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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 1. Jake Bolton
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Charles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 1. Jake Bolton Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2939

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Charles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 1. Jake Bolton

PART II CHAPTER I. JAKE BOLTON

It was a week after the sinking of _The Night Moth that Saltash, very immaculately dressed, with field-glasses slung over his shoulder, made his first appearance since the disaster at a meeting on the Graydown Race-course, a few miles from his ancient castle of Burchester. He was looking very well pleased with himself and certainly none the worse for the adventure as he sauntered among his friends, of whom a good many were present. His ugly face and wiry figure were well-known at Graydown, and he seemed sure of his welcome wherever he went.

There had been a time years before when he had kept his own stud, and racing had been his hobby. It had not held him for long. He was not the man to pursue any one object for any length of time. With characteristic volatility he had thrown up this amusement to follow others, but he had never wholly abandoned his interest in the stud which had once been his.

It was owned by one, Jake Bolton, a man of rugged exterior whose integrity had become a proverb on the Turf. This man was Saltash's erstwhile trainer, and a very curious bond existed between them. Utterly unlike in every respect, the one as subtle as the other was simple, yet the two men were friends. How it had come about neither of them quite knew. When Saltash had been his employer, Jake Bolton had distrusted and despised him, but by some means this attitude of his had become very materially modified. He greeted Saltash now with the hand of friendship which Saltash on his part was always ready to accept with a baffling smile that was not wholly without irony. He was wont to say that any man could make an enemy of him, but no man could keep him as such. Perhaps it was that very volatility of his which made anything of the nature of prolonged enmity an impossibility. He possessed also that maddening sense of humour that laughs at deadly things. A good many people had tried to take him seriously and had failed. He was never serious. As he used to say with his mocking laugh, life was difficult enough without complications of that sort. All he ever asked of it was a certain mead of enjoyment. It was utterly unreasonable to expect anything else. Happiness! What was it. A bursting bubble, no more. No lasting joy had ever come his way, and he was fain to believe that such a thing did not exist outside the covers of a book.

Jake Bolton could have told him otherwise, but he and Saltash never spoke of abstract things. Saltash might have seen the deep content in the man's eyes, but if he had, he would probably have scoffed at it. In any case there was certainly no denying that he and Bolton had been cast in different moulds, and that which gave life-long satisfaction to the latter would have held the former for possibly but a very brief period. As a woman friend who knew him well had once said of him, Charles Rex was too rapid a traveller to gather much upon the way. For though keen for pleasure, he was too restless for its enjoyment when attained. But even that friend had not fathomed all the possibilities of that strange personality. Perhaps there was only one woman in the world who would ever do that.

It was a showery spring day, and the turf of the race-course shone with a fresh greenness. Saltash strolled through the paddock to find Jake Bolton, whistling a careless air as he went. Several stable-boys saluted him as he passed, and finally a man he knew, Sam Vickers, Bolton's right-hand man, came up and accosted him.

"Are you looking for Mr. Bolton, my lord? He's round by the boxes with Sir Bernard Brian. We've got our best two-year-old round there--Prince Charlie his name is. He's by the old Hundredth Chance and Queen of the Earth. Your lordship ought to see him. He is a royalty and no mistake; tame as a dog too, and that knowing--well, there, you'd hardly believe it, but we have to talk in French sometimes so as he shan't know what we say!"

Saltash chuckled. "You must let me hear you, Sam. All right. I'll go round. Ah! Here is Sir Bernard! Hullo, Bunny, my boy! You, is it? Where's the boss?"

A black-haired, black-eyed lad of about three-and-twenty, handsome, spare, and very upright, had come suddenly round the corner of a building. He greeted Saltash with enthusiasm.

"Why, Charlie! I'm awfully pleased to see you! We all thought you were done for. How are you, I say? It was rotten luck for you to lose the poor old _Night Moth like that. Hope she was decently insured. And you're none the worse?"

"Not a mite!" laughed Saltash. "How are you? As skimpy a bag of bones as ever?"

"Oh, dash it! I've grown!" protested Bunny. "I'm as tall as you are anyway."

"Oh, you're long enough," chaffed Saltash. "But you're too damn slim! I should think Maud could get you through her wedding-ring if she tried."

"Shut up!" growled Bunny who was somewhat sensitive on the point of physical shortcomings. "I'm well enough, so what does it matter? Are you coming round to see Maud when this show is over?"

"Depends," grinned Saltash.

"What's it depend on?" Bunny linked an arm in his and drew him forward; they were friends of many years' standing.

Saltash looked at him with his odd eyes that always seemed to be speculating like a monkey's, as to how far his next jump would carry him. "Depends upon Jake of course. Your good brother-in-law doesn't always invite the wolf into the fold, _mon cher_."

"As if you needed an invitation!" ejaculated Bunny impatiently. "Well, I invite you anyway. I know Maud will be awfully disappointed if you don't come and tell her all about your adventure. We were talking about you only this morning."

"Really!" said Saltash. "Would it be rude to ask what you were saying?"

Bunny's thin face flushed. "You're welcome to know so far as I'm concerned," he said bluntly. "I always stick up for you, Charlie."

"Do you? _Mais vraiment!_" protested Saltash. "I am touched beyond words. And what says Brother Jake to that?"

"Oh, Jake says I'm an ass, but he's quite decent about you, Charlie,--rather fond of you in fact. Don't run away with that idea!" begged Bunny, turning still redder. "Only people jaw a lot about you, you know. No one ever can be content to mind their own business."

"He'd be a fool who was," said Saltash. "There's no such thing as independent action in this world. We all hang to each other like swarming bees. So you've been sticking up for me, have you? And what says Sister Maud?"

Bunny broke into a sudden laugh. "Oh, she's decided to reserve judgment. You'll have to come and see her. You really must. And the kids too--four of 'em now. The eldest is a darling."

"Eileen! Oh, I know Eileen," said Saltash. "I was actually allowed to have her to tea once at the Castle. I am not supposed to have such a venomous effect upon quite small girls as upon young men of two or three and twenty."

"Oh, shut up!" Bunny growled again. "There's Jake, look! Come and speak to him!"

There was nothing ornamental about Jake Bolton. Short, thick-set, powerful as a bull and with something of a bull's unswerving contempt for all obstacles in his path, with red-brown eyes that were absolutely level in their regard and mercilessly keen, such was the man who had married Maud Brian eight years before, practically in the teeth of Saltash who had wooed her in her girlhood. There was no feud between them. Their enmity was long since dead and buried. Saltash could be intolerably malicious and even vindictive when the mood took him, but his moods never lasted. And as for Bolton, since he had won and still possessed his heart's desire, he could afford to be generous.

His greeting was generous now, but it was not wholly without reserve. He gave Saltash a square hand-grip before he uttered a word.

Then: "Glad you're safe and sound, my lord," he said, in a voice that was curiously soft and deliberate.

"That's uncommon kind of you, Jake," laughed Saltash, with his royal air of graciousness. "I share the sentiment. I know you would all have been heart-broken if I hadn't turned up again. How is Maud?"

"Very well--if she doesn't work too hard. I have to keep her in order in that respect," said Jake Bolton with a sudden smile that swept all the somewhat dominant lines from his face.

Saltash grinned in sympathy. "You always were a bully, but I'll bet she gets her own way all the same. So you've got a boy at last! Hope it's a good one!"

"He'd better be, hadn't he, Jake?" struck in Bunny. "The imp is six months old now and goes for a canter on The Hundredth Chance every day when I'm at home. You actually haven't seen him yet, Charlie? What a rotter you were to be away all the winter!"

"Well, I'm home now anyway," said Saltash, with a comical glance at Jake. "Am I to be allowed to call and view the latest acquisition?"

Jake was looking straight at him. "Are you--alone at the Castle, my lord?" he asked after a moment.

Saltash began to laugh. "Of course I'm alone! What did you expect? Ah, I see!" His glance flashed to Bunny. "Yes, I am quite alone--most conspicuously and virtuously unaccompanied. Come and see for yourself! Search the Castle from turret-chamber to dungeon! You will find nothing but the most monastic emptiness. I've turned into a hermit. Haven't they made that discovery yet? My recent deliverance from what I must admit was a decidedly awkward predicament in the Channel has sobered me to such an extent that on my life I begin to doubt if I shall ever be anything but a dull dog again. Yes, that's the truth, Jake. You can take it or leave it. But I'm coming to see Maud in any case. When is my presence least likely to cause you inconvenience?"

"Oh, damn it, Jake!" broke in Bunny with sudden heat. "You know Maud said you were to ask him to dine if he turned up."

"You shut up, my son!" commanded Jake with absolute serenity. "It's not any business of yours anyway. We'll send you to bed before dinner if you aren't mighty careful."

Bunny laughed at the threat, but his sallow boyish face coloured sensitively notwithstanding.

Saltash laughed also. "Oh, you needn't do that, Jake. I'm as harmless as any sucking dove, I assure you. You'll have to put up with me now. When shall I come?"

"Come tonight!" said Jake with quiet decision. "Eight o'clock if that suits you. Afraid I must go now. Bunny, take his lordship to see Prince Charlie!"

He lifted a hand in salute and turned away--a man of no pretensions either social or intellectual, yet who knew how to hold his own with high and low alike.

"Keeps you in order still, does he?" gibed Saltash, as he watched him go. "You're getting too old to be on a leading-string, _mon cher_."

Bunny frowned at the careless words. "You don't know him. He's not that sort of ass. We're pals, Jake and I, and I'm proud of it."

"Of course you are!" said Saltash comfortably. "Didn't I tell you long ago that he was a gentleman? It's the way he's made. Hewn out of raw material, but the real thing and no mistake. You must never quarrel with him on my account, Bunny, my lad. It would be very poor economy on your part."

"I shan't do that," said Bunny. "But he's got to do you justice. Maud says the same."

Saltash laughed aloud. "But, my dear chap, nobody ever does that! I don't myself!"

Bunny looked at him with affection. "You always have tried to make yourself out a worse rotter than you really are, haven't you, Charlie? I always tell Jake so."

"No, it's not my doing," said Saltash lightly. "That's the rest of the world, _mon ami_. They like their pictures highly coloured. So--_pourquoi pas_?"

He snapped his fingers and laughed, and they passed on together with careless jesting and friendly chaff. Saltash had always been kind to young Bernard Brian. The boy had been a helpless cripple in his childhood, and he had developed a keen appreciation for all kindness during those days which nothing could now efface. Whatever Saltash's morals, he was a friend, and as such Bunny never failed to treat him. They spent the rest of the afternoon together in and out of the enclosure, and when amidst wild enthusiasm Prince Charlie won his maiden race, the two were waiting side by side to congratulate Jake as he led the victor in. Saltash departed soon afterwards and motored back to Burchester Castle to dress. And then Bunny, half-laughing, half-apologetic, turned to his brother-in-law.

"I can't help being decent to Charlie, Jake. I don't care a damn what they say."

Jake gave him a straight look from under his rough red brows. "I'm not blaming you," he said.

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