Again Capper poured something between the parted lips, and a quiver ran through the powerless body.
“Hold on!” Nap repeated. “You promised you would. You mustn’t go yet, old boy. You can’t be spared. I shall go to the devil without you.”
“Not you, Boney!” Lucas’s lips quivered into a smile. “That’s all over,” he said. “You’re playing—the straight game—now.”
“You must stay and see it through,” said Nap. “I can’t win out without you.”
“Ah!” A long sigh came pantingly with the word. “That so, Boney? Guess I’m—a selfish brute—always was—always was.”
A choked sob came through the stillness. Bertie suddenly covered his face. Mrs. Errol put her arm round him as one who comforted a child.
“Is that—someone—crying?” gasped Lucas.
“It’s that ass Bertie,” answered Nap, without stirring so much as an eyelid.
“Bertie? Poor old chap! Tell him he mustn’t. Tell him—I’ll hang on—a little longer—God willing; but only a little longer, Boney, only—a little—longer.”
There was pleading in the voice, the pleading of a man unutterably tired and longing to be at rest.
Anne, standing apart, was cut to the heart with the pathos of it. But Nap did not seem to feel it. He knelt on, inflexible, determined, all his iron will, all his fiery vitality, concentrated upon holding a man in life. It was not all magnetism, it was not all strength of purpose, it was his whole being grappling, striving, compelling, till inch by inch he gained a desperate victory.
In the morning the fight was over. In the morning Lucas Errol had turned, reluctantly as it seemed to Anne, from the Gate of Death.
And while he lay sleeping quietly, the spring air, pure and life-giving, blowing across his face, the man who had brought him back rose up from his bedside, crept with a noiseless, swaying motion from the room, and sank senseless on the further side of the door.
THE KING’S DECREE
For three weeks after the operation Capper said nothing good or bad of his patient’s condition, and during those weeks he scarcely went beyond the terrace. He moved about like a man absorbed, and it seemed to Anne whenever they met that he looked at her without seeing her.
Nap was even closer in his attendance, and Tawny Hudson found himself more than ever supplanted and ignored. For night and day he was at hand, sleeping when and how he could, always alert at the briefest notice, always ready with unfailing nerve and steady hand.
And Capper suffered him without the smallest remonstrance. He seemed to take it for granted that Nap’s powers were illimitable.
“That young man will kill himself,” Dr. Randal said once. “He is living at perpetual high pressure.”
“Leave him alone,” growled Capper. “He is the force that drives the engine. The wheels won’t go round without him.”