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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knave Of Diamonds - Part 3 - Chapter 4. The Message
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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 3 - Chapter 4. The Message Post by :jgcraft Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2450

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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 3 - Chapter 4. The Message

PART III CHAPTER IV. THE MESSAGE

It was nearly a month after Lucas Errol's operation that Bertie and his bride came home from their honeymoon and began the congenial task of setting their house in order.

Dot was thoroughly in her element. The minutest details were to her matters of vital importance.

"We must make it comfy," she said to Bertie, and Bertie fully agreed.

He had relinquished his study of the law, and had resumed his secretarial duties, well aware that Lucas could ill spare him. He was in fact Lucas's right hand just then, and the burden that devolved upon him was no light one. But he bore it with a cheerful spirit, for Lucas was making progress. Despite his utter helplessness, despite the inevitable confinement to one room, despite the weariness and the irksomeness which day by day were his portion, Lucas was very gradually gaining ground. Already he suffered less severely and slept more naturally.

His last words to Capper at parting had been, "Come again in the spring and complete the cure. I shall be ready for you."

And Capper had smiled upon him with something approaching geniality and had answered, "You'll do it, and so shall I. So long then!"

But the months that intervened were the chief stumbling-block, and Capper knew it. He knew that his patient would have to face difficulties and drawbacks that might well dismay the bravest. He knew of the reaction that must surely come when the vitality was low, and progress became imperceptible, and the long imprisonment almost unendurable. He knew of the fever that would lurk in the quickening blood, of the torturing cramp that would draw the unused muscles, of the depression that was its mental counterpart, of the black despair that would hang like a paralysing weight upon soul and body, of the _ennui_, of the weariness of life, of the piteous weakness that nothing could alleviate.

He had to a certain extent warned Lucas what to expect; but the time for these things had not yet arrived. He was hardly yet past the first stage, and his courage was buoyed up by high hopes as yet undashed. He had faced worse things without blenching, and he had not begun to feel the monotony that Capper had dreaded as his worst enemy.

He took a keen interest in the doings of the young couple at the Dower House, and Dot's breezy presence was ever welcome.

As for Anne, she went to and fro between Baronmead and the Manor, of which her husband's will had left her sole mistress, no longer leading a hermit's life, no longer clinging to her solitude, grave and quiet, but not wholly unhappy. Those few words Capper had spoken on the day of Lucas's operation had made a marvellous difference to her outlook. They had made it possible for her to break down the prison-walls that surrounded her. They had given her strength to leave the past behind her, all vain regrets and cruel disillusionments, to put away despair and rise above depression. They had given her courage to go on.

Of Nap no word was ever spoken in her presence. He might have been dead, so completely had he dropped out of her life. In fact, he was scarcely ever mentioned by anyone, a fact which aroused in Dot a curiously keen indignation, but upon which a certain shyness kept her from commenting. She kept him faithfully in mind, praying for him as regularly as she prayed for old Squinny, who still lingered on with exasperating tenacity, and continued to enjoy such help, spiritual or otherwise, as he could extract from the parson's daughter.

That Bertie strongly disapproved of his brother she was aware, but she held no very high opinion of Bertie's judgment, though even he could scarcely have forbidden her to pray for the black sheep of the family. She had not been brought up to rely upon anyone's judgment but her own, and, deeply as she loved him, she could not help regarding her husband as headlong and inclined to prejudice. He was young, she reflected, and doubtless these small defects would disappear as he grew older. True, he was nearly four years her senior; but Dot did not regard years as in any degree a measure of age. It was all a question of development, she would say, and some people--women especially--developed much more quickly than others. She herself, for instance--At which stage of the argument Bertie invariably said or did something rude, and the rest of her logic became somewhat confused. He was a dear boy and she couldn't possibly be cross with him, but somehow he never seemed to realise when she was in earnest. Another of the deficiencies of youth!

Meanwhile she occupied herself in her new home with all the zest of the young housewife, returned calls with commendable punctuality, and settled down once more to the many parochial duties which had been her ever-increasing responsibility for almost as long as she could remember.

"You are not going to slave like this always," Bertie said to her one evening, when she came in late through a November drizzle to find him waiting for her.

"I must do what I've got to do," said Dot practically, suffering him to remove her wet coat.

"All very well," said Bertie, whose chin looked somewhat more square than usual. "But I'm not going to have my wife wearing herself out over what after all is not her business."

"My dear boy!" Dot laughed aloud, twining her arm in his. "I think you forget, don't you, that I was the rector's daughter before I was your wife? I must do these things. There is no one else to do them."

"Skittles!" said Bertie rudely.

"Yes, dear, but that's no argument. Let's go and have tea, and for goodness' sake don't frown at me like that. It's positively appalling. Put your chin in and be good."

She passed her hand over her husband's face and laughed up at him merrily. But Bertie remained grave.

"You're wet through and as cold as ice. Come to the fire and let's get off your boots."

She went with him into the drawing-room, where tea awaited them.

"I'm not wet through," she declared, "and I'm not going to let you take off my boots. You may, if you are very anxious, give me some tea."

Bertie pulled up a chair to the fire and put her into it; then turned aside and began to make the tea.

Dot lay back with her feet in the fender and watched him. She was looking very tired, and now that the smile had faded from her face this was the more apparent.

When he brought her her tea she reached up, caught his hand, and held it for a moment against her cheek.

"One's own fireside is so much nicer than anyone else's," she said. "We'll have a nice cosy talk presently. How is Luke to-day?"

"Not quite so flourishing. A brute of a dog howled in the night and woke him up. He didn't get his proper sleep afterwards."

"Poor old Luke! What a shame!"

"Yes, it made a difference. He has been having neuralgia down his spine nearly all day. I believe he's worrying too. I'm going back after dinner to see if I can do anything. I manage to read him to sleep sometimes, you know."

"Shall I come too?" said Dot.

"No." Bertie spoke with decision. "You had better go to bed yourself."

She made a face at him. "I shall do nothing of the sort. I shall sit up and do the Clothing Club accounts."

Bertie frowned abruptly. "Not to-night, Dot."

"Yes, to-night. They have got to be done, and I can think better at night."

"You are not to do them to-night," Bertie said, with determination. "I will do them myself if they must be done."

"My dear boy, you! You would never understand my book-keeping. Just imagine the muddle you would make! No, I must get through them myself, and since I must spend the time somehow till you come home, why shouldn't I do them to-night?"

"Because I forbid it," said Bertie unexpectedly.

He was standing on the rug, cup in hand. He looked straight down at her with the words, meeting her surprised eyes with most unwonted sternness.

Dot raised her eyebrows as high as they would go, kept them so for several seconds, then very deliberately lowered them and began to stir her tea.

"You understand me, don't you?" he said.

She shook her head. "Not in the least. I don't think I have ever met you before, have I?"

He set his cup upon the mantelpiece and went suddenly down on his knees by her side. "I haven't been taking proper care of you," he said. "But I'm going to begin right now. Do you know when you came in just now you gave me an absolute shock?"

She laughed faintly, her eyes fixed upon her cup "I didn't know I was looking such a fright."

"You can never look anything but sweet to me," he said. "But it's a fact you're not looking well. I'm sure you are doing too much."

"I'm not doing any more than usual," said Dot, still intent upon the drain of tea in her cup.

"Well, it's too much for you anyway, and I'm going to put a stop to it."

"Do you know how to read your fortune in tea leaves?" said Dot.

"No," said Bertie. With a very gentle hand he deprived her of this engrossing pastime. "I want you to attend to me for a minute," he said.

Dot snuggled against him with a very winning gesture. "I don't want to, Bertie, unless you can find something more interesting to talk about. Really, there is nothing wrong with me. Tell me about Luke. Why is he worrying?"

Bertie frowned. "He doesn't say so, but I believe he's bothered about Nap. Heaven knows why he should be. He was supposed to go to Arizona, but he didn't turn up there. As a matter of fact, if he never turned up again anywhere it would be about the best thing that could possibly happen."

"Oh, don't, Bertie!" Dot spoke sharply, almost involuntarily. There was a quick note of pain in her voice. "I don't like you to talk like that. It isn't nice of you to be glad he's gone, and--it's downright horrid to want him to stay away for ever."

"Good heavens!" said Bertie.

He was plainly amazed, and she resented his amazement, feeling that in some fashion it placed her in a false position from which she was powerless to extricate herself. The last thing she desired was to take up the cudgels on Nap's behalf, nevertheless she prepared herself to do so as in duty bound. For Nap was a friend, and Dot's loyalty to her friends was very stanch.

"I mean it," she said, sitting up and facing him. "I don't think it's right of you, and it certainly isn't kind. He doesn't deserve to be treated as an outcast. He isn't such a bad sort after all. There is a whole lot of good in him, whatever people may say. You at least ought to know him better. Anyhow, he is a friend of mine, and I won't hear him abused."

Bertie's face changed while she was speaking, grew stern, grew almost implacable.

"Look here," he said plainly, "if you want to know what Nap is, he's a damned blackguard, not fit for you to speak to. So, if you've no objection, we'll shunt him for good and all!"

It was Dot's turn to look amazed. She opened her eyes to their widest extent. "What has he done?"

"Never mind!" said Bertie.

"But I do mind!" Swiftly indignation swamped her surprise. "Why should I shunt him, as you call it, for no reason at all? I tell you frankly, Bertie, I simply won't!"

Her eyes were very bright as she ended. She sat bolt upright obviously girded for battle.

Bertie also looked on the verge of an explosion, but with a grim effort he restrained himself. "I have told you he is unworthy of your friendship," he said. "Let that be enough."

"That's not enough," said Dot. "I think otherwise."

He bit his lip. "Well, if you must have it--so did Lady Carfax till she found out her mistake."

"Lady Carfax!" Dot's face changed. "What about Lady Carfax?"

"She gave him her friendship," Bertie told her grimly, "and he rewarded her with about as foul a trick as any man could conceive. You heard the story of the motor breaking down that day in the summer when he took her for a ride? It was nothing but an infernal trick. He wanted to get her for himself, and it wasn't his fault that he failed. It was in consequence of that that Lucas sent him away."

"Oh!" said Dot. "He was in love with her then!"

"If you call it love," said Bertie. "He is always in love with someone."

Dot's eyes expressed enlightenment. She seemed to have forgotten their difference of opinion. "So that was why he was so cut up," she said. "Of course--of course! I was a donkey not to think of it. What a mercy Sir Giles is dead! Has anyone written to tell him?"

"No," said Bertie shortly.

"But why not? Surely he has a right to know? Lady Carfax herself might wish it."

"Lady Carfax would be thankful to forget his very existence," said Bertie, with conviction.

"My dear boy, how can you possibly tell? Are you one of those misguided male creatures who profess to understand women?"

"I know that Lady Carfax loathes the very thought of him," Bertie maintained. "She is not a woman to forgive and forget very easily. Moreover, as I told you before, no one knows where he is."

"I see," said Dot thoughtfully. "But surely he has a club somewhere?"

"Yes, he belongs to the Phoenix Club, New York, if they haven't kicked him out. But what of that? I'm not going to write to him. I don't want him back, Heaven knows." There was a fighting note in Bertie's voice. He spoke as if prepared to resist to the uttermost any sudden attack upon his resolution.

But Dot attempted none; she abandoned the argument quite suddenly, and nestled against his breast. "Darling, don't let's talk about it any more! It's a subject upon which we can't agree. And I'm sorry I've been so horrid to you. I know it isn't my fault that we haven't quarrelled. Forgive me, dear, and keep on loving me. You do love me, don't you, Bertie?"

"Sweetheart!" he whispered, holding her closely.

She uttered a little muffled laugh. "That's my own boy! And I'm going to be so good, you'll hardly know me. I won't go out in the rain, and I won't do the Clothing Club accounts, and I won't overwork. And--and--I won't be cross, even if I do look and feel hideous. I'm going to be a perfect saint, Bertie."

"Sweetheart!" he said again.

She turned her face up against his neck. "Shall I tell you why?" she said, clinging to him with hands that trembled. "It's because if I let myself get cross-grained and ugly now, p'r'aps someone else--some day--will be cross-grained and ugly too. And I should never forgive myself for that. I should always feel it was my fault. Fancy if it turned out a shrew like me, Bertie! Wouldn't--wouldn't it be dreadful?"

She was half-laughing, half-crying, as she whispered the words. Bertie's arms held her so closely that she almost gasped for breath.

"My precious girl!" he said. "My own precious wife! Is it so? You know, I wondered."

She turned her lips quickly to his. There were tears on her cheeks though she was laughing.

"How bright of you, Bertie! You--you always get there sooner or later, don't you? And you're not cross with me any more? You don't think me very unreasonable about Nap?"

"Oh, damn Nap!" said Bertie, for the second time, with fervour.

"Poor Nap!" said Dot gently.

That evening, when Bertie was at Baronmead, she scribbled a single sentence on a sheet of paper, thrust it into an envelope and directed it to the Phoenix Club, New York.

This done, she despatched a servant to the postoffice with it and sat down before the fire.

"I expect it was wrong of me," she said. "But somehow I can't help feeling he ought to know. Anyway"--Dot's English was becoming lightly powdered with Americanisms, which possessed a very decided charm on her lips--"anyway, it's done, and I won't think any more about it. It's the very last wrong thing I'll do for--ever so long." Her eyes grew soft as she uttered this praiseworthy resolution. She gazed down into the fire with a little smile, and gave herself up to dreams.

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