It was the fiercest battle she had ever known—a battle in which his will grappled with hers in a mighty, all-mastering grip, increasing every instant till she felt crushed, impotent, lost, as if all the powers of evil were let loose and seething around her, dragging her down.
Her resolution began to falter at last. She became conscious of a numbing sense of physical weakness, an oppression so overwhelming that she thought her heart would never beat again. Once more she seemed to totter on the edge of a depth too immense to contemplate, to hover above the very pit of destruction...
And then suddenly the ordeal was over. A blinding flash of lightning lit the room, glimmered weirdly, splitting the gloom as a sword rending a curtain, and was gone. There came a sound like the snarl of a startled animal, and the next instant a frightful crash of thunder.
Anne reeled back, dazed, stunned, utterly unnerved, and sank into a chair.
When she came to herself she was alone.
AN APPEAL AND ITS ANSWER
A puff of rain-washed air wandered in through the wide-flung window, and Lucas Errol turned his head languidly upon the pillow to feel it on his face. He sighed as he moved, as if even that slight exertion cost him some resolution. His eyes had a heavy, drugged look. They seemed more deeply sunken than usual, but there was no sleep in them, only the utter weariness that follows the sleep of morphia.
At the soft opening of the door a faint frown drew his forehead, but it turned to a smile as Bertie came forward with cautious tread.
“That you, dear fellow? I am awake.”
Bertie came to his side, his brown face full of concern. “Are you better, old chap?”
“Yes, better, thanks. Only so dog-tired. Sit down. Have you brought the budget?”
“There’s nothing much to-day. Only that chap Cradock writing again for instructions about the Arizona ranch, and a few Wall Street tips from Marsh by cable. Say, Luke, I don’t think Cradock is overweighted with spunk, never have thought so. Guess that ranch wants a bigger man.”
“I’ll see his letter,” said Lucas. “Presently will do. What about Marsh?”
“Oh, he’s behind the scenes as usual. You’d better read him now. The rest will keep. When you’ve done that I want to talk to you.”
“So I gathered. Stuff in another pillow behind me, will you? I can think better sitting up.”
“I shouldn’t, old chap, really. You’re always easier lying down.”
“Oh, shucks, Bertie! Do as you’re told. And don’t look at me like that, you old duffer. It’s a mean advantage to take of a sick man. Steady now, steady! Go slow! You mustn’t slam a creaking gate. It’s bad for the hinges.”
But notwithstanding Bertie’s utmost care there were heavy drops on his brother’s forehead as he sank again upon his pillows. Bertie wiped them away with a hand that trembled a little, and Lucas smiled up at him with twitching lips.