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The Knave of Diamonds by Ethel May Dell

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"Put it down! I'll drink it presently. Where do you think I've just come
from? And what do you think I've been doing? I'll wager my last dollar no
one can guess."

"Done!" said Nap coolly, as he pulled forward a chair to the blaze.
"You've been bearding the lion in his den, and not unsuccessfully, to
judge by appearances. In other words, you've been to the Manor and have
drunk tea with the lord thereof."

Mrs. Errol subsided into the chair and looked round upon her interested
audience. "Well," she said, "you're right there, Nap Errol, but I
shan't part with my last dollar to you, so don't you worry any about
that. Yes, I've been to the Manor. I've had tea with Anne Carfax. And
I've talked to the squire as straight as a mother. He was pretty mad at
first, I can assure you, but I kept on hammering it into him till even
he began to get tired. And after that I made my points. Oh, I was
mighty kind on the whole. But I guess he isn't under any
misapprehension as to what I think of him. And I'm going over to-morrow
to fetch dear Anne over here to lunch."

With which cheerful announcement Mrs. Errol took up one of her cups of
tea and drank it with a triumphant air.

"I told him," she resumed, "he'd better watch his reputation, for he was
beginning to be regarded as the local Bluebeard. Oh, I was as frank as
George Washington. And I told him also that there isn't a man inside the
U.S.A. that would treat a black as he treats his wife. I think that
surprised him some, for he began to stutter, and then of course I had the
advantage. And I used it."

"It must have been real edifying for Lady Carfax," drawled Nap.

Mrs. Errol turned upon him. "I'm no bigger a fool than I look, Nap Errol.
Lady Carfax didn't hear a word. We had it out in the park. I left the
motor half way on purpose, and made his high mightiness walk down with
me. He was pretty near speechless by the time I'd done with him, but he
did just manage at parting to call me an impertinent old woman. And I
called him--a gentleman!"

Mrs. Errol paused to swallow her second cup of tea.

"I was wheezing myself by that time," she concluded. "But I'd had my say,
and I don't doubt that he is now giving the matter his full and careful
attention, which after all is the utmost I can expect. It may not do dear
Anne much good, but I guess it can't do her much harm anyway, and it was
beer and skittles to me. Why, it's five weeks now since she left, and
she's only been over once in all that time, and then I gather there was
such a row that she didn't feel like facing another till she was quite
strong again."

"An infernal shame!" declared Bertie hotly. "I'll drive you over myself
to-morrow to fetch her. We'll get up some sports in her honour. I wonder
if she likes tobogganing."

"I wonder if she will come," murmured Nap.

Mrs. Errol turned to her third cup. "She'll come," she said with
finality; and no one raised any further question on that point. Mrs.
Errol in certain moods was known to be invincible.

Though it was nearly the middle of March, the land was fast held in the
grip of winter. There had been a heavy fall of snow, and a continuous
frost succeeding it had turned Baronmead into an Alpine paradise.
Tobogganing and skating filled the hours of each day; dancing made fly
the hours of each night. Bertie had already conducted one ice gymkhana
with marked success, and he was now contemplating a masquerade on the
ornamental sheet of water that stretched before the house. Strings of
fairy lights were being arranged under his directions, and Chinese
lanterns bobbed in every bush.

He was deeply engrossed in these preparations, but he tore himself away
to drive his mother to the Manor on the following morning. His alacrity
to do this was explained when he told her that he wanted to drop into the
Rectory and persuade the rector to bring Dot that night to see the fun,
to which plan Mrs. Errol accorded her ready approval, and even undertook
to help with the persuading, to Bertie's immense gratification. He and
his mother never talked confidences, but they understood each other so
thoroughly that words were superfluous.

So they departed both in excellent spirits, while Lucas leaning upon
Nap's shoulder, went down to the lake to watch the skaters and to
superintend Bertie's preparations for the evening's entertainment.

The voices of the tobogganists reached them from a steep bit of ground
half-a-mile away, ringing clearly on the frosty air.

"The other side of that mound is tip-top for skiing," remarked Nap,
"better than you would expect in this country. But no one here seems
particularly keen on it. I was out early this morning and tried several
places that were quite passable, but that mound was the best!"

"After dancing till three," commented Lucas. "What a restless
fellow you are!"

Nap laughed a somewhat hard laugh. "One must do something. I never sleep
after dawn. It's not my nature."

"You'll wear yourself to a shadow," smiled Lucas. "There's little enough
of you as it is--nothing but fire and sinew!"

"Oh, rats, my dear fellow! I'm as tough as leather. There would need to
be something very serious the matter for me to lie in bed after daylight.
Just look at that woman doing eights! It's a sight to make you shudder."

"Whom do you mean? Mrs. Van Rhyl? I thought you were an admirer of hers."

Nap made a grimace. "Where is your native shrewdness? And I never
admired her skating anyway. It's about on a par with Mrs. Damer's
dancing. In the name of charity, don't ask that woman to come and help us
dance again. I'm not equal to her. It's yoking an elephant to a zebra."

"I thought you liked Mrs. Damer," said Lucas.

Nap grimaced again. "She's all right in the hunting-field. Leave her in
her own sphere and I can appreciate her."

"Do you think you are capable of appreciating any woman?" asked Lucas
unexpectedly.

Nap threw him a single fiery glance that was like a sword-thrust. His
slight figure stiffened to arrogance. But his answer, when it came,
was peculiarly soft and deliberate--it was also absolutely and
imperiously final.

"I guess so."

Lucas said no more, but he did not look wholly satisfied. There were
times in his dealings with Nap when even his tolerance would carry him
no further.

They spent a considerable time on the terrace in front of the house. It
was a sheltered spot, and the sunshine that day was generous.

"This place is doing you good," Nap remarked presently. "You are
considerably stronger than you were."

"I believe I am," Lucas answered. "I sleep better."

He had just seated himself on a stone bench that overlooked the lake.
His eyes followed the darting figures of the skaters with a certain
intentness.

Nap leaned upon the balustrade and watched him. "Why don't you see Capper
again?" he asked suddenly.

The millionaire's gaze gradually lost its intentness and grew remote. "I
am afraid he is on the wrong side of the Atlantic," he said.

"You can cable to him."

"Yes, I know." Slowly Lucas raised his eyes to his brother's face. "I can
have him over to tell me what he told me before--that I haven't the
recuperative strength essential to make his double operation a success."

"He may tell you something different this time." Nap spoke insistently,
with the energy of one not accustomed to accept defeat.

Lucas was silent.

"Say, Lucas"--there was more than insistence in his tone this time; it
held compulsion--"you aren't faint-hearted?"

The blue eyes began to smile. "I think not, Boney. But I've got to hang
on for the present--till you and the boy are married. P'r'aps then--I'll
take the risk."

Nap looked supercilious. "And if it is not my intention to marry?"

"You must marry, my dear fellow. You'll never be satisfied otherwise."

"You think marriage the hall-mark of respectability?" Nap sneered openly.

"I think," Lucas answered quietly, "that for you marriage is the
only end. The love of a good woman would be your salvation. Yes, you
may scoff. But--whether you admit it or not--it is the truth. And
you know it."

But Nap had ceased already to scoff; the sneer had gone from his face. He
had turned his head keenly as one who listens.

It was nearly a minute later that he spoke, and by that time the humming
of an approaching motor was clearly audible.

Then, "It may be the truth," he said, in a tone as deliberate as his
brother's, "and it may not. But--no good woman will ever marry me, Luke.
And I shall never marry--anything else."

He stooped, offering his shoulder for support. "Another guest, I fancy.
Shall we go?"

He added, as they stood a moment before turning, "And if you won't send
for Capper--I shall."

CHAPTER XVI

THE MASQUERADE

The brothers were standing together on the steps when Anne alighted from
the car, and her first thought as she moved towards them was of their
utter dissimilarity. They might have been men of different nationalities,
so essentially unlike each other were they in every detail. And yet she
felt for both that ready friendship that springs from warmest gratitude.

Nap kept her hand a moment in his grasp while he looked at her with that
bold stare of his that she had never yet desired to avoid. On the
occasion of her last visit to Baronmead they had not met. She wondered if
he were about to upbraid her for neglecting her friends, but he said
nothing whatever, leaving it to Lucas to inquire after her health while
he stood by and watched her with those dusky, intent eyes of his that
seemed to miss nothing.

"I am quite strong again, thank you," she said in answer to her host's
kindly questioning. "And you, Mr. Errol?"

"I am getting strong too," he smiled. "I am almost equal to running
alone; but doubtless you are past that stage. Slow and sure has been my
motto for some years now."

"It is a very good one," said Anne, in that gentle voice of hers that was
like the voice of a girl.

He heard the sympathy in it, and his eyes softened; but he passed the
matter by.

"I hope you have come to stay. Has my mother managed to persuade you?"

"She will spend to-night anyway," said Mrs. Errol.

"And only to-night," said Anne, with quiet firmness. "You are all very
kind, but--"

"We want you," interposed Lucas Errol.

She smiled, a quick smile that seemed reminiscent of happier days. "Yes,
and thank you for it. But I must return in good time to-morrow. I told my
husband that I would do so. He is spending the night in town, but he will
be back to-morrow."

Nap's teeth were visible, hard clenched upon his lower lip as he
listened, but still he said nothing. There was something peculiarly
forcible, even sinister, in his silence. Not until Anne presently turned
and directly addressed him did his attitude change.

"Will you take me to see the lake?" she said. "It looked so charming as
we drove up."

He moved instantly to accompany her. They went out together into the
hard brightness of the winter morning.

"It is so good to be here," Anne said a little wistfully. "It is like a
day in paradise."

He laughed at that, not very pleasantly.

"It is indeed," she persisted, "except for one thing. Now tell me; in
what have I offended?"

"You, Lady Carfax!" His brows met for an instant in a single,
savage line.

"Is it only my fancy?" she said. "I have a feeling that all is not
peace."

He stopped abruptly by the balustrade that bounded the terrace. "The
queen can do no wrong," he said. "She can hurt, but she cannot offend."

"Then how have I hurt you, Nap?" she said.

The quiet dignity of the question demanded an answer, but it was slow in
coming. He leaned his arms upon the balustrade, pulling restlessly at the
ivy that clung there. Anne waited quite motionless beside him. She was
not looking at the skaters; her eyes had gone beyond them.

Abruptly at length Nap straightened himself. "I am a fool to take you to
task for snubbing me," he said. "But I am not accustomed to being
snubbed. Let that be my excuse."

"Please tell me what you mean," said Anne.

He looked at her. "Do you tell me you do not know?"

"Yes," she said. Her clear eyes met his. "Why should I snub you? I
thought you were a friend."

"A friend," he said, with emphasis. "I thought so too. But--"

"Yes?" she said gently.

"Isn't it customary with you to answer your friends when they write to
you?" he asked.

Her expression changed. A look of sharp pain showed for an instant in her
eyes. "My invariable custom, Nap," she said very steadily.

"Then--that letter of mine--" he paused.

"When did you write it?"

"On the evening of the day you came here last--the day I missed you."

"It did not reach me," she said, her voice very low.

He was watching her very intently. "I sent it by messenger," he said. "I
was hunting that day. I sat down and wrote the moment I heard you had
been. Tawny Hudson took it."

"It did not reach me," she repeated. She was very pale; her eyes had
dropped from his.

"I was going to allow you a month to answer that letter," he went on, as
though she had not spoken. "After that, our--friendship would have been
at an end. The month will be up to-morrow."

Anne was silent.

"Lady Carfax," he said, "will you swear to me that you never received
that letter?"

"No," she said.

"You will not?"

"I will not."

He made a sudden movement--such a movement as a man makes involuntarily
at an unexpected dart of pain.

Anne raised her eyes very quietly. "Let us be quite honest," she said.
"No oath is ever necessary between friends."

"You expect me to believe you?" he said, and his voice was shaken by some
emotion he scarcely tried to hide.

She smiled very faintly. "You do believe me," she said.

He turned sharply from her. "Let us go down," he said.

They went down to the garden below the terrace, walking side by side, in
silence. They stood at the edge of the lake together, and presently they
talked--talked of a hundred things in which neither were greatly
interested. A few people drifted up and were introduced. Then Bertie came
running down, and their _tete-a-tete_ was finally at an end.

They were far away from one another during luncheon, and when the meal
was over Nap disappeared. He never concerned himself greatly about his
brother's guests.

At Bertie's persuasion Anne had brought skates, and she went down with
him to the lake in the afternoon, where they skated together till
sunset. She had a curious feeling that Nap was watching her the whole
time, though he was nowhere to be seen; nor did he appear at tea in the
great hall.

Later Mrs. Errol took possession of her, and they sat together in the
former's sitting-room till it was time to dress for dinner. Anne had
brought no fancy dress, but her hostess was eager to provide for her.
She clothed her in a white domino and black velvet mask, and insisted
upon her wearing a splendid diamond tiara in the shape of a heart in her
soft hair.

When she finally descended the stairs in Mrs. Errol's company, a slim man
dressed as a harlequin in black and silver, who was apparently waiting
for her halfway down, bowed low and presented a glorious spray of crimson
roses with the words: "For the queen who can do no wrong!"

"My, Nap! How you startled me!" ejaculated Mrs. Errol.

But Anne said nothing whatever. She only looked him straight in the eyes
for an instant, and passed on with the roses in her hand.

During dinner she saw nothing of him. The great room was crowded with
little tables, each laid for two, and she sat at the last of all with her
host. Later she never remembered whether they talked or were silent. She
only knew that somewhere the eyes that had watched her all the afternoon
were watching her still, intent and tireless, biding their time. But
silence in Lucas Errol's company was as easy as speech. Moreover, a
string band played continuously throughout the meal, and the hubbub
around them made speech unnecessary.

When they went out at last on to the terrace the whole garden was
transformed into a paradise of glowing colours. The lake shone like a
prism of glass, and over all the stars hung as if suspended very near
the earth.

Lucas went down to the edge of the ice, leaning on his valet. Bertie,
clad as a Roman soldier, was already vanishing in the distance with
someone attired as a Swiss peasant girl. Mrs. Errol, sensibly wrapped
in a large motoring coat, was maintaining a cheery conversation with
the rector, who looked cold and hungry and smiled bluely at
everything she said.

Anne stood by her host and watched the gay scene silently. "You ought to
be skating," he said presently.

She shook her head. "Not yet. I like watching. It makes me think of when
I was a girl."

"Not so very long ago, surely!" he said, with a smile.

"Seven years," she answered.

"My dear Lady Carfax!"

"Yes, seven years," she repeated, and though she also smiled there was a
note of unspeakable dreariness in her voice. "I was married on my
eighteenth birthday."

"My dear Lady Carfax," he said again. And with that silence fell once
more between them, but in some magic fashion his sympathy imparted itself
to her. She could feel it as one feels sudden sunshine on a cold day. It
warmed her to the heart.

She moved at length, turning towards him, and at once he spoke, as if
she had thereby set him at liberty to do so.

"Shall I tell you what I do when I find myself very badly up against
anything?" he said.

"Yes, tell me." Instinctively she drew nearer to him. There was that
about this man that attracted her irresistibly.

"It's a very simple remedy," he said, "simpler than praying. One can't
always pray. I just open the windows wide, Lady Carfax. It's a
help--even that."

"Ah!" she said quickly. "I think your windows must be always open."

"It seems a pity to shut them," he answered gently. "There is always a
sparrow to feed, anyway."

She laughed rather sadly. "Yes, there are always sparrows."

"And sometimes bigger things," he said, "things one wouldn't miss for
half creation."

"Or lose again for the other half," said the cool voice of a skater who
had just glided up.

Anne started a little, but Lucas scarcely moved.

"Lady Carfax is waiting to go on the ice," he said.

"And I am waiting to take her," the new-comer said.

His slim, graceful figure in its black, tight-fitting garb sparkled at
every turn. His eyes shone through his velvet mask like the eyes of an
animal in the dark.

He glided nearer, but for some reason inexplicable to herself, Anne
stepped back.

"I don't think I will," she said. "I am quite happy where I am."

"You will be happier with me," said the harlequin, with imperial
confidence.

He waved his hand to Hudson standing a few paces away with her skates,
took them from him, motioned her to the bank.

She stepped forward, not very willingly. Hudson, at another sign, spread
a rug for her. She sat down, and the glittering harlequin kneeled upon
the ice before her and fastened the blades to her feet.

It only took a couple of minutes; he was deft in all his ways. And
then he was on his feet again, and with a royal gesture had helped
her to hers.

Anne looked at him half dazzled. The shimmering figure seemed to be
decked in diamonds.

"Are you ready?" he said.

She looked into the glowing eyes and felt as if some magic attraction
were drawing her against her will.

"So long!" called Lucas from the bank. "Take care of her, Boney."

In another moment they were gliding into that prism of many lights and
colours, and the harlequin, holding Anne's hands, laughed enigmatically
as he sped her away.

CHAPTER XVII

THE SLAVE OF GOODNESS

It seemed to Anne presently that she had left the earth altogether, and
was gliding upwards through starland without effort or conscious movement
of any sort, simply as though lifted by the hands that held her own.
Their vitality thrilled through her like a strong current of electricity.
She felt that whichever way they turned, wherever they led her, she must
be safe. And there was a quivering ecstasy in that dazzling, rapid rush
that filled her veins like liquid fire.

"Do you know where you are?" he asked her once.

And she answered, in a species of breathless rapture, "I feel as if I
were caught in a rainbow."

He laughed again at that, a soft, exultant laugh, and drew her more
swiftly on.

They left the other masqueraders behind; they left the shimmering
lake and its many lights; and at last in the starlight only they
slackened speed.

Anne came out of her trance of delight to find that they were between the
banks of the stream that fed the lake. The ground on each side of them
shone white and hard in the frost-bound silence. The full moon was just
rising over a long silver ridge of down. She stood with her face to its
cold splendour, her hands still locked in that vital grip.

Slowly at last, compelled she knew not how, she turned to the man beside
her. His eyes were blazing at her with a lurid fire, and suddenly that
sensation that had troubled her once before in his presence--a sensation
of sharp uneasiness--pricked through her confidence.

She stood quite still, conscious of a sudden quickening of her heart. But
she did not shrink from that burning gaze. She met it with level eyes.

For seconds they stood so, facing one another. He seemed to be trying in
some fashion to subjugate her, to beat her down; but she would not yield
an inch. And it was he who finally broke the spell.

"Am I forgiven?"

"For what?" she said.

"For pretending to disbelieve you this morning."

"Was it pretence?" she asked.

"No, it wasn't!" he told her fiercely. "It was deadly earnest. I would
have given all I had to be able to disbelieve you. Do you know that?"

"But why, Nap?"

"Why?" he said. "Because your goodness, your purity, are making a slave
of me. If I could catch you--if I could catch you only once--cheating, as
all other women cheat, I should be free. But you are irreproachable and
incorruptible. I believe you are above temptation."

"Oh, you don't know me," she interposed quietly. "But even if I were all
these things, why should it vex you?"

"Why?" he said. "Because you hold me back, you check me at every turn.
You harness me to your chariot wheels, and I have to run in the path of
virtue whether I will or not!"

He broke off with a laugh that had in it a note of savagery.

"Don't you even care to know what was in that letter that you never had?"
he asked abruptly.

"Tell me!" she said.

"I told you that I was mad to have missed you that day. I begged you to
let me have a line before you came again. I besought you to let me call
upon you and to fix a day. I signed myself your humble and devoted slave,
Napoleon Errol."

He ceased, still laughing queerly, with his lower lip between his teeth.

Anne stood silent for many seconds.

At last, "You must never come to see me," she said very decidedly.

"Not if I bring the mother as a chaperon?" he jested.

"Neither you nor your mother must ever come to see me again," she
said firmly. "And--Nap--though I know that the writing of that
letter meant nothing whatever to you, I am more sorry than I can say
that you sent it."

He threw back his head arrogantly. "What?" he said. "Has the queen no
further use for her jester? Am I not even to write to you then?"

"I think not," she said.

"And why?" he demanded imperiously.

"I think you know why," she said.

"Do I know why? Is it because you are afraid of your husband?"

"No."

"Afraid of me then?" There was almost a taunt in the words.

"No," she said again.

"Why, then?" He was looking full into her eyes. There was something
peculiarly sinister about his masked face. She almost felt as if he were
menacing her.

Nevertheless she made unfaltering reply. "For a reason that means much
to me, though it may not appeal to you. Because my husband is not
always sane, and I am afraid of what he might do to you if he were
provoked any further."

"Great Lucifer!" said Nap. "Does he think I make love to you then?"

She did not answer him. "He is not always sane," she repeated.

"You are right," he said. "That reason does not appeal to me. Your
husband's hallucinations are not worth considering. But I don't propose
on that account to write any more letters for his edification. For the
future--" He paused.

"For the future," Anne said, "there must be no correspondence between us
at all. I know it seems unreasonable to you, but that cannot be helped.
Mr. Errol, surely you are generous enough--chivalrous enough--to
understand."

"No, I don't understand," Nap said. "I don't understand how you can, by
the widest stretch of the imagination, believe it your duty to conform to
the caprices of a maniac."

"How can I help it?" she said very sadly.

He was silent a moment. His hands were still gripping hers; she
could feel her wedding-ring being forced into her flesh. "Like our
mutual friend, Major Shirley," he said slowly, "I wonder why you
stick to the man."

She turned her face away with a sound that was almost a moan.

"You never loved him," he said with conviction.

She was silent. Yet after a little, as he waited, she spoke as one
compelled.

"I live with him because he gave me that for which I married him. He
fulfilled his part of the bargain. I must fulfil mine. I was nothing but
his bailiff's daughter, remember; a bailiff who had robbed him--for whose
escape from penal servitude I paid the price."

"Great Heavens!" said Nap.

She turned to him quickly, with an impulsiveness that was almost girlish.
"I have never told anyone else," she said. "I tell you because I know
you are my friend and because I want you to understand. We will
never--please--speak of it again."

"Wait!" Nap's voice rang stern. "Was it part of the bargain that he
should insult you, trample on you, make you lead a dog's life without a
single friend to make it bearable?"

She did not attempt to answer him. "Let us go back," she said.

He wheeled at once, still holding her hands.

They skated a few yards in silence. Then suddenly, almost under his
breath, he spoke. "I am not going to give up my friendship with you. Let
that be clearly understood."

"You are very good to me," she said simply.

"No. I am not. I am human, that's all. I don't think this state of
affairs can last much longer."

She shuddered. Her husband's condition had been very much worse of late,
but she did not tell him so.

They were skating rapidly back towards the head of the lake. In front of
them sounded the swirling rush of skates and the laughter of many voices.

"I'm sorry I've been a beast to you," Nap said abruptly. "You mustn't
mind me. It's just my way."

"Oh, I don't mind you, Nap," she answered gently.

"Thanks!" he said.

And with that he stooped suddenly and shot forward like a meteor, bearing
her with him.

They flashed back into the gay throng of masqueraders, and mingled with
the crowd as though they had never left it.

CHAPTER XVIII

THE DESCENT FROM OLYMPUS

"Come and say good-bye to Lucas," said Bertie. "He is up and
asking for you."

So, with an impetuous hand upon Anne's arm, he whisked her away on the
following morning to his brother's room. She was dressed for departure,
and waiting for the motor that was to take her home. Of Nap she had seen
nothing. He had a way of absenting himself from meals whenever it suited
him to do so. She wondered if he meant to let her go without farewell.

She found the master of the house lying on a couch sorting his
correspondence. He pushed everything aside at her entrance.

"Come in, Lady Carfax! I am glad not to have missed you. A pity you have
to leave so soon."

"I only wish I could stop longer," Anne said. He looked up at her,
holding her hand, his shrewd blue eyes full of the most candid
friendliness.

"You will come again, I hope, when you can," he said.

"Thank you," she answered gently.

He still held her hand. "And if at any time you need the help--or
comfort--of friends," he said, "you won't forget where to look?"

"Thank you," she said again.

"Is Nap driving you?" he asked.

"No," said Bertie. "Nap's skiing."

"Then you, Bertie--"

"My dear fellow," said Bertie, "I'm fearfully sorry, but I can't. You
understand, don't you, Lady Carfax? I would if I could, but--" his
excuses trailed off unsatisfactorily.

He turned very red and furiously jabbed at the fire with his boot.

"Please don't think of it," said Anne. "I am so used to being alone. In
fact, your mother wanted to come with me, but I dissuaded her."

"Then I conclude it is useless for me to offer myself as an escort?"
said Lucas.

"Yes, quite useless," she smiled, "though I am grateful to you all the
same. Good-bye, Mr. Errol!"

"Good-bye!" he said.

As Bertie closed the door behind her he took up a letter from the heap at
his elbow; but his eyes remained fixed for several seconds.

At length: "Bertie," he said, without looking up, "are you due at the
Rectory this morning?"

"This afternoon," said Bertie.

He also bent over the pile of correspondence and began to sort. He often
did secretarial work for Lucas.

Lucas suffered him for some seconds longer. Then, "You don't generally
behave like a boor, Bertie," he said.

"Oh, confound it!" exclaimed Bertie, with vehemence. "You don't suppose I
enjoyed letting her think me a cad, do you?"

"I don't suppose she did," Lucas said thoughtfully.

"Well, you do anyway, which is worse."

Bertie slapped down the letters and walked to the fire.

Lucas returned without comment to the paper in his hand.

After a long pause Bertie wheeled. He came back to his brother's side and
pulled up a chair. His brown face was set in stern lines.

"I don't see why I should put up with this," he said, "and I don't
mean to. It was Nap's doing. I was going to drive her. He
interfered--as usual."

"I thought you said Nap was skiing." Lucas spoke without raising his
eyes. He also looked graver than usual.

"I did. He is. But he has got some game on, and he didn't want me
looking on. Oh, I'm sick to death of Nap and all his ways! He's rotten
to the core!"

"Gently, boy, gently! You go too far." Lucas looked up into the hot blue
eyes, the severity all gone from his own. "It isn't what things look like
that you have to consider. It is what they are. Nap, poor chap, is badly
handicapped; but he has been putting up a big fight for himself lately,
and he hasn't done so badly. Give the devil his due."

"What's he doing now?" demanded Bertie. "It's bad enough to have the
whole community gossiping about his flirtations with women that don't
count. But when it comes to a good woman--like Lady Carfax--oh, I tell
you it makes me sick! He might leave her alone, at least. She's miserable
enough without him to make matters worse."

"My dear boy, you needn't be afraid for Lady Carfax." Lucas Errol's voice
held absolute conviction. "She wouldn't tolerate him for an instant if he
attempted to flirt with her. Their intimacy is founded on something more
solid than that. It's a genuine friendship or I have never seen one."

"Do you mean to say you don't know he is in love with her?"
ejaculated Bertie.

"But he won't make love to her," Lucas answered quietly. "He is drawn by
a good woman for the first time in his life, and no harm will come of it.
She is one of those women who must run a straight course. There are a few
such, born saints, 'of whom the world is not worthy.'" He checked himself
with a sudden sigh. "Suppose we get to business, Bertie."

"It's all very fine," said Bertie, preparing to comply. "But if Nap ever
falls foul of Sir Giles Carfax, he may find that he has bitten off more
than he can chew. They say he is on the high road to the D.T.'s. Small
wonder that Lady Carfax looks careworn!"

Small wonder indeed! Yet as Anne sped along through the sunshine on that
winter day she found leisure from her cares to enjoy the swift journey in
the great luxurious car. The burden she carried perpetually weighed less
heavily upon her than usual. The genial atmosphere of Baronmead had
warmed her heart. The few words that Lucas had spoken with her hand in
his still echoed through her memory. Yes, she knew where to look for
friends; no carping critics, but genuine, kindly friends who knew and
sympathised.

She thought of Nap with regret and a tinge of anxiety. She was sure he
had not intended to let her go without farewell, but she hoped earnestly
that he would not pursue her to the Manor to tell her so.

And then she remembered his letter; that letter that her husband must
have intercepted, recalling his storm of unreasonable fury on the
occasion of her last return from Baronmead. He had doubtless read that
letter and been inflamed by it. Hating her himself, he yet was fiercely
jealous of her friends--these new friends of hers who had lavished upon
her every kindness in her time of need, to whom she must always feel
warmly grateful, however churlishly he might ignore the obligation.

He had raised no definite objection to this present visit of hers. Mrs.
Errol had, in her own inimitable fashion, silenced him, but she had known
that she had gone against his wish. And it was in consequence of this
knowledge that she was returning so early, though she did not expect him
back till night. He should have no rational cause for complaint against
her. For such causes as his fevered brain created she could not hold
herself responsible.

It was hard to lead such a life without becoming morbid, but Anne was
fashioned upon generous lines. She strove ever to maintain the calm level
of reason wherewith to temper the baleful influence of her husband's
caprice. She never argued with him; argument was worse than futile. But
steadfastly and incessantly she sought by her moderation to balance the
difficulties with which she was continually confronted. And to a certain
extent she succeeded. Open struggles were very rare. Sir Giles knew that
there was a limit to her submission, and he seldom, if ever now,
attempted to force her beyond that limit.

But she knew that a visit from Nap would place her in an intolerable
position, and with all her heart she hoped that her caution of the
previous day had taken effect. Though utterly reckless on his own
account, she fancied that she had made an impression upon him, and that
he would not act wholly without consideration for her. In bestowing her
friendship upon him she had therewith reposed a confidence which his
invariable compliance with her wishes had seemed to warrant. She did not
think that her trust would ever prove to have been misplaced. But she was
sorry, unquestionably she was sorry, to have left without bidding him
farewell. It might be long ere they would meet again.

And with the thought yet in her mind she looked out of the window in
front of her, and saw his slim, supple figure, clad in a white sweater,
shoot swiftly down a snow-draped slope ahead of her, like a meteor
flashing earthwards out of the blue.

His arms were extended; his movements had a lithe grace that was
irresistibly fascinating to the eye. Slight though he was, he might have
been a young god descending on a shaft of sunshine from Olympus. But the
thought that darted all unbidden through Anne's mind was of something far
different. She banished it on the instant with startled precipitancy; but
it left a scar behind that burned like the sudden searing of a hot iron.
"I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven."

The car was stopping. The figure on skis was waiting motionless by the
roadside. It ran smoothly up to him and stopped.

"Dramatic, wasn't it?" smiled Nap. "Did you think you were going to
escape without another word?"

"I had almost begun to think so," she admitted, smiling also.

He stooped to take off the skis, then stepped to the door. He leaned
towards her. There was no faintest sign of cynicism in his face that day.
He was in the mood of good comradeship in which she liked him best.

"Walk across to the park with me," he said. "It is scarcely a mile by the
downs. The man can go on to the Manor with your things and wait here for
me on his way back."

Anne considered for a moment, but only for a moment. It might make her
late for the luncheon hour, but she was convinced that her husband would
not return before the evening. And the world was very enchanting that
winter day. The very ground was scattered with diamonds!

"Yes, I will come," she said.

He handed her out, and picked up his discarded skis. His dark face smiled
with a certain triumph. The grim lines about his mouth were less apparent
than usual. He moved with the elastic swing of well-knit limbs.

And Anne, walking beside him, found it not difficult to thrust her cares
a little farther into the sombre background of her mind. The sun shone
and the sky was blue, and the ground was strewn with glittering diamonds.
She went over the hill with him, feeling that she had snatched one more
hour in paradise.

CHAPTER XIX

VENGEANCE

By what magic he cajoled her into trying her skill upon skis Anne never
afterwards remembered. It seemed to her later that the exhilarating
atmosphere of that cloudless winter day must in some magic fashion have
revived in her the youth which had been crushed out of existence so long
ago. A strange, irresponsible happiness possessed her, so new, so subtly
sweet, that the heavy burden she had borne for so long seemed almost to
have shrunk into insignificance. It permeated her whole being like an
overpowering essence, so that she forgot the seven dreary years that
separated her from her girlhood, forgot the bondage to which she was
returning, the constant, ever-increasing anxiety that wrought so
mercilessly upon her; and remembered only the splendour of the sunshine
that sparkled on the snow, and the ecstasy of the keen clear air she
breathed. It was like an enchanting dream to her, a dream through which
she lived with all the greater zest because it so soon must pass.

All the pent energies of her vanished youth were in the dream. She could
not--for that once she could not--deny them vent.

And Nap, strung to a species of fierce gaiety that she had never seen in
him before, urged her perpetually on. He would not let her pause to
think, but yet he considered her at every turn. He scoffed like a boy at
her efforts to ski, but he held her up strongly while he scoffed, taking
care of her with that adroitness that marked everything he did. And while
they thus dallied the time passed swiftly, more swiftly than either
realised. The sun began to draw to the south-west. The diamonds ceased to
sparkle save here and there obliquely. The haze of a winter afternoon
settled upon the downs.

Suddenly Anne noticed these things, suddenly the weight of care which had
so wonderfully been lifted from her returned, suddenly the shining
garment of her youth slipped from her, and left her like Cinderella when
the spell of her enchantment was broken.

"Nap!" she exclaimed. "I must go! I must have been dreaming to forget
the time!"

"Time!" laughed Nap. "What is time?"

"It is something that I have to remember," she said. "Why, it must be
nearly two o'clock!"

Nap glanced at the sun and made no comment. Anne felt for and consulted
her watch. It was already three.

She looked up in amazement and dismay. "I must go at once!"

"Don't!" said Nap. "I am sure your watch is wrong."

"I must go at once," she repeated firmly. "It is long past the luncheon
hour. I had no idea we had been here so long. You must go too. Your
chauffeur will think you are never coming."

The skis were still on her feet. Nap looked at her speculatively.

"This is rather an abrupt end," he said. "Won't you have one more go? A
few minutes more or less can't make any difference now."

"They may make all the difference," Anne said. "Really, I ought not."

They stood on a gentle slope that led downwards to the path she
must take.

"Just ski down into the valley from here then," urged Nap. "It's quicker
than walking. I won't hold you this time. You won't fall."

The suggestion was reasonable, and the fascination of the sport had taken
firm hold of her. Anne smiled and yielded. She set her feet together and
let herself go.

Almost at the same instant a sound that was like the bellow of an
infuriated bull reached her from above.

She tried to turn, but the skis were already slipping over the snow. To
preserve her balance she was forced to go, and for seconds that seemed
like hours she slid down the hillside, her heart thumping in her throat;
her nerves straining and twitching to check that maddening progress. For
she knew that sound. She had heard it before, had shrunk secretly many a
time before its coarse brutality. It was the yell of a man in headlong,
furious wrath, an animal yell, unreasoning, hideously bestial; and she
feared, feared horribly, what that yell might portend.

She reached the valley, and managed to swerve round without falling. But
for an instant she could not, she dared not, raise her eyes. Clear on the
frosty air came sounds that made her blood turn cold. She felt as if her
heart would suffocate her. A brief blindness blotted out all things.

Then with an agonised effort she forced back her weakness, she forced
herself to look. Yes, the thing she had feared so horribly was being
enacted like a ghastly nightmare above her.

There on the slope was her husband, a gigantic figure outlined against
the snow. He had not stopped to parley. Those mad fits of passion always
deprived him, at the outset, of the few reasoning powers that yet
remained to him. Without question or explanation of any kind he had flung
himself upon the man he deemed his enemy, and Anne now beheld him,
gripping him by the neck as a terrier grips a rat, and flogging him with
the loaded crop he always carried to the hunt.

Nap was writhing to and fro like an eel, striving, she saw, to overthrow
his adversary. But the gigantic strength of madness was too great for
his lithe activity. By sheer weight he was borne down.

With an anguished cry Anne started to intervene. But two steps with the
skis flung her headlong upon the snow, and while she grovelled there,
struggling vainly to rise, she heard the awful blows above her like
pistol-shots through the stillness. Once she heard a curse, and once a
demonical laugh, and once, thrilling her through and through, spurring
her to wilder efforts, a dreadful sound that was like the cry of a
stricken animal.

She gained her feet at last, and again started on her upward way. Nap had
been forced to his knees, but he was still fighting fiercely, as a rat
will fight to the last. She cried to him wildly that she was coming, was
coming, made three paces, only to trip and fall again.

Then she knew that, so handicapped, she could never reach them, and with
shaking, fumbling fingers she set herself to unfasten the straps that
bound the skis. It took her a long, long time--all the longer for her
fevered haste. And still that awful, flail-like sound went on and on,
though all sound of voices had wholly ceased.

Free at last, she stumbled to her feet, and tore madly up the hill. She
saw as she went that Nap was not struggling any longer. He was hanging
like a wet rag from the merciless grip that upheld him, and though his
limp body seemed to shudder at every crashing blow, he made no voluntary
movement of any sort.

As she drew near, her husband suddenly swung round as though aware of
her, and dropped him. He fell in a huddled heap upon the snow, and lay,
twisted, motionless as a dead thing.

Sir Giles, his eyes suffused and terrible, turned upon his wife.

"There lies your gallant lover!" he snarled at her. "I think I've cured
him of his fancy for you."

Her eyes met his. For a single instant, hatred, unveiled, passionate,
shone out at him like sudden, darting lightning. For a single instant she
dared him with the courage born of hatred. It was a challenge so distinct
and personal, so fierce, that he, satiated for the moment with revenge,
drew back instinctively before it, as an animal shrinks from the flame.

She uttered not a word. She did not after that one scorching glance deign
to do battle with him. Without a gesture she dismissed him, kneeling
beside his vanquished foe as though he were already gone.

And--perhaps it was the utter intrepidity of her bearing that deprived
him of the power to carry his brutality any further just then--perhaps
the ferocity that he had never before encountered in those grey eyes
cowed him somewhat in spite of the madness that still sang in his
veins--whatever the motive power it was too potent to resist--Sir Giles
turned and tramped heavily away.

Anne did not watch him go. It was nothing to her at the moment whether he
went or stayed. She knelt beside the huddled, unconscious figure and
tried to straighten the crumpled limbs. The sweater had been literally
torn from his back, and the shirt beneath it was in blood-stained
tatters. His face was covered with blood. Sir Giles had not been
particular as to where the whip had fallen. Great purple welts crossed
and re-crossed each other on the livid features. The bleeding lips were
drawn back in a devilish grimace. He looked as though he had been
terribly mauled by some animal.

Anne gripped a handful of snow, hardly knowing what she did, and tried to
stanch the blood that ran from an open cut on his temple. She was not
trembling any longer. The emergency had steadied her. But the agony of
those moments was worse than any she had ever known.

Minutes passed. She was beginning to despair. An icy dread was at her
heart. He lay so lifeless, so terribly inert. She had attempted to lift
him, but the dead weight was too much for her. She could only rest his
head against her, and wipe away the blood that trickled persistently from
that dreadful, sneering mouth. Would he ever speak again, she asked
herself? Were the fiery eyes fast shut for ever? Was he dead--he whose
vitality had always held her like a charm? Had her friendship done this
for him, that friendship he had valued so highly?

She stooped lower over him. The anguish of the thought was more than she
could bear.

"O God," she prayed suddenly and passionately, "don't let him die! Don't
let him die!"

And in that moment Nap's eyes opened wide and fixed themselves upon her.

He did not attempt to move or speak, but the snarling look went wholly
out of his face. The thin lips met and closed over the battered mouth. He
lay regarding her intently, as if he were examining some curious thing he
had never seen before.

And before that gaze Anne's eyes wavered and sank. She felt she could
never meet his look again.

"Are you better?" she whispered. "Can I--will you let me--help you?"

"No," he said. "Just--leave me!" He spoke quite quietly, but the very
sound of his voice sent a perfect storm of emotion through her.

"I can't!" she said almost fiercely. "I won't! Let me help you! Let me do
what I can!"

He stirred a little, and his brow contracted, but he never took his eyes
from her face.

"Don't be--upset," he said with an effort. "I'm not going--to die!"

"Tell me what to do," she urged piteously. "Can I lift you a
little higher?"

"For Heaven's sake--no!" he said, and swallowed a shudder. "My
collar-bone's broken."

He was silent for a space, but still his dusky eyes watched her
perpetually.

At last, "Let me hold your hand," he said.

She put it into his, and he held it tightly. The blood was running down
his face again, and she wiped it softly away.

"Thank you," he said.

Those two words, spoken almost under his breath, had a curious effect
upon her. She felt as if something had suddenly entered and pierced her
heart. Before she knew it, a sharp sob escaped her, and then all in a
moment she broke down.

"Oh, Nap, Nap," she sobbed, "I wish I had died before this could happen!"

She felt his hand tighten as she crouched there beside him in her
anguish, and presently she knew that he had somehow managed to raise
himself to a sitting posture.

Through her agony his voice came to her. It was pitched very low, yet
she heard it.

"Don't cry--for pity's sake! I shall get over it. I shall live--to get
back--my own."

Torn by emotion as she was, something in the last words, spoken in that
curious undertone, struck her with a subtle force. With a desperate
effort she controlled herself. She knew that he was still watching her
with that strange intensity that she could not bring herself to meet. His
right hand still held hers with quivering tenacity; the other trailed
uselessly on the snow.

"Let me help you," she urged again.

He was silent; she feared he was going to refuse. And then she saw that
his head had begun to droop forward, and realised that he was on the
verge of another collapse. Instinctively she slipped her arm about his
shoulders, supporting him. He was shuddering all over. She drew his head
to rest against her.

A long time passed thus, she kneeling motionless, holding him, while he
panted against her breast, struggling with dogged persistence to master
the weakness that threatened to overpower him. It was terrible to see him
so, he the arrogant, the fierce, the overbearing, thus humbled to the
earth before her. She felt the agony of his crushed pride, and yearned
with an intensity that was passionate to alleviate it. But there seemed
nothing for her to do. She could only kneel and look on in bitter
impotence while he fought his battle.

In the end he lifted his face. "It's the collarbone that hurts so
infernally. Could you push something under my left arm to hold it up?
Your muff would do. Mind my wrist--that's broken too. Ah!" She heard the
breath whistle sharply between his lips as with the utmost care she
complied with these instructions, but almost instantly he went on: "Don't
be afraid of touching me--unless I'm too monstrous to touch. But I don't
believe I can walk."

"I will help you," she said. "I am very strong."

"You are--wonderful," he said.

And the words comforted her subtly though she did not know exactly what
he meant by them.

Thereafter they scarcely spoke at all. By slow degrees he recovered his
self-command, though she knew with only too keen a perception how
intolerable was the pain that racked his whole body. With her assistance
and with strenuous effort he managed at last to get upon his feet, but he
was immediately assailed afresh by deadly faintness, and for minutes he
could stand only by means of her arms upholding him.

Later, with his one available arm across her shoulders, he essayed to
walk, but it was so ghastly an ordeal that he could accomplish only a few
steps at a time.

Anne did not falter now. She was past that stage. All her nerves were
strung to meet his pressing need. Again and again as he hung upon her,
half-fainting, she stopped to support him more adequately till he had
fought down his exhaustion and was ready to struggle on again. She
remained steadfast and resolute throughout the long-drawn-out agony of
that walk over the snow.

"Great Heaven!" he muttered once. "That you should do this--for me!"

And she answered him quickly and passionately, as though indeed there
were something within that spoke for her, "I would do anything for
you, Nap."

It was drawing near to sunset when at last the end of the journey came in
sight. Anne perceived the car waiting in the distance close to the spot
where Nap had descended upon her that morning.

She breathed a sigh of thankfulness. "I scarcely thought he would have
waited for you so long," she said.

"He daren't do otherwise," said Nap, and she caught a faint echo of
arrogance in the words.

And then of his own free will he paused and faced her. "You are coming
with me," he said.

She shook her head. "No, Nap."

His eyes blazed redly. His disfigured face was suddenly devilish. "You
are mad if you go back," he said.

But she shook her head again. "No, I know what I am doing. And I am going
back now. But I will come to Baronmead in the morning."

He looked at her. "Are you--tired of life?" he asked abruptly.

She smiled--a piteous smile. "Very, very tired!" she said. "But you
needn't be afraid of that. He will not touch me. He will not even see me
to-night." Then, as he still looked combative, "Oh, please, leave this
matter to my judgment! I know exactly what I am doing. Believe me, I am
in no danger."

He gave in, seeing that she was not to be moved from her purpose.

They went a few yards farther; then, "In Heaven's name--come early to
Baronmead," he said jerkily. "I shall have no peace till you come."

"I will," she promised.

The chauffeur came to meet them with clumsy solicitude as they neared the
car, but Nap kept him at a distance.

"Don't touch me! I've had a bad fall skiing. It's torn me to ribbons.
Just open the door. Lady Carfax will do the rest!" And as the man turned
to obey, "Not a very likely story, but it will serve our turn."

"Thank you," she said very earnestly.

He did not look at her again. She had a feeling that he kept his eyes
from her by a deliberate effort of the will.

Silently she helped him into the car, saw him sink back with her muff
still supporting his injured arm, whispered a low "Good-bye!" and turned
to the waiting chauffeur.

"Drive him quickly home," she said. "And then go for a doctor."

Not till the car was out of sight did she realise that her knees were
shaking and refusing to support her. She tottered to a gate by the
roadside, and there, clinging weakly with her head bowed upon her arms,
she remained for a very long time.

CHAPTER XX

THE VISION

It was growing dusk when Anne at length came to the Manor. She was
utterly weary and faint from lack of food. The servant who admitted her
looked at her strangely, as if half afraid.

"Please have tea taken to my sitting-room," she said quietly, as she
passed him.

And with that she went straight to her room. Standing before a mirror to
remove her hat, she caught sight of something that seemed to stab her
heart. The cream cloth coat she wore was all spattered with blood.

She stood rigid, not breathing, staring into the white face above
it--the white face of a woman she hardly knew, with compressed lips and
wild, tragic eyes. What was it those eyes held? Was it hatred? Was it
madness? Was it--?

She broke away horror-stricken, and stripped the coat from her with hands
like ice. Again through her mind, with feverish insistence, ran those
words that had startled her earlier in the day. She found herself
repeating them deliriously, under her breath: "I beheld Satan--as
lightning--fall from heaven!"

Why did they haunt her so? What was it in the utterance that
frightened her? What meaning did they hold for her? What hidden terror
lay behind it? What had happened to her? What nightmare horror was
this clawing at her heart, lacerating, devouring, destroying? It was
something she had never felt before, something too terrible to face,
too overwhelming to ignore.

Was she going mad, she asked herself? And like a dreadful answer to a
riddle inscrutable her white lips whispered those haunting unforgettable
words: "I beheld Satan--as lightning--fall from heaven."

Mechanically she bathed her face and hands and passed into her
sitting-room, where her tea awaited her. A bright fire crackled there,
and her favourite chair was drawn up to it. The kettle hissed merrily on
a spirit-lamp.

Entering, she found, somewhat to her surprise, old Dimsdale waiting to
serve her.

"Thank you," she said. "I can help myself."

"If your ladyship will allow me," he said deferentially.

She sat down, conscious of a physical weakness she could not control. And
the old butler, quiet and courteous and very grave, proceeded to make the
tea and wait upon her in silence.

Anne lay back in her chair with her eyes upon the fire, and accepted his
ministrations without further speech. There was a very thorough
understanding between herself and Dimsdale, an understanding established
and maintained without words.

The tea revived her, and after a little she turned her head and looked
up at him.

"Well, Dimsdale?"

Dimsdale coughed. "It was about Sir Giles that I wanted to speak to your
ladyship."

"Well?" she said again.

"Sir Giles, my lady, is not himself--not at all himself," Dimsdale told
her cautiously. "I was wondering just before you came in if I didn't
ought to send for the doctor."

"Why, Dimsdale?" Anne looked straight up into the old man's troubled
face, but her eyes had a strangely aloof expression, as though the matter
scarcely touched her.

Dimsdale shook his head. "It's not the same as usual, my lady. I've never
seen him like this before. There's something--I don't rightly know
what--about him that fair scares me. If your ladyship will only let me
send for the doctor--"

He paused. Anne's eyes had gone back to the fire. She seemed to be
considering.

"I don't think the doctor would be at home," she said at last. "Wait till
the morning, Dimsdale--unless he is really ill."

"My lady, it's not that," said Dimsdale. "There's nothing ails his body.
But--but--" he faltered a little, and finally, "It's his mind," he said,
"if I may make so bold as to say it. I don't believe as he's safe. I'm
afraid he'll be doing a mischief to--someone."

His pause was not lost upon Anne. Again she raised her eyes and steadily
regarded him.

"To whom, Dimsdale?" she asked.

"My lady--" the old man murmured unwillingly.

"To me?" she questioned in a quiet, unmoved voice. "Why are you
afraid of that?"

Dimsdale hesitated.

"Tell me," she said. But again her eyes had sunk to the fire. She seemed
as one not vitally interested, as one whose thoughts were elsewhere.

Reluctantly Dimsdale made answer: "He's been cutting your ladyship's
portrait into strips and burning 'em in the study fire. It was dreadful
to see him, so intent like and quiet. I saw him put his hand right into
the flame once, and he didn't seem to know. And he came in in one of his
black moods with his hunting-crop broken right in two. Carrying the
pieces he was, and glaring like as if all the world was against him. I
was afraid there would be trouble when he came home to lunch and found
your ladyship not there."

He stopped, arrested by a sudden movement from Anne. She had leaned
forward and covered her face with her hands. The tension of her attitude
was such that Dimsdale became strongly aware that his presence was an
intrusion. Yet, the matter being urgent, he stood his ground.

He waited silently, and presently Anne lifted her head. "I think you
must leave the matter till the morning, Dimsdale," she said. "It could do
no good to have the doctor at this hour. Besides, I doubt if he could
come. And Sir Giles will be himself again after a night's rest."

"I'm very much afraid not, my lady," said Dimsdale lugubriously. "He's
drinking brandy--neat brandy--all the while. I've never seen him drink
like that before. It fair scares me, and that's the truth."

"You are not afraid on your own account?" Anne asked.

"Oh, no, my lady. He wouldn't interfere with me. It's your ladyship--"

"Ah, well," she said, quietly interrupting, "you need not be afraid for
me either. I shall not go downstairs again to-night. He will not be
expecting me."

"Very good, my lady."

Dimsdale looked somewhat relieved but not wholly satisfied. He lingered
as if he longed yet did not dare to say more.

As for Anne, she sat quite motionless gazing into the fire, her hands
clasped very tightly before her. She seemed to have dismissed the subject
under discussion and the faithful Dimsdale simultaneously from her mind.

After a few seconds the old butler realised this, and without further ado
he removed the tea-things and went quietly away.

Anne did not notice his departure. She was too deep in thought. Her
brain was steadier now, and she found it possible to think. For the first
time she was asking herself if she would be justified in bringing her
long martyrdom to an end. She had fulfilled her part of the bargain,
patiently, conscientiously, unflaggingly, throughout those seven bitter
years. She had married her husband without loving him, and he had never
sought to win her love. He had married her for the sake of conquering
her, attracted by the very coldness with which she had tried in her
girlhood to repel him. She had caught his fancy in those far-off days.
Her queenliness, her grace, had captivated him. And later, with the sheer
hunter's instinct, he had pursued her, and had eventually discovered a
means of entrapping her. He had named his conditions and she had named
hers. In the end he had dispatched the father to Canada and made the
daughter his wife.

But his fancy for her had scarcely outlasted his capture. He had taken
pleasure for a while in humiliating her, counting it sport if he
succeeded in arousing her rare indignation. But soon even this had ceased
to amuse him. He had developed into that most odious of all bullies, the
domestic tyrant, and had therewith sunk back into those habits of
intemperance which his marriage had scarcely interrupted. He was many
years her senior. He treated her as a slave, and if now and then an
uncomfortable sensation of inferiority assailed him, he took his revenge
upon her in evil, glowering tempers that rendered him more of a beast
than a man.

But yet she had borne with him. By neither word nor action had she ever
voluntarily widened the breach between them: His growing dislike had not
had any visible effect upon her. She had done her duty faithfully through
all, had borne his harshness and his insults in silence, with a patience
too majestic, too colossal, for his understanding.

And now for the first time she asked herself, Did he want to be rid of
her? Had he invented this monstrous grievance to drive her from him? Were
the days of her bondage indeed drawing at last to an end? Had she borne
with him long enough? Was she free--was she free to go?

Her heart quickened at the bare thought. How gladly would she set herself
to make a living when once this burden had been lifted from her!

But she would not relinquish it without his sanction. She would be
faithful to the last, true to that bargain she had struck with him so
long ago. Yet surely he could not refuse it. She was convinced that he
hated her.

Again she felt that strange new life thrilling in her veins. Again she
felt herself almost young. To be free! To be free! To choose her own
friends without fear; to live her own life in peace; to know no further
tumults or petty tyrannies--to be free!

The prospect dazzled her. She lifted her face and gasped for breath.

Then, hearing a sound at her door, she turned.

A white-faced servant stood on the threshold. "If you please, my lady,
your coat is in a dreadful state. I was afraid there must have been an
accident."

Anne stared at the woman for a few seconds with the dazed eyes of one
suddenly awakened.

"Yes," she said slowly at length. "There was--an accident. Mr. Nap Errol
was--hurt while skiing."

The woman looked at her with frank curiosity, but there was that about
her mistress at the moment that did not encourage inquiry or comment.

She stood for a little silent; then, "What had I better do with the coat,
my lady?" she asked diffidently.

Anne made an abrupt gesture. The dazed look in her eyes had given place
to horror. "Take it away!" she said sharply. "Do what you like with it! I
never want to see it again."

"Very good, my lady."

The woman withdrew, and Anne covered her face with her hands once more,
and shuddered from head to foot.

CHAPTER XXI

AT THE MERCY OF A DEMON

Some time later Anne seated herself at her writing-table.

The idea of writing to her husband had come to her as an inspiration; not
because she shirked an interview--she knew that to be inevitable--but
because she realised that the first step taken thus would make the final
decision easier for them both.

She did not find it hard to put her thoughts into words. Her mind was
very clear upon the matter in hand. She knew exactly what she desired to
say. Only upon the subject of her friendship with Nap she could not bring
herself to touch. A day earlier she could have spoken of it, even in the
face of his hateful suspicion, without restraint. But to-night she could
not. It was as if a spell of silence had been laid upon her, a spell
which she dared not attempt to break. She dared not even think of Nap
just then.

It was not a very long letter that she wrote, sitting there in the
silence of her room, and it did not take her long to write. But when it
was finished, closed and directed, she sat on with her chin upon her
hand, thinking. It seemed scarcely conceivable that he would refuse to
let her go.

She could not imagine herself to be in any sense necessary to him. She
had helped him with the estate in many ways, but she had done nothing
that a trustworthy agent could not do, save, perhaps, in the matter of
caring for the poorer tenants. They would miss her, she told herself, but
no one else. It was very long since she had entertained any guests at the
Manor. Sir Giles had offended almost everyone who could ever have claimed
the privilege of intimacy with him. And people wondered openly that his
wife still lived with him. Well, they would not wonder much longer.

And when her life was at her own disposal what would she do with it?

There were many things she might do; as secretary, as companion, as
music-teacher, as cook. She knew she need not be at a loss. And again the
prospect of freedom from a yoke that galled her intolerably made her
heart leap.

A slight sound in the passage brought her out of her reverie. She glanced
up. It was probably Dimsdale. She would give him the note to deliver to
his master in the morning. She crossed to the door and opened it.

The next instant, in amazement, she drew back. On the threshold, face to
face with her, stood her husband!

He did not give her time to speak, but pushed straight forward into the
room as if in haste. His face was white and purple in patches. His eyes
were narrowed and furtive. There was something unspeakably evil in the
way they avoided hers. He carried his right hand behind him.

He began to speak at once in quick, staccato tones, with which she was
utterly unfamiliar.

"So you think you are going to escape me, do you? But you won't! No, not
for all the Errols in the world!"

She did not answer him. There was something so utterly unusual in this
abrupt visitation that she knew not how to cope with it. But he scarcely
waited for an answer. He swung the door behind him with a bang.

"Do you remember," he said, his staccato tone merging into one of rising
violence, "a promise I made to you the first time I caught that scoundrel
making love to you? I swore that if it happened again I'd thrash him.
Well, I'm a man who keeps his promises. I've kept that one. And now it's
your turn. I thought at first I'd kill you. But I fancy this will hurt
you more."

His hand shot suddenly out from behind him, and there followed the
whistle of a thong--the thick, leathern thong with which he kept his
dogs in order.

It struck her as she stood before him, struck and curled about her
shoulders with a searching, scalding agony that turned her sick, wringing
from her a cry that would never have been uttered had she been prepared.

But before he could strike again she was ready to cope with his madness.
On the instant she sprang, not from him, but to him, clasping his arms
with both of hers.

"Giles!" she said, and her voice rang clear and commanding. "You are not
yourself. You don't know what you are doing. Look at me! Do you hear?
Look at me!"

That was his vulnerable point, and instinctively she knew it. He was
afraid--as a wild animal is afraid--of the compulsion of her eyes. But he
fought with her savagely, furiously, refusing to face her, struggling
with inarticulate oaths to break away from her clinging arms.

And Anne was powerless against him, powerless as Nap had been earlier
in the day, to make any impression against his frenzied strength. She
was impotent as a child in that awful grip, and in a very few seconds
she knew it.

He had already wrung his arm free and raised it to strike a second blow,
while she shut her eyes in anguished expectation, still clinging blindly
to his coat, when the door burst open with a crash and Dimsdale tore
into the room.

Anne heard his coming, but she could not turn. She was waiting with every
nerve stretched and quivering for the thong to fall. And when it did
not, when Dimsdale, with a strength abnormal for his years, flung himself
at the upraised arm and bore it downwards, she was conscious not of
relief, but only of a sudden snapping of that awful tension that was like
a rending asunder of her very being. She relaxed her hold and tottered
back against the wall.

"He will kill you!" she heard herself saying to Dimsdale. "He will
kill you!"

But Dimsdale clung like a limpet. Through the surging uproar of her
reeling senses Anne heard his voice.

"Sir Giles! Sir Giles! This won't do, sir. You've got a bit beyond
yourself. Come along with me, Sir Giles. You are not well. You ought to
be in bed. Now, now, Sir Giles! Give it up! Come! Here's West to help
you undress."

But Sir Giles fought to be free, cursing hideously, writhing this way and
that with Dimsdale hanging to him; and at sight of the footman hastening
to the old man's assistance he put forth a strength so terrific that he
swung him completely off the ground.

"He's too much for me!" shouted Dimsdale. "My lady, go--go, for the love
of heaven! Quick, West! Quick! Trip him! It's the only way! Ah!"

They went down in a fearful, struggling heap. Sir Giles underneath, but
making so violent a fight that the whole room seemed to shake.

And Anne stood and looked upon the whole ghastly spectacle as one
turned to stone.

So standing, propped against the wall, she saw the young under-footman
come swiftly in, and had a glimpse of his horrified face as he leapt
forward to join the swaying, heaving mass of figures upon the floor. His
coming seemed to make a difference. Sir Giles's struggles became less
gigantic, became spasmodic, convulsive, futile, finally ceased
altogether. He lay like a dead man, save that his features twitched
horribly as if evil spirits were at work upon him.

The whole conflict had occupied but a few minutes, but to the rigid
watcher it had been an eternity of fearful tumult. Yet the hard-breathing
silence that followed was almost more terrible still.

Out of it arose old Dimsdale, wiping his forehead with a shaking hand.

"He didn't hurt your ladyship?" he questioned anxiously.

But she could not take her eyes from the motionless figure upon the floor
or answer him.

He drew nearer. "My lady," he said, "come away from here!"

But Anne never stirred.

He laid a very humble hand upon her arm. "Let me take you downstairs," he
urged gently. "There's a friend there waiting for your ladyship--a
friend as will understand."

"A--friend?" She turned her head stiffly, her eyes still striving to
remain fixed upon that mighty, inert form.

"Yes, my lady. He only came a few minutes back. He is waiting in the
drawing-room. It was Sir Giles he asked to see, said it was very
particular. It was West here took the message to Sir Giles, and I think
it was that as made him come up here so mad like. I came after him as
soon as I heard. But the gentleman is still waiting, my lady. Will you
see him and--explain?"

"Who is the gentleman?" Anne heard the question, but not as if she
herself had uttered it. The voice that spoke seemed to come from an
immense distance.

And from equally far seemed to come Dimsdale's answer, though it reached
and pierced her understanding in an instant.

"It's Mr. Errol, my lady,--the crippled one. Mr. Lucas, I think
his name is."

Anne turned then as sharply as though a voice had called her.

"Lucas Errol! Is he here? Ah, take me to him! Take me to him!"

And the old butler led her thankfully from the scene.

CHAPTER XXII

THE CITY OF REFUGE

The moment Lucas Errol's hand closed upon hers it was to Anne as if an
immense and suffocating weight had been lifted from her, and with it all
her remaining strength crumbled away as if her burden alone had
sustained her.

She looked at him, meeting the kind, searching eyes without effort,
trying piteously to speak, but her white lips only moved soundlessly, her
throat seemed paralysed.

"Her ladyship has had a shock, sir," explained Dimsdale.

"Won't you sit down?" said Lucas gently. In a moment she found herself
sitting on a sofa with this stanch friend of hers beside her, holding her
hand. A few words passed between him and Dimsdale, which she scarcely
heard and was too weak to comprehend, and then they were alone together,
she and Lucas in a silence she felt powerless to break.

"You mustn't mind me, Lady Carfax," he said. "I know what you have come
through. I understand."

Dimly she heard the words, but she could not respond to them. She
was shivering, shivering with a violence that she was utterly unable
to repress.

He did not speak again till Dimsdale came back with a tray, then again he
exchanged a few murmured sentences with the old butler, who presently
said, "Very good, sir," and went softly away.

Then Lucas turned again to Anne. "Drink this," he said. "It will
revive you."

She groped for the glass he held towards her, but trembled so much that
she could not take it.

"Let me," he said, and put it himself to her lips.

She drank slowly, shuddering, her teeth chattering against the glass.

"Lay your head down upon the cushion," he said then, "and shut your eyes.
You will be better soon."

"You--you won't go?" she managed to whisper.

"Why, no," he said. "It's for your sake I've come. I guess I'm a fixture
for so long as you want me."

She breathed a sigh of relief and lay back.

A long time passed. Anne lay motionless with closed eyes, too crushed for
thought. And Lucas Errol watched beside her, grave and patient and still.

Suddenly there came a sound, piercing the silence, a sound that made Anne
start upright in wild terror.

"What is it? What is it?"

Instantly and reassuringly Lucas's hand clasped hers. "Don't be afraid!"
he said. "They are moving him to another room, that's all."

She sank back, shuddering, her face hidden. The sound continued, seeming
to come nearer--the sound of a man's voice shrieking horribly for help,
in piercing accents of terror that might have come from a
torture-chamber. Suddenly the yells became articulate, resolved into
words: "Anne! Anne! Anne!" in terrible crescendo.

She sprang up with a sharp cry.

But on the instant the man beside her spoke. "Anne, you are not to go."

She paused irresolute. "I must! I must! He is calling me!"

"You are not to go," he reiterated, and for the first time she heard the
dominant note in his voice. "Come here, child! Come close to me! It will
soon be over."

Her irresolution passed like a cloud. She looked down, saw his blue eyes
shining straight up at her, kind still, but compelling. And she dropped
upon her knees beside him and hid her face upon his shoulder, with the
cry of, "Help me! Help me! I can't bear it!"

He folded his arms about her as though he had been a woman, and
held her fast.

Long after the awful sounds had died away Anne knelt there, sobbing,
utterly unstrung, all her pride laid low, herself no more than a broken,
agonised woman. But gradually, from sheer exhaustion, her sobs became
less anguished, till at length they ceased. A strange peace, wholly
unaccountable, fell gently upon her torn spirit. But even then it was
long before she moved. She felt an overwhelming reluctance to withdraw
herself from the shelter of those quiet arms.

"What must you think of me?" she whispered at last, her face still
hidden.

"My dear," he said, "I understand."

He did not offer to release her, but as she moved she found herself free,
she found herself able to look into his face.

"I shall never forget your goodness to me," she said very earnestly.

He smiled a little, after a fashion she did not wholly comprehend. "My
dear Lady Carfax! You underrate friendship when you say a thing like
that. Sit down, won't you? And let me tell you what brought me here."

"Nap told you--" she hazarded.

"Yes, Nap told me. And I decided I had better come at once. I wasn't in
when he got back, or I should have been here sooner. I saw there had been
a gross misunderstanding, and I hoped I should be able to get your
husband to take a reasonable view."

"Ah!" she said, with a shiver. "I--I'm thankful you didn't meet."

"I am sorry," Lucas said quietly. And though he said no more, she knew
that he was thinking of her.

"How is Nap?" she ventured hesitatingly.

"Nap," he said with deliberation, "will be himself again in a very few
weeks. You need have no anxiety for him."

Again she did not wholly understand his tone. She glanced at him
nervously, half afraid that he was keeping something from her.

"You really mean that?"

His eyes met hers, very level and direct. "He is badly battered, of
course. But--he is not quite like other men. He has no nerves to speak of
in a physical sense. He will make a quick recovery. Broken bones mean
very little to a man of his calibre."

She heard him with relief mingled with a faint wonder at his confidence
on this point.

"The doctor has seen him?" she asked.

"Yes; and I have sent my man in the motor to ask him to come on here."

She shivered again irrepressibly. "Giles hates Dr. Randal."

"I do not think that will make any difference," Lucas said gently.

Thereafter they sat together almost in silence, till the buzzing of the
motor told of the doctor's arrival. Then with the aid of a stick Lucas
began to drag himself laboriously to his feet. Anne rose to help him.

He took her arm, looking at her shrewdly.

"Lady Carfax, will you let me speak to him alone?"

"If you wish it," she said.

"I do wish it." His eyes passed hers suddenly and rested upon the lace at
her neck. In one place it was torn, and the soft flesh was revealed;
revealed also was a long red stripe, swollen and turning. In an instant
his glance fell, but she saw his brows contract as if at a sharp twinge
of pain. "I do wish it," he said again very gently. "P'r'aps you will
wait for me here."

And with that he relinquished her arm, and made his halting, difficult
way across the room to the door.

Anne sat down before the fire to wait. She had, to a large extent,
recovered her self-control, but a deadly weariness was upon her which she
found it impossible to shake off. She kept it at bay for a time while she
listened for any sound. But no sound came, and at length exhausted nature
prevailed.

When Lucas came back she was sunk in her chair asleep.

He took up his stand near her while he waited for the doctor, and again
that deep furrow showed between his brows. But the eyes that watched her
were soft and tender as a woman's. There was something almost maternal in
their regard, a compassion so deep as to be utterly unconscious of
itself. When the doctor's step sounded at length outside he shuffled away
without disturbing her.

It was hours later when Anne awoke and sat up with a confused sense of
something wrong. She was still in her easy-chair before the fire, which
burned brightly as ever, while on the other side of the hearth, propped
upright upon cushions and watching her with those steady blue eyes, whose
kindness never varied, was Lucas Errol.

He spoke to her at once, very softly and gently, as if she had
been a child.

"I'm real pleased you've had a sleep. You needed it. Don't look so
startled. It's all right--a little late, but that's nothing. Dimsdale
and I agreed that it would be a pity to disturb you. So we let you sleep
on. And he brought in a tray of refreshments to fortify you when you
awoke. He's a thoughtful old chap, Lady Carfax. You're lucky to have
such a servant."

But Anne scarcely heard him. She was staring at the clock in amazement.
It was half-past three! Just twelve hours since--She repressed a
violent shudder.

"Don't be shocked any!" besought Lucas in his easy drawl. "I'm often
awake at this hour. I guessed you wouldn't sleep if we woke you to go to
your room, and I didn't quite like the thought of being down here out of
reach. You are not vexed with me, I hope?"

"No," she said. "I am not vexed."

But she looked at him very strangely, as if that were not all she
desired to say.

"Dimsdale has been in and out," he said, "keeping the fire going. He and
one of the others are watching upstairs. But all is quiet there. Sir
Giles has been asleep ever since the doctor left."

Anne got up slowly. "You look very uncomfortable," she said.

He smiled up at her. "My dear Lady Carfax, I am all right. The advantage
of this position is that one can rise at a moment's notice."

As if to demonstrate the truth of this he rose, but not without
considerable effort.

"Ah, please don't!" she said, putting out a quick, restraining hand. "It
hurts me to see you suffer on my account. It was too kind of you--much
too kind--to stay with me like this. You will never know how much you
have helped me, and I thank you for it with all my heart. Now please sit
down again, and let me wait upon you for a change. Have you had anything
to eat or drink?"

He sat down again, looking quizzical. "I have been waiting for my hostess
to join me," he said.

"Do you ever think of yourself at all?" she asked, turning aside to the
tray that Dimsdale's consideration had provided.

"A great deal more often than you imagine," smiled Lucas. "Must you
really do the waiting? It's very bad for me, you know."

He joked with her gently through the light repast that followed. And
though she scarcely responded, she let him see her gratitude.

Finally, he laid aside all pretence of humour and spoke to her very
quietly and gravely of her husband. The doctor thought it advisable to
remove him from the Manor with as little delay as possible. He would
consult her about it in the morning. His brain was without doubt very
seriously affected, and it might take some months to recover. It was
essential that he should be taken away from familiar surroundings and
people whom he knew.

Anne listened with a whitening face. She asked no questions. Lucas
supplied every detail with the precision that characterised most of his
utterances. Finally he spoke of her position, advised her strongly to
employ an agent for the estate, and promised his help in this or any
other matter in which she might care to avail herself of it.

He seemed to take it for granted that she would remain at the head of
affairs, and it gradually dawned upon Anne that she could not well do
otherwise. Her presence for a time at least seemed indispensable. The
responsibility had become hers and she could not at that stage shake it
off. Her dream of freedom was over. Of what the future might hold for her
she could not even begin to think. But the present was very clearly
defined. It remained only for her to "do the work that was nearest" as
bravely as she might.

When Lucas ended she leaned forward and gave him her hand. "I wonder
what I should have done without you," she said. "I believe I should
have gone mad too."

"No, no, Lady Carfax!"

She smiled faintly; the tears were standing in her eyes. "Yes, I know.
You don't like to be thanked. But you have been like a mother to me in my
trouble, and--I shall always remember it."

The blue eyes began to twinkle humorously. The hand that held hers closed
with a very friendly pressure.

"Well," drawled the kindly American voice, "I'll be shot if that
isn't the kindest thing that anyone ever said to me. And I believe
you meant it too."

"Yes, I meant it," Anne said.

And though she smiled also there was genuine feeling in her words.

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