When at length he retired he left the door ajar, and a very curious smile flickered across Nap’s face.
But still he did not turn his head.
AT THE GATE OF DEATH
The second time that Tawny Hudson was driven from his master’s side was on a day of splendid spring—English April at its best.
Till the very last moment he lingered, and it was Lucas himself with his final “Go, Tawny!” who sent him from the room. They would not even let him wait, as Nap was waiting, till the anaesthetic had done its work. Black hatred gripped the man’s heart as he crept away. What was Nap anyway that he should be thus honoured? The cloud that had attended his coming had made a deep impression upon Hudson. He had watched the lines upon his master’s face till he knew them by heart. He knew when anxiety kept the weary eyes from closing. He knew when the effort of the mind was more than the body could endure. Of Lucas’s pleasure at his brother’s return he raised no question, but that it would have been infinitely better for him had Nap remained away he was firmly convinced. And he knew with the sure intuition that unceasing vigilance had developed in him that Capper thought the same.
Capper resented as he did the intrusion of the black sheep of the family. But Capper was obviously powerless—even Capper, who so ruthlessly expelled him from his master’s presence, had proved impotent when it came to removing Nap.
There was a mysterious force about Nap that no one seemed able to resist. He, Hudson, had felt it a hundred times, had bowed to it in spite of himself. He called it black magic in his own dark heart, and because of it his hatred almost amounted to a mania. He regarded him with superstition, as a devilish being endowed with hellish powers that might at any moment be directed against his enemies. And he feared his influence over Lucas, even though with all his monstrous imaginings he recognised the fact of Lucas’s ascendency. He had a morbid dread lest some day his master should be taken unawares, for in Nap’s devotion he placed not a particle of faith. And mingled with his fears was a burning jealousy that kept hatred perpetually alive. There was not one of the duties that he performed for his master that Nap had not at one time or another performed, more swiftly, more satisfactorily, with that devilish deftness of his that even Capper had to admire and Hudson could never hope to achieve. And in his inner soul the man knew that the master he idolised preferred Nap’s ministrations, Nap’s sure and dexterous touch, to his.
And so on that day of riotous spring he waited with murder in his heart to see his enemy emerge from the closed room.
But he waited in vain. No hand touched the door against which he stood. Within the room he heard only vague movements, and now and then Capper’s voice, sharp and distinct, giving a curt order. Two doctors and two nurses were there to do his bidding, to aid him in the working of his miracle; two doctors, two nurses, and Nap.