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The Knave of Diamonds by Ethel May Dell

Part 8 out of 8

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funeral, when he laid a fatherly hand upon her shoulder to say: "My dear,
I don't know if you're fretting any, but you've no cause to fret. I know
now that it couldn't have been otherwise. If you'd been his wife you
couldn't have kept him."

She thanked him with a look. She believed that Capper understood, and she
was glad that it should be so. She fancied also that his opinion
regarding Nap had undergone a change, but she hesitated to touch upon the
subject, and the moment passed.

Up to the last minute she was doubtful as to whether Nap would attend his
brother's funeral. She herself went because Mrs. Errol desired to go. She
walked with Capper immediately behind Bertie and his mother. Neither of
them seemed to expect Nap, or even to think of him. His movements were
always sudden and generally unaccountable. But she knew that his absence
would cause comment in the neighbourhood, and though she also knew that
Nap would care nothing for that, she earnestly hoped that he would not
give occasion for it.

Nevertheless the procession started without him, and she had almost
ceased to hope when he suddenly appeared from nowhere as it seemed to
her, and walked on her other side.

She heard Capper give a grunt, whether of approval or otherwise she did
not know, but not a word was said. She glanced once at Nap, but his face
was sphinx-like, utterly unresponsive. He stared straight ahead, with
eyes that never varied, at the coffin that was being borne upon men's
shoulders to its quiet resting-place in the village churchyard, and
throughout the journey thither his expression remained unaltered.

At the gate Bertie suddenly turned and motioned him forward, and they
entered the church together. Later, by the open grave, Anne saw that
Bertie was leaning on Nap's shoulder, while his mother stood apart with
her face to the sky; and she knew that the feud between them had been
laid at last and for ever by the man who had ruled supreme in the hearts
of all who knew him.

When all was over, Nap disappeared, and she saw no more of him till the
evening when for the first time he came to the dinner-table. Capper was
leaving early on the following day, and it was to this fact that Anne
attributed his appearance.

Bertie dined at home, but he walked over later to take leave of Capper.
They sat together in the hall, with the door wide open, for the night
was as warm as summer.

Mrs. Errol had gone to her room immediately after dinner, but Anne
remained at Capper's request.

"I shan't see much more of you," he said.

They talked but little however. Nap sat smoking in a corner and hardly
opened his lips. Bertie came in late, looking worn and miserable.

"I wish you would tell me what to do with Tawny Hudson," he said. "I
believe the fellow's crazy; and he's pining too. I don't believe he has
eaten anything for days."

Since Lucas's death Tawny Hudson had attached himself to Bertie,
following him to and fro like a lost dog, somewhat to Dot's dismay; for,
deeply though she pitied the great half-breed, there was something about
him that frightened her.

"I don't know what to do with him," Bertie said. "He's as gaunt as a
wolf. He's hanging about somewhere outside now. Wish you'd take him along
to America with you, Doctor."

"Call him in," said Capper, "and let me have a look at him."

Bertie went to the door and whistled.

There was no reply.

"Hudson!" he called. "Tawny! where are you?"

But there came no answer out of the shadows. The only voice which Tawny
would obey was still.

Bertie came back baffled. "Confound the fellow! I know he's
within hail."

"Leave the brute alone!" said Nap. "He isn't worth much anyway."

"But I can't let him die," said Bertie.

Nap looked contemptuous, and relapsed into silence.

"I'll take him back with me if you're wanting to be rid of him," said
Capper. "Tell him so if you get the chance."

"Thanks!" said Bertie. "But I don't believe he'll budge. Nap will be
crossing next week. P'r'aps I shall persuade him to go then." He looked
across at Nap. "I know you don't like the fellow, but it wouldn't be
for long."

"Probably not," said Nap, staring fixedly at the end of his cigar.

Something in his tone made Anne glance at him, but as usual his face told
her nothing. She saw only that his eyes were drawn as if with long
watching, and that the cynical lines about his mouth were more grimly
pronounced than she had ever seen them before.

Not long after, Bertie got up to go. His farewell to Capper was spoken
almost in a whisper, and Anne saw that his self-control was precarious.
When he shook hands with her he was beyond speech. She was glad to see
Nap rise and accompany him, with a friendly hand pushed through his arm.

For nearly half an hour longer she sat on with Capper; then at length
she rose to go.

"I shall see you in the morning," she said, pausing.

"I am making an early start," said Capper.

She smiled. "I shall see you all the same. Good-night."

Capper kept her hand in his, his green eyes running over her with elusive
intentness. "Wonder what you'll do," he said abruptly.

She met his look quite simply. "For the present," she said, "I must be
with Mrs. Errol. Later on--next month--she will no doubt go to the Dower
House, and I shall go back to the Manor."

"Don't mope!" he said.

She smiled again with a short sigh. "I shall be too busy for that."

"That so?" Capper drew his brows together. "Lady Carfax, at risk of
offending you, I've something to say."

"You will not offend me," she answered. "And I think I know what it is."

"Very possibly you do, but I guess I'd better say it all the same. You
may remember a talk we had at the commencement of our acquaintance,
regarding Nap. I told you he was just a wild animal, untamable,
untrustworthy. Well, you have proved me wrong. You have worked a
miracle, and you have tamed him. Lucas himself told me about it the day
before he died."

"Oh, no!" Anne said quickly and earnestly. "It was Lucas who worked the
miracle, Doctor. The magic was his."

"Guess he wouldn't have done it single-handed," said Capper. "He'd
been trying as long as I had known him, and he hadn't succeeded." He
paused, looking at her with great kindness. Then: "My dear," he said,
"you needn't be afraid to trust yourself to him. He will never let you
down again."

Anne stood silent, but under his look a deep flush rose and overspread
her face. She turned her eyes away.

Very gently Capper patted her shoulder. "You've made a man of him between
you," he said. "Lucas has left the developing process to you."

"Ah!" she said wistfully, and that was all, for her eyes were suddenly
full of tears.

She went to the door and stood there for several seconds. The voice of a
nightingale thrilled through the silence. Was it only a year--only a
year--since the veil had been rent from her eyes? Only a year since first
her heart had throbbed to "the everlasting Wonder Song"? She felt as if
eons had passed over her, as if the solitude of ages wrapped her round;
and yet afar off, like dream music in her soul, she still heard its
echoes pulsing across the desert. It held her like a charm.

Slowly her tears passed. There came again to her that curious sense of
something drawing her, almost as of a voice that called. The garden lay
still and mysterious in the moonlight. She caught its gleam upon a
corner of the lake where it shone like a wedge of silver.

A few seconds she stood irresolute; then without word or backward glance
she stepped down into the magic silence.

CHAPTER XVIII

THE LAST ORDEAL

What impulse she obeyed she knew not; only she wanted to hear the
nightingale, to drink in the fragrance, to feel the healing balm upon her
heart. Her feet carried her noiselessly over the grass to that shining
splendour of water, and turned along the path that led past the seat
under the cedar where Nap had joined her on that evening that seemed
already far away, and had told her that he loved her still. By this path
he and Bertie would have gone to the Dower House; by this path he would
probably return alone.

Her heart quickened a little as she passed into the deep shadow. She was
not nervous as a rule, but there was something mysterious about the
place, something vaguely disquieting. The gurgle of the stream that fed
the lake sounded curiously remote.

She turned towards the rustic seat on which she had rested that day, and
on the instant her pulses leapt to sudden alarm. There was a stealthy
movement in front of her; a crouching object that looked monstrous in the
gloom detached itself from the shadow and began to move away. For a
moment she thought it was some animal; then there came to her the
unmistakable though muffled tread of human feet, and swift as an arrow
comprehension pierced her. The thing in front of her was Tawny Hudson.

But why was he skulking there? Why did he seek thus to avoid her? What
was the man doing? The agitated questions raced through her brain at
lightning speed, and after them came a horrible, a sickening suspicion.

Whence it arose she could not have said, but the memory of Nap's face
only half an hour before, when Tawny Hudson had been under discussion,
arose in her mind and confirmed it almost before she knew that it was
there. She had often suspected the half-breed of harbouring a dislike for
Nap. More often still she had noted Nap's complete and perfectly obvious
contempt for him. He had tolerated him, no more, for Lucas's sake. Was it
not highly probable that now that the restraining influence was gone the
man's animosity had flamed to hatred? And if he were really crazy, as
Bertie believed, to what lengths might he not carry it?

Fear stabbed her, fear that was anguish. At any moment now Nap might be
returning, and if Tawny were indeed lying in wait for him--

She traversed the deep shadow cast by the cedar and looked forth into the
park beyond. The man had disappeared. He must have doubled back among
the trees of the shrubbery; and she knew he must be crouching somewhere
in concealment not far away, for all sound of footsteps had ceased. Did
he fancy she had not seen him, she wondered? Was he hoping that she would
turn and go back by the way she had come, leaving him free to accomplish
his purpose, whatever it might be?

And then her heart suddenly stood still, for away in the distance,
walking with his light, swinging gait over the moonlit sward, she saw
Nap.

In that moment her fear took definite and tangible form, and a horror of
the thing that lurked in the shadows behind her seized her, goading her
to action. She passed out into the quiet moonlight and moved to meet him.

Her impulse was to run, but she restrained it, dreading lest she might
precipitate the disaster she feared. Hudson must not suspect her
intention, must not know of the panic at her heart.

Nap did not see her at once. The background of trees obscured her. But
as she drew away from them he caught sight of her, and instantly
quickened his pace.

They met scarcely fifty yards from the cedar, and breathlessly Anne
spoke. "Turn back with me a little way. I have something to say to you."

He wheeled at once, with no show of surprise. Though he must have seen
her agitation he did not ask its cause.

They walked several paces before Anne spoke again. "You will think me
very strange, but I have had a fright. I--I want you, Nap, to--to
understand and not think me foolish or laugh at me."

"I couldn't do either if I tried," said Nap. "Who has been frightening
you? Tawny Hudson?"

"Yes, Tawny Hudson." Anne was still breathless; she glanced nervously
over her shoulder. "Shall we walk a little faster? He--he is lurking in
those trees, and do you know I don't think he is safe? I think--I can't
help thinking--that he is lying in wait for you to--to do you a
mischief."

Nap stopped dead. "That so? Then I reckon I will go and deal with
him at once."

"Oh, no!" she gasped. "No! Nap, are you mad?"

He gave her a queer look. "By no means, Lady Carfax, though I believe I
should be if I went any farther with you. You stay here while I go and
investigate."

He would have left her with the words, but on the instant desperation
seized Anne. Her strained nerves would not bear this. She caught his arm,
holding him fast.

"You must not! You shall not! Or if you do I am coming with you. You--you
are not going alone."

"I am going alone," Nap said; but he stood still, facing her, watching
her as he had watched her on that day long ago when he had lain helpless
in her arms in the snow, the day that revelation had first come to her
shrinking heart. "I am going alone," he repeated very deliberately. "And
you will wait here till I come back."

She felt that he was putting forth his strength to compel her, and
something within her warned her that he was stronger in that moment than
she. She did not understand his ascendency over her, but she could not
help being aware of it. Her agitated hold upon his arm began to slacken.

"Oh, don't go!" she entreated weakly. "Please don't go! I can't bear
it. It--it's too much. Nap, if--if any harm comes to you, I--I think it
will kill me."

There came a sudden gleam in his sombre eyes that seemed to stab her, but
it was gone instantly, before he spoke in answer.

"Lady Carfax, you are not foolish--you are sublime! But--be wise as
well." Very quietly he extricated his arm from her clinging hands and
turned to go. "Don't watch me," he said. "Go on to the bridge and wait
for me there."

He was gone. Blindly she obeyed him; blindly she moved towards the bridge
that spanned the stream. She was trembling so much that she could hardly
walk, but almost mechanically she urged herself on. No other course was
open to her.

She reached the bridge, and leaned upon the handrail. She thought the
beating of her heart would suffocate her. She strained her ears to
listen, but she could hear nought else; and for a time she actually
lacked the physical strength to turn and look.

At last, after the passage of many minutes, she summoned her sinking
courage. Faint and dizzy still, she managed to raise her head. The
moonlight danced in her eyes, but with immense effort she compelled
herself to look back.

The next instant utter amazement seized and possessed her, dominating her
fear. Nap was standing just beyond the outspreading boughs of the cedar,
a straight relentless figure, with the arrogance of complete mastery in
every line, while at his feet grovelled and whimpered the great
half-breed, Tawny Hudson.

Nap was speaking. She could not hear what he said, but spell-bound she
watched, while a curious sensation of awe tingled through her. The man
was so superbly self-confident.

Suddenly she saw him stoop and take something from his prostrate enemy. A
sharp doubt assailed her. She saw the wretched Tawny cringe lower and
cover his face. She saw the moonlight glint upon the thing in Nap's hand.

He seemed to be considering it, for he turned it this way and that,
making it flash and flash again. And then abruptly, with a swift turn of
the wrist, he spun it high into the air. It made a shining curve, and
fell with a splash into the stream. She saw the widening ripples from
where she stood.

But she did not stay to watch them. Her attention was focussed upon the
scene that was being enacted before her.

It was very nearly over. Tawny Hudson had lifted his head, and she saw
submission the most abject on his upraised face. He seemed to be pleading
for something, and after a moment, with the faintest shrug of the
shoulders, Nap lifted one hand and made a curious gesture above him. The
next instant he turned upon his heel and came towards her, while Tawny
Hudson got up and slunk away into the shadows.

Anne awaited him, standing quite motionless. She knew now what had
happened. He had grappled with the man's will just as once he had
grappled with hers. And he had conquered. She expected him to
approach her with the royal swagger of victory, and involuntarily she
shrank, dreading to encounter him in that mood, painfully aware of
her own weakness.

He came to her; he stood before her. "Anne," he said, "forgive me!"

She gazed at him in astonishment. "Forgive you!" she repeated. "But why?"

"I have no right to practise the black arts in your presence," he said,
"though as a matter of fact there was no other way. I've frightened the
poor devil out of his senses. Aren't you frightened too?"

"I don't understand," she answered rather piteously. "I am only thankful
that you are not hurt."

"That's good of you," he said, and she heard no irony in his voice. He
leaned his arms upon the rail beside her, and stared down in silence
for several moments into the dark water. "If this had happened a
week--less than a week--ago," he said at length, speaking very quietly,
"I would have let the fellow knife me with the utmost pleasure. I should
even have been grateful to him. And"--he turned very slightly towards
her--"you would have had cause for gratitude too, for Luke would have
been with you to-day."

She shrank a little at his words. "I don't understand," she said again.

He stood up and faced her with abrupt resolution. "I am going to make you
understand," he said, "once and for all. It's a rather hideous recital,
but you had better hear it. I will condense it as much as possible. I've
been an evil brute all my life, but I guess you know that already. The
first time I saw you I wanted to ruin you. I never meant to fall in love
with you. I kicked against it--kicked hard. Good women always
exasperated me. But I wanted a new sensation, and, by heaven, I got it!"
He paused a moment, and she saw his grim features relax very slightly. "I
was caught in my own net," he said. "I believe there is magic in you. You
captured me anyway. I did homage to you--in spite of myself. After that
night the relish went out of everything for me. I wanted only you."

Again he paused, but she said nothing. She was listening with her
steadfast eyes upon him.

"But you kept me at a distance," he said, "and I couldn't help myself.
That was the maddening part of it. Lucas knew even then--or suspected.
But he didn't interfere. He saw you were taming me. And so you were--so
you were. But that thrashing upset everything. It drove me mad. I was
crazy for revenge. Lucas made me go away, but I couldn't stay. I was like
a man possessed. My hatred for your husband had swamped my love for you.
You have got to know it, Anne; I am like that. I wanted to wreak my
vengeance on him through you, because I knew--by then--that I had somehow
reached your heart. And so I came to you--I saw you--and then I couldn't
do it. Your love--I suppose I may call it that?--barred the way. It was
your safeguard. You trusted me, and for that I wanted to fall down and
worship you. But you sent me away--I had to go. You made a man of me. I
lived a clean life because of you. I was your slave. I believe I should
have remained so if your husband had died then. But the knowledge that he
was coming back to you was too much for me. I couldn't stand that. I
broke free."

He stopped suddenly and brought his clenched fist down upon the rail as
if physical pain were a relief to his soul.

"I needn't go into what happened then," he said. "You saw me at my worst,
and--you conquered me. You drove me out of your stronghold, and you
locked the door. I don't know even now how you did it. None but a good
woman would have dared. Do you know, when I came to my senses and knew
what I had done, knew that I'd insulted you, killed your trust--your
love, made you despise me, I nearly shot myself? It was Dot who kept me
from that. She guessed, I suppose. And I went away--I went right away
into the Rockies--and fought my devils there. I came back saner than you
have ever known me, to hear that you were free. Can you believe that I
actually told myself that you were mine--mine for the winning? I
stretched out my hands to you across half the world, and I felt as if
wherever you were I had somehow managed to reach and touch you. It was
exactly a year from the day I had first met you."

"Ah, I remember!" Anne said, her voice quick with pain; but she did not
tell him what she remembered.

He went on rapidly, as if she had not spoken. "And then I came to you.
And--I found--I found Luke--in possession. Well, that was the end of
everything for me. I couldn't help knowing that it was the best thing
that could possibly happen to either of you. And I--well, I was just out
of it. I would have gone again that night, but Luke wouldn't have it. He
suspected from the first, though I lied to him--I lied royally. But I
couldn't keep it up. He was too many for me. He wouldn't let me drop out,
but neither would I let him. I fought every inch. I wouldn't let him die.
I held him night and day--night and day. I knew what it meant to you
too, and I knew you would help me afterwards to drop out. My whole soul
was in it, but even so, I couldn't hold on for ever. I had to slacken at
last, and he--he slackened too. I knew it directly, felt him losing
hold. That was two days before he died. And I pulled myself together and
grabbed him again. I think he knew. He tried to wake up, said he'd get
well, made me let go of him, made me explain things to you. And
then--well, I guess he thought his part was done--so he just--let go."

Abruptly he turned from her and leaned again upon the rail, lodging his
head on his hands. "That's all," he said. "But if Tawny had taken it into
his fool brain to make an end of me a little sooner--as I meant him to--I
know very well Luke would have hung on--somehow--for your sake. Oh, I
wish to heaven he had!" he burst out fiercely. "I'm not fit to speak to
you, not fit to touch your hand. You--you--I believe you'd be kind to me
if I would let you. But I won't--I won't! I'm going away. It rests with
me now to protect you somehow, and there is no other way."

He ceased to speak, and in the silence she watched his bent head, greatly
wondering, deeply pitying. When he stood up again she knew that the
tumult that tore his soul had been forced down out of sight.

"You see how it is with me, Anne," he said very sadly. "Tawny Hudson
thinks I'm a devil, and I'm not sure--even now--that he isn't right.
That's why I'm going away. I won't have you trust me, for I can't trust
myself. And you have no one to protect you from me. So you won't blame me
for going? You'll understand?"

His words went straight to her heart. She felt the quick tears
rising, but she kept them back. She knew that he needed strength from
her just then.

And so, after a moment, she commanded herself, and answered him.

"I think you are quite right to go, Nap. And--yes, I understand.
Only--some day--some day--come back again!"

He leaned towards her. His face had flashed into sudden vitality at her
words. He made a movement as if he would take her into his arms. And then
abruptly, almost with violence, he withdrew himself, and gripped his
hands together behind him.

Standing so, with the moonlight shining on his face, he showed her that
which her heart ached to see. For though the dusky eyes were fixed and
still, unveiled but unrevealing, though the high cheek-bones and lantern
jaw were grim as beaten brass, she had a glimpse beyond of the seething,
volcanic fires she dreaded, and she knew that he had spoken the truth. It
was better for them both that he should go.

"I will come back to you, Anne," he said, speaking very steadily. "I
will come back to you--if I find I can."

It was final, and she knew it. She held out her hand to him in silence,
and he, stooping, pressed it dumbly against his lips.

Thereafter they walked back to the house together, and parted
without a word.

CHAPTER XIX

OUT OF THE FURNACE

Capper looked round with a certain keenness that was not untouched with
curiosity when Nap unexpectedly followed him to his room that night.

"Are you wanting anything?" he demanded, with his customary directness.

"Nothing much," Nap said. "You might give me a sleeping-draught if you're
disposed to be charitable. I seem to have lost the knack of going to
sleep. What I really came to say was that Hudson will go with you
to-morrow if you will be good enough to put up with him. He won't give
you any trouble. I would let him go with me next week if his wits would
stand the strain of travelling in my company, but I don't think they
will. I don't want to turn him into a gibbering maniac if I can help it."

"What have you been doing to him?" said Capper.

Nap smiled, faintly contemptous. "My dear doctor, I never do anything to
anybody. If people choose to credit me with possessing unholy powers,
you will allow that I am scarcely to be blamed if the temptation to trade
now and then upon their fertile imaginations proves too much for me."

"I allow nothing," Capper said, "that is not strictly normal and
wholesome."

"Then that places me on the black list at once," remarked Nap.
"Good-night!"

"Stay a moment!" ordered Capper. "Let me look at you. If you will
promise to behave like an ordinary human being for once, I'll give you
that draught."

"I'll promise anything you like," said Nap, a shade of weariness in his
voice. "I'm going up to town to-morrow, and I never sleep there so I
reckon this is my last chance for some time to come."

"Are you trying to kill yourself?" asked Capper abruptly.

But Nap only threw up his head and laughed. "If that were my object I'd
take a shorter cut than this. No, I guess I shan't die this way, Doctor.
You seem to forget the fact that I'm as tough as leather, with the
vitality of a serpent."

"The toughest of us won't go for ever," observed Capper. "You get to bed.
I'll come to you directly."

When he joined him again, a few minutes later, Nap was lying on his back
with arms flung wide, staring inscrutably at the ceiling. His mind seemed
to be far away, but Capper's hand upon his pulse brought it back. He
turned his head with the flicker of a smile.

"What's that for?"

"I happen to take an interest in you, my son," said Capper.

"Very good of you. But why?"

Capper was watching him keenly. "Because I have a notion that you
are wanted."

Nap stirred restlessly, and was silent.

"How long are you going to be away?" Capper asked.

"I don't know."

"For long?"

Nap's hand jerked impatiently from the doctor's hold. "Possibly
for ever."

Capper's long fingers began to crack. He looked speculative. "Say, Nap,"
he said suddenly, "we may not be exactly sympathetic, you and I, but I
guess we've pulled together long enough to be fairly intimate. Anyway,
I've conceived a sort of respect for you that I never expected to have.
And if you'll take a word of advice from a friend who wishes you well,
you won't regret it."

The thin lips began to smile. "Delighted to listen to your advice,
Doctor. I suspect I'm not obliged to follow it."

"You will please yourself, no doubt," Capper rejoined drily. "But my
advice is, don't stay away too long. Your place is here."

"You think so?" said Nap.

"I am quite sure," Capper said, with emphasis.

"And you think I shall please myself by going?"

"Who else?" said Capper almost sternly.

Nap did not instantly reply. He was lying back with his face in shadow.
When he spoke at length it was with extreme deliberation. Capper divined
that it was an effort to him to speak at all.

"You're a family friend," he said. "I guess you've a right to know. It
isn't for my own sake I'm going at all. It's for--hers, and because of a
promise I made to Luke. If I were to stop, I'd be a cur--and worse. She'd
take me without counting the cost. She is a woman who never thinks of
herself. I've got to think for her. I've sworn to play the straight game,
and I'll play it. That's why I won't so much as look into her face again
till I know that I can be to her what Luke would have been--what Bertie
is to Dot--what every man who is a man ought to be to the woman he has
made his wife."

He flung his arms up above his head and remained tense for several
seconds. Then abruptly he relaxed.

"I'll be a friend to her," he said, "a friend that she can
trust--or nothing!"

There came a very kindly look into Capper's green eyes, but he made no
comment of any sort. He only turned aside to take up the glass he had set
down on entering. And as he did so, he smiled as a man well pleased.

Once during the night he looked in upon Nap and found him sleeping,
wrapt in a deep and silent slumber, motionless as death. He stood awhile
watching the harsh face with its grim mouth and iron jaw, and slowly a
certain pity dawned in his own. The man had suffered infernally before he
had found his manhood. He had passed through raging fires that had left
their mark upon him for the rest of his life.

"It's been an almighty big struggle, poor devil," said Capper, "but it's
made a man of you."

He left early on the following day, accompanied by Tawny Hudson, whose
docility was only out-matched by his very obvious desire to be gone.

True to her promise, Anne was down in time to take leave of Capper. They
stood together for a moment on the steps before parting. Her hand in his,
he looked straight into her quiet eyes.

"You're not grieving any, Lady Carfax?"

"No," she said.

"I guess you're right," said Maurice Capper gravely. "We make our little
bids for happiness, but it helps one to remember that the issue lies
with God."

She gave him a smile of understanding. "'He knows about it all--He
knows--He knows,'" she quoted softly. And Capper went his way, taking
with him the memory of a woman who still ploughed her endless furrow, but
with a heart at peace.

CHAPTER XX

THE PROMOTION OF THE QUEEN'S JESTER

"My!" said Mrs. Errol. "Isn't he just dear?"

There was a cooing note in her deep voice. She sat in the Dower House
garden with her grandson bolt upright upon her knees, and all the birds
of June singing around her.

"Isn't he dear, Anne?" she said.

Anne, who was dangling a bunch of charms for the baby's amusement,
stooped and kissed the sunny curls.

"He's a lord of creation," she said. "And he knows it already. I never
saw such an upright morsel in my life."

"Lucas was like that," said Mrs. Errol softly. "He was just the loveliest
baby in the U.S.A. Everyone said so. Dot dearie, I'm sort of glad you
called him Luke."

"So am I, mater dearest. And he's got Luke's eyes, hasn't he now? Bertie
said so from the very beginning." Eagerly Dot leaned from her chair to
turn her small son's head to meet his grandmother's scrutiny. "I'd rather
he were like Luke than anyone else in the world," she said. "It isn't
treason to Bertie to say so, for he wants it too. Where is Bertie, I
wonder? He had to go to town, but he promised to be back early for his
boy's first birthday-party. It's such an immense occasion, isn't it?"

Her round face dimpled in the way Bertie most loved. She rose and slipped
a hand through Anne's arm.

"Let's go and look for him. I know he can't be long now. The son of the
house likes having his granny to himself. He never cries with her."

They moved away together through the sunlit garden, Dot chattering gaily
as her fashion was about nothing in particular while Anne walked beside
her in sympathetic silence. Anne was never inattentive though there were
some who deemed her unresponsive.

But as they neared the gate Dot's volubility quite suddenly died down.
She plucked a white rose, to fill in the pause and fastened it in her
friend's dress. Her fingers trembled unmistakably as she did it, and Anne
looked at her inquiringly. "Is anything the matter?"

"No. Why?" said Dot, turning very red.

Anne smiled a little. "I feel as if a bird had left off singing," she
said.

Dot laughed, still with hot cheeks. "What a pretty way of putting it!
Bertie isn't nearly so complimentary. He calls me the magpie, which is
really very unfair, for he talks much more than I do. Dear old Bertie!"

The dimples lingered, and Anne bent suddenly and kissed them. "Dear
little Dot!" she said.

Instantly Dot's arms were very tightly round her. "Anne darling, I've got
something to tell you--something you very possibly won't quite like. You
won't be vexed any, will you?"

"Not any," smiled Anne.

"No, but it isn't a small thing. It--it's rather immense. But Bertie said
I was to tell you, because you are not to be taken by surprise again. He
doesn't think it fair, and of course he's right."

"What is it, dear?" said Anne. The smile had gone from her face, but her
eyes were steadfast and very still--the eyes of a woman who had waited
all her life.

"My dear," said Dot, holding her closely, "it's only that Bertie didn't
go up to town on business. It was to meet someone, and--and that someone
will be with him when he comes back. I promised Bertie to tell you, but
you were so late getting here I was afraid I shouldn't have time. Oh,
Anne dear, I do hope you don't mind."

Dot's face, a guilty scarlet, was hidden in Anne's shoulder. Anne's hand,
very quiet and steady, came up and began to stroke the fluffy hair that
blew against her neck. But she said nothing.

It was Dot who remorsefully broke the silence. "I feel such a beast,
Anne, but really I had no hand in it this time. He wrote to Bertie
yesterday from town. He hasn't been in England for over a year, and he
wanted to know if he could come to us. Bertie went up this morning to see
him and bring him back. I thought of coming round to you, but Bertie
seemed to think I had better wait and tell you when you came. I hoped you
would have come earlier, so that I would have had more time to tell you
about it. Dear, do tell me it's all right."

"It is all right," Anne said, and with the words she smiled again though
her face was pale. "It is quite all right, Dot dear. Don't be anxious."

Dot looked up with a start. "That's the motor coming now. Oh, Anne, I've
only told you just in time!"

She was quivering with excitement. It seemed as if she were far the more
agitated of the two. For Anne was calm to all outward appearance, quiet
and stately and unafraid. Only the hand that grasped Dot's was cold--cold
as ice. The motor was rapidly approaching. They stood by the gate and
heard the buzzing of the engine, the rush of the wheels, and then the
quick, gay blasts of the horn by which Bertie always announced his coming
to his wife. A moment more and the car whizzed into the drive. There came
a yell of welcome from Bertie at the wheel and the instant checking of
the motor.

And the man beside Bertie leaned swiftly forward, bareheaded, and looked
straight into Anne's white face.

She did not know how she met his look. It seemed to pierce her. But
she was nerved for the ordeal, and she moved towards him with
outstretched hand.

His fingers closed upon it as he stepped from the car, gripped and
closely held it. But he spoke not a word to her; only to Dot, whom he
kissed immediately afterwards, to her confusion and Bertie's amusement.

"I seem to have stumbled into a family gathering," he said later, when
they gave him the place of honour between Mrs. Errol and his hostess.

"Being one of the family, I guess it's a happy accident," said
Mrs. Errol.

He bowed to her elaborately. "Many thanks, alma mater! Considering the
short time you have had for preparing a pretty speech of welcome it does
you undoubted credit."

"Oh, my, Nap!" she said. "I'm past making pretty speeches at my age. I
just say what I mean."

A gleam of surprise crossed his dark face. "That so, alma mater?" he
said. "Then--considering all things--again thanks!" He turned from her to
the baby sprawling on the rug at his feet, and lifted the youngster to
his knee. "So this is the pride of the Errols now," he said.

The baby stared up at him with serious eyes, and very deliberately and
intently Nap stared back.

"What is his name, Dot?" he asked at length.

"Lucas Napoleon," she said.

"Good heavens!" he ejaculated. "What an unholy combination! What in
thunder possessed you to call him that?"

"Oh, it wasn't my doing," Dot hastened to explain, with her usual
honesty, "though of course I was delighted with the idea. Bertie and I
called him Lucas almost before he was born."

"Then who in wonder chose my name for him?" demanded Nap.

"See the Church Catechism!" suggested Bertie.

"Ah! Quite so." Nap turned upon him keenly. "Who were his god-parents?"

"My dear Nap, what does it matter?" broke in Dot. "Be quiet, Bertie! For
goodness' sake make him put the child down and have some tea."

"Let me take him," Anne said.

She stooped to lift the boy, who held out his arms to her with a crow of
pleasure. Nap looked up at her, and for an instant only their eyes met;
but in that instant understanding dawned upon Nap's face, and with it a
strangely tender smile that made it almost gentle.

Dot declared afterwards that the birthday-party had been all she could
have desired. Everyone had been nice to everyone, and the baby hadn't
been rude to his uncle, a calamity she had greatly feared. Also Nap was
improved, hugely improved. Didn't Bertie think so? He seemed to have got
so much more human. She couldn't realise there had ever been a time when
she had actually disliked him.

"P'r'aps we're more human ourselves," suggested Bertie; a notion which
hadn't occurred to Dot but which she admitted might have something in it.

Anyway, she was sure Nap had improved, and she longed to know if Anne
thought so too.

Anne's thoughts upon that subject, however, were known to none, perhaps
not even to herself. All she knew was an overwhelming desire for
solitude, but when this was hers at last it was not in the consideration
of this question that she spent it.

It was in kneeling by her open window with her face to the sky, and
in her heart a rapture of gladness that all the birds of June could
not utter.

She scarcely slept at all that night, yet when she rose some of the bloom
of youth had come back to her, some of its summer splendour was shining
in her eyes. Anne Carfax was more nearly a beautiful woman that day than
she had ever been before.

Dimsdale looked at her benignly. Would her ladyship breakfast
out-of-doors? She smiled and gave her assent, and while he was preparing
she plucked a spray of rose acacia and pinned it at her throat.

"Dimsdale," she said, and her cheeks flushed to the soft tint of the
blossom as she spoke, "Mr. Errol is coming over this morning. I expect
him to luncheon."

"Mr. Errol, my lady?"

"Mr. Nap Errol," said Anne, still intent upon the acacia. "Show him into
the garden when he comes. He is sure to find me somewhere."

Dimsdale's eyes opened very wide, but he managed his customary "Very
good, my lady," as he continued his preparations. And so Anne breakfasted
amid the tumult of rejoicing June, all the world laughing around her, all
the world offering abundant thanksgiving because of the sunshine that
flooded it.

When breakfast was over she sat with closed eyes, seeming to hear the
very heart of creation throbbing in every sound, yet listening, listening
intently for something more. For a long time she sat thus, absorbed in
the great orchestra, waiting as it were to take her part in the mighty
symphony that swept its perfect harmonies around her.

It was a very little thing at last that told her her turn had come, so
small a thing, and yet it sent the blood tingling through every vein,
racing and pulsing with headlong impetus like a locked stream suddenly
set free. It was no more than the flight of a startled bird from the tree
above her.

She opened her eyes, quivering from head to foot. Yesterday she had
commanded herself. She had gone to him with outstretched hand and
welcoming smile. To-day she sat quite still. She could not move.

He came to her, stooped over her, then knelt beside her; but he did not
offer to touch her. The sunlight streamed down upon his upturned face.
His eyes were deep and still and passionless.

"You expected me," he said.

She looked down at him. "I have been expecting you for a very long
time," she said.

A flicker that was scarcely a smile crossed his face. "And yet I've come
too soon," he said.

"Why do you say that?" She asked the question almost in spite of herself.
But she had begun to grow calmer. His quietness reassured her.

"Because, my Queen," he said, "the _role_ of jester at court is
obsolete, at least so far as I am concerned, and I haven't managed to
qualify for another."

"Do you want another?" she said.

He turned his eyes away from her. "I want--many things," he said.

She motioned him to the seat beside her. "Tell me what you have been
doing all this time."

"I can't," he said.

But he rose and sat beside her as she desired.

"What under heaven have I been doing?" he said. "I don't know, I guess
I've been something like Nebuchadnezzar when they turned him out to
grass. I've been just--ruminating,"

"Is that all?" There was a curious note of relief in Anne's voice.

His old magnetic smile flashed across his face as he caught it. "That's
all, Queen Anne. It's been monstrous dull. Do you know, I don't think
Heaven intended me for a hermit."

Involuntarily almost she smiled in answer. Her heart was beating quite
steadily again. She was no longer afraid.

"Nebuchadnezzar came to his own again," she observed.

"He did," said Nap.

"And you?"

He leaned back with his face to the sky. "Not yet," he said.

Anne was silent. He turned after a moment and looked at her. "And what
have you been doing, 0 Queen?" he said.

Her hands were clasped in her lap. They suddenly gripped each other
very fast.

"Won't you tell me?" said Nap.

He spoke very softly, but he made no movement towards her. He sat aloof
and still. Yet he plainly desired an answer.

It came at last, spoken almost in a whisper. "I have been--waiting."

"Waiting--" he said.

She parted her hands suddenly, with a gesture that was passionate, and
rose. "Yes, waiting," she said, "waiting, Nap, waiting! And oh, I'm so
tired of it. I'm not like you. I have never wanted--many things; only
one--only one!" Her voice broke. She turned sharply from him.

Nap had sprung to his feet. He stood close to her. But he held himself
in check. He kept all emotion out of his face and voice.

"Do you think I don't know?" he said. "My dear Anne, I have always known.
That's the damnable part of it. You've wanted truth instead of
treachery, honour instead of shame, love instead of--"

She put out a quick hand. "Don't say it, Nap!"

He took her hand, drew it to his heart, and held it there. "And you say
you don't want many things," he went on, in a tone half sad, half
whimsical. "My dear, if I could give you one tenth of what you want--and
ought to have--you'd be a lucky woman and I a thrice lucky man.
But--we've got to face it--I can't. I thought I could train myself,
fashion myself, into something worthy of your acceptance. I can't. I
thought I could win back your trust, your friendship, last of all your
love. But I can't even begin. You can send me away from you if you will,
and I'll go for good and all. On the other hand, you can keep me, you can
marry me--" He paused; and she fancied she felt his heart quicken. "You
can marry me," he said again, "but you can't tame me. You'll find me an
infernal trial to live with. I'm not a devil any longer. No, and I'm not
a brute. But I am still a savage at heart, and there are some parts of me
that won't tame. My love for you is a seething furnace, an intolerable
craving. I can't contemplate you sanely. I want you unspeakably."

His hold had tightened. She could feel his heart throbbing now like a
fierce thing caged. His eyes had begun to glow. The furnace door was
opening. She could feel the heat rushing out, enveloping her. Soon it
would begin to scorch her. And yet she knew no shrinking. Rather she drew
nearer, as a shivering creature starved and frozen draws near to the
hunter's fire.

He went on speaking rapidly, with rising passion. "My love for you is the
one part of me that I haven't got under control, and it's such a mighty
big part that the rest is hardly worthy of mention. It's great enough to
make everything else contemptible. I've no use for lesser things. I want
just you--only you--only you--for the rest of my life!"

He stopped suddenly, seemed on the verge of something further, then
pulled himself together with a sharp gesture. The next moment, quite
quietly, he relinquished her hand.

"I'm afraid that's all there is to me," he said. "Lucas would have given
you understanding, friendship, chivalry, all that a good woman wants. I
can only offer you--bondage."

He half turned with the words, standing as if it needed but a sign to
dismiss him. But Anne made no sign. Over their heads a thrush had
suddenly begun to pour out his soul to the June sunshine, and she stood
spell-bound, listening.

At the end of several breathless moments she spoke and in her voice was
a deep note that thrilled like music.

"There is a bondage," she said, "that is sweeter than any freedom. And,
Nap, it is the one thing in this world that I want--that I need--that I
pray for night and day."

"Anne!" he said. He turned back to her. He took the hands she gave him.
"Anne," he said again, speaking rapidly, in a voice that shook, "I have
tried to play a straight game with you. I have warned you. I am not the
right sort. You know what I am. You know."

"Yes," Anne said, "I know." She raised her head and looked him straight
in the eyes. "You are all the world to me, Nap," she said. "You are the
man I love."

His arms caught her, crushed her fiercely to him, held her fast.

"Say it again!" he said, his fiery eyes flaming. "Say it! Say it!"

But Anne said nought. Only for a long, long second she gazed into his
face; then in utter silence she turned her lips to his.

* * * * *

They spent the whole of the long June day together in the garden. Neither
knew how the time went till evening came upon them all unawares--a golden
evening of many fragrances.

They came at last along the green path under the lilac trees, and here
by the rustic seat Nap stopped.

"I'll leave you here," he said.

She looked at him in surprise. "Won't you dine with me?"

"No," he said restlessly. "I won't come in. I should stifle under a roof
to-night."

"But we will dine outside," she said.

He shook his head. "No, I'm going. Anne," he caught her hand to his lips,
"I hate leaving you. How long must I be condemned to it?"

She touched his shoulder with her cheek. "Don't you know that I hate it
too?" she said.

"Then--" He put his arm round her.

"Next week, Nap," she said.

"You mean it?"

"Yes. I mean it."

"You will marry me next week. What day?"

"Any day," she said, with her face against his shoulder.

"Any day, Anne? You mean that? You mean me to choose?"

She laughed softly. "I shall leave everything to you."

"Then I choose Sunday," Nap said, without an instant's consideration, "as
early in the morning as possible. I shall go straight to the padre and
arrange it right now."

"Very well," she said. "I'll try to be ready."

He threw up his head with the old arrogant gesture. "You must be ready,"
he said imperiously. "I shall come and fetch you myself."

She laughed again at that. "Indeed you will not. I shall go with
Mrs. Errol."

He conceded this point, albeit grudgingly. "And afterwards?" he said.

"The afterwards shall be yours, dear," she answered.

"You mean that?"

"Of course I mean it."

"Then, Anne"--he bent his face suddenly, his lips moved against her
forehead--"will you come with me to Bramhurst?"

"Bramhurst!" She started a little. The name to her was no more than a
bitter memory among the many other bitter memories of her life.

"Will you?" he said.

"If you wish it," she answered gently.

"I do wish it."

"Then--so be it," she said.

He bent his head a little lower, kissed her twice passionately upon the
lips, held her awhile as if he could not bear to let her go, then tore
himself almost violently from her, and went away, swift and noiseless as
a shadow over the grass.

CHAPTER XXI

THE POWER THAT CASTS OUT DEVILS

It was late on the evening of her wedding-day that Anne entered once
more the drawing-room of the little inn at Bramhurst and stopped by the
open window.

There was a scent of musk in the room behind her, and an odour infinitely
more alluring of roses and honeysuckle in the garden in front. Beyond the
garden the common lay in the rosy dusk of the afterglow under a deep blue
sky. The clang of a distant cow-bell came dreamily through the silence.

She stood leaning against the door-post with her face to the night. It
was a night of wonder, of marvellous, soul-stilling peace. Yet her brows
were slightly drawn as she waited there. She seemed to be puzzling over
something.

"Say it out loud," said Nap.

She did not start at the words though he had come up behind her without
sound. She stretched out her hand without turning and drew his arm
through hers.

"Why did we choose this place?" she said.

"You didn't choose it," said Nap.

"Then you?"

"I chose it chiefly because I knew you hated it," he said, a queer
vibration of recklessness in his voice.

"My dear Nap, am I to believe that?"

He looked at her through the falling dusk, and his hand closed tense and
vital upon her arm. "It's the truth anyway," he said. "I knew you hated
the place, that you only came to it for my sake. And I--I made you come
because I wanted you to love it."

"For your sake, Nap?" she said softly.

"Yes, and for another reason." He paused a moment; speech seemed suddenly
an effort to him. Then: "Anne," he said, "you forgave me, I know, long
ago; but I want you here--on this spot--to tell me that what happened
here is to you as if it had never been. I want it blotted out of your
mind for ever. I want your trust--your trust!"

It was like a hunger-cry rising from the man's very soul. At sound of it
she turned impulsively.

"Nap, never speak of this again! My dearest, we need not have come here
for that. Yet I am glad now that we came. It will be holy ground to me as
long as I live. As long as I live," she repeated very earnestly, "I shall
remember that it was here that the door of paradise was opened to us at
last, and that God meant us to enter in."

She lifted her eyes to his with a look half-shy, half-confident. "You
believe in God," she said.

He did not answer at once. He was looking out beyond her for the first
time, and the restless fire had gone out of his eyes. They were still and
deep as a mountain pool.

"Nap," she said in a whisper.

Instantly his look came back to her. He took her face between his hands
with a tenderness so new that it moved her inexplicably to tears.

"I believe in the Power that casts out devils," he said very gravely.
"Luke taught me that much. I guess my wife will teach me the rest."

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