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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 7. The Promise
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Charles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 7. The Promise Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1919

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Charles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 7. The Promise

PART II CHAPTER VII. THE PROMISE

There was undoubtedly a frown on Jake's usually serene countenance when he walked up the great stable-yard a little later that evening and came upon Bunny lounging in a doorway with his hands in his pockets talking to one of the men.

"Look here, young feller, I want a word with you," he said, with his customary directness, and laid a somewhat peremptory hand upon the boy's shoulder.

Bunny, with a cigarette between his lips, turned and laughed at him without a hint of discomfiture. "All right, boss. I'll come," he said, and linked his arm in Jake's with boyish friendliness.

He was half-a-head taller than Jake, but the look of power that was so apparent in the older man was wholly absent in him. He moved his long limbs with a loose swing that lacked energy though it seemed to denote a certain restlessness.

"Wonder what you'll do without me here when I go to Charlie," he remarked, as Jake did not immediately speak.

"I should say the sooner you go the better," said Jake rather brutally, "if I were only sure you were going to the right place."

"Have a smoke!" said Bunny with unruffled amiability, proffering his case.

Jake pushed it from him with a curt sound of dissatisfaction.

"All right. Don't!" said Bunny, with instant haughtiness, and returned it to his pocket.

He would have withdrawn his hand from his brother-in-law's arm, but Jake retained it there forcibly, steering for his own private office at the end of the stable-yard.

Bunny submitted, but his face grew ominously dark as they passed in silence between the long rows of loose-boxes in the soft spring twilight. As they neared Jake's room he drew himself together with the action of a man who braces his muscles for a sudden strain, and in a moment he was older, less defiant, more dignified.

"That's better," Jake said, making him enter first. "There are times, Sir Bernard Brian, when I want to lick you, as you never--unfortunately--were licked in your early youth. Other times--like the present--when the breed gets the better of me, and I can only stand outside--and admire."

"Oh, don't be a blithering idiot, Jake!" said Bunny in hot discomfiture. Jake's hand grasped his shoulder. "Sit down, and bring yourself to my level for a minute! Maybe I am a blithering idiot, maybe I'm not. But I could take you by the heels and dip you in the horse-pond round the corner if I felt that way. So you'd better keep as civil as possible. It won't make a mite of difference to me, but it may to you."

Bunny sat down, breathing hard. His cigarette fell to the ground and he stooped for it, but Jake, still holding his shoulder, stooped also, picked it up and flung it straight out of the window.

"You smoke too many of 'em," he said, as he did it.

"Damn you!" said Bunny in a voice of concentrated fury.

He would have sprung to his feet, but Jake's hands were upon him like iron clamps and kept him seated.

He spoke, his voice soft, unhurried, even humorous. "I'm only a beastly groom, you know, Bunny. You don't expect good manners from me, do you?"

Bunny shrank a little, as if something in the words pierced him. Jake's eyes, very bright but wholly free from anger looked straight into his. For some reason he ceased to strain against the compelling hands and sat passive.

There followed a somewhat tense silence before he said, "Well, go on! I knew you wanted to row me about something. What's it all about?"

His voice was sullen but his attitude was no longer hostile. He looked ashamed.

Jake sat down suddenly on the edge of the writing-table. "Say, Bunny!" he said gently. "Do you know you're the only man in the world that can send me to perdition and not have his teeth knocked down his throat for his officiousness?"

Bunny looked up at him, and in a moment, like the flash of sunshine from behind a cloud, he was smiling. "Oh, get out, Jake. I suppose you're going to wipe the floor with me now. I didn't mean it and I'm sorry. Let's get on from there!"

His hand gripped Jake's hard. There was something very winning about him at the moment, something that appealed strongly to the older man though he did not instantly reply. He kept the boy's hand in his for a moment, and his eyes were very kindly as he looked into the thin young face.

"Guess you know I'm pretty fond of you, my son," he said at length, "but I don't figure to let you go to the devil unhindered on that account."

Bunny whistled. "Who's going? Oh, don't be an ass, Jake, will you?"

"No, I won't," said Jake, "at least not the soft variety. Reckon I've been too soft with you, Bunny, as long as I've known you."

Bunny stirred restlessly in his chair. "Think so?" he said. "Well, it's a good fault, old chap. I can't stand bullying from anyone--makes me see red at once."

"I know," Jake said. "I've never bullied you anyway. But I'm on the war-path now, and you've got to take your physic whether you like it or not. Say, Bunny, how much money did you drop at the races this afternoon?"

"What's that to you?" said Bunny.

Jake's face hardened a little. "Well, I expected that," he said. "Afraid to tell me, eh?"

"Not in the least afraid," said Bunny. "I dispute your right to know, that's all."

"I see." Jake regarded him with a very direct scrutiny. "I'm to be kept in my place, is that it?"

Bunny coloured. "That's the fourth time you've called me a bounder since we came in. What do you mean by it, Jake?"

"What do I mean?" Jake spoke rather sadly. "Well, maybe that's just what I do mean, Bunny. You're beginning to bound."

"Rot!" said Bunny, though he coloured more deeply than before. "You know there isn't another fellow anywhere that I respect as I respect you. But--dash it, Jake!--you must let me grow."

"I want you to," said Jake. "But for the Lord's sake, grow straight!" He reached out and took Bunny by the shoulder. "I'm going to ask a big thing of you, sonny, but I guess I shall know by the way you take it how much your respect for me is worth."

"What is it?" said Bunny.

"Just this." Jake leaned forward; there was speculation in his look. "I want you to chuck racing--altogether--for a year. There!"

"Chuck racing!" Bunny sat up very straight. "Jake! Why on earth should I?"

Jake's hand closed upon him. He was smiling a little but there was something relentless behind his smile. "Oh, just to please me," he said. "That's all."

Bunny stared at him. "Chuck racing!" he said again. "Jake, you're mad!"

"No, I guess not," said Jake imperturbably. "I'm not arguing any against racing. Played straight, it's the best game in the world. I'm just asking a personal favour of you. There's nothing to be hurt about in that."

There was an ominous gleam in Bunny's eyes. He looked as if he were on the verge of open rebellion, but with his last words Jake's steady arm suddenly went round his shoulders and gave him a hard, brotherly squeeze.

"Don't do it if you're going to hate me for it!" he said. "Reckon I can't afford that. I knew it was a gamble when I started. If I can't win, I'll back out right now."

"Jake!" Quick feeling sounded in Bunny's voice. He turned sharply, and for an instant his cheek was against the kindly hand with the old boyish gesture of affection. Then he looked Jake full in the eyes and laughed. "Jake, I say, don't be a beast! You know I'll do anything under the sun to please you."

"You'll do this?" said Jake.

"Tell me why first!" said Bunny.

"Because I want to know if you've got the grit for one thing. And for another--that girl who has just come here is a gambler to the backbone, and I won't have her encouraged."

"How on earth do you know that?" said Bunny. "Did Charlie tell you?"

"No." Jake's voice was grim. "You don't suppose I'd take his word for anything, do you? I saw it in her face this afternoon. I know that gambling fever, and she--well, I'm inclined to think she's had it in one form or another all her life."

"She's quite a nice kid," said Bunny condescendingly.

Jake smiled, but the firmness remained. "She's not your sort, Sir Bernard Brian," he remarked. "And I rather guess she could teach you more than you could teach her."

"What do you mean?" said Bunny.

Jake turned aside to shut the window in preparation for departure. "Well, sonny," he said in a marked drawl, "I guess I mean just that. If you aren't sharp enough to draw your own conclusions, that's none of my business." He turned round and looked at Bunny with absolute directness. "And that other proposition of mine,--did I understand you to fall in with it?"

"Chuck racing for a year, you mean?" Bunny got up. His face was still red, but it showed no resentment. "It's rather much, isn't it, Jake?"

"Too much?" questioned Jake.

Bunny hesitated. "Well, a year! Make it three months!" he said coaxingly.

Jake came to him, square and resolute. "I'll make it six months, Bunny," he said, "if you can tell me you didn't drop more than fifty pounds this afternoon."

Bunny turned crimson. "This afternoon was an exception," he said hastily.

"I thought so," said Jake dryly.

"But--damn it!--it's rather a heavy penalty to pay," protested Bunny. He thrust out an impulsive hand. "I say, let me off, old feller! I won't do it again."

Jake's fingers closed and held. He said nothing, merely waited.

And very suddenly--after his own headlong fashion--Bunny made unconditional surrender. "Oh, get out, you beastly groom!" he said, and wrung Jake's hand with all the force he could muster. "All right! It's done!"

Jake made an odd movement as of tension relaxed though none had been apparent in his bearing. He struck Bunny on the shoulder the blow of a friend.

"That's the biggest thing you've ever done for me, pard," he said with a smile. "Reckon I shan't forget it. Take it out of me next time!"

"You bet I will!" said Bunny.

He linked his arm through Jake's and gripped it hard. His eyes were shining as they passed out together into the gathering dusk. He had made a considerable sacrifice, but Jake had the gift of making him realize that it was worth while.

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