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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knave Of Diamonds - Part 3 - Chapter 3. The Woman's Part
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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 3 - Chapter 3. The Woman's Part Post by :jgcraft Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1447

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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 3 - Chapter 3. The Woman's Part

PART III CHAPTER III. THE WOMAN'S PART

It was on a day of wild autumnal weather, when the wind moaned like a living thing in torture about the house, and the leaves eddied and drifted before the scudding rain, that they turned Tawny Hudson out of his master's room, and left him crouched and whimpering like a dog against the locked door. Save for his master's express command, no power on earth would have driven him away, not even Capper of the curt speech and magnetic will. But the master had spoken very definitely and distinctly, and it was Tawny Hudson's to obey. Therefore he huddled on the mat, rocking to and fro, shivering like some monstrous animal in pain, while within the room Capper wrought his miracles.

Downstairs Mrs. Errol sat holding Anne's hand very tightly, and talking incessantly lest her ears should be constrained to listen. And Anne, pale and still, answered her as a woman talking in her sleep.

Bertie and his young bride were still absent on their honeymoon; this also by Lucas's express desire.

"It won't help me any to have you here, boy," he had said at parting. "A certain fuss is inevitable, but I want you out of it. I am looking to Anne Carfax to help the dear mother."

He had known even then that he would not look in vain, and he had not been disappointed. So, sorely against his will, Bertie had submitted, with the proviso that if things went wrong he should be sent for immediately.

And thus Anne Carfax, who had lived in almost unbroken seclusion since her husband's death, now sat with Mrs. Errol's hand clasped in hers, and listened, as one listens in a nightmare, to the wailing of the wind about the garden and house, and the beat, beat, beat of her heart when the wind was still.

"Could you say a prayer, dear?" Mrs. Errol asked her once.

And she knelt and prayed, scarcely knowing what she said, but with a passion of earnestness that left her weak, quivering in every limb.

The wind was rising. It roared in the trees and howled against the panes. Sometimes a wild gust of rain lashed the windows. It made her think of an unquiet spirit clamouring for admittance.

"Anne dear, play to me, play to me!" besought Mrs. Errol. "If I listen I shall go mad! No one will hear you. We are right away from his part of the house."

And though every nerve shrank at the bare suggestion, Anne rose without a single protest and went to the piano. She sat down before it, and blindly, her eyes wide, fixed, unseeing, she began to play.

What she played she knew not. Her fingers found notes, chords, melodies mechanically.

Once she paused, but, "Ah, go on, dear child! Go on!" urged Mrs. Errol. And she went on, feeling vaguely through the maze of suspense that surrounded them, longing inarticulately to cease all effort, but spurred onward because she knew she must not fail.

And gradually as she played there came to her a curious sense of duality, of something happening that had happened before, of a record repeating itself. She turned her head, almost expecting to hear a voice speak softly behind her, almost expecting to hear a mocking echo of the words unspoken. "Has the Queen no further use for her jester?" No further use! No further use! Oh, why was she tortured thus? Why, when her whole soul yearned to forget, was she thus compelled to remember the man whose brutal passion and insatiable thirst for vengeance had caught and crushed her heart?

And still she played on as one beneath a spell, while the memory of him forced the gates of her consciousness and took arrogant possession. She saw again the swarthy face with its fierce eyes, the haughty smile, which for her was ever tinged with tenderness. Surely--oh, surely he had loved her once! She recalled his fiery love-making, and thrilled again to the eager insistence of his voice, the mastery of his touch. And then she remembered what they said of him, that women were his slaves, his playthings, the toys he broke in wantonness and carelessly tossed aside. She remembered how once in his actual presence she had overheard words that had made her shrink, a wonder as to who was his latest conquest, the cynical remark: "Anyone for a change and no one for long is his motto." What was he doing now, she asked herself, and trembled. He had gone without word or message of any sort. Her last glimpse of him had been in that violet glare of lightning, inexpressibly terrible, with tigerish eyes that threatened her and snarling lips drawn back. Thus--thus had she seen him many a time since in the long night-watches when she had lain sleepless and restless, waiting for the dawn.

Some such vision came to her now, forcing itself upon her shrinking imagination. Vividly there rose before her his harsh face alert, cruel, cynical, and the sinewy hands that gripped and crushed. And suddenly a shuddering sense of nausea overcame her. She left the piano as one seeking refuge from a horror unutterable. Surely this man had never loved her--was incapable of love! And she had almost wished him back!

"There is someone in the entry, dear child," whispered Mrs. Errol. "Go and see--go and see!"

She went, moving as one stricken blind. But before she reached the door it opened and someone entered. She saw Capper as through a mist in which bodily weakness and anguished fear combined to overwhelm her. And then very steadily his arm encircled her, drew her tottering to a chair.

"It's all right," he said in his expressionless drawl. "The patient has regained consciousness, and is doing O.K. Are you ladies thinking of lunch? Because if so, I guess I'll join you. No, Mrs. Errol, you can't see him before to-night at the earliest. Lady Carfax, I have a message for you--the first words he spoke when he came to. He was hardly conscious when he uttered them, but I guess you'll be kind of interested to hear what they were. 'Tell Anne,' he said, 'I'm going to get well.'"

The intense deliberation with which he spoke gave her time to collect herself, but the words affected her oddly. After a moment she rose, went to Mrs. Errol, who had covered her face with both hands while he was speaking, and knelt beside her. Neither of them uttered a sound.

Capper strolled to the window, his hands deep in his pockets, and looked out upon the wind-swept gardens. He whistled very softly to himself, as a man well satisfied.

He did not turn his head till at the end of five minutes Anne came to his side. She was very pale but quite self-possessed.

"Mrs. Errol has gone to her room," she said. "She wished to be alone."

"Gone to have a good cry, eh?" said Capper. "Healthiest thing she could do. And what about you?"

She smiled with lips that faintly quivered. "I am quite all right, Doctor. And--I have ordered luncheon."

He turned fully round and looked her up and down with lightning swiftness. "You're a very remarkable woman, Lady Carfax," he said after a moment.

"I hope you may never be disappointed in me," she answered gravely.

"I hope so too," he said, "for there is a good deal dependent upon you."

"What do you mean?" She raised her clear eyes interrogatively.

But he baffled her, as he baffled everyone, with the very keenness of his own scrutiny. He began to crack all his fingers in turn.

"I mean," he said, "that even I can't work miracles by myself. I can do the elementary part. I can cut and saw and sew, but I can't heal. I can't give life. That's the woman's part. That's where I count on you. And I don't think you are going to fail me, Lady Carfax."

"I promise you I will do my utmost," she said very earnestly.

He nodded. "I believe you will. But even so, you can't do too much. It's a serious case, even more serious than I expected. I don't say this to alarm you, but I guess you had better know it. It'll be a tough, uphill fight, and he'll need a deal of pushing behind. It may entail more than you dream of--a big sacrifice perhaps; who knows? But you women don't shy at sacrifices. And, believe me, he's worth a sacrifice."

"He deserves the best," she said warmly.

"Yes, but you don't take me," said Capper.

He paused a moment, then suddenly laid a quiet hand on her shoulder. "I may be a wise man," he said, "and again I may be a meddling fool. You and the gods must decide between you. But I'm old enough to be your father anyway. So p'r'aps you'll bear with me. Lady Carfax, hasn't it struck you that a time will come--probably pretty soon--when he will begin to reach out for something that you--and you alone--can give?"

Anne's quick gesture of protest was his answer. She stood motionless, her eyes still raised, waiting for him to continue. But he felt her tremble under his hand. He knew that inwardly she was not so calm as she would have had him think.

He went on in his precise, emotionless fashion, as though he perceived nothing. "He won't ask for it--anyway till he feels he can make a fair return. He will never ask a sacrifice of you. He will break his heart sooner. The point is, Are you capable of offering the sacrifice unasked? For that is what it amounts to, now that the gods have cleared the way."

"Ah!" Anne said. "And--if--not?"

She spoke rather as if to gain time than because she desired an answer.

But he answered her nevertheless very quietly, without a shade of emotion, as if he were discussing some technical matter of no personal interest to him. Only as he answered he took his hand from her shoulder and thrust it back into his pocket.

"In that case he will die, having nothing left to live for. He probably won't suffer much, simply go out like a candle. He hasn't much vitality. He may die either way. There is no responsibility attached--only possibilities."

He turned with the words, and walked across the room with the air of a man who has said his say.

She uttered no word to stop him, nor did she move to follow. She stood alone with her face to the grey storm-clouds that drifted perpetually overhead. Somehow she did not for a moment doubt the truth of what Capper had just told her. She even felt sub-consciously that she had known it for some time. Neither did she ask herself what she was going to do. For deep in the heart of her she knew already. Deep in the heart of her she knew that when Lucas Errol began to reach out for something which she alone could give, it would not be in vain. He had given of his best to her, and she was ready to give of her best in return. If she could not give him passion, she could give him that which was infinitely greater--a deep, abiding love, a devotion born of complete sympathy. She could give him happiness, and in the giving she might find it for herself.

Over in the west the clouds were breaking, and a shaft of pale sunshine streamed upon the distant hills, turning the woods to living gold. Her eyes brightened a little as they caught the radiance. It seemed as if the door before which she had knelt so long in impotence were opening to her at last, as if one more opportunity were to be given her even yet after long and bitter failure of turning her corner of the desert into a garden of flowers and singing birds.

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