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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 22. The City Of Refuge
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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 22. The City Of Refuge Post by :MalcolmL Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2988

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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 22. The City Of Refuge

PART I CHAPTER XXII. THE CITY OF REFUGE

The moment Lucas Errol's hand closed upon hers it was to Anne as if an immense and suffocating weight had been lifted from her, and with it all her remaining strength crumbled away as if her burden alone had sustained her.

She looked at him, meeting the kind, searching eyes without effort, trying piteously to speak, but her white lips only moved soundlessly, her throat seemed paralysed.

"Her ladyship has had a shock, sir," explained Dimsdale.

"Won't you sit down?" said Lucas gently. In a moment she found herself sitting on a sofa with this stanch friend of hers beside her, holding her hand. A few words passed between him and Dimsdale, which she scarcely heard and was too weak to comprehend, and then they were alone together, she and Lucas in a silence she felt powerless to break.

"You mustn't mind me, Lady Carfax," he said. "I know what you have come through. I understand."

Dimly she heard the words, but she could not respond to them. She was shivering, shivering with a violence that she was utterly unable to repress.

He did not speak again till Dimsdale came back with a tray, then again he exchanged a few murmured sentences with the old butler, who presently said, "Very good, sir," and went softly away.

Then Lucas turned again to Anne. "Drink this," he said. "It will revive you."

She groped for the glass he held towards her, but trembled so much that she could not take it.

"Let me," he said, and put it himself to her lips.

She drank slowly, shuddering, her teeth chattering against the glass.

"Lay your head down upon the cushion," he said then, "and shut your eyes. You will be better soon."

"You--you won't go?" she managed to whisper.

"Why, no," he said. "It's for your sake I've come. I guess I'm a fixture for so long as you want me."

She breathed a sigh of relief and lay back.

A long time passed. Anne lay motionless with closed eyes, too crushed for thought. And Lucas Errol watched beside her, grave and patient and still.

Suddenly there came a sound, piercing the silence, a sound that made Anne start upright in wild terror.

"What is it? What is it?"

Instantly and reassuringly Lucas's hand clasped hers. "Don't be afraid!" he said. "They are moving him to another room, that's all."

She sank back, shuddering, her face hidden. The sound continued, seeming to come nearer--the sound of a man's voice shrieking horribly for help, in piercing accents of terror that might have come from a torture-chamber. Suddenly the yells became articulate, resolved into words: "Anne! Anne! Anne!" in terrible crescendo.

She sprang up with a sharp cry.

But on the instant the man beside her spoke. "Anne, you are not to go."

She paused irresolute. "I must! I must! He is calling me!"

"You are not to go," he reiterated, and for the first time she heard the dominant note in his voice. "Come here, child! Come close to me! It will soon be over."

Her irresolution passed like a cloud. She looked down, saw his blue eyes shining straight up at her, kind still, but compelling. And she dropped upon her knees beside him and hid her face upon his shoulder, with the cry of, "Help me! Help me! I can't bear it!"

He folded his arms about her as though he had been a woman, and held her fast.

Long after the awful sounds had died away Anne knelt there, sobbing, utterly unstrung, all her pride laid low, herself no more than a broken, agonised woman. But gradually, from sheer exhaustion, her sobs became less anguished, till at length they ceased. A strange peace, wholly unaccountable, fell gently upon her torn spirit. But even then it was long before she moved. She felt an overwhelming reluctance to withdraw herself from the shelter of those quiet arms.

"What must you think of me?" she whispered at last, her face still hidden.

"My dear," he said, "I understand."

He did not offer to release her, but as she moved she found herself free, she found herself able to look into his face.

"I shall never forget your goodness to me," she said very earnestly.

He smiled a little, after a fashion she did not wholly comprehend. "My dear Lady Carfax! You underrate friendship when you say a thing like that. Sit down, won't you? And let me tell you what brought me here."

"Nap told you--" she hazarded.

"Yes, Nap told me. And I decided I had better come at once. I wasn't in when he got back, or I should have been here sooner. I saw there had been a gross misunderstanding, and I hoped I should be able to get your husband to take a reasonable view."

"Ah!" she said, with a shiver. "I--I'm thankful you didn't meet."

"I am sorry," Lucas said quietly. And though he said no more, she knew that he was thinking of her.

"How is Nap?" she ventured hesitatingly.

"Nap," he said with deliberation, "will be himself again in a very few weeks. You need have no anxiety for him."

Again she did not wholly understand his tone. She glanced at him nervously, half afraid that he was keeping something from her.

"You really mean that?"

His eyes met hers, very level and direct. "He is badly battered, of course. But--he is not quite like other men. He has no nerves to speak of in a physical sense. He will make a quick recovery. Broken bones mean very little to a man of his calibre."

She heard him with relief mingled with a faint wonder at his confidence on this point.

"The doctor has seen him?" she asked.

"Yes; and I have sent my man in the motor to ask him to come on here."

She shivered again irrepressibly. "Giles hates Dr. Randal."

"I do not think that will make any difference," Lucas said gently.

Thereafter they sat together almost in silence, till the buzzing of the motor told of the doctor's arrival. Then with the aid of a stick Lucas began to drag himself laboriously to his feet. Anne rose to help him.

He took her arm, looking at her shrewdly.

"Lady Carfax, will you let me speak to him alone?"

"If you wish it," she said.

"I do wish it." His eyes passed hers suddenly and rested upon the lace at her neck. In one place it was torn, and the soft flesh was revealed; revealed also was a long red stripe, swollen and turning. In an instant his glance fell, but she saw his brows contract as if at a sharp twinge of pain. "I do wish it," he said again very gently. "P'r'aps you will wait for me here."

And with that he relinquished her arm, and made his halting, difficult way across the room to the door.

Anne sat down before the fire to wait. She had, to a large extent, recovered her self-control, but a deadly weariness was upon her which she found it impossible to shake off. She kept it at bay for a time while she listened for any sound. But no sound came, and at length exhausted nature prevailed.

When Lucas came back she was sunk in her chair asleep.

He took up his stand near her while he waited for the doctor, and again that deep furrow showed between his brows. But the eyes that watched her were soft and tender as a woman's. There was something almost maternal in their regard, a compassion so deep as to be utterly unconscious of itself. When the doctor's step sounded at length outside he shuffled away without disturbing her.

It was hours later when Anne awoke and sat up with a confused sense of something wrong. She was still in her easy-chair before the fire, which burned brightly as ever, while on the other side of the hearth, propped upright upon cushions and watching her with those steady blue eyes, whose kindness never varied, was Lucas Errol.

He spoke to her at once, very softly and gently, as if she had been a child.

"I'm real pleased you've had a sleep. You needed it. Don't look so startled. It's all right--a little late, but that's nothing. Dimsdale and I agreed that it would be a pity to disturb you. So we let you sleep on. And he brought in a tray of refreshments to fortify you when you awoke. He's a thoughtful old chap, Lady Carfax. You're lucky to have such a servant."

But Anne scarcely heard him. She was staring at the clock in amazement. It was half-past three! Just twelve hours since--She repressed a violent shudder.

"Don't be shocked any!" besought Lucas in his easy drawl. "I'm often awake at this hour. I guessed you wouldn't sleep if we woke you to go to your room, and I didn't quite like the thought of being down here out of reach. You are not vexed with me, I hope?"

"No," she said. "I am not vexed."

But she looked at him very strangely, as if that were not all she desired to say.

"Dimsdale has been in and out," he said, "keeping the fire going. He and one of the others are watching upstairs. But all is quiet there. Sir Giles has been asleep ever since the doctor left."

Anne got up slowly. "You look very uncomfortable," she said.

He smiled up at her. "My dear Lady Carfax, I am all right. The advantage of this position is that one can rise at a moment's notice."

As if to demonstrate the truth of this he rose, but not without considerable effort.

"Ah, please don't!" she said, putting out a quick, restraining hand. "It hurts me to see you suffer on my account. It was too kind of you--much too kind--to stay with me like this. You will never know how much you have helped me, and I thank you for it with all my heart. Now please sit down again, and let me wait upon you for a change. Have you had anything to eat or drink?"

He sat down again, looking quizzical. "I have been waiting for my hostess to join me," he said.

"Do you ever think of yourself at all?" she asked, turning aside to the tray that Dimsdale's consideration had provided.

"A great deal more often than you imagine," smiled Lucas. "Must you really do the waiting? It's very bad for me, you know."

He joked with her gently through the light repast that followed. And though she scarcely responded, she let him see her gratitude.

Finally, he laid aside all pretence of humour and spoke to her very quietly and gravely of her husband. The doctor thought it advisable to remove him from the Manor with as little delay as possible. He would consult her about it in the morning. His brain was without doubt very seriously affected, and it might take some months to recover. It was essential that he should be taken away from familiar surroundings and people whom he knew.

Anne listened with a whitening face. She asked no questions. Lucas supplied every detail with the precision that characterised most of his utterances. Finally he spoke of her position, advised her strongly to employ an agent for the estate, and promised his help in this or any other matter in which she might care to avail herself of it.

He seemed to take it for granted that she would remain at the head of affairs, and it gradually dawned upon Anne that she could not well do otherwise. Her presence for a time at least seemed indispensable. The responsibility had become hers and she could not at that stage shake it off. Her dream of freedom was over. Of what the future might hold for her she could not even begin to think. But the present was very clearly defined. It remained only for her to "do the work that was nearest" as bravely as she might.

When Lucas ended she leaned forward and gave him her hand. "I wonder what I should have done without you," she said. "I believe I should have gone mad too."

"No, no, Lady Carfax!"

She smiled faintly; the tears were standing in her eyes. "Yes, I know. You don't like to be thanked. But you have been like a mother to me in my trouble, and--I shall always remember it."

The blue eyes began to twinkle humorously. The hand that held hers closed with a very friendly pressure.

"Well," drawled the kindly American voice, "I'll be shot if that isn't the kindest thing that anyone ever said to me. And I believe you meant it too."

"Yes, I meant it," Anne said.

And though she smiled also there was genuine feeling in her words.

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