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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 28. A Soldier And A Gentleman
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The Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 28. A Soldier And A Gentleman Post by :ClickBank Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1495

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The Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 28. A Soldier And A Gentleman

PART II CHAPTER XXVIII. A SOLDIER AND A GENTLEMAN

When Nick returned to Redlands, he was alone. Olga had gone down again to the shore. She wanted to be by herself a little longer, she said. He didn't mind? No, Nick minded nothing, so long as all went well with her; and, on her promise that all should be well, he left her with Cork for guardian.

He went back to Redlands over the cliffs, entering his own grounds by a low wire fence, and thence turning inwards towards the garden. The sounds of gay voices reached him as he approached, and he speedily found himself caught in a lively ambush that consisted of Peggy, Reggie, and Noel. He naturally fled for his life, but was overtaken by the latter and held down while the two accomplices rifled his pockets. By the rules of the game all coppers found therein were confiscated, and this regulation having been duly observed, the prisoner was allowed to sit up and converse with his principal captor while the rest of the gang divided the spoils.

"Have a cigarette?" said Noel.

"Thanks! Mighty generous of you!" Nick righted his tumbled attire and accepted the proffered weed. "If it isn't a rude question, what are you doing here?"

Noel's eyes laughed across at him gaily through the blue spectacles. "I should have thought you might have guessed that I'm spending a night or two with the Musgraves, but I am under a solemn oath to return to Max by noon on Friday in order to have another dose of some infernal stuff with which he is peppering my eyes. He didn't much want me to come away, as it meant postponing the torture for a few hours. But I managed to get on the soft side of him for once, though he is holding himself in preparation for an immediate summons in case my vision should take advantage of my absence from him to play any nasty tricks."

"I see," said Nick. "And how is the vision?"

"Oh, all right, so far as it goes. Gives me beans upon occasion, for which Max always swears at me as if it were my fault. I'm not allowed to see by artificial light at all, so after sunset I join the bats. Lucky for me the sun sits up late just now. By the way, I had a positively gushing epistle from old Badgers this morning. He seems almost hysterical at the thought of getting me back again; says that married or single, I've got to go." Noel stopped to take in a long breath of smoke; then, very abruptly, "Where's Olga?" he demanded.

Nick nodded in the direction whence he had come. "Down on the shore."

Noel was on his feet in a second. "All right. You can be nurse for a bit now. See you later!"

He would have swung away with the words, but Nick had also risen, and with a swift word he detained him. "I say, Noel!"

Noel stopped. "Hullo!"

"Look here!" said Nick rapidly. "She isn't wanting anyone just yet. We have just been to the Priory, she and I--in accordance with Sir Kersley's advice, of which I told you. She is having a quiet think. Don't disturb her!"

Noel stood still. He had stiffened somewhat at the words, but there was no dismay discernible about him. He faced that which had to be faced without flinching.

"You mean she knows?" he asked slowly.

"Yes," said Nick. "But I didn't tell her."

"Did she remember, then?"

"Yes. It all came back to her."

"What effect did it have? Was she--is she very badly upset?" The sharp falter in the words betrayed more than the speaker knew.

Nick turned away from him, grinding his heel into the turf. "No. She took it remarkably quietly on the whole--seemed relieved to know the truth."

"And Max--did she mention him?"

"Yes. She seemed glad to know that he was not responsible, but rather hurt that he had thought it necessary to concoct a lie for her benefit."

"Exactly what I should have felt myself," said Noel. He paused a moment; then: "It was decent of you to let me into that secret," he observed.

"Oh, that was Sir Kersley's doing." Nick still spoke with his back half-turned. "He tackled me on the subject, said you ought to know, but that Max was averse to it. Then I told him why. It seems that he hadn't the vaguest notion till then as to why the engagement was broken off."

Noel nodded. "Just like Max! He's a bit too clever sometimes. Well, what did he say when he knew?"

"He said that if Max wouldn't take the responsibility of setting matters right, he would. And he advised me to tell you everything straight away; which I did," said Nick, "at peril of my life. I don't know how Max will take it, but it will doubtless be on my devoted head that his wrath will descend."

"You'll survive that," said Noel. "But look here! Tell me more about Olga! Wasn't she horribly shocked--just at first?"

"It was touch and go," said Nick. "I followed Sir Kersley's advice throughout. He didn't want me to tell her outright, and I didn't. The whole thing came to her gradually. Yes, it was a bit of a strain to begin with. But she has come through it all right. Give her time to settle, and I don't think she will be any the worse."

"I see," said Noel. He relaxed very suddenly, and passed a boyishly familiar arm around Nick's shoulders. "Well, that cooks my goose, quite effectually, doesn't it? Lucky it's come to me gradually too. I shouldn't have relished it all in a lump. The only person who is going to have a shock over this little business is Max. And you'll admit he deserves one."

"What are you going to do?" asked Nick.

"Do? Send him a wire of course."

"Who? Max?"

"Yes, Max. And I shall say, 'Come at once. Urgent. Noel.' That'll fetch him," said Noel with a twinkle. "He's making a speciality of me just now. He ought to be here before eight."

"And what about Olga?"

"Leave Olga to me!" said Noel.

Nick glanced up at him, and abruptly did so. "You're a sportsman, my son," he observed affectionately. "But to return to Max, doesn't it occur to you that it may not be precisely convenient for him to come posting down here at a moment's notice? He's an important man, remember."

But Noel here displayed a touch of his old imperious spirit. "Who the devil cares for Max?" he demanded. "He's just got to come; and if he doesn't like it, he can go hang. Surely a fellow may be permitted to settle who is to be asked to his own funeral!"

"Oh, if you put it like that--" said Nick.

"Well, it is like that; see?" There was a comic touch to Noel's tragedy notwithstanding, and Nick divined with a satisfaction that he was careful to conceal that the _role he had taken upon himself was not altogether distasteful to him. The funeral arrangements obviously had their attractive side.

"Well, my boy, fix it up as you think best!" he said, giving him as ample a squeeze as his one arm could compass. "You're a soldier and a gentleman, and whatever you do will have my full approval."

"What ho!" said Noel, highly gratified.

They parted then, going their several ways. Noel to send his message, Nick in pursuit of the two children. And so the rest of the afternoon wore away.

Muriel had tea laid in the old oak-panelled dining-room, and thither Nick presently marshalled his charges, to find his wife serenely waiting for them in solitude.

"Hasn't Olga come in yet?" he asked.

"Yes, dear, some time ago. But she looked so tired, poor child!" said Muriel. "I persuaded her to go up to her room and lie down. She has had some tea."

"She will be all right?" asked Nick quickly.

"I think so. She looks quite worn out. She seems to need a sleep more than anything," said Muriel.

He gave her a quick look. "You saw Noel?"

"Yes. He came in and talked for a few minutes after he left you. He seems a very nice boy." A faint smile touched Muriel's lips.

Nick laughed, pulling her hand round his neck as she brought him his tea. "Lost your heart to him, eh? It's quite the usual thing to do. Where has he gone?"

"He came over in Jim's motor, and has gone away in it again. He didn't say where he was going."

"Gone away without me!" ejaculated Peggy in consternation.

"He'll come back again, my chicken. Don't you worry!" said Nick. "Here! Have a jam sandwich!"

"I want Noel," said Peggy. "Where is Noel?"

"He has gone out on business," said Nick. "Which reminds me," he added to Muriel. "His brother Max will probably be here this evening to spend the night."

"Max!"

"Yes. Don't mention it upstairs! Noel is pulling the wires, so be prepared for anything."

"What wires is Noel pullin'?" Peggy wanted to know.

"Telegraph wires," said Reggie brightly.

"Yes, telegraph wires," chuckled Nick. "I think I'll just go up for a second, Muriel. I shan't wake her up if she's asleep."

He was gone with the words, swift and noiseless as a bird on the wing, and five seconds later was scratching very softly at Olga's door.

Her voice bade him enter immediately, and he went in.

She was lying on her bed, but the blind was up and the windows wide. She held out her arms to him.

"Nick--darling!"

"Ever yours to command!" said Nick. He went to her, stooping while the arms wound round his neck.

She held him tightly. "Nick," she whispered, "is Noel still here?"

"No, darling. Do you want him?"

She drew a sharp breath. "I--I'm afraid I--dodged him a little while ago. I simply couldn't meet him just then. Has he been looking for me? Did he wonder where I was?"

"Don't think so," said Nick. "He was playing with the kids. He is spending a couple of nights with the Musgraves, and he brought Peggy over."

"And he has gone again?" Faint wonder sounded in her voice.

"Only temporarily. He wanted to send a message to someone from the post-office; but he is coming back--presumably--for Peggy."

"I see." She was silent for a few moments, and Nick sat down on the edge of the bed. "Nick," she said at length, speaking with obvious effort, "will he--will he be very hurt, do you think, if--if I don't see him to-day?"

"Shouldn't say so, darling," said Nick.

She slipped her hand into his. "I've got to do a lot of thinking, Nick," she said rather piteously.

"Can I help?" said Nick.

She shook her head with a quivering smile. "No, dear. It's a--it's a one-man job. But, if you don't mind, tell Noel I'm rather tired, but I'll come over to Weir in the morning. I'm going to tell him everything," she ended, squeezing his hand very tightly.

"Quite right, dear," said Nick.

"Yes, but--before I tell him--I want to--to write to Max." Olga's voice was very low. "I must put things right with him first. I must ask him to forgive me."

"Forgive you, sweetheart!"

"Yes, for--for being very unkind to him." Olga's lips quivered again, and suddenly her eyes were full of tears. "I feel as if--as if I've been running into things in the dark, and doing a lot of harm," she said. "Of course everything is quite over--quite over--between us. He will understand that. But I want--I want to be friends with him--if--he--will let me. Nick dear, that's all. Hadn't you better go and have your tea?"

"And leave you to weep?" said Nick, with his face screwed up. "No, I don't think so."

"I'm not going to," she assured him. "I'm going to be--awfully sensible. Really I am. Kiss me, Nick darling, and go!"

He bent over her. "You mustn't cry," he urged pathetically.

She clasped him close. "No, I won't! I won't! Nick--dearest, you're the very sweetest man in the world. I always have thought so, and I always shall. There!"

"Ah, well, it's a comparatively harmless illusion," said Nick, with his quizzical grimace. "I'll endeavour to live up to it. Sure you want me to go?"

"Yes. You must go, dear. I'm sure Muriel is wanting you. I've monopolized you long enough. You--you'll tell Noel, won't you? Is he all right?"

"At the very top of his form," said Nick.

She smiled. "I'm so very glad. Give him my love, Nick, my--my best love."

"I will," said Nick. He stood up. "He's a fine chap--Noel," he said. "He deserves the best, and I hope--some day--he'll get it."

With which enigmatical remark, he wheeled and left her.

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