The Bars of Iron
Ethel May Dell
Part 2 out of 10
sure that he would get on in the world. But of Ronald's future she was
not so sure. It seemed to her that he might plod on for ever without
reaching his goal. He kept near her throughout that riotous scamper
through the bare, wind-swept Park, making it plain that he regarded
himself as her lieutenant whether she required his services or not. As a
matter of fact, she did not require them, but she was glad to have him
there and she keenly appreciated the gentlemanly consideration with which
he helped her over every stile.
They reached the high hill of Gracie's desire, and rapidly climbed it.
The sun had passed over to the far west and had already begun to dip ere
they reached the summit.
"Now we'll all stand in a row and race down," announced Gracie, when
they reached the top. "Aunt Avery will start us. We'll run as far as that
big oak-tree on the edge of the wood. Now line up, everybody!"
"I'm not going to do anything so silly," said Olive decidedly. "Mrs.
Denys and I will follow quietly."
"Oh no!" laughed Avery. "You can do the starting, my dear, and I will
race with the others."
Olive looked at her, faintly contemptuous. "Oh, of course if you prefer
it--" she said.
"I do indeed!" Avery assured her. "But I think the two big boys and I
ought to be handicapped. Jeanie and Gracie and Pat must go ten paces
"I am bigger than Gracie and Pat," said Jeanie. "I think I ought to
"Of course," agreed Ronald. "And, Aunt Avery, you must go with her. You
can't start level with Julian and me."
Avery laughed at the amendment and fell in with it. They adjusted
themselves for the trial of speed, while Olive stationed herself on a
mole-hill to give the signal.
The valley below them was in deep shadow. The last of the sunlight lay
upon the hilltop. It shone dazzlingly in Avery's eyes as the race began.
There had been a sprinkling of snow the day before, and the grass was
crisp and rough. She felt it crush under her feet with a keen sense of
enjoyment. Instinctively she put all her buoyant strength into the run.
She left Jeanie behind, overtook and passed the two younger children, and
raced like a hare down the slope. Keenly the wind whistled past her, and
she rejoiced to feel its clean purity rush into her lungs. She was for
the moment absurdly, rapturously happy,--a child amongst children.
The sun went out of sight, and the darkness of the valley swallowed her.
She sped on, fleet-footed, flushed and laughing, moving as if on wings.
She neared the dark line of wood, and saw the stark, outstretched
branches of the oak that was her goal. In the same instant she caught
sight of a man's figure standing beneath it, apparently waiting for her.
He had evidently just come out of the wood. He carried a gun on his
shoulder, but the freedom of his pose was so striking that she likened
him on the instant to a Roman gladiator.
She could not stop herself at once though she checked her speed, and when
she finally managed to come to a stand, she was close to him.
He stepped forward to meet her with a royal air of welcome. "How nice of
you to come and call on me!" he said.
His dark eyes shone mischievously as they greeted her, and she was too
flushed and dishevelled to stand upon ceremony. Pantingly she threw back
her gay reply.
"This is the children's happy hunting ground, not mine, I suppose, if the
truth were told, we are trespassing."
He made her his sweeping bow. "There is not a corner of this estate that
is not utterly and for ever at your service."
He turned as the two elder boys came racing up, and she saw the
half-mocking light go out of his eyes as they glanced up the hill.
"Hullo!" he said. "There's one of them come to grief."
Sharply she turned also. Pat and Gracie were having a spirited race down
the lower slope of the hill. Olive had begun to descend from the top with
becoming dignity. And midway, poor Jeanie crouched in a forlorn little
heap with her hands tightly covering her face.
"The child's hurt!" exclaimed Avery.
She started to run back, but in a moment Piers sprang past her, crying,
"All right. Don't run! Take it easy!"
He himself went like the wind. She watched him with subconscious
admiration. He was so superbly lithe and strong.
She saw him reach Jeanie and kneel down beside her. There was no
hesitation about him. He was evidently deeply concerned. He slipped a
persuasive arm about the child's huddled form.
When Avery reached them, Jeanie's head in its blue woollen cap was
pillowed against him and she was telling him sobbingly of her trouble.
"I--I caught my foot. I don't know--how I did it. It twisted right
round--and oh, it does hurt, I--I--I can't help--being silly!"
"All right, kiddie, all right!" said Piers. "It was one of those
confounded rabbit-holes. There! You'll be better in a minute. Got a
handkerchief, what? Oh, never mind! Take mine!"
He pulled it out and dried her eyes as tenderly as if he had been a
woman; then raised his head abruptly and spoke to Avery.
"I expect it's a sprain. I'd better get her boot off and see, what?"
"No, we had better take her home first," said Avery with quick decision.
"All right," said Piers at once. "I'll carry her. I daresay she isn't
very heavy. I say, little girl, you mustn't cry." He patted her shoulder
kindly. "It hurts horribly, I know. These things always do. But you're
going to show me how plucky you can be. Women are always braver than men,
aren't they, Mrs. Denys?"
Thus admonished, Jeanie lifted her face and made a valiant effort to
regain her self-command. But she clasped her two hands very tightly upon
Piers' arm so that he could not move to lift her.
"I'll be brave in a minute," she promised him tremulously. "You won't
mind waiting--just a minute?"
"Two, if you like," said Piers.
Avery was stooping over the injured foot. Jeanie was propped sideways,
half-lying against Piers' knee.
"Don't touch it, please, Aunt Avery!" she whispered.
The other children had drawn round in an interested group. "It looks like
a fracture to me," observed Olive in her precise voice.
Piers flashed her a withering glance. "Mighty lot you know about it!" he
Pat sniggered. He was not fond of his second sister. But his mirth was
checked by the impulsive Gracie who pushed him aside with a brief,
"Don't be a pig!"
Olive retired into the background with her nose in the air, looking so
absurdly like her father that a gleam of humour shot through even Piers'
sternness. He suppressed it and turned to the two elder boys.
"Which of you is to be trusted to carry a loaded gun?"
"I am," said Julian.
"No--Ronald," said Avery very firmly.
Julian stuck out his tongue at her, and was instantly pummeled therefor
by the zealous Gracie.
"Ronald," said Piers. "Mind how you pick it up, and don't point it at
anyone! Carry it on your shoulder! That's the way. Go slow with it! Now
you walk in front and take it down to the lodge!"
He issued his orders with the air of a commanding-officer, and having
issued them turned again with renewed gentleness to the child who lay
against his arm.
"Now, little girl, shall we make a move? I'm afraid postponing it won't
make it any better. I'll carry you awfully carefully."
"Thank you," whispered Jeanie.
He stooped over her. "Put your arm round my neck! That'll be a help. Mrs.
Denys, can you steady her foot while I get up?"
Avery bent to do so. He moved with infinite care; but even so the strain
upon the foot was inevitable. Jeanie gave a sharp cry, and sank helpless
in his arms.
He began to speak encouragingly but broke off in the middle, feeling the
child's head lie limp upon his shoulder.
"Afraid it's serious," he said to Avery. "We will get her down to the
lodge and send for a doctor."
"By Jove! She's fainted!" remarked Julian. "It's a jolly bad sprain."
"It's not a sprain at all," said Olive loftily.
And much as she would have liked to disagree, Avery knew that she
A FRIEND IN NEED
Mrs. Marshall at the lodge was a hard-featured old woman whose god was
cleanliness. Perhaps it was hardly to be expected of her that she should
throw open her door to the whole party. Piers, with his limp burden, and
Avery she had to admit, but after the latter's entrance she sternly
blocked the way.
"There's no room for any more," she declared with finality. "You'd best
run along home."
And with that she shut the door upon them and followed her unwelcome
visitors into her spotless parlour.
"What's the matter with the young lady?" she enquired sourly.
Avery answered her in her quick, friendly way. "She has had a fall, poor
little thing, and hurt her foot--I'm afraid, badly. It's so good of you
to let us bring her in here. Won't you spread a cloth to keep her boots
off your clean chintz?"
The suggestion was what Piers described later as "a lucky hit." It melted
old Mrs. Marshall on the instant. She hastened to comply with it, and saw
Jeanie laid down upon her sofa with comparative resignation.
"She do look mortal bad, to be sure," she remarked.
"Can't you find some brandy?" said Piers.
"I think she will come to, now," Avery said. "Yes, look! Her eyes
She was right. Jeanie's eyes opened very wide and fixed themselves
enquiringly upon Piers' face. There was something in them, a species of
dumb appeal, that went straight to his heart. He moved impulsively, and
knelt beside her.
Jeanie's hand came confidingly forth to him. "I did try to be brave," she
Piers' hand closed instantly and warmly upon hers. "That's all right,
little girl," he said kindly. "Pain pretty bad, eh?"
"Yes," murmured Jeanie.
"Ah, well, don't move!" he said. "We'll get your boot off and then you'll
"Oh, don't trouble, please!" said Jeanie politely.
She held his hand very tightly, and he divined that the prospect of the
boot's removal caused her considerable apprehension.
He looked round to consult Avery on the subject, but found that she had
slipped out of the room. He heard her in the porch speaking to the
children, and in a few seconds she was back again.
"Don't let us keep you!" she said to Piers. "I can stay with Jeanie now.
I have sent the children home, all but Ronald and Julian who have gone to
fetch Dr. Tudor."
Piers looked at Jeanie, and Jeanie looked at Piers. Her hand was still
fast locked in his.
"Shall I go?" said Piers.
Jeanie's blue eyes were very wistful. "I would like you to stay," she
said shyly, "if you don't mind."
"If Mrs. Denys doesn't mind?" suggested Piers.
To which Avery responded. "Thank you. Please stay!"
She said it for Jeanie's sake, since it was evident that the child was
sustaining herself on the man's strength, but the look Piers flashed her
made her a little doubtful as to the wisdom of her action. She realized
that it might not be easy to keep him at arm's length after this.
Piers turned back to Jeanie. "Very well, I'll stay," he said, "anyhow
till Tudor comes along. Let's see! You're the eldest girl, aren't you? I
ought to know you by name, but somehow my memory won't run to it."
He could not as a matter of fact remember that he had ever spoken to any
of the young Lorimers before, though by sight he was well acquainted
Jeanie, in whose eyes he had ever shone as a knight of romance, murmured
courteously that no one ever remembered them all by name.
"Well, I shall remember you anyhow," said Piers. "Queenie is it?"
"I shall call you Queenie," he said. "It sounds more imposing. Now won't
you let me just slit off that boot? I can do it without hurting you."
"Slit it!" said Jeanie, shocked.
"We shan't get it off without," said Piers. "What do you think about it,
"I will unfasten the lace first," Avery said.
This she proceeded to do while Piers occupied Jeanie's attention with a
success which a less dominant personality could scarcely have achieved.
But when it came to removing the boot he went to Avery's assistance. It
was no easy matter but they accomplished it between them, Piers
ruthlessly cutting the leather away from the injured ankle which by that
time was badly swollen. They propped it on a cushion, and made her as
comfortable as circumstances would allow.
"Can't that old woman make you some tea?" Piers said then, beginning to
chafe at the prospect of an indefinite period of inaction.
"I think she is boiling her kettle now," Avery answered.
Piers grunted. He fidgeted to the window and back, and then, finding
Jeanie's eyes still mutely watching him, he pulled up a chair to her side
and took the slender hand again into his own.
Avery turned her attention to coaxing the fire to burn, and presently
went out to Mrs. Marshall in her kitchen to offer her services there. She
was graciously permitted to cut some bread and butter while the old woman
prepared a tray.
"I suppose it was Master Piers' fault," the latter remarked with
severity. "He's always up to some mischief or other."
Avery hastened to assure her that upon this occasion Piers was absolutely
blameless and had been of the utmost assistance to them.
"I'm very glad to hear it," said Mrs. Marshall. "He's a feckless young
gentleman, and I often think as he's like to bring the old master's hairs
with sorrow to the grave. Sir Beverley do set such store by him, always
did from the day he brought him back from his dead mother in Paris, along
with that French valet who carried him like as if he'd been a parcel of
goods. He's been brought up by men from his cradle, miss, and it hasn't
done him any good. But there! Sir Beverley is that set against all
womenkind there's no moving him."
Mrs. Marshall was beginning to expand--a mark of high favour which she
bestowed only upon the few.
Avery listened with respect, comfortably aware that by this simple means
she was creating a good impression. She was anxious to win the old dame
to a benevolent frame of mind if possible, since to be thrown upon
unwilling hospitality was the last thing she desired.
It was characteristic of her that she achieved her purpose. When she
returned to the parlour in Mrs. Marshall's wake, she had completely won
her hostess's heart, a fact which Piers remarked on the instant.
"There's magic in you," he said to Avery, as she gave him his cup of
"I prefer to call it common sense," she answered.
She turned her attention at once to Jeanie, coaxing her to drink the tea
though her utmost persuasion could not induce her to eat anything. She
was evidently suffering a good deal of pain, but she begged them not to
trouble about her. "Please have your tea, Aunt Avery! I shall be quite
"Yes, Aunt Avery must certainly have some tea," said Piers with
determination, and he refused to touch his own until she had done so.
It was a relief to all three of them when the doctor's dogcart was heard
on the drive. Avery rose at once and went to receive him.
Piers stretched a kindly arm behind the cushion that supported Jeanie's
head. "Do you really want me to stay with you, little girl?" he asked.
Jeanie was very white, but she looked at him bravely. "Do you
mind?" she said.
His dark eyes smiled encouragement. "No, of course I don't mind if I can
be of any use to you. Tudor will probably want to kick me out, but if you
have the smallest desire to keep me, I'll stay."
"You are kind," said Jeanie very earnestly. "I think it will help me to
be brave if I may hold your hand. You have such a strong hand."
"It is entirely at your service," said Piers.
He turned in his chair at the doctor's entrance, without rising. His
attitude was decidedly dogged. He looked as if he anticipated a struggle.
Dr. Tudor came in behind Avery. He was a man of forty, curt of speech and
short of temper, with eyes that gleamed shrewdly behind gold pince-nez.
He gave Piers a look that was conspicuously lacking in cordiality.
"Hullo!" he said. "You here!"
"Yes, I'm here," said Piers.
The doctor's eyes passed him and went straight to the white face of the
child on the sofa. He advanced and bent over her.
"So you've had an accident, eh?" he said.
"Yes," whispered Jeanie, pressing a little closer to Piers.
"I think it was a rabbit-hole," said Jeanie not very lucidly.
"Caught your foot and fell, I suppose?" said the doctor. "Was that all?
Did you do any walking after it?"
"Oh no!" said Jeanie, with a shudder. "Mr. Evesham carried me."
"I see." He was holding her wrist between his fingers. Very suddenly he
looked at Piers again. "I can't have you here," he said.
"Can't you?" said Piers. He threw back his head with an aggressive
movement, but said no more.
"Please let him stay!" said Jeanie beseechingly.
The doctor frowned.
In a low voice Avery intervened. "I told him he might--for the
Dr. Tudor turned his hawk eyes upon her. "Who are you, may I ask?"
Piers' free hand clenched, and a sudden hot flush rose to his forehead.
But Avery made answer before he could speak.
"I am the mother's help at the Vicarage. My name is Denys--Mrs. Denys.
And Jeanie is in my care. Now, will you look at the injury?"
She smiled a little as she said it, but the decision of her speech was
past disputing. Dr. Tudor regarded her piercingly for a moment or two,
then without a word turned aside.
The tension went out of Piers' attitude; he held Jeanie comfortingly
At the end of a brief examination the doctor spoke. "Yes. A simple
fracture. I can soon put that to rights. You can help me, Mrs. Denys."
He went to work at once, giving occasional curt directions to Avery,
while Jeanie clung convulsively to Piers, her face buried in his coat,
and fought for self-control.
It was a very plucky fight, for the ordeal was a severe one; and when it
was over the poor child broke down completely in spite of all her efforts
and wept upon Piers' shoulder. He soothed and consoled her with the
utmost kindness. It had been something of an ordeal for him also, and
with relief he turned his attention to comforting her.
She soon grew calmer and apologized humbly for her weakness. "I don't
think I could have borne it without you," she told him, with
tremulous sincerity. "But I'm so dreadfully sorry to have given you
all this trouble."
"That's all right," Piers assured her. "I'm glad you found me of use."
He dried her tears for the second time that afternoon, and then, with a
somewhat obvious effort at civility, addressed the doctor.
"I suppose it will be all right to move her now? Can we take her home in
Curtly the doctor made answer. "Very well indeed, I should say, if we
lift her carefully and keep the foot straight. I'll drive you to the
Abbey if you like. I'm going up to see your grandfather."
"I don't know why you should," said Piers quickly. "There's nothing the
matter with him."
Dr. Tudor made no reply. "Are you coming?" he asked.
"No, thanks." There was latent triumph in Piers' response. "If you are
going up, you can give the order for the landaulette, and tell my
grandfather I am staying to see Miss Lorimer safely home."
Dr. Tudor grunted and turned away, frowning.
"Well, so long!" he said to Jeanie. "I'll look in on my way back, and
lend a hand with moving you. But you will be all right now if you do as
"Thank you," said Jeanie meekly.
He went out with Avery, and the door closed behind them.
Jeanie stole a glance at Piers who was looking decidedly grim.
"Yes," he said in answer. "I detest him, and he knows it."
Jeanie looked a little startled. "Oh, do you?" she said.
"Don't you?" said Piers.
"I--I really don't know. Isn't it--isn't it wrong to detest anyone!"
"Wrong!" said Piers. He frowned momentarily, then as suddenly he smiled.
He bent very abruptly and kissed her on the forehead. "Yes, of course
it's wrong," he said, "for the people who keep consciences."
"Oh, but--" Jeanie remonstrated, and then something in his face stopped
her. She flushed and murmured in confusion, "Thank you for!--for
"Don't mention it!" said Piers, with a laugh.
"I should like to kiss you if I may," said Jeanie. "You have been so
He bent his face to hers and received the kiss. "You're a nice little
girl," he said, and there was an odd note of feeling in the words for all
their lightness that made Jeanie aware that in some fashion he was moved.
"I don't think he is quite--quite happy, do you?" she said to Avery that
night when the worst of her troubles were over, and she was safely back
at the Vicarage.
And Avery answered thoughtfully, "Perhaps--not quite."
A TALK BY THE FIRE
The Reverend Stephen Lorimer was writing his sermon for the last Sunday
in Advent. His theme was eternal punishment and one which he considered
worthy of his utmost eloquence. There was nothing mythical or allegorical
in that subject in the opinion of the Reverend Stephen. He believed in it
most firmly, and the belief afforded him the keenest satisfaction. It was
a nerve-shaking sermon. Had it been of a secular nature, it might almost
have been described as inhuman, so obviously was it designed to render
his hearers afraid to go home in the dark. But since it was not secular,
it took the form of a fine piece of inspiration which, from Mr. Lorimer's
point of view at least, could scarcely fail to make the most stubborn
heart in his congregation tremble. He pictured himself delivering his
splendid rhetoric with a grand and noble severity as impressive as the
words he had to utter, reading appreciation--possibly unwilling
appreciation--and dawning uneasiness on the upturned faces of his
Mr. Lorimer did not love his flock; his religion did not take that
form. And the flock very naturally as a whole had scant affection for
Mr. Lorimer. The flock knew, or shrewdly suspected, that his eloquence
was mere sound--not always even musical--and as a consequence its
power was somewhat thrown away. His command of words was practically
limitless, but words could not carry him to the hearts of his
congregation, and he had no other means at his disposal. For this of
course he blamed the congregation, which certainly had no right to wink
and snigger when he passed.
This Advent sermon however was a masterpiece, and as Mr. Lorimer lovingly
fingered the pages of his manuscript he told himself that it could not
fail to make an impression upon the most hardened sinner.
A low knock at the door disturbed these pleasant thoughts and he frowned.
There was an unwritten law at the Vicarage that save for the most urgent
of reasons he should never be interrupted at this hour.
Softly the door opened. Humbly his wife peeped in.
"Are you very busy, Stephen?"
His frown melted away. Here at least was one whose appreciation was never
lacking. "Well, my dear Adelaide, I think I may truthfully say that the
stress of my business is fairly over. You may come in."
She crept in, mouse-like, and a distant burst of music wafted in with
her, causing her to turn and quickly close the door.
"Have you finished your sermon, dear? Can we have a little talk?" she
asked him nervously.
He stretched out a large white hand to her without rising. "Yes. I do not
think much remains to be said. We have as it were regarded the matter
from every point of view. I do not think there will be many consciences
unaroused when I have enunciated my final warning."
"You have such a striking delivery," murmured Mrs. Lorimer, clasping the
firm white hand between both her own.
Mr. Lorimer's eyes vanished in an unctuous smile. "Thou idle
flatterer!" he said.
"No, indeed, dear," his wife protested. "I think you are always
impressive, especially at the end of your sermons. That pause you make
before you turn your face to the altar--it seems to me so effective--so,
if one may say it, dramatic."
"To what request is this the prelude?" enquired Mr. Lorimer, emerging
from his smile.
She laughed a little nervous laugh. Her thin face was flushed. "Shall we
sit by the fire, Stephen, as we used to that first happy winter--do you
remember?--after we were married?"
"Dear me!" said Mr. Lorimer. "This sounds like a plunge into sentiment."
Nevertheless he rose with a tolerant twinkle and seated himself in the
large easy-chair before the fire. It was the only really comfortable
chair in the room. He kept it for his moments of reflection.
Mrs. Lorimer sat down at his feet on the fender-curb, her tiny hand still
clinging to his. "This is a real treat," she said, laying her head
against his knee with a gesture oddly girlish. "It isn't often, is it,
that we have it all to ourselves?"
"What is it you have to say to me?" he enquired.
She drew his hand down gently over her shoulder, and held it against her
cheek. There fell a brief silence, then she said with a slight effort:
"Your idea of a mother's help has worked wonderfully, Stephen. As you
know, I was averse to it at first but I am so glad you insisted. Dear
Avery is a greater comfort to me than I can possibly tell you."
"Avery!" repeated the Reverend Stephen, with brows elevated. "I presume
you are talking of Mrs. Denys?"
"Yes, dear. I call her Avery. I feel her to be almost one of ourselves."
There was just a hint of apology in Mrs. Lorimer's voice. "She has
been--and is--so very kind to me," she said. "I really don't know what
the children and I would do without her."
"I am glad to hear she is kind," said Mr. Lorimer, with a touch
"My dearest, she is quite our equal in position," murmured Mrs. Lorimer.
"That may be, my dear Adelaide." The acidity developed into a note of
displeasure. "In a sense doubtless we are all equal. But in spite of
that, extremes of intimacy are often inadvisable. I do not think you are
altogether discreet in making a bosom friend of a woman in Mrs. Denys's
position. A very good woman, I grant you. But familiarity with her is
altogether unsuitable. From my own experience of her I am convinced that
she would very soon presume upon it."
He paused. Mrs. Lorimer said nothing. She was sitting motionless with her
soft eyes on the fire.
Mr. Lorimer looked down at the brown head at his knee with growing
severity. "You will, therefore, Adelaide, in deference to my wish--if for
no other reason--discontinue this use of Mrs. Denys's Christian name."
Mrs. Lorimer's lips moved, but they said nothing.
"Adelaide!" He spoke with cold surprise.
Instantly her fingers tightened upon his with a grip that was almost
passionate. She raised her head, and looked up at him with earnest,
pleading eyes. "I am sorry, Stephen--dear Stephen--but I have already
given my friendship to--to Mrs. Denys. She has been--she is--like a
sister to me. So you see, I can't possibly take it away again. You would
not wish it if you knew."
"If I knew!" repeated Mr. Lorimer, in a peculiar tone.
She turned her face from him again, but he leaned slowly forward in his
chair and taking her chin between his finger and thumb turned it
deliberately back again.
She shrank a little, but she did not resist him. He looked searchingly
into her eyes. The lids flickered nervously under his gaze, but he did
not relax his scrutiny.
"Well?" he said.
Her lips quivered. She said nothing.
But her silence was enough. He released her abruptly and dropped back in
his chair without another word.
She sank down trembling against his knee, and there followed a most
painful pause. Through the stillness there crept again the faint
strains of distant music. Someone was playing the Soldiers' March out
of _Faust_ on the old cracked schoolroom piano, which was rising nobly
to the occasion.
Mr. Lorimer moved at length and turned his head. "Who is that playing?"
"Piers Evesham," whispered Mrs. Lorimer. She was weeping softly and dared
not stir lest he should discover the fact.
There was a deep, vertical line between Mr. Lorimer's brows. "And what
may Piers Evesham be doing here?" he enquired.
"He comes often--to see Jeanie," murmured his wife deprecatingly.
He laughed unpleasantly. "A vast honour for Jeanie!"
Two tears fell from Mrs. Lorimer's eyes. She began to feel furtively for
"And Dr. Lennox Tudor,"--he pronounced the name with elaborate care,--"he
comes--often--for the same reason, I presume?"
"He--he came to see me yesterday," faltered Mrs. Lorimer.
"Indeed!" The word was as water dropped from an icicle.
She dabbed her eyes and bravely turned and faced him. "Stephen dear, I am
very sorry. I didn't want to vex you unnecessarily. I hoped against
hope--" She broke off, and knelt up before him, clasping his hand tightly
against her breast. "Stephen--dearest, you said--when our firstborn
came--that he was--God's gift."
"Well?" Again that one, uncompromising word. The vertical line deepened
between her husband's brows. His eyes looked coldly back at her.
Mrs. Lorimer caught her breath on a little sob. "Will not this little
one--be just as much so?" she whispered.
He began to draw his hand away from her. "My dear Adelaide, we will not
be foolishly sentimental. What must be, must. I am afraid I must ask you
to run away now as I have yet to put the finishing touches to my sermon.
Perhaps you will kindly request young Evesham on my behalf to make a
little less noise."
He deliberately put her from him, and prepared to rise. But Mrs. Lorimer
suddenly and very unexpectedly rose first. She stood before him, slightly
bending, her hands on his broad shoulders.
"Will you kiss me, Stephen?" she said.
He lifted a grim, reluctant face. She stooped, slipping her arms about
his neck. "My own dear husband!" she whispered.
He endured her embrace for a couple of seconds; then, "That will do,
Adelaide," he said with decision. "You must not let yourself get
emotional. Dear me! It is getting late. I am afraid I really must ask you
to leave me."
Her arms fell. She drew back, dispirited. "Forgive me,--oh, forgive me!"
she murmured miserably.
He turned back to his writing-table, still frowning. "I was not aware
that I had anything to forgive," he said. "But if you think so,--" he
shrugged his shoulders, beginning already to turn the pages of his
masterpiece--"my forgiveness is yours. I wonder if you would care to
divert your thoughts from what I am sure you will admit to be a purely
selfish channel by listening to a portion of this Advent sermon."
"What is it about?" asked Mrs. Lorimer, hesitating.
"My theme," said the Reverend Stephen, "is the awful doom that awaits
the unrepentant sinner."
There was a moment's silence, and then Mrs. Lorimer did an extraordinary
thing. She turned from him and walked to the door.
"Thank you very much, Stephen," she said, and she spoke with decision
albeit her voice was not wholly steady. "But I don't feel that that kind
of diversion would do me much good. I think I shall run up to the nursery
and see Baby Phil have his bath."
She was gone; but so noiselessly that Mr. Lorimer, turning in his chair
to rebuke her frivolity, found himself addressing the closed door.
He turned back again with a heavy sigh. There seemed to be some
disturbing element at work. Time had been when she had deemed it her
dearest privilege to sit and listen to his sermons. He could not
understand her refusal of an offer that ought to have delighted her. He
hoped that her heart was not becoming hardened.
Could he have seen her ascending the stairs at that moment with the tears
running down her face, he might have realized that that fear at least was
THE TICKET OF LEAVE
Seated at the schoolroom piano, Piers was thoroughly in his element. He
had a marvellous gift for making music, and his audience listened
spell-bound. His own love for it amounted to a passion, inherited, so it
was said, from his Italian grandmother. He threw his whole soul into the
instrument under his hands, and played as one inspired.
Jeanie, from her sofa, drank in the music with shining eyes. She had
never heard anything to compare with it before, and it stirred her to
It stirred Avery also, but in a different way. The personality of the
player forced itself upon her with a curious insistence, and she had an
odd feeling that he did it by deliberate intention. Every chord he struck
seemed to speak to her directly, compelling her attention, dominating her
will. He was playing to her alone, and, though she chose to ignore the
fact, she was none the less aware of it. By his music he enthralled her,
making her see the things he saw, making her feel the fiery unrest that
throbbed in every beat of his heart.
Gracie, standing beside him, watching with fascinated eyes the strong
hands that charmed from the old piano such music as probably it had never
before uttered, was enthralled also, but only in a superficial sense. She
was keenly interested in the play of his fingers, which seemed to her
quite wonderful, as indeed it was.
He took no more notice of her admiring gaze than if she had been a fly,
pouring out his magic flood of music with eyes fixed straight before him
and lips that were sometimes hard and sometimes tender. He might have
been a man in a trance.
And then very suddenly the spell was broken. For no apparent reason, he
fell headlong from his heights and burst into a merry little jig that set
Gracie dancing like an elf.
He became aware of her then, threw her a laugh, quickened to a mad
tarantella that nearly whirled her off her feet, finally ended with a
crashing chord, and whizzed round on the music-stool in time to catch her
as she fell gasping against him.
"What a featherweight you are!" he laughed. "You'll dance the Thames on
fire some day. Giddy, what?"
Gracie lay in his arms in a collapsed condition. "You--you made me do
it!" she panted.
"To be sure!" said Piers. "I'm a wizard. Didn't you know? I can make
anybody do anything." There was a ring of triumph in his voice.
Jeanie drew a deep breath and nodded from her sofa. "It's called
hyp--hyp--Aunt Avery, what is the word?"
"Aunt Avery doesn't know," said Piers. "And why Aunt Avery, I wonder?
You'll be calling me Uncle Piers next."
Both children laughed. "I have a special name for you," Jeanie said.
But Piers was not attending. He cast a daring glance across the room at
Avery who was darning stockings under the lamp.
"Do they call you Aunt Avery because you are so old?" he enquired, as
Avery did not respond to it.
She smiled a little. "I expect so," she said.
"Oh no!" said Jeanie politely. "Only because we are children and she is
Piers, with Gracie still lounging comfortably on his knee, bowed to her.
"I thank your majesty. I appeal to you as queen of this establishment; am
I--as a grown-up--entitled to drop the title of Aunt when addressing the
gracious lady in question?"
Again he glanced towards Avery, but she did not raise her eyes. She
worked on, still with that faint, enigmatical smile about her lips.
Jeanie looked slightly dubious. "I don't think you could ever call her
Aunt, could you?" she said.
Piers turned upon the music-stool, and with one of Gracie's fingers began
to pick out an impromptu tune that somehow had a saucy ring.
"I like that," said Gracie, enchanted.
He laughed. "Yes, it's pretty, isn't it? It's--Avery without the Aunt."
He began to elaborate the tune, accompanying it with his left hand, to
Gracie's huge delight, "Here we come into a minor key," he said, speaking
obviously and exclusively to Gracie; "this is Avery when she is cross and
inclined to be down on a fellow. And here we begin to get a little
excited and breathless; this is Avery in a tantrum, getting angrier and
angrier every moment." He hammered out his impertinent little melody with
fevered energy, protest from Gracie notwithstanding. "No, you've never
seen her in a tantrum of course. Thank your lucky stars you haven't! It's
an awful sight, take my word for it! She calls you a brute and nearly
knocks you down with a horsewhip." The music became very descriptive at
this point; then gradually returned to the original refrain, somewhat
amplified and embellished. "This is Avery in her everyday mood--sweet and
kind and reasonable,--the Avery we all know and love--with just a hint
of what the French call _'diablerie'_ to make her--_tout-a-fait
He cast his eyes up at the ceiling, and then, releasing Gracie's hand,
brought his impromptu to a close with a few soft chords.
"Here endeth the Avery Symphony!" he declared, swinging round again on
the music-stool. "I could show you another Avery, but she is not on view
to everybody. It's quite possible that she has never seen herself yet."
He got up with the words, tweaked Gracie's hair, caressed Jeanie's, and
strolled across to the fire beside which Avery sat with her work.
"It's awfully kind of you to tolerate me like this," he said.
"Isn't it?" said Avery, without raising her eyes.
He looked down at her, an odd gleam in his own that came and went like a
"You suffer fools gladly, don't you?" he said, a queer inflection that
was half a challenge in his voice.
She frowned very slightly above her stocking. "Not particularly," she
"You bear with them then?" Piers tone was insistent.
She paused as though considering her reply. "I generally try to avoid
them," she said finally.
"You keep aloof--and darn stockings," suggested Piers.
"And listen to your music," said Avery.
"Do you like my music?" He shot the question at her imperiously.
"Really? You do really?" There was boyish eagerness about him now. He
leaned towards her, his brown face aglow.
She nodded again. "Do you ever--write music?"
"No," said Piers.
He answered with a curious touch of bitterness. "No one would understand
it if I did."
"But what a mistake!" she said.
"Is it? Why?" His voice sounded stubborn.
She looked suddenly straight up at him and spoke with impulsive warmth.
"Because it is quite beside the point. It wouldn't matter to anyone but
yourself whether people understood it or not. Of course popularity is
pleasant. Everyone likes it. But do you suppose the really big people
think at all about the world's opinion when they are at work? They just
give of their best because nothing less would satisfy them, but they
don't do it because they want to be appreciated by the crowd. Genius
always gets above the crowd. It's only those who can't rise above their
critics who really care what the critics say."
She stopped. Her face was flushed, her eyes kindling; but she lowered
them very suddenly and returned to her work. For the fitful gleam in
Piers' eyes had leaped in response to a blaze so hot, so ardent, that she
could not meet it unflinching.
She was oddly grateful to him when he passed her brief confusion by as
though he had not seen it. "So I'm a genius, am I?" he said, and laughed
a careless laugh. "Are you listening, Queen of my heart? Aunt Avery says
I'm a genius."
He moved to Jeanie's sofa, and sat down on the edge of it. Her hand stole
instantly into his.
"Yes, of course," she said, in her soft, tired voice. "That's what I
meant when I was trying to remember that other word--the word that
"Hypnotism," said Avery very quietly.
Piers laughed again. "It's a word you don't understand, my Queen of all
good fairies. It's only the naughty fairies--the will-o'-the-wisps and
the hobgoblins--that know anything about it. It's a wicked spell
concocted by the King of Evil himself, and it's only under that spell
that his prisoners ever see the light. It's the one ticket of leave from
the dungeons, and they must either use it or die in the dark."
Jeanie was listening with a puzzled frown, but Gracie's imagination was
"Do go on!" she said eagerly. "I know what a ticket of leave is. Nurse's
uncle had one. It means you have to go back after a certain time,
"Exactly," said Piers grimly. "When the ticket expires."
"But I don't see," began Jeanie. Her face was flushed and a little
distressed. "How can hypnotism be like--like a ticket of leave?"
"I told you you wouldn't understand," said Piers. "You see you've got to
realize what hypnotism is before you can know what it's like. It's really
the art of imposing one's will upon someone else's, of making that other
person see things as you want them to see them--not as they really are.
It's the power of deception carried to a superlative degree. And when
that power is exhausted, the ticket may be said to have expired--and the
prisoner returns to the dungeon. Sometimes he takes the other person with
him. Sometimes he goes alone."
He stopped abruptly as a hand rapped smartly on the door.
Avery looked up again from her work. "Come in!" she said.
"It's the doctor!" whispered Gracie to Piers. "Bother him!"
Piers laughed with his lower lip between his teeth, and Lennox Tudor
opened the door and paused upon the threshold.
Avery rose to receive him, but his look passed her almost instantly and
rested frowningly upon Piers.
"Enter the Lord High Executioner!" said Piers flippantly. "Well? Who is
the latest victim? And what have you come here for?"
The doctor came in. He shook hands with Avery, and turned at once to
"I have come to see my patient," he said aggressively.
"Have you?" said Piers. "So have I." He stood up, squaring his broad
shoulders. "And I'm coming again--by special invitation." His dark eyes
flung a gibe with the words.
"Good-bye, Mr. Evesham!" said Avery somewhat pointedly.
He turned sharply, and took her extended hand with elaborate courtesy.
"Good-bye,--Mrs. Denys!" he said.
"I'll come down and see you off," cried Gracie, attaching herself to
his free arm.
"Ah! Wait a bit!" said Piers. "I haven't said good-bye to the Queen of
the fairies yet."
He dropped upon one knee by Jeanie's sofa. Her arm slid round his neck.
"When will you come again?" she whispered.
"When do you hold your next court?" he whispered back.
She smiled, her pale face close to his. "I love to see you--always," she
said. "Come just any time!"
"Shall I?" said Piers.
He was looking straight into the tired, blue eyes, and his own were soft
with a tenderness that must have charmed any child to utter confidence.
She lifted her lips to his. "As often as ever you can," she murmured.
He kissed her. "I will. Good-night, my Queen!"
"Good-night," she answered softly, "dear Sir Galahad!"
Avery had a glimpse of Piers' face as he went away, and she wondered
momentarily at the look it wore.
It was the day before Christmas Eve, and Avery had been shopping.
She and Mrs. Lorimer were preparing a Christmas Tree for the children, a
secret to which only Jeanie had been admitted. The tree itself was
already procured and hidden away in a corner of the fruit cupboard--to
which special sanctum Mrs. Lorimer and Avery alone had access. But the
numerous gifts and ornaments which they had been manufacturing for weeks
were safely stored in a corner of Avery's own room. It was to complete
this store that Avery had been down into Rodding that afternoon, and she
was returning laden and somewhat wearied.
The red light of a cloudy winter sunset lay behind her. Ahead of her, now
veiled, now splendidly revealed, there hung a marvellous, glimmering
star. A little weight of sadness was dragging at her heart, but she would
not give it place or so much as acknowledge its presence. She hummed a
carol as she went, stepping lightly through the muddy fields.
The frost had given place to an unseasonable warmth, and there had been
some heavy rain earlier in the day. It was threatening to rain again. In
fact, as she mounted her second stile, the first drops of what promised
to be a sharp shower began to fall. She cast a hasty glance around for
shelter, and spied some twenty yards away against the hedge a hut which
had probably been erected for the use of some shepherd. Swiftly she made
for it, reaching it just as the shower became a downpour.
There was neither door nor window to the place, but an ancient shutter
which had evidently done duty for the former was lodged against the wall
She had to stoop to enter, and but for the pelting rain she might have
hesitated to do so; for the darkness within was complete. But once in,
she turned her face back to the dying light of the sunset and saw that
the rain would not last.
At the same moment she heard a curious sound behind her, a panting,
coughing sound as of some creature in distress, and something stirred in
the furthest corner. Sharply she turned, and out of the darkness two wild
green eyes glared up at her.
Avery's heart gave a great jerk. Instinctively she drew back. Her first
impulse was to turn and flee, but something--something which at the
moment she could not define--prompted her to remain. The frantic terror
of those eyes appealed to that in her which was greater than her own
She paused therefore, and in the pause there came to her ears a swelling
tumult that arose from the ridge of an eminence a couple of fields away.
Right well Avery knew that sound. In the far-off days of her early
girlhood it had quickened her pulses many a time. It was enough even now
to set every nerve throbbing with a tense excitement.
She turned her face once more to the open, and as she did so she heard
again in the hut behind her that agonized sound, half-cough, half-whine,
of an animal exhausted and in the extremity of mortal fear.
It was enough for Avery. She grasped the situation on the instant, and
on the instant she acted. She felt as if a helpless and tortured being
had cried to her for deliverance, and all that was great in her
responded to the cry.
She seized the crazy shutter that was propped against the wall, put forth
her strength, and lifted it out into the open. It was no easy matter to
set it securely against the low doorway. She wondered afterwards how she
did it; at the time she tore her gloves to ribbons with the exertion, but
yet was scarcely aware of making any.
When the pack swept across the grass in a single yelling, heaving mass,
she was ready. She leaned against the improvised door with arms
outstretched and resolutely faced the swarming, piebald multitude.
In a moment the hounds were upon her. She was waist-deep in them. They
leapt almost to her shoulders in their madness, smothering her with mud
and slobber. For a second or two the red eyes and gaping jaws made even
Avery's brave heart quail. But she stood her ground, ordering them back
with breathless insistence. They must have thought her a maniac, she
reflected afterwards. At the time she fully expected to be torn in
pieces, and was actually surprised when they suddenly parted and swept
round the hut, encircling it with deep-mouthed baying.
The huntsman, arriving on the scene, found her white-faced but still
determined, still firmly propping the shutter in place with the weight of
her body. He called the hounds to order with hoarse oaths and furious
crackings of the whip, and as he did so the rest of the field began to
arrive, a laughing, trampling crowd of sportsmen who dropped into
staring, astounded silence as they reached the scene.
And then the huntsman addressed Avery with sardonic affability.
"P'r'aps now, miss, you'd be good enough to step aside and let the 'ounds
attend to business."
But Avery, with eyes that blazed in her pale face, made scathing answer.
"You shan't kill the poor brute like a rat in a trap. He deserves better
than that. You had your chance of killing in the open, and you failed. It
isn't sport to kill in the dark."
"We'll soon have 'im out," said the huntsman grimly.
She shook her head. Her hands, in the ripped gloves, were clenched and
The huntsman slashed and swore at one of the hounds to relieve his
feelings, and looked for inspiration to the growing crowd of riders.
One of them, the M.F.H., Colonel Rose of Wardenhurst, pushed his horse
forward. He raised his hat with extreme courtliness.
"Madam," he said, "while appreciating your courage, allow me to point out
that that fox is now the legal property of the Hunt, and you have no
right whatever to deprive us of it."
His daughter Ina, a slim girl of twenty, was at his elbow. She jogged it
impatiently. "He'll remain our property whether we kill or not, Dad. Let
him live to run again!"
"What?" cried a voice in the rear. "Let a woman interfere? Great Heavens
above, Barchard! Have you gone mad?"
Barchard the huntsman glanced round uneasily as an old man on a powerful
white horse forced his way to the front. His grey eyes glowered down at
Avery as though he would slay her. The trampling hoofs came within a yard
of her. But if he thought to make her desert her post by that means, he
was mistaken. She stood there, actually waiting to be hustled by the
fretting animal, and yielding not an inch.
"Stand aside!" thundered Sir Beverley. "Confound you! Stand aside!"
But Avery never stirred. She faced him panting but unflinching. The foam
of his hunter splashed her, the mud from the stamping hoofs struck
upwards on her face; but still she stood to defend the defenceless thing
She often wondered afterwards what Sir Beverley would have done had he
been left to settle the matter in his own way. She was horribly afraid,
but she certainly would never have yielded to aught but brute force.
But at this juncture there came a sudden diversion. Another voice made
itself heard in furious protest. Another horse was spurred forward; and
Piers, white to the lips, with eyes of awful flame, leaned from his
saddle and with his left hand caught Sir Beverley's bridle, dragging his
What he said Avery did not hear; it was spoken under his breath. But she
saw a terrible look flash like an evil spirit into Sir Beverley's face.
She saw his right arm go up, and heard his riding-crop descend with a
sound like a pistol-shot upon Piers' shoulders.
It was a horrible sight and one which she was never to forget. Both
horses began to leap madly, the one Sir Beverley rode finally rearing and
being pulled down again by Piers who hung on to the bridle like grim
death, his head bent, his shoulders wholly exposed to those crashing
They reeled away at length through the crowd, which scattered in dismay
to let them pass, but for many seconds it seemed to Avery that the
awful struggle went on in the dusk as Piers dragged his grandfather
from the spot.
A great weakness had begun to assail her. Her knees were quivering under
her. She wondered what the next move would be, and felt utterly powerless
to put forth any further effort. And then she heard Ina Rose's clear
"Barchard, take the hounds back to kennels! I'm sure we've all had enough
for one day."
"Hear, hear!" said a man in the crowd.
And Ina laughed. "Thank you, Dick! Come along, Dad! Leave the horrid old
fox alone! Don't you think we ought to go and separate Sir Beverley and
Piers? What an old pepper-pot he is!"
"Piers isn't much better," remarked the man she had called Dick. His
proper appellation was Richard Guyes, but his friends never stood on
ceremony with him.
The girl laughed again inconsequently. She was spoken of by some as the
spoilt beauty of the county. "Oh, Piers is stuffed tight with gunpowder
as everybody knows. He explodes at a touch. Get along, Barchard! What are
you waiting for? I told you to take the hounds home."
Barchard looked at the Colonel.
"I suppose you'd better," the latter said. He threw a glance of
displeasure at Avery. "It's a most unheard of affair altogether, but I
admit there's not much to be said for a kill in cold blood. Yes, take
Barchard made a savage cut at two of the hounds who were scratching and
whimpering at a tiny chink in the boarding, and with surly threats
collected the pack and moved off.
The rest of the field melted away into the deepening dusk. Ina and Dick
Guyes were among the last to go. They moved off side by side.
"It'll be the laugh of the county," the man said, "but, egad, I like
And in answer the girl laughed again, a careless, merry laugh. "Yes, I
wonder who she is. A friend of Piers' apparently. Did you see what a
stiff fury he was in?"
"It was a fairly stiff flogging," remarked Guyes. "Ye gods! I wonder how
he stood it."
"Oh, Piers can stand anything," said Ina unconcernedly. "He's as strong
as an ox."
The voices dwindled and died in the distance. The dusk deepened. A sense
of utter forlornness, utter weariness, came upon Avery. The struggle was
over, and she had emerged triumphant; but it did not seem to matter. She
could think only of those awful blows raining down upon the defenceless
shoulders of the boy who had championed her. And, leaning there in the
drizzling wet, she covered her face with her hands and wept.
THE STAR OF HOPE
There came the swift drumming of galloping hoofs, the check and pause of
a leap, and then close at hand the thud of those same hoofs landing on
the near side of the hedge. The rider slithered to the ground, patted the
animal's neck, and turned forthwith towards the hut. Avery heard nought
of his coming. She was crying like a weak, unnerved woman, draggled and
mud-spattered, unspeakably distressed. It was so seldom that she gave way
that perhaps the failure of her self-control was the more absolute when
it came. She had been tried beyond her strength. Body and mind were alike
But when strong arms suddenly encircled her and she found herself drawn
close to a man's breast, quick and instinctive came the impulse to
resist. She drew back from him with a sharp exclamation.
"It's only me," said Piers. "Surely you don't mind me!"
It was naively expressed, so naively that she assayed to laugh in the
midst of her woe. "Oh, how you startled me!" was all she found to say.
"But surely you knew I was coming back!" he said.
The dogged note was in his voice. It embarrassed her subtly. Seeing his
face through the deepening gloom, it seemed to her to be set in stern,
She collected her scattered forces, and gently put his arms away from
her. "It was very kind of you, Mr. Evesham," she said. "But please
remember that I'm not Jeanie!"
He made an impulsive movement of impatience. "I never pretended you
were," he said gruffly. "But you were crying, weren't you? Why were
His tone was almost aggressive. He seemed to be angry, but whether with
her, himself, or a third person, Avery could not determine.
She decided that the situation demanded firmness, and proceeded to treat
"I was very foolish to cry," she said. "I have quite recovered now, so
please forget it! It was very kind of you to take my part a little while
ago--especially as you couldn't have been really in sympathy with me.
Thank you very much!"
Again he made that gesture of imperious impatience. "Oh, don't be so
beastly formal! I can't stand it. If it had been any other man
threatening you, I believe I should have killed him!"
He spoke with concentrated passion, but Avery was resolved not to be
tragic. She was striving to get back to wholesome commonplace.
"What a good thing it wasn't!" she said. "I shouldn't have cared to have
been responsible for that. I had quite enough to answer for as it was. I
hope you will make peace with your grandfather as soon as possible."
Piers laughed a savage laugh. "He broke his whip over me. Do you think
I'm going to make peace with him for that?"
"Oh, Piers!" she exclaimed in distress.
It was out before she could check it--that involuntary use of his
Christian name for which it seemed to her afterwards he had been
deliberately lying in wait.
He did not take immediate advantage of her slip, but she knew that he
noticed it, registered it as it were for future reference.
"No," he said moodily, after a pause. "I don't think the debt is on my
side this time. He had the satisfaction of flogging me with the whole
Hunt looking on." There was sullen resentment in his tone, and then very
suddenly to Avery's amazement he began to laugh. "It was worth it anyway,
so we won't cavil about the price. How much longer are you going to
bottle up that unfortunate brute? Don't you think it's time he went home
to his wife?"
Avery moved away from the shutter against which she had stood so long. "I
couldn't let him be killed," she said. "You won't understand, of course.
But I simply couldn't."
"Why shouldn't I understand?" said Piers. "You threw that in my teeth
before. I don't know why."
His tone baffled her. She could not tell whether he spoke in jest or
earnest. She refrained from answering him, and in the silence that
followed he lifted the shutter away from the hut entrance and looked
inside. Avery's basket of purchases lay at his feet. He picked it up.
"Come along! He's crouched up in the corner, and his eyes look as if he
thought all the devils in hell were after him. Odd as it may seem to you,
I can understand his feelings--and yours. Let's go, and leave him to
escape in peace!"
He took her arm as naturally as though he had a right, and led her
away. Her basket was in his other hand in which he carried his
riding-whip also. He whistled over his shoulder to his horse who
followed him like a dog.
The rain was gradually ceasing, but the clouds had wholly closed upon the
sunset. Avery did not want to walk in silence, but somehow she could not
help it. His hold upon her arm was as light as a feather, but she could
not help that either for the moment. She walked as one beneath a spell.
And before them the clouds slowly parted, and again there shone that
single, magic star, dazzingly pure against the darkness.
"Do you see that?" said Piers suddenly.
She assented almost under her breath.
For a moment she was conscious of the tightening of his hand at her
elbow. "It's the Star of Hope, Avery," he whispered. "Yours--and mine."
He stopped with the words. "Don't say anything!" he said hurriedly.
"Pretend you didn't hear, if--if you wish you hadn't. Goodbye!"
He thrust her basket into her hand, and turned from her.
A moment he stood as if to give her the opportunity of detaining him
if she so desired, and then as she made no sign he went to his horse
who waited a couple of yards away, mounted, and without word or salute
Avery drew a deep, deep breath and walked on. There was a curious
sensation at her heart--almost a trapped feeling--such as she had never
before experienced. Again deeply she drew her breath, as if to rid
herself of some oppression. Life was difficult--life was difficult!
But presently, as she walked, the sense of oppression lessened. She
even faintly smiled to herself. What an odd, passionate youth he was!
It was impossible to be angry with him; better far not to take him
seriously at all.
She recalled old Mrs. Marshall's dour remarks concerning him;--"brought
up by men from his cradle," brought up, moreover, by that terrible old
Sir Beverley on the one hand and an irresponsible French valet on the
other. She caught herself wishing that she had had the upbringing of him,
and smiled again. There was a great deal of sweetness in his nature; of
that she was sure, and because of it she found she could forgive his
waywardness, reflecting that he had probably been mismanaged from his
At this point she reached the high-road, and heard the wheels of a
dog-cart behind her. She recognized the quick, hard trot of the doctor's
cob, and paused at the side of the road to let him pass. But the doctor's
eyes behind their glasses were keen as a hawk's. He recognized her, the
deepening dusk notwithstanding, while he was still some yards from her,
and pulled in his horse to a walk.
"Jump up!" he said. "I'm going your way."
He reached down a hand to her, and Avery mounted beside him. "How lucky
for me!" she said.
"Tired, eh?" he questioned.
She laughed a little. "Oh no, not really. But it's nice to get a lift.
Were you coming to see Jeanie?"
"Yes," said Tudor briefly.
She glanced at him, caught by something in his tone. "Dr. Tudor," she
said, after a moment's hesitation, "are you--altogether--satisfied
Tudor was looking at his horse's ears; for some reason he was holding the
animal in to a walk. "I am quite satisfied with regard to the fracture,"
he said. "She will soon be on her legs again."
His words were deliberately wary. Avery felt a little tremor of
apprehension go through her.
"I'm afraid you don't consider her very strong," she said uneasily.
He did not at once reply. She had a feeling that he was debating within
himself as to the advisability of replying at all. And then quite
suddenly he turned his head and spoke. "Mrs. Denys, you are accustomed to
hearing other people's burdens, so I may as well tell you the truth. I
can't say--because I don't know--if there is anything radically wrong
with that little girl; but she has no stamina whatever. If she had to
contend with anything serious, things would go very badly with her. In
any case--" he paused.
"Yes?" said Avery.
Tudor had become wary again. "Perhaps I have said enough," he said.
"I don't know why you should hesitate to speak quite openly," she
rejoined steadily. "As you say, I am a bearer of burdens. And I don't
think I am easily frightened."
"I am sure you are not," he said. "If I may be allowed to say so, I think
you are essentially a woman to be relied on. If I did not think so, I
certainly should not have spoken as I have done."
"Then will you tell me what it is that you fear for her?" Avery said.
He was looking straight at her through the gloom, but she could not see
his eyes behind their glasses. "Well," he said somewhat brusquely at
length, "to be quite honest, I fear--mind you, I only fear--some trouble,
possibly merely some delicacy, of the lungs. Without a careful
examination I cannot speak definitely. But I think there is little room
for doubt that the tendency is there."
"I see," Avery said. She was silent a moment; then, "You have not
considered it advisable to say this to her father?" she said.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Would it make any difference?"
Avery was silent.
He went on with gathering force. "I went to him once, Mrs. Denys,--once
only--about his wife's health. I told him in plain language that she
needed every care, every consideration, that without these she would
probably lose all her grip on life and become a confirmed invalid with
shattered nerves. I was very explicit. I told him the straight,
unvarnished truth. I didn't like my job, but I felt it must be done. And
he--good man--laughed in my face, begged me to croak no more, and assured
me that he was fully capable of managing all his affairs, including his
wife and family, in his own way. He was touring in Switzerland when the
last child was born."
"Hound!" said Avery, in a low voice.
Tudor uttered a brief laugh, and abruptly quitted the subject. "That
little girl needs very careful watching, Mrs. Denys. She should never be
allowed to overtire herself, mentally or physically. And if she should
develop any untoward symptom, for Heaven's sake don't hesitate to send
for me! I shan't blame you for being too careful."
"I understand," Avery said.
He flicked his horse's ears, and the animal broke into a trot.
When Tudor spoke again, it was upon a totally different matter. His voice
was slightly aggressive as he said: "That Evesham boy seems to be for
ever turning up at the Vicarage now. He's an ill-mannered cub. I wonder
you encourage him."
"Do I encourage him?" Avery asked.
He made a movement of irritation. "He would scarcely be such a constant
visitor if you didn't."
Avery smiled faintly and not very humorously in the darkness. "It is
Jeanie he comes to see," she observed.
"Oh, obviously." Tudor's retort was so ironical as to be almost rude.
She received it in silence, and after a moment he made a half-grudging
"He never showed any interest in Jeanie before, you know. I don't think
she is the sole attraction."
"No?" said Avery.
Her response was perfectly courteous, but so vague that it sounded to
Lennox Tudor as if she were thinking of something else. He clenched his
hand hard upon the handle of his whip.
"People tolerate him for the sake of his position," he said bitterly.
"But to my mind he is insufferable. His father was a scapegrace, as
everyone knows. His mother was a circus girl. And his grandmother--an
Italian--was divorced by Sir Beverley before they had been married
"Oh!" Avery emerged from her vagueness and turned towards him. "Lady
Evesham was Italian, was she? That accounts for his appearance, doesn't
it? That air of the old Roman patrician about him; you must have
"He's handsome enough," admitted Tudor.
"Oh, very handsome," said Avery. "I should say that for that type his
face was almost faultless. I wondered where he got it from. Sir Beverley
is patrician too, but in a different way." She stopped to bow to a tall,
gaunt lady at the side of the road. "That is Miss Whalley. Didn't you see
her? I expect she has just come from the Vicarage. She was going to
discuss the scheme for the Christmas decorations with the Vicar."
"She's good at scheming," growled Tudor.
Avery became silent again. At the Vicarage gates however very suddenly
and sweetly she spoke. "Dr. Tudor, forgive me,--but isn't it rather a
pity to let oneself get intolerant? It does spoil life so."
He looked at her. "There's not much in my life that could spoil," he
She laughed a little, but not derisively. "But there's always something,
isn't there? Have you no sense of humour?"
He pulled up at the Vicarage gates. "I have a sense of the ridiculous,"
he said bluntly. "And I detest it in the person of Miss Whalley."
"I believe you detest a good many people," Avery said, as she descended.
He laughed himself at that. "But I am capable of appreciating the few,"
he said. "Mind the step! And don't trouble to wait for me! I've got to
tie this animal up."
He stopped to do so, and Avery opened the gate and walked slowly
up the path.
At the porch she paused to await him, and turned her face for a moment to
the darkening sky. But the Star of Hope was veiled.
A PAIR OF GLOVES
"Piers! Where the devil are you, Piers?"
There was loud exasperation in the query as Sir Beverley halted in the
doorway of his grandson's bedroom.
There was a moment's pause; then Victor the valet came quickly forward.
"But, _Monsieur Pierre_, he bathe himself," he explained, with beady eyes
running over the gaunt old figure in the entrance.
Sir Beverley growled at him inarticulately and turned away.
A moment later he was beating a rousing tattoo on the bathroom-door.
"Piers! Let me in! Do you hear? Let me in!"
The vigorous splashing within came to a sudden stop. "That you, sir?"
"Of course it's me!" shouted back Sir Beverley, shaking the door
with fierce impatience. "Damn it, let me in! I'll force the door if
"No, don't, sir; don't! I'm coming!"
There came the sound of a splashing leap, and bare feet raced across the
bathroom floor. The door was wrenched from Sir Beverley's grasp, and
flung open. Piers, quite naked, stood back and bowed him in with
Sir Beverley entered and glared at him.
Piers shut the door and took a flying jump back into the bath. The room
was dense with steam.
"You don't mind if I go on with my wash, do you?" he said. "I shall be
late for dinner if I don't."
"What in thunder do you want to boil yourself like this for?" demanded
Piers, seated with his hands clasped round his knees, looked up with the
smile of an infant. "It suits my constitution, sir," he said. "I freeze
myself in the morning and boil myself at night--always. By that means I
am rendered impervious to all atmospheric changes of temperature."
"You're a fool, Piers," said Sir Beverley.
Piers laughed, a gay, indifferent laugh. "That all?" he said lightly.
"No, it isn't all." Sir Beverley's voice had a curious forced ring,
almost as if he were stern in spite of himself. "I came to ask--and I
mean to know--" He broke off. "What the devil have you done to your
Piers' hands unlocked as if at the touch of a spring. He slipped down
backwards into the bath and lay with the water lapping round his black
head. His eyes, black also, and very straight and resolute, looked up at
"Look here, sir; if there's anything you want to know I'll tell you after
dinner. I thought--possibly--you'd come to shake hands, or I shouldn't
have been in such a hurry to let you in. As it is,--"
"Confound you, Piers!" broke in Sir Beverley. "Don't preach to me! Sit up
again! Do you hear? Sit up, and let me look at you!"
But Piers made no movement to comply. "No, sir; thanks all the same. I
don't want to be looked at. Do you mind going now? I'm going to splash."
His tone was deliberately jaunty, but it held undoubted determination.
He kept his eyes unswervingly on his grandfather's face.
Sir Beverley stood his ground, however, his black brows fiercely drawn.
"Get up, Piers!" he ordered, his tone no longer blustering, but curtly
peremptory. "Get up, do you hear?" he added with a gleam of humour. "You
may as well give in at once, you young mule. You'll have to in the end."
"Shall I?" said Piers.
And then suddenly his own sense of humour was kindled again, and he
uttered his boyish laugh.
"We won't quarrel about it, what?" he said, and stretched a wet hand
upwards. "Let's consider the incident closed! There's nothing whatever to
be fashed about."
Sir Beverley's thin lips twitched a little. He pulled at the hand, and
slowly Piers yielded. The water dripped from his shoulders. They gleamed
in the strong light like a piece of faultless statuary, godlike, superbly
strong. But it was upon no splendour of form that Sir Beverley's
attention was focussed.
He spoke after a moment, an odd note of contrition in his voice. "I
didn't mean to mark you like that, boy. It was your own doing of course.
You shouldn't have interfered with me. Still--"
"Oh, rats!" said Piers, beginning to splash. "What's a whacking more or
less when you're used to 'em?"
His dark eyes laughed their impudent dismissal to the old man. It was
very evident that he desired to put an end to the matter, and after a
moment Sir Beverley grunted and withdrew.
He had not asked what he wanted to know; somehow it had not been
possible. He had desired to put his question in a whirl of righteous
indignation, but in some fashion Piers had disarmed him and it had
The very sight of the straight, young figure had quenched the fire of
his wrath. Confound the boy! Did he think he could insult him as he had
insulted him only that afternoon and then twist him round his little
finger? He would have it out with him presently. He would have the truth
and no compromise, if he had to wring it out of him. He would--Again the
vision of those strong young shoulders, with red stripes crossing their
gleaming white surface, rose before Sir Beverley. He swore a strangled
oath. No, he hadn't meant to punish the boy to that extent, his infernal
impudence notwithstanding. It wasn't the first time he had thrashed him,
and, egad, it mightn't be the last. But he hadn't meant to administer
quite such a punishment as that. It was decent of the young rascal not to
sulk after it, though he wasn't altogether sure that he approved of the
light fashion with which Piers had elected to treat the whole episode. It
looked as if he had not wholly taken to heart the lesson Sir Beverley had
intended to convey, and if that were the case--again Sir Beverley swore
deep in his soul--he was fully equal to repeating it, ay, and again
repeating it, until the youngster came to heel. He never had endured any
nonsense from Piers, and, by Gad, he never would!
With these reflections he stumped downstairs, and seated himself on the
black, oaken settle in the hall to await the boy's advent.
The fire blazed cheerily, flinging ruddy gleams upon the shining suits of
armour, roaring up the chimney in a sheet of flame. Sir Beverley sat
facing the stairs, the grim lines hardened to implacability about his
mouth, his eyes fixed in a stare that had in it something brutal. He was
seeing again that slim, straight figure of womanhood standing in his
path, with arms outstretched, and white, determined face upraised,
barring the way.
"Curse her!" he growled. "Curse 'em all!"
The vision grew before his gaze of hate; and now she was no longer
standing between him and a mere, defenceless animal. But there, on his
own stairs, erect and fearless, she withstood him, while behind her,
descending with a laugh on his lips and worship in his eyes, came Piers.
The stone-grey eyes became suffused; for a few, whirling moments of
bewilderment and fury, they saw all things red. Then, gradually, the mist
cleared, and the old man dropped back in a lounging posture with an ugly
sound in his throat that was like a snarl. Doubtless that was her game;
doubtless--doubtless! He had always known that a day would come when
something of the kind would happen. Piers was young, wealthy,
handsome,--a catch for any woman; but--fiercely he swore it--he should
fall a prey to no schemer. When he married--as marry eventually he
must--he should make an alliance of which any man might be proud. The
Evesham blood should mix with none but the highest. In Piers he would see
the father's false step counteracted. He thanked Heaven that he had never
been able to detect in the boy any trace of the piece of cheap prettiness
that had given him birth. He might have been his own son, son of the
woman who had been the rapture and the ruin of his life. There were times
when Sir Beverley almost wished he had been, albeit in the bitterness of
his soul he had never had any love for the child she had borne him.
He had never wanted to love Piers either, but somehow the matter had not
rested with him. From the arms of Victor, Piers had always yearned to his
grandfather, wailing lustily till he found himself held to the hard old
heart that had nought but harshness and intolerance for all the world
beside. He had as it were taken that unwilling heart by storm, claiming
it as his right before he was out of his cradle. And later the attachment
between them had grown and thriven, for Piers had never relinquished the
ground he had won in babyhood. By sheer arrogance of possession he had
held his own till the impetuous ardour of his affection and the utter
fearlessness on which it was founded had made of him the cherished idol
of the heart which had tried to shut him out. Sir Beverley gloried in the
boy though he still flattered himself that no one suspected the fact, and
still believed that his rule was a rule of stern discipline under which
Piers might chafe but against which he would never openly revolt.
He could not remember a single occasion upon which he had not been able
to master Piers, possibly after a fierce struggle but always with
absolute completeness in the end. And there was so much of sweetness in
the youngster's nature that, unruly though he might be, he never nurtured
a grievance. He would fight for his own way to the last of his strength,
but when beaten he always yielded with a good grace. To his grandfather
alone he could submit without any visible wound to his pride. Who could
help glorying in a boy like that?
David the butler, a man of infinite respectability, came softly into the
hall and approached his master.
"Are you ready for dinner, Sir Beverley?"
"No," snapped Sir Beverley. "Can't you see Master Piers isn't here?"
"Very good, sir," murmured David, and retired decorously, fading into
the background without the faintest sound, while Caesar the Dalmatian
who had entered with him lay sedately down in well-bred silence at Sir
There fell a pause, while Sir Beverley's eyes returned to the wide oak
staircase, watching it ceaselessly, with vulture-like intentness. Then
after the passage of minutes, there came the sound of feet that literally
scampered along the corridor above, and in a moment, with meteor-like
suddenness, Piers flashed into view.
He seemed to descend the stairs without touching them, and was greeted
at the foot by Caesar, who leapt to meet him with wide-mouthed delight.
"Hullo, you scamp, hullo!" laughed Piers, responding to the dog's
caresses with a careless hand. "Out of the way with you! I'm late."
"As usual," observed Sir Beverley, leaning slowly forward, still with his
eyes unblinkingly fixed upon his grandson's merry face. "Come here, boy!"
Piers came to him unabashed.
Sir Beverley got heavily to his feet and took him by the shoulder. "Who
is that woman, Piers?" he said, regarding him piercingly.
Piers' forehead was instantly drawn by a quick frown. He stood passive,
but there was a suggestion of resistance about him notwithstanding.
"Whom do you mean, sir?" he said. "What woman?"
"You know very well who I mean," snarled Sir Beverley. "Come, I'll have
none of your damn' nonsense. Never have stood it and never will. Who was
that white-faced cat that got in my way this afternoon and helped you to
a thrashing? Eh, Piers? Who was she, I say? Who was she?"
Piers made a sharp involuntary movement of the hands, and as swiftly
restrained himself. He looked his grandfather full in the face.
"Ask me after dinner, sir," he said, speaking with something of an
effort, "and I'll tell you all I know."
"You'll tell me now!" declared Sir Beverley, shaking the shoulder he
gripped with savage impatience.
But Piers put up a quick hand and stopped him. "No, sir, not now. Come
and dine first! I've no mind to go dinnerless to bed. Come, sir, don't
badger me!" He smiled suddenly and very winningly into the stern grey
eyes. "There's all the evening before us, and I shan't shirk."
He drew the bony old hand away from his shoulder, and pulled it
through his arm.
"I suppose you think you're irresistible," grumbled Sir Beverley. "I
don't know why I put up with you; on my soul, I don't, you impudent
Piers laughed. "Let's do one thing at a time anyway, and I'm ravenous for
dinner. So must you be. Come along! Let's trot in and have it!"
He had his way. Sir Beverley went with him, though half against his will.
They entered the dining-room still linked together, and a woman's face
smiled down upon them from a picture-frame on the wall with a smile
half-sad, half-mocking--such a smile as even at that moment curved Piers'
lips, belying the reckless gaiety of his eyes.
They dined in complete amicability. Piers had plenty to say at all times,
and he showed himself completely at his ease. He was the only person in
the world who ever was so in Sir Beverley's presence. He even now and
then succeeded in provoking a sardonic laugh from his grandfather. His
own laughter was boyishly spontaneous.
But at the end of the meal, when wine was placed upon the table, he
suddenly ceased his careless chatter, and leaned forward with his dark
eyes full upon Sir Beverley's face.
"Now, sir, you want to know the name of the girl who wasn't afraid of you
this afternoon, I mentioned her to you once before. Her name is Avery
Denys. She is a widow; and she calls herself the mother's help at the
He gave his information with absolute steadiness. His voice was
wholly free from emotion of any sort, but it rang a trifle stern, and
his mouth--that sensitive, clean-cut mouth of his--had the grimness
of an iron resolution about it. Sir Beverley looked at him frowningly
over his wine.
"The woman who threw a pail of water over you once, eh?" he said, after
a moment. "I suppose she has become a very special friend in
"I doubt if she would call herself so," said Piers.
The old man's mouth took a bitter, downward curve. "You see, you're
rather young," he observed.
Piers' eyes fell away from his abruptly. "Yes, I know," he said, in a
tone that seemed to hide more than it expressed.
Sir Beverley continued to stare at him, but he did not lift his eyes
again. They were fixed steadily upon the ruby light that shone in the
wine in front of him.
The silence lengthened and became oppressive. Sir Beverley still watched
Piers' intent face. His lips moved soundlessly, while behind his silence
the storm of his wrath gathered.
What did the boy mean by treating him like this? Did he think he would
endure to be set aside thus deliberately as one whose words had no
weight? Did he think--confound him!--did he think that he had reached
A sudden oath escaped him; he banged a furious fist upon the table. He
would make himself heard at least.
In the same instant quite unexpectedly Piers leaped to his feet with
uplifted hand. "What's that?"
"What do you mean?" thundered Sir Beverley.
Piers' hand descended, gripping his arm. "That, sir, that! Don't
Voice and gesture compelled. Sir Beverley stopped dead, arrested in full
career by his grandson's insistence, and listened with pent breath, as
Piers was listening.
For a moment or two he heard nothing, then, close outside the window,
there arose the sound of children's voices. They were singing a hymn, but
not in the customary untuneful yell of the village school. The voices
were clear and sweet and true, and the words came distinct and pure to
the two men standing at the table.
"He comes, the prisoners to release
In Satan's bondage held,
The gates of brass before Him burst,
The iron fetters yield."
Piers' hand tightened all-unconsciously upon Sir Beverley's arm. His face
was very white. In his eyes there shone a curious hunger--such a look as
might have gleamed in the eyes of the prisoners behind the gates.
Again came the words, triumphantly repeated:
"The gates of brass before Him burst,
The iron fetters yield."
And an odd sound that was almost a sob broke from Piers.
Sir Beverley looked at him sharply; but in the same moment he drew
back, relinquishing his hold, and stepped lightly across the room to
There was a decided pause before the next verse. Piers stood with his
face to the blind, making no movement. At last, tentatively, like the
song of a very shy angel, a single boy's voice took up the melody.
"He comes, the broken heart to bind,
The bleeding soul to cure,
And with the treasures of His grace
To bless the humble poor."
Sir Beverley sat down again at the table. Half mechanically his eyes
turned to the pictured face on the wall, the face that smiled so
enigmatically. Not once in a year did his eyes turn that way. To-night he
regarded it with half-ironical interest. He had no pity to spare for
broken hearts. He did not believe in them. No man could have endured more
than he had had to endure. He had been dragged through hell itself. But
it had hardened, not broken his heart. Save in one respect he knew that
he could never be made to suffer any more. Save for that charred
remnant, there was nothing left for the flame to consume.
And so through all the bitter years he had borne that smiling face upon
his wall, cynically indifferent to the beauty which had been the rapture
and the agony of his life,--a man released from the place of his torment
because his capacity for suffering was almost gone.
Again there were two children's voices singing, and that of the shy angel
gathered confidence. With a species of scoffing humour Sir Beverley's
stony eyes travelled to the window. They rested upon his boy standing
there with bent head--a mute, waiting figure with a curious touch of
pathos in its pose. Sir Beverley's sudden frown drew his forehead. What
ailed the youngster? Why did he stand as if the whole world were resting
on his shoulders?
He made an impatient movement. "For Heaven's sake," he said testily,
"tell those squalling children to go!"
Piers did not stir. "In a moment, sir!" he said.
And so, clear through the night air, the last verse came unhindered
to an end.
"Our glad hosannas, Prince of peace,
Thy welcome shall proclaim;
And Heaven's eternal arches ring
With Thy beloved Name.
And Heaven's eternal arches ring
With Thy beloved Name."
Piers threw up his head with a sudden, spasmodic movement as of a
drowning man. And then without pause he snatched up the blind and flung
the window wide.
"Hi, you kiddies! Where are you? Don't run away! Gracie, is that you?"
There was a brief silence, then chirpily came the answer. "Pat did the
solo; but he's gone. He would have gone sooner--when we saw your shadow
on the blind--only I held him so that he couldn't."
Piers broke into a laugh. "Well, come in now you are here! You're not
afraid anyhow, what?"
"Oh no!" laughed Gracie. "I'm not a bit afraid. But I'm supposed to be in
bed; and if Father finds out I'm not--" She paused with her customary
sense of the dramatic.
"Well?" laughed Piers. "What'll happen then?"
"I shall cop it," said Gracie elegantly.
Nevertheless she came to him, and stood on the grass outside the window.
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