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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 14. The Irresistible
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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 14. The Irresistible Post by :jgcraft Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :961

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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 14. The Irresistible

PART II CHAPTER XIV. THE IRRESISTIBLE

The first words Lucas uttered when utterance became possible to him were, "No morphia!"

Nap was deftly drawing away the pillows to ease his position. "All right, old fellow," he made answer. "But you know you can't sit up when you are like this. What possessed you to try?"

"Business," murmured Lucas. "Don't go again, Boney. I want you."

"So I've been told. I am quite at your service. Don't speak till you feel better."

"Ah! I am better now. There's magic about you, I believe. Or is it electricity?" Lucas's eyes rested on the grim face above him with a certain wistfulness.

Nap only smiled cynically. "Is Hudson to take this note? Can I address it for you?"

If he expected to cause any discomfiture by the suggestion he was disappointed. Lucas answered him with absolute composure.

"Yes; to Lady Carfax at the Manor. It is to go at once."

Nap thrust it into an envelope with a perfectly inscrutable countenance, scrawled the address, and handed it to the valet. "You needn't come back till you are rung for," he said.

And with that he calmly seated himself by his brother's side with the air of a man with ample leisure at his disposal.

As the door closed he spoke. "Hadn't you better have a smoke?"

"No. I must talk first. I wish you would sit where I can see you."

Nap pulled his chair round at once and sat in the full glare of the noonday sun. "Is that enough lime-light for you? Now, what ails the great chief? Does he think his brother will run away while he sleeps?"

There was a hint of tenderness underlying the banter in his voice. He stooped with the words and picked up a letter that lay on the floor. "This yours?"

Lucas's half-extended hand fell. "And you may read it," he said.

"Many thanks! I don't read women's letters unless they chance to be addressed to me--no, not even if they concern me very nearly." Nap's teeth gleamed for a moment. "I'm afraid you must play off your own bat, my worthy brother, though if you take my advice you'll postpone it. You're about used up, and I'm deuced thirsty. It's not a peaceful combination."

Again, despite the nonchalance of his speech, it was not without a certain gentleness. He laid the letter on the bed within reach of his brother's hand.

"I won't leave the premises till you have had your turn," he said. "I guess that's a fair offer anyway. Now curl up and rest."

But Lucas negatived the suggestion instantly though very quietly. "I'll take my turn now if you've no objection. That ranch in Arizona, Boney, is beginning to worry me some. I want you to take it in hand. It's a little job peculiarly suited to your abilities."

Nap jerked up his head with an odd gesture, not solely indicative of surprise. "What do you know of my abilities?"

"More than most." Very steadily Lucas made answer. "I depend on you in a fashion you little dream of, and I guess you won't fail me."

Nap's jaw slowly hardened. "I'm not very likely to disappoint you," he observed, "more especially as I have no intention of removing to Arizona at present."

"No?"

"No."

"Not if I make a point of it?" Lucas spoke heavily, as if the effort of speech were great. His hand had clenched upon Anne's letter.

Nap leaned forward without replying, the sunlight still shining upon his face, and looked at him attentively.

"Yes," Lucas said very wearily. "It has come to that. I can't have you here disturbing the public peace. I won't have my own brother arraigned as a murderer. Nor will I have Anne Carfax pilloried by you for all England to throw mud at. I've stood a good deal from you, Boney, but I'm damned if I'm going to stand this."

"The only question is, Can you prevent it?" said Nap, without the faintest change of countenance.

"I am going to prevent it."

"If you can."

"I am going to prevent it," Lucas repeated. "Before we go any further, give me that shooter of yours."

Nap hesitated for a single instant, then, with a gesture openly contemptuous, he took the revolver from his pocket and tossed it on to the bed.

Lucas laid his hand upon it. He was looking full into Nap's face. "Now, I want you to tell me something," he said. "I seem to remember your saying to me once in this very room that you and Lady Carfax were friends, no more, no less. You were mighty anxious that I shouldn't misunderstand. Remember that episode?"

"Perfectly," said Nap.

"I surmised that you told me that because you honestly cared for her as a friend. Was that so?"

Nap made a slight movement, such a movement as a man makes when he catches sight of a stone to his path too late to avoid it.

"You may say so if you wish," he said.

"Meaning that things have changed since then?" questioned Lucas, in his tired drawl.

Nap threw up his head with the action of a jibbing horse. "You can put it how you like. You can say--if you like--that I am a bigger blackguard now than I was then. It makes no difference how you put it."

"But I want to know," said Lucas quietly. "Are you a blackguard, Boney?"

His eyes were fixed steadily upon the dusky face with its prominent cheek-bones and mocking mouth. Perhaps he knew, what Anne had discovered long before, that those sensitive lips might easily reveal what the fierce eyes hid.

"A matter of opinion," threw back Nap. "If I am, Anne Carfax has made me so."

"Anne Carfax," said Lucas very deliberately, "has done her best to make a man of you. It is not her fault if she has failed. It is not her fault that you have chosen to drag her friendship through the mire."

"Friendship!" broke in Nap. "She gave me more than that."

Lucas's brows contracted as if at a sudden dart of pain, but his voice was perfectly level as he made reply: "Whatever she gave you was the gift of a good woman of which you have proved yourself utterly unworthy."

Nap sprang to his feet. "Be it so!" he exclaimed harshly. "I am unworthy. What of it? She always knew I was."

"Yet she trusted you."

"She trusted me, yes. Having cast out the devil she found in possession, she thought there was nothing more to me. She thought that I should be content to wander empty all my days through dry places, seeking rest. She forgot the sequel, forgot what was bound to happen when I found none. You seem to have forgotten that too. Or do you think that I am indeed that interesting vacuum that you are pleased to call a gentleman?" He flung his arms wide with a sudden, passionate laugh. "Why, my good fellow, I'd sooner rank myself with the beasts that perish. And I'd sooner perish too; yes, die with a rope round my throat in the good old English fashion. There's nothing in that. I'd as soon die that way as any other. It may not be so artistic as our method, but it's quite a clean process, and the ultimate result is the same."

"Do you mind sitting down?" said Lucas.

Nap looked at him sharply. "In pain again?"

"Sit down," Lucas reiterated. "You can't do anything more than that. Now will you take the trouble to make me understand what exactly are your present intentions, and why?"

"Doesn't that letter tell you?" said Nap.

"This letter," Lucas answered, "is the desperate appeal of a very unhappy woman who is in mortal dread of your murdering her husband."

"That all?" said Nap. The red glare of savagery flickered for an instant in his eyes. "She has no fears on her own account then?"

"Will you explain?"

"Oh, certainly, if you need explanation. I mean that the death of Sir Giles Carfax is no more than a stepping-stone, a means to an end. So long as he lives, he will stand in my way. Therefore Sir Giles will go. And mark me, any other man who attempts to come between us I will kill also. Heaven knows what there is in her that attracts me, but there is something--something I have never seen in any other woman--something that goes to my head. Oh, I'm not in love with her. I'm long past that stage. One can't be in love for ever, and she is as cold as the North Star anyway. But she has driven me mad, and I warn you--I warn you--you had better not interfere with me!"

He flung the words like a challenge. His lower jaw was thrust forward. He looked like a savage animal menacing his keeper.

But Lucas lay without moving a muscle, lay still and quiet, without tension and without emotion of any description, simply watching, as a disinterested spectator might watch, the fiery rebellion that had kindled against him.

At length very deliberately he held out the revolver.

"Well," he drawled, "my life isn't worth much, it's true. And you are quite welcome to take your gun and end it here and now if you feel so disposed. For I warn you, Nap Errol, that you'll find me considerably more in your way than Sir Giles Carfax or any other man. I stand between you already, and while I live you won't shunt me."

Nap's lips showed their scoffing smile. "Unfortunately--or otherwise--you are out of the reckoning," he said.

"Am I? And how long have I been that?"

Nap was silent. He looked suddenly stubborn.

Lucas waited. There was even a hint of humour in his steady eyes.

"And that's where you begin to make a mistake," he said presently. "You're a poor sort of blackguard at best, Boney, and that's why you can't break away. Take this thing! I've no use for it. But maybe in Arizona you'll find it advisable to carry arms. Come over here and read Cradock's letter."

But Nap swung away with a gesture of fierce unrest. He fell to prowling to and fro, stopping short of the bed at each turn, refusing doggedly to face the quiet eyes of the man who lay there.

Minutes passed. Lucas was still watching, but he was no longer at his ease. His brows were drawn heavily. He looked like a man undergoing torture. His hand was still fast closed upon Anne's letter.

He spoke at last, seeming to grind out the words through clenched teeth. "I guess there's no help for it, Boney. We've figured it out before, you and I. I'm no great swell at fighting, but--I can hold my own against you. And if it comes to a tug-of-war--you'll lose."

Nap came to his side at last and stood there, still not looking at him. "You seem almighty sure of that," he said.

"That's so," said Lucas simply. "And if you care to know why, I'll tell you. It's just because your heart isn't in it. One half of you is on my side. You're just not blackguard enough."

"And so you want to send me to Arizona to mature?" suggested Nap grimly.

"Or to find yourself," Lucas substituted. "Say, Boney, if you don't give in pretty soon I'll make you take me along."

"You!" Nap's eyes came down at last to the drawn face. He gave a slight start, and the next moment stooped to lift the tortured frame to another position. "If Capper were here he'd say I was killing you," he said. "For Heaven's sake, man, rest!"

"No," gasped Lucas. "No! I haven't finished--yet. Boney, you--you've got to listen. There's no quarrel between us. Only if you will be so damned headstrong, I must be headstrong too. I mean what I say. If you won't go to Arizona alone, you will go with me. And we'll start to-night."

Nap's thin lips twitched, but with no impulse to ridicule. He rearranged the pillows with his usual dexterous rapidity, then deliberately laid his hand upon the lined forehead and stood so in utter silence, staring unblinking straight before him.

For many seconds Lucas also lay passive. His eyelids drooped heavily, but he would not suffer them to close. He was yet watching, watching narrowly, the flame that still smouldered and might blaze afresh at any moment.

"Give it up, Boney!" he said at last. "I'll go with you to the ends of the earth sooner than let you do this thing, and you'll find me a very considerable encumbrance. Do you honestly believe yourself capable of shunting me at will?"

"I honestly believe you'll kill yourself if you don't rest," Nap said.

He looked down suddenly into the tired eyes. The fierce glare had gone utterly out of his own. His very pose had altered.

"Then I shall die in a good cause," Lucas murmured, with the ghost of a smile. "You needn't say any more, Boney. I guess I shall rest now."

"Because you think you've beaten me," Nap said curtly.

"Guess it's your victory, dear fellow, not mine," Lucas answered very gently.

A gleam that was not a smile crossed the harsh face, softening but not gladdening. "It's a mighty hollow one anyway. And I'm not going for nothing--not even to please you."

"Anything--to the half of my kingdom," Lucas said.

Nap sat down on the edge of the bed. The madness had passed, or he had thrust it back out of sight in the darkest recesses of his soul. He laid a hand upon his brother's arm and felt it speculatively.

"No sinew, no flesh, and scarcely any blood!" he said. "And yet"--his mouth twisted a little--"my master! Luke, you're a genius!"

"Oh, shucks, Boney! What's brute strength anyway?"

"Not much," Nap admitted. "But you--you haven't the force of a day-old puppy. Maybe, when I'm out of the way fighting my devils in the desert, you'll give Capper a free hand, and let him make of you what you were always intended to be--a human masterpiece. There won't be any obstacles when I'm out of the way."

Lucas's hand felt for and closed upon his. "If that's your condition, it's a bargain," he said simply.

"And you'll put up a fight for it, eh, Luke? You're rather apt to slack when I'm not by." Was there a hint of wistfulness in the words? It almost seemed so.

A very tender look came into the elder man's eyes. "With God's help, Boney," he said, "I'll pull through."

Nap rose as if that ended the interview. Yet, rising, he still gripped the weak hand of the man who was his master.

A moment he stood, then suddenly bent very low and touched it with his forehead.

"I leave to-night," he said, and turning went very quickly and noiselessly from the room.

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