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The Bars of Iron by Ethel May Dell

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The Bars of Iron

By Ethel M. Dell



"He hath broken the gates of brass:
And smitten the bars of iron in sunder."
Psalm cvii., 16.

"I saw heaven opened."
Revelation xix., II.






































































The Bars of Iron


"Fight? I'll fight you with pleasure, but I shall probably kill you if I
do. Do you want to be killed?" Brief and contemptuous the question fell.
The speaker was a mere lad. He could not have been more than nineteen.
But he held himself with the superb British assurance that has its root
in the British public school and which, once planted, in certain soils is
wholly ineradicable.

The man he faced was considerably his superior in height and build. He
also was British, but he had none of the other's careless ease of
bearing. He stood like an angry bull, with glaring, bloodshot eyes.

He swore a terrific oath in answer to the scornful enquiry. "I'll break
every bone in your body!" he vowed. "You little, sneering bantam, I'll
smash your face in! I'll thrash you to a pulp!"

The other threw up his head and laughed. He was sublimely unafraid. But
his dark eyes shone red as he flung back the challenge. "All right, you
drunken bully! Try!" he said.

They stood in the garish light of a Queensland bar, surrounded by an
eager, gaping crowd of farmers, boundary-riders, sheep-shearers, who had
come down to this township on the coast on business or pleasure at the
end of the shearing season.

None of them knew how the young Englishman came to be among them. He
seemed to have entered the drinking-saloon without any very definite
object in view, unless he had been spurred thither by a spirit of
adventure. And having entered, a boyish interest in the motley crowd,
which was evidently new to him, had induced him to remain. He had sat in
a corner, keenly observant but wholly unobtrusive, for the greater part
of an hour, till in fact the attention of the great bully now confronting
him had by some ill-chance been turned in his direction.

The man was three parts drunk, and for some reason, not very
comprehensible, he had chosen to resent the presence of this
clean-limbed, clean-featured English lad. Possibly he recognized in him a
type which for its very cleanness he abhorred. Possibly his sodden brain
was stirred by an envy which the Colonials round him were powerless to
excite. For he also was British-born. And he still bore traces, albeit
they were not very apparent at that moment, of the breed from which he
had sprung.

Whatever the cause of his animosity, he had given it full and ready vent.
A few coarse expressions aimed in the direction of the young stranger had
done their work. The boy had risen to go, with disgust written openly
upon his face, and instantly the action had been seized upon by the older
man as a cause for offence.

He had not found his victim slow to respond. In fact his challenge had
been flung back with an alacrity that had somewhat astonished the
bystanders and rendered interference a matter of some difficulty.

But one of them did at this juncture make his voice heard in a word of
admonition to the half-tipsy aggressor.

"You had better mind what you do, Samson. There will be a row if that
young chap gets hurt."

"Yes, he'd better get out of it," said one or two.

But the young chap in question turned on them with a flash of his white
teeth. "Don't you worry yourselves!" he said. "If he wants to
fight--let him!"

They muttered uneasily in answer. It was plain that Samson's
bull-strength was no allegory to them. But the boy's confidence
remained quite unimpaired. He faced his adversary with the lust of
battle in his eyes.

"Come on, you slacker!" he said. "I like a good fight. Don't keep
me waiting!"

The bystanders began to laugh, and the man they called Samson turned
purple with rage. He flung round furiously. "There's a yard at the back,"
he cried. "We'll settle it there. I'll teach you to use your spurs on me,
my young game-cock!"

"Come on then!" said the stranger. "P'r'aps I shall teach you something
too! You'll probably be killed, as I said before; but if you'll take the
risk I have no objection."

Again the onlookers raised a laugh. They pressed round to see the face of
the English boy who was so supremely unafraid. It was a very handsome
face, but it was not wholly English. The eyes were too dark and too
passionate, the straight brows too black, the features too finely
regular. The mouth was mobile, and wayward as a woman's, but the chin
might have been modelled in stone--a fighting chin, aggressive,
indomitable. There was something of the ancient Roman about the whole
cast of his face which, combined with that high British bearing, made him
undeniably remarkable. Those who looked at him once generally turned to
look again.

One of the spectators--a burly Australian farmer--pushed forward from the
throng and touched his arm. "Look here, my son!" he said in an undertone.
"You've no business here, and no call to fight whatever. Clear out of
it--quick! Savvy? I'll cover your tracks."

The boy drew himself up with a haughty movement. Plainly for the moment
he resented the advice. But the next very suddenly he smiled.

"Thanks! Don't trouble! I can hold my own and a bit over. There's no
great difficulty in downing a drunken brute like that."

"Don't you be too cock-sure!" the farmer warned him. "He's a heavy
weight, and he's licked bigger men than you when he's been in just the
state he's in now."

But the English boy only laughed, and turned to follow his adversary.

Every man present pressed after him. A well-sustained fight, though an
event of no uncommon occurrence, was a form of entertainment that never
failed to attract. They crowded out to the back premises in a body,
unhindered by any in authority.

A dingy backyard behind the house furnished ground for the fray. Here the
spectators gathered in a ring around an arc of light thrown by a
stable-lamp over the door, and the man they called Samson proceeded with
savage energy to strip to the waist.

The young stranger's face grew a shade more disdainful as he noted the
action. He himself removed coat, waistcoat, and collar, all of which
he handed to the farmer who had offered to assist him in making good
his escape.

"Just look after these for a minute!" he said.

"You're a cool hand," said the other man admiringly. "I'll see you don't
get bullied anyhow."

The young man nodded his thanks. He looked down at his hands and slowly
clenched and opened them again.

"Oh, I shan't be bullied," he said, in a tone of grim conviction.

And then the fight began.

It was obvious from the outset that it could not be a very prolonged one.
Samson attacked with furious zest. He evidently expected to find his
opponent very speedily at his mercy, and he made no attempt to husband
his strength. But his blows went wide. The English lad avoided them with
an agility that kept him practically unscathed. Had he been a hard
hitter, he might have got in several blows himself, but he only landed
one or two. His face was set and white as a marble mask in which only the
eyes lived--eyes that watched with darting intensity for the chance to
close. And when that chance came he took it so suddenly and so
unexpectedly that not one of the hard-breathing, silent crowd around him
saw exactly how he gained his hold. One moment he was avoiding a
smashing, right-handed blow; the next he had his adversary locked in a
grip of iron, the while he bent and strained for the mastery.

From then onwards an element that was terrible became apparent in the
conflict. From a simple fisticuff it developed into a deadly struggle
between skilled strength and strength that was merely brutal. Silently,
with heaving, convulsive movements, the two struggling figures swayed to
and fro. One of Samson's arms was imprisoned in that unyielding clutch.
The other rained blows upon his adversary's head and shoulders that
produced no further effect than if they had been bestowed upon cast-iron.

The grip of the boy's arms only grew tighter and tighter with snake-like
force, while a dreadful smile came into the young face and became stamped
there, engraved in rigid lines. His lower lip was caught between his
teeth, and a thin stream of blood ran from it over the smooth, clean-cut
chin. It was the only sign he gave that he was putting forth the whole of
his strength.

A murmur of surprise that had in it a note of uneasiness began to run
through the ring of onlookers. They had seen many a fight before, but
never a fight like this. Samson's face had gone from red to purple. His
eyes had begun to start. Quite plainly he also was taken by surprise.
Desperately, with a streaming forehead, he changed his tactics. He had
no skill. Until that day he had relied upon superior strength and weight
to bring him victorious through every casual fray; and it had never
before failed him. But that merciless, suffocating hold compelled him to
abandon offensive measures to effect his escape. He stopped his wild and
futile hammering and with his one free hand he grasped the back of his
opponent's neck.

The move was practically inevitable, but its effect was such as only one
anticipated. That one was his adversary, who slowly bent under his weight
as though overcome thereby, shifting his grip lower and lower till it
almost looked as if he were about to collapse altogether. But just as the
breaking-point seemed to be reached there came a change. He gathered
himself together and with gigantic exertion began to straighten his bent
muscles. Slowly but irresistibly he heaved his enemy upwards. There came
a moment of desperate, confused struggle; and then, as the man lost his
balance at last, he relaxed his grip quite suddenly, flinging him
headlong over his shoulder.

It was a clean throw, contrived with masterly assurance, the result of
deliberate and trained calculation. The bully pitched upon his head on
the rough stones of the yard, and turned a complete somersault with the
violence of his fall.

A shout of amazement went up from the spectators. This end of the
struggle was totally unexpected.

The successful combatant remained standing with the sweat pouring from
his face and the blood still running down his chin. He stretched out his
arms with a slow, mechanical movement as if to test the condition of his
muscles after the tremendous strain he had put upon them. Then, still as
it were mechanically, he felt the torn collar-band of his shirt, with
speculative fingers. Finally he whizzed round on the heels and stared at
the huddled form of his fallen foe.

A shabby little man with thick, sandy eyebrows had gone to his
assistance, but he lay quite motionless in a twisted, ungainly attitude.
The flare of the lamp was reflected in his glassy, upturned eyes. Dumbly
his conqueror stood staring down at him. He seemed to stand above them
all in that his moment of dreadful victory.

He spoke at length, and through his voice there ran a curious tremor as
of a man a little giddy, a little dazed by immense and appalling height.

"I thought I could do it!" he said. "I--thought I could!"

It was his moment of triumph, of irresistible elation. The devil in him
had fought--and conquered.

It swayed him--and passed. He was left white to the lips and suddenly,
terribly, afraid.

"What have I done to him?" he asked, and the tremor was gone from his
voice; it was level, dead level. "I haven't killed him really, have I?"

No one answered him. They were crowding round the fallen man, stooping
over him with awe-struck whispering, straightening the crumpled, inert
limbs, trying to place the heavy frame in a natural posture.

The boy pressed forward to look, but abruptly his supporter caught him by
the shoulder and pulled him back.

"No, no!" he said in a sharp undertone. "You're no good here. Get out of
it! Put on your clothes and--go!"

He spoke urgently. The boy stared at him, suffering the compelling hand.
All the fight had gone completely out of him. He was passive with the
paralysis of a great horror.

The farmer helped him into his clothes, and himself removed the
blood-stain from the lad's dazed face. "Don't be a fool!" he urged. "Pull
yourself together and clear out! This thing was an accident. I'll
engineer it."

"Accident!" The boy straightened himself sharply with the movement of
one brought roughly to his senses. "I suppose the throw broke his neck,"
he said. "But it was no accident. I did it on purpose. I told him I
should probably kill him, but he would have it." He turned and squarely
faced the other. "I don't know what I ought to do," he said, speaking
more collectedly. "But I'm certainly not going to bolt."

The farmer nodded with brief comprehension. He had the steady eyes of a
man accustomed to the wide spaces of the earth. "That's all right," he
said, and took him firmly by the arm. "You come with me. My name is
Crowther. We'll have a talk outside. There's more room there. You've got
to listen to reason. Come!"

He almost dragged the boy away with the words. No one intercepted or
spoke a word to delay them. Together they passed back through the empty
drinking-saloon--the boy with his colourless face and set lips, the man
with his resolute, far-seeing eyes--and so into the dim roadway beyond.

They left the lights of the reeking bar behind. The spacious night closed
in upon them.





It was certainly not Caesar's fault. Caesar was as well-meaning a
Dalmatian as ever scampered in the wake of a cantering horse. And if Mike
in his headlong Irish fashion chose to regard the scamper as a gross
personal insult, that was surely not a matter for which he could
reasonably be held responsible. And yet it was upon the luckless Caesar
that the wrath of the gods descended as a consequence of Mike's
wrong-headed deductions.

It began with a rush and a snarl from the Vicarage gate and it had
developed into a set and deadly battle almost before either of the
combatants had fully realized the other.

The rider drew rein, yelling furiously; but his yells were about as
effectual as the wail of an infant. Neither animal was so much as aware
of his existence in those moments of delirious warfare. They were locked
already in that silent, swaying grip which every fighting dog with any
knowledge of the great game seeks to establish, to break which mere
humans may put forth their utmost strength in vain.

The struggle was a desperate and a bloody one, and it speedily became
apparent to the rider that he would have to dismount if he intended to
put an end to it.

Fiercely he flung himself off his horse and threw the reins over the
Vicarage gate-post. Then, riding-crop in hand, he approached the swaying
fighting animals. It was like a ghastly wrestling-match. Both were on
their feet, struggling to and fro, each with jaws hard gripped upon the
other's neck, each silent save for his spasmodic efforts to breathe.

"Stop it, damn you!" shouted the rider, slashing at them with the zeal of
unrestrained fury. "Caesar, you infernal brute, stop it, will you? I'll
kill you if you don't!"

But Caesar was deaf to all threats and quite unconscious of the fact that
his master and not his enemy was responsible for the flail-like strokes
of the whirling lash. They shifted from beneath it instinctively, but
they fought deliriously on.

And at that the man with the whip completely lost his self-control. He
set to work to thrash and thrash the fighting animals till one or other
of them--or himself--should become exhausted.

It developed into a horrible competition organized and conducted by the
man's blind fury, and in what fashion it would have ended it would be
hard to say. But, luckily for all three, there came at length an
interruption. Someone--a woman--came swiftly out of the Vicarage garden
carrying a bedroom jug. She advanced without a pause upon the seething,
infuriated group.

"It's no good beating them," she said, in a voice which, though somewhat
hurried, was one of clear command. "Get out of the way, and be ready to
catch your dog when they come apart!"

The man glanced round for an instant, his face white with passion. "I'll
kill the brutes!" he declared.

"Indeed you won't," she returned promptly. "Stand away now or you will be

As she spoke she raised her jug above the struggling animals. Her face
also shone white in the wintry dusk, but her actions denoted unwavering

"Now!" she said; and, since he would not move, she flung the icy water
without compunction over the dogs and him also.

"Damnation!" he cried violently. But she broke in upon him. "Quick!
Quick! Now's the time! Grab your dog! I'll catch Mike!"

The urgency of the order compelled compliance. Almost in spite of himself
he stooped to obey. And so it came to pass that five seconds later,
Caesar was being mercilessly thrashed by his enraged master, while the
real culprit was being dragged, cursing breathlessly, from the scene.

It was a brutal thrashing and wholly undeserved. Caesar, awaking to the
horror of it, howled his anguish; but no amount of protest on his part
made the smallest impression upon the wielder of the whip. It continued
to descend upon his writhing body with crashing force till he rolled upon
the ground in agony.

Even then the punishment would not have ceased, but for a second
interruption. It was the woman from the Vicarage garden again; but she
burst upon the scene this time with something of the effect of an
avalanche. She literally whirled between the man and his victim. She
caught his upraised arm.

"Oh, you brute!" she cried. "You brute!"

He stiffened in her hold. They stood face to face. Caesar crept whining
and shivering to the side of the road.

Slowly the man's arm fell to his side, still caught in that quivering
grasp. He spoke in a voice that struggled boyishly between resentment and
shame. "The dog's my own."

Her hold relaxed. "Even a dog has his rights," she said. "Give me that
whip, please!"

He looked at her oddly in the growing darkness. She was trembling as she
stood, but she held her ground.

"Please!" she repeated with resolution.

With an abrupt movement he put the weapon into her hand. "Are you going
to give me a taste?" he asked.

She uttered a queer little gasping laugh. "No. I--I'm not that sort.
But--it's horrible to see a man lose control of himself. And to thrash a
dog--like that!"

She turned sharply from him and went to the Dalmatian who crouched
quaking on the path. He wagged an ingratiating tail at her approach. It
was evident that in her hand the whip had no terrors for him. He crept
fawning to her feet.

She stooped over him, fondling his head. "Oh, poor boy! Poor boy!" she

The dog's master came and stood beside her. "He'll be all right," he
said, in a tone of half-surly apology.

"I'm afraid Mike has bitten him," she said. "See!" displaying a long,
dark streak on Caesar's neck.

"He'll be all right," repeated Caesar's master. "I hope your dog is none
the worse."

"No, I don't think so," she said. "But don't you think we ought to
bathe this?"

"I'll take him home," he said. "They'll see to him at the stables."

She stood up, a slim, erect figure, the whip still firmly grasped in her
hand. "You won't thrash him any more, will you?" she said.

He gave a short laugh. "No, you have cooled me down quite effectually.
I'm much obliged to you for interfering. And I'm sorry I used language,
but as the circumstances were exceptional, I hope you will make

His tone was boyish still, but all the resentment had gone out of it.
There was a touch of arrogance in his bearing which was obviously natural
to him, but his apology was none the less sincere.

The slim figure on the path made a slight movement of dismay. "But you
must be drenched to the skin!" she said. "I was forgetting. Won't you
come in and get dry?"

He hunched his shoulders expressively. "No, thanks. It was my own fault,
as you kindly omit to mention. I must be getting back to the Abbey. My
grandfather is expecting me. He fidgets if I'm late."

He raised a hand to his cap, and would have turned away, but she made a
swift gesture of surprise, which arrested him. "Oh, you are young Mr.
Evesham!--I beg your pardon--you are Mr. Evesham! I thought I must have
seen you before!"

He stopped with a laugh. "I am commonly called 'Master Piers' in this
neighbourhood. They won't let me grow up. Rather a shame, what? I'm
nearly twenty-five, and the head-keeper still refers to me in private as
'that dratted boy.'"

She laughed for the first time. Possibly he had angled for that laugh.
"Yes, it is a shame!" she agreed. "But then Sir Beverley is rather old,
isn't he? No doubt it's the comparison that does it."

"He isn't old," said Piers Evesham in sharp contradiction. "He's only
seventy-four. That's not old for an Evesham. He'll go for another twenty
years. There's a saying in our family that if we don't die violently, we
never die at all." He pulled himself up abruptly. "I've given you my name
and history. Won't you tell me yours?"

She hesitated momentarily. "I am only the mother's help at the Vicarage,"
she said then.

"By Jove! I don't envy you." He looked at her with frank interest
notwithstanding. "I suppose you do it for a living," he remarked.
"Personally, I'd sooner sweep a crossing than live in the same house with
that mouthing parson."

"Hush!" she said, but her lips smiled as she said it, a small smile that
would not be denied. "I must go in now. Here you are!" She gave him back
his whip. "Good-bye! Get home quick--and change!"

He turned half-reluctantly; then paused. "You might tell me your name
anyway," he said.

She had begun to move away, light-footed, swift as a bird. She
also paused.

"My name is Denys," she said.

He put his hand to his cap again. "Miss Denys?"

"No. Mrs. Denys. Good-bye!"

She was gone. He heard the light feet running up the wet gravel drive and
then the quick opening of a door. It closed again immediately, with
decision, and he stood alone in the wintry dusk.

Caesar crept to him and grovelled abjectly in the mud. The young man
stood motionless, staring at the Vicarage gates, a slight frown between
his brows. He was not tall, but he had the free pose of an athlete and
the bearing of a prince.

Suddenly he glanced down at his cringing companion and broke into a
laugh. "Get up, Caesar, you fool! And think yourself lucky that you've
got any sound bones left! You'd have been reduced to a jelly by this time
if I'd had my way."

He bent with careless good-nature, and patted the miscreant; then turned
towards his horse.

"Poor old Pompey! A shame to keep you standing! All that brute's fault."
He swung himself into the saddle. "By Jove, though, she's got some
pluck!" he said. "I like a woman with pluck!"

He touched his animal with the spur, and in a moment they were speeding
through the gathering dark at a brisk canter. Pompey was as anxious to
get home as was his master, and he needed no second urging. He scarcely
waited to get within the gates of the Park before he gathered himself
together and went like the wind. His rider lay forward in the saddle
and yelled encouragement like a wild Indian. Caesar raced behind them
like a hare.

The mad trio went like a flash past old Marshall the head-keeper who
stood gun on shoulder at the gate of his lodge and looked after them with
stern disapproval.

"Drat the boy! What's he want to ride hell-for-leather like that for?" he
grumbled. "He'll go and kill himself one of these days as his father did
before him."

It was just twenty-five years since Piers' father had been carried dead
into Marshall's cottage, and Marshall had stumped up the long avenue to
bear the news to Sir Beverley. Piers was about the same age now as that
other Piers had been, and Marshall had no mind to take part in a similar
tragedy. It had been a bitter task, that of telling Sir Beverley that his
only son was dead; but to have borne him ill tidings of his grandson
would have been infinitely harder. For Sir Beverley had never loved his
son through the whole of his brief, tempestuous life; but his grandson
was the very core of his existence, as everyone knew, despite his
strenuous efforts to disguise the fact.

No, emphatically Marshall had not the faintest desire to have to inform
the old man that harm had befallen Master Piers, and his frown deepened
as he trudged up his little garden and heard the yelling voice and
galloping hoofs grow faint in the distance.

"The boy is madder even than his father was," he muttered darkly. "Bad
stock! Bad stock!"

He shook his head over the words, and went within. He was the only man
left on the estate who could remember the beautiful young Italian bride
whom Sir Beverley had once upon a time brought to reign there. It had
been a short, short reign, and no one spoke of it now,--least of all the
old, bent man who ruled like a feudal lord at Rodding Abbey, and of whom
even the redoubtable Marshall himself stood in awe.

But Marshall remembered her well, and it was upon that dazzling memory
that his thoughts dwelt when he gave utterance to his mysterious verdict.
For was not Master Piers the living image of her? Had he not the same
imperial bearing and regal turn of the head? Did not the Evesham blood
run the hotter in his veins for that passionate Southern strain that
mingled with it?

Marshall sometimes wondered how Sir Beverley with his harsh intolerance
brooked the living likeness of the boy to the woman in whose bitter
memory he hated all women. It was scarcely possible that he blinded
himself to it. It was too vividly apparent for that. "A perpetual
eyesore," Marshall termed it in private. But then there was no accounting
for the ways of folk in high places. Marshall did not pretend to
understand them. He was, in his own grumpy fashion, sincerely attached to
his master, and he never presumed to criticize his doings. He only
wondered at them.

As for Master Piers, he had been an unmitigated nuisance to him
personally ever since he had learned to walk alone. Marshall had always
disapproved of him, and he hated Victor, the French valet, who had
brought him up from his cradle. Yet deep in his surly old heart there
lurked a certain grudging affection for him notwithstanding. The boy
had a winning way with him, and but for his hatred of Victor, who was
soft and womanish, but extremely tenacious, Marshall would have liked
to have had a hand in his upbringing. As it was, he could only look on
from afar and condemn the vagaries of "that dratted boy," prophesying
disaster whenever he saw him and hoping that Sir Beverley might not
live to see it. Certainly it seemed as if Piers bore a charmed life,
for, like his father before him, he risked it practically every day.
With sublime self-confidence, he laughed at caution, ever choosing the
shortest cut, whatever it might entail; and it was remarkably seldom
that he came to grief.

As he clattered into the stable-yard on that dark November evening,
his face was sparkling with excitement as though he had drunk strong
wine. The animal he rode was covered with foam, and danced a springy
war-dance on the stones. Caesar trotted in behind them with tail erect
and a large smile of satisfaction on his spotty face despite the gory
streak upon his neck.

"Confound it! I'm late!" said Piers, throwing his leg over his horse's
neck. "It's all that brute's fault. Look at him grinning! Better wash him
one of you! He can't come in in that state." He slipped to the ground and
stamped his sodden feet. "I'm not much better off myself. What a beastly
night, to be sure!"

"Yes, you're wet, sir!" remarked the groom at Pompey's head. "Had a
tumble, sir?"

"No. Had a jug of water thrown over me," laughed Piers. "Caesar will tell
you all about it. He's been sniggering all the way home." He snapped his
fingers in the dog's complacent face. "By Jove!" he said to him, "I
couldn't grin like that if I'd had the thrashing you've had. And I
couldn't kiss the hand that did it either. You're a gentleman, Caesar,
and I humbly apologize. Look after him, Phipps! He's been a bit mauled.
Good-night! Good-night, Pompey lad! You've carried me well." He patted
the horse's foam-flecked neck, and turned away.

As he left the stable-yard, he was whistling light-heartedly, and Phipps
glanced at a colleague with a slight flicker of one eyelid.

"Wonder who chucked that jug of water!" he said.



In the huge, oak-panelled hall of the Abbey, Sir Beverley Evesham
sat alone.

A splendid fire of logs blazed before him on the open hearth, and the
light from a great chandelier beat mercilessly down upon him. His hair
was thick still and silvery white. He had the shoulders of a strong man,
albeit they were slightly bowed. His face, clean-shaven, aristocratic,
was the colour of old ivory. The thin lips were quite bloodless. They had
a downward, bitter curve, as though they often sneered at life. The eyes
were keen as a bird's, stone-grey under overhanging black brows.

He held a newspaper in one bony hand, but he was not apparently reading,
for his eyes were fixed. The shining suits of armour standing like
sentinels on each side of the fireplace were not more rigid than he.

There came a slight sound from the other end of the hall, and instantly
and very sharply Sir Beverley turned his head.


Cheerily Piers' voice made answer. He shut the door behind him and came
forward as he spoke. "Here I am, sir! I'm sorry I'm late. You shouldn't
have waited. You never ought to wait. I'm never in at the right time."

"Confound you, why aren't you then?" burst forth Sir Beverley. "It's easy
to say you're sorry, isn't it?"

"Not always," said Piers.

He came to the old man, bent down over him, slid a boyish arm around
the bent shoulders. "Don't be waxy!" he coaxed. "I couldn't help it
this time."

"Get away, do!" said Sir Beverley, jerking himself irritably from him. "I
detest being pawed about, as you very well know. In Heaven's name, have
your tea, if you want it! I shan't touch any. It's past my time."

"Oh, rot!" said Piers. "If you don't, I shan't."

"Yes, you will." Sir Beverley pointed an imperious hand towards a table
on the other side of the fire. "Go and get it and don't be a fool!"

"I'm not a fool," said Piers.

"Yes, you are--a damn fool!" Sir Beverley returned to his newspaper with
the words. "And you'll never be anything else!" he growled into the
silence that succeeded them.

Piers clattered the tea-things and said nothing. There was no resentment
visible upon his sensitive, olive face, however. He looked perfectly
contented. He turned round after a few seconds with a cup of steaming tea
in his hand. He crossed the hearth and set it on the table at Sir
Beverley's elbow.

"That's just as you like it, sir," he urged. "Have it--just to
please me!"

"Take it away!" said Sir Beverley, without raising his eyes.

"It's only ten minutes late after all," said Piers, with all meekness. "I
wish you hadn't waited, though it was jolly decent of you. You weren't
anxious of course? You know I always turn up some time."

"Anxious!" echoed Sir Beverley. "About a cub like you! You flatter
yourself, my good Piers."

Piers laughed a little and stooped over the blaze. Sir Beverley read on
for a few moments, then very suddenly and not without violence crumpled
his paper and flung it on the ground.

"Of all the infernal, ridiculous twaddle!" he exclaimed. "Now what the
devil have you done to yourself? Been taking a water-jump?"

Piers turned round. "No, sir. It's nothing. I shouldn't have come in in
this state, only it was late, and I thought I'd better report myself."

"Nothing!" repeated Sir Beverley. "Why, you're drenched to the skin! Go
and change! Go and change! Don't stop to argue! Do you hear me, sir? Go
and change!"

He shouted the last words, and Piers flung round on his heel with a hint
of impatience.

"And behave yourself!" Sir Beverley threw after him. "If you think I'll
stand any impertinence from you, you were never more mistaken in your
life. Be off with you, you cheeky young hound! Don't let me see you again
till you're fit to be seen!"

Piers departed without a backward look. His lips were slightly compressed
as he went up the stairs, but before he reached his own room they were
softly whistling.

Victor, the valet, who was busily employed in laying out his evening
clothes, received him with hands upraised in horror.

_"Ah, mais, Monsieur Pierre_, how you are wet!"

"Yes, I want a bath," said Piers. "Get it quick! I must be down again in
ten minutes. So scurry, Victor, my lad!"

Victor was a cheery little rotundity of five-and-fifty. He had had the
care of Piers ever since the first fortnight of that young man's
existence, and he worshipped him with a whole-hearted devotion that was
in its way sublime. In his eyes Piers could do no wrong. He was in fact
dearer to him than his own flesh and blood.

He prepared the bath with deft celerity, and hastened back to assist in
removing his young master's boots. He exclaimed dramatically upon their
soaked condition, but Piers was in too great a hurry to give any details
regarding the cause of his plight. He whirled into the bathroom at
express speed, and was out again almost before Victor had had time to
collect his drenched garments.

Ten minutes after his departure he returned to the hall, the gay
whistle still on his lips, and trod a careless measure to its tune as
he advanced.

Sir Beverley got up stiffly from his knees on the hearth-rug and turned a
scowling face. "Well, are you decent now?"

"Quite," said Piers. He smiled as he said it, a boyish disarming smile.
"Have you had your tea, sir? Oh, I say what a brick you are! I didn't
expect that."

His eyes, travelling downwards, had caught sight of a cup pushed close to
the blaze, and a plate of crumpets beside it.

"Or deserve it," said Sir Beverley grimly.

Piers turned impulsively and took him by the shoulders. "You're a dear
old chap!" he said. "Thanks awfully!"

Against its will the hard old mouth relaxed. "There, boy, there! What an
infant you are! Sit down and have it for goodness' sake! It'll be
dinner-time before you've done."

"You've had yours?" said Piers.

"Oh, yes--yes!" Irritation made itself heard again in Sir Beverley's
voice; he freed himself from his grandson's hold, though not urgently.
"I'm not so keen on your precious tea," he said, seating himself again.
"It's only young milksops like you that have made it fashionable. When I
was young--"

"Hullo!" broke in Piers. He had picked up the cup of tea and was sniffing
it suspiciously. "You've been doctoring this!" he said.

"You drink it!" ordered Sir Beverley peremptorily. "I'm not going to
have you laid up with rheumatic fever if I know it. Drink it, Piers! Do
you hear?"

Piers looked for a moment as if he were on the verge of rebellion, then
abruptly he raised the cup to his lips and drained it. He set it down
with a shudder of distaste.

"You might have let me have it separately," he remarked. "Tea and brandy
don't blend well. I shall sleep like a hog after this. Besides, I
shouldn't have had rheumatic fever. It's not my way. Anything in the
paper to-night?"

"Yes," said Sir Beverley disgustedly. "There's that prize-fight

"What's that?" Piers looked up with quick interest.

"Surely you saw it!" returned Sir Beverley. "That fellow
Adderley--killed his man in a wrestling-match. A good many people said
it was done by a foul."

"Adderley!" repeated Piers. "I know him. He gave me some quite useful
tips once. What happened? It's the first I've heard of it."

"Well, he's a murderer," said Sir Beverley. "And he deserves to be
hanged. He killed his man,--whether by a foul or not I can't say; but
anyway he meant to kill him. It's obvious on the face of it. But they
chose to bring it in manslaughter, and he's only got five years; while
some brainless fool must needs write an article a column and a half long
to protest against the disgraceful practice of permitting wrestling or
boxing matches, which are a survival of the Dark Ages and a perpetual
menace to our civilization! A survival of your grandmother! A nice set of
nincompoops the race will develop into if such fools as that get their
way! We're soft enough as it is, Heaven knows. Why couldn't they hang the
scoundrel as he deserved? That's the surest way of putting an end to
savagery. But to stop the sport altogether! It would be tomfoolery!"

Piers picked up the paper from the floor and smoothed it out. He
proceeded to study it with drawn brows, and Sir Beverley sat and
watched him with that in his stone-grey eyes which no one was ever
allowed to see.

"Eat your crumpets, boy!" he said at last.

"What?" Piers glanced up momentarily. "Oh, all right, sir, in a minute.
This is rather an interesting case, what? You see, Adderley was a
friend of mine."

"When did you meet him?" demanded Sir Beverley.

"I knew him in my school-days. He spent a whole term in the
neighbourhood. It was just before I left for my year of travel. I got to
know him rather well. He gave me several hints on wrestling."

"Did he teach you how to break your opponent's neck?" asked Sir
Beverley drily.

Piers made a slight, scarcely perceptible movement of one hand. It
clenched upon the paper he held. "They were--worth knowing," he said,
with his eyes upon the sheet. "But I should have thought he was too old a
hand himself to get into trouble."

Sir Beverley grunted. Piers read on. At the end of a lengthy pause he
laid the paper aside. "I'm beastly rude," he remarked. "Have a crumpet!"

"Eat 'em yourself!" said Sir Beverley. "I hate 'em!"

Piers picked up the plate and began to eat. He stared at the blaze as he
did so, obviously lost in thought.

"Don't dream!" said Sir Beverley sharply.

He turned his eyes upon his grandfather's face--those soft Italian eyes
of his so suggestive of hidden fire. "I wasn't--dreaming," he said
slowly. "I wonder why you think Adderley ought to be hanged."

"Because he's a murderer," snapped Sir Beverley.

"Yes; but--" said Piers, and became silent as though he were following
out some train of thought.

"Go on, boy! Finish!" commanded Sir Beverley. "I detest a sentence left
in the middle."

"I was only thinking," said Piers deliberately, "that hanging in my
opinion is much the easier sentence of the two. I should ask to be hanged
if I were Adderley."

"Would you indeed?" Sir Beverley sounded supremely contemptuous.

But Piers did not seem to notice. "Besides, there are so many
murderers in the world," he said, "though it's only the few who get
punished. I'm sorry for the few myself. Its damned bad luck, human
nature being what it is."

"You don't know what you're talking about," said Sir Beverley.

"All right; let's talk about something else," said Piers. "Caesar had a
glorious mill with that Irish terrier brute at the Vicarage this
afternoon. I couldn't separate 'em, so I just joined in. We'd have been
at it now if we had been left to our own devices." He broke into his
sudden boyish laugh. "But a kind lady came out of the Vicarage garden and
flung the contents of a bedroom jug over the three of us. Rather plucky
of her, what? I'm afraid I wasn't over-complimentary at the moment, but
I've had time since to appreciate her tact and presence of mind. I'm
going over to thank her to-morrow."

"Who was it?" growled Sir Beverley suspiciously. "Not that little white
owl, Mrs. Lorimer?"

"Mrs. Lorimer! Great Scott, no! She'd have squealed and run to the
Reverend Stephen for protection. No, this was a woman, not an owl. Her
name is Denys--Mrs. Denys she was careful to inform me. They've started a
mother's help at the Vicarage. None too soon I should say. Who wouldn't
be a mother's help in that establishment?"

Sir Beverley uttered a dry laugh. "Daresay she knows how to feather her
own nest. Most of 'em do."

"She knows how to keep her head in an emergency, anyhow," remarked Piers.

"Feline instinct," jeered Sir Beverley.

Piers looked across with a laugh in his dark eyes. "And feline pluck,
sir," he maintained.

Sir Beverley scowled at him. He could never brook an argument. "Oh, get
away, Piers!" he said. "You talk like a fool."

Piers turned his whole attention to devouring crumpets, and there fell a
lengthy silence. He rose finally to set down his empty plate and help
himself to some more tea.

"That stuff is poisonous by now," said Sir Beverley.

"It won't poison me," said Piers.

He drank it, and returned to the hearth-rug. "I suppose I may smoke?" he
said, with a touch of restraint.

Sir Beverley was lying back in his chair, gazing straight up at him.
Suddenly he reached out a trembling hand.

"You're a good boy, Piers," he said. "You may do any damn thing you

Piers' eyes kindled in swift response. He gripped the extended
hand. "You're a brick, sir!" he said. "Look here! Come along to
the billiard-room and have a hundred up! It'll give you an
appetite for dinner."

He hoisted the old man out of his chair before he could begin to protest.
They stood together before the great fire, and Sir Beverley straightened
his stiff limbs. He was half a head taller than his grandson.

"What a fellow it is!" he said half laughing. "Why can't you sit still
and be quiet? Don't you want to read the paper? I've done with it."

"So have I," said Piers. He swept it up with one hand as he spoke and
tossed it recklessly on to the blaze. "Come along, sir! We haven't
much time."

"Now what did you do that for?" demanded Sir Beverley, pausing. "Do you
want to set the house on fire? What did you do it for, Piers?"

"Because I was a fool," said Piers with sudden, curious vehemence. "A
damn fool sir, if you want to know. But it's done now. Let it burn!"

The paper flared fiercely and crumbled to ashes. Sir Beverley suffered
himself to be drawn away.

"You're a queer fellow, Piers," he said. "But, taking 'em altogether, I
should say there are a good many bigger fools in the world than you."

"Thank you, sir," said Piers.



"Mrs. Denys, may I come in?" Jeanie Lorimer's small, delicate face peeped
round the door. "I've brought my French exercise to do," she said
half-apologetically. "I thought perhaps you wouldn't mind."

"Of course come in, dear child! I like to have you." The mother's help
paused in her rapid stitching to look up with a smile at the pretty,
brown-haired child. "Come close to the light!" she said. "I hope it isn't
a very long one; is it?"

"It is--rather," Jeanie sighed a sharp, involuntary sigh. "I ought to
have done it sooner, but I was busy with the little ones. Is that
Gracie's frock you're mending? What an awful tear!" She came and stood by
Mrs. Denys's side, speaking in a low, rather monotonous voice. A heavy
strand of her hair fell over the work as she bent to look; she tossed it
back with another sigh. "Gracie is such a tomboy," she said. "It's a
pity, isn't it?"

"My dear, you're tired," said Mrs. Denys gently. She put a motherly arm
about the slim body that leaned against her, looking up into the pale
young face with eyes of kindly criticism.

"A little tired," said Jeanie.

"I shouldn't do that exercise to-night if I were you," said Mrs. Denys.
"You will find it easier in the morning. Lie down on the sofa here and
have a little rest till supper time!"

"Oh no, I mustn't," said Jeanie. "Father will never let any of us go to
bed till the day's work is done."

"But surely, when you're really tired--" began Mrs. Denys.

But Jeanie shook her head. "No; thank you very much, I must do it. Olive
did hers long ago."

"Where is Olive?" asked Mrs. Denys.

"She's reading a story-book downstairs. We may always read when we've
finished our lessons." Again came that short, unconscious sigh. Jeanie
went to the table and sat down. "Mother is rather upset to-night," she
said, as she turned the leaves of her book. "Ronald and Julian have been
smoking, and she is so afraid that Father will find out. I hope he
won't--for her sake. But if they don't eat any supper, he is sure to
notice. He flogged Julian two nights running the last time because he
told a lie about it."

A quick remark rose to her listener's lips, but it was suppressed
unuttered. Mrs. Denys began to stitch very rapidly with her face bent
over her work. It was a very charming face, with level grey eyes, wide
apart, and a mouth of great sweetness. There was a fugitive dimple on one
side of it that gave her a girlish appearance when she smiled. But she
was not a girl. There was about her an air of quiet confidence as of one
who knew something of the world and its ways. She was young still, and it
was yet in her to be ardent; but she had none of the giddy restlessness
of youth. Avery Denys was a woman who had left her girlhood wholly behind
her. Her enthusiasms and her impulses were kindled at a steadier flame
than the flickering torch of youth. There was no romance left in her
life, but yet was she without bitterness. She had known suffering and
faced it unblanching. The only mark it had left upon her was that air of
womanly knowledge that clothed her like a garment even in her lightest
moods. Of a quick understanding and yet quicker sympathy, she had
learned to hold her emotions in check, and the natural gaiety of her hid
much that was too sacred to be carelessly displayed. She had a ready
sense of humour that had buoyed her up through many a storm, and the
brave heart behind it never flinched from disaster. As her father had
said of her in the long-ago days of happiness and prosperity, she took
her hedges straight.

For several minutes after Jeanie's weary little confidence, she worked
in silence; then suddenly, with needle poised, she looked across at
the child.

Jeanie's head was bent over her exercise-book. Her hair lay in a heavy
mass all about her shoulders. There was a worried frown between her
brows. Slowly her hand travelled across the page, paused, wrote a word or
two, paused again.

Suddenly from the room above them there came the shrill shriek of a
violin. It wailed itself into silence, and then broke forth again in a
series of long drawn-out whines. Jeanie sighed.

Avery laid down her work with quiet decision, and went to her side. "What
is worrying you, dear?" she asked gently. "I'm not a great French
scholar, but I think I may be able to help."

"Thank you," said Jeanie, in her voice of tired courtesy. "You mustn't
help me. No one must."

"I can find the words you don't know in the dictionary," said Avery.

"No, thank you," said Jeanie. "Father doesn't like us to have help of
any kind."

There were deep shadows about the eyes she raised to Avery's face, but
they smiled quite bravely, with all unconscious wistfulness.

Avery laid a tender hand upon the brown head and drew it to rest against
her. "Poor little thing!" she said compassionately.

"But I'm not little really, you know," said Jeanie, closing her eyes for
a few stolen moments. "I'm thirteen in March. And they're all younger
than me except Ronnie and Julian."

Avery bent with a swift, maternal movement and kissed the blue-veined
forehead. Jeanie opened her eyes in slight surprise. Quite plainly she
was not accustomed to sudden caresses.

"I'm glad we've got you, Mrs. Denys," she said, with her quiet air of
childish dignity. "You are a great help to us."

She turned back to her French exercise with the words, and Avery, after a
moment's thought, turned to the door. She heard again the child's sigh of
weariness as she closed it behind her.

The wails of the violin were very audible in the passage outside. She
shivered at the atrocious sounds. From a further distance there came the
screams of an indignant baby and the strident shouts of two small boys
who were racing to and fro in an uncarpeted room at the top of the house.
But after that one shiver Avery Denys had no further attention to bestow
upon any of these things. She went with her quick, light tread down to
the square hall which gave a suggestion of comfort to the Vicarage which
not one of its rooms endorsed.

Without an instant's hesitation she knocked upon the first door she came
to. A voice within gave her permission to enter, and she did so.

The Reverend Stephen Lorimer turned from his writing-table with a face of
dignified severity to receive her, but at sight of her his expression
changed somewhat.

"Ah, Mrs. Denys! You, is it? Pray come in!" he said urbanely. "Is there
any way in which I can be of service to you?"

His eyes were dark and very small, so small that they nearly disappeared
when he smiled. But for this slight defect, Mr. Lorimer would have been a
handsome man. He rose as Avery approached and placed a chair for her with
elaborate courtesy.

"Thank you," she said. "I only ran in for a moment--just to tell you
that little Jeanie is so tired to-night. She has had no time for her
lessons all the afternoon because she has been helping with the little
ones in the nursery. She insists upon doing her French exercise, but I am
sure you would not wish her to do it if you knew how worn out the child
is. May I tell her to leave it for to-night?"

She spoke quickly and very earnestly, with clear eyes raised to Mr.
Lorimer's face. She watched his smile fade and his eyes reappear as she
made her appeal.

He did not reply to it for some seconds, and a sharp doubt went through
her. She raised her brows in mute interrogation.

"Yes, my dear Mrs. Denys," he said, in response to her unspoken query, "I
see that you appreciate the fact that there are at least two points of
view to every proposition. You tell me that Jeanie was occupied in the
nursery during that period of the day which should legitimately have been
set aside for the assimilation of learning. I presume her presence there
was voluntary?"

"Oh, quite." There was a hint of sharpness in Avery's rejoinder. "She
went out of the goodness of her heart because Nurse had been up
practically all night with Baby and needed a rest and I was obliged to go
into Wardenhurst for Mrs. Lorimer. So Jeanie took charge of Bertie and
David, and Gracie and Pat went with me."

Mr. Lorimer waved a protesting hand. "Pray spare yourself and me all
these details, Mrs. Denys! I am glad to know that Jeanne has been useful
to you, but at the same time she has no right to offer duty upon the
altar of kindness. You will acknowledge that to obey is better than
sacrifice. As a matter of principle, I fear I cannot remit any of her
task, and I trust that on the next occasion she will remember to set
duty first."

A hot flush had risen in Avery's face and her eyes sparkled, but she
restrained herself. There was no indignation in her voice as she said:
"Mr. Lorimer, believe me, that child will never shirk her duty. She is
far too conscientious. It is really for the sake of her health that I
came to beg you to let her off that French exercise. I am sure she is not
strong. Perhaps I did wrong to let her be in the nursery this afternoon,
though I scarcely know how else we could have managed. But that is my
fault, not hers. I take full responsibility for that."

Mr. Lorimer began to smile again. "That is very generous of you," he
said. "But, as a matter of justice, I doubt if the whole burden of it
should fall to your share. You presumably were unaware that Jeanne's
afternoon should have been devoted to her studies. She cannot plead a
like ignorance. Therefore, while dismissing the petition, I hold you
absolved from any blame in the matter. Pray do not distress yourself
any further!"

"I certainly thought it was a half-holiday," Avery admitted. "But I am
distressed--very greatly distressed--on the child's account. She is not
fit for work to-night."

Mr. Lorimer made an airy gesture expressive of semi-humorous regret.
"Discipline, my dear Mrs. Denys, must be maintained at all costs--even
among the members of your charming sex. As a matter of fact, I am waiting
to administer punishment to one of my sons at the present moment for an
act of disobedience."

He glanced towards the writing-table on which lay a cane, and again the
quick blood mounted in Avery's face.

"Oh, don't you think you are a little hard on your children?" she said;
and then impulsively, "No; forgive me! I ought not to put it like that.
But do you find it answers to be so strict? Does it make them any more

He raised his shoulders slightly; his eyes gleamed momentarily ere they
vanished into his smile. He shook his head at her with tolerant irony. "I
fear your heart runs away with you, Mrs. Denys, and I must not suffer
myself to listen to you. I have my duty--my very distinct duty--to
perform, and I must not shirk it. As to the results, they are in other
Hands than mine."

There came a low knock at the door as he finished speaking, and he turned
at once to answer it.

"Come in!"

The door opened, and a very small, very nervous boy crept round it. A
quick exclamation rose to Avery's lips before she could suppress it. Mr.
Lorimer looked at her interrogatively.

"I was only surprised to see Pat," she explained. "He has been with
me all the afternoon. I hardly thought he could have had time to get
into trouble."

"Come here, Patrick!" said Mr. Lorimer.

Patrick advanced. He looked neither at Avery nor his father, but kept his
eyes rigidly downcast. His freckled face had a half-frightened,
half-sullen expression. He halted before Mr. Lorimer who took him by the
shoulder, and turned him round towards Avery.

"Tell Mrs. Denys what you did!" he said.

Pat shot a single glance upwards, and made laconic reply. "I undid Mike."

"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Avery in great distress. "I'm afraid that was
my fault."

"Yours, Mrs. Denys?" Mr. Lorimer's eyes became visible as two brilliant
pin-points turned searchingly upon her face.

"Yes, mine!" she reiterated. "Mike was whining on his chain, and I said I
thought it was cruel to keep a dog tied up. I suppose I ought to have
kept my thoughts to myself," she said with a pathetic little smile. "Do
please forgive us both this time!"

Mr. Lorimer ignored the appeal. "And do you know what happened in
consequence of his being liberated?" he asked.

"Yes, I do." Ruefully she made answer. "He fought Mr. Evesham's dog and I
helped to pull him off."

"You, Mrs. Denys!"

"Yes, I." She nodded. "There wasn't much damage done, anyhow to Mike. I
am very, very sorry, Mr. Lorimer. But really Pat is not to blame for
this. Won't you--please--"

She stopped, for very decidedly Mr. Lorimer interrupted her. "I am afraid
I cannot agree with you, Mrs. Denys. You may have spoken unadvisedly, but
Patrick was aware that in releasing the dog he was acting in direct
opposition to my orders. Therefore he must bear his own punishment. I
must beg that for the future you will endeavour to be a little more
discreet in your observations. Patrick, open the door for Mrs. Denys!"

It was a definite dismissal--perhaps the most definite that Avery had
ever had in her life. A fury of resentment possessed her, but feeling her
self-control to be tottering, she dared not give it vent. She turned in
quivering silence and departed.

As she went out of the room, she perceived that Pat had begun to cry.



"It's always the same," moaned Mrs. Lorimer. "My poor children! They're
never out of trouble." Avery stood still. She had fled to the
drawing-room to recover herself, only to find the lady of the house lying
in tears upon the sofa there. Mrs. Lorimer was very small and pathetic.
She had lost all her health long before in the bearing and nurturing of
her children. Once upon a time she must have possessed the delicate
prettiness that characterized her eldest daughter Jeanie, but it had
faded long since. She was worn out now, a tired, drab little woman, with
no strength left to stand against adversity. The only consolation in her
life was her love for her husband. Him she worshipped, not wholly
blindly, but with a devotion that never faltered. A kind word from him
was capable of exalting her to a state of rapture that was only
out-matched by the despair engendered by his displeasure. There was so
much of sorrow mingled with her love for her children that they could
scarcely have been regarded as a joy. In fact Avery often thought to
herself how much happier she would have been without them.

"Do sit down, Mrs. Denys!" she begged nervously, as Avery remained
motionless in the middle of the room. "Stay with me for a little, won't
you? I can never bear to be alone when any of the children are being
punished. I sometimes think Pat is the worst of all. He is so highly
strung, and he loses his head. And Stephen doesn't quite understand
him, and he is so terribly severe when they rebel. And did you know
that Ronald and Julian had been smoking again on the way back from
school? They look so dreadfully ill, both of them. I know their father
will find out."

Mrs. Lorimer's whispered words went into soft weeping. She hid her face
in the cushion.

A curious little spasm went through Avery, and for a few mad seconds she
wanted to burst into heartless laughter. She conquered the impulse with a
desperate effort though it left her feeling slightly hysterical.

She moved across to the forlorn little woman and stooped over her.

"Don't cry, dear Mrs. Lorimer!" she urged. "It doesn't do any
good. Perhaps Ronald and Julian are better by now. Shall we go
upstairs and see?"

The principle was a wrong one and she knew it, but for the life of her
she could not have resisted the temptation at that moment. She had an
unholy desire to get the better of the Reverend Stephen which would not
be denied.

Mrs. Lorimer checked her tears. "You're very kind," she murmured shakily.

She dried her eyes and sat up. "Do you think it would be wrong to give
them a spoonful of brandy?" she asked wistfully.

But Avery's principles were proof against this at least. "Yes, I do," she
said. "But we can manage quite well without it. Let us go, shall we, and
see what can be done?"

"I'm afraid I'm very wicked," sighed Mrs. Lorimer. "I'm very thankful to
have you with us, dear. I don't know what I should do without you."

Avery's pretty mouth took an unfamiliar curve of grimness for a moment,
but she banished it at once. She slipped a sustaining hand through Mrs.
Lorimer's arm.

"Thank you for saying so, though, you know, I've only been with you a
fortnight, and I don't feel that I have done very much to deserve such
high praise."

"I don't think time has much to do with friendship," said Mrs. Lorimer,
looking at her with genuine affection in her faded blue eyes. "Do you
know I became engaged to my husband before I had known him a fortnight?"

But this was a subject upon which Avery found it difficult to express any
sympathy, and she gently changed it. "You are looking very tired. Don't
you think you could lie down for a little in your bedroom before supper?"

"I must see the poor boys first," protested Mrs. Lorimer.

"Yes, of course. We will go straight up, shall we?"

She led her to the door with the words, and they went out together into
the hall. As they emerged, a sudden burst of stormy crying came from the
study. Pat was literally howling at the top of his voice.

His mother stopped and wrung her hands. "Oh, what is to be done? He
always cries like that. He used to as a baby--the only one of them who
did. Mrs. Denys, what shall I do? I don't think I can bear it."

Avery drew her on towards the stairs. "My dear, come away!" she said
practically. "You can't do anything. Interference will only make matters
worse. Let us go right up to the boys' room! Pat is sure to come up

They went to the boys' room. It was a large attic in which the three
elder boys slept. Ronald and Julian, aged fifteen and fourteen
respectively, were both lying prostrate on their beds.

Julian uttered a forced laugh at the sight of his mother's face. "My dear
Mater, for Heaven's sake don't come fussing round here! We've been
smoking some filthy cigars--little beastly Brown dared us to--and there's
been the devil to pay. I can't get up. My tummy won't let me."

"Oh, Julian, why do you do it?" said Mrs. Lorimer, in great distress.
"You know what your father said the last time."

She bent over him. Julian was her favourite of them all. But he turned
his face sharply to avoid her kiss.

"Don't, Mater! I don't feel up to it. I can't jaw either. I believe those
dashed cigars were poisoned. Hullo, Ronald, are you quieting down yet?"

"Shut up!" growled Ronald.

His brother laughed again sardonically. "Stick to it, my hearty! There's
a swishing in store for us. The mater always gives the show away."

"Julian!" It was Avery's voice; she spoke with quick decision. "You've
got exactly an hour--you and Ronald--to pull yourselves together. Don't
lie here any longer! Get up and go out! Go for a hard walk! No, of course
you don't feel like it. But it will do you good. You want to get that
horrible stuff out of your lungs. Quick! Go now--while you can!"

"But I can't!" declared Julian.

"Yes, you can,--you must! You too, Ronald! Where are your coats? Pop them
on and make a dash for it! You'll come back better. Perhaps you will get
out of the swishing after all."

Julian turned his head and looked at her by the light of the flaring,
unshaded gas-jet. "By Jove!" he said. "You're rather a brick, Mrs.

"Don't stop to talk!" she commanded. "Just get up and do as I say. Go
down the back stairs, mind! I'll let you in again in time to get ready
for supper."

Julian turned to his brother. "What do you say to it, Ron?"

"Can't be done," groaned Ronald.

"Oh yes, it can." Sheer determination sounded in Avery's response. "Get
up, both of you! If it makes you ill, it can't be helped. You will
neither of you get any better lying here. Come, Ronald!" She went to him
briskly. "Get up! I'll help you. There! That's the way. Splendid! Now
keep it up! don't let yourself go again! You will feel quite different
when you get out into the open air."

By words and actions she urged them, Mrs. Lorimer standing pathetically
by, till finally, fired by her energy, the two miscreants actually
managed to make their escape without mishap.

She ran downstairs to see them go, returning in time to receive the
wailing Pat who had been sent to bed in a state verging on hysterics.
Neither she nor his mother could calm him for some time, and when at
length he was somewhat comforted one of the younger boys fell down in an
adjacent room and began to cry lustily.

Avery went to the rescue, earnestly entreating Mrs. Lorimer to go down to
her room and rest. She was able to soothe the sufferer and leave him to
the care of the nurse, and she then followed Mrs. Lorimer whom she found
bathing her eyes and trying not to cry.

So piteous a spectacle was she that Avery found further formality an
absolute impossibility. She put her arm round the little woman and begged
her not to fret.

"No, I know it's wrong," whispered Mrs. Lorimer, yielding like a child
to the kindly support. "But I can't help it sometimes. You see, I'm not
very strong--just now." She hesitated and glanced at Avery with a
guilty air. "I--I haven't told him yet," she said in a lower whisper
still. "Of course I shall have to soon; but--I'm afraid you will think
me very deceitful--I like to choose a favourable time, when the
children are not worrying him quite so much. I don't want to--to vex
him more than I need."

"My dear!" Avery said compassionately. And she added as she had added to
the daughter half an hour before, "Poor little thing!"

Mrs. Lorimer gave a feeble laugh, lifting her face. "You are a sweet
girl, Avery. I may call you that? I do hope the work won't be too much
for you. You mustn't let me lean on you too hard."

"You shall lean just as hard as you like," Avery said, and, bending,
kissed the tired face. "I am here to be a help to you, you know. Yes, do
call me Avery! I'm quite alone in the world, and it makes it feel like
home. Now you really must lie down till supper. And you are not to worry
about anything. I am sure the boys will come back much better. There! Is
that comfortable?"

"Quite, dear, thank you. You mustn't think about me any more. Good-bye!
Thank you for all your goodness to me!" Mrs. Lorimer clung to her hand
for a moment. "I was always prejudiced against mothers' helps before,"
she said ingenuously. "But I find you an immense comfort--an immense
comfort. You will try and stay, won't you, if you possibly can?"

"Yes," Avery promised. "I will certainly stay--if it rests with me."

Her lips were very firmly closed as she went out of the room and her grey
eyes extremely bright. It had been a strenuous half-hour.



"Oh, I say, are you going out?" said Piers. "I was just coming to
call on you."

"On me?" Avery looked at him with brows raised in surprised

He made her a graceful bow, nearly sweeping the path outside the Vicarage
gate with his cap. "Even so, madam! On you! But as I perceive you are not
at home to callers, may I be permitted to turn and walk beside you?"

As he suited the action to the words, it seemed superfluous to grant the
permission, and Avery did not do so.

"I am only going to run quickly down to the post," she said, with a
glance at some letters she carried.

He might have offered to post them for her, but such a course did not
apparently occur to him. Instead he said: "I'll race you if you like."

Avery refrained from smiling, conscious of a gay glance flung in her

"I see you prefer to walk circumspectly," said Piers. "Well, I can do
that too. How is Mike? Why isn't he with you?"

"Mike is quite well, thank you," said Avery. "And he is kept chained up."

"What an infernal shame!" burst from Piers. "I'd sooner shoot a dog than
keep him on a chain."

"So would I!" said Avery impulsively.

The words were out before she could check them. It was a subject upon
which she found it impossible to maintain her reticence.

Piers grinned triumphantly and thrust out a boyish hand. "Shake!" he
said. "We are in sympathy!"

But Avery only shook her head at him, refusing to be drawn.
"People--plenty of nice people--have no idea of the utter cruelty of it,"
she said. "They think that if a dog has never known liberty, he is
incapable of desiring it. They don't know, they don't realize, the
bitterness of life on a chain."

"Don't know and don't care!" declared Piers. "They deserve to be chained
up themselves. One day on a chain would teach your nice people quite a
lot. But no one cultivates feeling in this valley of dry bones. It isn't
the thing nowadays. Let a dog whine his heart out on a chain! Who cares?
There's no room for sentimental scruples of that sort. Can't you see the
Reverend Stephen smile at the bare idea of extending a little of his
precious Christian pity to a dog?" He broke off with a laugh that rang
defiantly. "Now it's your turn!" he said.

"My turn?" Avery glanced at his dark, handsome face with a touch of

He met her eyes with his own as if he would beat them back. "Aren't you
generous enough to remind me that but for your timely interference I
should have beaten my own dog to death only yesterday? You were almost
ready to flog me for it at the time."

"Oh, that!" Avery said, looking away again. "Yes, of course I might
remind you of that if I wanted to be personal; but, you see,--I don't."

"Why not!" said Piers stubbornly. "You were personal enough yesterday."

The dimple, for which Avery was certainly not responsible, appeared
suddenly near her mouth. "I am afraid I lost my temper yesterday," she

"How wrong of you!" said Piers. "I hope you confessed to the
Reverend Stephen."

She glanced at him again and became grave. "No, I didn't confess to
anyone. But I think it's a pity ever to lose one's temper. It involves a
waste of power."

"Does it?" said Piers.

"Yes." She nodded with conviction. "We need all the strength we can
muster for other things. How is your dog to-day?"

Piers ignored the question. "What other things?" he demanded.

She hesitated.

"Go on!" said Piers imperiously.

Avery complied half-reluctantly. "I meant--mainly--the burdens of life.
We can't afford to weaken ourselves by any loss of self-control. The man
who keeps his temper is immeasurably stronger than the man who loses it."

Piers was frowning; his dark eyes looked almost black. Suddenly he turned
upon her. "Mrs. Denys, I have a strong suspicion that your temper is a
sweet one. If so, you're no judge of these things. Why didn't you leather
me with my own whip yesterday? You had me at your mercy."

Avery smiled. Plainly he was set upon a personal encounter, and she could
not avoid it. "Well, frankly, Mr. Evesham," she said, "I was never nearer
to striking anyone in my life."

"Then why did you forbear? You weren't afraid to souse me with
cold water."

"Oh no," she said. "I wasn't afraid."

"I believe you were," maintained Piers. "You're afraid to speak your mind
to me now anyway."

She laughed a little. "No, I'm not. I really can't explain myself to you.
I think you forget that we are practically strangers."

"You talk as if I had been guilty of familiarity," said Piers.

"No, no! I didn't mean that," Avery coloured suddenly, and the soft glow
made her wonderfully fair to see. "You know quite well I didn't mean
it," she said.

"It's good of you to say so," said Piers. "But I really didn't know. I
thought you had decided that I was a suitable subject for snubbing. I'm
not a bit. I'm so accustomed to it that I don't care a--" he paused with
a glance of quizzical daring, and, as she managed to look severe, amended
the sentence--"that I am practically indifferent to it. Mrs. Denys, I
wish you had struck me yesterday."

"Really?" said Avery.

"Yes, really. I should then have had the pleasure of forgiving you.
It's a pleasure I don't often get. You see, I'm usually the one that's
in the wrong."

She looked at him then with quick interest; she could not help it. But
the dark eyes triumphed over her so shamelessly that she veiled it on
the instant.

Piers laughed. "Mrs. Denys, may I ask a directly personal question?"

"I don't know why you should," said Avery.

They were nearing the pillar-box at the end of the Vicarage lane, and she
was firmly determined that at that box their ways should separate.

"I know you think I'm bold and bad," said Piers. "Some kind friend has
probably told you so. But I'm not. I've been brought up badly, that's
all. I think you might bear with me. I'm quite willing to be bullied."
There was actual pathos in the declaration.

Again the fleeting dimple hovered near Avery's mouth. "Please don't take
my opinion for granted in that way!" she said. "I have hardly had time to
form one yet."

"Then I may ask my question?" said Piers.

She turned steady grey eyes upon him. "Yes; you may."

Piers' face was perfectly serious. "Are you really married?" he asked.

The level brows went up a little. "I have been a widow for six years,"
said Avery very quietly.

He stared at her in surprise unfeigned. "Six years!"

She replied in the same quiet voice. "I lost my husband when I was

"Great Heavens above!" ejaculated Piers. "But you're not--not--I say,
forgive me, I must say it--you can't be as old as that!"

"I am twenty-nine," said Avery faintly smiling.

They had reached the letter-box. She dropped in her letters one by one.
Piers stood confounded, looking on.

Suddenly he spoke. "And you've been doing this mothers'-helping business
for six years?"

"Oh no!" she said.

She turned round from the box and faced him. The red winter sunset glowed
softly upon her. Her grey eyes looked straight into it.

"No!" she said again. "I had my little girl to take care of for the first
six months. You see, she was born blind, soon after her father's death,
and she needed all the care I could give her."

Piers made a sharp movement--a gesture that was almost passionate; but he
said nothing.

Avery withdrew her eyes from the sunset, and looked at him. "She died,"
she said, "and that left me with nothing to do. I have no near
relations. So I just had to set to work to find something to occupy me.
I went into a children's hospital for training, and spent some years
there. Then when that came to an end, I took a holiday; but I found I
wanted children. So I cast about me, and finally answered Mr. Lorimer's
advertisement and came here." She began to smile. "At least I have
plenty of children now."

"Oh, I say!" broke in Piers. "What a perfectly horrible life you've had!
You don't mean to say you're happy, what?"

Avery laughed. "I'm much too busy to think about it. And now I really
must run back. I've promised to take charge of the babies this afternoon.
Good-bye!" She held out her hand to him with frank friendliness, as if
she divined the sympathy he did not utter.

He gripped it hard for a moment. "Thanks awfully for being so decent as
to tell me!" he said, looking back at her with eyes as frank as her own.
"I'm going on down to the home farm. Good-bye!"

He raised his cap, and abruptly strode away. And in the moment of his
going Avery found she liked him better than she had liked him
throughout the interview, for she knew quite well that he went only in
deference to her wish.

She turned to retrace her steps, feeling puzzled. There was something
curiously attractive about the young man's personality, something that
appealed to her, yet that she felt disposed to resist. That air of the
ancient Roman was wonderfully compelling, too compelling for her taste,
but then his boyishness counteracted it to a very great degree. There was
a hint of sweetness running through his arrogance against which she was
not proof. Audacious he might be, but it was a winning species of
audacity that probably no woman could condemn. She thought to herself as
she returned to her charges that she had never seen a face so faultlessly
patrician and yet so vividly alive. And following that thought came
another that dwelt longer in her mind. Deprived of its animation, it
would not have been a happy face.

Avery wondered why.



"Hooray! No more horrid sums for a whole month!" Gracie Lorimer's
arithmetic-book soared to the ceiling and came down with a bang while
Gracie herself pivoted, not ungracefully, on her toes till sheer
giddiness and exhaustion put an end to her rhapsody. Then she staggered
to Avery who was darning the family stockings by the window and flung
ecstatic arms about her neck.

"Dear Mrs. Denys, aren't you glad it's holidays?" she gasped. "We'll give
you such a lovely time!"

"I'm sure you will, dear," said Avery. "But do mind the needle!"

She kissed the brilliant childish face that was pressed to hers. She and
Gracie were close friends. Gracie was eleven, and the prettiest madcap of
them all. It was a perpetual marvel to Avery that the child managed to be
so happy, for she was continually in trouble. But she seemed to possess a
cheery knack of throwing off adversity. She was essentially gay of heart.

"Do put away those stupid old stockings and come out with us!" she
begged, still hanging over Avery. "Don't you hate darning? I do. We had
to do our own before you came. I was very naughty one day last summer. I
went out and played in the garden instead of mending my stockings, and
Father found out." Gracie cast up her eyes dramatically. "He sent me in
to do them, and went off to one of his old parish parties; and I just
sneaked out as soon as his back was turned and went on with the game. But
there was no luck that day. He came back to fetch something and caught
me. And then--just imagine!" Again Gracie was dramatic, though this time
unconsciously. "He sent me to bed and--what do you think? When he came
home to tea, he--whipped me!"

Avery threaded her needle with care. She said nothing.

"I think it was rather a shame," went on Gracie unconcernedly. "Because
he never whips Jeanie or Olive. But then, he can make them cry without,
and he can't make me. I 'spect that's what made him do it, don't you?"

"I don't know, dear," said Avery rather shortly.

Gracie peered round into her face. "Mrs. Denys, you don't like Father, do
you?" she said.

"My dear, that's not a nice question to ask," said Avery, with her eyes
on her work.

"I don't know why not," said Gracie. "I don't like him myself, and he
knows I don't. He'd whip me again if he got the chance, but I'm too jolly
careful now. I was pleased that you got Ronnie and Julian off the other
day. He never suspected, did he? I thought I should have burst during
prayers. It was so funny."

"My dear!" protested Avery.

"Yes, I know," said Gracie. "But you aren't really shocked, dear, kind
Mrs. Denys! You know you aren't. I can see your sweet little dimple.
No, I can't! Yes, I can! I do love your dimple. It goes in and out
like the sun."

Avery leaned back abruptly in her chair. "Oh, foolish one!" she said, and
gathered the child to her with a warmth to which the ardent Gracie was
swift to respond.

"And you are coming out with us, aren't you? Because it's so lovely and
cold. I want to go up on that big hill in Rodding Park, and run and run
and run till I just can't run any longer. Ronnie and Julian are coming
too. And Jeanie and Olive and Pat. We ought to begin and collect holly
for the church decorations. You'll be able to help this year, won't you?
Miss Whalley always bosses things. Have you met Miss Whalley yet? She's
quite the funniest person in Rodding. She was the daughter of the last
Vicar, and she has never forgotten it. So odd of her! As if there were
anything in it! I often wish I weren't a parson's daughter. I'd much
rather belong to someone who had to go up to town every day. There would
be much more fun for everybody then."

Avery was laying her mending together. She supposed she ought to check
the child's chatter, but felt too much in sympathy with her to do so. "I
really don't know if I ought to come," she said. "But it is certainly too
fine an afternoon for you to waste indoors. Where are the boys?"

"Oh, they're messing about somewhere in the garden. You see, they've got
to keep out of sight or Father will set them to work to roll the lawn. He
always does that sort of thing. He calls it 'turning our youthful
energies to good account.'" Very suddenly and wickedly Grade mimicked the
pastoral tones. "But the boys call it 'nigger-driving,'" she added, "and
I think the boys are right. When I'm grown up, I'll never, never, never
make my children do horrid things like that. They shall have--oh, such a
good time!"

There was unconscious pathos in the declaration. Avery looked at the
bright face very tenderly.

"I wonder what you'll do with them when they're naughty, Gracie," she

"I shall never whip them," said Gracie decidedly. "I think whipping is a
horrid punishment. It makes you hate everybody. I think I shan't punish
them at all, Mrs. Denys. I shall just tell them how wrong they've been,
and that they are never to do it again. And I'm sure they won't," she
added, with confidence. "They'll love me too much."

She slipped her arm round Avery's waist as she rose. "Do you know I would
dreadfully like to call you Aunt Avery?" she said. "I said so to Jeanie,
and Jeanie wants to too. Do you mind?"

"Mind!" said Avery. "I shall love it."

"Oh, thank you--awfully!" Grade kissed her fervently. "I'll run and tell
Jeanie. She will be pleased."

She skipped from the room, and Avery went to prepare for the walk. "Poor
little souls!" she murmured to herself. "How I wish they were mine!"

They mustered only five when they started--the three girls, Pat, and
Avery herself; but ere they had reached the end of the lane the two elder
boys leapt the Vicarage wall with a whoop of triumph and joined them. The
party became at once uproariously gay. Everyone talked at the same time,
even Jeanie becoming animated. Avery rejoiced to see the pretty face
flushed and merry. She had begun to feel twinges of anxiety about Jeanie
lately. But she was able to banish them at least for to-day, for Jeanie
ran and chattered with the rest. In fact, Olive was the only one who
showed any disposition to walk sedately. It had to be remembered that
Olive was the clever one of the family. She more closely resembled her
father than any of the others, and Avery firmly believed her to be the
only member of the family that Mr. Lorimer really loved. She was a
cold-hearted, sarcastic child, extremely self-contained, giving nothing
and receiving nothing in return. It was impossible to become intimate
with her. Avery had given up the attempt almost at the outset, realizing
that it was not in Olive's nature to be intimate with anyone. They were
always exceedingly polite to each other, but beyond that their
acquaintance made no progress. Olive lived in a world of books, and the
practical side of life scarcely touched her, and most certainly never
appealed to her sympathy. "She will be her father over again," Mrs.
Lorimer would declare, with pathetic pride. "So dignified, so handsome,
and so clever!"

And Avery agreed, not without reserve, that she certainly resembled him
to a marked degree.

She was by far the most sober member of the party that entered Rodding
Park that afternoon. Avery, inspired by the merriment around her, was in
a frankly frivolous mood. She was fast friends with the two elder boys,
who had voted her a brick on the night that she had intervened to
deliver them from the just retribution for their misdeeds. They had
conceived an immense admiration for her which placed her in a highly
privileged position.

"If Mrs. Denys says so, it is so," was Ronald's fiat, and she knew that
such influence as he possessed with his brothers and sisters was always
at her disposal.

She liked Ronald. The boy was a gentleman. Though slow, he was solid; and
she suspected that he possessed more depth of character than the more
brilliant Julian. Julian was crafty; there was no denying it. She was

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