Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

The Knave of Diamonds by Ethel May Dell

Part 5 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.9 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

manner. She could not forget that basilisk stare. It haunted her almost
to the exclusion of everything else. She had no thought to spare for the
letter regarding her husband. She could only think of Nap. What had that
stare concealed? She felt that if she could have got past those baffling,
challenging eyes she would have seen something terrible.

Yet when she met him again she wondered if after all she had disquieted
herself for nought. He was standing at the stage-entrance to the
marquee, discussing some matter with one of the curtain-pullers when she
arrived. He stood aside for her to pass, and she went by quickly,
avoiding his eyes.

She kept out of his way studiously till her turn came, then perforce she
had to meet him again, for he was stationed close to the opening on to
the stage through which she had to pass. For the moment there was no one
else at hand, and she felt her heart beat thick and fast as she waited
beside him for her cue.

He did not speak to her, did not, she fancied, even look at her; but
after a few dumb seconds his hand came out to hers and held it in a
close, sinewy grip. Her own was nerveless, cold as ice. She could not
have withdrawn it had she wished. But she did not wish. That action of
his had a strange effect upon her, subtly calming her reawakened doubts.
She felt that he meant to reassure her, and she suffered herself to be
reassured.

Later, she marvelled at the ingenuity that had so successfully blinded
her, marvelled at herself for having been so blinded, marvelled most of
all at the self-restraint that could so shackle and smother the fierce
passion that ran like liquid fire in every vein as to make her fancy that
it had ceased to be.

When her turn came at length she collected herself and left him
with a smile.

She went through her part very creditably, but she was unspeakably
thankful when it was over.

"You are tired, Lady Carfax," Lucas murmured, when at length she found
her way to the seat beside him that he had been reserving for her.

"A little," she admitted.

And then suddenly the impulse to tell him the primary cause of her
trouble came upon her irresistibly. She leaned towards him and spoke
under cover of the orchestra.

"Mr. Errol, I have had news of--my husband. He wants to come home. No, he
is not well yet, but decidedly better, well enough to be at liberty in
the charge of an attendant. And so--and so--"

The whispered words failed. She became silent, waiting for the steady
sympathy for which she knew she would never wait in vain.

But he did not speak at once. It almost seemed as if he were at a loss.
It almost seemed as if he realised too fully for speech that leaden
weight of despair which had for a space so terribly overwhelmed her.

And then at last his voice came to her, slow and gentle, yet with a vital
note in it that was like a bugle-call to her tired spirit. "Stick to it,
Lady Carfax! You'll win out. You're through the worst already."

Desperately, as one half-ashamed, she answered him. "I wish with all my
heart I could think so. But--I am still asking myself if--if there is no
way of escape."

He turned his head in the dim light and looked at her, and shame stabbed
her deeper still. Yet she would not recall the words. It was better that
he should know, better that he should not deem her any greater or
worthier than she was.

Then, "Thank you for telling me," he said very simply. "But you'll win
out all the same. I have always known that you were on the winning side."

The words touched her in a fashion not wholly accountable. Her eyes
filled with sudden tears.

"What makes you have such faith in me?" she said.

The light was too dim for her so see his face, but she knew that he was
smiling as he made reply.

"That's just one of the things I can't explain," he said. "But I think
God made you for a spar for drowning men to cling to."

She smiled with him in spite of the tears. "May the spar never fail
you!" she said.

"I am not afraid," he answered very steadily.

CHAPTER IX

THE BOON

It was long before Anne slept that night, but yet though restless she was
not wholly miserable. Neither was she perplexed. Her duty lay before her
clearly defined, and she meant to fulfil it. Those few words with Lucas
Errol had decided her beyond all hesitancy, so completely was she in
sympathy with this strong friend of hers. Perhaps her wavering had only
been the result of a moment's weakness, following upon sudden strain. But
the strain had slackened, and the weakness was over. She knew that even
Nap had not the power to move her now. With the memory of his firm
hand-grip came the conviction that he would not seek to do so. Like
herself he had been momentarily dismayed it might be, but he had taken
his place among her friends, not even asking to be foremost, and
remembering this, she resolutely expelled any lingering doubt of him. Had
she not already proved that she had but to trust him to find him
trustworthy? What tangible reason had he given her for withdrawing her
trust even for a moment? She reproached herself for it, and determined
that she would never doubt him again.

But yet sleep was long in coming to her. Once when it seemed near, the
hooting of an owl near the open window drove it away; and once in the
vague twilight before the dawn she started awake to hear the sharp
thudding of a horse's hoofs galloping upon the turf not very far away.
That last set her heart a-beating, she could not have said wherefore,
save that it reminded her vaguely of a day in the hunting-field that had
ended for her in disaster.

She slept at last and dreamed--a wild and fearful dream. She dreamed that
she was on horseback, galloping, galloping, galloping, in headlong flight
from someone, she knew not whom, but it was someone of whom she was
unspeakably afraid. And ever behind her at break-neck speed, gaining
upon her, merciless as fate, galloped her pursuer. It was terrible, it
was agonising, yet, though in her heart she knew it to be a dream, she
could not wake. And then, all suddenly, the race was over. Someone drew
abreast of her. A sinewy hand gripped her bridle-rein. With a gasping cry
she turned to face her captor, and saw--a Red Indian! His tigerish eyes
gazed into hers. He was laughing with a fiendish exultation. The eagle
feathers tossed above his swarthy face. It came nearer to her; it glared
into her own. And suddenly recognition stabbed her like a sword. It was
the face of Nap Errol....

He was on the stairs talking to Hudson, the valet, when she descended to
breakfast, but he turned at once to greet her.

"I am sorry to say Lucas has had a bad night. He will keep his room
to-day. How have you slept, Lady Carfax?"

She answered him conventionally. They went downstairs together.

Bertie was in the hall studying a newspaper. He came forward, scowling
heavily, shook hands with Anne, and immediately addressed his brother.

"I've just come in from the stable. Have you been out all night? You've
nearly ridden the mare to death."

Anne glanced at Nap instinctively. He was smiling. "Don't vex yourself,
my good Bertie," he said. "The mare will be all right after a feed."

"Will she?" growled Bertie. "She is half dead from exhaustion anyway."

"Oh, skittles!" said Nap, turning to go.

The boy's indignation leaped to a blaze. "Skittles to you! I know what
I'm saying. And if you're not ashamed of yourself, you damned well
ought to be!"

Nap stopped. "What?" he drawled.

Bertie glared at him and subsided. The explosion had been somewhat more
violent than he had intended.

Very quietly Nap stepped up to him. "Will you repeat that last remark
of yours?"

Bertie was silent.

"Or do you prefer to withdraw it?"

Bertie maintained a dogged silence. He was fidgeting with the paper in a
fashion that seemed to indicate embarrassment.

"Do you withdraw it?" Nap repeated, still quiet, still slightly drawling.

Bertie hunched his shoulders like a schoolboy. "Oh, get away, Nap!" he
growled. "Yes--sorry I spoke. Now clear out and leave me alone!"

Anne was already at the further end of the hall, but Nap overtook her
before she entered the breakfast room. He opened the door for her, and as
she passed him she saw that he was still faintly smiling.

"Pardon the _contretemps_!" he said. "You may have noticed before that I
am not particularly good at swallowing insults."

"I wonder if there was a cause for it," she said, looking at him
steadily. "Remember, I know what your riding is like."

He raised his eyebrows for a moment, then laughed. The room they entered
was empty.

"No one down yet!" he observed. "Take a seat by the window. What will
you have?"

He attended to her wants and his own, and finally sat down facing her. He
seemed to be in excellent spirits.

"Please don't look so severe!" he urged. "Just as I am going to ask a
favour of you, too!"

She smiled a little but not very willingly. "I don't like cruel people,"
she said. "Cruelty is a thing I can never forget because I abhor it so."

"And are you never cruel?" said Nap.

"I hope not."

"I hope not, too," he rejoined, giving her a hard look. "But I sometimes
have my doubts."

Anne looked out of the window in silence.

The sharp rapping of his knuckles on the table recalled her. She turned,
slightly startled, and met his imperious eyes. He smiled at her.

"Queen Anne, I crave a boon."

Almost involuntarily she returned his smile. "So you said before."

"And you don't even ask what it is."

"I am not quite sure that I want to know, Nap," she said.

"You are not liking me this morning," he observed.

She made no answer.

"What is it?" he said. "Is it the mare?"

She hesitated. "Perhaps, in part."

"And the other part?" He leaned forward, looking at her keenly. "Are you
afraid of me, Anne?" he said.

His voice was free from reproach, yet her heart smote her. She reminded
herself of how he had once pleaded with her for her trust.

"I'm sorry I pressed the mare," he said, "but it was quite as much her
fault as mine. Moreover, the cub exaggerated. I will fetch him in and
make him own it if you like."

She stayed him with a gesture. "No, don't, please! I think Bertie was
probably in the right."

"Do you, though?" Nap leaned back again, regarding her with supercilious
attention. "It's rather--daring of you to say so."

"Do you really think I stand in awe of you?" she said.

"You are such a truly remarkable woman," he made answer, "that I scarcely
know what to think. But since you are not afraid of me--apparently,
perhaps I may venture to come to the point. Do you know I have been
laying plans for a surprise picnic for you and--one other? It's such a
gorgeous day. Don't refuse!"

The boyish note she liked to hear sounded suddenly in his voice. He
discarded his cynicism and leaned towards her again, eager, persuasive.

"Don't refuse," he reiterated. "Look at the sunshine, listen to the
birds, think of a whole day in the open! I'll take you to the loveliest
place I know in this quaint little island, and I'll be your slave all day
long. Oh, I promise you won't find me in the way. Now don't look prudish.
Be a girl for once. Never mind the rest of creation. No one else will
know anything about it. We leave Baronmead this morning in the motor, and
who cares what time we reach the Manor? It can't matter to you or anyone.
Say you'll come! Say it!"

"My dear Nap!" Anne looked at him dubiously, uncertain whether to take
him seriously.

"Say it!" he repeated. "There is no earthly reason why you shouldn't. And
I'll take such care of you. Why shouldn't you have a real good time for
once? You never have had in all your life."

True, only too true! But it was not that fact that made her waver.

"Will you tell me what plans you have made for this picnic?" she asked
at length.

He began to smile. "My plans, Lady Carfax, are entirely subject to your
approval. About forty miles from here there is a place called
Bramhurst--a place after your own heart--a paradise. With judicious
driving we could be there by one or soon after--in time for luncheon."

"Yes?" she said, as he stopped.

"That's all," said Nap.

"But--afterwards?" she hazarded.

"My dear Lady Carfax, if it is to be a surprise picnic, where's the use
of settling all the details beforehand?" Nap's tone was one of indulgent
protest; he was eating and drinking rapidly, as if he had an appointment
to keep. "My suggestion is that we then follow our inclinations--your
inclinations." He smiled at her again. "I am your slave till sunset."

"Could we be back at the Manor by then?" she asked.

"Of course we could."

"Will you promise that we shall be?" She looked up at him seriously.

He was still smiling. "If you ordain it," he said.

"I must be back by dinner-time," she asserted.

"And you dine?"

"At eight."

He pushed back his chair and rose. "Very discreet of you! The sun sets at
eight-ten. At what hour will you deign to be ready?"

"At eleven," said Anne.

He glanced at his watch. "I am afraid you can't see Lucas to say
good-bye. Hudson has just given him morphia."

"Is he so bad then?" she asked quickly.

"No worse than he has been before. Bad pain all night. He always fights
against taking the stuff. I persuaded him." He spoke shortly, as if the
subject were distasteful to him. "No doubt he is easier by this time," he
added. "Eleven o'clock then! I will go and get ready." But even then he
paused, his hand on the back of her chair. "Can you keep a secret?" he
asked lightly.

She glanced up at him. "A secret?"

"An it please you," he said, "let this be a secret between yourself and
your humble slave!"

And with the words he turned with an air of finality and went away.

CHAPTER X

A DAY IN PARADISE

It was a day in the very heart of the summer, a day of cloudless skies
and wonderful, magic breezes, a day for the dreaming--and perchance for
the fulfilment--of dreams. Swift and noiseless as the swoop of a monster
bird the motor glided on its way; now rushing, now slackening, but never
halting. Sometimes it seemed to Anne that she sat motionless while the
world raced by her. She had often seen herself thus. And then with a
thrill of the pulses came the exultation of rapid movement, banishing the
illusion, while the very heart of her rejoiced in the knowledge thereof.
For this one day--for this one day--she had left the desert behind her.
She had yielded half against her judgment, but she knew no regret. On the
morrow she would be back in the waste places where, during all her
womanhood, she had wandered. But for this one day the roses bloomed for
her and she drank deep of their fragrance. It had come to her so
unexpectedly, so dazzlingly, this brief and splendid hour. She marvelled
at herself that she had hesitated even for a moment to accept it.

Perhaps memories of another day came now and again to her as she leaned
back on the cushions and opened her soul to the sunshine, memories of a
day of sparkling winter which had begun in much the same genial
atmosphere and had ended in most hideous disaster. But if they came she
put them resolutely from her. There was no time to waste upon past or
future. For this one day she would drink the wine of the gods; she
would live.

Nap drove in almost unbroken silence. He was wearing a mask, and she had
no clue to his thoughts; but she scarcely speculated about him. She did
not want to talk. She only desired to give herself up to the pure
pleasure of rapid movement. She had complete faith in his driving. If
daring, he was never reckless, with her beside him.

The meadows were full of hay, and the scent of it lay like a spell upon
the senses. The whirr of the mowing machine filled the air with a lazy
droning. It was like a lullaby. And ever they sped on, through towns and
villages and hamlets, through woods and lanes and open country, sure and
swift and noiseless save for the cheery humming of the motor, which sang
softly to itself like a spinning top.

They went through country of which Anne had no knowledge, but Nap seemed
fully acquainted with it; for he never paused to ask the way, never
raised his eyes to the finger-posts that marked the cross-roads. She
marvelled at his confidence, but asked no questions. It was not a day for
questions.

Only when they emerged at last upon a wide moor, where the early heather
grew in tufts of deepest rose, she cried to him suddenly to stop.

"I must get some of it. It is the first I have seen. Look! How
exquisite!"

He drew up at the side of the long white road that zigzagged over the
moor, and they went together into the springy heath, wading in it after
the waxen flowers.

And here Anne sat down in the blazing sunshine and lifted her clear eyes
to his. "I won't thank you, because we are friends," she said. "But this
is the best day I have ever had."

He pushed up his goggles and sat down beside her. "So you are not sorry
you came?" he said.

"I could not be sorry to-day," she answered. "How long have you known
this perfect place?"

He lay back in the heather with his arms flung wide. "I came here first
one day in the spring, a day in May. The place was a blaze of gorse and
broom--as if it were on fire. It suited me--for I was on fire too."

In the silence that succeeded his words he turned and leisurely
scrutinised her. She was snapping a stalk of heather with minute care. A
deep flush rose and spread over her face under his eyes.

"Why don't you look at me?" he said.

Very slowly her eyes came down to him. He was smiling in a secret
fashion, not as if he expected her to smile in return. The sunlight beat
down upon his upturned face. He blinked at her lazily and stretched every
limb in succession, like a cat.

"Let me know when you begin to feel bored," he said. "I am quite ready to
amuse you."

"I thought it was only the bores who were ever bored," she said.

He opened his eyes a little. "Did I say that or did you?"

She returned to her heather-pulling. "I believe you said it originally."

"I remember," he returned composedly. "It was on the night you bestowed
upon me the office of court-jester, the night you dreamed I was the Knave
of Diamonds, the night that--"

She interrupted very gently but very resolutely; "The night that we
became friends, Nap."

"A good many things happened that night," he remarked, pulling off his
cap and pitching it from him.

"Is that wise?" she said. "The sun is rather strong."

He sat up, ignoring the warning. "Anne," he said, "have you ever dreamed
about me since that night?"

She was silent, all her attention concentrated upon her bunch of heather.
His eyes left her face and began to study her hands.

After a moment he pulled a bit of string out of his pocket and without
a word proceeded to wind it round the stalks she held. As he knotted
it he spoke.

"So that is why you were afraid of me to-day. I knew there was something.
I winded it the moment we met. Whenever I hold your hand in mine I can
see into your soul. What was it, Anne? The Knave of Diamonds on a black
mare--riding to perdition?"

He laughed at her softly as though she had been a child. He was still
watching her hands. Suddenly he laid his own upon them and looked
into her face.

"Or was it just a savage?" he asked her quietly.

Against her will, in spite of the blaze of sunshine, she shivered.

"Yes," he said. "But isn't it better to face him than to run away?
Haven't you always found it so? You kissed him once, Anne. Do you
remember? It was the greatest thing that ever happened to him."

He spoke with a gentleness that amazed her. His eyes held hers, but
without compulsion. He was lulling her fear of him to rest, as he
alone knew how.

She answered him with quivering lips. "I have wondered since if I
did wrong."

"Then don't wonder," he said. "For I was nearer to the God you worship
at that moment than I had ever been before. I never believed in Him till
then, but that night I wrestled with Him--and got beaten." He dropped
suddenly into his most cynical drawl, so that she wondered if, after
all, he were mocking her. "It kind of made an impression on me. I
thought it might interest you to know. Have you had enough of this yet?
Shall we move on?"

She rose in silence. She was very far from certain, and yet she fancied
there had been a ring of sincerity in his words.

As they reached the car she laid her hand for an instant on his arm. "If
it did that for you, Nap," she said, "I do not regret it."

He smiled in his faint, cynical fashion. "I believe you'll turn me out a
good man some day," he said. "And I wonder if you will like me any when
it's done."

"I only want you to be your better self," she answered gently.

"Which is a myth," he returned, as he handed her in, "which exists only
in your most gracious imagination."

And with that he pulled the mask over his face once more and turned to
the wheel.

CHAPTER XI

THE RETURN TO EARTH

It was nearly two before they reached Bramhurst and drew up before the
one ancient inn the place possessed. Upstairs, in a lattice-windowed room
with sloping floor and bulging ceiling, a room that was full of the scent
of honeysuckle, Anne washed away the dust of the road. Turning to the
mirror on the dressing-table when this was over, she stood a moment
wide-eyed, startled. Through her mind there swept again the memory of a
day that seemed very far away--a day begun in sunshine and ended in
storm, a day when she had looked into the eyes of a white-faced woman in
the glass and had shrunk away in fear. It was a very different vision
that now met her gaze, and yet she had a feeling that there was something
in it that remained unaltered. Was it in the eyes that shone from a face
so radiant that it might have been the face of a girl?

She could not have said. Only after that one brief glimpse she
looked no more.

Descending, she found Nap waiting for her in the oak-beamed coffee-room.
He made her sit facing the open window, looking forth upon hill and
forest and shallow winding river.

The stout old English waiter who attended to their wants very
speedily withdrew.

"He thinks we are on our wedding-trip," said Nap.

She glanced at him sharply.

"Yes, I let him have it so," he returned. "I never destroy a pretty
illusion if I can help it."

"What time do we start back?" said Anne, aware of burning cheeks, which
he was studying with undisguised amusement.

"Would you like some ice?" he suggested.

She laughed, with something of an effort. "Don't be ridiculous, Nap!"

"I am sure you have never done anything so improper in all your life
before," he went on. "What must it feel like? P'r'aps you would have
preferred me to explain the situation to him in detail? I will have him
in and do it now--if you really think it worth while. I shouldn't myself,
but then I seldom suffer from truthfulness in its most acute form. It's a
tiresome disease, isn't it? One might almost call it dashed inconvenient
on an occasion such as this. There is only one remedy that I can suggest,
and that is to pretend it's true."

"I am not good at pretending," Anne answered gravely.

He laughed. "Very true, O Queen! Horribly true! But I am, you know, a
positive genius in that respect. So I'm going to pretend I'm an
Englishman--of the worthy, thick-headed, bulldog breed. (I am sure you
admire it; you wouldn't be an Englishwoman if you didn't). And you are my
devoted and adorable wife. You needn't look shocked. It's all for the
sake of that chap's morals. Do you think I can do it?"

"I don't want you to do it, Nap," she said earnestly.

He dropped the subject instantly. "Your wish is law. There is only one
other person in this world who can command my implicit obedience in this
fashion. So I hope you appreciate your power."

"And that other is Lucas?" said Anne.

He nodded. "Luke the irresistible! Did you ever try to resist him?"

She shook her head with a smile.

"Take my advice then," he said. "Never do! He could whip creation with
his hands tied behind him. Oh, I know you all think him mild-tempered and
easy-going, more like a woman than a man. But you wait till you're hard
up against him. Then you'll know what I mean when I tell you he's
colossal." There was a queer ring of passion in his voice as he ended. It
sounded to Anne like the half-stifled cry of a wounded animal.

Because of it she repressed the impulse to ask him what he meant.
Nevertheless, after a moment, as if impelled by some hidden force, he
continued.

"There was a time when I thought of him much as you do. And then one day
there came a reckoning--an almighty big reckoning." He leaned back in his
chair and stared upwards, while the grim lines of his mouth tightened.
"It was down in Arizona. We fought a duel that lasted a day and a night.
He was a worse cripple in those days than he is now, but he won out--he
won out." Again came the cynical drawl, covering his actual feelings as
with an impenetrable veil. "I've had a kind of respect for him ever
since," he said. "One does, you know."

"One would," said Anne, and again refrained from asking questions.

She was thinking of the complete confidence with which Lucas had spoken
of his ascendency over this man.

Finishing luncheon they went out over the common that stretched from the
very door, down the hill-side of short, sun-baked grass, passing between
masses of scorched broom, whose bursting pods crackled perpetually in the
sunshine, till they came to the green shade of forest trees and the gleam
of a running stream.

The whirr of grasshoppers filled the air and the humming of insects
innumerable. Away in the distance sounded the metal clang of a cow-bell.
It was the only definite sound that broke the stillness. The heat was
intense. A dull, copper haze had risen and partially obscured the sun.

Anne stopped on the edge of the stream. Wonderful dragon-flies such as
she had never seen before, peacock, orange and palest green, darted to
and fro above the brown water. Nap leaned against a tree close to her and
smoked a cigarette.

She spoke at last without turning. "Am I in fairyland, I wonder?"

"Or the Garden of Eden," suggested Nap.

She laughed a little, and stooping tried to reach a forget-me-not that
grew on the edge of the water.

"Beware of the serpent!" he warned. "Anyway, don't tumble in!"

She stretched back a hand to him. "Don't let me go!"

His hand closed instantly and firmly upon her wrist. In a moment she
drew back with the flower in her hand, to find his cigarette smouldering
on a tuft of moss. He set his foot upon it without explanation and
lighted another.

"Ought we not to be starting back?" she asked.

"It won't be so hot in half-an-hour," he said.

"But how long will it take?"

"It can be done in under three hours. If we start at half-past-four you
should be home well before sunset."

He smiled with the words, and Anne suffered herself to be persuaded.
Certainly the shade of the beech trees was infinitely preferable to the
glare of the dusty roads, and the slumberous atmosphere made her feel
undeniably languorous.

She sat down therefore on the roots of a tree, still watching the
dragon-flies flitting above the water.

Nap stripped off his coat and made it into a cushion. "Lean back on this.
Yes, really. I'm thankful for the excuse to go without it. How is that?
Comfortable?"

She thanked him with a smile. "I mustn't go to sleep."

"Why not?" said Nap. "There is nothing to disturb you. I'm going back to
the inn to order tea before we start."

He was off with the words with that free, agile gait of his that always
made her think of some wild creature of the woods.

She leaned back with a sense of complete well-being and closed her
eyes....

When she opened them again it was with a guilty feeling of having been
asleep at a critical juncture. With a start she sat up and looked
around her. The sun-rays were still slanting through the wood, but
dully, as though they shone through a sheet of smoked glass. The
stillness was intense.

A sharp sense of nervousness pricked her. There seemed to be something
ominous in the atmosphere; or was it only in her own heart that it
existed? And where was Nap? Surely he had been gone for a very long time!

She rose stiffly and picked up his coat. At the same instant a shrill
whistle sounded through the wood, and in a moment she saw him coming
swiftly towards her.

Quietly she moved to meet him.

He began to speak before he reached her. "I was afraid you would be tired
of waiting and wander about till you got frightened and lost yourself. Do
you ever have hysterics?"

"Never," said Anne firmly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I generally am right," observed Nap.

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

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

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

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

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

He nodded. "It will."

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XII

IN THE FACE OF THE GODS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I think not," she answered quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gradually the rift closed, and a breathless darkness came.

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

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

"Ah!" she said, and no more.

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

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

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

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

But he only held her faster, faster still.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And now?" he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What?" he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But she stood like a statue, uttering no word.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When she came to herself she was alone.

CHAPTER XIII

AN APPEAL AND ITS ANSWER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Luke, I say! Luke!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A note, sir, from the Manor."

"Who brought it?" asked Lucas.

"A groom, sir."

"Waiting for an answer?"

"Yes, sir."

Lucas opened the note. It was from Anne.

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

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

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

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

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

"Don't worry. All's well.--Lucas."

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

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

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

CHAPTER XIV

THE IRRESISTIBLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No?"

"No."

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

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

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

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

"I am going to prevent it."

"If you can."

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

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

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

"Perfectly," said Nap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yet she trusted you."

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

"Do you mind sitting down?" said Lucas.

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

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

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

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

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

"Will you explain?"

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

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

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

At length very deliberately he held out the revolver.

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

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

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

Nap was silent. He looked suddenly stubborn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XV

ON THE EDGE OF THE PIT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Dot stood still, as if struck powerless.

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

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

"That's my affair," said Nap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes," she panted.

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

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

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

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

"What are you afraid of?" said Nap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Quite sure," she answered emphatically.

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

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

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

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

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

"Till I offended her," said Nap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why not?" she demanded.

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

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

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

Book of the day: