“Quite so,” drawled Nap, from the depths of the lounge behind him. “And she, I doubt not, wants to marry you—even sooner, if possible.”
He had come up in his noiseless fashion unobserved. Attired in evening dress, slim, sleek, well-groomed, he lay at full length and gazed up at the two brothers, a malicious glitter in his eyes. He held an unlighted cigarette between his fingers.
“Pray don’t let me interrupt, Lucas,” he said airily, ignoring Bertie’s sharp exclamation, which was not of a pacific nature. “I always enjoy seeing you trying to teach the pride of the Errols not to make a fool of himself. It’s a gigantic undertaking, isn’t it? Let me know if you require any assistance.”
He placed the cigarette between his lips and felt for some matches.
“I am going to turn my attention to you now,” Lucas rejoined in his tired voice. “Bertie, old chap, go and dress, will you? You can come to my room afterwards.”
“Bring me one of those spills first,” said Nap.
Bertie stood rigid. He was white to the lips with the effort to control himself. Nap, outstretched, supple as a tiger, lay and watched him unwaveringly.
“Go, Bertie!” Lucas said very quietly.
He took a spill himself from the mantelpiece, and tried to hold it to the blaze. But he stooped with difficulty, and sharply Bertie reached forward and took it from him.
“I will,” he said briefly, and lighting the spill, carried it to Nap, at ease on the sofa.
With a faint smile Nap awaited him. He did not offer to take the burning spill, and Bertie held it in sullen silence to the end of his cigarette. His hand was not very steady, and after a moment Nap took his wrist.
The cigarette glowed, and Nap looked up. “It’s a pity you’re too big to thrash, Bertie,” he said coolly, and with a sudden movement doubled the flaming paper back upon the fingers that held it.
Bertie’s yell was more of rage than pain. He struck furiously at his tormentor with his free hand, but Nap, by some trick of marvellous agility, evaded the blow. He leapt over the back of the settee with a laugh of devilish derision.
And, “Bertie, go!” said Lucas peremptorily.
Without a word Bertie checked himself as it were in mid career, stood a second as one gathering his strength, then turned in utter silence and marched away.
THE JESTER’S INFERNO
Between the two men who were left not a word passed for many minutes. Nap prowled to and fro with his head back and his own peculiarly insolent smile curving the corners of his mouth. There was a ruddy glare in his eyes, but they held no anger.
Lucas, still leaning on his crutch, stood with his back turned, his face to the fire. There was no anger about him either. He looked spent.
Abruptly Nap ceased his pacing and came up to him. “Come!” he said. “You have had enough of this. I will help you to your room.”