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The Knave of Diamonds by Ethel May Dell

Part 6 out of 8

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"Good gracious!" said Dot.

She stared at him for a few seconds mutely, as if the sudden announcement
had taken her breath away.

At last: "Then--then--Mrs. Errol--" she stammered.

"Is not my mother," he informed her grimly. "Did you ever seriously think
she was?" He flung back his shoulders arrogantly. "You're almighty blind,
you English."

Dot continued to contemplate him with her frank eyes, as if viewing for
the first time a specimen of some rarity.

"Well, I don't see that it makes any difference," she said at length.
"You are you just the same. I--I really don't see quite why you told me."

"No?" said Nap, staring back at her with eyes that told her nothing.
"P'r'aps I just wanted to show you that you are wasting your solicitude
on an object of no value."

"How--funny of you!" said Dot.

She paused a moment, still looking at him; then with a quick, childish
movement she slipped her hand through his arm. Quite suddenly she knew
how to deal with him.

"You seem to forget," she said with a little smile, "that I'm going to be
your sister one day."

He stiffened at her action, and for a single moment she wondered if she
could have made a mistake. And then as suddenly he relaxed. He took the
hand that rested on his arm and squeezed it hard.

And Dot knew that in some fashion, by a means which she scarcely
understood, she had gained a victory.

They went on together along the mossy, winding path. A fleeting shower
was falling, and the patter of it sounded on the leaves.

Nap walked with his face turned up to the raindrops, sure-footed, with
the gait of a panther. He did not speak a word to the girl beside him,
but his silence, did not disconcert her. There was even something in it
that reassured her.

They were approaching the farther end of the wood when he abruptly spoke.

"So you think it makes no difference?"

Was there a touch of pathos in the question? She could not have said.
But she answered it swiftly, with all the confidence--and
ignorance--of youth.

"Of course I do! How could it make a difference? Do you suppose--if it
had been Bertie--I should have cared?"

"Bertie!" he said. "Bertie is a law-abiding citizen. And you--pardon me
for saying so--are young."

"Oh, yes, I know," she admitted. "But I've got some sense all the same.
And--and--Nap, may I say something rather straight?"

The flicker of a smile shone and died in his eyes. "Don't mind me!" he
said. "The role of an evangelist becomes you better than some."

"Don't!" said Dot, turning very red.

"I didn't," said Nap. "I'm only being brotherly. Hit as straight as
you like."

"I was going to say," she said, taking him at his word, "that if a man is
a good sort and does his duty, I don't believe one person in a million
cares a rap about what his parents were. I don't indeed."

She spoke with great earnestness; it was quite obvious that she meant
every word. It was Dot's straightforward way to speak from her heart.

"And I'm sure Lady Carfax doesn't either," she added.

But at that Nap set his teeth. "My child, you don't chance to know Lady
Carfax as I do. Moreover, suppose the man doesn't chance to be a good
sort and loathes the very word 'duty'? It brings down the house of cards
rather fast, eh?"

An older woman might have been discouraged; experience would probably
have sadly acquiesced. But Dot possessed neither age nor experience, and
so she only lost her patience.

"Oh, but you are absurd!" she exclaimed, shaking his arm with
characteristic vigour. "How can you be so disgustingly flabby? You're
worse than old Squinny, who sends for Dad or me every other day to see
him die. He's fearfully keen on going to heaven, but that's all he ever
does to get there."

Nap broke into a brief laugh. They had reached the stile and he faced
round with extended hand. "After that--good-bye!" he said. "With your
permission we'll keep this encounter to ourselves. But you certainly are
a rousing evangelist. When you mount the padre's pulpit I'll come and sit
under it."

Dot's fingers held fast for a moment. "It'll be all right, will it?" she
asked bluntly. "I mean--you'll be sensible?"

He smiled at her in a way she did not wholly understand, yet which went
straight to her quick heart.

"So long, little sister!" he said. "Yes, it will be quite all right. I'll
continue to cumber the ground a little longer, if you call that being
sensible. And if you think my chances of heaven are likely to be improved
by your kind intervention, p'r'aps you'll put up a prayer now and then on
my behalf to the Power that casts out devils--for we are many."

"I will, Nap, I will!" she said very earnestly.

When he was gone she mounted the stile and paused with her face to the
sky. "Take care of him, please, God!" she said.

CHAPTER XVI

DELIVERANCE

Notwithstanding her largeness of heart, Mrs. Errol was something of a
despot, and when once she had assumed command she was slow to
relinquish it.

"I guess you must let me have my own way, dear Anne," she said, "for I've
never had a daughter."

And Anne, to whom the burden of life just then was more than ordinarily
heavy, was fain to submit to the kindly tyranny. Mrs. Errol had found her
alone at the inn at Bramhurst on the night of the storm, and in response
to her earnest request had taken her without delay straight back to her
home. Very little had passed between them on the circumstances that had
resulted in this development. Scarcely had Nap's name been mentioned by
either. Mrs. Errol seemed to know him too well to need an explanation.
And Anne had noted this fact with a sick heart.

It meant to her the confirmation of what had already become a practical
conviction, that the man she had once dreamed that she loved was no
more than a myth of her own imagination. Again and yet again she had
been deceived, but her eyes were open at last finally and for all time.
No devil's craft, however wily, however convincing, could ever close
them again.

Lying in her darkened room, with her stretched nerves yet quivering at
every sound, she told herself over and over that she knew Nap Errol now
as others knew him, as he knew himself, a man cruel, merciless,
unscrupulous, in whose dark soul no germ of love had ever stirred.

Why he had ever desired her she could not determine. Possibly her very
faith in him--that faith that he had so rudely shattered--had been the
attraction; possibly only her aloofness, her pride, had kindled in him
the determination to conquer. But that he had ever loved her, as she
interpreted love, she now told herself was an utter impossibility. She
even questioned in the bitterness of her disillusionment if Love, that
True Romance to which she had offered sacrifice, were not also a myth,
the piteous creation of a woman's fond imagination, a thing non-existent
save in the realms of fancy, a dream-goal to which no man might attain
and very few aspire.

All through the long day she lay alone with her problem, perpetually
turning it in her mind, perpetually asking by what tragic influence she
had ever been brought to fancy that this man with his violent,
unrestrained nature, his fierce egoism, his murderous impulses, had ever
been worthy of the halo her love had fashioned for him. No man was
worthy! No man was worthy! This man least of all! Had not he himself
warned her over and over again, and she had not listened? Perhaps he had
not meant her to listen. Perhaps it had only been another of his devilish
artifices for ensnaring her, that attitude of humility, half-scoffing,
half-persuasive, with which he had masked his inner vileness.

Oh, she was sick at heart that day, sick with disappointment, sick with
humiliation, sick with a terrible foreboding that gave her no rest.
Slowly the hours dragged away. She had despatched her urgent message to
Lucas immediately upon her arrival at the Manor, and his prompt reply had
in a measure reassured her. But she knew that he was ill, and she could
not drive from her mind the dread that he might fail her. How could he in
his utter physical weakness hope to master the demons that tore Nap
Errol's turbulent soul? And if Lucas failed her, what then? What then?
She had no city of refuge to flee unto. She and her husband were at the
mercy of a murderer. For that he would keep his word she did not for a
moment doubt. Nap Errol was not as other men. No second thoughts would
deter him from his purpose. Unless Lucas by some miracle withheld him, no
other influence would serve. He would wreak his vengeance with no
hesitating hand. The fire of his savagery was an all-consuming flame,
and it was too strongly kindled to be lightly quenched.

Her thoughts went back to her husband. The date of his return had not
been definitely fixed. The letter had suggested that it should take place
some time in the following week. She had not yet replied to the
suggestion. She put her hand to her head. Actually she had forgotten!
Ought she not to send a message of warning? But in what terms could she
couch it? Lucas might even yet succeed. It might be that even now he was
fighting the desperate battle.

Inaction became intolerable. She had promised Mrs. Errol that she would
take a long rest, but there was no rest for her. She knew that she would
hear from Lucas the moment he had anything definite to report; but a new
and ghastly fear now assailed her. What if Nap had not returned to
Baronmead? What if he had gone direct to the asylum, there to snatch his
opportunity while his fury was at its height?

The thought turned her sick. She rose, scarcely knowing what she did, and
moved across the room to her escritoire. The vague idea of penning some
sort of warning was in her mind, but before she reached it the conviction
stabbed her that it would be too late. No warning would be of any avail.
If that had been Nap Errol's intention, by this time the deed was done.
And if that were so, she was in part guilty of her husband's murder.

Powerless, she sank upon her knees by the open window, striving
painfully, piteously, vainly, to pray. But no words came to her, no
prayer rose from her wrung heart. It was as though she knelt in outer
darkness before a locked door.

In that hour Anne Carfax went down into that Place of Desolation which
some call hell and some the bitter school of sorrow--that place in which
each soul is alone with its agony and its sin, that place where no light
shines and no voice is heard, where, groping along the edge of
destruction, the wanderer seeks its Maker and finds Him not, where even
the Son of God Himself once lost His faith.

And in that hour she knew why her love lay wounded unto death, though not
then did she recognise the revelation as a crowning mercy. She saw
herself bruised and abased, humbled beyond belief. She saw her proud
purity brought low, brought down to the very mire which all her life she
had resolutely ignored, from the very though of which she had always
withdrawn herself as from an evil miasma that bred corruption. She saw
herself a sinner, sunk incredibly low, a woman who had worshipped Love
indeed, but at a forbidden shrine, a woman moreover bereft of all things,
who had seen her sacrifice crumble to ashes and had no more to offer.

Through her mind flashed a single sentence that had often and often set
her wondering: "From him that hath not shall be taken away even that
which he seemeth to have." She knew its meaning now. It scorched her
inmost soul. Such an one was she. No effort had she ever made to possess
her husband's love. No love had she ever offered to him; duty and
submission indeed, but love--never. Her heart had been unwarmed, nor had
she ever sought to kindle within it the faintest spark. She had hated him
always. She knew it now. Or perhaps her feeling for him had been
something too cold for even hatred. If he had made her drink the waters
of bitterness, she had given him in return the icy draught of contempt.

There had been a time when his passion for her might have turned to love,
but she had let it slide. She had not wanted love. Or else--like so many
fevered souls--she had yearned for the full blossom thereof, neglecting
to nourish the parched seed under her feet.

She had committed sacrilege. That was why Love had come to her at last
with a flaming sword, devastating her whole life, depriving her of even
that which she had seemed to have. That was why she now knelt impotent
before a locked door. That was why God was angry.

A long, long time passed. She did not hear the rain pattering upon the
green earth, nor feel the soft breeze on her neck. She had lost touch
with things physical. She was yet groping in outer darkness.

A hand very softly turned the handle of her door, and a motherly face
looked in.

"Why, Anne, dear child, I thought you were asleep!" the deep voice
said reproachfully. "I've been listening outside for ages, and you were
so quiet!"

She raised her head quickly, and in a moment rose. Her eyes were deeply
shadowed, but they bore no trace of tears.

"I could not sleep," she said. "But you mustn't trouble about me. I am
quite well. I will dress and come down."

Mrs. Errol came forward, shaking her head disapprovingly. "I have a
note from Lucas," she said. "It arrived a quarter of an hour ago, but
there was no answer, so I thought it would be real wicked to wake you
up to read it."

Anne stretched out a hand that shook. "Please!" she said almost
inarticulately.

With the note open in her hand she turned and sat down suddenly as if
incapable of standing. The clumsy, uneven writing danced before her eyes.
One sentence only, but it took her many seconds to read!

"My brother Nap leaves to-night for Arizona.--Lucas."

She raised her face with a deep, deep breath. She felt as if she had not
breathed for hours. Silently, after a moment, she held out the brief
message to Mrs. Errol.

"My!" said the latter. "Well, thank the Lord for that!"

And then very tenderly she laid her hand upon Anne's shoulder. "My
dearie, would it help you any to speak of him?"

Anne leaned her weary head against her. "I don't know," she said.

"I often wanted to warn you," Mrs. Errol said. "But I thought--I
hoped--it was unnecessary. You were always so kind of frank with him that
I thought maybe it would be an impertinence to say anything. It wasn't as
if you were an inexperienced girl. If you had been--but to give him his
due, Nap never tried to trap inexperience. He's got some morals, knave as
he is. Say, Anne dear, you know he is no son of mine?"

"Yes," whispered Anne, gently drawing her friend's hand round her neck.

"And I sometimes wonder," Mrs. Errol went on, in her deep sing-song voice
that yet somehow held a note of pathos, "if I did wrong to take him as I
did. He was the quaintest baby, Anne--the cutest morsel you ever saw. His
dying mother brought him to me. She was only a girl herself--a
broken-hearted girl, dying before her time. I couldn't refuse. I felt he
had a sort of claim upon us. Maybe I was wrong. My husband didn't view it
that way, but at that time I hadn't much faith in his judgment. So I took
the boy--his boy--and he was brought up as one of my own. But he was
always unaccountable. He had queer lapses. I tried to be kind to him. I
guess I always was kind. But I surmise that he always suspected me of
resenting his existence. Lucas was the only one who ever had any
influence over him. Latterly I've thought you had some too, but I guess
that was where I went wrong. He and Bertie never got on. P'r'aps it was
my fault. P'r'aps he inherited some of my antagonism. The Lord knows I
tried to suppress it, but somehow it was always there."

"Dear Mrs. Errol!" Anne murmured softly. "Not one woman in a thousand
would have done as much."

"Oh, you mustn't say that, dearie. I'm a very poor specimen. I gave him
what advantages I could, but I never loved him. P'r'aps if I had, he'd
have been a better boy. It's only love that counts for anything in God's
sight, and I never gave him any. Lucas did. That's how it is he knows how
to manage him. It isn't personal magnetism or anything of that sort. It's
just love. He can't help answering to that, because it's Divine."

"Ah!" breathed Anne. "You think him capable of love then?"

"I guess so, dear. He's raw and undeveloped, but like the rest of
creation he has his possibilities. You've seen him in his better moods
yourself. I always thought he kept his best side for you."

"I know," Anne said. She leaned slowly back, looking up into the kindly
eyes above her. "But it was only a mask. I see it now. I think there are
many men like that, perhaps all are to a certain extent. They are only
themselves to one another. No woman would ever love a man if she saw him
as he is."

"My dear! My dear!" Mrs. Errol said. "That's a bitter thing to say. And
it isn't true either. You'll see better by-and-by. Men are contemptible,
I own--the very best of them; but they've all got possibilities, and it's
just our part to draw them out. It's the divine foolishness of women's
love that serves their need, that makes them feel after better things. No
woman ever won a man by despising him. He may be inferior--he is--but he
wants real love to bolster him up. I guess the dear Lord thought of that
when He fashioned women."

But Anne only smiled, very sadly, and shook her head. It might be true,
but she was in no state to judge. She was blinded by present pain. She
felt she had given her love to the wrong man, and though it had
flourished like a tropical flower in the fiery atmosphere of his passion,
it had been burnt away at last by the very sun that had called it into
being. And she would love in that way no more for ever. There was only
duty left down all the long grey vista of her life.

PART III

CHAPTER I

THE POWER DIVINE

"Well, if this isn't a pleasure!"

Thus Lucas Errol, sitting on the terrace on a certain hot afternoon
early in August, greeted Dot, whose multifarious duties did not permit
her to be a very frequent visitor. He smiled at her with that cordiality
which even on his worst days was never absent, but she thought him
looking very ill.

"Are you sure I shan't tire you too much?" she asked him, as he invited
her to sit down.

"Quite sure, my dear Dot!" he answered. "It does me good to see people.
Lady Carfax is coming presently. The mother has gone to fetch her. It
will be her last appearance, I am afraid, for the present. She is
expecting her husband home to-morrow. But I'm glad you are here first. I
was just wishing I could see you."

"Were you really?" said Dot.

"Yes, really. No, you needn't look at me like that. I'm telling the
truth. I always do, to the best of my ability. Is that chair quite
comfortable? Do you mind if I smoke?"

"I don't mind anything," Dot said. "And I'm so comfortable that I want to
take off my hat and go to sleep."

"You may do the first," said Lucas. "But not the second, because I want
to talk, and it's sort of uninteresting not to have an audience,
especially when there is something important to be said."

"Something important!" echoed Dot. "I hope it's something nice."

"Oh, quite nice," he assured her. "It's to do with Bertie." He was
smiling in his own peculiarly kindly fashion. "By the way, he's stewing
indoors, studying for that exam, which he isn't going to pass."

"Not going to pass?" Dot looked up in swift anxiety. "Oh, don't you
think he will?"

Lucas shook his head. "What's success anyway? I guess the Creator finds
the failures just as useful to Him in the long run."

"But I don't want him to fail!" she protested.

"In my opinion," Lucas said slowly, "it doesn't matter a single red cent,
so long as a man does his best. Believe me, it isn't success that counts.
We're apt to think it's everything when we're young. I did myself
once--before I began to realise that I hadn't come to stay." The shrewd
blue eyes smiled at her under their heavy lids. "Now I don't want to
distress you any," he said, "but I'm going to say something that p'r'aps
you'll take to heart though you mustn't let it grieve you. Capper is
coming here next month to perform an operation on me. It may be
successful, and on the other hand--it may not. The uncertainty worries me
some. I'm trying to leave my affairs in good order, but--there are some
things beyond my scope that I'd like unspeakably to see settled before I
take my chances. You can understand that?"

Dot's hand, warm, throbbing with life, slipped impulsively into his.
"Dear Lucas, of course--of course I understand."

"Thanks! That's real nice of you. I always knew you were a woman
of sense. I wonder if you can guess what it is I've set my heart
on, eh, Dot?"

"Tell me," murmured Dot.

His eyes still rested upon her, but they seemed to be looking at
something beyond. "P'r'aps I'm over fond of regulating other folks'
affairs," he said. "It's a habit that easily grows on the head of a
family. But I've a sort of fancy for seeing you and Bertie married before
I go out. If you tell me it's quite impossible I won't say any more. But
if you could see your way to it--well, it would be a real kindness, and I
needn't say any more than that."

The weary, rather droning voice ceased to speak. The eyelids drooped more
heavily. It seemed to Dot that a grey shadow lay upon the worn face. He
looked so unutterably tired, so ready for the long, long sleep.

She sat quite still beside him, turning the matter in her mind.

After a little he went on speaking, with eyes half-closed. "It would hit
him hard if I went under, but he wouldn't feel so badly if you were
there. The mother too--she wants someone to lean on. There's Lady Carfax,
but she has her own burden. And there'd be a lot for Bertie to see to,
Nap being away. Besides--"

"Oh, Luke," Dot broke in, her eyes full of tears, "I--I can't imagine
this place without you."

"No? Well, you mustn't let it distress you any. We've all got to go,
sooner or later. There isn't anything in that. The main thing is to get
it over, when it comes, with as little fuss as possible. Life isn't long
enough for grieving. It's just a mortal waste of time. And what is Death
anyway?" He raised his eyes with what seemed an effort. "You won't blame
me," he said, "for wanting to close up the ranks a bit before I go. Of
course I may live as long as any of you. God knows I shall do my best. I
want to pull through--for several reasons. But if I've got to go, I'd
like to feel I've left things as ship-shape as possible. Bertie will tell
you what provision I desire to make for you. P'r'aps you and he will talk
it over, and if you're willing I'll see the padre about it. But I kind of
felt the first word ought to be with you. Bertie didn't like to speak
because he'd promised to wait. You'll find he's a man of his word. That's
why I've butted in. Say, child, I didn't mean to make you cry. That was
clumsy of me."

He patted her hand gently, while Dot blinked away her tears.

"Don't let us talk about it any more now," she besought him. "Oh,
Lucas--I do want you to live, more--more than anything."

"That's real kind of you," he said. "I'll do my best, you may be sure.
I can hear Lady Carfax talking in the drawing-room. Won't you go and
bring her out?"

He made no effort to rise when Anne came on to the terrace, but he gave
her so vivid a smile of welcome that she scarcely noted the omission. It
was their first meeting since Nap's departure, for Lucas had been
confined to his bed for days. But that smile of his banished any sense of
embarrassment from her mind. He was so candidly, so unaffectedly, pleased
to see her.

She sat down in the riotous sunshine and gave herself up unreservedly to
the pleasure of being with her friends. They were all congenial to her.
Mrs. Errol, Dot, Lucas, but most especially Lucas, who occupied a unique
position in her heart and in her thoughts. He had always been so
perfectly her friend in need.

As the long, sunny afternoon wore away, she found herself watching him
and in silence marvelling. How was it that this man in his utter,
piteous weakness accomplished so much, ruled thus supreme? Wherein lay
that potent charm of his which neither devil nor brute could effectively
resist? Whence came it, this power of the soul, this deliberate and
conscious mastery?

She watched Bertie waiting on him, hovering about him, ready to spring up
at his lightest word to execute his scarcely-uttered wish. Other
men--even great men--did not command this personal homage, this complete,
incessant devotion. Undoubtedly there was something kingly about him; but
wherein did it lie? Not in the impotent, unwieldy figure, not in the
pleasant, emotionless drawl, not even in the friendly quiet of his eyes,
the kindly sympathy of his smile. In none of these lay his power, and yet
in all of them it was in some fashion apparent. No great force of
personality characterised him, and yet his monarchy was absolute. No
splendour of intellect, no keenness of wit, no smartness of repartee were
his. Only a shrewdness of understanding that was never cruel, a humour
that had no edge.

And presently Anne remembered that his own mother had given her the key
to the problem, and she doubted not that it solved the whole. "It isn't
personal magnetism," Mrs. Errol had said, "nor anything of that sort.
It's just love."

That was the magic to which even Nap, the fierce, the passionate, the
treacherous, had been forced to bow. In the midst of his weakness this
man wielded an all-potent power--a power before which they all
instinctively did homage--before which even devils humbled
themselves--because it was Divine.

That was the secret of his strength. That was the weapon by which he
conquered. She wondered if it had always been so, or if his physical
weakness had tended to develop in him a greatness of heart of which more
active men were quite incapable. It might be true, as Mrs. Errol had
contended, that all men had their possibilities, but, this was the only
man she had ever met who had turned them to account. All unconsciously,
perhaps in response to a reaction which had been necessarily violent,
Anne yielded herself that day for the first time in her life to a species
of hero-worship that could not but beautify her own sad life.

When later she found herself alone with him, they talked for a space upon
indifferent things, and then they did not talk at all. The intimacy
between them made conversation unnecessary, and Lucas Errol's silence was
as easy as his speech.

"You'll take care of yourself," he said once, "or I shan't be easy
about you."

And, when she had promised that: "And you'll look us up as often as
you find you can. P'r'aps if you can't come very often you'll manage
to write."

But he made no direct reference to her husband's return. His sympathy
neither sought nor needed expression in words.

Neither did he speak of himself. He only at parting held her hand very
closely for several silent seconds. And Anne went away with a hushed
feeling at her heart as if he had invoked a benediction.

Back to her home she went, strangely quiet and at peace. She had thought
that visit to Baronmead would have been painful to her. She had expected
to suffer afresh. But it was instead as if a healing hand had been laid
upon her, and as she went she thought no more of Nap, the savage, the
sudden, the terrible; but of Lucas, the gentle, the patient, the
chivalrous, who had won and would for ever keep her perfect trust.

The light of a golden evening lay upon the Manor as she entered. It was
wonderfully quiet. She went in by the French windows that led into the
drawing-room, and here, tempted by an impulse that had not moved her for
long, she sat down at the piano and began very softly to play.

She had not touched the keys since her last visit to Baronmead. She
wondered, as idly she suffered her fingers to wander, how long it would
be before she played again.

Yet it was hard to believe, sitting there in the quiet evening light,
that the next day would witness her return to bondage, that bondage that
had so cruelly galled her, the very thought of which had at one time
filled her with repulsion. But her feelings had undergone a change of
late. She could not feel that the old burden would ever return upon her.
She had been emancipated too long. Her womanhood had developed too much
during those months of liberty. No, it could never be the same. Patient
and faithful wife she would still be. She was ready to devote herself
ungrudgingly, without reservation, to her invalid husband. But his slave
she would never be again. She had overcome her repugnance; she was
willing to serve. But never again would he compel. The days of his
tyranny were for ever gone.

It was no easy path that lay before her, but she had not forgotten how
narrowly she had escaped the precipice. Even yet she still trembled when
she remembered the all-engulfing pit of destruction that had opened
before her, and the anguish of fear that had possessed her until
deliverance had come. Lucas Errol had been her deliverer. She remembered
that also, and a faint, sad smile touched her lips--Lucas Errol, king
and cripple, ruler and weakling.

Softly the sunset faded. Anne's fingers ceased to roam over the keys. She
clasped them in her lap and sat still.

All at once a quiet voice spoke. "My lady!"

With a start she turned. "Dimsdale! How you startled me!"

"I beg your ladyship's pardon," the old man said.

He was standing close behind her. There was an air of subdued importance
about him. He was grave to severity.

But Anne did not look at him very critically. "I shall not want any
tea," she said. "I will dine at eight in my sitting-room as usual. Is
everything in readiness, Dimsdale? Is Sir Giles's room just as it
should be?"

"Yes, my lady."

Anne rose and quietly closed the piano. She wondered why Dimsdale
lingered, and after a moment it struck her that he had something to say.
She took up her gloves and turned round to him.

"No one has been, I suppose?"

"No one, my lady."

"Are there any letters?"

"No letters, my lady."

"Then--" Anne paused, and for the first time looked at the old servant
attentively. "Is anything the matter, Dimsdale?" she asked.

He hesitated, the fingers of one hand working a little, an unusual sign
of agitation with him.

With an effort at last he spoke. "Your ladyship instructed me to open any
telegram that might arrive."

Her heart gave a great throb of foreboding. "Certainly," she said. "Has
there been a telegram then?"

Dimsdale's hand clenched. He looked at her anxiously, rather piteously.

"My lady--" he said, and stopped.

Anne stood like a statue. She felt as if her vitality were suddenly
arrested, as if every pulse had ceased to beat.

"Please go on," she said in a whisper. "There has been a telegram. Either
give it to me, or--tell me what was in it."

Dimsdale made a jerky movement, as if pulling himself together. He put an
unsteady hand into his breast-pocket. "It came this afternoon, my lady,
about an hour ago. I am afraid it's bad news--very bad news. Yes, my
lady, I'm telling you, I'm telling you. I regret to say Sir Giles has
been took worse, took very sudden like, and--and--"

"He is dead," Anne said very clearly, very steadily, in a tone that was
neither of question nor of exclamation.

Dimsdale bent his head. "He died at half-past three, my lady."

He had the telegram in his hand. Anne took it from him and moved very
quietly to the window.

Mutely the old man stood and watched her in the silence, thankful for her
composure. He was himself severely shaken, and the ordeal of telling her
had been no light one.

But as the silence still continued he began to grow uneasy again. He
wondered if he ought to go, if she had forgotten to dismiss him. Her
stately head was bent over the paper, which never crackled or stirred in
her hand. There began to be something terrible, something fateful, in
her passivity. Old Dimsdale shivered, and took the liberty of breaking
the silence.

"Would your ladyship wish a message to be sent to Baronmead?"

She stirred at that, moved sharply as one suddenly awakened. Her face was
quite white, but her eyes were alight, curiously vital, with a glitter
that was almost of horror.

"To Baronmead!" she said, a queer note of sharpness in her voice. "No,
certainly not, most certainly not!"

And there she stopped, stopped dead as though struck dumb. In the garden
behind her, down among the lilac trees, a bird had begun to sing,
eagerly, voluptuously, thrillingly, with a rapture as of the full
spring-tide of life.

Anne stood for a space of many seconds and listened, her white face
upraised, her eyes wide and shining.

And then suddenly her attitude changed. She put her hands over her face
and tottered blindly from the open window.

Dimsdale started to support her, but she needed no support. In a
moment she was looking at him again, but with eyes from which all
light had faded.

"I must write some messages at once," she said. "One of the grooms must
take them. No, I shall not send to Mrs. Errol to-night. I wish to be
alone--quite alone. Please admit no one. And--yes--tell them to pull down
the blinds, and--shut all the windows!"

Her voice quivered and sank. She stood a moment, collecting herself,
then walked quietly to the door.

"Come to me in ten minutes for those telegrams," she said. "And after
that, remember, Dimsdale, I am not to be disturbed by anyone."

And with that she passed out, erect and calm, and went up to her room.

CHAPTER II

THE WORKER OF MIRACLES

"I want to know!" said Capper.

He had said it several times during a muddy two-mile tramp from Baronford
Station, and he said it again as he turned up the hill that was crowned
by the old grey church, whose two cracked bells had just burst into as
cheerful a marriage peal as they could compass.

"Sounds frisky!" he commented to himself, as he trudged up the steep
lane. "My! What an all-fired fuss! Guess these muddy boots aren't exactly
wedding-guesty. But that's their lookout for monopolising every vehicle
in the place. I wonder if I'll have the audacity to show after all. Or
shall I carry this almighty thirst of mine back to the Carfax Arms and
quench it in British ale?"

But this latter idea did not apparently greatly lure him, for he
continued to plod upwards, even while considering it, to the tune of the
clamouring bells.

Arriving finally at the top of the hill and finding there a crowd of
vehicles of all descriptions, he paused to breathe and to search for the
Baronmead motors.

He found them eventually, but there was no one in attendance. The
servants were all herded in the churchyard for a view of the bridal
procession, for which a passage across the road to the Rectory grounds
was being kept.

Capper stationed himself, with another rueful glance as his boots, as
near as he could get to the open lych-gate, and there stood grimly
conspicuous, watching the scene with his alert green eyes, that held the
glint of a tolerant smile, and cracking his thin, yellow fingers one by
one. No one gave him a second glance, or dreamed for an instant that one
of the greatest men in the Western Hemisphere was standing on the edge of
the crowd.

They came at last--bride and bridegroom--flushed and hastening through a
shower of rose petals.

Bertie was laughing all over his brown face. He was holding Dot's hand
very fast, and as they descended the red-carpeted steps into the road he
leaned to her, whispering. She laughed back at him with shining eyes, her
round face radiant beneath the orange blossom. Neither of them glanced to
right or left. Swiftly through the fallen rose leaves they crossed to the
Rectory gateway and were lost to view.

A bevy of bridesmaids ran laughing after them, and then came a pause.

Capper edged a little nearer to the churchyard steps and waited. The
clamour of bells was incessant, wholly drowning the clamour of voices.
Everyone was craning forward to see the crowd of guests. The long
procession had already begun to issue from the church porch. It moved
very slowly, for at the head of it, his hand on his mother's arm, came
Lucas Errol.

He walked with extreme difficulty, leaning on a crutch. His head was
uncovered, and the glare of the September sunlight smote full upon it.
The hair was turning very grey.

He was smiling as he came, but his brows were slightly drawn, his eyes
sunk in deep hollows.

Swiftly and comprehensively the man at the foot of the steps scanned
every detail, marked the halting, painful progress, the lined forehead.
And the next moment, as Lucas paused, preparatory to descending, he
pushed forward with characteristic decision of movement and moved upwards
to his side.

"I guess you'll find me useful at this juncture," he said.

Lucas's start of surprise was instantly followed by a smile of welcome.
He gripped Capper's hand warmly.

"The very man I want! But how in wonder did you get here? You never
walked all the way from the station?"

"I did," said Capper.

"You don't say! Why didn't you let me know? I guess we must move on. We
are blocking the gangway."

"Easy does it," said Capper. "It won't hurt 'em any to wait. Get
your arm over my shoulder. That's the way. These steps are the very
devil for you."

He bent his wiry frame to Lucas Errol's need, and helped him to descend.
At the foot he paused a moment and looked at him keenly.

"All serene," smiled Lucas. "I'll take your arm now, if it's all the
same to the mother. You didn't expect to find us plunged in wedding
gaieties, I guess."

"Wish it had been your own," said Capper.

At which Lucas turned up his face to the sky and laughed.

They crossed the flag-decked garden and entered by the conservatory door.
People were beginning to crowd about them.

"We must find you a seat somehow," said Capper.

"I must have a word with the bride and bridegroom first," Lucas declared.

But the bride and bridegroom were for the moment inaccessible, being
completely surrounded by well-wishers.

Capper seized upon the first chair he came upon and put Lucas into it.

"I seem to have come in the nick of time," he observed drily. "Why is no
one detailed to look after you? Where is that tiger's whelp Nap?"

"Nap's in America, been gone two months or more."

"That so?" There was keen satisfaction in Capper's tone. "That clears the
ground for action. And Lady Carfax? Is she here?"

"No." There was a hint of reserve in the quiet reply. "Lady Carfax is in
deep mourning for her husband."

"That so?" said Capper again. He seemed to take but casual note of the
information. He was pulling absently at his pointed yellow beard.

Lucas lay back in his chair and suffered himself to relax with a sigh.
Capper's eyes darted lizard-like over him, taking in every line of him,
keenly alive to each detail.

"If I were you I should shunt as soon as possible," he said. "Since it
isn't your own show unfortunately, I should imagine you are not
indispensable."

But at this point the throng parted, and Dot, looking very young in her
bridal white, and supremely happy, burst eagerly through,

"Oh, here you are!" she cried. "Your mother said you were close by, but I
couldn't see you anywhere. It's been too much for you. You're tired."

She bent over him in quick solicitude, then, as he smiled and drew her
down to him, stooped and kissed him, whispering a few words for his
ear alone.

Bertie was close behind her, but he had caught sight of Capper and had
stopped short with a queer expression on his boyish face, a look that was
a curious blend of consternation and relief.

A moment and he stepped up to the great doctor and took him by the elbow.
"You here already!" he said. "I didn't expect you so soon."

"I have only run down to have a look at things," said Capper. "I seem to
have pitched on a busy day. I hope you are enjoying yourself."

"Thanks!" said Bertie, with a brief laugh. "Say, Doctor, you'll let me
know your plans?"

"Certainly--when they are ripe." The green eyes gleamed humorously.
"Aren't you thinking of introducing me to Mrs. Bertie?" he suggested.

"Yes, yes, of course. But you won't do anything without me?" urged
Bertie. "I should greatly like a talk with you, but I'm afraid it can't
be managed."

"I mightily doubt if you could tell me anything that I don't know
already," said Capper, "on any subject."

"It's about Luke," said Bertie anxiously.

"Just so. Well, I guess I know more about Luke than any other person on
this merry little planet."

"Do you think he looks worse?" whispered Bertie.

Capper's long, yellow hand fastened very unobtrusively and very forcibly
upon his shoulder. "One thing at a time, good Bertie!" he said. "Weren't
you going to present me to--your wife?"

CHAPTER III

THE WOMAN'S PART

It was on a day of wild autumnal weather, when the wind moaned like a
living thing in torture about the house, and the leaves eddied and
drifted before the scudding rain, that they turned Tawny Hudson out of
his master's room, and left him crouched and whimpering like a dog
against the locked door. Save for his master's express command, no power
on earth would have driven him away, not even Capper of the curt speech
and magnetic will. But the master had spoken very definitely and
distinctly, and it was Tawny Hudson's to obey. Therefore he huddled on
the mat, rocking to and fro, shivering like some monstrous animal in
pain, while within the room Capper wrought his miracles.

Downstairs Mrs. Errol sat holding Anne's hand very tightly, and talking
incessantly lest her ears should be constrained to listen. And Anne, pale
and still, answered her as a woman talking in her sleep.

Bertie and his young bride were still absent on their honeymoon; this
also by Lucas's express desire.

"It won't help me any to have you here, boy," he had said at parting. "A
certain fuss is inevitable, but I want you out of it. I am looking to
Anne Carfax to help the dear mother."

He had known even then that he would not look in vain, and he had not
been disappointed. So, sorely against his will, Bertie had submitted,
with the proviso that if things went wrong he should be sent for
immediately.

And thus Anne Carfax, who had lived in almost unbroken seclusion since
her husband's death, now sat with Mrs. Errol's hand clasped in hers, and
listened, as one listens in a nightmare, to the wailing of the wind about
the garden and house, and the beat, beat, beat of her heart when the wind
was still.

"Could you say a prayer, dear?" Mrs. Errol asked her once.

And she knelt and prayed, scarcely knowing what she said, but with a
passion of earnestness that left her weak, quivering in every limb.

The wind was rising. It roared in the trees and howled against the panes.
Sometimes a wild gust of rain lashed the windows. It made her think of an
unquiet spirit clamouring for admittance.

"Anne dear, play to me, play to me!" besought Mrs. Errol. "If I listen I
shall go mad! No one will hear you. We are right away from his part of
the house."

And though every nerve shrank at the bare suggestion, Anne rose without
a single protest and went to the piano. She sat down before it, and
blindly, her eyes wide, fixed, unseeing, she began to play.

What she played she knew not. Her fingers found notes, chords, melodies
mechanically.

Once she paused, but, "Ah, go on, dear child! Go on!" urged Mrs. Errol.
And she went on, feeling vaguely through the maze of suspense that
surrounded them, longing inarticulately to cease all effort, but spurred
onward because she knew she must not fail.

And gradually as she played there came to her a curious sense of duality,
of something happening that had happened before, of a record repeating
itself. She turned her head, almost expecting to hear a voice speak
softly behind her, almost expecting to hear a mocking echo of the words
unspoken. "Has the Queen no further use for her jester?" No further use!
No further use! Oh, why was she tortured thus? Why, when her whole soul
yearned to forget, was she thus compelled to remember the man whose
brutal passion and insatiable thirst for vengeance had caught and crushed
her heart?

And still she played on as one beneath a spell, while the memory of him
forced the gates of her consciousness and took arrogant possession. She
saw again the swarthy face with its fierce eyes, the haughty smile, which
for her was ever tinged with tenderness. Surely--oh, surely he had loved
her once! She recalled his fiery love-making, and thrilled again to the
eager insistence of his voice, the mastery of his touch. And then she
remembered what they said of him, that women were his slaves, his
playthings, the toys he broke in wantonness and carelessly tossed aside.
She remembered how once in his actual presence she had overheard words
that had made her shrink, a wonder as to who was his latest conquest, the
cynical remark: "Anyone for a change and no one for long is his motto."
What was he doing now, she asked herself, and trembled. He had gone
without word or message of any sort. Her last glimpse of him had been in
that violet glare of lightning, inexpressibly terrible, with tigerish
eyes that threatened her and snarling lips drawn back. Thus--thus had she
seen him many a time since in the long night-watches when she had lain
sleepless and restless, waiting for the dawn.

Some such vision came to her now, forcing itself upon her shrinking
imagination. Vividly there rose before her his harsh face alert, cruel,
cynical, and the sinewy hands that gripped and crushed. And suddenly a
shuddering sense of nausea overcame her. She left the piano as one
seeking refuge from a horror unutterable. Surely this man had never loved
her--was incapable of love! And she had almost wished him back!

"There is someone in the entry, dear child," whispered Mrs. Errol. "Go
and see--go and see!"

She went, moving as one stricken blind. But before she reached the door
it opened and someone entered. She saw Capper as through a mist in which
bodily weakness and anguished fear combined to overwhelm her. And then
very steadily his arm encircled her, drew her tottering to a chair.

"It's all right," he said in his expressionless drawl. "The patient has
regained consciousness, and is doing O.K. Are you ladies thinking of
lunch? Because if so, I guess I'll join you. No, Mrs. Errol, you can't
see him before to-night at the earliest. Lady Carfax, I have a message
for you--the first words he spoke when he came to. He was hardly
conscious when he uttered them, but I guess you'll be kind of interested
to hear what they were. 'Tell Anne,' he said, 'I'm going to get well.'"

The intense deliberation with which he spoke gave her time to collect
herself, but the words affected her oddly. After a moment she rose, went
to Mrs. Errol, who had covered her face with both hands while he was
speaking, and knelt beside her. Neither of them uttered a sound.

Capper strolled to the window, his hands deep in his pockets, and looked
out upon the wind-swept gardens. He whistled very softly to himself, as a
man well satisfied.

He did not turn his head till at the end of five minutes Anne came to his
side. She was very pale but quite self-possessed.

"Mrs. Errol has gone to her room," she said. "She wished to be alone."

"Gone to have a good cry, eh?" said Capper. "Healthiest thing she could
do. And what about you?"

She smiled with lips that faintly quivered. "I am quite all right,
Doctor. And--I have ordered luncheon."

He turned fully round and looked her up and down with lightning
swiftness. "You're a very remarkable woman, Lady Carfax," he said
after a moment.

"I hope you may never be disappointed in me," she answered gravely.

"I hope so too," he said, "for there is a good deal dependent upon you."

"What do you mean?" She raised her clear eyes interrogatively.

But he baffled her, as he baffled everyone, with the very keenness of his
own scrutiny. He began to crack all his fingers in turn.

"I mean," he said, "that even I can't work miracles by myself. I can do
the elementary part. I can cut and saw and sew, but I can't heal. I can't
give life. That's the woman's part. That's where I count on you. And I
don't think you are going to fail me, Lady Carfax."

"I promise you I will do my utmost," she said very earnestly.

He nodded. "I believe you will. But even so, you can't do too much. It's
a serious case, even more serious than I expected. I don't say this to
alarm you, but I guess you had better know it. It'll be a tough, uphill
fight, and he'll need a deal of pushing behind. It may entail more than
you dream of--a big sacrifice perhaps; who knows? But you women don't shy
at sacrifices. And, believe me, he's worth a sacrifice."

"He deserves the best," she said warmly.

"Yes, but you don't take me," said Capper.

He paused a moment, then suddenly laid a quiet hand on her shoulder. "I
may be a wise man," he said, "and again I may be a meddling fool. You and
the gods must decide between you. But I'm old enough to be your father
anyway. So p'r'aps you'll bear with me. Lady Carfax, hasn't it struck you
that a time will come--probably pretty soon--when he will begin to reach
out for something that you--and you alone--can give?"

Anne's quick gesture of protest was his answer. She stood motionless, her
eyes still raised, waiting for him to continue. But he felt her tremble
under his hand. He knew that inwardly she was not so calm as she would
have had him think.

He went on in his precise, emotionless fashion, as though he perceived
nothing. "He won't ask for it--anyway till he feels he can make a fair
return. He will never ask a sacrifice of you. He will break his heart
sooner. The point is, Are you capable of offering the sacrifice unasked?
For that is what it amounts to, now that the gods have cleared the way."

"Ah!" Anne said. "And--if--not?"

She spoke rather as if to gain time than because she desired an answer.

But he answered her nevertheless very quietly, without a shade of
emotion, as if he were discussing some technical matter of no personal
interest to him. Only as he answered he took his hand from her shoulder
and thrust it back into his pocket.

"In that case he will die, having nothing left to live for. He probably
won't suffer much, simply go out like a candle. He hasn't much vitality.
He may die either way. There is no responsibility attached--only
possibilities."

He turned with the words, and walked across the room with the air of a
man who has said his say.

She uttered no word to stop him, nor did she move to follow. She stood
alone with her face to the grey storm-clouds that drifted perpetually
overhead. Somehow she did not for a moment doubt the truth of what
Capper had just told her. She even felt sub-consciously that she had
known it for some time. Neither did she ask herself what she was going
to do. For deep in the heart of her she knew already. Deep in the heart
of her she knew that when Lucas Errol began to reach out for something
which she alone could give, it would not be in vain. He had given of his
best to her, and she was ready to give of her best in return. If she
could not give him passion, she could give him that which was
infinitely greater--a deep, abiding love, a devotion born of complete
sympathy. She could give him happiness, and in the giving she might find
it for herself.

Over in the west the clouds were breaking, and a shaft of pale sunshine
streamed upon the distant hills, turning the woods to living gold. Her
eyes brightened a little as they caught the radiance. It seemed as if the
door before which she had knelt so long in impotence were opening to her
at last, as if one more opportunity were to be given her even yet after
long and bitter failure of turning her corner of the desert into a garden
of flowers and singing birds.

CHAPTER IV

THE MESSAGE

It was nearly a month after Lucas Errol's operation that Bertie and his
bride came home from their honeymoon and began the congenial task of
setting their house in order.

Dot was thoroughly in her element. The minutest details were to her
matters of vital importance.

"We must make it comfy," she said to Bertie, and Bertie fully agreed.

He had relinquished his study of the law, and had resumed his secretarial
duties, well aware that Lucas could ill spare him. He was in fact Lucas's
right hand just then, and the burden that devolved upon him was no light
one. But he bore it with a cheerful spirit, for Lucas was making
progress. Despite his utter helplessness, despite the inevitable
confinement to one room, despite the weariness and the irksomeness which
day by day were his portion, Lucas was very gradually gaining ground.
Already he suffered less severely and slept more naturally.

His last words to Capper at parting had been, "Come again in the spring
and complete the cure. I shall be ready for you."

And Capper had smiled upon him with something approaching geniality and
had answered, "You'll do it, and so shall I. So long then!"

But the months that intervened were the chief stumbling-block, and Capper
knew it. He knew that his patient would have to face difficulties and
drawbacks that might well dismay the bravest. He knew of the reaction
that must surely come when the vitality was low, and progress became
imperceptible, and the long imprisonment almost unendurable. He knew of
the fever that would lurk in the quickening blood, of the torturing cramp
that would draw the unused muscles, of the depression that was its mental
counterpart, of the black despair that would hang like a paralysing
weight upon soul and body, of the _ennui_, of the weariness of life, of
the piteous weakness that nothing could alleviate.

He had to a certain extent warned Lucas what to expect; but the time for
these things had not yet arrived. He was hardly yet past the first stage,
and his courage was buoyed up by high hopes as yet undashed. He had faced
worse things without blenching, and he had not begun to feel the monotony
that Capper had dreaded as his worst enemy.

He took a keen interest in the doings of the young couple at the Dower
House, and Dot's breezy presence was ever welcome.

As for Anne, she went to and fro between Baronmead and the Manor, of
which her husband's will had left her sole mistress, no longer leading a
hermit's life, no longer clinging to her solitude, grave and quiet, but
not wholly unhappy. Those few words Capper had spoken on the day of
Lucas's operation had made a marvellous difference to her outlook. They
had made it possible for her to break down the prison-walls that
surrounded her. They had given her strength to leave the past behind her,
all vain regrets and cruel disillusionments, to put away despair and rise
above depression. They had given her courage to go on.

Of Nap no word was ever spoken in her presence. He might have been dead,
so completely had he dropped out of her life. In fact, he was scarcely
ever mentioned by anyone, a fact which aroused in Dot a curiously keen
indignation, but upon which a certain shyness kept her from commenting.
She kept him faithfully in mind, praying for him as regularly as she
prayed for old Squinny, who still lingered on with exasperating tenacity,
and continued to enjoy such help, spiritual or otherwise, as he could
extract from the parson's daughter.

That Bertie strongly disapproved of his brother she was aware, but she
held no very high opinion of Bertie's judgment, though even he could
scarcely have forbidden her to pray for the black sheep of the family.
She had not been brought up to rely upon anyone's judgment but her own,
and, deeply as she loved him, she could not help regarding her husband
as headlong and inclined to prejudice. He was young, she reflected, and
doubtless these small defects would disappear as he grew older. True, he
was nearly four years her senior; but Dot did not regard years as in any
degree a measure of age. It was all a question of development, she would
say, and some people--women especially--developed much more quickly than
others. She herself, for instance--At which stage of the argument Bertie
invariably said or did something rude, and the rest of her logic became
somewhat confused. He was a dear boy and she couldn't possibly be cross
with him, but somehow he never seemed to realise when she was in earnest.
Another of the deficiencies of youth!

Meanwhile she occupied herself in her new home with all the zest of the
young housewife, returned calls with commendable punctuality, and settled
down once more to the many parochial duties which had been her
ever-increasing responsibility for almost as long as she could remember.

"You are not going to slave like this always," Bertie said to her one
evening, when she came in late through a November drizzle to find him
waiting for her.

"I must do what I've got to do," said Dot practically, suffering him to
remove her wet coat.

"All very well," said Bertie, whose chin looked somewhat more square than
usual. "But I'm not going to have my wife wearing herself out over what
after all is not her business."

"My dear boy!" Dot laughed aloud, twining her arm in his. "I think you
forget, don't you, that I was the rector's daughter before I was your
wife? I must do these things. There is no one else to do them."

"Skittles!" said Bertie rudely.

"Yes, dear, but that's no argument. Let's go and have tea, and for
goodness' sake don't frown at me like that. It's positively appalling.
Put your chin in and be good."

She passed her hand over her husband's face and laughed up at him
merrily. But Bertie remained grave.

"You're wet through and as cold as ice. Come to the fire and let's get
off your boots."

She went with him into the drawing-room, where tea awaited them.

"I'm not wet through," she declared, "and I'm not going to let you take
off my boots. You may, if you are very anxious, give me some tea."

Bertie pulled up a chair to the fire and put her into it; then turned
aside and began to make the tea.

Dot lay back with her feet in the fender and watched him. She was looking
very tired, and now that the smile had faded from her face this was the
more apparent.

When he brought her her tea she reached up, caught his hand, and held it
for a moment against her cheek.

"One's own fireside is so much nicer than anyone else's," she said.
"We'll have a nice cosy talk presently. How is Luke to-day?"

"Not quite so flourishing. A brute of a dog howled in the night and woke
him up. He didn't get his proper sleep afterwards."

"Poor old Luke! What a shame!"

"Yes, it made a difference. He has been having neuralgia down his spine
nearly all day. I believe he's worrying too. I'm going back after dinner
to see if I can do anything. I manage to read him to sleep sometimes,
you know."

"Shall I come too?" said Dot.

"No." Bertie spoke with decision. "You had better go to bed yourself."

She made a face at him. "I shall do nothing of the sort. I shall sit up
and do the Clothing Club accounts."

Bertie frowned abruptly. "Not to-night, Dot."

"Yes, to-night. They have got to be done, and I can think better
at night."

"You are not to do them to-night," Bertie said, with determination. "I
will do them myself if they must be done."

"My dear boy, you! You would never understand my book-keeping. Just
imagine the muddle you would make! No, I must get through them myself,
and since I must spend the time somehow till you come home, why shouldn't
I do them to-night?"

"Because I forbid it," said Bertie unexpectedly.

He was standing on the rug, cup in hand. He looked straight down at her
with the words, meeting her surprised eyes with most unwonted sternness.

Dot raised her eyebrows as high as they would go, kept them so for
several seconds, then very deliberately lowered them and began to
stir her tea.

"You understand me, don't you?" he said.

She shook her head. "Not in the least. I don't think I have ever met you
before, have I?"

He set his cup upon the mantelpiece and went suddenly down on his knees
by her side. "I haven't been taking proper care of you," he said. "But
I'm going to begin right now. Do you know when you came in just now you
gave me an absolute shock?"

She laughed faintly, her eyes fixed upon her cup "I didn't know I was
looking such a fright."

"You can never look anything but sweet to me," he said. "But it's a fact
you're not looking well. I'm sure you are doing too much."

"I'm not doing any more than usual," said Dot, still intent upon the
drain of tea in her cup.

"Well, it's too much for you anyway, and I'm going to put a stop to it."

"Do you know how to read your fortune in tea leaves?" said Dot.

"No," said Bertie. With a very gentle hand he deprived her of this
engrossing pastime. "I want you to attend to me for a minute," he said.

Dot snuggled against him with a very winning gesture. "I don't want to,
Bertie, unless you can find something more interesting to talk about.
Really, there is nothing wrong with me. Tell me about Luke. Why is he
worrying?"

Bertie frowned. "He doesn't say so, but I believe he's bothered about
Nap. Heaven knows why he should be. He was supposed to go to Arizona, but
he didn't turn up there. As a matter of fact, if he never turned up again
anywhere it would be about the best thing that could possibly happen."

"Oh, don't, Bertie!" Dot spoke sharply, almost involuntarily. There was a
quick note of pain in her voice. "I don't like you to talk like that. It
isn't nice of you to be glad he's gone, and--it's downright horrid to
want him to stay away for ever."

"Good heavens!" said Bertie.

He was plainly amazed, and she resented his amazement, feeling that in
some fashion it placed her in a false position from which she was
powerless to extricate herself. The last thing she desired was to take up
the cudgels on Nap's behalf, nevertheless she prepared herself to do so
as in duty bound. For Nap was a friend, and Dot's loyalty to her friends
was very stanch.

"I mean it," she said, sitting up and facing him. "I don't think it's
right of you, and it certainly isn't kind. He doesn't deserve to be
treated as an outcast. He isn't such a bad sort after all. There is a
whole lot of good in him, whatever people may say. You at least ought
to know him better. Anyhow, he is a friend of mine, and I won't hear
him abused."

Bertie's face changed while she was speaking, grew stern, grew almost
implacable.

"Look here," he said plainly, "if you want to know what Nap is, he's a
damned blackguard, not fit for you to speak to. So, if you've no
objection, we'll shunt him for good and all!"

It was Dot's turn to look amazed. She opened her eyes to their widest
extent. "What has he done?"

"Never mind!" said Bertie.

"But I do mind!" Swiftly indignation swamped her surprise. "Why should I
shunt him, as you call it, for no reason at all? I tell you frankly,
Bertie, I simply won't!"

Her eyes were very bright as she ended. She sat bolt upright obviously
girded for battle.

Bertie also looked on the verge of an explosion, but with a grim effort
he restrained himself. "I have told you he is unworthy of your
friendship," he said. "Let that be enough."

"That's not enough," said Dot. "I think otherwise."

He bit his lip. "Well, if you must have it--so did Lady Carfax till she
found out her mistake."

"Lady Carfax!" Dot's face changed. "What about Lady Carfax?"

"She gave him her friendship," Bertie told her grimly, "and he rewarded
her with about as foul a trick as any man could conceive. You heard the
story of the motor breaking down that day in the summer when he took her
for a ride? It was nothing but an infernal trick. He wanted to get her
for himself, and it wasn't his fault that he failed. It was in
consequence of that that Lucas sent him away."

"Oh!" said Dot. "He was in love with her then!"

"If you call it love," said Bertie. "He is always in love with someone."

Dot's eyes expressed enlightenment. She seemed to have forgotten their
difference of opinion. "So that was why he was so cut up," she said. "Of
course--of course! I was a donkey not to think of it. What a mercy Sir
Giles is dead! Has anyone written to tell him?"

"No," said Bertie shortly.

"But why not? Surely he has a right to know? Lady Carfax herself
might wish it."

"Lady Carfax would be thankful to forget his very existence," said
Bertie, with conviction.

"My dear boy, how can you possibly tell? Are you one of those misguided
male creatures who profess to understand women?"

"I know that Lady Carfax loathes the very thought of him," Bertie
maintained. "She is not a woman to forgive and forget very easily.
Moreover, as I told you before, no one knows where he is."

"I see," said Dot thoughtfully. "But surely he has a club somewhere?"

"Yes, he belongs to the Phoenix Club, New York, if they haven't kicked
him out. But what of that? I'm not going to write to him. I don't want
him back, Heaven knows." There was a fighting note in Bertie's voice. He
spoke as if prepared to resist to the uttermost any sudden attack upon
his resolution.

But Dot attempted none; she abandoned the argument quite suddenly, and
nestled against his breast. "Darling, don't let's talk about it any
more! It's a subject upon which we can't agree. And I'm sorry I've been
so horrid to you. I know it isn't my fault that we haven't
quarrelled. Forgive me, dear, and keep on loving me. You do love me,
don't you, Bertie?"

"Sweetheart!" he whispered, holding her closely.

She uttered a little muffled laugh. "That's my own boy! And I'm going to
be so good, you'll hardly know me. I won't go out in the rain, and I
won't do the Clothing Club accounts, and I won't overwork. And--and--I
won't be cross, even if I do look and feel hideous. I'm going to be a
perfect saint, Bertie."

"Sweetheart!" he said again.

She turned her face up against his neck. "Shall I tell you why?" she
said, clinging to him with hands that trembled. "It's because if I let
myself get cross-grained and ugly now, p'r'aps someone else--some
day--will be cross-grained and ugly too. And I should never forgive
myself for that. I should always feel it was my fault. Fancy if it turned
out a shrew like me, Bertie! Wouldn't--wouldn't it be dreadful?"

She was half-laughing, half-crying, as she whispered the words. Bertie's
arms held her so closely that she almost gasped for breath.

"My precious girl!" he said. "My own precious wife! Is it so? You know, I
wondered."

She turned her lips quickly to his. There were tears on her cheeks though
she was laughing.

"How bright of you, Bertie! You--you always get there sooner or later,
don't you? And you're not cross with me any more? You don't think me very
unreasonable about Nap?"

"Oh, damn Nap!" said Bertie, for the second time, with fervour.

"Poor Nap!" said Dot gently.

That evening, when Bertie was at Baronmead, she scribbled a single
sentence on a sheet of paper, thrust it into an envelope and directed it
to the Phoenix Club, New York.

This done, she despatched a servant to the postoffice with it and sat
down before the fire.

"I expect it was wrong of me," she said. "But somehow I can't help
feeling he ought to know. Anyway"--Dot's English was becoming lightly
powdered with Americanisms, which possessed a very decided charm on her
lips--"anyway, it's done, and I won't think any more about it. It's the
very last wrong thing I'll do for--ever so long." Her eyes grew soft as
she uttered this praiseworthy resolution. She gazed down into the fire
with a little smile, and gave herself up to dreams.

CHAPTER V

THE SLOUGH OF DESPOND

"O God, give me rest!"

Painfully the words came through quivering lips, the first they had
uttered for hours. Lucas Errol lay, as he had lain for nearly three
months, with his face to the ceiling, his body stretched straight and
rigid, ever in the same position, utterly helpless and weary unto death.

Day after day he lay there, never stirring save when they made him bend
his knees, an exercise upon which the doctor daily insisted, but which
was agony to him. Night after night, sleepless, he waited the coming of
the day. His general health varied but little, but his weakness was
telling upon him. His endurance still held, but it was wearing thin. His
old cheeriness was gone, though he summoned it back now and again with
piteous, spasmodic effort. Hope and despair were fighting together in his
soul, and at that time despair was uppermost. He had set out with a brave
heart, but the goal was still far off, and he was beginning to falter. He
had ceased to make any progress, and the sheer monotony of existence was
wearing him out. The keen, shrewd eyes were dull and listless. At the
opening of the door he did not even turn his head.

And yet it was Anne who entered, Anne with the flush of exercise on her
sweet face, her hands full of Russian violets.

"See how busy I have been!" she said. "I am not disturbing you? You
weren't asleep?"

"I never sleep," he answered, and he did not look at her or the violets;
he kept his eyes upon the ceiling.

She came and sat beside him. "I gathered them all myself," she said.
"Don't you want to smell them?"

He moved his lips without replying, and she leaned down, her eyes full of
the utmost compassionate tenderness and held the violets to him. He
raised a hand with evident effort and fumblingly took her wrist. He
pressed the wet flowers against his face.

"It's a shame to bring them here, Lady Carfax," he said, letting her go.
"Take them--wear them! I guess they'll be happier with you."

She smiled a little. "Should I have gathered all this quantity for
myself? It has taken me nearly an hour."

"You should have told the gardener," he said. "You mustn't go tiring
yourself out over me. I'm not worth it." He added, with that kindly
courtesy of which adversity had never deprived him, "But I'm real
grateful all the same. You mustn't think me unappreciative."

"I don't," she answered gently. "Wouldn't you like them in water?"

"Ah, yes," he said. "Put them near me. I shall smell them if I can't see
them. Do you mind closing the window? I can't get warm to-day."

She moved to comply, passing across his line of vision. A moment she
stood with the keen sweet air blowing in upon her, a tall, gracious
figure in the full flower of comely womanhood, not beautiful, but
possessing in every line of her that queenly, indescribable charm which
is greater than beauty.

The man caught his breath as he watched her. His brows contracted.

Softly she closed the window and turned. She came back to her chair
by his side, drew forward a little table, and began deftly to arrange
her flowers.

Several seconds passed before Lucas broke the silence. "It does me good
to watch you," he said. "You're always so serene."

She smiled at him across the violets. "You place serenity among the
higher virtues?"

"I do," he said simply. "It's such a restful contrast to the
strenuousness of life. You make me feel just by looking at you that
everything's all right. You bring a peaceful atmosphere in with you,
and"--his voice sank a little--"you take it away again when you go."

The smile went out of her grey eyes at his last words, but the
steadfastness remained. "Then," she said gently, "I must come more often
and stay longer."

But he instantly negatived that. "No--it wouldn't be good for you. It
wouldn't be good for me either to get to lean on you too much. I should
grow exacting."

She saw a gleam of his old smile as he spoke, but it was gone at once,
lost among the countless lines that pain and weariness had drawn of late
upon his face.

"I don't think that is very likely," Anne said. "I can't imagine it."

"Not yet perhaps. I haven't quite reached that stage. Maybe I shall be
down and out before it comes. God grant it!"

The words were too deliberate to cause her any shock. They were,
moreover, not wholly unexpected. There followed a short silence while she
finished arranging her violets. Then very quietly she spoke:

"You say that because you are tired."

"I am more than tired," he answered. "I'm done. I'm beaten. I'm whipped
off the field."

"You think you are not gaining ground?" she questioned.

"My dear Lady Carfax," he said quietly, "it's no use closing one's eyes
to the obvious. I'm losing ground every day--every night."

"But you are not fighting," she said.

"No." He looked at her half-wistfully from under his heavy eyelids. "Do
you think me quite despicable? I've done my best."

She was silent. Perhaps she was not fully prepared to cope with this open
admission of failure.

"I've done my best," he said again. "But it's outlasted my strength. I'm
like a man hanging on to the edge of a precipice. I know every instant
that my grip is slackening, and I can't help it. I've got to drop."

"You haven't done your best yet," Anne said, her voice very low. "You've
got to hold on to the very end. It may be help is nearer than you think."

"But if I don't want help?" he said. "If it would be more merciful to
let me go?"

Again she was silent.

"You know," he said, "life hasn't many inducements. I've put up a fight
for it because I gave my promise to Nap before he went. But it isn't good
enough to keep on. I can't win through. The odds are too great."

"Do you think Nap would let you stop fighting?" she said.

He smiled again faintly. "I suppose--if he were here--I should subsist on
his vitality for a little while. But the end would be the same. Even he
can't work miracles."

"Don't you believe in miracles?" Anne said.

He looked at her interrogatively.

"Mr. Errol," she said, "I am going to remind you of something that I
think you have forgotten. It was Dr. Capper who told me. It was when you
were recovering consciousness after the operation. You sent me a message.
'Tell Anne,' you said, 'I am going to get well.'" She paused a moment,
looking at him very steadily. "I don't know why exactly you sent that
special message to me, but I have carried it in my heart ever since."

She had moved him at last. She saw a faint glow spread slowly over the
tired face. The heavy eyes opened wide to meet her look.

"Did I say that?" he said. "Yes, I had forgotten."

He was silent for a little, gazing full at her with the eyes of one
suddenly awakened.

She lowered her own, and bent her face to the violets. Though she had
spoken so quietly it had not been without effort. She had not found
it easy. Nor did she find his silence easy, implicitly though she
trusted him.

Perhaps he understood, for when he spoke at length there was in his
voice so reassuring a gentleness that on the instant her
embarrassment passed.

"Anne," he said, "do you really want me to get well? Would such a miracle
make much difference to you?"

"It would make all the difference in the world," she answered earnestly.
"I want it more than anything else in life."

With the words she raised her eyes, found his fixed upon her with an
expression so new, so tender, that her heart stirred within her as a
flower that expands in sudden sunshine, and the next moment his hand lay
between her own, and all doubt, all hesitation had fled.

"But, my dear," he said, "I always thought it was Nap. Surely it was
Nap!"

She felt as if something had stabbed her. "No, never!" she said
passionately. "Never! It might have been--once--before I knew him. But
never since, never since!"

"That so?" said Lucas Errol, and was silent for a little. Then,
"Anne"--and the soft drawl had in it a tremor that was almost a break--"I
guess I do believe in miracles after all, dear. Anyway," he began to
smile, "there are some things in life too mighty for explanation."

His face was turned towards her. There was something in the look it wore
that seemed to her in some fashion superb. He was different from other
men. That quiet kingliness of his was so natural to him, so sublimely
free from arrogance. He was immeasurably greater than his fellows by
reason of the very smallness of his self-esteem.

"Guess I must take up my burden again and step out," he said. "You won't
catch me slacking any after this. And--if I don't win out, dear, you'll
know that it just wasn't possible because God didn't will it so."

"Oh, but you will!" she said, clasping his hand more closely. "You will!
God knows how badly I want you."

"His Will be done!" said Lucas Errol. "But I want you too, dearest. I
want you too."

His fingers stirred in her hold. It was the merest movement, but she
knew his meaning. She slipped to her knees by his side, leaned down and
kissed him.

CHAPTER VI

A VOICE THAT CALLED

Christmas came and went--the most peaceful Christmas that Anne had ever
known. A wonderful peace had indeed begun to possess her. It was as if
after long tossing she had come at last into quiet waters, and a
contentment such as she had never known before was hers. Her health had
improved in this calm, untroubled atmosphere. She slept without dreaming.
She had put all regrets and fears out of her life.

Lucas filled all her thoughts. Had he allowed it, she would have devoted
herself exclusively to him, but this he would not have. Very slowly, very
painfully, he had struggled out of his Slough of Despond, and what that
struggle had meant to him none but himself would ever know. And now that
he had made it, and in a measure succeeded, he suffered scarcely less
than before. His strength was undoubtedly greater, his spirits were more
even; but these were the only visible signs of improvement. The long,
sleepless nights with spells of racking pain continued. Perhaps they
became less frequent as time went on, but they did not cease.

Anne always knew, though the same brave smile greeted her every day,
when he had been through one of these ordeals. He was always so ready
to tell her when the news was good, but when it was otherwise his lips
were sealed upon the subject. He never uttered a desponding word in
her presence.

But still, gradual, often halting though it was, he did make progress. He
went forward more than he slipped back. And ever he carried in his eyes
the light of a great hope. She knew that he did not despair, even in his
own hidden soul.

And day by day her love and admiration for the man grew and spread,
filling her life, renewing her youth, transforming her very existence.
Day by day she sounded greater depths of a nature that made her feel
infinitely small in comparison. Day by day she marvelled afresh at the
greatness and the simplicity that went to the making of this man's soul.

No one, save Mrs. Errol, knew of what had passed between them. They
scarcely referred to it even in private. There was no need, for the
understanding between them was complete. By mutual consent they awaited
the coming of Capper and the final miracle.

Slowly the dark, bitter days of January dragged away. The Hunt Ball had
been postponed till the following month when the Town Hall, which had
been building all the winter, should be complete. Anne, to her dismay,
had been unanimously elected to perform the opening ceremony. Her
position as Lady of the Manor made her prominent, and, no substitute
being forthcoming, she had been obliged reluctantly to consent. Her deep
mourning enabled her to avoid any succeeding social function, but, since
she had broken her seclusion, she found it impossible to escape the
ceremony itself.

She had never enjoyed social prominence, and she was thankful that at the
Hunt Ball at least her presence could not be expected. She never thought
of the last that she had attended without a shiver. It had been her
birthday, and this fact brought it to mind the more persistently. This
year she spent the day in the peaceful atmosphere of Baronmead, driving
home at length, through the frosty starlight, in the Errols' car.

She strove as she went to put away from her the memory of that other ride
of a year ago, when she had been borne swiftly through the darkness as
though upon wings, when she had lain back exhausted in her corner and
dreamed a strange, vivid dream, while Nap had sat upright beside her,
alert, silent, inscrutable, plucking the gloves to tatters between his
restless hands.

The vision would not be excluded, strive though she might. She leaned
amongst the cushions and closed her eyes, trying to trick herself to
drowsiness, but on the instant he was there beside her again, a
ruthless, indomitable presence, which would not be ignored. She was glad
when she came to her journey's end.

Entering the hall, she gathered up a few letters that lay there, and went
straight to her room. With a feeling of unwonted fatigue she dropped into
an easy-chair and sat for awhile inert. On her right hand she wore a ring
that Lucas had given her only that day.

He had half-apologised for his offering. "If you think it premature,
don't wear it!" he had said.

And she had slipped it on to her right hand and worn it ever since.

She recalled the kindling of his tired eyes at her action, and smiled
sadly to herself. How little she had to give him after all! And yet he
was content!

Sitting there, she raised her hand and looked closely at the gift. It was
a complete circle of diamonds. She had never seen such a ring before. It
must have cost a fortune. She wondered if she ought to wear it. Again
memory began to crowd upon her, strive though she would.

"Do you like diamonds?" asked a casual voice.

Her hand fell into her lap. She sat as one watching a scene upon a stage,
rapt and listening. She wanted to rise and move away, to break the magic
spell that bound her, to flee--to flee--but she was powerless.

"No," said the voice. "You haven't a passion for anything at present.
You will have soon."

There fell a silence in her soul, a brief darkness, then again words, no
longer casual, but quick, burning, passionate.

"I am mad--I am mad for you, Anne! Goddess--queen--woman--you are
mine--you are mine--you are mine!" And then, less fiery, less vehement,
but infinitely more compelling: "Where is your love for me? I will swear
that you loved me once!"

The voice ceased, was lost in the wild throbbing of her heart, and Anne's
hands clenched unconsciously. In that moment there came to her the
conviction, inexplicable but extraordinarily vivid, that across the world
Nap Errol had called to her--and had called in vain.

Minutes passed. She sat as one in a trance. Her eyes were wide and fixed.
Her face was grey.

She rose at last and stood looking down into the red depths of the
fire. The coals sank together under her eyes, and a sudden flame flared
fiercely for a moment and died. It was like the opening and the
shutting of a furnace door. A long, long shiver went through her. She
turned away....

Anne Carfax did not look in her glass again that day. For the third time
in her life she was afraid to meet her own eyes.

And all night long her brain thrummed like a vibrating wire to a voice
that sometimes pleaded but more often gibed. "Has the Queen no further
use for her jester?"

CHAPTER VII

THE UNINVITED GUEST

Spring came early that year, and the day fixed for the opening of the
Baronford Town Hall was brilliantly fine and warm. Anne was staying at
Baronmead for the event. The end of February was approaching. Lucas was
decidedly better. His sleep was becoming less broken. He suffered
considerably less; and he took a keen interest in all that passed.

On the morning before the ceremony he greeted Anne with an eagerness
that almost amounted to impatience. "Come in! Come in! I've something to
show you."

He was alone. She went to his side and kissed him.

His hands caught hers, and she marvelled at the strength of his grip.
"Sweetheart," he said, "I've had a letter from Capper."

She felt the blood ebb suddenly from her face. She stood a moment in
silence, then sat down and pressed his hand close against her heart.

"What does he say?" she asked.

He looked at her oddly for a few seconds. Then: "It's good news, dear,"
he said. "You mustn't let it scare you."

She began to smile, though her lips were trembling. "No, of course not.
Tell me what he says."

He gave her the letter and she read. Capper wrote that he had received an
excellent report from Dr. Randal of his patient's progress, that he
expected to be in England in about a fortnight and would come down
himself to ascertain if the time for the second operation had arrived. He
wrote in a cheery strain, and at the end of the letter was a postscript:
"Have you taken my advice yet with regard to _la femme_?"

"An ancient joke," explained Lucas with a smile. "He told me long ago
that I should need a woman's help to pull me through. And"--his voice
dropped--"I guess he was right."

The colour came back to her face. She pressed his hand without speaking.

"I shouldn't be here now but for you, Anne," he said, his blue eyes
watching her. "I sometimes think it must have been a mortal strain upon
you. Have you felt it so very badly, I wonder?"

She met his look with eyes grown misty. "Luke--my dearest--you have done
far greater things for me. You have kept me from starvation. You have no
idea what you are to me."

The words came brokenly. She checked a sudden sob and, rising, moved to
the window.

Lucas lay silent, but his eyes watched her with a great tenderness.

When she came back to him she was smiling. "Have you ever begun to think
of what you will do when you are well?" she said.

"I am thinking of it always," he answered. "I make wonderful pictures for
myself sometimes. You are the central figure of them all."

She clasped his hand again in hers. "Lucas," she said, "will you
take me away?"

"Yes, dear," he said.

"Far away from anywhere I have ever been before?" Her voice shook a
little. "I want to begin life over again where everything is new."

A certain shrewdness gleamed in the steady eyes that watched her, but it
was mingled with the utmost kindness.

"I guess I'd better show you my best picture right now," he said. "It's
got a steam yacht in it, and a state cabin fit for a queen. And it goes
rocking around the world, looking for the Happy Islands. I guess we shall
find them some day, sweetheart--maybe sooner than we think."

"Ah, yes," she said. "We won't stop looking till we do. How soon shall we
start, Luke?"

He answered her with a smile, but there was a thrill of deep feeling in
his words. "Just as soon as I can stand on my feet like any other man,
Anne, and hold the woman I love in my arms."

She bent her face suddenly, pressing her cheek to the hand she held. "I
am ready for you when ever you will," she murmured.

"I know it," he said. "And God bless you for telling me so!"

He was full of kindness to her that day, and she thought him cheerier
than he had been all the winter. When she bade him good-bye that
afternoon he seemed in excellent spirits. Yet after she was gone he lay
for a long while staring at the specks of dust that danced in a shaft of
sunlight, with the air of a man seeking the solution of a problem that
baffled him. And once very suddenly he sighed.

Anne went through the ordeal of publicity with less embarrassment than
she had anticipated. Mrs. Errol was with her, and she was surrounded by
friends. Even Major Shirley deigned to look upon her with a favourable
eye. Bertie was hunting, but Dot was present to view the final
achievement of her favourite scheme.

She seized the first opportunity to slip her arm through Anne's. "Do--do
come home with me to tea," she whispered very urgently. "I want to show
you some things I have been making. And make the dear mater come too, if
someone else doesn't snap her up first."

But the dear mater was already snapped up, and Anne had some difficulty
in avoiding a like fate.

Eventually, however, she succeeded in making her escape, and she and Dot
drove back to the Dower House, congratulating themselves.

"I am lucky to get you all to myself," Dot said. "And do you know, dear
Lady Carfax, you are looking simply lovely to-day?"

Anne smiled a little. She had discarded her widow's veil for the first
time, and she felt like a woman emerging from a long imprisonment. People
would call it premature, she knew. Doubtless they were already discussing
her not too charitably. But after all, why should she consider them? The
winter was past and over, and the gold of the coming spring was already
dawning. Why should she mourn? Were not all regrets put away for ever?

"I wish you would call me Anne, Dot," she said.

"To be sure I will," said Dot, with shining eyes. "I never liked the name
before I knew you. And now I love it."

There was something wonderfully genuine and childlike about Dot, a
youthfulness that would probably cling to her all her life. Anne drew her
on to speak of herself and her coming happiness, which she did with that
cheery simplicity of hers that had first drawn Bertie to her.

"He makes a tremendous fuss," she said, displaying Bertie's favourite
dimple at the thought. "I don't, you know. I somehow feel it's going to
be all right. But it's rather nice being petted for months together. I
haven't had a tantrum for ages. I'm afraid I'm getting spoilt."

At which piece of logic Anne could not repress a smile.

"He won't be home to tea," said Dot, when they finally turned in at the
Dower House. "He stables his hunters at Baronmead, and he is sure to go
in and see Luke. So we shall have it all to ourselves. I'm so glad, for I
have been wanting your advice for days. I wonder if anyone has been.
Hullo! Bertie's back after all!"

A glow of firelight met them from the little square hall as they
entered, and a smell of cigarette smoke mingled with the scent from the
burning logs.

Dot stood back for her guest to precede her, but Anne stood
suddenly still.

"Hullo!" said Dot again.

A slim, straight figure was standing outlined against the firelight. Dot
stared as she stepped forward.

"Why--Nap!" she said incredulously.

He made a swift, elastic movement to meet her, caught her hands, laughed,
and kissed her.

"Why--Dot!" he said.

Dot continued to stare. "Good gracious!" she said.

And in the doorway Anne stood like a statue, the soft spring dusk

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