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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 12. Brothers
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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 12. Brothers Post by :MalcolmL Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2558

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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 12. Brothers


"Come right in!" said Mrs. Errol. "Anne, my dear, here is little Miss Waring come to see you. I'm real pleased to meet you, child. I've watched you in church many a time when I ought to have been saying my prayers, and so has someone else I know."

Dot's cheeks were scarlet as she came forward to Anne's couch. She was still telling herself with fierce emphasis that never, never again would she voluntarily venture herself within the walls of Baronmead.

But when Anne stretched out a hand to her and smiled, all her perturbation vanished at a breath. She went impulsively forward and knelt down by her side. For some reason she did not feel her customary awe of the lady of the Manor. This sad-faced woman with the deeply shadowed eyes aroused within her something that was stronger, something that carried her completely out of herself.

"Oh, are you better?" she said. "I have been so sorry about you."

"It was good of you to come up to see me," Anne said gently. "Yes, Dot, I am better. I am allowed to walk again, and I am going home to-morrow."

"Not if I know it," said Mrs. Errol stoutly. "Or if you do, I go too, to take care of you."

Anne smiled at her without replying. "Sit down, Dot," she said, "and tell me all the news. I know you hear everything."

"But nothing has happened," said Dot. "Everybody is squabbling as usual about the Town Hall, why we want one, why there isn't one, and when we are going to have one. Really, there's nothing else."

"My dear," said Mrs. Errol, "everybody wants a sound spanking, and I should like to administer it. Every township ought to have a public building, and there's my son Lucas wanting nothing so much as to build one and they won't let him."

"I am afraid my husband is the main obstacle," said Anne.

"Then I guess we won't discuss it," said Mrs. Errol firmly. "Who's that scratching at the door?"

It was Bertie, as Anne knew on the instant by Dot's face. "Do ask him to come in," she said kindly.

Bertie came in as one not wholly sure of his welcome, and took up a position in the background. And there during the remainder of Dot's visit he stayed, scarcely speaking, and so sternly preoccupied that Dot's embarrassment returned upon her overwhelmingly, and she very soon rose to go.

He stepped forward then and followed her out. "I am going to motor you home," he said, as he escorted her down the stairs.

Dot nearly stopped short in consternation. "Oh, no, really! I'm going home alone. It's no distance, and I know my way perfectly."

"I'm coming with you," he said doggedly.

But the memory of those eyes that had mocked her across the hall still burned in the girl's heart. She faced him resolutely;

"You are not to, Bertie. I don't wish it."

"I can't help it," said Bertie. "I am coming."

At this point they arrived in the hall, and here she found Lucas Errol waiting to say good-bye to her.

She turned to him with desperate appeal. "Mr. Errol, please don't let Bertie see me home. I--I would so much rather go alone."

She was almost crying as she said it, and Lucas looked at Bertie with most unaccustomed sharpness.

"It's all right," the boy made answer. "We haven't quarrelled yet."

The last word sounded ominous, and with her hand in Lucas's quiet grasp, Dot shivered.

"But I'm sure we are going to," she said. "And I do so hate quarrelling. Do, please, let me run home alone. I'm not a bit afraid."

Lucas began to smile. "I think it's rather hard on Bertie," he said. "However--"

"I must go, Lucas," Bertie said quickly. "You don't understand. There is something I want to explain."

But Lucas leaned a hand upon his shoulder. "Let it keep, dear fellow. There is always tomorrow!"

"No, never, never, never!" whispered Dot to her turbulent heart.

Yet when a moment later Bertie came forward, and silently, without looking at her, held open the door, a wild regret surged fiercely through her, and for that second she almost wished that she had let him go with her.

And then again there came to her that hateful whisper--that taunting, intolerable sneer; and she fled without a backward glance.

Bertie closed the great door very quietly, and turned back into the hall.

"Where is Nap?"

"Come here, Bertie," Lucas said.

He went unwillingly. "Where is Nap?" he said again.

Lucas, supporting himself on one side with a crutch, stood by the fire and waited for him.

As Bertie drew near he took him gently by the shoulder. "May I know what you were going to say to Miss Waring just now?" he asked.

Bertie threw back his head. "I was going to ask her to overlook that cad's vile insinuations--and marry me."

"And that was the very thing she didn't want you to do," Lucas said.

"I can't help it." There was a stubborn note in Bertie's voice. "She shan't think I'm a blackguard like Nap."

"We will leave Nap out of it," Lucas said quietly.

"Why?" demanded Bertie hotly. "He was responsible. He insulted a guest under your roof. Are you going to put up with that? Because I'm not!"

"My dear fellow, it is I, not you, who must deal with that."

Bertie stamped furiously. "That's all very well, but--dash it, Lucas, you're always holding me back. And I can't knock under to you in this. I'm sorry, but I can't. I'm going to have it out with Nap. Whatever you may say, it is more my business than yours."

He would have flung round with the words, but his brother's hand was still upon him, restraining him.

He paused, chafing. "You must let me go. I shall hurt you if you don't."

"You will hurt me if I do, boy," Lucas made grave reply.

"I know, and I'm sorry. But I can't help it. There are times when a man--if he is a man--must act for himself. And I--" he broke off, still chafing, his hand seeking without violence to free him from that hold which could not have been so very powerful, though it resisted his efforts. "Luke," he said suddenly, and the anger was gone from his voice, "let me go, old chap. You must let me go. It isn't right--it isn't just to--to take advantage of being--what you are."

The quick falter in the words deprived them of any sting, yet on the instant Lucas's hand fell, setting him free.

"All right, Bertie! Go!" he said.

And Bertie went--three steps, and halted. Lucas remained motionless before the fire. He was not so much as looking at him.

Several seconds passed in silence. Then impulsively Bertie turned. His lips were quivering. He went straight back to the quiet figure on the hearth, lifted the free arm, and drew it boyishly round his neck.

"Old chap, forgive me!" he said.

"For what you haven't done?" Lucas asked, with a very kindly smile.

"For being an unconscionable brute!" Bertie said, with feeling. "I didn't mean, it, old man. I didn't mean it!"

"Oh, shucks, dear fellow! Don't be such a silly ass! It's demoralising for all concerned." Lucas Errol's hand pressed his shoulder admonishingly. "She's a nice little girl, Bertie. I've taken a kind of fancy to her myself."

Bertie looked up quickly. "Luke, you're a brick!"

Lucas shook his head. "But you mustn't ask her yet, lad. She's not ready for it. I'm not sure that you are ready for it yourself."

Bertie's face fell. "Why not? I'm in dead earnest. I want to marry her, just as soon as she will have me."

"Quite so," drawled Nap, from the depths of the lounge behind him. "And she, I doubt not, wants to marry you--even sooner, if possible."

He had come up in his noiseless fashion unobserved. Attired in evening dress, slim, sleek, well-groomed, he lay at full length and gazed up at the two brothers, a malicious glitter in his eyes. He held an unlighted cigarette between his fingers.

"Pray don't let me interrupt, Lucas," he said airily, ignoring Bertie's sharp exclamation, which was not of a pacific nature. "I always enjoy seeing you trying to teach the pride of the Errols not to make a fool of himself. It's a gigantic undertaking, isn't it? Let me know if you require any assistance."

He placed the cigarette between his lips and felt for some matches.

"I am going to turn my attention to you now," Lucas rejoined in his tired voice. "Bertie, old chap, go and dress, will you? You can come to my room afterwards."

"Bring me one of those spills first," said Nap.

Bertie stood rigid. He was white to the lips with the effort to control himself. Nap, outstretched, supple as a tiger, lay and watched him unwaveringly.

"Go, Bertie!" Lucas said very quietly.

He took a spill himself from the mantelpiece, and tried to hold it to the blaze. But he stooped with difficulty, and sharply Bertie reached forward and took it from him.

"I will," he said briefly, and lighting the spill, carried it to Nap, at ease on the sofa.

With a faint smile Nap awaited him. He did not offer to take the burning spill, and Bertie held it in sullen silence to the end of his cigarette. His hand was not very steady, and after a moment Nap took his wrist.

The cigarette glowed, and Nap looked up. "It's a pity you're too big to thrash, Bertie," he said coolly, and with a sudden movement doubled the flaming paper back upon the fingers that held it.

Bertie's yell was more of rage than pain. He struck furiously at his tormentor with his free hand, but Nap, by some trick of marvellous agility, evaded the blow. He leapt over the back of the settee with a laugh of devilish derision.

And, "Bertie, go!" said Lucas peremptorily.

Without a word Bertie checked himself as it were in mid career, stood a second as one gathering his strength, then turned in utter silence and marched away.

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