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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 14. A Big Thing
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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 14. A Big Thing Post by :MalcolmL Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1857

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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 14. A Big Thing

PART I CHAPTER XIV. A BIG THING

As the widowed rector's only daughter, Dot's occupations were many and various, and it was in consequence no difficult matter to be too deeply engrossed in these occupations to have any time to spare for intercourse with the rector's pupil.

Her brother had gone back to college, and there was therefore no excuse for the said pupil to linger when his studies were over, though he invented many that would not have borne a very close investigation.

But his ingenuity was all to no purpose. Dot could be ingenious too, and she evaded him so adroitly that at the end of a week he had abandoned his efforts.

He went about with a certain sternness in those days, but it was not the sternness of the vanquished, rather the dogged patience of the man who is quite sure of ultimate success. Dot, peeping from the kitchen window to see him ride away, marked this on more than one occasion and strengthened her defences in consequence. She had not the remotest intention of seeing Bertie alone again for many a month, if ever. His persistence had scared her badly on that night at Baronmead. She was horribly afraid of what he might feel impelled to say to her, almost terrified at the bare notion of an explanation, and the prospect of a possible apology was unthinkable. It was easier for her to sacrifice his good comradeship, though that of itself was no easy matter, and she could only thrust her sense of loss into the background of her thoughts by the most strenuous efforts.

She was sturdily determined to make him relinquish their former pleasant intimacy before they should meet again. She was growing up, she told herself severely, growing up fast; and intimacies of that sort were likely to be misconstrued.

She took the counsel of none upon this difficult matter. Her father was too vague a dreamer to guide her, or so much as to realise that she stood in need of guidance. And Dot had gone her own independent way all her life. Her healthy young mind was not accustomed to grapple with problems, but she did not despair on that account. She only resolutely set herself to cope with this one as best she might, erecting out of her multifarious duties a barrier calculated to dishearten the most hopeful knight.

But in thus constructing her defences there was one force with which she omitted to reckon and against which she in consequence made no preparation, a force which, nevertheless, was capable of shattering all her carefully-laid schemes at a touch.

As she emerged among the last of the congregation from the church on the Sunday morning following her visit to Baronmead, she found Lucas Errol leaning upon the open lych-gate.

He greeted her with that shrewd, kindly smile of his before which it was almost impossible to feel embarrassed or constrained. Yet she blushed vividly at meeting him, and would gladly have turned the other way had the opportunity offered. For there in the road below, doing something to the motor, was Bertie.

"It's a real pleasure to meet you again, Miss Waring," said Lucas, in his pleasant drawl. "I was just hoping you would come along. I met your father before the service, and he promised to show me his orchids."

"Oh!" said Dot, nervously avoiding a second glance in Bertie's direction. "Won't you come across to the Rectory then and wait for him there?"

"May I?" said Lucas.

He straightened himself with an effort and transferred his weight to his crutch. Dot shyly proffered her arm.

"Let me!" said Bertie.

He was already on the steps, but Lucas waved him down, and accepted the girl's help instead.

"We will go in the garden way," said Dot. "It's only just across the road."

He halted terribly in the descent, and glancing at him in some anxiety she saw that his lips were tightly closed. Overwhelming pity for the man overcame her awkwardness, and she spoke sharply over her shoulder.

"Bertie, come and take my place! You know what to do better than I do."

In an instant Bertie was beside her, had slipped his arm under his brother's shoulder, and taken his weight almost entirely off the crutch. His active young strength bore the great burden unfalteringly and with immense tenderness, and there ran through Dot, watching from above, a queer little indefinable thrill that made her heart beat suddenly faster. He certainly was a nice boy, as he himself had declared.

"That didn't hurt so badly, eh, old chap?" asked the cheery voice. "Come along, Dot. You can give him a hand now while I fetch the car round. There are no steps to the Rectory, so he will be all right."

His airy friendliness banished the last of Dot's confusion. With a keen sense of relief she obeyed him. Those few seconds of a common solicitude had bridged the gulf at least temporarily.

"This is real good of you," Lucas Errol said, as he took her arm again. "And it's a luxury I ought not to indulge in, for I can walk alone on the flat."

"Oh, it is horrid for you!" she said with vehemence. "How ever do you bear it?"

"We can all of us bear what we must," he said, smiling whimsically.

"But we don't all of us do it well," said Dot, as she opened the Rectory gate.

"I guess that's a good deal a matter of temperament," said the American. "A fellow like Nap, for instance, all hustle and quicksilver, might be expected to kick now and then. One makes allowances for a fellow like that."

"I believe you make allowances for everyone," said Dot, impetuously.

"Don't you?" he asked.

"No, I am afraid I don't."

There was a pause. The garden door was closed behind them. They stood alone.

Lucas Errol's eyes travelled over the stretch of lawn that lay between them and the house, dwelt for a few thoughtful seconds upon nothing in particular, and finally sought those of the girl at his side.

"One must be fair, Miss Waring," he said gently. "I can't imagine you being deliberately unfair to anyone."

She flushed again. There was something in his manner that she could not quite fathom, but it was something that she could not possibly resent.

"Not deliberately--of course," she said after a moment, as he waited for an answer.

"Of course not," he agreed, in his courteous, rather tired voice. "If, for instance, you were out with a friend and met a scorpion in a rage who stung you both, you'd want to take it out of the scorpion, wouldn't you, not the friend?"

She hesitated, seeing in a flash the trend of the conversation, and unwilling to commit herself too deeply.

He read her reluctance at a glance. "Please don't be afraid of me," he said, with that most winning smile of his. "I promise you on my honour that whatever you say shall not be used against you."

She smiled involuntarily. "I am not afraid of you, only--"

"Only--" he said.

"I think there are a good many scorpions about," she told him rather piteously. "I could name several, all venomous."

"I understand," said Lucas Errol. He passed his hand within her arm again and pressed it gently. "And so you are flinging away all your valuables to escape them?" he questioned. "Forgive me--is that wise?"

She did not answer.

He began to make his difficult progress towards the house.

Suddenly, without looking at her he spoke again. "I believe you're a woman of sense, Miss Waring, and you know as well as I do that there is a price to pay for everything. And the biggest things command the highest prices. If we haven't the means to pay for a big thing when it is offered us, we must just let it go. But if we have--well, I guess we'd be wise to sell out all the little things and secure it. Those same little things are so almighty small in comparison."

He ceased, but still Dot was silent. It was not the silence of embarrassment, however. He had spoken too kindly for that.

He did not look at her till they were close to the house, then for a few moments she was aware of his steady eyes searching for the answer she had withheld.

"Say, Miss Waring," he said, "you are not vexed any?"

She turned towards him instantly, her round face full of the most earnest friendliness. "I--I think you're a brick, Mr. Errol," she said.

He shook his head. "Nothing so useful, I am afraid, but I'm grateful to you all the same for thinking so. Ah! Here comes your father."

The rector was hastening after them across the grass. He joined them on the path before the house and urged his visitor to come in and rest. The orchids were in the conservatory. He believed he had one very rare specimen. If Mr. Errol would sit down in the drawing-room he would bring it for his inspection.

And so it came to pass that when Bertie entered he found his brother deep in a botanical discussion with the enthusiastic rector while Dot had disappeared. Bertie only paused to ascertain this fact before he turned round and went in quest of her.

He knew his way about the lower regions of the Rectory, and he began a systematic search forthwith. She was not, however, to be very readily found. He glanced into all the downstairs rooms without success. He was, in fact, on the point of regretfully abandoning his efforts on the supposition that she had retreated to her own room when her voice rang suddenly down the back stairs. She was calling agitatedly for help.

It was enough for Bertie. He tore up the stairs with lightning speed, boldly announcing his advent as he went.

He found her at the top of the house in an old cupboard used for storing fruit. She was mounted upon a crazy pair of steps that gave signs of imminent collapse, and to save herself from the catastrophe that this would involve she was clinging to the highest shelf with both hands.

"Be quick!" she cried to him. "Be quick! I'm slipping every second!"

The words were hardly uttered before the steps gave a sudden loud crack and fell from beneath her with a crash. But in the same instant Bertie sprang in and caught her firmly round the knees. He proceeded with much presence of mind to seat her on his shoulder.

"That's all right. I've got you," he said cheerily. "None the worse, eh? What are you trying to do? May as well finish before you come down."

Dot seemed for a moment inclined to resent the support thus jauntily given, but against her will her sense of humour prevailed.

She uttered a muffled laugh. "I'm getting apples for dessert."

"All in your Sunday clothes!" commented Bertie. "That comes of procrastination--the fatal British defect."

"I hate people who hustle," remarked Dot, hoping that her hot cheeks were not visible at that altitude.

"Meaning me?" said Bertie, settling himself for an argument.

"Oh, I suppose you can't help it," said Dot, filling her basket with feverish speed. "You Americans are all much too greedy to wait for anything. Am I very heavy?"

"Not in the least," said Bertie. "I like being sat on now and then. I admit the charge of greed but not of impatience. You misjudge me there."

At this point a large apple dropped suddenly upon his upturned face and, having struck him smartly between the eyes, fell with a thud to the ground.

Bertie said "Damn!" but luckily for Dot he did not budge an inch.

"I beg your pardon," he added a moment later.

"What for?" said Dot.

"For swearing," he replied. "I forgot you didn't like it."

"Oh!" said Dot; and after a pause, "Then I beg yours."

"Did you do it on purpose?" he asked curiously.

"I want to get down, please," said Dot.

He lowered her from his shoulder to his arms with perfect ease, set her on the ground, and held her fast.

"Dot," he said, his voice sunk almost to a whisper, "if you're going to be violent, I guess I shall be violent too."

"Let me go!" said Dot.

But still he held her. "Dot," he said again. "I won't hustle you any. I swear I won't hustle you. But--my dear, you'll marry me some day. Isn't that so?"

Dot was silent. She was straining against his arms, and yet he held her, not fiercely, not passionately, but with a mastery the greater for its very coolness.

"I'll wait for you," he said. "I'll wait three years. I shall be twenty-five then, and you'll be twenty-one. But you'll marry me then, Dot. You'll have to marry me then."

"Have to!" flashed Dot.

"Yes, have to," he repeated coolly. "You are mine."

"I'm not, Bertie!" she declared indignantly. "How--how dare you hold me against my will? And you're upsetting the apples too. Bertie, you--you're a horrid cad!"

"Yes, I know," said Bertie, an odd note of soothing in his voice. "That's what you English people always do when you're beaten. You hurl insults, and go on fighting. But it's nothing but a waste of energy, and only makes the whipping the more thorough."

"You hateful American!" gasped Dot. "As if--as if--we could be beaten!"

She had struggled vainly for some seconds and was breathless. She turned suddenly in his arms and placed her hands against his shoulders, forcing him from her. Bertie instantly changed his position, seized her wrists, drew them outward, drew them upward, drew them behind his neck.

"And yet you love me," he said. "You love yourself better, but--you love me."

His face was bent to hers, he looked closely into her eyes. And--perhaps it was something in his look that moved her--perhaps it was only the realisation of her own utter impotence--Dot suddenly hid her face upon his shoulder and began to cry.

His arms were about her in an instant. He held her against his heart.

"My dear, my dear, have I been a brute to you? I only wanted to make you understand. Say, Dot, don't cry, dear, don't cry!"

"I--I'm not!" sobbed Dot.

"Of course not," he agreed. "Anyone can see that. But still--darling--don't!"

Dot recovered herself with surprising rapidity. "Bertie, you--you're a great big donkey!" She confronted him with wet, accusing eyes. "What you said just now wasn't true, and if--if you're a gentleman you'll apologise."

"I'll let you kick me all the way downstairs if you like," said Bertie contritely. "I didn't mean to hurt you, honest. I didn't mean to make you--"

"You didn't!" broke in Dot. "But you didn't tell the truth. That's why I'm angry with you. You--told--a lie."

"I?" said Bertie.

He had taken his arms quite away from her now. He seemed in fact a little afraid of touching her. But Dot showed no disposition to beat a retreat. They faced each other in the old apple cupboard, as if it were the most appropriate place in the world for a conflict.

"Yes, you!" said Dot.

"What did I say?" asked Bertie, hastily casting back his thoughts.

She looked at him with eyes that seemed to grow more contemptuously bright every instant. "You said," she spoke with immense deliberation, "that I loved myself best."

"Well?" said Bertie.

"Well," she said, and took up her basket as one on the point of departure, "it wasn't true. There!"

"Dot!" His hand was on the basket too. He stopped her without touching her. "Dot!" he said again.

Dot's eyes began to soften, a dimple showed suddenly near the corner of her mouth. "You shouldn't tell lies, Bertie," she said.

And that was the last remark she made for several seconds, unless the smothered protests that rose against Bertie's lips could be described as such. They were certainly not emphatic enough to make any impression, and Bertie treated them with the indifference they deserved.

Driving home, he managed to steer with one hand while he thrust the other upon his brother's knee.

"Luke, old chap, I've gone dead against your wishes," he jerked out. "And--for the first time in my life--I'm not sorry. She'll have me."

"I thought she would," said Lucas. He grasped the boy's hand closely. "There are times when a man--if he is a man--must act for himself, eh, Bertie?"

Bertie laughed a little. "I don't believe it was against your wishes after all."

"Well, p'r'aps not." There was a very kindly smile in the sunken eyes. "I guess you're a little older than I thought you were, and anyway, she won't marry you for the dollars."

"She certainly won't," said Bertie warmly. "But she's horribly afraid of people saying so, since Nap--"

"Ah! Never mind Nap!"

"Well, it's made a difference," Bertie protested. "We are not going to marry for three years. And no one is to know we are engaged except you and her father."

"She doesn't mind me then?"

There was just a tinge of humour in the words, and Bertie looked at him sharply.

"What are you grinning at? No, of course she doesn't mind you. But what's the joke?"

"Look where you're going, dear fellow. It would be a real pity to break your neck at this stage."

Bertie turned his attention to his driving and was silent for a little.

Suddenly, "I have it!" he exclaimed. "You artful old fox! I believe you had first word after all. I wondered that she gave in so easily. What did you say to her?"

"That," said Lucas gently, "is a matter entirely between myself and one other."

Bertie broke into his gay boyish laugh and sounded the hooter for sheer lightness of heart.

"Oh, king, live for ever--and then some! You're just the finest fellow in the world!"

"Open to question, I am afraid," said the millionaire with his quiet smile. "And as to living for ever--well, I guess it's a cute idea in the main, but under present conditions it's a notion that makes me tired."

"Who said anything about present conditions?" demanded Bertie, almost angrily; and then in an altered voice: "Old man, I didn't mean that, and you know it. I only meant that you will always be wanted wherever you are. God doesn't turn out a good thing like you every day."

"Oh, shucks!" said Lucas Errol softly.

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