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The Knave of Diamonds by Ethel May Dell

Part 2 out of 8

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before him, he did rouse himself to holler into the darkness, supposing
that his wife was ahead of him. If it were she, she was later in
returning than was her wont, but no answer came back to him, and he did
not repeat his call. After all, why should he hail her? He did not want
her company, Heaven knew. That stately demeanour of hers which once had
attracted him generally inspired in him a savage sense of resentment
nowadays. There were times when he even suspected her of despising
him--him, the lord of the Manor, who had given her all she possessed in
the world!

He swore a furious oath under his breath as he rode. The darkness ahead
of him was all pricked by tiny red sparks, that glanced and flashed like
fireflies whichever way he looked. He rubbed his eyes and they departed,
only to swarm again a little farther on. The rain had soaked him to the
skin. He shivered and swore again as he fumbled for his flask.

The fiery gleams faded wholly away as the raw spirit warmed his blood and
revived his brain. He drew a breath of relief. Again he heard the sound
of a horse's feet some distance in front. They seemed to fall unevenly,
as though the animal were lame. Could it be the grey, he asked himself?
If so, why had Anne not answered his call? She must have heard him. He
ground his teeth. It was like her habitual impudence to ignore him thus.
He gathered himself together and sent a furious bellow into the darkness.

But there came back no reply. The hoofs ahead seemed to quicken into a
shambling trot, that was all. And after a little he heard them no more.

She had reached the house then, and gone within into light and comfort,
and again feverishly he execrated her for not waiting for him, the cold
and the rain and the dark notwithstanding. Again fitfully he began to
see those leaping points of light; but it was only here and there.
Whenever he focussed his attention upon them they eluded him. For these
also he held his wife in some fashion responsible. What did she mean by
leaving him thus? How dared she enter the house that was his while he
was still groping without? He believed that she would shut his own door
against him if she dared. He was sure she hated him, as he hated her--as
he hated her!

And then--suddenly a strange thing happened. Suddenly, clear-cut as a
cameo before his fevered vision, there arose against the dripping
darkness his wife's face. Pale and pure as the face of a saint, it shone
before him like a star. There was no reproach in the level eyes; there
was no contempt. But they looked through him, they looked beyond him, and
saw him not.

A violent tremor went through him, a nameless, unspeakable dread. The
curses died upon his lips. He stared and stared again.

And while he stared, the vision faded before his eyes into nothingness.
He was alone once more in the darkness and the drenching rain; alone with
a little gibing voice that seemed to come from within and yet was surely
the voice of a devil jeering a devil's tattoo in time to his horse's
hoof-beats, telling him he was mad, mad, mad!

Three minutes later he rode heavily into his own stable-yard.

A group of servants scattered dumbly before him as he appeared. The glare
of lights dazzled him, but he fancied they looked at him strangely. He
flung an oath at the groom who stepped forward to take his horse.

"What are you staring at? What's the matter?"

The man murmured something unintelligible.

Sir Giles dismounted and scowled around. His limbs were stiff and not
over steady.

"What's the matter with you all?" he growled. "You look like a crowd of
death's heads. Hullo! What's this?"

He had caught sight of something he had not seen before, something that
sent him striding furiously forward. For there in the centre of the
yard, standing huddled on three legs, was the grey horse his wife had
ridden. Limp and draggled, plastered with mud and foam, with a great
streaming gash on the shoulder, and head hanging down in utter
exhaustion, stood the grey.

"What's this?" demanded Sir Giles again. "Where's her ladyship?"

A shudder seemed to run through the assembled men. There was a moment's
silence. Then old Dimsdale, the butler, who was standing in the doorway
that led to the servants' quarters, stumped forward and made reply.

"The animal's come home alone, Sir Giles."

"What?" thundered his master.

The old man faced him with respectful firmness. No one had ever seen
Dimsdale agitated.

"As I said, Sir Giles," he answered, with a certain deferential
obstinacy. "The animal's come back alone."

"Only just come in, sir," chimed in a groom. "We was just beginning to
wonder when he came limping in in this state. Looks as if her ladyship
had met with a accident."

Sir Giles rounded upon him with a violence that brought his surmisings to
an abrupt end. Then, having worked off the first heat of his fury, he
turned again to Dimsdale.

"What the devil is to be done? I never saw her after the first kill."

"And where might that be, Sir Giles?" questioned Dimsdale.

"Up Baronmead way. It was hours ago."

Dimsdale considered. "Shall we send and make inquiries at Baronmead,
Sir Giles?"

"No, I'm damned if I do!" said Sir Giles.

Dimsdale considered again. "Was her ladyship riding with anyone in
particular?" he asked next.

"No, I don't think so. Stay! I believe I saw that Errol bounder talking
to her--the one who was here the other day. But I forget when.
Anyhow"--his voice rising again--"I won't have any traffic with them.
I've said I won't, and I won't!"

Dimsdale grunted. "Seems to me the only thing to do, Sir Giles. You can't
leave her lady ship to die under a hedge maybe, and not do anything to
find her."

He spoke very deliberately, looking straight into his master's bloodshot
eyes as he did so.

"It wouldn't be hardly right, Sir Giles," he pointed out gravely. "It's
likely that young Mr. Errol will be able to give us a clue, and we can't
leave any stone unturned, being such a serious matter. I'll send on my
own responsibility if you like, Sir Giles. But send we must."

The bystanders glanced uneasily at one another in the silence that
followed this bold speech. The old butler's temerity was unheard of. Not
one among them would have dared thus to withstand the master to his face.
They waited, nervously expectant, for the vials of wrath to descend.

Old Dimsdale waited too, still firmly watching Sir Giles. If he felt any
anxiety on his own account, however, it was not apparent. Nor did he
display any relief when the unpleasant tension passed and Sir Giles with
a shrug turned away from him.

"Oh, go your own way, and be damned to you! I don't care what you do.
Don't stand gaping there, you fools! Get to your work! Better send for
the vet. Can't afford to have a valuable animal spoilt. Dimsdale, take
some brandy and hot water up to my room at once, before you do anything
else. Do you hear?"

And with that he tramped within, leaving an atmosphere of mingled relief
and indignation behind him.

But if his words were callous, the soul of the man was far from easy as
he mounted to his room. He flung himself into the nearest chair when he
arrived there and sat with eyes fixed sullenly before him. He ought to go
in search of her, of course, but he was powerless. His brain was a
smouldering furnace in which anxiety and anger strove luridly for the
mastery. But through it all he sat there torpidly staring. His body felt
as though it were weighted with leaden fetters.

He heard a step in the passage, but did not turn his head. Someone
knocked discreetly. He heard, but he took no notice. The door opened
softly, and old Dimsdale entered.

"We have news, Sir Giles."

Sir Giles neither looked at him nor spoke. He continued to glare heavily
into space.

Dimsdale paused beside him. "A messenger has just come from Baronmead in
their motor, Sir Giles," he said, speaking very distinctly. "Her ladyship
has had a fall, and has been taken there. Mr. Errol begs that you will go
back in the motor, as her ladyship's condition is considered serious."

He stopped. Sir Giles said nothing whatever.

"The messenger is waiting, Sir Giles."

Still no response of any sort.

Dimsdale waited a moment, then very respectfully he bent and touched his
master's shoulder.

"Sir Giles!"

Sir Giles turned slowly at last, with immense effort it seemed. He
glowered at Dimsdale for a space. Then, "Bring some brandy and water," he
said, "hot!"

"But the messenger, Sir Giles!"

"What?" Sir Giles glared a moment longer, then as anger came uppermost,
the smouldering furnace leapt into sudden seething flame. "Tell him to go
to the devil!" he thundered. "And when you've done that, bring me some
brandy and water--hot!"

As Dimsdale departed upon his double errand he dropped back into his
former position, staring dully before him, under scowling brows.

When Dimsdale returned he was sunk in the chair asleep.

CHAPTER IX

THE HEAD OF THE HOUSE

"Hullo, Lucas! Can I come in?"

Nap Errol stood outside his brother's door, an impatient frown on his
face, his hand already fidgeting at the handle.

"Come in, old chap," drawled back a kindly voice.

He entered with an abruptness that seemed to denote agitation.

The room was large and brilliantly lighted. In an easy chair by the fire
the eldest Errol was reclining, while his valet, a huge man with the
features of an American Indian half-breed and fiery red hair, put the
finishing touches to his evening dress.

Nap approached the fire with his usual noiseless tread despite the fact
that he was still in riding boots.

"Be quick, Hudson!" he said. "We don't want you."

Hudson rolled a nervous eye at him and became clumsily hasty.

"Take your time," his master said quietly. "Nap, my friend, hadn't you
better dress?"

Nap stopped before the fire and pushed it with his foot. "I am not going
to dine," he said.

Lucas Errol said no more. He lay still in his chair with his head back
and eyes half-closed, a passive, pathetic figure with the shoulders of a
strong man and the weak, shrunken limbs of a cripple. His face was quite
smooth. It might have belonged to a boy of seventeen save for the eyes,
which were deeply sunken and possessed the shrewd, quizzical
intelligence of age.

He lay quite motionless as though he were accustomed to remain for hours
in one position. Hudson the valet tended him with the reverence of a
slave. Nap fell to pacing soundlessly to and fro, awaiting the man's exit
with what patience he could muster.

"You can go now, Tawny," the elder Errol drawled at last. "I will ring
when I want you. Now, Boney, what is it? I wish you would sit down."

There was no impatience in the words, but his brows were slightly drawn
as he uttered them,

Nap, turning swiftly, noted the fact. "You are not so well to-night?"

"Sit down," his brother repeated gently. "How is Lady Carfax?"

Nap sat down with some reluctance. He looked as if he would have
preferred to prowl.

"She is still unconscious, and likely to remain so. The doctor thinks
very seriously of her."

"Her husband has been informed?"

"Her husband," said Nap from between his teeth, "has been informed, and
he declines to come to her. That's the sort of brute he is."

Lucas Errol made no comment, and after a moment Nap continued:

"It is just as well perhaps. I hear he is never sober after a day's
sport. And I believe she hates the sight of him if the truth were
told--and small wonder!"

There was unrestrained savagery in the last words. Lucas turned his head
and looked at him thoughtfully.

"You know her rather well?" he said.

"Yes." Nap's eyes, glowing redly, met his with a gleam of defiance.

"You have known her for long?" The question was perfectly quiet, uttered
in the tired voice habitual to this man who had been an invalid for
almost the whole of his manhood.

Yet Nap frowned as he heard it. "I don't know," he said curtly. "I don't
estimate friendships by time."

Lucas said no more, but he continued to look at his brother with
unvarying steadiness till at length, as if goaded thereto, Nap
spoke again.

"We are friends," he said, "no more, no less. You all think me a
blackguard, I know. It's my speciality, isn't it?" He spoke with
exceeding bitterness. "But in this case you are wrong. I repeat--we
are friends."

He said it aggressively; his tone was almost a challenge, but the elder
Errol did not appear to notice.

"I have never thought you a blackguard, Boney," he said quietly.

Nap's thin lips smiled cynically. "You have never said it."

"I have never thought it." There was no contradicting the calm assertion.
It was not the way of the world to contradict Lucas Errol. "And I know
you better than a good many," he said.

Nap stirred restlessly and was silent.

Lucas turned his eyes from him and seemed to fall into a reverie.
Suddenly, however, he roused himself.

"What does the doctor say about her?"

Nap frowned. "He says very little. After the manner of his tribe, he is
afraid to commit himself; thinks there may be this injury or there may be
that, but says definitely nothing. I shall get someone down from town
to-morrow. I'd go tonight, only--" he broke off, hammering impotently
with his clenched fist on the arm of his chair. "I must be at hand
to-night," he said, after a moment, controlling himself. "The mater has
promised to call me if there is any change. You see," he spoke
half-apologetically, "she might feel kind of lonely waking up in a crowd
of strangers, and mine is the only face she knows."

Silence followed the words. Lucas had closed his eyes, and there was
nothing in his face to indicate the trend of his thoughts.

Nap sat with his face to the fire, and stared unblinkingly into the red
depths. There was no repose in his attitude, only the tension of
suppressed activity.

Softly at length his brother's voice came through the silence. "Why not
dine, dear fellow, while you are waiting? You will do no good to anyone
by starving yourself."

Nap looked round. "In Heaven's name, don't talk to me of eating!" he
said savagely. "You don't know what I've been through." Again he paused
to control himself, then added in a lower tone, "I thought she was dead,
you know."

"It was you who picked her up?" Lucas asked.

"Yes. There was no one else near." He spoke with feverish rapidity, as
though he found speaking a relief. "It was the old chalk-pit. You know
the place--or p'r'aps you don't. It's a ten-foot drop. The brute went
clean over, and he must have rolled on her or kicked her getting up." He
drew a sharp breath between his teeth. "When I found her she was lying
all crumpled up. I thought her back was broken at first."

A sudden shudder assailed him. He repressed it fiercely.

"And then, you know, it was foggy. I couldn't leave her. I was
afraid of losing my bearings. And so I just had to wait--Heaven
knows how long--till one of the keepers heard me shouting, and went
for help. And all that time--all that time--I didn't know whether
she was alive or dead."

His voice sank to a hard whisper. He got up and vigorously poked the
fire.

Lucas Errol endured the clatter for several seconds in silence:
then, "Boney," he said, "since you are feeling energetic, you might
lend me a hand."

Nap laid down the poker instantly. "I am sorry, old fellow. I forgot. Let
me ring for Hudson."

"Can't you help me yourself?" Lucas asked.

Nap hesitated for a second; then stooped in silence to give the required
assistance. Lucas Errol, with a set face, accepted it, but once on his
feet he quitted Nap's support and leaned upon the mantelpiece to wipe
his forehead.

"I knew I should hurt you," Nap said uneasily.

The millionaire forced a smile that was twisted in spite of him. "Never
mind me!" he said. "It is your affairs that trouble me just now, not my
own. And, Boney, if you don't have a meal soon, you'll be making a big
fool of yourself and everyone will know it."

The very gentleness of his speech seemed to make the words the more
emphatic. Nap raised no further protest.

"Go and have it right now," his brother said.

"And--in case I don't see you again--goodnight!"

He held out his hand, still leaning against the mantelpiece. His eyes,
blue and very steady, looked straight into Nap's. So for a second or
two he held him while Nap, tight-lipped, uncompromising, looked
straight back.

Then, "Good-night," Lucas said again gravely, and let him go.

Yet for an instant longer Nap lingered as one on the verge of speech. But
nothing came of it. He apparently thought better--or worse--of the
impulse, and departed light-footed in silence.

CHAPTER X

THE HAND OF A FRIEND

What had happened to her? Slowly, with a sensation of doubt that seemed
to weigh her down, Anne rose to the surface of things, and looked once
more upon the world that had rushed so giddily away from her and left her
spinning through space.

She was horribly afraid during those first few minutes, afraid with a
physical, overwhelming dread. She seemed to be yet falling, falling
through emptiness to annihilation. And as she fell she caught the sounds
of other worlds, vague whisperings in the dark. She was sinking, sinking
fast into a depth unfathomable, where no worlds were.

And then--how it came to her she knew not, for she was powerless to help
herself--out of the chaos and the awful darkness a hand reached out and
grasped her own; a hand strong and vital that gripped and held, that
lifted her up, that guided her, that sustained her, through all the
terror that girt her round.

The light dawned gradually in her eyes. She found herself gazing up into
a face she knew, a lean, brown face, alert and keen, that watched her
steadfastly.

With an effort she clasped her nerveless fingers upon the
sustaining hand.

"Hold me!" she whispered weakly. "I'm falling!"

"Don't be afraid!" he made answer with infinite gentleness. "I have
you safe."

Someone whom she saw but vaguely came behind him and whispered in a
vigorous undertone. A large white hand, on which flashed many rings,
rested upon his shoulder.

He moved slightly, took something into his free hand and held it to her
lips. Submissively, in answer to an influence that seemed to fold her
about and gently to compel, she drank.

Slowly the mist of dread cleared from her brain. Slowly she awoke to full
consciousness, and found Nap Errol bending over her, her hand fast
clasped in his.

"What happened?" she asked him faintly. "Where am I?"

"You are at Baronmead," he said. "You were thrown and we brought
you here."

"Ah!" Her brows contracted a little. "Am I much hurt?" she asked.

"Nothing to worry about," Nap said with quiet confidence. "You will soon
be all right again. I will leave you to get a good sleep, shall I? If
you are wanting anything my mother will be here."

She looked at him doubtfully. Her hand still clung to his,
half-mechanically it seemed.

"Mr. Errol," she faltered, "my husband--does he know?"

"Yes, he knows." Very softly Nap made answer, as though he were soothing
a child. "Don't trouble about that. Don't trouble about anything. Just
lie still and rest."

But the anxiety in her eyes was growing. "He isn't here?" she questioned.

"No."

"Then--then I think I ought to go to him. He will think it so strange. He
will--he will--"

"Lady Carfax, listen!" Quietly but insistently he broke in upon her
rising agitation. "Your husband knows all about you. He couldn't come
to-night, but he is coming in the morning. Now won't you be content and
try to sleep?"

"I can't sleep," she said, with a shudder. "I am afraid of falling."

"No, you're not. See! I am holding your hands. You can't fall. Look at
me! Keep looking at me and you will see how safe you are!"

His voice had sunk almost to a whisper. His eyes dusky, compelling, yet
strangely impersonal, held hers by some magic that was too utterly
intangible to frighten her. With a sigh she yielded to the mastery she
scarcely felt.

And as she floated away into a peace indescribable, unlike anything
she had ever known before, she heard a woman's voice, hushed to a
sibilant whisper, remark, "My, Nap! You're too smart to be human. I
always said so."

When she opened her eyes again it was many hours later, and she was lying
in the broad sunshine with the doctor, whom she knew, stooping over her.

"Ah, you are awake at last!" he said. "And I find a marvellous
improvement. No, I shouldn't try to move at present. But I don't suppose
you can for a moment. You have had a wonderful escape, my dear lady, a
most wonderful escape. But for all that I shall keep you where you are
for the next fortnight or so. A badly jarred spine is not a thing to
play with."

"Is that all?" Anne asked.

He became cautious on the instant. "I don't say that is all. In any case
we will run no risks. Let me congratulate you upon having fallen into
such good hands."

He glanced over Anne's head at someone on the other side of the bed, and
Anne turned slightly to see the person thus indicated. And so she had her
first sight of the woman who ruled Lucas Errol's house.

She had heard of her more than once. People smiled, not unkindly, when
they mentioned Mrs. Errol, a good sort, they said; but, like many another
woman of inelegant exterior, how good a sort only her Maker knew. She was
large in every way. It was the only word that described her;
large-boned, large-featured, and so stout that she wheezed--a fact which
in no way limited her activity. Her voice was as deep as a man's, and it
went even deeper when she laughed.

But she was not laughing now. Her face was full of the most kindly
concern. "Lord bless the child!" she said. "She don't know me yet.
I'm Mrs. Errol, dear, Mrs. Lucas Blenheim Errol. And if there's
anything you want--well, you've only got to mention it to me and it's
as good as done."

She spoke with a strong American accent. A Yankee of the Yankees was Mrs.
Errol, and she saw no reason to disguise the fact. She knew that people
smiled at her, but it made no difference to her. She was content to let
them smile. She even smiled at herself.

"You are very good," Anne murmured.

"Not a bit," said Mrs. Errol cheerfully. "I'm real pleased to have you,
dear. And don't you think you're giving any trouble to anybody, for there
isn't anything that pleases me so much as to have a girl to look after.
It's the biggest treat the Lord could send."

Anne smiled a little, conscious of a glow at the heart that she had not
known for many a day. She tried weakly to give her hand to her new
friend, but the pain of moving was so intense that she uttered a quick
gasp and abandoned the attempt.

But in an instant Mrs. Errol's fingers were wound closely about her own,
the large face, wonderfully smooth, save for a few kindly wrinkles about
the eyes, was bent to hers.

"There, dearie, there!" said the motherly voice, tender for all its
gruffness. "You're stiff in every limb, and no wonder. It's just natural.
Just you lie still and leave everything to me."

She was, in fact, determined to take the whole burden of nursing upon
herself, and when the doctor had gone she began to show Anne how capable
she was of fulfilling the responsibility she had thus undertaken. No
trained nurse could have given her more dexterous attention.

"I've spent a great part of my life in sickrooms," she told Anne. "First
my husband, and then poor Lucas, that's my eldest boy. But Lucas won't
have me to wait on him now. He doesn't like his mother to see him in his
bad hours, and they are mighty bad now and then. So my nursing talents
would run to seed if it weren't for a casual patient like yourself."

It was so evident that she enjoyed her self-appointed task that Anne
could only smile and thank her. She was helpless as an infant and could
not have refused her hostess's ministrations even had she desired to do
so. She suffered a good deal of pain also, and this kept her from taking
much note of her surroundings during that first day at Baronmead.

She refrained from asking further about her husband for some time,
avoiding all mention of him, but she was possessed by a nervous dread
that increased steadily as the hours wore on. At last, as Mrs. Errol
seemed equally determined to volunteer no information, she summoned her
resolution and compelled herself to speak.

"My husband has not come yet?" she asked.

"No, dear." Mrs. Errol smiled upon her with much kindness, but her tone
did not encourage further inquiries.

Anne lay silent for a little. It was a difficult matter to handle.
"Did he send no message?" she asked at last, with knitted brows. "I
thought--or did I dream it?--that your son said he was coming."

"To be sure he did," said Mrs. Errol. "You would like to speak to Nap
about it, wouldn't you?"

Anne hesitated. Mrs. Errol was already on her way to the door. It was
plain that here was a responsibility she was unprepared to shoulder. But
Anne called her back.

"No, please!" she said, a slight flush on her face. "Don't call him in
again! Really, it is of no consequence."

But in spite of this assertion her uneasiness regarding her husband grew
rapidly from that moment--an uneasiness that she was powerless to control
or hide. Could it be--was it possible?--that he meant to leave her thus
abandoned to the pitying kindness of strangers? She could hardly believe
it. And yet--and yet--he had done un-heard-of things before. There were
times, times that had become more and more frequent of late, when she
doubted his sanity. Those devilish moods of his, whither were they
tending? Was he in the grip of one of them now? And if so--if so--what
would happen to her? What could she do?

As the hours passed, the torture of suspense so worked upon her that
she began to grow feverish. The afternoon was waning and still no
word had come.

She tried to reassure herself again and again, but each failure added to
her distress.

"You mustn't fret, child," said Mrs. Errol gently, when she brought her
tea. "It's the worst thing possible. Come, come! What is it?"

Anne tried to tell her, but could not. The very utterance of her
fears was more than she could accomplish in her present state. Words
failed her.

Mrs. Errol said no more, but presently she went quietly away, leaving her
alone in the firelight, chafing but impotent.

She was soon back again, however, and a muffled word on the threshold
told Anne that she was not alone. She turned her head sharply on the
pillow regardless of wrenched muscles, hoping against hope. But she
looked in vain for her husband's tall figure, and a sigh that was almost
a groan escaped her. It was Nap, slim, upright, and noiseless, who
stepped from behind Mrs. Errol and came to her bedside.

He stooped a little and took her quivering hand, holding it in both his
own so that his fingers pressed upon her pulse.

"The mater thought you would like to speak to me," he said.

She looked up at him with eyes of piteous entreaty. She was long past any
thought of expediency so far as he was concerned. It seemed only natural
in her trouble to turn to him for help. Had he not helped her before?
Besides, she knew that he understood things that she could not utter.

"Oh, Nap," she said admitting him unconsciously in her extremity to an
intimacy she would never have dreamed of according him in any less urgent
circumstances, "I am greatly troubled about my husband. You said he would
come to me, but--he hasn't come!"

"I know he hasn't," Nap said. He spoke quietly, but she was aware of a
certain grimness in his speech. "I shouldn't worry if I were you. It
won't help you any. Is there anyone else you would like sent for?"

"I have--no one else," she said, her voice quivering beyond her control.
"How can I lie here and not worry?"

"Lord bless the child!" said Mrs. Errol vigorously. "What is there to
worry about, anyway?"

But Nap was silent. His fingers were still closed firmly upon her wrist.

"Mrs. Errol is very good," Anne said earnestly. "You mustn't think me
ungrateful or unappreciative. But I cannot go on like this. I cannot!"

"I am afraid you have no choice," Nap said.

She scarcely heard him. At least she paid no heed. "Will you tell me
exactly what has passed? Has he definitely refused to come to me?
Because, if so--"

"If so--" said Nap gently.

She summoned her wavering self-control. "If so--I must go back to him at
once. I must indeed. You will manage it for me, will you not? Perhaps you
will take me yourself in the motor."

"No," said Nap. He spoke briefly, even sternly. He was bending down over
her, and she caught the gleam of the firelight in his eyes and thought
that they shone red. "I would do a good deal for you, Lady Carfax," he
said, "but I can't do that. You ask the impossible." He paused a moment
and she felt his grasp slowly tighten upon her hand. "You want to know
what passed, and perhaps it is better that you should know even if it
distresses you. I sent a messenger in the motor to Sir Giles last night
to tell him of your accident and to beg him to return here with him. He
came back alone with no definite reply. He did not, in fact, see Sir
Giles, though the message was delivered. I waited till noon today to see
if he would come, and then as there was no sign of him I went myself in
the motor to fetch him."

"Ah!" Anne's lips parted to utter the word. They were quivering
uncontrollably.

"I saw him," Nap went on very quietly. "I practically forced an entrance.
He was in his study alone. I fancy he was feeling sick, but I didn't stop
to inquire. I told him you were wanting him. I was quite kind to him--for
your sake." She fancied the grim lips smiled. "But I regret to say he
didn't appreciate my kindness, and I soon saw that he was in no state to
come to you even if he would. So--I left him and came away."

"Ah!" Again that faint exclamation that was like the half-uttered cry of
a woman's heart. "He wasn't--wasn't rude to you, I hope?"

Nap's teeth showed for an instant. He made no reply.

"Mr. Errol," she said beseechingly, "please tell me everything! He did
not--did not--"

"Kick me?" questioned Nap drily. "My dear lady, no man may kick Nap Errol
and live. So I did not give him the opportunity."

She uttered a quick sob and turned her head upon the pillow. The tears
were running down her face.

The hand that pressed her wrist began to rub it very gently. "That's
the worst of telling the truth," Nap said softly. "It is sure to
hurt someone."

"I am glad you told me," she whispered back, "though I don't know what to
say to you--how to atone--"

"I will tell you then," he answered swiftly. "Stay quietly here and be
as happy as you can till the doctor gives you leave to go back. You will
have to do it in any case, but--if you feel you owe me anything, which of
course you don't"--he smiled again, and his smile when free from cynicism
held a wonderful charm--"do it willingly--please do it willingly!"

She could not answer him in words, but her fingers closed upon his.
Instantly she felt his answering pressure. A moment later he laid her
hand down very gently and left her.

CHAPTER XI

THE STING OF A SCORPION

"Oh, dear, I wish it wasn't so muddy." Dot, emerging from old Squinny's
cottage, stood a moment on the edge of the large puddle that was old
Squinny's garden and gazed over the ploughed fields beyond towards the
sinking sun. It was the last day in January, and the winter dusk was
already creeping up in a curtain of damp mist that veiled everything it
touched. She knew it would be dark long before she got home, and the
prospect of sliding about in the muddy lanes did not attract her.

"You were an idiot not to bring a lantern," she told herself severely,
as she skirted the edge of the puddle. "You might have known--but you
never think!"

Here she reached the garden-gate and lifted it scientifically off its
hinges and then back again when she had passed through. Old Squinny's
gate had not opened in the ordinary way within the memory of man. It was
stoutly bound to the gate-post by several twists of rusty chain.

A stretch of waste land lay beyond the cottage garden; then came the
road and then the fields, brown and undulating in the ruddy western glow.
For a second or two Dot considered the homeward path that lay across the
fields. She had come by that earlier in the afternoon, and she knew
exactly what it had to offer besides the advantage of cutting half a mile
from a three-mile trudge. But her knowledge eventually decided her in
favour of the road.

"Besides," as she optimistically remarked to herself, "someone might pass
and give me a lift."

For Dot was not above being seen in a waggon or a tradesman's cart.
She accepted as she was prone to give, promiscuously and with
absolute freedom.

But it was no tradesman's cart that the gods had in store for her that
day. Rather was it a chariot of their own that presently swooped as if
upon wings swiftly and smoothly down upon the Sturdy wayfarer. Dot
herself was scarcely aware of its approach before it had passed and come
to a standstill barely half a dozen yards from her.

"Hullo!" cried a boyish voice. "This is luck! Jump in! I'll soon trundle
you home."

It was Bertie leaning out from the wheel on which his hands rested. In
the open seat behind him, propped by cushions, sat a man whom she knew
instantly though she had never met him before. He looked at her as she
came up to the car with blue eyes as frank and kind as Bertie's, though
not so merry. It was not difficult to see that they were brothers.

"My brother Lucas," said Bertie, "the one you wanted to know."

He smiled as he said it for the sheer malicious pleasure of seeing her
blush. And Dot's green-brown eyes shot him a glance of quick indignation.

But Lucas Errol stepped calmly into the breach. "This young brother of
mine has a way of turning things topsy-turvy," he said in his easy drawl.
"We just make allowances for him when we can, and kick him when we can't.
It is I who have wanted to know you, Miss Waring--it is Miss Waring, I
think?--for some time past. Won't you get in beside me and give me the
pleasure of making your acquaintance?"

He pulled off his glove and offered her his hand.

Dot instantly took it, but when he would have helped her in she drew
back. "I had better not, really. Look at my boots!"

"Jump in!" urged Bertie. "Who cares?"

He sprang suddenly down and seized her impulsively by the waist. In
another second he would have bundled her in without ceremony, but
quietly, with no change of countenance, his brother intervened.

"Bertie, behave yourself! Miss Waring, I beg you will do exactly as you
like, but please believe that the state of your boots doesn't matter a
cent. I should say the same with absolute honesty if I had to clean the
car myself."

"I am quite sure I shouldn't in your place," said Dot as she climbed
into the car.

Lucas smiled and fished out a spare rug. "Put it round your shoulders and
fold it well over. You will find it cold when we begin to move. Are your
feet quite warm? There is a foot-warmer here. Tuck her in well, Bertie.
That's the way."

"You will never get out again," laughed Bertie, as he shut the door upon
her. "Now, where are we going? To Baronmead?"

His merry eyes besought her for an instant; then, as she began to shake
her head, "Can't you persuade her, Luke?" he said.

"I think so," Lucas answered. "Drive on slowly while I try. You know
there is a friend of yours there, Miss Waring?"

"Lady Carfax?" said Dot quickly.

He bent his head. "I think she would like you to visit her. She has so
few friends."

"I would love to, of course," Dot said impetuously. "But--you know, I've
never visited her before, though I have often longed to. People don't
call at the Manor. Not even Dad goes there. And in any case, I am hardly
grown up enough to pay calls. Wouldn't she--are you sure she wouldn't
think it very presumptuous of me to go and see her?"

"That is the last thing I should expect from her," Lucas answered, with
quiet conviction.

"She is very proud," Dot began.

"She is very miserable," he said.

Dot's eyes softened. "Oh, poor Lady Carfax!" she said. "So you know
that, too!"

"I have seen her only twice," he said. "Yes, I know it."

Dot's eyes widened. "Only twice! Why, surely it must be three weeks
nearly since her accident."

"I believe it is. But it was serious, you know, and she has made a very
slow recovery. The doctor has only just allowed her to be removed to
another room."

"Poor Lady Carfax!" Dot said again. "Yes, I'll come. I know Dad
wouldn't mind!"

So Bertie had his desire and turned the motor with a light heart towards
Baronmead. He sang as he drove, sang at the top of his voice; for he was
in a happy mood that evening.

And Dot was happy too, though a little nervous. She had often longed to
go to Baronmead, and she was already thoroughly at her ease with the
master thereof, who sat and conversed beside her in that rather
monotonous, tired drawl of his. It was only the thought of Anne that made
her nervous. Warmly as she admired her, she was ever so slightly afraid
of the stately lady of the Manor, who made friends with so few and for
all her queenly graciousness kept those she had at so discreet a
distance. Of course everyone knew why. The reason was plain to all who
had eyes to see. But that fact did not help any to overstep the barrier,
nor did it keep the majority from being affronted. Dot was not of the
latter, but she was ever shy in Anne's presence, though it was more the
fear of hurting than of being hurt that made her so.

She enjoyed the brisk run to Baronmead with all her healthy soul. As they
sped up the long drive they were joined by a galloping horseman, who
shouted to Bertie to put on speed and flogged his animal furiously when
the car drew ahead. He looked like a demon to Dot in the half-light--a
black imp mounted on a black mare riding to perdition. She was glad to
leave him behind.

But as they drew up before the great house that loomed gaunt and eerie in
the gathering darkness the galloping hoofs drew near again, and before
they were out of the car Nap was beside them.

He flung himself out of the saddle, with a curt, "Here, Bertie! Take the
brute for me. Mind her teeth! She's in a vile temper."

"What a beast you are!" was Bertie's comment, as he went to the
panting animal.

The valet, Hudson, was waiting to help his master out of the car, but Nap
pushed him imperiously aside. His quick, lithe movements fascinated Dot.
She stood and watched him as he dexterously assisted the heavy, misshapen
figure of his brother to alight. He was wonderfully strong for so slight
a man. He seemed compacted of muscle and energy, welded together with a
certain fiery grace that made him in some fashion remarkable. He was
utterly different from any other man she had ever seen.

"Will you go first, Miss Waring?" It was Lucas Errol's voice. He leaned
on his brother's shoulder, waiting for her.

Nap glanced round at her. She saw his ironical smile for an instant.
"Miss Waring prefers to wait for Bertie, perhaps," he remarked.

The words stung her, she scarcely knew why, and what had been a
half-reluctant prejudice before turned to sudden hot antagonism in Dot's
heart. She hated Nap Errol from that moment.

But Lucas laid a quiet hand on her arm, and her resentment died.

"I think Miss Waring was waiting for me," he said. "Will you let me lean
on you, Miss Waring? Steps are always a difficulty to me."

"Of course," she said eagerly. "Do lean hard!"

It occurred to her afterwards that the valet's assistance would have been
more effectual than hers, and at the top of the steps she glanced back at
him. He was immediately behind them, laden with some things he had taken
from the car. His eyes, as he ascended, were fixed upon Nap, and a
curious little thrill of sympathy ran through Dot as she realised that
she was not the only person who hated him.

As they passed into the great entrance-hall Bertie came springing up
behind them. "I say, can't we have tea here before you go up to see Lady
Carfax? It's the cosiest place in the whole house."

A huge fire burned on an open hearth, about which a deep lounge and
several easy-chairs were arrayed.

"That will be O.K.," said Lucas. "Fix me up on the settee, Nap."

"You had better go and rest in your room," said Nap. "Bertie and Miss
Waring are accustomed to entertaining each other."

Again Dot felt the sting--this time a tangible one--in his words. He was
evidently in a stinging mood.

She drew back quickly. "I would rather go straight up to Lady Carfax
if I may."

"Oh, I say, don't!" thrust in Bertie with a quick frown. "Lucas, you'll
stay, won't you, and have tea with us here?"

"That is my intention," said Lucas, "if Miss Waring will give us the
pleasure of her company."

And Dot, though she longed to escape, went forward with him into the glow
of the firelight.

She hoped earnestly that Nap would depart, but for some reason Nap was
minded to remain. He settled his brother on the cushions and then flung
himself into a chair on the other side of the fire. Dot was aware without
looking at him that he had her under observation; she felt the scrutiny
she could not see, and knew it was malevolent.

Bertie evidently knew it too, for he was scowling savagely in a fashion
quite unfamiliar to her. He placed a chair for her close to Lucas.

"I guess we must ask you to do the honours, Miss Waring," the latter
said. "My mother must be with Lady Carfax."

"Here's an opportunity for Miss Waring to display her charms!" gibed Nap.
"But doubtless Bertie has been initiated in the arts and wiles of
tea-making long before this. It's a bewitching performance, eh, Bertie?"

Bertie growled something unintelligible and turned his back.

"Give him plenty of sugar, Miss Waring," recommended Nap. "He's
remarkably guileless. With a little patience and subtlety on your part
he'll soon come and feed out of your hand. After that, a little feminine
persuasion is all that is required to entice the pretty bird into the
cage. He's quite a fine specimen; such a lot of gold about him, too! It
would be a pity to let him escape. There are not many of his sort, I
assure you."

The drawling insolence of the words made Dot quiver all over. She knew by
Bertie's rigidity of pose that he was furious too, but she did not dare
to look at him. She tried to attend to some remark that Lucas made to
her, but she only answered at random. She could not take in what he said.

Perhaps he saw her perturbation, for after a moment he turned from her to
Nap and very deliberately engaged him in conversation, while Bertie,
very pale but quite collected, sat down by her and began to talk also.

She did her best to second his efforts, but with Nap's eyes openly
mocking her from the other side of the hearth, she found it impossible to
divert her thoughts.

So they thought that of her, did they? They thought--that! She felt as if
she had been publicly weighed in the balances and found wanting. She told
herself passionately that she would never, as long as she lived, speak to
Nap Errol again. Everyone said he was a bounder, and everyone was right.

CHAPTER XII

BROTHERS

"Come right in!" said Mrs. Errol. "Anne, my dear, here is little Miss
Waring come to see you. I'm real pleased to meet you, child. I've watched
you in church many a time when I ought to have been saying my prayers,
and so has someone else I know."

Dot's cheeks were scarlet as she came forward to Anne's couch. She was
still telling herself with fierce emphasis that never, never again would
she voluntarily venture herself within the walls of Baronmead.

But when Anne stretched out a hand to her and smiled, all her
perturbation vanished at a breath. She went impulsively forward and knelt
down by her side. For some reason she did not feel her customary awe of
the lady of the Manor. This sad-faced woman with the deeply shadowed eyes
aroused within her something that was stronger, something that carried
her completely out of herself.

"Oh, are you better?" she said. "I have been so sorry about you."

"It was good of you to come up to see me," Anne said gently. "Yes, Dot,
I am better. I am allowed to walk again, and I am going home to-morrow."

"Not if I know it," said Mrs. Errol stoutly. "Or if you do, I go too, to
take care of you."

Anne smiled at her without replying. "Sit down, Dot," she said, "and tell
me all the news. I know you hear everything."

"But nothing has happened," said Dot. "Everybody is squabbling as usual
about the Town Hall, why we want one, why there isn't one, and when we
are going to have one. Really, there's nothing else."

"My dear," said Mrs. Errol, "everybody wants a sound spanking, and I
should like to administer it. Every township ought to have a public
building, and there's my son Lucas wanting nothing so much as to build
one and they won't let him."

"I am afraid my husband is the main obstacle," said Anne.

"Then I guess we won't discuss it," said Mrs. Errol firmly. "Who's that
scratching at the door?"

It was Bertie, as Anne knew on the instant by Dot's face. "Do ask him to
come in," she said kindly.

Bertie came in as one not wholly sure of his welcome, and took up a
position in the background. And there during the remainder of Dot's
visit he stayed, scarcely speaking, and so sternly preoccupied that
Dot's embarrassment returned upon her overwhelmingly, and she very soon
rose to go.

He stepped forward then and followed her out. "I am going to motor you
home," he said, as he escorted her down the stairs.

Dot nearly stopped short in consternation. "Oh, no, really! I'm going
home alone. It's no distance, and I know my way perfectly."

"I'm coming with you," he said doggedly.

But the memory of those eyes that had mocked her across the hall still
burned in the girl's heart. She faced him resolutely;

"You are not to, Bertie. I don't wish it."

"I can't help it," said Bertie. "I am coming."

At this point they arrived in the hall, and here she found Lucas Errol
waiting to say good-bye to her.

She turned to him with desperate appeal. "Mr. Errol, please don't let
Bertie see me home. I--I would so much rather go alone."

She was almost crying as she said it, and Lucas looked at Bertie with
most unaccustomed sharpness.

"It's all right," the boy made answer. "We haven't quarrelled yet."

The last word sounded ominous, and with her hand in Lucas's quiet grasp,
Dot shivered.

"But I'm sure we are going to," she said. "And I do so hate quarrelling.
Do, please, let me run home alone. I'm not a bit afraid."

Lucas began to smile. "I think it's rather hard on Bertie," he said.
"However--"

"I must go, Lucas," Bertie said quickly. "You don't understand. There is
something I want to explain."

But Lucas leaned a hand upon his shoulder. "Let it keep, dear fellow.
There is always tomorrow!"

"No, never, never, never!" whispered Dot to her turbulent heart.

Yet when a moment later Bertie came forward, and silently, without
looking at her, held open the door, a wild regret surged fiercely
through her, and for that second she almost wished that she had let him
go with her.

And then again there came to her that hateful whisper--that taunting,
intolerable sneer; and she fled without a backward glance.

Bertie closed the great door very quietly, and turned back into the hall.

"Where is Nap?"

"Come here, Bertie," Lucas said.

He went unwillingly. "Where is Nap?" he said again.

Lucas, supporting himself on one side with a crutch, stood by the fire
and waited for him.

As Bertie drew near he took him gently by the shoulder. "May I know what
you were going to say to Miss Waring just now?" he asked.

Bertie threw back his head. "I was going to ask her to overlook that
cad's vile insinuations--and marry me."

"And that was the very thing she didn't want you to do," Lucas said.

"I can't help it." There was a stubborn note in Bertie's voice. "She
shan't think I'm a blackguard like Nap."

"We will leave Nap out of it," Lucas said quietly.

"Why?" demanded Bertie hotly. "He was responsible. He insulted a guest
under your roof. Are you going to put up with that? Because I'm not!"

"My dear fellow, it is I, not you, who must deal with that."

Bertie stamped furiously. "That's all very well, but--dash it, Lucas,
you're always holding me back. And I can't knock under to you in this.
I'm sorry, but I can't. I'm going to have it out with Nap. Whatever you
may say, it is more my business than yours."

He would have flung round with the words, but his brother's hand was
still upon him, restraining him.

He paused, chafing. "You must let me go. I shall hurt you if you don't."

"You will hurt me if I do, boy," Lucas made grave reply.

"I know, and I'm sorry. But I can't help it. There are times when a
man--if he is a man--must act for himself. And I--" he broke off, still
chafing, his hand seeking without violence to free him from that hold
which could not have been so very powerful, though it resisted his
efforts. "Luke," he said suddenly, and the anger was gone from his voice,
"let me go, old chap. You must let me go. It isn't right--it isn't just
to--to take advantage of being--what you are."

The quick falter in the words deprived them of any sting, yet on the
instant Lucas's hand fell, setting him free.

"All right, Bertie! Go!" he said.

And Bertie went--three steps, and halted. Lucas remained motionless
before the fire. He was not so much as looking at him.

Several seconds passed in silence. Then impulsively Bertie turned. His
lips were quivering. He went straight back to the quiet figure on the
hearth, lifted the free arm, and drew it boyishly round his neck.

"Old chap, forgive me!" he said.

"For what you haven't done?" Lucas asked, with a very kindly smile.

"For being an unconscionable brute!" Bertie said, with feeling. "I didn't
mean, it, old man. I didn't mean it!"

"Oh, shucks, dear fellow! Don't be such a silly ass! It's demoralising
for all concerned." Lucas Errol's hand pressed his shoulder
admonishingly. "She's a nice little girl, Bertie. I've taken a kind of
fancy to her myself."

Bertie looked up quickly. "Luke, you're a brick!"

Lucas shook his head. "But you mustn't ask her yet, lad. She's not ready
for it. I'm not sure that you are ready for it yourself."

Bertie's face fell. "Why not? I'm in dead earnest. I want to marry her,
just as soon as she will have me."

"Quite so," drawled Nap, from the depths of the lounge behind him. "And
she, I doubt not, wants to marry you--even sooner, if possible."

He had come up in his noiseless fashion unobserved. Attired in evening
dress, slim, sleek, well-groomed, he lay at full length and gazed up at
the two brothers, a malicious glitter in his eyes. He held an unlighted
cigarette between his fingers.

"Pray don't let me interrupt, Lucas," he said airily, ignoring Bertie's
sharp exclamation, which was not of a pacific nature. "I always enjoy
seeing you trying to teach the pride of the Errols not to make a fool of
himself. It's a gigantic undertaking, isn't it? Let me know if you
require any assistance."

He placed the cigarette between his lips and felt for some matches.

"I am going to turn my attention to you now," Lucas rejoined in his tired
voice. "Bertie, old chap, go and dress, will you? You can come to my room
afterwards."

"Bring me one of those spills first," said Nap.

Bertie stood rigid. He was white to the lips with the effort to control
himself. Nap, outstretched, supple as a tiger, lay and watched him
unwaveringly.

"Go, Bertie!" Lucas said very quietly.

He took a spill himself from the mantelpiece, and tried to hold it to the
blaze. But he stooped with difficulty, and sharply Bertie reached forward
and took it from him.

"I will," he said briefly, and lighting the spill, carried it to Nap, at
ease on the sofa.

With a faint smile Nap awaited him. He did not offer to take the burning
spill, and Bertie held it in sullen silence to the end of his cigarette.
His hand was not very steady, and after a moment Nap took his wrist.

The cigarette glowed, and Nap looked up. "It's a pity you're too big to
thrash, Bertie," he said coolly, and with a sudden movement doubled the
flaming paper back upon the fingers that held it.

Bertie's yell was more of rage than pain. He struck furiously at his
tormentor with his free hand, but Nap, by some trick of marvellous
agility, evaded the blow. He leapt over the back of the settee with a
laugh of devilish derision.

And, "Bertie, go!" said Lucas peremptorily.

Without a word Bertie checked himself as it were in mid career, stood a
second as one gathering his strength, then turned in utter silence and
marched away.

CHAPTER XIII

THE JESTER'S INFERNO

Between the two men who were left not a word passed for many minutes. Nap
prowled to and fro with his head back and his own peculiarly insolent
smile curving the corners of his mouth. There was a ruddy glare in his
eyes, but they held no anger.

Lucas, still leaning on his crutch, stood with his back turned, his face
to the fire. There was no anger about him either. He looked spent.

Abruptly Nap ceased his pacing and came up to him. "Come!" he said. "You
have had enough of this. I will help you to your room."

Slowly Lucas lifted his heavy eyes. "Send Hudson to me," he said.

Nap looked at him sharply. Then, "Lean on me," he said. "I'll help you."

"No. Send Hudson." The words ended upon a stifled groan.

Nap turned swiftly and dragged forward the settee. "Lie down here for a
minute, while I fetch him. Don't faint, man! You will be easier
directly. You have been on your feet too long. There! Is that better?"

Lucas drew a long, shuddering breath and slowly suffered his limbs to
relax. His face was ghastly though he forced himself to smile.

"Yes, I am better. Don't call Hudson for a minute. Nap!"

Nap bent.

"Put your hand under my shoulders. Ah! That's a help. I always like your
touch. Say, Boney," the words came gaspingly, the sunken eyes were heavy
with pain, "you'll think me a mean brute. I am, dear fellow, I am; a
coward, too, from the same point of view. But--ill or well, I've got to
say it. You've been running amok to-day, and it's been altogether too
lively to be just pleasant. You've got to pull up. I say it."

Nap's smile had utterly departed. It was some other impulse that twitched
his lips as he made reply.

"Whatever you say is law."

"Thanks! I'm duly grateful. Do you mind wiping my forehead? I'm too lazy
to move. Boney, old chap, he's a well-behaved youngster on the whole.
What do you want to bait him for?"

"Because I'm a jealous devil," Nap said through his teeth.

"Oh, rats, dear fellow! We are not talking in parables. You're a bit of a
savage, I know, but--"

"More than that," threw in Nap.

"No--no! You can hold yourself in if you try. And why jealous, anyway?
We're all brothers. Say, Boney, I'm going to hurt you infernally. You hit
the youngster below the belt. It was foul play."

"What can you expect?" muttered Nap.

"I expect--better things. If you must be a beast, be a clean beast. If
you must hit out now and then, give him a chance to hit back. It's kind
of shabby--the game you played today."

"Are you going to make me apologise?" asked Nap grimly.

"Shucks, no; He would think you were laughing at him. Clap him on the
back and tell him not to be a fool. He'll understand that."

"And wish him luck with the parson's daughter?" said Nap, with a sneer.

"Why not, old chap?"

"You really mean to let him marry the first girl who runs after
his dollars?"

"It isn't the dollars," said the millionaire gently. "And she isn't
running after him either. She's running away."

"Same thing sometimes," said Nap.

"Oh, don't be cynical, Boney! It's so damned cheap! There! I've done
swearing at you for the present. It's wonderful how you fellows bear with
me. Find Hudson, will you? And then go and tell Lady Carfax that I am
afraid I can't visit her this evening as I had hoped."

"Do you know she talks of leaving tomorrow?" said Nap.

"Yes, I know. Guess she is quite right to go."

"She's not fit for it," said Nap, in a fierce undertone. "It's madness. I
told her so. But she wouldn't listen."

"She is the best judge," his brother said. "Anyway, she is in an
intolerable position. We can't press her to prolong it. Besides--whatever
he is--her husband has first right."

"Think so?" said Nap.

"It is so," Lucas asserted quietly, "whether you admit it or not."

Nap did not dispute the point, but his jaw looked exceedingly
uncompromising as he departed to find the valet.

When a little later he asked for admission to Anne's presence, however,
his bitter mood seemed to have modified. He entered with the air of one
well assured of his welcome.

"Are you in a mood for chess tonight?" he asked.

"Now, you're not to plague her, Nap," put in Mrs. Errol. "She isn't going
to spend her last evening amusing you."

"Oh, please," protested Anne. "It is your son who has had all the
amusing to do."

Nap smiled. "There's for you, alma mater!" he remarked as he sat down.

"Lady Carfax is much too forbearing to say anything else," retorted
Mrs. Errol.

"Lady Carfax always tells the truth," said Nap, beginning to set the
chess-board, "which is the exact reason why all her swains adore her."

"Well," said Mrs. Errol very deliberately, though without venom, "I guess
that's about the last quality I should expect you to appreciate."

"Strange to say, it is actually the first just now," said Nap. "Are you
going, alma mater? Don't let me drive you away!"

He rose, nevertheless, to open the door for her; and Mrs. Errol went,
somewhat with the air of one complying with an unspoken desire.

Nap came softly back and resumed his task. "P'r'aps you will be good
enough to refrain from referring to me again as the august lady's son,"
he said. "She doesn't like it."

"Why not?" said Anne in astonishment.

He glanced up at her as if contemplating something. Then, "You see, the
benign mother is not over and above proud of me," he drawled. "If it were
Bertie now--well, I guess even you will admit that Bertie is the flower
of the flock."

His manner mystified her, but it was not her way to seek to probe
mysteries. She smiled as she said, "I have yet to discover that you are
so very despicable."

"You have yet to discover--many things," said Nap enigmatically. "Will
you be pleased to make the first move?"

She did so silently. They had played together several times before. He
had formed a habit of visiting her every evening, and though her skill
at the game was far from great, it had been a welcome diversion from the
constant anxiety that pressed so heavily upon her. Nap was an expert
player, yet he seemed to enjoy the poor game which was all she had to
offer. Perhaps he liked to feel her at his mercy. She strongly suspected
that he often deliberately prolonged the contest though he seldom allowed
her to beat him.

To-night, however, he seemed to be in a restless mood, and she soon saw
that he was bent upon a swift victory. He made his moves with a quick
dexterity that baffled her completely, and but a very few minutes elapsed
before he uttered his customary warning.

"You would do well to beware."

"Which means that I am beaten, I suppose," she said, with a smile of
resignation.

"You can save yourself if you like," he said, with his eyes on the board,
"if you consider it worth while."

"I don't think I do," she answered. "The end will be the same."

His eyes flashed up at her. "You surrender unconditionally?"

She continued to smile despite the sadness of her face. "Absolutely. I am
so accustomed to defeat that I am getting callous."

"You seem to have great confidence in my chivalry," he said, looking
full at her.

"I have--every confidence, Mr. Errol," she answered gravely. "I think
that you and your brother are the most chivalrous men I know."

His laugh had a ring of harshness. "Believe me, I am not accustomed to
being ranked with the saints," he said. "How shall I get away from your
halo? I warn you, it's a most awful misfit. You'll find it out presently,
and make me suffer for your mistake."

"You haven't a very high opinion of my sense of justice," Anne said, with
just a tinge of reproach in her gentle voice.

"No," he said recklessly. "None whatever. You are sure to forget who
fashioned the halo. Women always do."

Anne was silent.

He leaned suddenly towards her, careless of the chessmen that rolled in
all directions. "I haven't been living up to the halo to-day," he said,
and there was that in his voice that touched her to quick pity. "I've
been snapping and biting like a wild beast all day long. I've been in
hell myself, and I've made it hell wherever I went."

"Oh, but why?" Half involuntarily she held out her hand to him as one who
would assist a friend in deep waters.

He took it, held it closely, bowed his forehead upon it, and so sat
tensely silent.

"Something is wrong. I wish I could help you," she said at last.

He lifted his head, met her eyes of grave compassion, and abruptly
set her free.

"You have done what you could for me," he said. "You've made me hate my
inferno. But you can't pull me out. You have"--she saw his teeth for a
second though scarcely in a smile--"other fish to fry."

"Whatever I am doing, I shall not forget my friends, Nap," she said, with
great earnestness.

"No," he returned, "you won't forget them. I shouldn't wonder if you
prayed for them even. I am sure you are one of the faithful." There was
more of suppressed misery than irony in his voice. "But is that likely to
help when you don't so much as know what to pray for?"

He got up and moved away from her with that noiseless footfall that was
so like the stealthy padding of a beast.

Anne lay and silently watched him. Her uncertainty regarding him had long
since passed away. Though she was far from understanding him, he had
become an intimate friend, and she treated him as such. True, he was
unlike any other man she had ever met, but that fact had ceased to
embarrass her. She accepted him as he was.

He came back at length and sat down, smiling at her, though
somewhat grimly.

"You will pardon your poor jester," he said, "if he fails to make a joke
on your last night. He could make jokes--plenty of them, but not of the
sort that would please you."

Anne said nothing. She would not, if she could help it, betray to any
how much she was dreading the morrow. But she felt that he knew it in
spite of her.

His next words revealed the fact. "You are going to purgatory," he
said, "and I am going to perdition. Do you know, I sometimes wonder if
we shouldn't do better to turn and fly in the face of the gods when
they drive us too hard? Why do we give in when we've nothing to gain
and all to lose?"

She met his look with her steadfast eyes. "Does duty count as
nothing?" she said.

He made an impatient movement, and would have spoken, but she
stopped him.

"Please don't rail at duty. I know your creed is pleasure, but the
pursuit of pleasure does not, after all, bring happiness."

"Who wants pleasure?" demanded Nap fiercely. "That's only the anesthetic
when things get unbearable. You use duty in the same way. But what we
both want, what we both hanker for, starve for, is just life! Who cares
if there is pain with it? I don't, nor do you. And yet we keep on
stunting and stultifying ourselves with these old-fashioned remedies for
a disease we only half understand, when we might have all the world and
then some. Oh, we're fools--we're fools!" His voice rang wildly
passionate. He flung out his arms as if he wrestled with something.
"We've been cheated for centuries of our birthright, and we still put up
with it, still bring our human sacrifices to an empty shrine!"

And there he broke off short, checked suddenly at the height of his
outburst though she had made no second effort to stop him.

Her quiet eyes had not flinched from his. She had made no sign of
shrinking. With the utmost patience she had listened to him. Yet by some
means intangible the fiery stream of his rebellion was stayed.

There fell a brief silence. Then he rose. "I am afraid I am not fit for
civilised society to-night," he said. "I will say good-bye." He held her
hand for a moment. "You will let me see you sometimes?"

"I hope to come now and then to Baronmead," she answered quietly. "But
you will not--please--come to the Manor again."

He looked down at her with eyes that had become inscrutable. "I shall not
come against your will," he said.

"Thank you," she answered simply.

And so he left her.

CHAPTER XIV

A BIG THING

As the widowed rector's only daughter, Dot's occupations were many and
various, and it was in consequence no difficult matter to be too deeply
engrossed in these occupations to have any time to spare for intercourse
with the rector's pupil.

Her brother had gone back to college, and there was therefore no excuse
for the said pupil to linger when his studies were over, though he
invented many that would not have borne a very close investigation.

But his ingenuity was all to no purpose. Dot could be ingenious too, and
she evaded him so adroitly that at the end of a week he had abandoned
his efforts.

He went about with a certain sternness in those days, but it was not the
sternness of the vanquished, rather the dogged patience of the man who is
quite sure of ultimate success. Dot, peeping from the kitchen window to
see him ride away, marked this on more than one occasion and
strengthened her defences in consequence. She had not the remotest
intention of seeing Bertie alone again for many a month, if ever. His
persistence had scared her badly on that night at Baronmead. She was
horribly afraid of what he might feel impelled to say to her, almost
terrified at the bare notion of an explanation, and the prospect of a
possible apology was unthinkable. It was easier for her to sacrifice his
good comradeship, though that of itself was no easy matter, and she could
only thrust her sense of loss into the background of her thoughts by the
most strenuous efforts.

She was sturdily determined to make him relinquish their former pleasant
intimacy before they should meet again. She was growing up, she told
herself severely, growing up fast; and intimacies of that sort were
likely to be misconstrued.

She took the counsel of none upon this difficult matter. Her father was
too vague a dreamer to guide her, or so much as to realise that she stood
in need of guidance. And Dot had gone her own independent way all her
life. Her healthy young mind was not accustomed to grapple with problems,
but she did not despair on that account. She only resolutely set herself
to cope with this one as best she might, erecting out of her multifarious
duties a barrier calculated to dishearten the most hopeful knight.

But in thus constructing her defences there was one force with which she
omitted to reckon and against which she in consequence made no
preparation, a force which, nevertheless, was capable of shattering all
her carefully-laid schemes at a touch.

As she emerged among the last of the congregation from the church on the
Sunday morning following her visit to Baronmead, she found Lucas Errol
leaning upon the open lych-gate.

He greeted her with that shrewd, kindly smile of his before which it was
almost impossible to feel embarrassed or constrained. Yet she blushed
vividly at meeting him, and would gladly have turned the other way had
the opportunity offered. For there in the road below, doing something to
the motor, was Bertie.

"It's a real pleasure to meet you again, Miss Waring," said Lucas, in his
pleasant drawl. "I was just hoping you would come along. I met your
father before the service, and he promised to show me his orchids."

"Oh!" said Dot, nervously avoiding a second glance in Bertie's direction.
"Won't you come across to the Rectory then and wait for him there?"

"May I?" said Lucas.

He straightened himself with an effort and transferred his weight to his
crutch. Dot shyly proffered her arm.

"Let me!" said Bertie.

He was already on the steps, but Lucas waved him down, and accepted the
girl's help instead.

"We will go in the garden way," said Dot. "It's only just across
the road."

He halted terribly in the descent, and glancing at him in some anxiety
she saw that his lips were tightly closed. Overwhelming pity for the man
overcame her awkwardness, and she spoke sharply over her shoulder.

"Bertie, come and take my place! You know what to do better than I do."

In an instant Bertie was beside her, had slipped his arm under his
brother's shoulder, and taken his weight almost entirely off the crutch.
His active young strength bore the great burden unfalteringly and with
immense tenderness, and there ran through Dot, watching from above, a
queer little indefinable thrill that made her heart beat suddenly faster.
He certainly was a nice boy, as he himself had declared.

"That didn't hurt so badly, eh, old chap?" asked the cheery voice. "Come
along, Dot. You can give him a hand now while I fetch the car round.
There are no steps to the Rectory, so he will be all right."

His airy friendliness banished the last of Dot's confusion. With a keen
sense of relief she obeyed him. Those few seconds of a common solicitude
had bridged the gulf at least temporarily.

"This is real good of you," Lucas Errol said, as he took her arm again.
"And it's a luxury I ought not to indulge in, for I can walk alone on
the flat."

"Oh, it is horrid for you!" she said with vehemence. "How ever do
you bear it?"

"We can all of us bear what we must," he said, smiling whimsically.

"But we don't all of us do it well," said Dot, as she opened the
Rectory gate.

"I guess that's a good deal a matter of temperament," said the
American. "A fellow like Nap, for instance, all hustle and quicksilver,
might be expected to kick now and then. One makes allowances for a
fellow like that."

"I believe you make allowances for everyone," said Dot, impetuously.

"Don't you?" he asked.

"No, I am afraid I don't."

There was a pause. The garden door was closed behind them. They
stood alone.

Lucas Errol's eyes travelled over the stretch of lawn that lay between
them and the house, dwelt for a few thoughtful seconds upon nothing in
particular, and finally sought those of the girl at his side.

"One must be fair, Miss Waring," he said gently. "I can't imagine you
being deliberately unfair to anyone."

She flushed again. There was something in his manner that she could not
quite fathom, but it was something that she could not possibly resent.

"Not deliberately--of course," she said after a moment, as he waited for
an answer.

"Of course not," he agreed, in his courteous, rather tired voice. "If,
for instance, you were out with a friend and met a scorpion in a rage who
stung you both, you'd want to take it out of the scorpion, wouldn't you,
not the friend?"

She hesitated, seeing in a flash the trend of the conversation, and
unwilling to commit herself too deeply.

He read her reluctance at a glance. "Please don't be afraid of me," he
said, with that most winning smile of his. "I promise you on my honour
that whatever you say shall not be used against you."

She smiled involuntarily. "I am not afraid of you, only--"

"Only--" he said.

"I think there are a good many scorpions about," she told him rather
piteously. "I could name several, all venomous."

"I understand," said Lucas Errol. He passed his hand within her arm again
and pressed it gently. "And so you are flinging away all your valuables
to escape them?" he questioned. "Forgive me--is that wise?"

She did not answer.

He began to make his difficult progress towards the house.

Suddenly, without looking at her he spoke again. "I believe you're a
woman of sense, Miss Waring, and you know as well as I do that there is a
price to pay for everything. And the biggest things command the highest
prices. If we haven't the means to pay for a big thing when it is
offered us, we must just let it go. But if we have--well, I guess we'd be
wise to sell out all the little things and secure it. Those same little
things are so almighty small in comparison."

He ceased, but still Dot was silent. It was not the silence of
embarrassment, however. He had spoken too kindly for that.

He did not look at her till they were close to the house, then for a few
moments she was aware of his steady eyes searching for the answer she
had withheld.

"Say, Miss Waring," he said, "you are not vexed any?"

She turned towards him instantly, her round face full of the most earnest
friendliness. "I--I think you're a brick, Mr. Errol," she said.

He shook his head. "Nothing so useful, I am afraid, but I'm grateful to
you all the same for thinking so. Ah! Here comes your father."

The rector was hastening after them across the grass. He joined them on
the path before the house and urged his visitor to come in and rest. The
orchids were in the conservatory. He believed he had one very rare
specimen. If Mr. Errol would sit down in the drawing-room he would bring
it for his inspection.

And so it came to pass that when Bertie entered he found his brother deep
in a botanical discussion with the enthusiastic rector while Dot had
disappeared. Bertie only paused to ascertain this fact before he turned
round and went in quest of her.

He knew his way about the lower regions of the Rectory, and he began a
systematic search forthwith. She was not, however, to be very readily
found. He glanced into all the downstairs rooms without success. He was,
in fact, on the point of regretfully abandoning his efforts on the
supposition that she had retreated to her own room when her voice rang
suddenly down the back stairs. She was calling agitatedly for help.

It was enough for Bertie. He tore up the stairs with lightning speed,
boldly announcing his advent as he went.

He found her at the top of the house in an old cupboard used for storing
fruit. She was mounted upon a crazy pair of steps that gave signs of
imminent collapse, and to save herself from the catastrophe that this
would involve she was clinging to the highest shelf with both hands.

"Be quick!" she cried to him. "Be quick! I'm slipping every second!"

The words were hardly uttered before the steps gave a sudden loud crack
and fell from beneath her with a crash. But in the same instant Bertie
sprang in and caught her firmly round the knees. He proceeded with much
presence of mind to seat her on his shoulder.

"That's all right. I've got you," he said cheerily. "None the worse, eh?
What are you trying to do? May as well finish before you come down."

Dot seemed for a moment inclined to resent the support thus jauntily
given, but against her will her sense of humour prevailed.

She uttered a muffled laugh. "I'm getting apples for dessert."

"All in your Sunday clothes!" commented Bertie. "That comes of
procrastination--the fatal British defect."

"I hate people who hustle," remarked Dot, hoping that her hot cheeks were
not visible at that altitude.

"Meaning me?" said Bertie, settling himself for an argument.

"Oh, I suppose you can't help it," said Dot, filling her basket with
feverish speed. "You Americans are all much too greedy to wait for
anything. Am I very heavy?"

"Not in the least," said Bertie. "I like being sat on now and then. I
admit the charge of greed but not of impatience. You misjudge me there."

At this point a large apple dropped suddenly upon his upturned face
and, having struck him smartly between the eyes, fell with a thud to
the ground.

Bertie said "Damn!" but luckily for Dot he did not budge an inch.

"I beg your pardon," he added a moment later.

"What for?" said Dot.

"For swearing," he replied. "I forgot you didn't like it."

"Oh!" said Dot; and after a pause, "Then I beg yours."

"Did you do it on purpose?" he asked curiously.

"I want to get down, please," said Dot.

He lowered her from his shoulder to his arms with perfect ease, set her
on the ground, and held her fast.

"Dot," he said, his voice sunk almost to a whisper, "if you're going to
be violent, I guess I shall be violent too."

"Let me go!" said Dot.

But still he held her. "Dot," he said again. "I won't hustle you any. I
swear I won't hustle you. But--my dear, you'll marry me some day.
Isn't that so?"

Dot was silent. She was straining against his arms, and yet he held her,
not fiercely, not passionately, but with a mastery the greater for its
very coolness.

"I'll wait for you," he said. "I'll wait three years. I shall be
twenty-five then, and you'll be twenty-one. But you'll marry me then,
Dot. You'll have to marry me then."

"Have to!" flashed Dot.

"Yes, have to," he repeated coolly. "You are mine."

"I'm not, Bertie!" she declared indignantly. "How--how dare you hold me
against my will? And you're upsetting the apples too. Bertie,
you--you're a horrid cad!"

"Yes, I know," said Bertie, an odd note of soothing in his voice. "That's
what you English people always do when you're beaten. You hurl insults,
and go on fighting. But it's nothing but a waste of energy, and only
makes the whipping the more thorough."

"You hateful American!" gasped Dot. "As if--as if--we could be beaten!"

She had struggled vainly for some seconds and was breathless. She turned
suddenly in his arms and placed her hands against his shoulders, forcing
him from her. Bertie instantly changed his position, seized her wrists,
drew them outward, drew them upward, drew them behind his neck.

"And yet you love me," he said. "You love yourself better, but--you
love me."

His face was bent to hers, he looked closely into her eyes. And--perhaps
it was something in his look that moved her--perhaps it was only the
realisation of her own utter impotence--Dot suddenly hid her face upon
his shoulder and began to cry.

His arms were about her in an instant. He held her against his heart.

"My dear, my dear, have I been a brute to you? I only wanted to make you
understand. Say, Dot, don't cry, dear, don't cry!"

"I--I'm not!" sobbed Dot.

"Of course not," he agreed. "Anyone can see that. But
still--darling--don't!"

Dot recovered herself with surprising rapidity. "Bertie, you--you're a
great big donkey!" She confronted him with wet, accusing eyes. "What you
said just now wasn't true, and if--if you're a gentleman you'll
apologise."

"I'll let you kick me all the way downstairs if you like," said
Bertie contritely. "I didn't mean to hurt you, honest. I didn't mean
to make you--"

"You didn't!" broke in Dot. "But you didn't tell the truth. That's why
I'm angry with you. You--told--a lie."

"I?" said Bertie.

He had taken his arms quite away from her now. He seemed in fact a little
afraid of touching her. But Dot showed no disposition to beat a retreat.
They faced each other in the old apple cupboard, as if it were the most
appropriate place in the world for a conflict.

"Yes, you!" said Dot.

"What did I say?" asked Bertie, hastily casting back his thoughts.

She looked at him with eyes that seemed to grow more contemptuously
bright every instant. "You said," she spoke with immense deliberation,
"that I loved myself best."

"Well?" said Bertie.

"Well," she said, and took up her basket as one on the point of
departure, "it wasn't true. There!"

"Dot!" His hand was on the basket too. He stopped her without touching
her. "Dot!" he said again.

Dot's eyes began to soften, a dimple showed suddenly near the corner of
her mouth. "You shouldn't tell lies, Bertie," she said.

And that was the last remark she made for several seconds, unless the
smothered protests that rose against Bertie's lips could be described as
such. They were certainly not emphatic enough to make any impression, and
Bertie treated them with the indifference they deserved.

Driving home, he managed to steer with one hand while he thrust the other
upon his brother's knee.

"Luke, old chap, I've gone dead against your wishes," he jerked out.
"And--for the first time in my life--I'm not sorry. She'll have me."

"I thought she would," said Lucas. He grasped the boy's hand closely.
"There are times when a man--if he is a man--must act for himself,
eh, Bertie?"

Bertie laughed a little. "I don't believe it was against your wishes
after all."

"Well, p'r'aps not." There was a very kindly smile in the sunken eyes. "I
guess you're a little older than I thought you were, and anyway, she
won't marry you for the dollars."

"She certainly won't," said Bertie warmly. "But she's horribly afraid of
people saying so, since Nap--"

"Ah! Never mind Nap!"

"Well, it's made a difference," Bertie protested. "We are not going to
marry for three years. And no one is to know we are engaged except you
and her father."

"She doesn't mind me then?"

There was just a tinge of humour in the words, and Bertie looked at
him sharply.

"What are you grinning at? No, of course she doesn't mind you. But what's
the joke?"

"Look where you're going, dear fellow. It would be a real pity to break
your neck at this stage."

Bertie turned his attention to his driving and was silent for a little.

Suddenly, "I have it!" he exclaimed. "You artful old fox! I believe you
had first word after all. I wondered that she gave in so easily. What did
you say to her?"

"That," said Lucas gently, "is a matter entirely between myself and
one other."

Bertie broke into his gay boyish laugh and sounded the hooter for sheer
lightness of heart.

"Oh, king, live for ever--and then some! You're just the finest fellow in
the world!"

"Open to question, I am afraid," said the millionaire with his quiet
smile. "And as to living for ever--well, I guess it's a cute idea in the
main, but under present conditions it's a notion that makes me tired."

"Who said anything about present conditions?" demanded Bertie, almost
angrily; and then in an altered voice: "Old man, I didn't mean that, and
you know it. I only meant that you will always be wanted wherever you
are. God doesn't turn out a good thing like you every day."

"Oh, shucks!" said Lucas Errol softly.

CHAPTER XV

THE CHAMPION

When Mrs. Errol remarked in her deep voice, that yet compassed the
incomparable Yankee twang, that she guessed she wasn't afraid of any man
that breathed, none of those who heard the bold assertion ventured to
contradict her.

Lucas Errol was entertaining a large house-party, and the great hall
was full of guests, most of whom had just returned from the day's
sport. The hubbub of voices was considerable, but Mrs. Errol's remark
was too weighty to be missed, and nearly everyone left off talking to
hear its sequel.

Mrs. Errol, who was the soul of hospitality, but who, nevertheless,
believed firmly in leaving people to amuse themselves in their own way,
had only returned a few minutes before from paying a round of calls. She
was wrapped in furs from head to foot, and her large, kindly face shone
out of them like a November sun emerging from a mass of cloud.

There was a general scramble to wait upon her, and three cups of tea were
offered her simultaneously, all of which she accepted with a nod of
thanks and a gurgle of laughter.

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