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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 4. The Fatal Streak
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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 4. The Fatal Streak Post by :MalcolmL Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2085

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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 4. The Fatal Streak


"My lady!"

Anne looked up with a start. She had been sitting with closed eyes under the lilac tree.

Dimsdale, discreet and deferential as ever, stood before her.

"Mr. Lucas Errol is here," he told her, "with another gentleman. I knew your ladyship would wish to be at home to him."

"Oh, certainly," she answered, rising. "I am always at home to Mr. Lucas Errol. Please tell him I am coming immediately."

But she did not instantly follow Dimsdale. She stood instead quite motionless, with her face to the sky, breathing deeply.

When she turned at length she had recovered all her customary serenity. With the quiet dignity peculiar to her, she passed up the garden path, leaving the thrush still singing, singing, singing, behind her.

She found her visitors in the drawing-room, which she entered by the open window. Lucas greeted her with his quiet smile and introduced Capper--"a very great friend of mine, and incidentally the finest doctor in the U.S.A."

She shook hands with the great man, feeling the small green eyes running over her, and conscious that she blushed under their scrutiny. She wondered why, with a vague feeling of resentment. She also wondered what had moved Lucas to bring him.

As she sat at the tea-table and dispensed hospitality to her guests it was Lucas who kept the conversation going. She thought he seemed in wonderful spirits despite the heavy droop of his eyelids.

Capper sat in almost unbroken silence, studying his hostess so perpetually that Anne's nerves began to creak at last under the strain.

Quite suddenly at length he set down his cup. "Lady Carfax," he said abruptly, "I'm told you have a herb garden, and I'm just mad on herbs. Will you take me to see it while Lucas enjoys a much-needed and well-earned rest?"

Anne glanced up in surprise. They were almost the first words he had spoken. Capper was already upon his feet. He stood impatiently cracking his fingers one by one.

She rose. "Of course I will do so with pleasure if Mr. Errol doesn't mind."

"Certainly not, Lady Carfax," smiled Lucas. "I am extremely comfortable. Pray give him what he wants. It is the only way to pacify him."

Anne smiled and turned to the window. They went out together into the golden spring evening.

The herb garden was some distance from the house. Capper strode along in silence, with bent brows. More than ever Anne wondered what had brought him. She did not try to make conversation for him, realising by instinct that such effort would be vain as well as unwelcome. She merely walked quietly beside him, directing their steps whither he had desired to go.

They were out of sight of the house before he spoke. "Say, madam, I'm told you know the Errol family off by heart without needing to look 'em up."

She glanced at him in surprise. "Of course I know them. Yes, I know them all."

"Well?" he demanded.

"Oh, quite well." Almost involuntarily she began to explain the intimacy. "I was taken to their house after a hunting accident, and I was an invalid there for several weeks."

"That so?" Again piercingly the American's eyes scanned her. "You're real friendly then? With which in particular?"

She hesitated momentarily. Then, "I am very fond of Mrs. Errol," she said, speaking very quietly. "But Nap was my first friend, and afterwards Lucas--"

"Oh, Nap!"

There was such withering contempt in the exclamation that she had perforce to remark it.

"Nap is evidently no favourite with you," she said.

He raised his brows till they nearly met his hair. "Nap, my dear lady," he drily observed, "is doubtless all right in his own sphere. It isn't mine, and it isn't yours. I came over to this country at his request and in his company, and a queerer devil it has never been my lot to encounter. But what can you expect? I've never yet seen him in a blanket and moccasins, but I imagine that he'd be considerably preferable that way. I guess he's just a fish out of water on this side of civilisation."

"What can you mean?" Anne said.

For the second time that afternoon she felt as if the ground beneath her had begun to tremble. She looked up at him with troubled eyes. Surely the whole world was rocking!

"I mean what I say, madam," he told her curtly. "It's a habit of mine. There is a powerful streak of red in Nap Errol's blood, or I am much mistaken."

"Ah!" Anne said, and that was all. In a flash she understood him. She felt as if he had performed some ruthless operation upon her, and she was too exhausted to say more. Unconsciously her hand pressed her heart. It was beating strangely, spasmodically; sometimes it did not beat at all. For she knew beyond all doubting that what he said was true.

"I don't say the fellow is an out-and-out savage," Capper was saying. "P'r'aps he'd be more tolerable if he were. But the fatal streak is there. Never noticed it? I thought you women noticed everything. Oh, I can tell you he's made things hum on our side more times than I've troubled to count. Talk of the devil in New York and you very soon find the conversation drifting round to Nap Errol. Now and then he has a lapse into sheer savagery, and then there is no controlling him. It's just as the fit takes him. He's never to be trusted. It's an ineradicable taint."

She shivered at the words, but still she did not speak.

Capper went unconcernedly on. "I fancy Lucas once thought he was going to make a gentleman of him. A gentleman, ye gods! Teach a tiger to sit up and beg! He has a most amazing patience, but I guess even he realises by now that the beast is untamable. Mrs. Errol saw it long ago. There's a fine woman for you--A.1., gilt-edged, quality of the best. You know Mrs. Errol, you say?"

"Yes, I know her." Anne heard the words, but was not conscious of uttering them.

Capper gave her a single straight look. "You wouldn't think, would you," said he, "that that woman carries a broken heart about with her? But I assure you that's so. Nap Errol was the tragedy of her life."

That quickened her to interest. She was conscious of a gradual sinking downwards of her dismay till it came to rest somewhere deep in her inmost soul, leaving the surface free for other impressions.

"He came out of nowhere," Capper went on. "She never tried to account for him. He was her husband's son. She made him hers. But he's been a tiger's cub all his life, a hurricane, a firebrand. He and Bertie are usually at daggers drawn and Lucas spends his time keeping the peace; which is about as wearing an occupation for a sick man as I can imagine. I want to put a stop to it, Lady Carfax. I speak as one family friend to another. Lucas seems to like you. I believe you could make him see reason if you took the trouble. Women are proverbially ingenious."

Anne's faint smile showed for a moment. They had entered the herb garden and were passing slowly down the central path. It was a small enclosure surrounded by clipped yew hedges and intersected by green walks. The evening sunlight slanting down upon her, had turned her brown hair to ruddiest gold. There was no agitation about her now. The grey eyes were gravely thoughtful.

She bent presently to pluck a sprig of rosemary. "Will you tell me," she said, "what it is that you want to do?"

Capper shot her a keen side-glance. "I want to cure him," he said. "I want to make a whole man of him."

"Could you?" she asked.

"I could." Abruptly Capper stopped. His yellow face was curiously aglow. "I say I could," he asserted almost fiercely, "if I could choose my conditions. If I could banish that pestilent brother of his, if I could rouse him to something like energy, if I could turn his will in one direction only, I could do it. Given his whole-hearted co-operation, I could do it. Without it, I am powerless. He would simply die of inanition."

"It would mean an operation then? A very serious one?" Anne had paused upon the green path. Her eyes sought Capper's.

He answered her with curt directness. "My dear lady, it would mean not one, but two. I won't trouble you with technical details which you wouldn't understand. Put briefly, it would mean in the first place a pulling down and in the second a building up. Both operations would be a serious tax upon his strength, but I am satisfied that he has the strength for both. Six months would elapse between the two, and during that time he would be flat on his back. If he could hold on for those six months he would come through all right. Of that I am convinced. But those six months are my stumbling-block. Freedom from all anxiety is essential. He wants a stanch friend continually beside him to keep him cheery and at peace. That fellow Nap is the principle obstacle. He stirs up hell and tommy wherever he goes, and he's never absent for long. Lucas himself admits that his brothers are a care to him. Oh, it's all an infernal tangle. I sometimes think family ties are the very deuce."

Capper tugged at his beard with restless fingers and ground his heel into the turf.

"If you consider Nap an obstacle--why don't you speak to him?" Anne asked in her quiet voice.

Capper shrugged his shoulders. "He hates me--and small wonder! I've told him the brutal truth too often."

Anne passed the matter by. "And Lucas does not wish to undergo the operation?"

"That's just the infernal part of it!" burst forth Capper. "He would undergo it to-morrow if he didn't consider himself indispensable to these young whelps. But that isn't all. Lady Carfax, he wants help. He wants someone strong to stand by. I believe you could do it--if you would. You are the sort of woman that men turn to in trouble. I've been watching you. I know."

Again very faintly Anne smiled, with more of patience than amusement. "Dr. Capper, has Lucas been telling you about me?"

Capper thrust out a hand. "Yes."

"You know how I am situated?" she questioned.

"I do." There was no sympathy in Capper's voice or face; only in the grasp of his hand.

"And you think I could be of use to him?"

"I don't think," said Capper. "I know." He released her hand as abruptly as he had taken it. His long fingers began to curve and crack mechanically. "I'll tell you something," he said. "Don't know why I should, but I will. I love Lucas Errol as if he were my son."

"Ah!" Anne said gently. "I think we all love him in our different ways."

"That so?" said the American keenly. "Then I shall leave the matter in your charge, Lady Carfax. I can see you're a capable woman. I'm coming back in September to perform that operation. You will have a willing patient ready for me--by willing I mean something gayer than resigned--and my bugbear, Nap--that most lurid specimen of civilised devilry--hunting scalps on the other side of the Atlantic."

"Oh, I don't know!" Anne said quickly. "I don't know!"

She spoke breathlessly, as one suddenly plunged into a strong current. Her face was bent over the sprig of rosemary which she was threading in her dress. Her fingers were trembling.

Capper watched her silently.

"Let me!" he said at last.

He took the sprig from her with a hand that was perfectly steady, held it a moment, seemed to hesitate, finally withdrew it and planted it in his own buttonhole.

"I guess I'll keep it myself," he said, "with your permission, in memory of a good woman."

Anne commanded herself and looked up. "Keep it, by all means," she said. "But do not expect too much from me. No woman is always good. The best of us fail sometimes."

"But you will do your best when the time comes?" he said, in a tone that was a curious blend of demand and entreaty.

She met his eyes quite fully. "Yes," she said, "I will do my best."

"Then I'm not afraid," said Capper. "We shall pull him through between us. It will be a miracle, of course, but"--a sudden smile flashed across his face, transforming him completely--"miracles happen, Lady Carfax."

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