."

And Anne, to whom the burden of life just then was more than ordinarily heavy, was fain to submit to the kindly tyranny. Mrs. Errol had found her alone at the inn at Bramhurst on the night of the storm, and in response to her earnest request had taken her without delay straight back to her home. Very little had passed between them on the circumstances that had resulted in this development. Scarcely had Nap's name been mentioned by either. Mrs. Errol seemed to know him too well to need an explanation. And Anne had noted this fact with a sick heart.

It meant to her the confirmation of what had already become a practical conviction, that the man she had once dreamed that she loved was no more than a myth of her own imagination. Again and yet again she had been deceived, but her eyes were open at last finally and for all time. No devil's craft, however wily, however convincing, could ever close them again.

Lying in her darkened room, with her stretched nerves yet quivering at every sound, she told herself over and over that she knew Nap Errol now as others knew him, as he knew himself, a man cruel, merciless, unscrupulous, in whose dark soul no germ of love had ever stirred.

Why he had ever desired her she could not determine. Possibly her very faith in him—that faith that he had so rudely shattered—had been the attraction; possibly only her aloofness, her pride, had kindled in him the determination to conquer. But that he had ever loved her, as she interpreted love, she now told herself was an utter impossibility. She even questioned in the bitterness of her disillusionment if Love, that True Romance to which she had offered sacrifice, were not also a myth, the piteous creation of a woman's fond imagination, a thing non-existent save in the realms of fancy, a dream-goal to which no man might attain and very few aspire.

All through the long day she lay alone with her problem, perpetually turning it in her mind, perpetually asking by what tragic influence she had ever been brought to fancy that this man with his violent, unrestrained nature, his fierce egoism, his murderous impulses, had ever been worthy of the halo her love had fashioned for him. No man was worthy! No man was worthy! This man least of all! Had not he himself warned her over and over again, and she had not listened? Perhaps he had not meant her to listen. Perhaps it had only been another of his devilish artifices for ensnaring her, that attitude of humility, half-scoffing, half-persuasive, with which he had masked his inner vileness.

Oh, she was sick at heart that day, sick with disappointment, sick with humiliation, sick with a terrible foreboding that gave her no rest. Slowly the hours dragged away. She had despatched her urgent message to Lucas immediately upon her arrival at the Manor, and his prompt reply had in a measure reassured her. But she knew that he was ill, and she could not drive from her mind the dread that he might fail her. How could he in his utter physical weakness hope to master the demons that tore Nap Errol's turbulent soul? And if Lucas failed her, what then? What then? She had no city of refuge to flee unto. She and her husband were at the mercy of a murderer. For that he would keep his word she did not for a moment doubt. Nap Errol was not as other men. No second thoughts would deter him from his purpose. Unless Lucas by some miracle withheld him, no other influence would serve. He would wreak his vengeance with no hesitating hand. The fire of his savagery was an all-consuming flame, and it was too strongly kindled to be lightly quenched.

Her thoughts went back to her husband. The date of his return had not been definitely fixed. The letter had suggested that it should take place some time in the following week. She had not yet replied to the suggestion. She put her hand to her head. Actually she had forgotten! Ought she not to send a message of warning? But in what terms could she couch it? Lucas might even yet succeed. It might be that even now he was fighting the desperate battle.

Inaction became intolerable. She had promised Mrs. Errol that she would take a long rest, but there was no rest for her. She knew that she would hear from Lucas the moment he had anything definite to report; but a new and ghastly fear now assailed her. What if Nap had not returned to Baronmead? What if he had gone direct to the asylum, there to snatch his opportunity while his fury was at its height?

The thought turned her sick. She rose, scarcely knowing what she did, and moved across the room to her escritoire. The vague idea of penning some sort of warning was in her mind, but before she reached it the conviction stabbed her that it would be too late. No warning would be of any avail. If that had been Nap Errol's intention, by this time the deed was done. And if that were so, she was in part guilty of her husband's murder.

Powerless, she sank upon her knees by the open window, striving painfully, piteously, vainly, to pray. But no words came to her, no prayer rose from her wrung heart. It was as though she knelt in outer darkness before a locked door.

In that hour Anne Carfax went down into that Place of Desolation which some call hell and some the bitter school of sorrow—that place in which each soul is alone with its agony and its sin, that place where no light shines and no voice is heard, where, groping along the edge of destruction, the wanderer seeks its Maker and finds Him not, where even the Son of God Himself once lost His faith.

And in that hour she knew why her love lay wounded unto death, though not then did she recognise the revelation as a crowning mercy. She saw herself bruised and abased, humbled beyond belief. She saw her proud purity brought low, brought down to the very mire which all her life she had resolutely ignored, from the very though of which she had always withdrawn herself as from an evil miasma that bred corruption. She saw herself a sinner, sunk incredibly low, a woman who had worshipped Love indeed, but at a forbidden shrine, a woman moreover bereft of all things, who had seen her sacrifice crumble to ashes and had no more to offer.

Through her mind flashed a single sentence that had often and often set her wondering: "From him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he seemeth to have." She knew its meaning now. It scorched her inmost soul. Such an one was she. No effort had she ever made to possess her husband's love. No love had she ever offered to him; duty and submission indeed, but love—never. Her heart had been unwarmed, nor had she ever sought to kindle within it the faintest spark. She had hated him always. She knew it now. Or perhaps her feeling for him had been something too cold for even hatred. If he had made her drink the waters of bitterness, she had given him in return the icy draught of contempt.

There had been a time when his passion for her might have turned to love, but she had let it slide. She had not wanted love. Or else—like so many fevered souls—she had yearned for the full blossom thereof, neglecting to nourish the parched seed under her feet.

She had committed sacrilege. That was why Love had come to her at last with a flaming sword, devastating her whole life, depriving her of even that which she had seemed to have. That was why she now knelt impotent before a locked door. That was why God was angry.

A long, long time passed. She did not hear the rain pattering upon the green earth, nor feel the soft breeze on her neck. She had lost touch with things physical. She was yet groping in outer darkness.

A hand very softly turned the handle of her door, and a motherly face looked in.

"Why, Anne, dear child, I thought you were asleep!" the deep voice said reproachfully. "I've been listening outside for ages, and you were so quiet!"

She raised her head quickly, and in a moment rose. Her eyes were deeply shadowed, but they bore no trace of tears.

"I could not sleep," she said. "But you mustn't trouble about me. I am quite well. I will dress and come down."

Mrs. Errol came forward, shaking her head disapprovingly. "I have a note from Lucas," she said. "It arrived a quarter of an hour ago, but there was no answer, so I thought it would be real wicked to wake you up to read it."

Anne stretched out a hand that shook. "Please!" she said almost inarticulately.

With the note open in her hand she turned and sat down suddenly as if incapable of standing. The clumsy, uneven writing danced before her eyes. One sentence only, but it took her many seconds to read!

"My brother Nap leaves to-night for Arizona.—Lucas."

She raised her face with a deep, deep breath. She felt as if she had not breathed for hours. Silently, after a moment, she held out the brief message to Mrs. Errol.

"My!" said the latter. "Well, thank the Lord for that!"

And then very tenderly she laid her hand upon Anne's shoulder. "My dearie, would it help you any to speak of him?"

Anne leaned her weary head against her. "I don't know," she said.

"I often wanted to warn you," Mrs. Errol said. "But I thought—I hoped—it was unnecessary. You were always so kind of frank with him that I thought maybe it would be an impertinence to say anything. It wasn't as if you were an inexperienced girl. If you had been—but to give him his due, Nap never tried to trap inexperience. He's got some morals, knave as he is. Say, Anne dear, you know he is no son of mine?"

"Yes," whispered Anne, gently drawing her friend's hand round her neck.

"And I sometimes wonder," Mrs. Errol went on, in her deep sing-song voice that yet somehow held a note of pathos, "if I did wrong to take him as I did. He was the quaintest baby, Anne—the cutest morsel you ever saw. His dying mother brought him to me. She was only a girl herself—a broken-hearted girl, dying before her time. I couldn't refuse. I felt he had a sort of claim upon us. Maybe I was wrong. My husband didn't view it that way, but at that time I hadn't much faith in his judgment. So I took the boy—his boy—and he was brought up as one of my own. But he was always unaccountable. He had queer lapses. I tried to be kind to him. I guess I always was kind. But I surmise that he always suspected me of resenting his existence. Lucas was the only one who ever had any influence over him. Latterly I've thought you had some too, but I guess that was where I went wrong. He and Bertie never got on. P'r'aps it was my fault. P'r'aps he inherited some of my antagonism. The Lord knows I tried to suppress it, but somehow it was always there."

"Dear Mrs. Errol!" Anne murmured softly. "Not one woman in a thousand would have done as much."

"Oh, you mustn't say that, dearie. I'm a very poor specimen. I gave him what advantages I could, but I never loved him. P'r'aps if I had, he'd have been a better boy. It's only love that counts for anything in God's sight, and I never gave him any. Lucas did. That's how it is he knows how to manage him. It isn't personal magnetism or anything of that sort. It's just love. He can't help answering to that, because it's Divine."

"Ah!" breathed Anne. "You think him capable of love then?"

"I guess so, dear. He's raw and undeveloped, but like the rest of creation he has his possibilities. You've seen him in his better moods yourself. I always thought he kept his best side for you."

"I know," Anne said. She leaned slowly back, looking up into the kindly eyes above her. "But it was only a mask. I see it now. I think there are many men like that, perhaps all are to a certain extent. They are only themselves to one another. No woman would ever love a man if she saw him as he is."

"My dear! My dear!" Mrs. Errol said. "That's a bitter thing to say. And it isn't true either. You'll see better by-and-by. Men are contemptible, I own—the very best of them; but they've all got possibilities, and it's just our part to draw them out. It's the divine foolishness of women's love that serves their need, that makes them feel after better things. No woman ever won a man by despising him. He may be inferior—he is—but he wants real love to bolster him up. I guess the dear Lord thought of that when He fashioned women."

But Anne only smiled, very sadly, and shook her head. It might be true, but she was in no state to judge. She was blinded by present pain. She felt she had given her love to the wrong man, and though it had flourished like a tropical flower in the fiery atmosphere of his passion, it had been burnt away at last by the very sun that had called it into being. And she would love in that way no more for ever. There was only duty left down all the long grey vista of her life.




"Well, if this isn't a pleasure!"

Thus Lucas Errol, sitting on the terrace on a certain hot afternoon early in August, greeted Dot, whose multifarious duties did not permit her to be a very frequent visitor. He smiled at her with that cordiality which even on his worst days was never absent, but she thought him looking very ill.

"Are you sure I shan't tire you too much?" she asked him, as he invited her to sit down.

"Quite sure, my dear Dot!" he answered. "It does me good to see people. Lady Carfax is coming presently. The mother has gone to fetch her. It will be her last appearance, I am afraid, for the present. She is expecting her husband home to-morrow. But I'm glad you are here first. I was just wishing I could see you."

"Were you really?" said Dot.

"Yes, really. No, you needn't look at me like that. I'm telling the truth. I always do, to the best of my ability. Is that chair quite comfortable? Do you mind if I smoke?"

"I don't mind anything," Dot said. "And I'm so comfortable that I want to take off my hat and go to sleep."

"You may do the first," said Lucas. "But not the second, because I want to talk, and it's sort of uninteresting not to have an audience, especially when there is something important to be said."

"Something important!" echoed Dot. "I hope it's something nice."

"Oh, quite nice," he assured her. "It's to do with Bertie." He was smiling in his own peculiarly kindly fashion. "By the way, he's stewing indoors, studying for that exam, which he isn't going to pass."

"Not going to pass?" Dot looked up in swift anxiety. "Oh, don't you think he will?"

Lucas shook his head. "What's success anyway? I guess the Creator finds the failures just as useful to Him in the long run."

"But I don't want him to fail!" she protested.

"In my opinion," Lucas said slowly, "it doesn't matter a single red cent, so long as a man does his best. Believe me, it isn't success that counts. We're apt to think it's everything when we're young. I did myself once—before I began to realise that I hadn't come to stay." The shrewd blue eyes smiled at her under their heavy lids. "Now I don't want to distress you any," he said, "but I'm going to say something that p'r'aps you'll take to heart though you mustn't let it grieve you. Capper is coming here next month to perform an operation on me. It may be successful, and on the other hand—it may not. The uncertainty worries me some. I'm trying to leave my affairs in good order, but—there are some things beyond my scope that I'd like unspeakably to see settled before I take my chances. You can understand that?"

Dot's hand, warm, throbbing with life, slipped impulsively into his. "Dear Lucas, of course—of course I understand."

"Thanks! That's real nice of you. I always knew you were a woman of sense. I wonder if you can guess what it is I've set my heart on, eh, Dot?"

"Tell me," murmured Dot.

His eyes still rested upon her, but they seemed to be looking at something beyond. "P'r'aps I'm over fond of regulating other folks' affairs," he said. "It's a habit that easily grows on the head of a family. But I've a sort of fancy for seeing you and Bertie married before I go out. If you tell me it's quite impossible I won't say any more. But if you could see your way to it—well, it would be a real kindness, and I needn't say any more than that."

The weary, rather droning voice ceased to speak. The eyelids drooped more heavily. It seemed to Dot that a grey shadow lay upon the worn face. He looked so unutterably tired, so ready for the long, long sleep.

She sat quite still beside him, turning the matter in her mind.

After a little he went on speaking, with eyes half-closed. "It would hit him hard if I went under, but he wouldn't feel so badly if you were there. The mother too—she wants someone to lean on. There's Lady Carfax, but she has her own burden. And there'd be a lot for Bertie to see to, Nap being away. Besides—"

"Oh, Luke," Dot broke in, her eyes full of tears, "I—I can't imagine this place without you."

"No? Well, you mustn't let it distress you any. We've all got to go, sooner or later. There isn't anything in that. The main thing is to get it over, when it comes, with as little fuss as possible. Life isn't long enough for grieving. It's just a mortal waste of time. And what is Death anyway?" He raised his eyes with what seemed an effort. "You won't blame me," he said, "for wanting to close up the ranks a bit before I go. Of course I may live as long as any of you. God knows I shall do my best. I want to pull through—for several reasons. But if I've got to go, I'd like to feel I've left things as ship-shape as possible. Bertie will tell you what provision I desire to make for you. P'r'aps you and he will talk it over, and if you're willing I'll see the padre about it. But I kind of felt the first word ought to be with you. Bertie didn't like to speak because he'd promised to wait. You'll find he's a man of his word. That's why I've butted in. Say, child, I didn't mean to make you cry. That was clumsy of me."

He patted her hand gently, while Dot blinked away her tears.

"Don't let us talk about it any more now," she besought him. "Oh, Lucas—I do want you to live, more—more than anything."

"That's real kind of you," he said. "I'll do my best, you may be sure. I can hear Lady Carfax talking in the drawing-room. Won't you go and bring her out?"

He made no effort to rise when Anne came on to the terrace, but he gave her so vivid a smile of welcome that she scarcely noted the omission. It was their first meeting since Nap's departure, for Lucas had been confined to his bed for days. But that smile of his banished any sense of embarrassment from her mind. He was so candidly, so unaffectedly, pleased to see her.

She sat down in the riotous sunshine and gave herself up unreservedly to the pleasure of being with her friends. They were all congenial to her. Mrs. Errol, Dot, Lucas, but most especially Lucas, who occupied a unique position in her heart and in her thoughts. He had always been so perfectly her friend in need.

As the long, sunny afternoon wore away, she found herself watching him and in silence marvelling. How was it that this man in his utter, piteous weakness accomplished so much, ruled thus supreme? Wherein lay that potent charm of his which neither devil nor brute could effectively resist? Whence came it, this power of the soul, this deliberate and conscious mastery?

She watched Bertie waiting on him, hovering about him, ready to spring up at his lightest word to execute his scarcely-uttered wish. Other men—even great men—did not command this personal homage, this complete, incessant devotion. Undoubtedly there was something kingly about him; but wherein did it lie? Not in the impotent, unwieldy figure, not in the pleasant, emotionless drawl, not even in the friendly quiet of his eyes, the kindly sympathy of his smile. In none of these lay his power, and yet in all of them it was in some fashion apparent. No great force of personality characterised him, and yet his monarchy was absolute. No splendour of intellect, no keenness of wit, no smartness of repartee were his. Only a shrewdness of understanding that was never cruel, a humour that had no edge.

And presently Anne remembered that his own mother had given her the key to the problem, and she doubted not that it solved the whole. "It isn't personal magnetism," Mrs. Errol had said, "nor anything of that sort. It's just love."

That was the magic to which even Nap, the fierce, the passionate, the treacherous, had been forced to bow. In the midst of his weakness this man wielded an all-potent power—a power before which they all instinctively did homage—before which even devils humbled themselves—because it was Divine.

That was the secret of his strength. That was the weapon by which he conquered. She wondered if it had always been so, or if his physical weakness had tended to develop in him a greatness of heart of which more active men were quite incapable. It might be true, as Mrs. Errol had contended, that all men had their possibilities, but, this was the only man she had ever met who had turned them to account. All unconsciously, perhaps in response to a reaction which had been necessarily violent, Anne yielded herself that day for the first time in her life to a species of hero-worship that could not but beautify her own sad life.

When later she found herself alone with him, they talked for a space upon indifferent things, and then they did not talk at all. The intimacy between them made conversation unnecessary, and Lucas Errol's silence was as easy as his speech.

"You'll take care of yourself," he said once, "or I shan't be easy about you."

And, when she had promised that: "And you'll look us up as often as you find you can. P'r'aps if you can't come very often you'll manage to write."

But he made no direct reference to her husband's return. His sympathy neither sought nor needed expression in words.

Neither did he speak of himself. He only at parting held her hand very closely for several silent seconds. And Anne went away with a hushed feeling at her heart as if he had invoked a benediction.

Back to her home she went, strangely quiet and at peace. She had thought that visit to Baronmead would have been painful to her. She had expected to suffer afresh. But it was instead as if a healing hand had been laid upon her, and as she went she thought no more of Nap, the savage, the sudden, the terrible; but of Lucas, the gentle, the patient, the chivalrous, who had won and would for ever keep her perfect trust.

The light of a golden evening lay upon the Manor as she entered. It was wonderfully quiet. She went in by the French windows that led into the drawing-room, and here, tempted by an impulse that had not moved her for long, she sat down at the piano and began very softly to play.

She had not touched the keys since her last visit to Baronmead. She wondered, as idly she suffered her fingers to wander, how long it would be before she played again.

Yet it was hard to believe, sitting there in the quiet evening light, that the next day would witness her return to bondage, that bondage that had so cruelly galled her, the very thought of which had at one time filled her with repulsion. But her feelings had undergone a change of late. She could not feel that the old burden would ever return upon her. She had been emancipated too long. Her womanhood had developed too much during those months of liberty. No, it could never be the same. Patient and faithful wife she would still be. She was ready to devote herself ungrudgingly, without reservation, to her invalid husband. But his slave she would never be again. She had overcome her repugnance; she was willing to serve. But never again would he compel. The days of his tyranny were for ever gone.

It was no easy path that lay before her, but she had not forgotten how narrowly she had escaped the precipice. Even yet she still trembled when she remembered the all-engulfing pit of destruction that had opened before her, and the anguish of fear that had possessed her until deliverance had come. Lucas Errol had been her deliverer. She remembered that also, and a faint, sad smile touched her lips—Lucas Errol, king and cripple, ruler and weakling.

Softly the sunset faded. Anne's fingers ceased to roam over the keys. She clasped them in her lap and sat still.

All at once a quiet voice spoke. "My lady!"

With a start she turned. "Dimsdale! How you startled me!"

"I beg your ladyship's pardon," the old man said.

He was standing close behind her. There was an air of subdued importance about him. He was grave to severity.

But Anne did not look at him very critically. "I shall not want any tea," she said. "I will dine at eight in my sitting-room as usual. Is everything in readiness, Dimsdale? Is Sir Giles's room just as it should be?"

"Yes, my lady."

Anne rose and quietly closed the piano. She wondered why Dimsdale lingered, and after a moment it struck her that he had something to say. She took up her gloves and turned round to him.

"No one has been, I suppose?"

"No one, my lady."

"Are there any letters?"

"No letters, my lady."

"Then—" Anne paused, and for the first time looked at the old servant attentively. "Is anything the matter, Dimsdale?" she asked.

He hesitated, the fingers of one hand working a little, an unusual sign of agitation with him.

With an effort at last he spoke. "Your ladyship instructed me to open any telegram that might arrive."

Her heart gave a great throb of foreboding. "Certainly," she said. "Has there been a telegram then?"

Dimsdale's hand clenched. He looked at her anxiously, rather piteously.

"My lady—" he said, and stopped.

Anne stood like a statue. She felt as if her vitality were suddenly arrested, as if every pulse had ceased to beat.

"Please go on," she said in a whisper. "There has been a telegram. Either give it to me, or—tell me what was in it."

Dimsdale made a jerky movement, as if pulling himself together. He put an unsteady hand into his breast-pocket. "It came this afternoon, my lady, about an hour ago. I am afraid it's bad news—very bad news. Yes, my lady, I'm telling you, I'm telling you. I regret to say Sir Giles has been took worse, took very sudden like, and—and—"

"He is dead," Anne said very clearly, very steadily, in a tone that was neither of question nor of exclamation.

Dimsdale bent his head. "He died at half-past three, my lady."

He had the telegram in his hand. Anne took it from him and moved very quietly to the window.

Mutely the old man stood and watched her in the silence, thankful for her composure. He was himself severely shaken, and the ordeal of telling her had been no light one.

But as the silence still continued he began to grow uneasy again. He wondered if he ought to go, if she had forgotten to dismiss him. Her stately head was bent over the paper, which never crackled or stirred in her hand. There began to be something terrible, something fateful, in her passivity. Old Dimsdale shivered, and took the liberty of breaking the silence.

"Would your ladyship wish a message to be sent to Baronmead?"

She stirred at that, moved sharply as one suddenly awakened. Her face was quite white, but her eyes were alight, curiously vital, with a glitter that was almost of horror.

"To Baronmead!" she said, a queer note of sharpness in her voice. "No, certainly not, most certainly not!"

And there she stopped, stopped dead as though struck dumb. In the garden behind her, down among the lilac trees, a bird had begun to sing, eagerly, voluptuously, thrillingly, with a rapture as of the full spring-tide of life.

Anne stood for a space of many seconds and listened, her white face upraised, her eyes wide and shining.

And then suddenly her attitude changed. She put her hands over her face and tottered blindly from the open window.

Dimsdale started to support her, but she needed no support. In a moment she was looking at him again, but with eyes from which all light had faded.

"I must write some messages at once," she said. "One of the grooms must take them. No, I shall not send to Mrs. Errol to-night. I wish to be alone—quite alone. Please admit no one. And—yes—tell them to pull down the blinds, and—shut all the windows!"

Her voice quivered and sank. She stood a moment, collecting herself, then walked quietly to the door.

"Come to me in ten minutes for those telegrams," she said. "And after that, remember, Dimsdale, I am not to be disturbed by anyone."

And with that she passed out, erect and calm, and went up to her room.



"I want to know!" said Capper.

He had said it several times during a muddy two-mile tramp from Baronford Station, and he said it again as he turned up the hill that was crowned by the old grey church, whose two cracked bells had just burst into as cheerful a marriage peal as they could compass.

"Sounds frisky!" he commented to himself, as he trudged up the steep lane. "My! What an all-fired fuss! Guess these muddy boots aren't exactly wedding-guesty. But that's their lookout for monopolising every vehicle in the place. I wonder if I'll have the audacity to show after all. Or shall I carry this almighty thirst of mine back to the Carfax Arms and quench it in British ale?"

But this latter idea did not apparently greatly lure him, for he continued to plod upwards, even while considering it, to the tune of the clamouring bells.

Arriving finally at the top of the hill and finding there a crowd of vehicles of all descriptions, he paused to breathe and to search for the Baronmead motors.

He found them eventually, but there was no one in attendance. The servants were all herded in the churchyard for a view of the bridal procession, for which a passage across the road to the Rectory grounds was being kept.

Capper stationed himself, with another rueful glance as his boots, as near as he could get to the open lych-gate, and there stood grimly conspicuous, watching the scene with his alert green eyes, that held the glint of a tolerant smile, and cracking his thin, yellow fingers one by one. No one gave him a second glance, or dreamed for an instant that one of the greatest men in the Western Hemisphere was standing on the edge of the crowd.

They came at last—bride and bridegroom—flushed and hastening through a shower of rose petals.

Bertie was laughing all over his brown face. He was holding Dot's hand very fast, and as they descended the red-carpeted steps into the road he leaned to her, whispering. She laughed back at him with shining eyes, her round face radiant beneath the orange blossom. Neither of them glanced to right or left. Swiftly through the fallen rose leaves they crossed to the Rectory gateway and were lost to view.

A bevy of bridesmaids ran laughing after them, and then came a pause.

Capper edged a little nearer to the churchyard steps and waited. The clamour of bells was incessant, wholly drowning the clamour of voices. Everyone was craning forward to see the crowd of guests. The long procession had already begun to issue from the church porch. It moved very slowly, for at the head of it, his hand on his mother's arm, came Lucas Errol.

He walked with extreme difficulty, leaning on a crutch. His head was uncovered, and the glare of the September sunlight smote full upon it. The hair was turning very grey.

He was smiling as he came, but his brows were slightly drawn, his eyes sunk in deep hollows.

Swiftly and comprehensively the man at the foot of the steps scanned every detail, marked the halting, painful progress, the lined forehead. And the next moment, as Lucas paused, preparatory to descending, he pushed forward with characteristic decision of movement and moved upwards to his side.

"I guess you'll find me useful at this juncture," he said.

Lucas's start of surprise was instantly followed by a smile of welcome. He gripped Capper's hand warmly.

"The very man I want! But how in wonder did you get here? You never walked all the way from the station?"

"I did," said Capper.

"You don't say! Why didn't you let me know? I guess we must move on. We are blocking the gangway."

"Easy does it," said Capper. "It won't hurt 'em any to wait. Get your arm over my shoulder. That's the way. These steps are the very devil for you."

He bent his wiry frame to Lucas Errol's need, and helped him to descend. At the foot he paused a moment and looked at him keenly.

"All serene," smiled Lucas. "I'll take your arm now, if it's all the same to the mother. You didn't expect to find us plunged in wedding gaieties, I guess."

"Wish it had been your own," said Capper.

At which Lucas turned up his face to the sky and laughed.

They crossed the flag-decked garden and entered by the conservatory door. People were beginning to crowd about them.

"We must find you a seat somehow," said Capper.

"I must have a word with the bride and bridegroom first," Lucas declared.

But the bride and bridegroom were for the moment inaccessible, being completely surrounded by well-wishers.

Capper seized upon the first chair he came upon and put Lucas into it.

"I seem to have come in the nick of time," he observed drily. "Why is no one detailed to look after you? Where is that tiger's whelp Nap?"

"Nap's in America, been gone two months or more."

"That so?" There was keen satisfaction in Capper's tone. "That clears the ground for action. And Lady Carfax? Is she here?"

"No." There was a hint of reserve in the quiet reply. "Lady Carfax is in deep mourning for her husband."

"That so?" said Capper again. He seemed to take but casual note of the information. He was pulling absently at his pointed yellow beard.

Lucas lay back in his chair and suffered himself to relax with a sigh. Capper's eyes darted lizard-like over him, taking in every line of him, keenly alive to each detail.

"If I were you I should shunt as soon as possible," he said. "Since it isn't your own show unfortunately, I should imagine you are not indispensable."

But at this point the throng parted, and Dot, looking very young in her bridal white, and supremely happy, burst eagerly through,

"Oh, here you are!" she cried. "Your mother said you were close by, but I couldn't see you anywhere. It's been too much for you. You're tired."

She bent over him in quick solicitude, then, as he smiled and drew her down to him, stooped and kissed him, whispering a few words for his ear alone.

Bertie was close behind her, but he had caught sight of Capper and had stopped short with a queer expression on his boyish face, a look that was a curious blend of consternation and relief.

A moment and he stepped up to the great doctor and took him by the elbow. "You here already!" he said. "I didn't expect you so soon."

"I have only run down to have a look at things," said Capper. "I seem to have pitched on a busy day. I hope you are enjoying yourself."

"Thanks!" said Bertie, with a brief laugh. "Say, Doctor, you'll let me know your plans?"

"Certainly—when they are ripe." The green eyes gleamed humorously. "Aren't you thinking of introducing me to Mrs. Bertie?" he suggested.

"Yes, yes, of course. But you won't do anything without me?" urged Bertie. "I should greatly like a talk with you, but I'm afraid it can't be managed."

"I mightily doubt if you could tell me anything that I don't know already," said Capper, "on any subject."

"It's about Luke," said Bertie anxiously.

"Just so. Well, I guess I know more about Luke than any other person on this merry little planet."

"Do you think he looks worse?" whispered Bertie.

Capper's long, yellow hand fastened very unobtrusively and very forcibly upon his shoulder. "One thing at a time, good Bertie!" he said. "Weren't you going to present me to—your wife?"



It was on a day of wild autumnal weather, when the wind moaned like a living thing in torture about the house, and the leaves eddied and drifted before the scudding rain, that they turned Tawny Hudson out of his master's room, and left him crouched and whimpering like a dog against the locked door. Save for his master's express command, no power on earth would have driven him away, not even Capper of the curt speech and magnetic will. But the master had spoken very definitely and distinctly, and it was Tawny Hudson's to obey. Therefore he huddled on the mat, rocking to and fro, shivering like some monstrous animal in pain, while within the room Capper wrought his miracles.

Downstairs Mrs. Errol sat holding Anne's hand very tightly, and talking incessantly lest her ears should be constrained to listen. And Anne, pale and still, answered her as a woman talking in her sleep.

Bertie and his young bride were still absent on their honeymoon; this also by Lucas's express desire.

"It won't help me any to have you here, boy," he had said at parting. "A certain fuss is inevitable, but I want you out of it. I am looking to Anne Carfax to help the dear mother."

He had known even then that he would not look in vain, and he had not been disappointed. So, sorely against his will, Bertie had submitted, with the proviso that if things went wrong he should be sent for immediately.

And thus Anne Carfax, who had lived in almost unbroken seclusion since her husband's death, now sat with Mrs. Errol's hand clasped in hers, and listened, as one listens in a nightmare, to the wailing of the wind about the garden and house, and the beat, beat, beat of her heart when the wind was still.

"Could you say a prayer, dear?" Mrs. Errol asked her once.

And she knelt and prayed, scarcely knowing what she said, but with a passion of earnestness that left her weak, quivering in every limb.

The wind was rising. It roared in the trees and howled against the panes. Sometimes a wild gust of rain lashed the windows. It made her think of an unquiet spirit clamouring for admittance.

"Anne dear, play to me, play to me!" besought Mrs. Errol. "If I listen I shall go mad! No one will hear you. We are right away from his part of the house."

And though every nerve shrank at the bare suggestion, Anne rose without a single protest and went to the piano. She sat down before it, and blindly, her eyes wide, fixed, unseeing, she began to play.

What she played she knew not. Her fingers found notes, chords, melodies mechanically.

Once she paused, but, "Ah, go on, dear child! Go on!" urged Mrs. Errol. And she went on, feeling vaguely through the maze of suspense that surrounded them, longing inarticulately to cease all effort, but spurred onward because she knew she must not fail.

And gradually as she played there came to her a curious sense of duality, of something happening that had happened before, of a record repeating itself. She turned her head, almost expecting to hear a voice speak softly behind her, almost expecting to hear a mocking echo of the words unspoken. "Has the Queen no further use for her jester?" No further use! No further use! Oh, why was she tortured thus? Why, when her whole soul yearned to forget, was she thus compelled to remember the man whose brutal passion and insatiable thirst for vengeance had caught and crushed her heart?

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse