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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 13. An Appeal And Its Answer
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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 13. An Appeal And Its Answer Post by :jgcraft Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :921

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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 13. An Appeal And Its Answer

PART II CHAPTER XIII. AN APPEAL AND ITS ANSWER

A puff of rain-washed air wandered in through the wide-flung window, and Lucas Errol turned his head languidly upon the pillow to feel it on his face. He sighed as he moved, as if even that slight exertion cost him some resolution. His eyes had a heavy, drugged look. They seemed more deeply sunken than usual, but there was no sleep in them, only the utter weariness that follows the sleep of morphia.

At the soft opening of the door a faint frown drew his forehead, but it turned to a smile as Bertie came forward with cautious tread.

"That you, dear fellow? I am awake."

Bertie came to his side, his brown face full of concern. "Are you better, old chap?"

"Yes, better, thanks. Only so dog-tired. Sit down. Have you brought the budget?"

"There's nothing much to-day. Only that chap Cradock writing again for instructions about the Arizona ranch, and a few Wall Street tips from Marsh by cable. Say, Luke, I don't think Cradock is overweighted with spunk, never have thought so. Guess that ranch wants a bigger man."

"I'll see his letter," said Lucas. "Presently will do. What about Marsh?"

"Oh, he's behind the scenes as usual. You'd better read him now. The rest will keep. When you've done that I want to talk to you."

"So I gathered. Stuff in another pillow behind me, will you? I can think better sitting up."

"I shouldn't, old chap, really. You're always easier lying down."

"Oh, shucks, Bertie! Do as you're told. And don't look at me like that, you old duffer. It's a mean advantage to take of a sick man. Steady now, steady! Go slow! You mustn't slam a creaking gate. It's bad for the hinges."

But notwithstanding Bertie's utmost care there were heavy drops on his brother's forehead as he sank again upon his pillows. Bertie wiped them away with a hand that trembled a little, and Lucas smiled up at him with twitching lips.

"Thanks, boy! It was only a twinge. Sit down again, and give me Marsh's cipher and the morning papers. The letters you shall read to me presently."

He straightway immersed himself in business matters with the shrewdness and concentration that ever aroused his young brother's deepest admiration.

"What a marvellous grip you've got on things, Luke!" he exclaimed at the end of it. "No wonder you are always on the top! You're great, man, you're great!"

"I guess it's just my speciality," the millionaire said, with his weary smile. "I must be getting another secretary soon, boy. It's a shame to eat up your time like this. What is it you want to talk to me about? Going to get married?"

Bertie shook his head. "The padre won't hear of it yet, and Dot herself--well, you know, I said I'd wait."

"Don't wait too long," said Lucas quietly. "You shall have the old Dower House to live in. Tell the padre that. It's only a stone's throw from the Rectory. We'll build a garage too, eh, Bertie? The wife must have her motor. And presently, when you are called to the Bar, you will want a flat in town."

"You're a brick, Luke!" the boy declared, with shining eyes. "Between ourselves, I don't expect to do much at the Bar, but I'm sticking to it just to show 'em I can work like the rest of creation. I'd sooner be your secretary for all time, and you know it."

"That so?" Lucas stretched a hand towards him. "But I guess you're right. I don't want you to depend on me for employment. If I were to go out one of these days you'd feel rather left. It's better you should have other resources."

"Luke, I say! Luke!"

But the quick distress of the words was checked by the gentle restraint of Lucas's hand. "I know! I know! But we've all got to die sooner or later, and one doesn't want to tear a larger hole than one need. That's all right, Bertie boy. We'll shunt the subject. Only, if you want to please me, get that nice little girl to marry you soon. Now what was it you wanted to say? Something about Nap?"

"Yes. How did you know? It's an infernal shame to worry you when you're not fit for it. But the mother and I both think you ought to know."

"Go ahead, dear fellow! I'm tougher than you think. What has become of Nap?"

"That's just the question. You know he went off in the car with Lady Carfax yesterday morning?"

"I didn't know," murmured Lucas. "That's a detail. Go on."

"Late last night the car had not returned, and the mother began to wonder. Of course if Lady Carfax hadn't been there it wouldn't have mattered much, but as it was we got anxious, and in the end I posted off to the Manor to know if she had arrived. She had not. But while I was there a wire came for the butler from a place called Bramhurst, which is about fifty miles away, to say that the car had broken down and they couldn't return before to-day. Well, that looked to me deuced queer. I'm convinced that Nap is up to some devilry. What on earth induced her to go there with him anyway? The mother was real bothered about it, and so was I. We couldn't rest, either of us. And in the end she ordered the big Daimler and went off to Bramhurst herself. I wanted to go with her, but she wouldn't have me at any price. You know the mother. So I stopped to look after things here. Everyone cleared off this morning, thank the gods. I don't think anyone smelt a rat. I told them the mother had gone to nurse a sick friend, and it seemed to go down all right."

Lucas had listened to the recital with closed eyes and a perfectly expressionless face. He did not speak for a few moments when Bertie ended. At length, "And the mother is not back yet?" he asked.

"No. But I'm not afraid for her. She knows how to hold her own."

"That's so," Lucas conceded; and fell silent again.

He was frowning a little as if in contemplation of some difficulty, but his composure was absolute.

"There may be nothing in it," he said at last.

Bertie grunted. "I knew he was in a wild beast mood before they started. He nearly rode the black mare to death in the early morning."

"Why wasn't I told of that?" Lucas opened his eyes with the question and looked directly at his brother's worried countenance.

"My dear fellow, you were too sick to be bothered. Besides, you were taking morphia. He saw to that."

Lucas closed his eyes again without comment, A long pause ensued before he spoke again.

Then: "Bertie," he said, "go down to the garage and leave word that as soon as Nap returns I want to speak to him."

"He won't return," said Bertie, with conviction.

"I think he will. It is even possible that he has returned already. In any case, go and tell them. Ah, Tawny, what is it?"

The valet came to his master's side. His hideous features wore an expression that made them almost benign. The dumb devotion of an animal looked out of his eyes.

"A note, sir, from the Manor."

"Who brought it?" asked Lucas.

"A groom, sir."

"Waiting for an answer?"

"Yes, sir."

Lucas opened the note. It was from Anne.

He read a few lines, then glanced at Bertie. "It's all right, Bertie. Go and give that message, will you? Say it's important--an urgent matter of business."

Bertie departed, and Lucas's eyes returned to the sheet he held.

Tawny Hudson stood motionless beside him, and several silent seconds ticked away. His master spoke at length.

"Pen and paper, Tawny. Yes, that's right. Now put your arm behind the pillows and give me a hoist. Slowly now, slowly!"

And then, as the man supported him, very slowly and unsteadily he traced a few words.

"Don't worry. All's well.--Lucas."

Abruptly the pen fell from his fingers; his head dropped back. His face was drawn and ghastly as he uttered a few gasping whispers. "Tawny, give me something--quick! This pain is--killing me!"

The man lowered him again, and took a bottle from a side-table. As he measured some drops into a glass the only sound in the room was his master's agonised breathing.

Yet he knew without turning that someone had entered, and he betrayed no surprise when Nap's hand suddenly whisked the glass from his hold and held it to the panting lips.

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