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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 13. The End Of The Game
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Charles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 13. The End Of The Game Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1671

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Charles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 13. The End Of The Game


She cried out sharply as he caught her, and then she struggled and fought like a mad creature for freedom. But Bunny held her fast. He had been hard pressed, and now that the strain was over, all the pent passion of that long stress had escaped beyond control. He held her,--at first as a boy might hold a comrade who had provoked him to exasperation; then, as desperately she resisted him, a new element suddenly rushed like fire through his veins, and he realized burningly, overwhelmingly, that for the first time in his life he held a woman in his arms.

It came to him like a blinding revelation, and forth-with it seemed to him that he stepped into a new world. She had tried him too far, had thrown him off his balance. He was unfit for this further and infinitely greater provocation. His senses swam. The touch of her intoxicated him as though he had drunk a potent draught from some goblet of the gods. He heard himself laugh passionately at her puny effort to resist him and the next moment she was at his mercy. He was pressing fevered kisses upon her gasping, quivering lips.

But she fought against him still. Though he kissed her, she would have none of it. She struck at him, battering him frantically with her hands, stamping wildly with her feet, till he literally swung her off the ground, holding her slender body against his breast.

"You little madcap!" he said, with his hot lips against her throat. "How dare you? Do you think I'd let you go--now?"

The quick passion of his voice or the fiery possession of his hold arrested her. She suddenly ceased to battle with him, and stiffened in his grasp as if turned to stone.

"Let me go!" she said tensely.

"I will not," said Bunny.

He was mad with the fever of youth; he held her with a fierce exultation. There could be no returning now, nor did he wish to return.

"You little wild butterfly!" he said, and kissed the throbbing white throat again. "I've caught you now and you can't escape."

"You've--had your revenge," Toby flung back gaspingly. "You--you--you're a skunk if you take any more."

Oddly that sobered him as any protest more feminine would have failed to do. He set her on her feet, but he held her still.

"I haven't done with you," he said, with a certain doggedness.

"Oh, I know that," she returned very bitterly. "You're like all the men. You can't play fair. Men don't know how."

That stung him. "Fair or unfair, you've done all the playing so far," he said. "If you thought I was such a tame fool as to put up with it--well, that's not my fault."

"No, it's never your fault," said Toby. She made a little vehement movement to extricate herself, but finding him obdurate, abandoned the attempt. "You're not a fool, Bunny Brian. You're a beast and a coward,--there!"

"Be careful!" warned Bunny, his dark eyes gleaming ominously.

But she uttered a laugh of high defiance. "Oh, I'm not afraid of you. You're not full-grown yet. You're ashamed of yourself already."

He coloured deeply at the taunt, but he maintained his hold upon her.

"All right," he said. "Say I did it all! It doesn't matter how you put it. The fact remains."

"What fact?" said Toby swiftly.

He clasped her a little closer. "Well,--do you think I'm going to let you go--after this?"

She caught her breath sharply. "What do you mean? I--I--I don't know what you mean!"

There was quick agitation in her voice. Again she sought to free herself, and again he frustrated her. But the violence had gone out of his hold. There was even a touch of dignity about him as he made reply.

"I mean, you little wild butterfly, that now I've got you, I'm going to keep you. You'll have to marry me and make the best of me."

"Marry you!" said Toby as one incredulous.

"Yes. What's the matter with the idea? Don't you want to?" Bunny's good-looking young face came close to hers. He was laughing, but there was a half-coaxing note in his voice as well.

Toby was silent for a moment. Then: "You're mad!" she said tersely.

"I'm not!" said Bunny. "I'm perfectly serious. Don't you understand that when this kind of thing gets hold of you, there's no getting away from it? We can't possibly go back to where we were before--behave as if nothing had happened. You wouldn't want to, would you?"

There was a hint of pleading in his tone now. Toby made a curious little gesture that seemed to express a measure of reassurance. But, "I don't know," she said somewhat dubiously.

"You aren't angry, are you?" said Bunny softly.

She hesitated. "I was."

"Yes, but not now--when you've begun to realize what a jolly thing life together would be. It isn't as if we'd never met before. We're pals already."

"Yes; we're pals," said Toby, but still her voice was dubious.

"I say, be a sport!" the boy urged suddenly. "You said you weren't afraid of me. Don't chuck the best thing in life for want of a little ordinary courage!"

"What is--the best thing in life?" said Toby.

His hold grew close again, but it remained gentle. "You marry me," he said, "and I'll show you!"

There was something sublime rather than ridiculous in his assurance. Toby caught her breath again as if about to laugh, and then quite suddenly, wholly unexpectedly, she began to cry.

"You poor little darling!" said Bunny.

She leaned her head upon his shoulder, fighting great sobs that threatened to overwhelm her. It was not often that Toby cried, and this was no mere child's distress. Indeed there was about it something that filled her companion with a curious kind of awe. He held her closely and comfortingly, but for some reason he could not speak to her, could not even attempt to seek the cause of her trouble. As his sister had done before him, though almost unconsciously, he sensed a barrier that he might not pass.

Toby regained her self-command at last, stood for a space in silence, her face still hidden, then abruptly raised it and uttered a little quivering laugh.

"You great big silly!" she said. "I'm not going to marry you, so there! Now let me go!"

Her tone and action put him instantly at his ease. This was the Toby he knew.

"Yes, you are going to marry me. And I shan't let you go," he said. "So there!"

She looked him straight in the face. "No, Bunny!" she said, with a little catch in her breath. "You're a dear to think of it, but it won't do."

"Why not?" demanded Bunny.

She hesitated.

He squeezed her shoulders. "Tell me why not!"

"I don't want to tell you," said Toby.

"You've got to," he said with decision.

In the dimness his eyes looked into hers. A little shiver went through Toby. "I don't want to," she said again.

"Go on!" commanded Bunny, autocratically.

She turned suddenly and set her hands against his breast. "Well then, because I'm years and years older than you are--"

"Rot!" interjected Bunny.

"And--I'm not good enough for you!" finished Toby rather tremulously.

"Rats!" said Bunny.

"No, it isn't rats." She contradicted him rather piteously. "You've turned a silly game into deadly earnest, and you shouldn't--you shouldn't. I wouldn't have done it if I'd known. It's such a mistake--it's always such a great mistake--to do that. You say we can't go back to where we were before, but we can--we can. Let's try--anyway!"

"We can't," said Bunny with decision. "And there's no reason why we should. Look here! You don't want to marry anyone else, do you?"

"I don't want to marry at all," said Toby.

He laughed at that. "Darling, of course you'll marry. Come! You might as well have me first as last. You won't get any other fellow to suit you half as well. What? Say you'll have me! Come, you've got to. You don't hate me, do you?"

Again the pleading note was in his voice. She responded to it almost involuntarily. Her hands slipped upwards to his shoulders.

"But--I'm not good enough," she said again, catching back a sob.

His arms enfolded her, closely and tenderly. "Oh, skip that!" he said. "I won't listen."

"You--you--you're very silly," murmured Toby, with her head against his neck.

"No. I'm not. I'm very sensible. Look here, we're engaged now, aren't we?" said Bunny.

"No--no--we're not!" Her voice came muffled against his coat. "You're not to think of such a thing for ages and ages and ages."

"Oh, rot!" he said again with impatience. "I hate a waiting game--especially when there's nothing to wait for. You're not going to give me the go-by now."

His face was close to her again. She put her hand against his chin and softly pushed it away. "Bunny!" she said.

"Well, dear?" He stood, not yielding, but suffering her check.

"Bunny!" she said again, speaking with obvious effort. "I've got to say something. You must listen--just for a minute. Jake,--Jake won't want you to be engaged to me."

"What?" Bunny started a little, as one who suddenly remembers a thing forgotten. "Jake!" Then hotly. "What the devil has it got to do with Jake?"

"Stop!" said Toby. "Jake's quite right. He knows. He--he's older than you are. You--you--you'd better ask him."

"Ask Jake!" Bunny's wrath exploded. "I'm my own master. I can marry whom I like. What on earth should I ask Jake for?"

Toby uttered a little sigh. "You needn't if you don't want to. But if you're wise, you will. He understands. You wouldn't. You see, I've been to a lot of different schools, Bunny--foreign ones--and I've learnt a heap of--rather funny things. That's why I'm so much older than you are. That's why I don't want to get married--as most girls do. I never ought to marry. I know too much."

"But you'll marry me?" he said swiftly.

"I don't know," she said. "Not anyway yet. If--if you can stick to me for six months--I--p'raps I'll think about it. But I think you'll come to your senses long before then, Bunny." A desolate little note of humour sounded in her voice. "And if you do, you'll be so glad not to have to throw me over."

"You're talking rot," he interposed.

"No, I'm not. I'm talking sense--ordinary common sense. I wouldn't get engaged to any man on the strength of what happened to-night. You hadn't even thought of me in that way when we came up here."

"I'm not so sure of that," said Bunny. "Anyway, the mischief is done now. And you needn't be afraid I shall throw you over because--" an unexpected throb came into his voice--"I know now I've simply got to have you."

Toby sighed again. "But if--if I'm not worth waiting for, I'm not worth having," she said.

"But why wait?" argued Bunny.

"For a hundred reasons. You're not really in love with me for one thing." Toby spoke with conviction.

"Yes, I am." Stubbornly he contradicted her.

"No, you're not. Listen, Bunny! Love isn't just a passion-flower that blooms in a single night and then fades. You're too young really to understand, but I know--I know. Love is more like a vine. It takes a long while to ripen and come to perfection, and it has a lot to go through first."

Again a sense of strangeness came to Bunny. Surely this was a grown woman speaking! This was not the wild little creature he knew. But--perhaps it was from perversity--her warning only served to strengthen his determination.

"You can go on arguing till midnight," he said, "you won't convince me. But look here, if you don't want anyone to know, we'll keep it to ourselves for a little while. Will that satisfy you? We'll meet and have some jolly times together in private. Will that make you any happier?"

"We shan't be engaged?" questioned Toby.

"Not if you'll kiss me without," said Bunny generously.

"Oh, I don't mind kissing you--" she lifted her lips at once, "if it doesn't mean anything."

He stooped swiftly and met them with his own. His kiss was close and lingering, it held tenderness; and in a moment her arms crept round his neck and she clung to him as she returned it. He felt a sob run through her slight frame as he held her though she shed no tears and made no sound, and he was stirred to a deeper chivalry than he had ever known before.

"It does mean one thing, darling," he said softly. "It means that we love each other, doesn't it?"

She did not answer him for a moment; then: "It may mean that," she whispered back. "I don't know--very much about--love. No one ever--really--loved me before."

"I love you," he said. "I love you."

"Thank you," she murmured.

He held her still. "You'll never run away from me again? Promise!"

She shook her head promptly with a faint echo of the elfin laughter that had so maddened him a little earlier. "No, I won't promise. But I'll show you where I was hiding if you like. Shall I?"

"All right. Show me!" he said.

She freed herself from him with a little spring, and turned to the stone buttress against which he had found her. He followed her closely, half afraid of losing her again, but she did not attempt to elude him.

"See!" she said, with a funny little chuckle. "I found this ledge."

The ledge she indicated was on a level with the parapet and not more than six inches wide. It ran square with the buttress, which on the outer side dropped sheer to the terrace.

Bunny looked and turned sick. "You never went along there!" he said.

She laughed again. "Yes, I did. It's quite easy if you slide your feet. I'll show you."

"You'll do nothing of the sort!" He grabbed her fiercely. "What in heaven's name were you thinking of? How did you learn to do these things?"

She did not answer him. "I wanted to tease you," she said lightly. "And I did it too, didn't I? I pretended I was Andromeda when I got round the corner, but no Perseus came to save me. Only an angry dragon ramped about behind."

Bunny stared at her as if he thought her bewitched. "But you were over by that north wall once. I'll swear you were over there."

"Oh, don't swear!" she said demurely. "It's so wrong. I wasn't there really. I only sent my voice that way to frighten you."

"Good heavens!" gasped Bunny.

She laughed again with gay _insouciance_. "Haven't I given you a splendid evening's entertainment? Well, it's all over now, and the curtain's down. Let's go!"

She turned with her hand in his and led him back to the turret-door.

Reaching it, he sought to detain her. "You'll never do it again? Promise--promise!"

"I won't promise anything," she said lightly.

"Ah, but you must!" he insisted. "Toby, you might have killed yourself."

Her laugh suddenly had a mocking sound. "Oh, no! I shall never kill myself on Lord Saltash's premises," she said.

"Why do you say that?" questioned Bunny.

"Because--_que voulez-vous_?--he would want me neither dead nor alive," she made reckless answer.

"A good thing too!" declared Bunny stoutly.

The echoes of Toby's laughter as she went down the chill, dark stairway had an eerie quality that sent an odd shiver through his heart. Somehow it made him think of the unquiet spirit that was said to haunt the place--a spirit that wandered alone--always alone--in the utter desolation.

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