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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 20. The Power Of The Enemy
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The Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 20. The Power Of The Enemy Post by :tpearl5 Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2522

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The Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 20. The Power Of The Enemy


It so chanced that Noel did not find himself in any intimate conversation with Olga again until the great week arrived, and General Sir Reginald Bassett came upon the scene with much military pomp and ceremony.

Olga avoided all talk of a confidential nature with him with so obvious a reluctance that he could not force it upon her in the brief spaces of time which he had at his disposal when they met. They had become close friends, but the feeling that this friendship depended mainly upon his forbearance never left Noel, and he could not fail to see that she shrank from the bare mention of Max's name.

He bided his time, therefore, since there was no urgent need to broach the subject forthwith and he was still by no means sure of his ground. He would have discussed the matter with Nick, but Nick was never to be found. He came and went with astonishing rapidity, bewildering even Olga by the suddenness of his moves. Vaguely she heard of unrest in the city, but definite information she had none. Nick eluded all enquiries; but it seemed to her that the yellow face grew more wrinkled every day, and the shrewd eyes took on a vigilant, sleepless look that troubled her much in secret. The thought of him kept her from brooding overmuch upon her own trouble. She did not want to brood. If her own nights were sleepless, she took a book and resolutely read. She would not yield an inch to the ceaseless, weary ache of her heart, and very sternly she denied herself the relief of tears. Too much of her life had been wasted already, in the pursuit of what was not. She would not waste still more of it in bitter, fruitless mourning over that which was.

Perhaps it was the bravest stand she had ever made, and what it cost her not even Nick might guess. Certainly he had less time to bestow upon her than ever before. They met at meals, and very often that was all. But Olga, with her curious, new reserve, was not needing his companionship just then. Her attitude towards her beloved hero had subtly changed. Beloved he was still and would ever be, but he no longer dwelt apart from all other men on the special little pedestal on which her worship had placed him. He was no longer the demi-god of her childish adoration. Olga had grown up, and was shedding her illusions one by one. Nick was a man and she was a woman. Therefore it followed as a natural sequence that though she was fully capable of understanding him, she herself was--and must ever remain--a being beyond his comprehension. Not superior to him; Olga never aspired to be that. But with her woman's knowledge she realized that even Nick had his limitations. There were certain corners of her soul which he could never penetrate. He would have understood the wild crying of her heart, but her steady stifling of that crying would have been beyond him. Simply he stood on another plane, and he would not understand that her heart must break before she could listen to its passionate entreaty. Nor could she explain herself to him. She belonged to the inexplicable and unreasonable race called woman. Her motives and emotions were hidden, and she could never hope to make them understood even by the shrewdest of men.

So she veiled her sorrow from him, little guessing how the vigilant eyes took in that also when they did not apparently so much as glance her way.

On the morning of the day on which Sir Reginald was to arrive, he kept her waiting for breakfast, a most unusual occurrence. Olga was occupied with a letter from her father, one of his brief, kindly epistles that she valued for their very rarity; and it was not till this was finished that she realized the lateness of the hour.

Then in some surprise she went along the verandah in search of him.

His window stood open as usual. She paused outside it. "Nick, aren't you coming?"

There was no reply to her call, and she was about to repeat it when Kasur the _khitmutgar came along the verandah behind her.

"Miss _sahib_, Ratcliffe _sahib has not yet come back from the city," he said.

Olga turned in astonishment. "The city, Kasur! How long has he been there? When did he go?"

The man looked at her with the deferential vagueness which only the Oriental can express. "Miss _sahib_, how should I know? My lord goes in the night while his servant is asleep."

"In the night!" Again incredulously she repeated his words. "And to the city! Kasur, are you sure?"

Kasur became more vague. "Perhaps he goes to the cantonments, Miss _sahib_. How should I know whither he goes?"

It was an unsatisfactory conversation, obviously leading in every direction but the one desired. Olga turned from him, impatient and perplexed. She went slowly back round the corner of the bungalow to the breakfast-table, set in the shade of the cluster-roses that climbed over the verandah, and sat down before it with a sinking heart. What did this mean? Was it true that Nick went nightly and by stealth to the city? What did he do there? And how came he to be there at this hour? Moment by moment her uneasiness grew. The conviction that Nick was in danger came down upon her like a bird of evil omen, and inaction became intolerable. She turned in her chair with the intention of calling to Kasur to order her horse that she might go in search of him. But in that instant a voice spoke to her from the compound immediately below her, arresting the words on her lips,--a whining, ingratiating voice.

_"Mem-sahib!" it said. _"Mem-sahib!"

She looked down and saw an old, old man, more like a monkey than a human being, standing huddled in a ragged _chuddah on the edge of the path. He seemed to be looking at her, obviously he must have seen her sitting there, and yet to Olga his eyes looked blind. They stared straight up at the sky while he spoke, and there was a dreadful paleness about them, a lifeless hue that contrasted very strangely with the deep copper of his bearded face.

"Do not be alarmed, most gracious!" he begged in a thin reedy voice. "I come with a message from the captain _sahib_. He has been detained in the city; but all is well with him. He bids me to say that he desires the _mem to eat alone this morning, but to have no fear. He will be with her again ere the sun has reached its height."

Olga leaned upon the balustrade of the verandah and looked down at her strange visitor. She was not sorry that she was thus raised above him, for he was very dirty. The voluminous _chuddah in which he was swathed looked as if it had wrapped him in those selfsame folds for many years.

"But what is the _sahib doing?" she asked. "Why doesn't he come?"

The old man wagged a deferential beard. "Excellency, how should a poor old seller of moonstones know?"

"Oh!" Olga suddenly became interested in the messenger. "You are the moonstone-seller, are you?" she said. "Have you ever been here before?"

He bent himself before her in a low salaam. "I am my lord's most humble servant," he told her meekly. "A very poor man, most gracious,--a very poor man. I come here at my lord's bidding--when he needs me."

Olga's brow puckered. "How queer!" she said. "I wonder I have never seen you before. Perhaps you only come at night."

"Only at night, most gracious," he said.

He made as if he would hobble away, but she called to him to wait, while she ran to her room to fetch a few _annas for him. It took her but a second or two to find what she wanted, but when she emerged again upon the verandah her visitor had disappeared.

She stood and searched the compound with astonished eyes, but no sign of him was visible. He must have removed himself with considerable rapidity for so old a man, and remembering his extreme poverty, Olga was puzzled. She had never known a native run away from _backsheesh before.

She sat down to her solitary breakfast, no longer actively anxious concerning Nick, but still by no means easy. She was firmly convinced that he was running risks in the city, and she longed to have him back.

The morning dragged away. She would not leave the bungalow lest he should return in her absence. She busied herself with the making of a fancy-dress which she and her _ayah had concocted for the coming ball at the mess-house. It was to be quite an important affair, and every European within reach was to attend--according to Noel's decree. He had persuaded his colonel to have a purely European function for once, pleading that it would be so much more like Home; and Colonel Bradlaw, albeit with hesitation, had yielded the point. So to that one night's entertainment no native guests had been invited.

Noel was looking forward to the event with an enthusiasm that simply swept Olga along with it. She could not help being interested and in a measure excited. It was an absolute impossibility to be lukewarm about anything over which Noel was enthusiastic. He kindled enthusiasm wherever he went. Native fancy-dresses were tabooed by the regulations. Noel was supremely contemptuous of all things native. He meant to go as Dick Turpin himself, and she had promised to support him in a dress of the same period. It had taken considerable thought and skill to manufacture, but it was now well on the road to completion, and she sat and stitched at it throughout the morning, trying to stifle her uneasiness in the attention which it demanded.

It was not an easy matter. She found herself starting at every sound, and pausing to listen with nerves on edge. Still she persisted, determined not to give way to them; and she was in fact gradually schooling herself to a calmer frame of mind, when suddenly a thing happened that bereft her in a moment of all the composure she had striven so hard to attain. A man's hand shot--swiftly and stealthily--from behind her and covered her eyes in a flash, while a man's voice, soft and exultant, said mockingly above her head, "Guess!"

Olga uttered a cry that would have been a shriek had not the hand very swiftly shifted its position from her eyes to her mouth. She looked up into a face she knew--a face whose eyes of evil triumph made her heart stand still, and all her strength went suddenly from her. She turned as white as death and sank back into the chair from which she had half-risen. The total unexpectedness of the thing deprived her of all powers of resistance. She sat as one stunned.

He took his hand from her lips and brutally kissed them, laughing as she shrank away from him in sick horror. The gleaming mockery of his eyes was a thing she dared not meet.

"You will never guess what I have come for," he said, hanging over her, his hand gripping both of hers, his face still horribly near.

Her lips moved voicelessly in answer. She could not utter a word.

"You're awfully pleased to see me, aren't you?" he said. "That's nice of you. I wonder when you mean to pay that debt of yours--that old, sweet debt."

He spoke softly, smilingly, his eyes devouring her the while. She closed her own to avoid them. Her heart did not seem to be beating at all. She felt as if she were going to die of sheer horror there in his arms.

Softly again his voice came to her. "Come, you mustn't faint. That wouldn't be at all good for you. Open your eyes! Don't be afraid! Open them!"

They opened quiveringly, almost against her will. He was holding her closely, as if he anticipated some sudden resistance. But his eyes were on her still, burningly, possessively, menacingly. She met them shrinking, and felt as if thereby she gave herself to him body and soul.

He began to laugh again--that soft, silky laugh. "You're such a silly child," he said; "you always expect the worst. It's not wise of you. Aren't you old enough to know that yet?"

She found her voice at last, and with it came the consciousness of the slow, slow beating of her heart. "Let me go!" she said, in a breathless whisper.

"Presently; on one condition," he said.

"No, now!" The beating had begun to quicken a little, to harden into a distinct throbbing. But she felt deadly cold. Her hands, powerless in that unrelenting grasp, were as ice.

"Now don't be foolish!" said Hunt-Goring. "You're absolutely at my mercy, and it's very poor policy on your part not to recognize that fact. Just listen! You want me to let you go, you say. Well, I will let you go--for one small consideration on your part. You've never paid that debt of yours. You will pay it now--in full, freely, both arms round my neck. Come, I've a right to ask that much. It's just a whim that you can't refuse to gratify."

"I can refuse!" The words leaped from Olga. Her strength was returning, her heart quickening with every instant. "At least you can't make me do that!" she said.

"You would rather do it than marry me, I presume?" he said.

"I will never do either!" She stirred at last in his hold. She did not shrink from his eyes any longer; rather she challenged them as she stiffened herself to rise.

Hunt-Goring laughed in her face. "Oh, won't you?" he said. "I fancy you said that once before--and lived to regret it. It really is not wise of you to defy me. I warn you! I warn you!" His hold tightened upon her with sudden brutality, quelling her effort at freedom. "There are worse things than marriage," he said. "Are you utterly ignorant, I wonder, or deliberately foolhardy? Why do you always force upon me the _role of villain? I tell you again, you are not wise!"

"I don't know what you mean," Olga said. She sat quite still in his hold now, for she knew that resistance was useless. Like Noel, she suddenly wondered if he were indeed sane. His eyes were unlike any she had ever seen in a human being. They glared upon her so devilishly, so murderously. She faced them with all her courage. "I don't know what you mean," she repeated. "I think you must be mad to persecute me in this way. I have always said that I would never marry you."

"But you will change your mind," he said.

She kept her eyes on his. "I shall never change my mind," she said very distinctly.

He laughed again, his lower lip between his teeth. "Even if I were mad," he said, "wouldn't you be wiser to humour me? Have you forgotten what happened when you flouted me before?"

"No, I have not forgotten." A quiver of anger went through Olga, and she suffered it, for it helped her courage. "I shall never forgive you for that," she said--"never, as long as I live!"

Hunt-Goring continued to laugh, and his laugh was an insult. "I shall get over that," he told her. "I don't want your forgiveness--especially as you had yourself alone to thank for that episode. But come now! About marrying me. You'd better give in at once; you'll have to in the end. And there are plenty of advantages to outweigh your present disinclination. For instance, my life is not considered a good one. As my widow, you would be quite a wealthy woman. Doesn't that appeal to you? And I'll give you plenty of rope even while I'm alive. I shan't interfere with your pleasures. Come, I shouldn't make such a bad husband. I'm quite respectable nowadays. I should want a little attention of course, but you wouldn't find me exacting. You'll get quite fond of me in time."

Olga barely repressed a shudder. "Never!" she said. "No, never!"

"Never?" said Hunt-Goring. He stooped a little lower over her, his arm about her shoulders despite her sick disgust. "Why never? You've sent that doctor chap about his business, haven't you?"

"He has gone, yes." She answered him briefly to hide the intolerable pain at her heart the words called up.

"But you're still hankering after him; is that it?" sneered Hunt-Goring. "Well, then, listen to me! I hold that man's future in my hands. I can ruin him utterly or--I can forbear. I'm not over-fond of him, as you know. I should rather like to see him ruined, though it would give me some little trouble to do it. What say you? I am the gladiator in the arena. I shall slay or spare--at your word alone."

Again his eyes overwhelmed her, so that she could not meet them. A great shiver went through her. She began to pant a little. "I--don't understand," she said. "You know nothing--but gossip. You--you can prove nothing."

"Can I not?" said Hunt-Goring. "You haven't a very high opinion of my intelligence, have you? Colonel Campion--I believe you know him--is scarcely the man to sit still when such gossip as that reaches his ears. As for the proofs, I know how to find them. The worthy Mrs. Briggs was on the spot, you may remember. Her evidence would be valuable. And there are other well-known means which I needn't go into now. But I assure you the circumstances themselves, properly handled, are sufficiently suspicious. You would not care to see your friend Max on his trial for murder, I presume?"

She shivered again, shivered from head to foot. She did not utter a word.

"No, I thought not," said Hunt-Goring, after a moment. "It would be especially painful for you, as your evidence also would be required. You see the position quite clearly, don't you? Come, hadn't you better give in now--and save further trouble?"

She was silent still. Only her breath came fast--as the breath of one who nears exhaustion.

Hunt-Goring waited a little, watching her white face. "Come!" he said, "I don't want to play the villain any longer. Can't you give me something better to do? I always dance to your piping."

She spoke at last, forcing her trembling lips to utterance; after repeated effort. "Go--please!" she said.

"Go?" said Hunt-Goring.

"Yes! go!" She raised her eyes for an instant, piteously entreating, to his. "I--can't talk to you now,--can't--think even. I--will see you again--later."

"When?" he said.

Her breast was rising and falling. She could not for several seconds answer him. Then: "At the ball--on Thursday," she whispered.

"You will give me my answer then?" he said.


He smiled--a cruel smile. "After due consultation with Nick, I suppose? No, my dear. I think not. We'll keep this thing a secret for the present--and I'll have my answer now."

"I can't answer you now!" She flung the words wildly, and rose up between his hands with desperate strength. "I can't--I can't!" she cried. "You must give me--a little time. I shan't consult--Nick or anyone. I only want--to think--by myself."

"Really?" said Hunt-Goring.

"Yes, really." She set her hands against his breast, holding him from her, yet beseeching him. "Oh, you can't refuse me this!" she urged. "It's--too small a thing. I've got to find out if--if--if I can possibly do it."

"You won't run away?" he said.

"No--no! I've nowhere to go."

"And you mention the matter to no one--on your oath--till we meet again?" His eyes were cruel still, but they were not cold. They shone upon her with a fierce heat.

She could not avoid them, though they seemed to burn her through and through. "I promise," she said through white lips.

"Very well. Till Thursday then." He let her go; and then, as if repenting, caught her suddenly back to him, savagely, passionately. "I'll have that kiss anyway," he said, "whether you take me or not. It's the price of my good behaviour till Thursday. Come, a kiss never hurt anyone, so it isn't likely to kill you."

She did not resist him. She even gave him her lips; but she was shaking as one in an ague, and her whole weight was upon him as he crushed her in his arms. So deathly was her face that after a moment even he was slightly alarmed.

He put her down again in the chair with a laugh that was not wholly self-complacent. "That's all right, then. I'll leave you to get used to the idea. You will give me my answer on Thursday, then, and we will decide on the next step. I don't mean to be kept waiting, you know. I've had enough of that."

She did not answer him or move. She was staring straight before her, with hands fast gripped together in her lap.

He bent a little. "What's the matter? I haven't hurt you. Aren't you well?"

"Quite," she said, without stirring.

He laughed again--the soft laugh she so abhorred. "Jove! What a dance you've led me!" he said. "You'll have a good deal to make up for when the time comes. I shan't let you off that."

"Will you--please--go?" said Olga, in that still voice of hers, not looking at him yet, nor moving.

He laughed again caressingly. "Yes, I'll go. You want to have a good quiet think, I suppose. But there's only one way out, you know. You'll have to give in now. And the sooner the better."

"I shall see you on Thursday," she said.

"Yes, I shall be there. Keep the supper-dances for me! We'll find a quiet corner somewhere and enjoy ourselves. Till Thursday then! Good-bye!"

"Good-bye!" she said.

He was gone. Before her wide eyes he went away along the verandah, and passed from her sight, and there fell an intense silence.

Olga sat motionless as a statue, gazing straight before her. A squirrel skipped airily on to the further end of the verandah and sat there, washing its face. Below, on the path, a large lizard flicked out from behind a stone, looked hither and thither, spied the still figure, and darted away again. And then, somewhere away among the cypresses the silence was broken; a paroquet began to screech.

Olga stirred, and a great breath burst suddenly from her--the first she had drawn in many seconds. She stretched out her hands into emptiness.

"Oh, Max!" she said. "Max! Max!"

With that bitter cry, all her strength seemed to go from her. She bowed her head upon her knees and wept bitterly, despairingly....

It must have been a full quarter of an hour later that Nick came lightly along the verandah, paused an instant behind the bowed figure, then slipped round and knelt beside it.

"Kiddie! Kiddie! What's the matter?" he said.

His one arm gathered her to him, so that she lay against his shoulder in the old childish attitude, his cheek pressed against her forehead.

She was too exhausted, too spent by that bitter paroxysm of weeping, to be startled by his sudden coming. She only clung to him weakly, whispering, "Oh, Nick, have you come back at last?"

"But of course I have," he said. "Have you been worrying about me? I sent you a message."

"I know. But I--I couldn't help being anxious." She murmured the words into his neck, her arms tightening about him.

"What a silly little sweetheart!" he said. "Is that what you've been crying for?"

She was silent.

He passed rapidly on. "You mustn't cry any more, darling. Old Reggie will be here soon, you know. He'll think I've been bullying you. Have you been sitting here by yourself all the morning? Why didn't you go down to Daisy Musgrave?"

"I didn't want to, Nick. I--I don't in the least mind being by myself," she told him, mastering herself with difficulty. "Tell me what you've been doing--all this time!"

"I?" said Nick. "Watching and listening chiefly. Not much else. Is the post in? Come and help me read my letters!"

"They're here." Olga turned and began to feel about with one hand under her work.

"All right. I'll find 'em." He let her go, and fished out his correspondence himself. She was glad that he did not look at her very critically or press further for the cause of her woe.

He sat down on the mat at her feet, and proceeded to read his letters as she handed them to him.

After a little, she took up her work again. She had quite regained her composure, only she was utterly weary--too weary to feel anything but a numb aching. All violent emotion had passed.

Suddenly Nick dropped his correspondence, and turned. "Kiddie," he said. "I'm going to chuck this job."

She looked down at him with a surprise that would have been greater but for her great weariness. "Really, Nick?"

"Yes, really. I've done my poor best, but to make a success would be a life job. Moreover," Nick's eyes suddenly gleamed, "the Party want me--or say they do. There's going to be a big tug of war in the summer, and they want me to help pull. I'm rather good at pulling," here spoke Nick's innate modesty, "and so I've got to be there.'"

"We are going Home then?" Olga's voice was low. She spoke as one whom the decision scarcely touched.

Nick leaned back luxuriously against her knees. "Yes, sweetheart, Home--Home to Muriel and the kiddie--Home to good old Jim. You won't be sorry to see your old Dad again?"

"No," she said; then, as his brows went up, she stooped forward and kissed the top of his head. "But you've been very good to me, Nick," she said. "I--I've been happier with you, dear, than I could have been with anyone."

"Save one," said Nick, flashing a swift look upwards. "And you've struck him off the list, poor beggar."

She checked him quickly, her hand on his shoulder. "Please, Nick!" she whispered.

He nodded wisely. "Yes, that hurts, doesn't it? But you're not the only one to suffer. Ever think of that?"

She did not answer him. With a quiver in her voice she changed the subject. "When do you think we shall go Home then, Nick?"

"Soon," said Nick. "Very soon. They say I can't be spared much longer. Awfully sweet of 'em, isn't it? As for this immoral little State, it ought to be put under martial law for a spell. It won't be, of course; but old Reggie will understand. He'll take measures, and relieve me of my stewardship as soon as may be. I'm sorry in a way, but I only bargained for six months. And I want to get back to Muriel." He turned to her again, with his elastic smile. "But you've been a dear little pal. You've kept me from pining," he said. "Wish your affairs might have ended more cheerily; but we won't discuss that. Let's see; you don't know Sir Reginald Bassett, do you?"

"No, dear."

"Nor Lady Bassett his wife. Good for you. Pray that you never may, and the odds are in favour of the prayer being granted. She has decided not to come after all."

"Not to come, Nick! Why, I thought it was all settled!"

Nick grinned. "Her heart has failed her at the last moment. She doesn't like immoral States." He waved a letter jubilantly in the air. "No matter, my dear. We shall get on excellently without her. She isn't your sort at all." He broke into a laugh. "She's the only woman of my acquaintance I don't love, and the only one--literally--who doesn't love me."

"How horrid of her, Nick! I'm sure I should hate her."

"I'm sure you would, dear. So it's just as well--all things considered--that you are not going to meet. Well, I must go and get respectable." He rose with a quick, lithe movement, but paused, looking down at her quizzically to ask: "What did you think of my friend the moonstone-seller? Pretty, isn't he?"

She smiled for the first time. "I'm sure he's quite disreputable. He disappeared in the most mysterious fashion. I wonder if he's lurking about anywhere still, waiting to murder us in our beds."

"I wonder," said Nick.

But he did not trouble himself to look round for the mysterious one, nor did the possibility of being murdered seem to disturb him greatly. He went away to his room, humming a love-song below his breath. And Olga knew that his thoughts were far away in England, where Muriel was waiting to welcome him Home.

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