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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 8. The Ally
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Charles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 8. The Ally Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :3307

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Charles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 8. The Ally

PART II CHAPTER VIII. THE ALLY

A squeal of childish laughter echoed down the long passage that led from the nurseries, followed by a shuffling sound along the floor.

"Hold tight!" cried a voice, a gay, boyish voice, "I'm going to gallop!"

There followed a tremendous scrambling along the corridor and shrieks of delight from three excited children. Jake, who had just mounted the stairs, paused in his progress; but in a moment there came a dramatic sound indicative of collapse, and immediately there arose cries of dismay. He turned an intervening corner and came upon the newly-arrived guest quite prone upon the floor with his three little girls scuffling in delighted agitation over her inert body.

He hesitated to interrupt the game, but in an instant Betty the youngest had spied him and uttered a shrill cry of welcome. The heap upon the floor swiftly resolved itself into four separate beings, and the newcomer sprang up with the litheness of a squirrel and met him with a free grace that was not without a suggestion of defiance.

He held out his hand to her. He understood the defiance and replied to it with characteristic directness.

"Guess you thought me a rough sort of animal when we met in the paddock this afternoon," he said. "I'm sorry. It was Bunny I was up against--not you."

"Not me?" said Toby, her wide eyes lifted quite openly to his. "Sure?"

He pinched the slim young hand without ceremony. Somehow she took him by storm--this girl with the open brow and curiously pathetic face. "Well, not so much you," he said. "Bunny knows that gambling on a big scale is against the law for children of his age."

"Oh, I see," said Toby. She smiled and slipped her hand free. "Well, I'm years older than he is, so that doesn't apply to me. Bunny wasn't doing any gambling either."

"I gathered that," said Jake.

She stopped and lifted Molly the second child, partially veiling her own face with the little girl's soft curls. "Then you are up against me," she said.

"No, I'm not," Jake's voice held a queer, compassionate note. "We won't quarrel till we know each other better anyway. I see you're pretty intimate with the youngsters already."

"Oh, that's easy, isn't it?" said Toby. "Babies always take you at your face value. They are never prejudiced beforehand. There's never any handicap of that sort with babies."

Betty was clamouring at her knees. She bent and lifted her also, bracing her slight form to a double burden of which Jake instantly relieved her, gathering both children into his own strong arms.

"You're not to do that ever again," he said, with the authority of the man accustomed to obedience. "Understand?"

"Why not?" said Toby.

He turned to carry the two babies to the nursery. "Because I say it," he said briefly.

"Oh, but that's no reason," said Toby, with light assurance.

Eileen at her side looked up in shocked amazement. "Not if Daddy says so?" she questioned.

Toby stooped and swung her up to her shoulder. "You little featherweight! Daddy's only a man!" she said.

"Quite true," said Jake deliberately. "The sort of man who means what he says--always, and sees that he gets it."

"What a frightful undertaking!" laughed Toby. "Then if you told me to go to blazes you'd see that I went?"

There was a pause. Eileen's little hands locked themselves nervously under Toby's chin. Perhaps she was aware of a certain electricity in the atmosphere. She was plainly not at her ease.

Jake's voice sounded, very quiet and distinct, from the nursery door as he entered. "I reckon that's just one of the things I've learnt not to say."

"Oh glory!" said Toby, "There goes the odd trick!"

It was several minutes later, after a wild final romp that they left the room together. There was certainly no ceremony left between them. They came out as comrades, laughing at the same joke, their brief passage-at-arms apparently forgotten.

Toby, however, reverted to it very suddenly as they walked along the passage. "Mr. Bolton, I'm sorry I got Bunny into hot water this afternoon. It was all my fault. And I'm sorry I said blazes in front of the babies just now. You'll have to kick me when I do these things, and then I'll remember."

Jake paused and looked at her. "Say! Are you a boy or a girl?" he said.

She smiled, a faintly dubious smile, but her reply was prompt. "Mostly boy, sir. That's what makes it so difficult."

He put his hand on her shoulder. "Look here! Call me Jake, see? Are you keen on horses?"

Toby's eyes shone. "Like mad," she said.

"I'll see you ride tomorrow," said Jake.

Toby whooped with delight. "But I'll have to borrow some breeches from someone. You don't want me to ride in a skirt do you?"

"Not specially," said Jake. "What do you generally ride in?"

"Tights," said Toby, and then suddenly clapped her hand to her mouth in dismay. "There! Now I've done it! You won't tell--you'll never tell, will you? Promise!"

"Sure!" said Jake. He was smiling a little, but there was compassion in his eyes.

And Toby's hand came out to him in sudden confidence. "I like you," she said. "You're a friend."

Jake's grasp was strong and kindly. "I guess I shan't let you down," he said.

Toby nodded. "You've been a cow-boy, haven't you? I knew that directly I saw you."

"I've been a good many things," said Jake.

She nodded again. "And always the right sort. I wish--" She broke off abruptly.

"What?" said Jake.

"Oh, nothing," said Toby, with a rather wistful little laugh.

"Let's have it!" said Jake.

Her hand lay in his, and this time she left it there. Her blue eyes met his courageously. "Only that I'd met you before," she said.

"Before when?" said Jake. "Before you met Saltash?"

"Oh no!" Very swiftly, she answered him. "Oh no! Lord Saltash is among the kings. I'd have been dead by now but for him!" Her eyes kindled as with a sudden glowing memory, she flushed like an eager child. "You know him?" she said. "Isn't he--isn't he--fine?"

She spoke with reverence, even with a certain awe. The man's face changed a little, hardening almost imperceptibly.

"Guess he's no great hero of mine," he said. "But maybe he has his points."

"He has!" Toby assured him with fervor. "You don't know him like I do. He's a--he's a masterpiece."

"That so?" said Jake.

Perhaps Toby felt a lack of sympathy in his tone; she quitted the subject abruptly. "No, that wasn't what I meant. I only wish I'd met you long ago--years and years ago--when you were a cow-boy."

"You were a babe in arms then," said Jake.

She shook her head, quaintly smiling. "I wasn't ever that. I think I must have been born old--began at the wrong end somehow. Some people do, you know."

"I know," said Jake. "When that happens, there's only one thing to be done."

"What?" queried Toby.

His eyes were watching her intently, but there was nothing alarming in their scrutiny. He made reply with absolute gentleness. "Begin again."

"Ah!" A little sound that was more than a sigh escaped her, and then quite suddenly her other hand came out to him; she lifted a quivering face. "You going to help me?" she said.

The action touched him. He took her by the shoulders as he might have taken a boy. "I'll help you," he said.

"You'll be good to me?" Her voice was quivering also, it had a sound of tears.

"Sure!" said Jake, laconic and forceful.

"Keep me straight and pull me up when I go wrong?" pursued Toby tremulously.

"Yes, I'll do that," he said.

"And you won't--you won't--you won't--talk to anybody about me?" she pleaded.

"No," said Jake briefly.

"Not to Lord Saltash? Not to anyone?"

"No," he said again, a hint of sternness in the curt word.

Toby gulped down her distress, was silent for a moment or two, then suddenly smiled upon him--a sunny inconsequent smile. "Guess I've got you on my side now," she said with satisfaction. "You're nice and solid, Mr. Jake Bolton. When you've been picked up from the very bottom of the sea, it's good to have someone big and safe to hold on to."

"That so?" said Jake.

"Yes, I know now why Lord Saltash sent me here--just because you're big--and safe."

"Oh, quite safe," said Jake with his sudden smile.

It came to him--as it had come to Saltash--that there was something piteously like a small animal, storm-driven and seeking refuge, about her. Even in her merriest moments she seemed to plead for kindness.

He patted her shoulder reassuringly as he let her go. "I'll look after you," he said, "if you play the game."

"What game?" said Toby unexpectedly.

He looked her squarely in the eyes. "The only game worth playing," he said. "The straight game."

"Oh, I see," said Toby with much meekness. "Not cheat, you mean? Lord Saltash doesn't allow cheating either."

"Good land!" said Jake in open astonishment.

"You don't know him," said Toby again with conviction.

And Jake laughed, good-humoured but sceptical. "Maybe I've something to learn yet," he said tolerantly. "But it's my impression that for sheer mischief and double-dealing he could knock spots off any other human being on this earth."

"Oh, if that's all you know about him," said Toby, "you've never even met him--never once."

"Have you?" questioned Jake abruptly.

She coloured up to the soft fair hair that clustered about her blue-veined temples, and turned from him with an odd little indrawn breath. "Yes!" she said. "Yes!"--paused an instant as if about to say more; then again in a whisper, "Yes!" she said, and went lightly away as if the subject were too sacred for further discussion.

"Good land!" said Jake again, and departed to his own room in grim amazement.

Saltash the sinner was well known to him and by no means uncongenial; but Saltash the saint, not only beloved, but reverenced and enshrined as such, as something beyond his comprehension! How on earth had he managed to achieve his sainthood?

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