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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knave Of Diamonds - Part 3 - Chapter 7. The Uninvited Guest
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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 3 - Chapter 7. The Uninvited Guest Post by :jgcraft Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :3490

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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 3 - Chapter 7. The Uninvited Guest


Spring came early that year, and the day fixed for the opening of the Baronford Town Hall was brilliantly fine and warm. Anne was staying at Baronmead for the event. The end of February was approaching. Lucas was decidedly better. His sleep was becoming less broken. He suffered considerably less; and he took a keen interest in all that passed.

On the morning before the ceremony he greeted Anne with an eagerness that almost amounted to impatience. "Come in! Come in! I've something to show you."

He was alone. She went to his side and kissed him.

His hands caught hers, and she marvelled at the strength of his grip. "Sweetheart," he said, "I've had a letter from Capper."

She felt the blood ebb suddenly from her face. She stood a moment in silence, then sat down and pressed his hand close against her heart.

"What does he say?" she asked.

He looked at her oddly for a few seconds. Then: "It's good news, dear," he said. "You mustn't let it scare you."

She began to smile, though her lips were trembling. "No, of course not. Tell me what he says."

He gave her the letter and she read. Capper wrote that he had received an excellent report from Dr. Randal of his patient's progress, that he expected to be in England in about a fortnight and would come down himself to ascertain if the time for the second operation had arrived. He wrote in a cheery strain, and at the end of the letter was a postscript: "Have you taken my advice yet with regard to _la femme_?"

"An ancient joke," explained Lucas with a smile. "He told me long ago that I should need a woman's help to pull me through. And"--his voice dropped--"I guess he was right."

The colour came back to her face. She pressed his hand without speaking.

"I shouldn't be here now but for you, Anne," he said, his blue eyes watching her. "I sometimes think it must have been a mortal strain upon you. Have you felt it so very badly, I wonder?"

She met his look with eyes grown misty. "Luke--my dearest--you have done far greater things for me. You have kept me from starvation. You have no idea what you are to me."

The words came brokenly. She checked a sudden sob and, rising, moved to the window.

Lucas lay silent, but his eyes watched her with a great tenderness.

When she came back to him she was smiling. "Have you ever begun to think of what you will do when you are well?" she said.

"I am thinking of it always," he answered. "I make wonderful pictures for myself sometimes. You are the central figure of them all."

She clasped his hand again in hers. "Lucas," she said, "will you take me away?"

"Yes, dear," he said.

"Far away from anywhere I have ever been before?" Her voice shook a little. "I want to begin life over again where everything is new."

A certain shrewdness gleamed in the steady eyes that watched her, but it was mingled with the utmost kindness.

"I guess I'd better show you my best picture right now," he said. "It's got a steam yacht in it, and a state cabin fit for a queen. And it goes rocking around the world, looking for the Happy Islands. I guess we shall find them some day, sweetheart--maybe sooner than we think."

"Ah, yes," she said. "We won't stop looking till we do. How soon shall we start, Luke?"

He answered her with a smile, but there was a thrill of deep feeling in his words. "Just as soon as I can stand on my feet like any other man, Anne, and hold the woman I love in my arms."

She bent her face suddenly, pressing her cheek to the hand she held. "I am ready for you when ever you will," she murmured.

"I know it," he said. "And God bless you for telling me so!"

He was full of kindness to her that day, and she thought him cheerier than he had been all the winter. When she bade him good-bye that afternoon he seemed in excellent spirits. Yet after she was gone he lay for a long while staring at the specks of dust that danced in a shaft of sunlight, with the air of a man seeking the solution of a problem that baffled him. And once very suddenly he sighed.

Anne went through the ordeal of publicity with less embarrassment than she had anticipated. Mrs. Errol was with her, and she was surrounded by friends. Even Major Shirley deigned to look upon her with a favourable eye. Bertie was hunting, but Dot was present to view the final achievement of her favourite scheme.

She seized the first opportunity to slip her arm through Anne's. "Do--do come home with me to tea," she whispered very urgently. "I want to show you some things I have been making. And make the dear mater come too, if someone else doesn't snap her up first."

But the dear mater was already snapped up, and Anne had some difficulty in avoiding a like fate.

Eventually, however, she succeeded in making her escape, and she and Dot drove back to the Dower House, congratulating themselves.

"I am lucky to get you all to myself," Dot said. "And do you know, dear Lady Carfax, you are looking simply lovely to-day?"

Anne smiled a little. She had discarded her widow's veil for the first time, and she felt like a woman emerging from a long imprisonment. People would call it premature, she knew. Doubtless they were already discussing her not too charitably. But after all, why should she consider them? The winter was past and over, and the gold of the coming spring was already dawning. Why should she mourn? Were not all regrets put away for ever?

"I wish you would call me Anne, Dot," she said.

"To be sure I will," said Dot, with shining eyes. "I never liked the name before I knew you. And now I love it."

There was something wonderfully genuine and childlike about Dot, a youthfulness that would probably cling to her all her life. Anne drew her on to speak of herself and her coming happiness, which she did with that cheery simplicity of hers that had first drawn Bertie to her.

"He makes a tremendous fuss," she said, displaying Bertie's favourite dimple at the thought. "I don't, you know. I somehow feel it's going to be all right. But it's rather nice being petted for months together. I haven't had a tantrum for ages. I'm afraid I'm getting spoilt."

At which piece of logic Anne could not repress a smile.

"He won't be home to tea," said Dot, when they finally turned in at the Dower House. "He stables his hunters at Baronmead, and he is sure to go in and see Luke. So we shall have it all to ourselves. I'm so glad, for I have been wanting your advice for days. I wonder if anyone has been. Hullo! Bertie's back after all!"

A glow of firelight met them from the little square hall as they entered, and a smell of cigarette smoke mingled with the scent from the burning logs.

Dot stood back for her guest to precede her, but Anne stood suddenly still.

"Hullo!" said Dot again.

A slim, straight figure was standing outlined against the firelight. Dot stared as she stepped forward.

"Why--Nap!" she said incredulously.

He made a swift, elastic movement to meet her, caught her hands, laughed, and kissed her.

"Why--Dot!" he said.

Dot continued to stare. "Good gracious!" she said.

And in the doorway Anne stood like a statue, the soft spring dusk behind her.

"My sister seems surprised," said Nap. "I hope I haven't come at an unlucky moment."

He did not even glance towards the silent figure in the doorway. It was as if he had not observed it.

"I am surprised," said Dot. "Hugely surprised. But I'm very glad to see you," she added. "When did you come?"

"I have been here about half an hour," he told her coolly. "I went to the Rectory first, where I learned for the first time of your marriage. You forgot to mention that detail when you wrote. Hence my brotherly salute, which you must have missed on your wedding-day!"

At this point Dot remembered her other guest, and turned with flushed cheeks. "Lady Carfax--Anne--you--you know my brother-in-law Nap?"

The pleading in her voice was unmistakable. She was evidently agitated, wholly at a loss how to manage a most difficult situation.

But Nap hastened to relieve her of the responsibility. He had dealt with difficult situations before. He went straight to Anne and stood before her.

"Are you going to know me, Lady Carfax?" he asked.

There was no arrogance in voice or bearing as he uttered the question. He looked as if he expected to be dismissed, as if he were ready at a word to turn and go. His eyes were lowered. His foot was already on the threshold.

But Anne stood speechless and rigid. For those few seconds she was as one stricken with paralysis. She knew that if she moved or tried to speak she would faint.

She wondered desperately how long it would be before he looked up, if perhaps he would go without looking at her, or if--ah, he was speaking again! His words reached her as from an immense distance. At the same instant his hands came to her out of a surging darkness that hid all things, grasping, sustaining, compelling. She yielded to them, scarcely knowing what she did.

"Lady Carfax has been overtiring herself," she heard him say. "Have you any brandy at hand?"

"Oh, dear Lady Carfax!" cried Dot in distress. "Make her sit down, Nap. Here is a cushion. Yes, I'll go and get some."

Guided by those steady hands, Anne sank into a chair, and there the constriction that bound her began to pass. She shivered from head to foot.

Nap stooped over her and chafed her icy hands. He did not look at her or speak. When Dot came back, he took the glass from her and held it very quietly to the quivering lips.

She drank, responsive to his unspoken insistence, and as she did so, for a single instant she met his eyes. They were darkly inscrutable and gave her no message of any sort. She might have been accepting help from a total stranger.

"No more, please!" she whispered, and he took the glass away.

The front door was still open. He drew it wider, and the evening air blew in across her face. Somewhere away in the darkness a thrush was warbling softly. Nap stood against the door and waited. Dot knelt beside her, holding her hand very tightly.

"I am better," Anne said at last. "Forgive me, dear child. I suppose it has been--too much for me."

"My dear, dear Anne!" said Dot impulsively. "Would you like to come into the drawing-room? There is tea there. But of course we will have it here if you prefer it."

"No," Anne said. "No. We will go to the drawing-room."

She prepared to rise, and instantly Nap stepped forward. But he did not offer to touch her. He only stood ready.

When he saw that she had so far recovered herself as to be able to move with Dot's assistance, he dropped back.

"I am going, Dot," he said. "You will do better without me. I will look in again later."

And before Dot could agree or protest he had stepped out into the deepening twilight and was gone.

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