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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 15. The Champion
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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 15. The Champion Post by :MalcolmL Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1631

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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 15. The Champion

PART I CHAPTER XV. THE CHAMPION

When Mrs. Errol remarked in her deep voice, that yet compassed the incomparable Yankee twang, that she guessed she wasn't afraid of any man that breathed, none of those who heard the bold assertion ventured to contradict her.

Lucas Errol was entertaining a large house-party, and the great hall was full of guests, most of whom had just returned from the day's sport. The hubbub of voices was considerable, but Mrs. Errol's remark was too weighty to be missed, and nearly everyone left off talking to hear its sequel.

Mrs. Errol, who was the soul of hospitality, but who, nevertheless, believed firmly in leaving people to amuse themselves in their own way, had only returned a few minutes before from paying a round of calls. She was wrapped in furs from head to foot, and her large, kindly face shone out of them like a November sun emerging from a mass of cloud.

There was a general scramble to wait upon her, and three cups of tea were offered her simultaneously, all of which she accepted with a nod of thanks and a gurgle of laughter.

"Put it down! I'll drink it presently. Where do you think I've just come from? And what do you think I've been doing? I'll wager my last dollar no one can guess."

"Done!" said Nap coolly, as he pulled forward a chair to the blaze. "You've been bearding the lion in his den, and not unsuccessfully, to judge by appearances. In other words, you've been to the Manor and have drunk tea with the lord thereof."

Mrs. Errol subsided into the chair and looked round upon her interested audience. "Well," she said, "you're right there, Nap Errol, but I shan't part with my last dollar to you, so don't you worry any about that. Yes, I've been to the Manor. I've had tea with Anne Carfax. And I've talked to the squire as straight as a mother. He was pretty mad at first, I can assure you, but I kept on hammering it into him till even he began to get tired. And after that I made my points. Oh, I was mighty kind on the whole. But I guess he isn't under any misapprehension as to what I think of him. And I'm going over to-morrow to fetch dear Anne over here to lunch."

With which cheerful announcement Mrs. Errol took up one of her cups of tea and drank it with a triumphant air.

"I told him," she resumed, "he'd better watch his reputation, for he was beginning to be regarded as the local Bluebeard. Oh, I was as frank as George Washington. And I told him also that there isn't a man inside the U.S.A. that would treat a black as he treats his wife. I think that surprised him some, for he began to stutter, and then of course I had the advantage. And I used it."

"It must have been real edifying for Lady Carfax," drawled Nap.

Mrs. Errol turned upon him. "I'm no bigger a fool than I look, Nap Errol. Lady Carfax didn't hear a word. We had it out in the park. I left the motor half way on purpose, and made his high mightiness walk down with me. He was pretty near speechless by the time I'd done with him, but he did just manage at parting to call me an impertinent old woman. And I called him--a gentleman!"

Mrs. Errol paused to swallow her second cup of tea.

"I was wheezing myself by that time," she concluded. "But I'd had my say, and I don't doubt that he is now giving the matter his full and careful attention, which after all is the utmost I can expect. It may not do dear Anne much good, but I guess it can't do her much harm anyway, and it was beer and skittles to me. Why, it's five weeks now since she left, and she's only been over once in all that time, and then I gather there was such a row that she didn't feel like facing another till she was quite strong again."

"An infernal shame!" declared Bertie hotly. "I'll drive you over myself to-morrow to fetch her. We'll get up some sports in her honour. I wonder if she likes tobogganing."

"I wonder if she will come," murmured Nap.

Mrs. Errol turned to her third cup. "She'll come," she said with finality; and no one raised any further question on that point. Mrs. Errol in certain moods was known to be invincible.

Though it was nearly the middle of March, the land was fast held in the grip of winter. There had been a heavy fall of snow, and a continuous frost succeeding it had turned Baronmead into an Alpine paradise. Tobogganing and skating filled the hours of each day; dancing made fly the hours of each night. Bertie had already conducted one ice gymkhana with marked success, and he was now contemplating a masquerade on the ornamental sheet of water that stretched before the house. Strings of fairy lights were being arranged under his directions, and Chinese lanterns bobbed in every bush.

He was deeply engrossed in these preparations, but he tore himself away to drive his mother to the Manor on the following morning. His alacrity to do this was explained when he told her that he wanted to drop into the Rectory and persuade the rector to bring Dot that night to see the fun, to which plan Mrs. Errol accorded her ready approval, and even undertook to help with the persuading, to Bertie's immense gratification. He and his mother never talked confidences, but they understood each other so thoroughly that words were superfluous.

So they departed both in excellent spirits, while Lucas leaning upon Nap's shoulder, went down to the lake to watch the skaters and to superintend Bertie's preparations for the evening's entertainment.

The voices of the tobogganists reached them from a steep bit of ground half-a-mile away, ringing clearly on the frosty air.

"The other side of that mound is tip-top for skiing," remarked Nap, "better than you would expect in this country. But no one here seems particularly keen on it. I was out early this morning and tried several places that were quite passable, but that mound was the best!"

"After dancing till three," commented Lucas. "What a restless fellow you are!"

Nap laughed a somewhat hard laugh. "One must do something. I never sleep after dawn. It's not my nature."

"You'll wear yourself to a shadow," smiled Lucas. "There's little enough of you as it is--nothing but fire and sinew!"

"Oh, rats, my dear fellow! I'm as tough as leather. There would need to be something very serious the matter for me to lie in bed after daylight. Just look at that woman doing eights! It's a sight to make you shudder."

"Whom do you mean? Mrs. Van Rhyl? I thought you were an admirer of hers."

Nap made a grimace. "Where is your native shrewdness? And I never admired her skating anyway. It's about on a par with Mrs. Damer's dancing. In the name of charity, don't ask that woman to come and help us dance again. I'm not equal to her. It's yoking an elephant to a zebra."

"I thought you liked Mrs. Damer," said Lucas.

Nap grimaced again. "She's all right in the hunting-field. Leave her in her own sphere and I can appreciate her."

"Do you think you are capable of appreciating any woman?" asked Lucas unexpectedly.

Nap threw him a single fiery glance that was like a sword-thrust. His slight figure stiffened to arrogance. But his answer, when it came, was peculiarly soft and deliberate--it was also absolutely and imperiously final.

"I guess so."

Lucas said no more, but he did not look wholly satisfied. There were times in his dealings with Nap when even his tolerance would carry him no further.

They spent a considerable time on the terrace in front of the house. It was a sheltered spot, and the sunshine that day was generous.

"This place is doing you good," Nap remarked presently. "You are considerably stronger than you were."

"I believe I am," Lucas answered. "I sleep better."

He had just seated himself on a stone bench that overlooked the lake. His eyes followed the darting figures of the skaters with a certain intentness.

Nap leaned upon the balustrade and watched him. "Why don't you see Capper again?" he asked suddenly.

The millionaire's gaze gradually lost its intentness and grew remote. "I am afraid he is on the wrong side of the Atlantic," he said.

"You can cable to him."

"Yes, I know." Slowly Lucas raised his eyes to his brother's face. "I can have him over to tell me what he told me before--that I haven't the recuperative strength essential to make his double operation a success."

"He may tell you something different this time." Nap spoke insistently, with the energy of one not accustomed to accept defeat.

Lucas was silent.

"Say, Lucas"--there was more than insistence in his tone this time; it held compulsion--"you aren't faint-hearted?"

The blue eyes began to smile. "I think not, Boney. But I've got to hang on for the present--till you and the boy are married. P'r'aps then--I'll take the risk."

Nap looked supercilious. "And if it is not my intention to marry?"

"You must marry, my dear fellow. You'll never be satisfied otherwise."

"You think marriage the hall-mark of respectability?" Nap sneered openly.

"I think," Lucas answered quietly, "that for you marriage is the only end. The love of a good woman would be your salvation. Yes, you may scoff. But--whether you admit it or not--it is the truth. And you know it."

But Nap had ceased already to scoff; the sneer had gone from his face. He had turned his head keenly as one who listens.

It was nearly a minute later that he spoke, and by that time the humming of an approaching motor was clearly audible.

Then, "It may be the truth," he said, in a tone as deliberate as his brother's, "and it may not. But--no good woman will ever marry me, Luke. And I shall never marry--anything else."

He stooped, offering his shoulder for support. "Another guest, I fancy. Shall we go?"

He added, as they stood a moment before turning, "And if you won't send for Capper--I shall."

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