Part 1 out of 8
THE KNAVE OF DIAMONDS
By ETHEL M. DELL
Author of "The Way Of An Eagle"
I DEDICATE THIS BOOK TO MY FRIEND AND SISTER IN LOVING REMEMBRANCE OF
HER SYMPATHY AND HELP
O Charity, all patiently
Abiding wrack and scaith!
O Faith that meets ten thousand cheats
Yet drops no jot of faith!
Devil and brute Thou dost transmute
To higher, lordlier show,
Who art in sooth that lovely Truth
The careless angels know!
_To the True Romance_.
I.--THE MISSING HEART
II.--THE QUEEN'S JESTER
III.--THE CHARIOT OF THE GODS
V.--THE FIRST ENCOUNTER
VI.--AT THE MEET
VIII.--THE RIDE HOME
IX.--THE HEAD OF THE HOUSE
X.--THE HAND OF A FRIEND
XI.--THE STING OF A SCORPION
XIII.--THE JESTER'S INFERNO
XIV.--A BIG THING
XVII.--THE SLAVE OF GOODNESS
XVIII.--THE DESCENT FROM OLYMPUS
XXI.--AT THE MERCY OF A DEMON
XXII.--THE CITY OF REFUGE
I.--THE JESTER'S RETURN
II.--THE KERNEL OF THE DIFFICULTY
III.--THE FIRST ORDEAL
IV.--THE FATAL STREAK
VI.--THE BURIAL OF A HATCHET
VII.--A QUESTION OF TRUST
VIII.--A SUDDEN BLOW
X.--A DAY IN PARADISE
XI.--THE RETURN TO EARTH
XII.--IN THE FACE OF THE GODS
XIII.--AN APPEAL AND ITS ANSWER
XV.--ON THE EDGE OF THE PIT
I.--THE POWER DIVINE
II.--THE WORKER OF MIRACLES
III.--THE WOMAN'S PART
V.--THE SLOUGH OF DESPOND
VI.--A VOICE THAT CALLED
VII.--THE UNINVITED GUEST
VIII.--THE HEART OF A SAVAGE
IX.--THE DIVINE SPARK
X.--THE QUEEN'S PARDON
XII.--A FRIENDLY UNDERSTANDING
XIII.--THE FINAL DEFEAT
XIV.--AT THE GATE OF DEATH
XV.--THE KING'S DECREE
XVI.--THE STRAIGHT GAME
XVII.--THE TRANSFORMING MAGIC
XVIII.--THE LAST ORDEAL
XIX.--OUT OF THE FURNACE
XX.--THE PROMOTION OF THE QUEEN'S JESTER
XXI.--THE POWER THAT CASTS OUT DEVILS
THE MISSING HEART
There came a sudden blare of music from the great ballroom below, and the
woman who stood alone at an open window on the first floor shrugged her
shoulders and shivered a little. The night air blew in brisk and cold
upon her uncovered neck, but except for that slight, involuntary shiver
she scarcely seemed aware of it. The room behind her was brilliantly
lighted but empty. Some tables had been set for cards, but the cards were
untouched. Either the attractions of the ballroom had remained
omnipotent, or no one had penetrated to this refuge of the bored--no one
save this tall and stately woman robed in shimmering, iridescent green,
who stood with her face to the night, breathing the chill air as one who
had been on the verge of suffocation. It was evidently she who had flung
up the window. Her gloved hands leaned upon the woodwork on each side of
it. There was a certain constraint in her whole attitude, a tension that
was subtly evident in every graceful line. Her head was slightly bent as
though she intently watched or listened for something.
Yet nothing could have been audible where she stood above the hubbub of
music, laughter, and stamping feet that rose from below. It filled the
night with uproar. Nor was there anything but emptiness in the narrow
side-street into which she looked.
The door of the room was ajar and gradually swinging wider in the
draught. Very soon it would be wide enough for anyone passing in the
passage outside to spy the slim figure that stood so motionless before
the open window. It was almost wide enough now. Surely it was wide
enough, for suddenly it ceased to move. The draught continued to eddy
round the room, stirring the soft brown hair about the woman's temples,
but the door stood still as at the behest of an unseen hand.
For fully half a minute nothing happened; then as suddenly and silently
as a picture flashed from a magic lantern slide, a man's head came into
view. A man's eyes, dusky, fierce, with something of a stare in them,
looked the motionless figure keenly up and down.
There followed another interval as though the intruder were debating
with himself upon some plan of action, then, boldly but quite quietly, he
pushed the door back and entered.
He was a slight, trim man, clean-shaven, with high cheek-bones that made
a long jaw seem the leaner by contrast. His sleek black hair was parted
in the middle above his swarthy face, giving an unmistakably foreign
touch to his appearance. His tread was light and wary as a cat's.
His eyes swept the room comprehensively as he advanced, coming back
to the woman at the window as though magnetically drawn to her. But
she remained quite unaware of him, and he, no whit disconcerted,
calmly seated himself at one of the tables behind her and took up a
pack of cards.
The dance-music in the room below was uproariously gay. Some of the
dancers were singing. Now and then a man's voice bellowed through the
clamour like the blare of a bull.
Whenever this happened, the man at the table smiled to himself a faint,
thin-lipped smile, and the woman at the window shivered again.
Suddenly, during a lull, he spoke. He was counting out the cards into
heaps with lightning rapidity, turning up one here and there, and he did
not raise his eyes from his occupation.
"I say, you know," he said in a drawl that was slightly nasal, "you will
have to tell me how old you are. Is that an obstacle?"
She wheeled round at the first deliberate syllable. The electric
light flared upon her pale, proud face. She stood in dead silence,
looking at him.
"You mustn't mind," he said persuasively, still without lifting his eyes.
"I swear I'll never tell. Come now!"
Very quietly she turned and closed the window; then with a certain
stateliness she advanced to the table at which he sat, and stopped
"I think you are making a mistake," she said, in a voice that had a hint
of girlish sweetness about it despite its formality.
He looked up then with a jerk, and the next instant was on his feet.
"Gad! I'm tremendously sorry! What must you take me for? I took you for
Mrs. Damer. I beg you will forgive me."
She smiled a little, and some of the severity went out of her face. For a
moment that too seemed girlish.
"It is of no consequence. I saw it was a mistake."
"An idiotic mistake!" he declared with emphasis. "And you are not a bit
like Mrs. Damer either. Are you waiting for someone? Would you like me to
"Certainly not. I am going myself."
"Oh, but don't!" he begged her very seriously. "I shall take it horribly
to heart if you do. And really, I don't deserve such a snub as that."
Again she faintly smiled. "I am not feeling malicious, but you are
expecting your partner. And I--"
"No, I am not," he asserted. "My partner has basely deserted me for
another fellow. I came in here merely because I was wandering about
seeking distraction. Please don't go--unless I bore you--in which case
you have only to dismiss me."
She turned her eyes questioningly upon the cards before him. "What are
you doing with them? Is it a game?"
"Won't you sit down?" he said, "and I will tell you."
She seated herself facing him. "Well?"
He considered the cards for a little, his brows bent. Then, "It is a
magician's game," he said. "Let me read your fortune."
Instantly he looked up. "You are not afraid?"
She met his look, a certain wistfulness in her grey eyes. "Oh, no, not
"Only sceptical!" he echoed. "That is a worldwide complaint. But anyone
with imagination can always pretend. You are not good at pretending?"
His eyes challenged hers. "Perhaps you have never needed an anaesthetic?"
he said coolly.
She looked slightly startled. "What do you mean?"
He leaned deliberately forward across the table. "You know what an
anaesthetic does, don't you? It cheats the senses of pain. And a little
humbug does the same for the mind. Of course you don't believe anything.
I don't myself. But you can't stand for ever and contemplate an abyss of
utter ignorance. You must weave a little romance about it for the sake of
She looked straight into the challenging eyes. The wistfulness was still
in her own. "Then you are offering to weave a little romance for me?" she
said, with a faint involuntary sigh.
He made her a brief bow. "If you will permit me to do so."
"To relieve your boredom?" she suggested with a smile.
"And yours," he smiled back, taking up the cards.
She did not contradict him. She only lowered her eyes to the deft hands
that were disposing the cards in mystic array upon the table.
There followed a few moments of silence; then in his careless, unmusical
drawl the man spoke.
"Do you mind telling me your first name? It is essential to the game, of
course, or I shouldn't presume to ask."
"My name is Anne," she said.
The noise below had lessened considerably, and this fact seemed to cause
her some relief. The tension had gone out of her bearing. She sat with
her chin upon her hand.
Not a beautiful woman by any means, she yet possessed that indescribable
charm which attracts almost in spite of itself. There was about her
every movement a queenly grace that made her remarkable, and yet she was
plainly not one to court attention. Her face in repose had a look of
"How old are you please?" said the magician.
He glanced up at her.
"Yes, twenty-five," she repeated. "I am twenty-five to-day."
He looked at her fixedly for a few seconds, then in silence returned to
She continued to watch him without much interest. The dance-music was
quickening to the _finale_. The hubbub of voices had died away. Evidently
a good many people had ceased to dance.
Suddenly her companion spoke. "Do you like diamonds?"
She smiled at the question. "Yes, I like them. I haven't a passion
"No," he said, without raising his eyes. "You haven't a passion for
anything at present. You will have soon."
"I think it very unlikely," she said.
"Of course you do." He was manoeuvring the cards rapidly with one hand.
"Your eyes have not been opened yet. I see an exciting time before you.
You are going to have an illness first. That comes in the near future."
"I have never been ill in my life," she said.
"No? It will be an experience for you, then--not a very painful one, I
hope. Are you getting nervous?"
"Not in the least."
"Ah! That's as well, because here comes the King of Diamonds. He has
taken a decided fancy to you, and if you have any heart at all, which
I can't discover, you ought to end by being the Queen. No, here comes
the Knave--confound his impudence!--and, by Jove, yes, followed by the
missing heart. I am glad you have got one anyway, even if the King is
not in it. It looks as if you will have some trouble with that Knave,
so beware of him." He glanced up at her for a moment. "Beware of him!"
he repeated deliberately. "He is a dangerous scamp. The King is the
man for you."
She received his caution with that faint smile of hers that softened her
face but never seemed to reach her eyes.
He continued his contemplation of the cards in silence for some seconds.
"Yes," he said finally, "I see an exciting future before you. I hope you
will look out for me when you come into your own. I should value your
majesty's favour immensely."
"I will give you a place at court as the Queen's jester," she said.
He glanced up again sharply, met her smile, and bowed with much ceremony.
"Your majesty's most humble servant!" he declared, "I enter upon my
functions from this day forward. You will see my cap and bells in the
forefront of the throng when you ride to your coronation."
"You are sure there will be a coronation?" she asked.
"It is quite evident," he replied with conviction.
"Even though I chance to be married already?"
He raised his brows. "That so?" he drawled. "Well, it rather complicates
matters, doesn't it? Still--" He looked again at the cards. "It seems
pretty certain. If it weren't for that hobgoblin of a Knave I should say
it was quite so. He comes between the King and the heart, you see. I
shouldn't be too intimate with him if I were you."
She rose, still smiling. "I shall certainly keep him at a respectful
distance," she said. "Good-bye."
"Oh, are you going? Let me escort you! Really, I've nothing else to do."
He swept the cards together and sprang to his feet. "Where may I take
you? Would you like some refreshment?"
She accepted his proffered arm though she instantly negatived his
proposal. "Shall we go down to the vestibule? No doubt you have a partner
for the next dance."
"Have you?" he questioned keenly.
"That is beside the point," she remarked.
"Not at all. It is the centre and crux of the situation. Do say you are
disengaged for the next!" His manner became almost boyishly eager. He
had shed his drawl like a garment. "Say it!" he insisted.
She stood in the doorway as one halting between two opinions. "But if I
am not disengaged?" she said.
He laughed. "There is a remedy for that, I fancy. And the Queen can do
no wrong. Don't be a slave to the great god Convention! He's such a
His bold dark eyes smiled freely into hers. It was evident that he wasted
little time before the shrine of the deity he condemned. But for all
their mastery, they held a certain persuasive charm as well. She
hesitated a moment longer--and was lost.
"Well, where shall we go?"
"I know of an excellent sitting-out place if your majesty will deign to
accompany me," he said, "a corner where one can see without being
seen--always an advantage, you will allow."
"You seem to know this place rather well," she observed, as she suffered
him to lead her away in triumph.
He smiled shrewdly. "A wise general always studies his ground," he said.
THE QUEEN'S JESTER
The chosen corner certainly had the advantage of privacy. It was an
alcove at the end of one of the long narrow passages in which the ancient
hostelry abounded, and the only light it boasted filtered through a
square aperture in the wall which once had held a window. Through this
aperture the curious could spy into the hall below, which just then was
thronged with dancers who were crowding out of the ballroom and drifting
towards the refreshment-room, the entrance to which was also visible.
An ancient settee had been placed in this coign of vantage, and upon this
they established themselves by mutual consent.
The man was laughing a little below his breath. "I feel like a
refugee," he said.
His companion leaned her arms upon the narrow row sill and gazed
downwards. "A refugee from boredom?" she suggested. "We are all that,
more or less."
"I dispute that," he said at once. "It is only the bores who are
"And I dispute that," she replied, without turning, "of necessity, in
He leaned forward to catch the light upon her profile. "You are bored?"
She smiled faintly in the gloom. "That is why I have engaged the services
of a jester."
"By Jove," he said, "I'm glad you pitched on me."
She made a slight movement of impatience. "Isn't it rather futile to say
that sort of thing?"
"Why?" he asked.
"Because you know quite well it was not a matter of choice."
"Rather a matter of _manque de mieux_?" he suggested coolly.
She turned from her contemplation of the crowd below. "I am not going to
contradict you," she said, "I never foster _amour propre_ in a man. It is
always a plant of hardy growth."
"'Hardy' is not the word," he declared. "Say 'rank,' and you will be
nearer the mark. I fully endorse your opinion. We are a race of
conceited, egotistical jackanapeses, and we all think we are going to
lick creation till a pretty woman comes along and makes us dance to her
piping like a row of painted marionettes. But is the pretty woman any
the happier, do you think, for tumbling us thus ruthlessly off our
pedestals? I sometimes wonder if the sight of the sawdust doesn't make
her wish she hadn't."
The drawl in his voice was very apparent as he uttered the last sentence.
His chin was propped upon his hands. He was obviously studying her with a
deliberate criticism that observed and considered every detail.
But his scrutiny held without embarrassing her. She met it with no
"I can't bear cynicism," she told him frankly.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Cynics--real cynics--never can."
"But I am not a cynic."
"Are you sure of that?"
"Yes, quite sure."
"And yet you tell me that you never take the trouble to flatter the
inferior male. That's conflicting evidence, you know. Are you a
man-hater, by the way?"
She shivered as if at a sudden draught. "I'm not prepared to answer that
question off-hand." she said.
"Very prudent of you!" he commented. "Do you know I owe you an apology?"
"I shouldn't have said so."
"No? Well, let me confess. I'm rather good at confessing. I didn't
believe you just now when you said you were twenty-five. Now I do. That
single streak of prudence was proof absolute and convincing."
"I usually tell the truth," she said somewhat stiffly.
"Yes, it takes a genius to lie properly. I am not so good at it myself as
I should like to be. But a woman of twenty-five ought not to look like a
princess of eighteen--a tired princess moreover, who ought to have been
sent to bed long ago."
Her laugh had in it a note of bitterness. "You certainly are not the sort
of genius you aspire to be," she said, "any more than I am a princess of
"But you will be a queen at thirty," he said. "Hullo! Here is someone
coming! Don't speak, and p'r'aps they won't discover us. They can't
He rose swiftly with the words and blocked the little spy-hole with
his body. Certainly footsteps were approaching, but they ceased before
they reached the alcove at the end of the passage. There was another
"Oh, this is quite comfortable," said a woman's voice. "Here I am, Major
Shirley! It's dark, isn't it, but rather a relief after the glare
downstairs. What a crush it is! I am beginning to think the Hunt Ball
rather a farce, for it is next to impossible to dance."
"People don't know how to dance nowadays," grumbled Major Shirley in
response. "I can't stand these American antics. That young Nap Errol
fairly sickens me."
"Oh, but he is a splendid dancer," protested his partner tolerantly.
"Oh course you say so," growled the Major. "All women like that horrid
little whipper-snapper. I can't see what in thunder they find to attract
them. I call him a downright cad myself, and I'm inclined to think him a
blackguard as well. He wouldn't be tolerated if it weren't for his
dollars, and they all belong to his brother, I'm told."
"Ah! He is a charming man. Such a pity he is a cripple!"
"He would probably be as insufferable as Nap if he weren't," rejoined the
Major gloomily. "I can't think what the County are coming to. They will
accept anybody nowadays, it seems to me. I even met that little bounder
at the Rifle Club the other day. Heaven knows how he got in. Dollars
again, I suppose, confound his audacity!"
His partner made a slight movement of uneasiness. "I wonder where he
is. I haven't seen him for some time. I hope he isn't anywhere
"Not he! He is stowed away in some corner well out of the way with his
latest conquest. He won't turn up again this evening. He never does when
once he goes to earth--the wily young fox."
"Who is his latest conquest, I wonder?" mused the woman. "I thought it
was Mrs. Damer. But I have just seen her dancing with young Waring."
"Mrs. Damer! Why, that was the day before yesterday!" The Major laughed
unpleasantly. "'Anyone for a change, but no one for long,' is his motto.
The fellow is an infernal bounder through and through. He will get a
sound hiding one of these days, and serve him jolly well right, say I!"
"My dear Major, how you hate him! Anyone would think he had tried to
flirt with Violet."
"He'd better," growled the Major.
There came a slight sound from the darkness of the alcove, as though
someone faintly chuckled.
"What's that?" asked the woman's voice nervously.
"Nothing--nothing!" said the Major testily. "Somebody laughing in the
hall. I wonder where my wife is. I shall clear out soon. I'm tired of
this show. Haven't had a decent dance all the evening. Shouldn't think
you have either. They ought to build a Town Hall in this place, and do
the thing properly."
"There is some talk of it, you know. Now that there is a millionaire in
the neighbourhood it really might be done. The Carfaxes would help too, I
am sure. Sir Giles is very open-handed."
"Drunken beast!" commented the Major. "A pretty spectacle he has been
making of himself to-night. He is sitting in a corner of the
refreshment-room now absolutely incapable. He reached the noisy stage
very early in the evening. I am not sure that he even came sober."
"No! Isn't it too pitiful for words? That young wife of his! I can't
think how she endures it. It must be positive martyrdom."
"Lady Carfax is a fool!" said the Major crossly. "I can't stand these
martyrs. If she leads a dog's life it's her own fault. She's a fool to
put up with it."
"Perhaps she can't help herself," pleaded the woman.
"Stuff and nonsense! No woman need be the slave of a drunken sot like
that. It's a downright offence to me to be in the same room with the
fellow. He always reeks of drink. And she has, or professes to have, a
certain amount of refinement. Not much, I dare say. She was nothing but
his bailiff's daughter, you know, and people of that class don't
generally suffer from an exaggerated sense of duty. She probably sticks
to the man because she wants to keep in with the County. I don't like the
woman, never did. Her airs and graces always rub me up wrong way. Why
couldn't Sir Giles have married in his own set? He probably wouldn't be
so fond of the whiskey bottle now if he had."
"I must say I like Lady Carfax," broke in the woman with decision.
"Whatever her origin, that queenliness of hers is not assumed. I believe
her to be intensely reserved, and, perhaps for that very reason, I have a
genuine admiration for her."
"My dear Mrs. Randal, you'd find points to admire in a wax candle,"
grunted the Major. "She always makes me think of one; pale and pure and
saintly--I can't stand the type. Let's go downstairs and find Violet."
"Oh, not saintly, I think," protested Mrs. Randal charitably. "Saintly
people are so uninteresting."
The Major laughed. He was already on his feet.
"Probably not--probably not. But a show of saintliness is more than
enough to frighten me away. A woman who can't understand a wink I
invariably strike forthwith off my visiting-list."
"How cruel of you!" laughed Mrs. Randal. They were already moving away
down the corridor. Her voice receded as they went. "But I can't
understand any man daring to wink at Lady Carfax; I can't, indeed."
"That's just what I complain about," grumbled Major Shirley. "Those
wax-candle sort of women never see a joke. What fools they are to leave
the place in darkness like this! Can you see where you are going?"
"Yes, we are just at the head of the stairs. It is rather foolish as you
say. People might hurt themselves."
"Of course they might. Infernally dangerous. I shall complain."
The voices fell away into distance; the band in the ballroom struck
up again, and the woman on the settee in the alcove sat up and
prepared to rise.
"Suppose we go down now," she said.
Her companion moved away from the little window as one coming out of a
reverie. "Our gallant Major Shirley seems somewhat disgruntled tonight,"
he said. "Do you know him?"
"Yes, I know him." Her words fell with icy precision.
"So do I." The man's tone was one of sheer amusement. "I had the pleasure
of meeting him at the Rifle Club the other day. Someone introduced us. It
was great fun. If there were a little more light, I would show you what
he looked like. For some reason he wasn't pleased. Do you really want to
go downstairs though? It is much nicer here."
She had risen. They were facing one another in the twilight. "Yes," she
said, and though still quiet her voice was not altogether even. "I want
to go, please."
"Mayn't I tell you something first?" he said.
She stood silent, evidently waiting for his communication.
"It's not of paramount importance," he said. "But I think you may as well
know it for your present edification and future guidance. Madam, I am
that wicked, wanton, wily fox, that whipper-snapper, that unmitigated
He made the announcement with supreme complacence. It was evident that he
felt not the faintest anxiety as to how she would receive it. There was
even a certain careless hauteur about him as though the qualities he
thus frankly enumerated were to him a source of pride.
She heard him with no sign of astonishment. "I knew it," she said
quietly. "I have known you by sight for some time."
"And you were not afraid to speak to such a dangerous scoundrel?" he
"You don't strike me as being very formidable," she answered. "Moreover,
if you remember, it was you who spoke first."
"To be sure," he said. "It was all of a piece with my habitual confounded
audacity. Shall I tell you something more? I wonder whether I dare."
"Wait!" she said imperatively. "It is my turn to tell you something,
though it is more than possible that you know it already. Mr. Errol, I
He bowed low. "I did know," he said, in a tone from which all hint of
banter had departed. "But I thank you none the less for telling me. I
much doubted if you would. And that brings me to my second--or is it my
third?--confession. I did not take you for Mrs. Damer in the card-room a
little while ago. I took you for no one but yourself. No man of ordinary
intelligence could do otherwise. But I had been wanting to make your
acquaintance all the evening, and no one would be kind enough to present
me. So I took the first opportunity that occurred, trusting to the end to
justify the means."
"But why have you told me?" she said.
"Because I think you are a woman who appreciates the truth."
"I am," she said. "But I do not often hear it as I have heard it
He put out his hand to her impulsively. "Say, Lady Carfax, let me go and
kick that old scandal-monger into the middle of next week!"
Involuntarily almost she gave her hand in return. "No, you mustn't," she
said, laughing faintly. "The fault was ours. You know the ancient adage
about listeners. We deserved it all."
"Don't talk about deserts!" he exclaimed, with unexpected vehemence. "He
doesn't deserve to have a whole bone left in his body for speaking of you
so. Neither do I for suffering it in my presence!"
She freed her hand gently. "You could not have done otherwise. Believe
me, I am not altogether sorry that you were with me when it happened. It
is just as well that you should know the truth, and I could not have told
it you myself. Come, shall we go down?"
"Wait a minute!" he said. "Let me know how I stand with you first. Have
you decided to pass over that lie of mine, or are you going to cut me
next time we meet?"
"I shall not cut you," she said.
"You are going to acknowledge me then with the coldest of nods, which is
even more damnable," he returned, with gloomy conviction.
She hesitated for an instant. Then, "Mr. Errol," she said gently, "will
you believe me when I say that, however I treat you in the future, that
lie of yours will in no way influence me? You have helped me much more
than you realise by your trifling to-night. I am not sure that you meant
to do so. But I am grateful to you all the same."
"Then we are friends?" said Nap, quickly.
"Yes, we are friends; but it is very unlikely that we shall meet again. I
cannot invite you to call."
"And you won't call either on my mother?" he asked.
"I am afraid not."
He was silent a moment. Then, "So let it be!" he said. "But I fancy we
shall meet again notwithstanding. So _au revoir_, Lady Carfax! Can you
find your own way down?"
She understood in an instant the motive that prompted the question, and
the impulse to express her appreciation of it would not be denied. She
extended her hand with an assumption of royal graciousness that did not
cloak her gratitude. "Good-bye, Sir Jester!" she said.
He took her fingers gallantly upon his sleeve and touched them with his
lips. "Farewell to your most gracious majesty!" he responded.
THE CHARIOT OF THE GODS
The Hunt Ball was over, and Mrs. Damer, wife of the M.F.H., was
standing on the steps of the Carfax Arms, bidding the last members of
the Hunt farewell.
Nap Errol was assisting her. He often did assist Mrs. Damer with that
careless, half-insolent gallantry of his that no woman ever dreamed of
resenting. Like his namesake of an earlier date he held his own wherever
he went by sheer, stupendous egotism.
The crowd had thinned considerably, the band had begun to pack up. In the
refreshment-room waiters were hurrying to and fro.
"Isn't it horrid?" laughed Mrs. Damer, shrugging her shoulders and
shivering. "One feels so demoralised at this end of the night. Nap, I
wish you would find my husband. I've said good-night to everybody, and I
want to go home to bed."
"Lady Carfax hasn't gone yet," observed Nap. "I saw her standing in the
doorway of the ladies' cloak-room just now."
"Lady Carfax! Are you sure? I thought they went long ago. Is their
carriage waiting then?"
"Yes. It is still there."
Mrs. Damer hastened into the ladies' cloak-room, still half-incredulous.
At her entrance Anne Carfax, clad in a white wrap that made her face look
ghastly, turned from the dying fire.
"My dear Lady Carfax!" exclaimed Mrs. Damer. "I quite thought you left
ages ago. What is it? Is anything the matter?"
The pale lips smiled. "No, nothing, thank you. I am only waiting for
"Ah! Then we are in the same plight. I am waiting for mine." Mrs. Damer
hastened to veil her solicitude, which was evidently unwelcome. She
caught up her cloak and began to fumble with it. The attendant had gone.
"Let me!" said Anne, in her quiet voice, and took it from her.
Her fingers touched Mrs. Damer's neck, and Mrs. Damer shivered audibly.
"Thank you, thank you! You are as cold as ice. Are you well wrapped up?"
"Yes, quite. I am never very warm, you know. It is not my nature. Is Mr.
Damer ready? I hope you will not delay your departure on my account. Sir
Giles will not be long, I think."
"We will send Nap Errol to find him," said Mrs. Damer.
"Oh, no, thank you. That is quite unnecessary. Please do not trouble
about me. A few minutes more or less make little difference."
The words came with the patience of deadly weariness. She was still
faintly smiling as she wound a scarf about Mrs. Damer's head.
"I am quite ready, you see," she said. "I shall leave the moment
"My dear Lady Carfax, you have the patience of a saint. I am afraid
Phil does not find me so long-suffering." Mrs. Damer bustled back into
the hall. "Are you there, Nap? Do see if you can find Sir Giles. Poor
Lady Carfax is half-dead with cold and fit to drop with fatigue. Go and
tell him so."
"Please do nothing of the sort," said Lady Carfax behind her. "No doubt
he will come when he is ready."
Nap Errol looked from one to the other with swift comprehension in his
glance. "Let me put you into your carriage first, Mrs. Damer," he said,
offering his arm. "Your husband is busy for the moment--some trifling
matter. He begs you will not wait for him. I will drive him back in my
motor. I have to pass your way, you know."
Mrs. Damer shook hands hurriedly with Lady Carfax and went with him.
There was something imperative about Nap just then. They passed out
together on to the baize-covered pavement, and Anne Carfax breathed a
faint sigh of relief.
A few seconds later the Damer carriage was clattering down the street,
and Nap Errol was once more by her side.
"Look here," he said. "Let me take you home in my motor first. No one
She looked at him, her lips quivering a little as though they still tried
to smile. "Thank you very much," she said. "But--I think not."
"No one will ever know," he reiterated. "I will just set you down at your
own door and go away. Come, Lady Carfax!" His dark eyes gazed straight
into her own, determined, dominating. The high cheek-bones and long, lean
jaw looked as though fashioned in iron.
"Come!" he said again.
She made a slight forward movement as if to yield, and then drew back
again. "Really, I had better wait and go with my husband," she said.
"You had better not!" he said with emphasis. "I have just seen him. He is
in the smoke-room. I won't tell you what he is like. You probably know.
But if you are a wise woman you will leave him for Damer to look after,
and come with me."
That decided her. She threw the hood of her cloak over her head and
turned in silence to the door.
Errol paused to pull on an overcoat and then followed her on to the
steps. A large covered motor had just glided up. He handed her into it.
"By Jove, you are cold!" he said.
She made no rejoinder.
He stepped in beside her, after a word with the chauffeur, and
shut the door.
Almost instantly they were in motion, and in another moment were shooting
forward swiftly down the long, ill-lighted street.
Anne Carfax sank back in her corner and lay motionless. The glare of the
little electric lamp upon her face showed it white and tired. Her eyes
The man beside her sat bolt upright, his eyes fixed unblinkingly upon the
window in front, his jaw set grimly. He held the gloves he had worn all
the evening between his hands, and his fingers worked at them
unceasingly. He was rending the soft kid to ribbons.
They left the desolate street behind and came into total darkness.
Suddenly, but very quietly, Anne spoke. "This is very kind of you,
He turned towards her. She had opened her eyes to address him, but the
lids drooped heavily.
"The kindness is on your side, Lady Carfax," he said deliberately. "If
you manage to inspire it in others, the virtue is still your own."
She smiled and closed her eyes again. It was evident that she did not
desire to talk.
He looked away from her, glanced at his torn gloves, and tossed them
impatiently from him.
For ten minutes neither spoke. The car ran smoothly on through the night
like an inspired chariot of the gods. There was no sound of wheels. They
seemed to be borne on wings.
For ten minutes the man sat staring stonily before him, rigid as a
statue, while the woman lay passive by his side.
But at the end of that ten minutes the speed began to slacken. They came
softly to earth and stopped.
Errol opened the door and alighted. "Have you a key?" he said, as he gave
her his hand.
She stood above him, looking downwards half-dreamily as one emerging from
a deep slumber.
"Do you know," she said, beginning to smile, "I thought that you were the
Knave of Diamonds?"
"You've been asleep," he said rather curtly.
She gave a slight shudder as the night air brought her back, and in a
moment, like the soft dropping of a veil, her reserve descended upon her.
"I am afraid I have," she said, "Please excuse me. Are we already at the
Manor? Yes, I have the key."
She took his hand and stepped down beside him.
"Good night, Mr. Errol," she said. "And thank you."
He did not offer to accompany her to the door. A light was burning
within, and he merely stood till he heard the key turn in the lock, then
stepped back into the motor and slammed it shut without response of any
sort to her last words.
Anne Carfax was left wondering if her dream had been a cause of offense.
"Oh, bother! It's cake morning." Dot Waring turned from the Rectory
breakfast-table with a flourish of impatience. "And I do so want to hear
all about it," she said. "You might have come down earlier, Ralph."
"My good sister," said the rector's son, helping himself largely to bread
and honey, "consider yourself lucky that I have come down at all after
dancing half the night with Mrs. Damer, who is no light weight."
"You didn't, Ralph! I am quite sure you didn't! I'm not going to believe
anything so absurd." Nevertheless she paused on her way to the door for
"All right. I didn't," said Ralph complacently. "And Sir Giles didn't get
drunk as a lord and tumble about the ballroom, and yell comic--awfully
comic--songs, till someone hauled him off to the refreshment-room and
filled him up with whiskey till he could sing no more!"
"Oh, Ralph! Not really! How utterly beastly! Was Lady Carfax there?"
"She was at first, but she cleared out. I don't know where she went to."
"Oh, poor Lady Carfax! How horrid for her! Ralph, I--I could kick
"So could I," said Ralph heartily, "if someone would kindly hold him for
me. He is a drunken blackguard, and if he doesn't end in an asylum, I
shall never express a medical opinion again."
"P'r'aps he'll die of apoplexy first," said Dot vindictively.
"Whatever he dies of," said Ralph, "I shall attend his funeral with the
greatest pleasure. Hadn't you better go and make that cake? I shall want
it by tea-time."
"You are a pig!" the girl declared, pushing the sunny hair back from her
gay young face. "Isn't Bertie late this morning? Perhaps he isn't coming.
Dad won't be able to take him anyhow, for old Squinny is bad again and
sent for him in a hurry."
"That wretched old humbug! That means more beef-tea, not approaching
dissolution. Old Squinny will never dissolve in the ordinary way."
"Well, I must go." Dot reached the door and began to swing it to and
fro, gathering impetus for departure. "By the way, was Bertie there?"
"Bertie Errol, of course. Who else?"
"There are plenty of Berties in the world," remarked Ralph, helping
himself again to bread and honey. "No, Bertram Errol was not present. But
Napoleon Errol was. It was he who so kindly shunted Mrs. Damer on to me.
_Nota bene_! Give Napoleon Errol a wide berth in future. He has the craft
of a conjurer and the subtlety of a serpent. I believe he is a Red
"Oh, Ralph, he isn't! He is as white as you are."
"He isn't white at all," Ralph declared, "outside or in. Outside he is
the colour of a mangold-wurzel, and inside he is as black as ink. You
will never get that cake made if you don't go."
"Oh, bother!" Dot swung open the door for the last time, turned to
depart, and then exclaimed in a very different tone, "Why, Bertie, so
here you are! We were just talking of you."
A straight, well-made youth, with a brown face that laughed
good-temperedly, was advancing through the hall.
"Hullo!" he said, halting at the doorway. "Awfully nice of you! What were
you saying, I wonder? Hullo, Ralph! Only just down, you lazy beggar?
Ought to be ashamed of yourself."
He stood, slapping his riding-boots with a switch, looking at Dot with
the direct eyes of good-fellowship. His eyes were clear and honest as
"Dad's away," said Dot. "He was sent for early this morning."
"Is he though? That means a holiday. What shall we do?"
"I don't know what you will do," said Dot. "I am going to bake cakes."
"I'll come and bake cakes too," said Bertie promptly. "I'm rather a swell
at that. I can make fudge too, real American fudge, the most aristocratic
thing on the market. It's a secret, of course, but I'll let you into it,
if you'll promise not to tell."
"How do you know I can keep a secret?" laughed Dot, leading the way to
"You would keep a promise," he said with conviction.
"If I made one," she threw back.
"I would trust you without," he declared.
"Very rash of you! I wonder if you are as trustworthy as that."
"My word is my bond--always," said Bertie.
She turned and looked at him critically. "Yes, I think it is," she
admitted. "You are quite the honestest boy I ever met. They ought to have
called you George Washington."
"You may if you like," said Bertie.
She laughed--her own inexpressibly gay laugh. "All right, George! It
suits you perfectly. I always did think Bertie was a silly name. Why
didn't you go to the Hunt Ball last night?"
Bertie's merry face sobered. "My brother wasn't so well yesterday. I was
reading to him half the night. He couldn't sleep, and Tawny Hudson is no
good for that sort of thing."
The merriment went out of Dot's face too. It grew softer, older, more
womanly. "You are very good to your brother," she said.
He frowned abruptly. "Good to him! Great Scot! Why, he's miles too good
for any of us. Don't ever class him with Nap or me! We're just ordinary
sinners. But he--he's a king."
A queer little gleam that was not all mirth made Dot's eyes grow
brighter. "I like you for saying that," she said.
"Why, of course I say it!" he protested. "It's true! He's the finest chap
in the world, all true gold and not a grain of dross. That's how it is we
all knock under to him. Even Nap does that, though he doesn't care a
tinker's curse for anyone else on this muddy little planet."
"You are awfully fond of him, aren't you?" said Dot sympathetically.
"Fond of Lucas! I'd die for him!" the boy declared with feeling. "He's
father and brother and friend to me. There isn't anything I wouldn't do
for him. Did you ever hear how he came to be a cripple?"
"Never," said Dot.
"He was knocked down by an electric car," Bertie said, rushing through
the story with headlong ardour, "trying to save his best girl's dog from
being run over. He did save it, but he was frightfully hurt--paralysed
for months. It's years ago now. I was only a little shaver at the time.
But I shall never forget it. He always was good to me, and I thought he
was done for."
"And the girl?" asked Dot rather breathlessly.
"Married an English nobleman," he rejoined, with a brevity that spoke
volumes. "I say, what about those cakes? Hadn't we better begin?"
Dot turned her attention to the fire. "I should like to meet your
brother," she remarked. "I've never spoken to a real flesh-and-blood hero
in my life."
"Nothing easier," said Bertie promptly. "Come over and have tea. Come
this afternoon, you and Ralph."
But Dot hesitated in evident doubt. "I don't know what Dad would
say," she said.
"Oh, rats! He wouldn't mind. And my mother would be delighted. Come early
and I'll show you the hunters. Nap has just bought a beauty. She's a
blood mare, black as ink."
"Like Nap," said Dot absently; then in haste, "No, I didn't mean that. I
Bertie was looking at her shrewdly. "What do you know about Nap?" he
She coloured deeply. "Nothing, nothing whatever. I only know him
"And you don't like him?"
"I--I think he looks rather wicked," she stammered.
Bertie grunted. "Do you think I look wicked too?"
"Of course I don't. No one could."
He laughed. "That's all right. You can think what you like of Nap.
Everybody does. But even he is not all bad, you know."
"I'm sure he isn't. But--but--" Desperately Dot turned from the fire and
faced him. "I've got to say it, Bertie," she said rather piteously.
"Please don't be offended. You know I--I'm young. I don't know many
people. And--and--though I would like to know your eldest brother
immensely, I think I won't come to Baronmead if Nap is there. My father
doesn't want me to meet him--unless I am obliged."
She uttered the last words in evident distress. Bertie's face had grown
quite serious, even stern. He was looking at her with a directness which
for the first time in their acquaintance she found disconcerting.
He did not speak for several seconds. At length, "How old are you?" he
"Eighteen," she murmured.
He continued to look at her speculatively. "Well," he said at length,
speaking with something of a twang, "I guess your father knows what he's
about, but it beats me to understand why he has me here to study. I guess
I'd better shunt."
"Oh, please don't!" she said quickly. "It isn't you at all. It's
"Damn Nap!" said Bertie, with some fervour. "Oh, does that shock you? I
forgot you were a parson's daughter. Well, it may be your father is
right after all. Anyway, I shan't quarrel with him so long as he doesn't
taboo me too."
"He won't do that," said Dot, with confidence. "He likes you."
Bertie's good-looking face began to smile again. "Well, I'm not a
blackguard anyway," he said. "And I never shall be if you keep on being
kind to me. That's understood, is it? Then shake!"
They shook, and Dot realised with relief that the difficult subject was
THE FIRST ENCOUNTER
It was a week after the Hunt Ball that Anne Carfax, sitting alone at tea
in her drawing-room before a blazing fire, was surprised by the sudden
opening of the door, and the announcement of old Dimsdale the butler,
"Mr. Nap Errol to see your ladyship!"
She rose to meet him, her surprise in her face, and he, entering with
that light, half-stealthy tread of his, responded to it before his hand
"I know my presence is unexpected, and my welcome precarious, but as none
of my friends have been able to give me any news of you, I determined to
chance my reception and come myself to inquire for your welfare."
"You are very good," said Anne, but she spoke with a certain stateliness
notwithstanding. There was no pleasure in her eyes.
Nap, however, was sublimely self-assured. "I am beginning to think I must
be," he said, "since you say so. For I know you to be strictly truthful."
Anne made no response. She did not even smile.
"I am in luck to find you alone," proceeded Nap, surveying her with bold
dark eyes that were nothing daunted by her lack of cordiality.
"My husband will be in soon," she answered quietly.
"I shall be delighted to make his acquaintance," said Nap imperturbably.
"Has he been hunting?"
"Yes." Anne's tone was distant. She seemed to be unaware of the fact that
her visitor was still on his feet.
But Nap knew no embarrassment. He stood on the hearth with his back to
the fire. "You ought to hunt," he said. "Why don't you?"
"I do--occasionally," Anne said.
"What's the good of that? You ought to regularly. There's nothing like
it. Say, Lady Carfax, why don't you?" He smiled upon her disarmingly.
"Are you wondering if I take one lump or two? I take neither, and no
Against her will she faintly smiled.
"I thought that was it," said Nap. "Why didn't you ask me? Are these
scones in the fender? May I offer you one?"
He dropped upon his knees to pick up the dish, and in that attitude
humbly proffered it to her.
She found it impossible to remain ungracious. She could only seat herself
at the tea-table and abandon the attempt.
"Sit down and help yourself," she said.
He pulled a large hassock to him and sat facing her. "Now we can be
sociable," he said. "Really, you know, you ought to hunt more often. I
have never seen you in the field once. What on earth do you do with
"Many things," said Anne.
"What things?" he persisted.
"I help my husband to the best of my ability with the estate and try to
keep an eye on the poorest tenants. And then I practise the piano a good
deal. I haven't time for much besides."
"I say, do you play?" said Nap, keenly interested. "I do myself, a
little, not the piano--the violin. Lucas likes it, or I suppose I should
have given it up long ago. But I generally have to manage without an
accompaniment. There is no one can accompany at our place. It's a bit
thin, you know, playing by yourself."
Anne's face reflected his interest. "Tell me more about it," she said.
"What sort of music do you care for?"
"Oh, anything, from Christmas carols to sonatas. I never play to please
myself, and Lucas has very varied tastes."
"He is your elder brother?" questioned Anne.
"Yes, and one of the best." Nap spoke with unwonted feeling. "He is
hopelessly crippled, poor chap, and suffers infernally. I often wonder
why he puts up with it. I should have shot myself long ago, had I been
in his place."
"Perhaps he is a good man," Anne said.
He shot her a keen glance. "What do you mean by a good man?"
"I mean a man who does his duty without shirking."
"Is that your ideal?" he said, "There are plenty of men that do that, and
yet their lives are anything but blameless."
"Quite possibly," she agreed. "But if a man does his duty, he has not
lived in vain. It can be no man's duty to destroy himself."
"And how would you define 'duty'?" said Nap.
She let her eyes meet his for a moment. "I can only define it for
myself," she said.
"Will you do so for my benefit?" he asked.
A faint colour rose to her face. She looked past him into the fire. There
was a deep sadness about her lips as she made reply.
"I have not been given much to do. I have to content myself with 'the
work that's nearest.'"
Nap was watching her closely. "And if I did the same," he questioned in a
drawl that was unmistakably supercilious, "should I be a good man?"
"I don't know what your capabilities are," she said.
"I have vast capabilities for evil," he told her, with a cynical twist of
his thin-lipped mouth.
She met his look again. "I am sorry," she said.
"Are you really? But why? Doesn't the devil attract you? Honestly
now!" He leaned forward, staring straight at her, challenging her. "I
tell you frankly," he said, "I am not what you would call a good man.
But--the truth, mind!--would you like me any better if I were?"
She smiled a little. There was undoubted fascination in the upturned face
with its fiery eyes and savage jaw. Perhaps the lips were cruel, but they
were not coarse. They were keenly sensitive.
She did not answer him immediately, and during the pause his eyes never
flinched from hers. They were alive, glowing with insistence.
"Yes," she said at length. "Quite honestly, I do prefer good men."
"That wasn't exactly what I asked," said Nap, thrusting out his chin.
"I think you are capable of drawing your own conclusions," she
His look fell away from her. He began to munch scone with a
Anne gave him some tea, and he set it on the hearthrug between his
feet. The silence became lengthy. She was conscious of something in
the atmosphere that made her vaguely uneasy. Was it a cat he resembled,
crouching there in front of her? No, there was nothing domestic about
him though she had a feeling that he could purr when he was pleased.
Yes, there was undoubtedly something feline about him, a supple grace,
a noiselessness, a guile, that made her aware of the necessity for
caution in her dealings with him. This was a man of many
subtleties--she knew it instinctively--a man of tigerish temperament,
harmless as a kitten in sunshine, merciless as a fiend in storm. Yes,
he was certainly like a tiger, forcible even in repose. She had never
before encountered so dominant a personality. It affected her
strangely, half-attracting, half-repelling, arousing in her a sense of
antagonism that yet was not aversion.
"I wish you would say all that out loud," said Nap. "You have such
interesting thoughts, it is really selfish of you not to express them."
"Surely not," she said, "if you know what they are."
He gave her an odd look as he lifted his tea-cup.
"The Queen's jester is a privileged person," he said. "When the door of
her pleasaunce is closed to him he climbs up and looks over the wall."
"Not always a discreet proceeding, I fear," Anne remarked.
"Discretion, Lady Carfax, is but another term for decrepitude. I have
detected no symptoms of the disease at present." He drained his tea with
an arrogant gesture and handed the cup for more. "Which is the exact
reason why I have no intention of remaining on the top of the wall," he
said. "I will have a stronger dose this time, please."
An unsteady hand began to fumble at the door, and Anne glanced up with a
start. The blood rose to her face. "I think it is my husband," she said,
in a low voice.
Nap did not turn his head or answer. He sat motionless, still staring at
her, till the door began to open. Then, with a sudden, lithe movement, he
rose and kicked the hassock to one side.
A big man in riding-dress tramped heavily into the room, and stopped in
the centre, peering before him under scowling brows. Not the kindest of
critics could have called Sir Giles Carfax handsome, though every feature
in his face was well formed. The blotchy complexion of the man and his
eyes of glaring malice marred him all too completely. He looked about
fifty, to judge by his iron-grey hair and moustache, but he might have
been less. He had immensely powerful shoulders that stooped a little.
He continued to stand in the middle of the room and glare at the visitor
till Anne quietly bridged the gulf.
"This is Mr. Nap Errol, Giles. Mr. Errol--my husband."
She made the introduction without a tremor, but she kept her eyes
downcast as if she did not wish to see them meet. Perhaps she divined
that a gleam of supercilious humour flickered in Nap's eyes as he made
"I have been waiting for the pleasure of meeting you," he drawled.
"I dropped in on the chance, and Lady Carfax assured me you
wouldn't be long."
Sir Giles scowled more heavily than before. He shot a malignant glance
at his wife.
"Who in thunder made her so clever?" he growled. "And what did you want
to see me for? Have I ever met you before?"
His voice was thick, the words somewhat difficult to distinguish.
Nap's smile was unmistakably sardonic. "Many times," he said. "You nearly
rode over me on the last occasion. Doubtless the episode has escaped your
memory, but it made a more lasting impression upon mine."
Sir Giles glared offensively, as if he deemed himself insulted. "I
remember," he said. "Your animal came down with you. You pushed in front
of me. But it was your own fault. You Americans never observe the rules
of sport. I'm always glad to see you come a cropper."
"I am sure of it," said Nap politely. "It must gratify you immensely."
Sir Giles uttered a brief, snarling laugh, and advanced abruptly to the
hearth. He towered above the slim American, but the latter did not appear
to shirk comparison with him. With his hands in his pockets he
nonchalantly opposed his insolence to the other man's half-tipsy tyranny.
And Anne Carfax sat silent behind the tea-table and endured the encounter
with a mask-like patience that betrayed no faintest hint of what she
carried in her heart.
"Well, what do you want to see me for?" Sir Giles demanded, with a
ferocious kick at the coals.
Nap was quite ready with his answer. "I am really here on my brother's
behalf. There is a scheme afoot, as no doubt you know, for the building
of a Town Hall. My brother considers that the lord of the Manor"--he
bowed with thinly-veiled irony--"should have first say in the matter. But
I am at liberty to assure you that should you be in favour of the scheme
he is ready to offer you his hearty support."
Sir Giles heard him out with lowering brows. It did not improve his
temper to see Anne's eyes flash sudden interrogation at Nap's serenely
smiling countenance, though he did not suspect the meaning of her glance.
"I am not in favour of the scheme," he said shortly, as Nap ended.
Nap slightly raised his brows. "No? I understood otherwise."
The blood mounted to Sir Giles's forehead. "Either you were misinformed
or your intelligence is at fault," he said, with that in his voice that
was so nearly an open insult that, for a second, even Nap looked
Then quite quietly, without raising her eyes, Anne intervened. "I think
you ought to explain to Mr. Errol, Giles, that you have only recently
changed your mind."
Sir Giles rounded on her malignantly. "What the devil has that to do with
it, or with you, for that matter? Do you think I don't know my own mind?
Do you think--"
"I know exactly what Lady Carfax thinks," cut in Nap, moving deliberately
so that he stood directly between Sir Giles and the tea-table. His back
was turned to Anne, and he kept it so. "And in the main, I agree with
her, though my sentiments are a little stronger than hers. I'll tell you
exactly what they are some day. I think you would be interested, or at
least not bored. But with regard to this Town Hall suggestion, what's
wrong with it, anyway? Couldn't you come over and talk it out with my
brother? He isn't well enough just now to come to you."
The coolness of this speech took effect. Sir Giles glared for a few
moments till the speaker's steady regard became too much for him. Then,
with a lurching movement, he turned away.
"No, I won't visit your brother! Why the deuce should I? Do you think I
belong to the rag, tag, and bobtail, that'll mix with the very scum of
society so long as there's money about? Do you think I'd lower myself to
associate with fellows like you?"
"I guess you'd find it difficult," drawled Nap.
He still stood with his back to the tea-table. He seemed to have
forgotten the woman who sat so rigid behind him. His fingers drummed a
careless tattoo upon the table-edge. He was unquestionably master of the
situation, and that without much apparent effort.
And Sir Giles knew it, knew himself to be worsted, and that in his
wife's presence. He glanced at her through eyes narrowed to evil slits.
Her very impassivity goaded him. It seemed in some fashion to express
contempt. With violence he strode to the bell and pealed it vigorously.
On the instant Nap turned. "So long, Lady Carfax!"
She looked up at him. Her lips said nothing, but for that instant her
eyes entreated, and his eyes made swift response.
He was smiling with baffling good humour as he turned round to Sir Giles.
"Good-bye, sir! Delighted to have met you. I'll give your message to my
brother. It'll amuse him."
He departed without a backward glance as the servant opened the door,
elaborately deaf to Sir Giles's half-strangled reply that he might go to
the devil and take his brother with him.
He left dead silence in the room behind him, but the moment that the
clang of the front door told of his final exit the storm burst.
Sir Giles, livid, stammering with rage, strode up and down and cursed the
departed visitor in lurid language, cursed the errand that had brought
him, and rated his wife for admitting him.
"I will not know these impertinent, opulent Americans!" was the burden of
his maledictions. "As for that damned, insolent bounder, I will never
have him in the house again. Understand that! I know him. I've heard
Shirley talk of him. The man's a blackguard. And if I ever catch him
alone in your company after this, I'll thrash him--do you hear?--I'll
thrash him! So now you know what to expect!"
It was at this point that Anne rose, passed quietly, with the bearing of
a queen, down the long room, and without a single word or glance went out
and closed the door very softly behind her.
AT THE MEET
On one occasion, and one only, in the whole year were the gates of
the Manor thrown open to all comers, opulent Americans and
impecunious Britons alike. And this was when, in accordance with a
custom that had been observed from time immemorial, the foxhounds met
upon the Manor lawn.
It was then that Sir Giles, who cursed this obligatory hospitality for
weeks beforehand, emerged with a smile as fixed as his scowl, shook hands
with the select few whom he deigned to number among his acquaintances and
pointedly ignored the many who did not enjoy this privilege.
With old Dimsdale the butler rather than with his master rested the
honours of the house, and old Dimsdale did his part nobly; so nobly that
Major Shirley was heard to remark more than once that it was a pity he
and Sir Giles couldn't change places. It was the great day of Dimsdale's
year, and his was the proud task to see that none of the guests were
Anne usually rode to hounds on this occasion. Tall and stately, clad in
the conventional black riding-habit that only added grace to her severity
of outline, she moved among her husband's guests. And even those of them
who, like Major Shirley, resented that queenliness which was an inborn
part of her very nature, were fain to admit that she filled her position
as lady of the Manor with striking success. Though she had withdrawn
herself more and more of late from the society of the neighbourhood, she
acted the part of hostess with unfailing graciousness. On foot she moved
among the throng, greeting everyone she knew.
Little Dot Waring, standing in the background with her brother on a
certain misty morning in January marked her progress with looks of loving
admiration. Lady Carfax's mount, a powerful grey with nervous ears and
gleaming eyes, was being held in unwilling subjection close to them.
"Be ready to mount her when she comes this way, Ralph," Dot whispered, as
the tall figure drew nearer.
But the honour of mounting Lady Carfax was not for Ralph. A man on
a black mare--a slight man with high cheek-bones and an insolent
bearing--was threading his way towards them through the crowd. The mare,
like the grey, was restive, and her rider swore at her whimsies as he
Meeting Dot's frank regard, he checked himself and raised his hat with a
Dot stared, coloured, and very slightly bowed.
Ralph sniggered. "Let yourself in for it that time, my child! Here comes
Bertie to effect a formal introduction."
"Bertie won't introduce him," she said quickly.
Bertie, looking very handsome and stalwart, was already close to them. He
leaned down from the saddle to shake hands.
"Are you following on foot? I wish I was. Never thought of it till
"I would much rather follow on horseback," Dot declared, looking as if
she did not believe him.
He laughed. "I'll take you in front of me if you'll come."
"No. I shouldn't like that," said Dot very decidedly.
"How can you possibly know till you try?"
Dot looked up at him with the sunshine in her clear eyes. "How do you
know that you would prefer to follow the hounds on foot? I don't suppose
you ever have."
"How do I know?" laughed Bertie. "Because I should be in your company, of
course. Isn't that reason enough?"
"Idiot!" said Dot tersely.
"Minx!" said Bertie.
She flushed, looked angry for a moment, and then in spite of herself
dimpled into a smile. "Bertie, you're a beast! Say that again if you
"I daren't," said Bertie.
"No, I thought not. Now apologise!"
"Oh, not now! Not in public!" he pleaded. "I'll drop in this evening and
you can shrive me before I go to bed."
"I shan't be at home," said Dot, with her head in the air.
"Oh, yes, you will. Anyway, I'm bound to catch you if I wait long
enough." Bertie spoke with cheery assurance. "Hullo! What do you want?"
His expression altered as his glance fell upon his brother, who had just
come to his side. He looked inclined to scowl.
But Nap was not apparently desiring an introduction to the rector's
daughter. "Hold the mare a minute, will you?" he said.
Bertie complied and he swung himself to the ground.
Lady Carfax was coming towards them and he went to meet her.
Her grey eyes smiled a friendly welcome. "I was just wondering if you
He bowed low. "I am honoured indeed to be in your thoughts for a
"I hope I do not forget my friends so easily," she said. "Oh, here are
some more of them! Excuse me for a moment."
She went straight to Dot, shook hands with her and her brother, and stood
chatting for a few seconds.
Nap remained close behind her, and after a little she turned to
Include him in the group. "Have you ever met this Mr. Errol. Dot? Mr.
Dot bowed again with a scarlet countenance, but the next instant a
friendly inspiration delivered her from the moment's awkwardness.
"And you don't know Bertie Errol, do you, Lady Carfax?" she said eagerly.
"Let me introduce him. He studies with Dad, you know."
"When he isn't hunting, or paper-chasing, or--baking cakes," said Bertie.
"He's such a nice boy, Lady Carfax. He can do almost anything. I'm sure
you'll like him!"
Dot laughed and protested. "He isn't a bit nice, and he isn't clever
either, though he thinks he is. I don't believe he learns anything with
Dad. They study natural history most of the time."
"Harmless, anyway!" commented Nap, with a sneer.
"Yes, quite harmless," assented Bertie, looking straight at him.
"And very interesting, no doubt," said Lady Carfax, turning towards
Ralph moved to assist her, but Nap pushed before him. "My job, I think,"
he drawled, with that in his face which made the English youth draw
"Cad!" whispered Dot fiercely.
And Bertie from his perch above her laughed through clenched teeth.
In a few minutes more the hunt was off. The whole crowd streamed briskly
away, hounds leading, horses, motors, carriages, and the usual swarm of
pedestrians, following in promiscuous array.
The sun shone through a mist. The weather was perfect for hunting, but
looked as if it might end in rain.
Sir Giles rode with the master. He seemed in better spirits than usual.
His customary scowl had lifted.
His wife rode nearer the end of the procession with Nap Errol next to
her. His brother was immediately behind them, a very decided frown on his
boyish face, a frown of which in some occult fashion Nap must have been
aware, for as they reached a stretch of turf and the crowd widened out,
he turned in the saddle.
"Get on ahead, Bertie! I can't stand you riding at my heels."
Bertie looked at him as if he had a retort ready, but he did not utter
it. With tightened lips he rode past and shot ahead.
Nap smiled a little. "That young puppy is the best of the Errol bunch,"
he said. "But he hasn't been licked enough. It's not my fault. It's my
"He looks a nice boy," Anne said.
Nap's smile became supercilious. "He is a nice boy, Lady Carfax. But nice
boys don't always make nice men, you know. They turn into prigs
Anne diverted the subject with an instinctive feeling that it was one
upon which they might not agree.
"There is a considerable difference between you?" she asked.
"Eight years," said Nap. "I am thirty, Lucas five years older. Most
people take me for the eldest of the lot."
"I wonder why?" said Anne.
He shrugged his shoulders. "It is not really surprising, is it? Lucas has
been on the shelf for the past ten years and I"--he glanced at her
"Oh!" said Anne, and asked no more.
For the first time the definite question arose in her mind as to whether
in admitting this man to her friendship she had made a mistake. He had a
disquieting effect upon her, she was forced to acknowledge.
Yet as they drifted apart in the throng she knew with unalterable
conviction that the matter did not rest with her. From the outset the
choice had not been hers.
He had entered the gates of her lonely citadel on the night of the Hunt
Ball, and though she was by no means sure that she liked him there, she
fully realised that it was too late now to try to bar him out.
They found a fox after some delay in a copse on the side of a hill, and
the run that followed scattered even Anne's sedateness to the winds.
Something of youth, something of girlishness, yet dwelt within her and
bounded to the surface in response to the wild excitement of the chase.
The grey went like the wind. He and the black mare that Nap Errol rode
led the field, a distinction that Anne had never sought before, and which
she did not greatly appreciate on this occasion. For when they killed in
a chalky hollow, after half-an-hour's furious galloping across country
with scarcely a check, she dragged her animal round with a white, set
face and forced him from the scene.
Nap followed her after a little and found her fumbling at a gate
into a wood.
"I've secured the brush for you," he began. Then, seeing her face, "What
is it? You look sick."
"I feel sick," Anne said shakily.
He opened the gate for her, and followed her through. They found
themselves alone, separated from the rest of the hunt by a thick
belt of trees.
"Do you mean to say you have never seen a kill before?" he said.
"Never at close quarters," murmured Anne, with a shudder.
He rode for a little in silence. At length, "I'm sorry you didn't like
being in at the death," he said. "I thought you would be pleased."
"Pleased!" she said, and shuddered again.
"Personally," said Nap, "I enjoy a kill."
Anne's face expressed horror.
"Yes," he said recklessly, "I am like that. I hunt to kill. It is my
nature." A red gleam shone suddenly in his fiery eyes. He looked at her
aggressively. "What do you hunt for anyway?" he demanded.
"I don't think I shall hunt any more," she said.
"Oh, nonsense, Lady Carfax! That's being ultrasqueamish," he protested.
"You mustn't, you know. It's bad for you."
"I can't help it," she said. "I never realised before how cruel it is."
"Of course it's cruel," said Nap. "But then so is everything, so is life.
Yet you've got to live. We were created to prey on each other."
"No, no!" she said quickly, for his words hurt her inexplicably. "I take
the higher view."
"I beg your pardon," said Nap, in the tone of one refusing a discussion.
She turned to him impulsively. "Surely you do too!" she said, and there
was even a note of pleading in her voice.
Nap's brows met suddenly. He turned his eyes away. "I am nothing but an
animal," he told her rather brutally. "There is nothing spiritual about
me. I live for what I can get. When I get the chance I gorge. If I have a
soul at all, it is so rudimentary as to be unworthy of mention."
In the silence that followed he looked at her again with grim
comprehension. "P'r'aps you don't care for animals," he suggested
cynically. "To change the subject, do you know we are leaving the
She reined in somewhat reluctantly. "I suppose we had better go back."
"If your majesty decrees," said Nap.
He pulled the mare round and stood motionless, waiting for her to pass.
He sat arrogantly at his ease. She could not fail to note that his
horsemanship was magnificent. The mare stood royally as though she bore
a king. The man's very insignificance of bulk seemed to make him the
"Will you deign to lead the way?" he said.
And Anne passed him with a vague sense of uneasiness that almost
amounted to foreboding. For it seemed to her as if for those few moments
he had imposed his will upon hers, had without effort overthrown all
barriers of conventional reserve, and had made her acknowledge in him
the mastery of man.
Rejoining the hunt, she made her first deliberate attempt to avoid him,
an attempt that was so far successful that for the next hour she saw
nothing of him beyond casual glimpses. She did not join her husband, for
he resented her proximity in the hunting-field.
They drew blank in a wood above the first kill, but finally found after
considerable delay along a stubbly stretch of ground bordering Baronmead,
a large estate that the eldest Errol had just bought. The fox headed
straight for the Baronmead woods and after him streamed the hunt
pell-mell along a stony valley.
It was not Anne's intention to be in at a second death that day, and she
deliberately checked the grey's enthusiasm when he would have borne her
headlong through the scampering crowd. To his indignation, instead of
pursuing the chase in the valley, she headed him up the hill. He
protested with vehemence, threatening to rebel outright, but Anne was
determined, and eventually she had her way. Up the hill they went.
It was a scramble to reach the top, for the ground was steep and sloppy,
but on the summit of the ridge progress was easier. She gave the grey the
rein and he carried her forward at a canter. From here she saw the last
of the horsemen below her sweep round the curve towards Baronmead, and
the hubbub growing fainter in the distance told her that the hounds were
already plunging through the woods. Ahead of her the ridge culminated in
a bare knoll whence it was evident that she could overlook a considerable
stretch of country. She urged her animal towards it.
The mist was thickening in the valley, and it had begun to drizzle. The
watch on her wrist said two o'clock, and she determined to turn her face
homewards as soon as she had taken this final glimpse.
The grey, snorting and sweating, stumbled up the slippery ascent. He was
plainly disgusted with his rider's tactics. They arrived upon the summit,
and Anne brought him to a standstill. But though she still heard vague
shoutings below her the mist had increased so much in the few minutes
they had taken over the ascent that she could discern nothing. Her horse
was winded after the climb, however, and she remained motionless to give
him time to recover. The hubbub was dying away, and she surmised that the
fox had led his pursuers out on the farther side of the woods. She
shivered as the chill damp crept about her. A feeling of loneliness that
was almost physical possessed her. She half wished that she had not
forsaken the hunt after all.
Stay! Was she quite alone? Out of the clinging, ever-thickening curtain
there came sounds--the sounds of hoofs that struggled upwards, of an
animal's laboured breathing, of a man's voice that encouraged and swore
Her heart gave a sudden sharp throb. She knew that voice. Though she had
only met the owner thereof three times she had come to know it rather
well. Why had he elected to come that way, she asked herself? He almost
seemed to be dogging her steps that day.
Impulse urged her to strike in another direction before he reached
her. She did not feel inclined for another _tete-a-tete_ with Nap
Errol just then.
She tapped the grey smartly with her switch, more smartly than she
intended, for he started and plunged. At the same instant there broke out
immediately below them a hubbub of yelling and baying that was like the
shrieking of a hundred demons. It rose up through the fog as from the
mouth of an invisible pit, and drove the grey horse clean out of his
senses. He reared bolt upright in furious resistance to his rider's will,
pawed the air wildly, and being brought down again by a sharp cut over
the ears, flung out his heels in sheer malice and bolted down the hill,
straight for that pandemonium of men and hounds. If the pleasures of the
hunt failed to attract his mistress, it was otherwise with him, and he
meant to have his fling in spite of her.
For the first few seconds of that mad flight Anne scarcely attempted to
check his progress. She was taken by surprise and was forced to give all
her attention to keeping in the saddle.
The pace was terrific. The scampering hoofs scarcely seemed to touch the
ground at all. Like shadows they fled through the rising mist. It struck
chill upon her face as they swooped downwards. She seemed to be plunging
into an icy, bottomless abyss.
And then like a dagger, stabbing through every nerve, came fear, a
horror unspeakable of the depth she could not see, into which she was
being so furiously hurled. She was clinging to the saddle, but she
made a desperate effort to drag the animal round. It was quite
fruitless. No woman's strength could have availed to check that
headlong gallop. He swerved a little, a very little, in answer, that
was all, and galloped madly on.
And then--all in a moment it came, a moment of culminating horror more
awful than anything she had ever before experienced--the ground fell
suddenly away from the racing feet. A confusion of many lights danced
before her eyes--a buzzing uproar filled her brain--she shot forward
THE RIDE HOME
Sir Giles was in a decidedly evil temper as he rode home from the hunt in
the soaking rain that afternoon. The second fox had led them miles out of
the way, and they had not been rewarded by a kill. The brute had eluded
them, profiting by the downpour that had washed away the scent. So Sir
Giles, having solaced himself several times with neat brandy from the
large silver flask without which he never rode abroad, was in anything
but a contented mood with the world in general and his own luck in
particular. Dusk had long descended when at length he turned in at his
own gates. He had given up urging his jaded animal, being too jaded
himself for the effort. But, hearing a clatter of hoofs on the drive