Part 10 out of 10
The dark eyes flashed him a derisive glance. "Better than you do,
dear old man, though, I admit, I've let you into a few of my most
gruesome corners. I couldn't have done it if I hadn't trusted you.
You realize that?"
Crowther looked him straight in the face. "That being so, my son," he
said, "you needn't be so damned lighthearted for my benefit."
A gleam of haughty surprise drove the smile out of Piers' eyes. He
straightened himself sharply. "On my soul, Crowther--" he began; then
stopped and leaned back again in his chair. "Oh, all right. I forgot. You
say any silly rot you like to me."
"And now and then the truth also," said Crowther.
Piers' eyes fenced with his, albeit a faint smile hovered about the
corners of his mouth. "I really am not such a humbug as you are pleased
to imagine," he said, after a moment with an oddly boyish touch of pride.
"I'm feeling lighthearted, and that's a fact."
"Then you are about the only man in England today who is,"
"That may be," carelessly Piers made answer. "Nearly everyone is more or
less scared. I'm not. It's going to be a mighty struggle--a Titanic
struggle--but we shall come out on top."
"At a frightful cost," Crowther said.
Piers leapt to his feet. "We shan't shirk it on that account. See here,
Crowther! I'll tell you something--if you'll swear to keep it dark!"
Crowther looked up at the eager, glowing face and a very tender look came
into his own. "Well, Piers?" he said.
Piers caught him suddenly by the shoulders. "Crowther, Crowther, old
chap, congratulate me! I took--the King's shilling--to-day!"
"Ah!" Crowther said.
He gripped Piers' arms tightly, feeling the vitality of him pulse in
every sinew, every tense nerve. And before his mental sight there rose
the dread vision of war--the insatiable--striding like a devouring
monster over a whole continent. With awful clearness he saw the fields
His eyes came back to Piers, splendid in the fire of his youth, flushed
already with the grim joy of the coming conflict. He got up slowly, still
looking into the handsome, olive face with its patrician features and
arrogant self-confidence. And a cold hand seemed to close upon his heart.
"Oh, boy!" he said.
Piers frowned upon him, still half-laughing. "What? Are we down-hearted?
Buck up, man! Congratulate me! I was one of the first."
But congratulation stuck in Crowther's throat. "I wish this had
come--twenty years ago!" was all he found to say.
"Thank Heaven it didn't!" ejaculated Piers. "Why, don't you see it's
the one thing for me--about the only stroke of real luck I've ever had
in my life?"
"And your wife doesn't know?" said Crowther.
"She does not. And I won't have her told. Mind that!" Piers' voice was
suddenly determined. "She knows I shan't keep out of it, and that's
enough. If she wants me--which she won't--she can get at me through
Victor or one of them. But that won't happen. Don't you worry yourself as
to that, my good Crowther! I know jolly well what I'm doing. Don't you
see it's the chance of my life? Do you think I'm going to miss it, what?"
"I think you're going to break her heart," Crowther said gravely.
"That's because you don't understand," Piers made steady reply. "Nothing
will alter so long as I stay. But this war is going to alter everything.
We shall none of us come out of it as we went in. When I come
back--things will be different."
He spoke sombrely. The boyish ardour had gone out of him. Something of
fatefulness, something of solemn realization, of steadfast fortitude, had
taken its place.
"I tell you, Crowther," he said, "I am not doing this thing without
weighing the cost. But--I haven't much to lose, and I've all to gain.
Even if it doesn't do--what I hope, it'll steady me down, it'll make a
man of me--and not--a murderer."
His voice sank on the last word. He freed himself from Crowther's hold
and turned away.
Once more he opened the window to the roar of London's life; and so
standing, with his back to Crowther, he spoke again jerkily, with obvious
effort. "Do you remember telling me that something would turn up?
Well,--it has. I'm waiting to see what will come of it. But--if it's any
satisfaction to you to know it--I've got clear of my own particular hell
at last. I haven't got very far, mind, and it's a beastly desert road I'm
on. But I know it'll lead somewhere; so I shall stick to it now."
He paused a moment; then flung round and faced Crowther with a certain
air of triumph.
"Meantime, old chap, don't you worry yourself about either of us! My
wife will go to her friend Mrs. Lorimer till I come home again. Then
possibly, with any luck, she'll come to me."
He smiled with the words and came back to the table. "May I have a
drink?" he said.
Crowther poured one out for him in silence. Somehow he could not
speak. There was something about Piers that stirred him too deeply for
speech just then. He lifted his own glass with no more than a gesture
"I say, don't be so awfully jolly about it!" laughed Piers. "I tell you
it's going to end all right. Life is like that."
His voice was light, but it held an appeal to which Crowther could not
fail to respond.
"God bless you, my son!" he said. "Life is such a mighty big thing that
even what we call failure doesn't count in the long run. You'll win
"And perhaps a little over, what?" laughed Piers. "Who knows?"
"Who knows?" Crowther echoed, with a smile.
But he could not shake free from the chill foreboding that had descended
upon him, and when Piers had gone he stood for a long time before his
open window, wrestling with the dark phantom, trying to reason away a
dread which he knew to be beyond all reasoning.
And all through the night that followed, those words of Piers' pursued
him, marring his rest: "It's a beastly desert road I'm on, but I know
it'll lead somewhere." And the high courage of his bearing! The royal
confidence of his smile!
Ah, God! Those boys of the Empire, going forth so gallantly to the
Piers was right. When Avery left Stanbury Cliffs she went back to her
old life at Rodding Vicarage.
Local gossip regarding her estrangement from her husband had practically
exhausted itself some time before, and in any case it would have been
swamped by the fevered anxiety that possessed the whole country during
those momentous days.
She slipped back into her old niche almost as if she had never left it.
Mrs. Lorimer was ill with grief and overwork. It seemed only natural that
Avery should take up the burden of her care. Even the Vicar could say
nothing against it.
Avery sometimes wondered if Jeanie's death had pierced the armour of his
self-complacence at any point. If it had, it was not perceptible; but she
did fancy now and then that she detected in him a shade more of
consideration for his wife than he had been wont to display. He
condescended to bestow upon her a little more of his kindly patronage,
and he was certainly less severe in his dealings with the children.
Of the blank in Mrs. Lorimer's life only Avery had any conception, for
she shared it with her during every hour of the day. Perhaps her own
burden weighed more heavily upon her than ever before at that time, for
the anxiety she suffered was sometimes more than she could bear. For
Piers had gone from her without a word. Straight from Jeanie's
death-bed he had gone, without a single word of explanation or farewell.
That she had wounded him deeply, albeit inadvertently, on that last day
she knew; but with his arm closely clasping her by Jeanie's bedside she
had dared to hope that he had forgiven the wound. Now she felt that it
was otherwise. He had gone from her in bitterness of soul, and the
barrier between them was such that she could not call him back. More and
more the conviction grew upon her that those moments of tenderness had
been no more than a part of the game he had summoned her to play for
Jeanie's sake. He had called it a hollow bargain. He had declared that
for no other reason would he have proposed it to her. And now that the
farce was over, he had withdrawn from it. He had said that he had not
found it easy. He had called it mere pretence. And now she had begun to
think that he meant their separation to be final. If he had uttered one
word of farewell, if he had but sent her a line later, she knew that she
would have responded in some measure even though the gulf between them
remained unbridged. But his utter silence was unassailable. The
conviction grew upon her that he no longer desired to bridge the gulf.
He meant to accept their estrangement as inevitable. He had left her,
and he did not wish to return.
Through the long weary watches of many nights Avery pondered his
attitude, and sought in vain for any other explanation. She came at
last to believe that the fierce flame of his passion had wholly burnt
itself out, consuming all the love he had ever known; and that only
So she could not call him back, and for a time she even shrank from
asking news of him. Then one day she met Victor sorrowfully exercising
Caesar along the confines of the Park, and stopped him when with a
melancholy salute he would have passed her by.
His eyes brightened a little at her action, but he volunteered no
information and she decided later that he had obeyed orders in adopting
this attitude. With an effort she questioned him. How was it he was not
with his master?
He spread out his hands in mournful protest. _Mais Monsieur Pierre_ had
not required his services _depuis longtemps._ He was become very
independent. But yes, he was engaged upon war work. In the Army? But yes
again. Did not _Madame_ know? And then he became vague and sentimental,
bemoaning his own age and consequent inactivity, and finally went away
with brimming eyes and the dubiously expressed hope that _le bon Dieu_
would fight on the right side.
It was all wholly unsatisfactory, and Avery yearned to know more. But the
pain of investigating further held her back. If that growing conviction
of hers were indeed the truth, she shrank morbidly from seeming to make
any advance. No one seemed to know definitely what had become of Piers.
She could not bring herself to apply to outsiders for information, and
there was no one to take up her case and make enquiries on her behalf.
Lennox Tudor had volunteered for service in the Medical Corps and had
been accepted. She did not so much as know where he was, though he was
declared by Miss Whalley, who knew most things, to be on Salisbury Plain.
She sometimes wondered with wry humour if Miss Whalley could have
enlightened her as to her husband's whereabouts; but that lady's attitude
towards her was invariably expressive of such icy disapproval that she
never ventured to put the wonder into words.
And then one afternoon of brilliant autumn she was shopping with Gracie
in Wardenhurst, and came face to face with Ina Guyes.
Dick Guyes had gone into the Artillery, and Ina had returned to her
father's house. She and Avery had not met since Ina's wedding day more
than a year before; but their recognition was mutual and instant.
There was a moment of hesitation on both sides, a difficult moment of
intangible reluctance; then Avery held out her hand.
"How do you do?" she said.
Ina took the hand perfunctorily between her fingers and at once
relinquished it. She was looking remarkably handsome, Avery thought; but
her smile was not conspicuously amiable, and her eyes held something that
was very nearly akin to condemnation.
"Quite well, thanks," she said, with her off-hand air of arrogance which
had become much more marked since her marriage. "You all right?"
Avery felt herself grow reticent and chilly as she made reply. The girl's
eyes of scornful enquiry made her stiffen instinctively. She was prepared
to bow and pass on, but for some reason Ina was minded to linger.
"Has Piers come down yet?" she asked abruptly. "I saw him in town two
nights ago. I've been up there for a day or two with Dick, but he has
rejoined now. It's been embarkation leave. They're off directly."
Off! Avery's heart gave a single hard throb and stood still. She looked
at Ina wordlessly. The shop in which they stood suddenly lost all form
and sound. It seemed to float round her in nebulous billows.
"Good gracious!" said Ina. "Don't look like that! What's up? Aren't you
well? Here, sit down! Or better still, come outside!"
She gripped Avery's arm in a tense, insistent grasp and piloted her
to the door.
Avery went, hardly knowing what she did. Ina turned commandingly
"Look here, child! You stay and collect the parcels! I'm going to
take Lady Evesham a little way in the car. We'll come back for you in
a few minutes."
She had her own way, as she had always had it on every occasion, save
one, throughout her life.
When Avery felt her heart begin to beat again, she was lying back in a
closed car with Ina seated beside her, very upright, extremely alert.
"Don't speak!" the latter said, as their eyes met. "I'll tell you all I
know. Dick and I have been stopping at Marchmont's for the last five
days, and one night Piers walked in. Of course we made him join us. He
was very thin, but looked quite tough and sunburnt. He is rather
magnificent in khaki--like a prince masquerading. I think he talked
without ceasing during the whole evening, but he didn't say a single word
that I can remember. He expects to go almost any day now. He is in a
regiment of Lancers, but I couldn't get any particulars out of him. He
didn't choose to be communicative, so of course I left him alone. He is
turning white about the temples; did you know?"
Avery braced herself to answer the blunt question. There was something
merciless about Ina's straight regard. It pierced her; but oddly she felt
no resentment, only a curious sensation of compassionate sympathy.
"Yes, I saw him--some weeks ago," she said.
"You have not decided to separate then? Everyone said you had."
Ina's tone was brutally direct, yet still, strangely, Avery felt no
"We have not been--friends--for the last year," she said.
"Ah! I thought not. And why? Just because of that story about your first
husband's death that Dick's hateful cousin spread about on our
Ina looked at her with searching, challenging eyes, and Avery felt
suddenly as if she were the younger and weaker of the two.
"Was it because of that?" Ina insisted.
"Yes," she admitted.
"And you let such a thing as that come between you and--and--Piers!"
There was incredulous amazement in Ina's voice. "You actually had
the--the--the presumption!" Coherent words suddenly seemed to fail her,
but she went on regardless, not caring how they came. "A man like
Piers,--a--a--Triton like that,--such a being as is only turned out once
in--in a dozen centuries! Oh, fool! Fool!" She clenched her hands, and
beat them impotently upon her lap. "What did it matter what he'd done? He
was yours. He worshipped you. And the worship of a man like Piers must
be--must be--" She broke off, one hand caught convulsively to her throat;
then swallowed hard and rushed on. "You sent him away, did you? You
wouldn't live with him any longer? My God! Piers!" Again her throat
worked spasmodically, and she controlled it with fierce effort. "He won't
stay true to you of course," she said, more quietly. "You don't expect
that, do you? You can't care--since you wouldn't stick to him. You've
practically forced him into the mire. I sometimes think that one virtuous
woman can do more harm in the world than a dozen of the other sort.
You've embittered him for life. You've made him suffer horribly. I expect
you've suffered too. I hope you have! But your sorrows are not to be
compared with his. He has red blood in his veins, but you're too
attenuated with goodness to know what real suffering means. You had the
whole world in your grasp and you threw it away for a whim, just because
you were too small, too contemptibly mean, to understand. You thought you
loved him, I daresay. Well, you didn't. Love is a very different thing.
Love never casts away. But of course you can't understand that. You are
one of those women who keep down all the blinds lest the sunshine should
fade their souls. You don't know even the beginnings of Love!"
Passionately she uttered the words, but in a voice pitched so low that
Avery only just caught them. And having uttered them almost in the same
breath, she took up the speaking-tube and addressed the chauffeur.
Avery sat quite still and silent. She felt as if she had been attacked
and completely routed by a creature considerably smaller, but infinitely
more virile, more valiant, than herself.
Ina did not speak to her again for several minutes. She threw herself
back against the cushion with an oddly petulant gesture, and leaned there
staring moodily out.
Then, as they neared their starting-point, she sat up and spoke again
with a species of bored indifference. "Of course it's no affair of mine.
I don't care two straws how you treat him. But surely you'll try and give
him some sort of send-off? I wouldn't let even Dick go without that."
Even Dick! There was a world of revelation in those words. Avery's heart
stirred again in pity, and still her indignation slumbered.
They reached the shop before which Gracie was waiting for them,
"Good-bye!" Avery said gently.
"Oh, good-bye!" Ina looked at her with eyes half closed. "I won't get out
if you don't mind. I must be getting back."
She did not offer her hand, but she did not refuse it when very quietly
Avery offered her own. It was not a warm hand-clasp on either side, but
neither was it unfriendly.
As she drove away, Ina leaned forward and bowed with an artificial smile
on her lips. And Avery saw that she was very pale.
THE PLACE OF REPENTANCE
Like a prince masquerading! How vivid was the picture those words called
up to Avery's mind! The regal pose of the body, the turn of the head, the
faultless beauty of the features, and over all, that nameless pride of
race, arrogant yet wholly unconscious--the stamp of the old Roman
patrician, revived from the dust of ages!
Aloof, yet never out of her ken, that picture hung before her all through
the night, the centre-piece of every vision that floated through her
weary brain. In the morning she awoke to a definite resolve.
He had left her before she could stay him; but she would go to him now.
Whether or not he wanted her,--yes, even with the possibility of seeing
him turn from her,--she would seek him out. Yet this once more she would
offer to him that love and faith which he had so cruelly sullied. If he
treated her with cold contempt, she would yet offer to him all that she
had--all that she had. Not because she had forgiven him or in any sense
forgotten; but because she must; because neither forgiveness nor
forgetfulness came into the matter, but only those white hairs above his
temples that urged her, that drove her, that compelled her.
There were no white hairs in her own brown tresses. Could it be that he
had really suffered more than she? If so, God pity him! God help him!
For the first time since their parting, the prayer for him that rose
from her heart kindled within her a glow that burned as fire from the
altar. She had prayed. She had prayed. But her prayers had seemed to
come back to her from a void immeasurable that held nought but the
echoes of her cry.
But now--was it because she was ready to act as well as to pray?--it
seemed to her that her appeal had reached the Infinite. And it was then
that she began to learn that prayer is not only a passive asking, but the
eager straining of every nerve towards fulfilment.
It seemed useless to go to the Abbey for news. She would master her
reluctance and go to Crowther. She was sure that he would be in a
position to tell her all there was to know.
Mrs. Lorimer warmly applauded the idea. The continued estrangement of the
two people whom she loved so dearly was one of her greatest secret
sorrows now. She urged Avery to go, shedding tears over the thought of
Piers going unspeeded into the awful dangers of war.
So by the middle of the morning Avery was on her way. It seemed to her
the longest journey she had ever travelled. She chafed at every pause.
And through it all, Ina's fierce words ran in a perpetual refrain through
her brain: "Love never casts away--Love never casts away."
She felt as if the girl had ruthlessly let a flood of light in upon her
gloom, dazzling her, bewildering her, hurting her with its brilliance.
She had forced aside those drawn blinds. She had pierced to the innermost
corners. And Avery herself was shocked by that which had been revealed.
It had never before been given to her to see her own motives, her own
soul, thus. She had not dreamed of the canker of selfishness that lay at
the root of all. With shame she remembered her assurance to her husband
that her love should never fail him. What of that love now--Love the
Invincible that should have shattered the gates of the prison-house and
led him forth in triumph?
Reaching town, she drove straight to Crowther's rooms. But she was met
with disappointment. Crowther was out. He would be back in the evening,
she was told, but probably not before.
Wearily she went down again and out into the seething life of the streets
to spend the longest day of her life waiting for his return. Looking back
upon that day afterwards, she often wondered how she actually spent the
time. To and fro, to and fro, this way and that; now trying to ease her
soul by watching the soldiers at drill in the Park, the long, long khaki
lines and sunburnt faces; now pacing the edge of the water and seeking
distraction in the antics of some water-fowl; now back again in the
streets, moving with the crowd, seeing soldiers, soldiers on every hand,
scanning each almost mechanically with the vagrant hope of meeting one
who moved with a haughty pride of carriage and looked like a prince in
disguise. Sometimes she stood to see a whole troop pass by, splendid boys
swinging along with laughter and careless singing. She listened to the
tramping feet and merry voices with a heart that sank ever lower and
lower. She had started the day with a quivering wonder if the end of it
might find her in his arms. But ever as the hours passed by the certainty
grew upon her that this would not be. She grew sick with the longing to
see his face. She ached for the sound of his voice. And deep in the heart
of her she knew that this futile yearning was to be her portion for many,
many days. For over a year he had waited, and he had waited in vain. Now
it was her turn.
It was growing dusk when she went again in search of Crowther. He had not
returned, but she could not endure that aimless wandering any longer. She
went in to wait for him, there in the room where Piers had found
sanctuary during some of the darkest hours of his life.
She was too utterly wearied to move about, but sat sunk in the chair
by the window, almost too numbed with misery and fatigue for coherent
thought. The dusk deepened about her. The roar of London's life came
vaguely from afar. Through it and above it she still seemed to hear the
tread of the marching feet as the gallant lines swung by. And still
with aching concentration she seemed to be searching for that one
What did it matter what he had done? He was hers. He was hers. And, O
God, how she wanted him! How gladly in that hour would she have yielded
him all--all that she had to offer!
There came a quiet step without, a steady hand on the door. She started
up with a wild hope clamouring at her heart. Might he not be there also?
It was possible! Surely it was possible!
She took a quick step forward. No conventional word would rise to her
lips. They only stiffly uttered the one name, "Piers!"
And Crowther answered her, just as though no interval of more than a
year lay between them and the old warm friendship. "He left for the
With the words he reached her, and she remembered later the
sustaining strength with which his hands upheld her when she reeled
beneath the blow.
He put her down again in the chair, and knelt beside her, for she clung
to him convulsively, scarcely knowing what she did.
"He ought to have let you know," he said. "But he wouldn't be persuaded.
I believe--right up to the last--he hoped he would hear something of you.
But you know him, his damnable pride,--or was it chivalry this time? On
my soul, I scarcely know which. He behaved almost as if he were under an
oath not to make the first advance. I am very sorry, Avery. But my hands
He paused, and she knew that he was waiting for a word from her--of
kindness or reproach--some intimation of her feelings towards himself.
But she could only utter voicelessly, "I shall never see him again."
He pressed her icy hands close in his own, but he said no word of hope.
He seemed to know instinctively that it was not the moment.
"You can write to him," he said. "You can write now--tonight. The letter
will reach him in a few days at most. He calls himself Beverley--Private
Beverley. Let me give you some tea, and you can sit down and write
Kindly and practical, he offered her the consolation of immediate action;
and the crushing sense of loss began gradually to lose its hold upon her.
"I am going to tell you everything--all I know," he said. "I told him I
should do so if you came to me. I only wish you had come a little sooner,
but that is beside the point."
Again he paused. Her eyes were upon him, but she said nothing.
Finding her hold had slackened, he got up, lighted a lamp, and sat down
with its light streaming across his rugged face.
"I don't know what you have been thinking of me all this time," he said,
"if you have stooped to think of me at all."
"I have often thought of you," Avery answered. "But I had a feeling that
you--that you--" she hesitated--"that you could scarcely be in sympathy
with us both," she ended.
"I see." Crowther's eyes met hers with absolute directness. "But you
realize that that was a mistake," he said.
She answered him in the affirmative. Before those straight eyes of his
she could not do otherwise.
"I could not express my sympathy with you," he said. "I did not even
know that it would be welcome, and I could not interfere without your
husband's consent. I was bound by a promise. But--" he smiled faintly--"I
told him clearly that if you came to me I should not keep that promise. I
should regard it as my release."
"What have you to tell me?" Avery asked.
"Just this," he said. "It isn't a very long story, but I don't think you
have heard it before. It's just the story of one of the worst bits of bad
luck that ever befell a man. He was only a lad of nineteen, and he went
out into the world with all his life before him. He was rich and
successful in every way, full of promise, brilliant. There was something
so splendid about him that he seemed somehow to belong to a higher
planet. He had never known failure or disgrace. But one night an evil
fate befell him. He was forced to fight--against his will; and--he killed
his man. It was an absolutely unforeseen result. He took heavy odds, and
naturally he matched them with all the skill at his command. But it was a
fair fight. I testify to that. He took no mean advantage."
Crowther's eyes were gazing beyond Avery. He spoke with a curious
deliberation as if he were describing a vision that hung before him.
"He himself was more shocked by the man's death than anyone I have ever
seen. He accepted the responsibility at once. There is a lot of nobility
at the back of that man's soul. He wanted to give himself up. But I
stepped in. I took the law into my own hands. I couldn't stand by and see
him ruined. I made him bolt. He went, and I saw no more of him for six
years. That ends the first chapter of the story."
He paused, as if for question or comment; but Avery sat in unbroken
silence. Her eyes also were fixed as it were upon something very far
After a moment, he resumed. "Six years after, I stopped at Monte Carlo
on my way home, and I chanced upon him there. He was with his old
grandfather, living a life that would have driven most young men crazy
with boredom. But--I told you there was something fine about him--he
treated the whole thing as a joke, and I saw that he was the apple of the
old man's eye. He hailed me as an old friend. He welcomed me back into
his life as if I were only associated with pleasant things. But I soon
saw that he was not happy. The memory of that tragedy was hanging on him
like a millstone. He was trying to drag himself free. But he was like a
dog on a chain. He could see his liberty, but he could not reach it. And
the fact that he loved a woman, and believed that he had won her love
made the burden even heavier. So I gathered, though he had his intervals
of reckless happiness when nothing seemed to matter. I didn't know who
the woman was at first, but I urged him strongly to tell her the truth
before he married her. And then somehow, while we were walking together
one night, it came out--that trick of Fate; and in his horror and despair
the boy very nearly went under altogether. It was just the fineness of
his nature that kept him up."
"And your help," said Avery quietly.
His eyes comprehended her for a moment. "Yes, I did my best," he said.
"But it was his own nobility in the main that gave him strength. Have you
never noticed that about him? He has the greatness that only comes to
most men after years of struggle."
"I have noticed," Avery said, her voice very low.
Crowther went on in his slow, steady way. "Well, after that, I left. And
the next thing I knew was that the old man had died, and he was married
to you. You didn't let me into the secret very soon, you know." He smiled
a little. "Of course I realized that you had gone to him rather suddenly
to comfort his loneliness. It was just the sort of thing I should have
expected of you. And I thought--too--that he had told you all, and you
had loved him well enough to forgive him. It wasn't till I came to see
you that I realized that this was not so, and I had been in the house
some hours even then before it dawned on me."
Again he spoke as one describing something seen afar.
"Of course I was sorry," he said. "I knew that sooner or later you were
bound to come up against it. I couldn't help. I just waited. And as it
chanced, I didn't have to wait very long. Piers came to me one night in
August, and told me that the whole thing had come out, and that you had
refused to live with him any longer. I understood your feelings. It was
inevitable that at first you should feel like that. But I knew you loved
him. I knew that sooner or later that would make a difference. And I
tried to hearten him up. For he--poor lad!--was nearly mad with trouble."
Avery's hands closed tightly upon each other in her lap. She sat in
strained silence, still gazing straight before her.
Gently Crowther finished his tale. "That's about all there is to tell,
except that from the day he left you to this, he has borne his burden
like a man, and he has never once done anything unworthy of you. He is a
man, Avery, not a boy any longer. He is a man you can trust, for he will
never deceive you again. If he hasn't yet found his place of repentance,
it hasn't been for lack of the seeking. If you can send him a line of
forgiveness, he will go into this war with a high heart, and you will
have reason to be proud of him when you meet again."
He got up and moved in his slow, massive way across the room.
"Now you will let me give you some tea," he said. "I am sure you must
Had he seen the tears rolling down her face as she sat there? If so he
gave no sign. Quietly he busied himself with his preparations, and before
he came back to her, she had wiped them away.
He waited upon her with womanly gentleness, and later he went with her to
the hotel at which Piers usually stayed, and saw her established there
for the night.
It was not till the moment of parting that she found any words in which
to express herself.
Then, with her hand in his, she whispered chokingly, "I feel as if--as
if--I had failed him--just when he needed me most. He was in prison,
and--I left him there."
Crowther's steady eyes looked into hers with kindness that was full of
sustaining comfort. "He has broken out of his prison," he said. "Don't
Her lips were quivering painfully. She turned her face aside. "He will
scarcely need me now," she said.
"Write and ask him!" said Crowther gently.
She made a piteous gesture of hopelessness. "I have got to find my own
place of repentance first," she said.
"It shouldn't wait," said Crowther. "Write tonight!"
And so for half the night Avery sat writing a letter to her husband which
he was destined never to receive.
THE RELEASE OF THE PRISONER
How long was it since the fight round the chateau? Piers had no idea. The
damp chill of the autumn night was upon him and he was cold to the bone.
It had been a desperate fight in which quarter had been neither asked nor
given, hand to hand and face to face, with wild oaths and dreadful
laughter. He had not noticed the tumult at the time, but the echoes of it
still rang in his ears. A desperate fight against overwhelming odds! For
the chateau had been strongly held, and the struggle for it had seemed
Titanic, albeit only a detail of a rearguard action. There had been guns
there that had harried them all the previous day. It had become a matter
of necessity to silence those guns. So the effort had been made, a
glorious effort crowned with success. They had mastered the garrison,
they had silenced the guns; and then, within an hour of their victory,
disaster had come upon them. Great numbers of the enemy had swept
suddenly upon them, had surrounded them and swallowed them up.
It was all over now. The tide of battle had swept on. The place was
silent as the grave. He was the only man left, flung as it were upon a
dust-heap in a corner of the world that had ceased to matter to anyone.
He had lain for hours unconscious till those awful chills had awakened
him. Doubtless he had been left for dead among his dead comrades. He
wondered why he was not dead. He had a distinct recollection of being
shot through the heart. And the bullet had gone out at his back. He
vividly remembered that also--the red-hot anguish as it had torn its way
through him, the awful emptiness of death that had followed.
How had he escaped--if he had escaped? How had he returned from that
great silence? Why had the dread Door shut against him only, imprisoning
him here when all the rest had passed through? There seemed to be some
mystery about it. He tried to follow it out. Death was no difficult
matter. He was convinced of that. Yet somehow Death had eluded him. He
was as a man who had lost his way in a fog. Doubtless he would find it
again. He did not want to wander alone in this valley of dry bones. He
wanted to get free. He was sure that sooner or later that searing,
red-hot bullet would do its work.
For a space he drifted back into the vast sea of unconsciousness in which
he had been submerged for so long. Even that was bound to lead somewhere.
Surely there was no need to worry!
But very soon it ceased to be a calm sea. It grew troubled. It began to
toss. He felt himself flung from billow to billow, and the sound of a
great storm rose in his ears.
He opened his eyes suddenly wide to a darkness that could be felt, and it
was as though a flame of agony went through him, a raging thirst that
burned him fiendishly.
Ah! He knew the meaning of that! It was horribly familiar to him. He was
back in hell--back in the torture-chamber where he had so often agonized,
closed in behind those bars of iron which he had fought so often and so
fruitlessly to force asunder.
He stretched out his hands and one of them came into contact with the icy
cold of a dead man's face. It was the man who had shot him, and who in
his turn had been shot. He shuddered at the touch, shrank into himself.
And again the fiery anguish caught him, set him writhing; shrivelled him
as parchment is shrivelled in the flame. He went through it, racked with
torment, conscious of nought else in all the world, so pierced and
possessed by pain that it seemed as if all the suffering that those dead
men had missed were concentrated within him. He felt as if it must
shatter him, soul and body, dissolve him with its sheer intensity. And
yet somehow his straining flesh endured. He came through his inferno,
sweating, gasping, with broken prayers and the wrung, bitter crying of
Again the black sea took him, bearing him to and fro, deadening his pain
but giving him no rest. He tossed on the troubled waters for
interminable ages. He watched a full moon rise blood-red and awful and
turn gradually to a whiteness of still more appalling purity. For a
long, long time he watched it, trying to recall something which eluded
him, chasing a will-o'-the-wisp memory round and round the fevered
labyrinths of his brain.
Then at last very suddenly it turned and confronted him. There in the
old-world garden that was every moment growing more distinct and
definite, he looked once more upon his wife's face in the moonlight, saw
her eyes of shrinking horror raised to his, heard her low-spoken words:
"I shall never forgive you."
The vision passed, blotted out by returning pain. He buried his head
beneath his arms and groaned. . . .
Again--hours after, it seemed,--the great cloud of his agony lifted. He
came to himself, feeling deadly sick but no longer gripped by that
fiendish torture. He raised himself on his elbows and faced the blinding
moonlight. It seemed to pierce him, but he forced himself to meet it. He
looked forth over the silent garden.
Strange silhouettes of shrubs weirdly fashioned filled the place. At
a little distance he caught the gleam of white marble, and there
came to him the tinkle of a fountain. He became aware again of raging
thirst--thirst that tore at the very root of his being. He gathered
himself together for the greatest effort of his life. The sound of
the water mocked him, maddened him. He would drink--he would
drink--before he died!
The man at his side lay with face upturned starkly to the moonlight. It
gleamed upon eyes that were glazed and sightless. The ground all around
them was dark with blood.
Slowly Piers raised himself, feeling his heart pump with the effort,
feeling the stiffened wound above it tear and gape asunder. He tried to
hold his breath while he moved, but he could not. It came in sharp,
painful gasps, sawing its way through his tortured flesh. But in spite of
it he managed to lift himself to his hands and knees; and then for a
long, long time he dared attempt no more. For he could feel the blood
flowing steadily from his wound, and a deadly faintness was upon him
against which he needed all his strength to fight.
He thought it must have overwhelmed him for a time at least; yet when it
began to lessen he had not sunk down again. He was still propped upon
hands and knees--the only living creature in that place of dead men.
He could see them which ever way he looked over the trampled
sward--figures huddled or outstretched in the moonlight, all motionless,
He saw none wounded like himself. Perhaps the wounded had been already
collected, perhaps they had crawled to shelter. Or perhaps he was the
only one against whom the Door had been closed. He had been left for
dead. He had nothing to live for. Yet it seemed that he could not die.
He looked at the man at his side lying wrapt in the aloofness of Death.
Poor devil! How horrible he looked, and how indifferent! A sense of
shuddering disgust came upon Piers. He wondered if he would die as
Again the fountain mocked him softly from afar. Again the fiery torment
of his thirst awoke. He contemplated attempting to walk, but instinct
warned him against the risk of a headlong fall. He began with infinite
difficulty to crawl upon hands and knees.
His progress was desperately slow, the suffering it entailed was
sometimes unendurable. And always he knew that the blood was draining
from him with every foot of ground he covered. But ever that maddening
fountain lured him on...
The night had stretched into untold ages. He wondered if in his
frequent spells of unconsciousness he had somehow missed many days. He
had seen the moon swing half across the sky. He had watched with
delirious amusement the dead men rise to bury each other. And he had
spent hours in wondering what would happen to the last of them. His
head felt oddly light, as if it were full of air, a bubble of prismatic
colours that might burst into nothingness at any moment. But his body
felt as if it were fettered with a thousand chains. He could hear them
clanking as he moved.
But still that fountain with its marble basin seemed the end and aim of
his existence. Often he forgot to be thirsty now, but he never forgot
that he must reach the fountain before he died.
Sometimes his thirst would come back in burning spasms to urge him on,
and he always knew that there was a great reason for perseverance, always
felt that if he slackened he would pay a terrible penalty.
The fountain was very far away. He crawled along with ever-increasing
difficulty, marking the progress of his own shadow in the strong
moonlight. There was something pitiless about the moon. It revealed so
much that might have been mercifully veiled.
From the far distance there came the long roll of cannon, shattering the
peace of the night, but it was a long way off. In the chateau-garden
there was no sound but the tinkle of the fountain and the laboured,
spasmodic breathing of a man wounded wellnigh unto death.
Only a few yards separated him now from the running water. It sounded
like a fairy laughter, and all the gruesome horrors of the place faded
into unreality. Surely it was fed by the stream at home that flowed
through the preserves--the stream where the primroses grew!
Only a few more yards! But how damnably difficult it was to cover them!
He could hardly drag his weighted limbs along. It was the old game. He
knew it well. But how devilish to fetter him so! It had been the ruin of
his life. He set his teeth, and forced himself on. He would win through
in spite of all.
The moonlight poured dazzlingly upon the white marble basin, and on the
figure of a nymph who bent above it, delicately poised like a butterfly
about to take wing. He wondered if she would flee at his approach, but
she did not. She stood there waiting for him, a thing of infinite
daintiness, the one object untouched in that ravaged garden. Perhaps
after all it was she and not the fountain that drew him so irresistibly.
He had a great longing to hear her speak, but he was afraid to address
her lest he should scare her away. She was so slight, so spiritual, so
exquisite in her fairy grace. She made him think of Jeanie--little Jeanie
who had prayed for his happiness and had not lived to see her prayer
He drew near with a certain stealthiness, fearing to startle her. He
would have risen to his feet, but his strength was ebbing fast. He knew
he could not.
And then--just ere he reached the marble basin, the goal of that long,
bitter journey--he saw her turn a little towards him; he heard her speak.
"Dear Sir Galahad!"
"Jeanie!" he gasped.
She seemed to sway above the gleaming water. Even then--even then--he was
not sure of her--till he saw her face of childish purity and the happy
smile of greeting in her eyes!
"How very tired you must be!" she said.
"I am, Jeanie! I am!" he groaned in answer. "These chains--these iron
bars--I shall never get free!"
He saw her white arms reach out to him. He thought her fingers touched
his brow. And he knew quite suddenly that the journey was over, and he
could lie down and rest.
Her voice came to him very softly, with a hushing tenderness through the
miniature rush and gurgle of the water. As usual she sought to comfort
him, but he heard a thrill of triumph as well as sympathy in her words.
"He hath broken the gates of brass," she said. "And smitten the bars of
iron in sunder."
His fingers closed upon the edge of the pool. He felt the water splash
his face as he sank down; and though he was too spent to drink he thanked
God for bringing him thither.
Later it seemed to him that a Divine Presence came through the garden,
that Someone stooped and touched him, and lo, his chains were broken and
his burden gone! And he roused himself to ask for pardon; which was
granted to him ere that Presence passed away.
He never knew exactly what happened after that night in the garden of the
ruined chateau. There were a great many happenings, but none of them
seemed to concern him very vitally.
He wandered through great spaces of oblivion, intersected with terrible
streaks of excruciating pain. During the intervals of this fearful
suffering he was acutely conscious, but he invariably forgot everything
again when the merciful unconsciousness came back. He knew in a vague way
that he lay in a hospital-tent with other dying men, knew when they moved
him at last because he could not die, suffered agonies unutterable upon
an endless road that never seemed to lead to anywhere, and finally awoke
to find that the journey had been over for several days.
He tried very hard not to wake. Waking invariably meant anguish. He
longed unspeakably for Death, but Death was denied him. And when someone
came and stooped over him and took his nerveless hand, he whispered with
closed eyes an earnest request not to be called back.
"It's such--a ghastly business--" he muttered piteously--"this waking."
"Won't you speak to a friend, Piers?" a voice said.
He opened his eyes then. He had not heard his own name for months. He
looked up into eyes that gleamed hawk-like through glasses, and a throb
of recognition went through his heart.
"You!" he whispered, striving desperately to master the sickening pain
that that throb had started.
"All right. Don't speak for a bit!" said Tudor quietly. "I think I can
He did help, working over him steadily, with the utmost gentleness, till
the worst of the paroxysm was past.
Piers was pathetically grateful. His high spirit had sunk very low in
those days. No one that he could remember had ever done anything to ease
his pain before.
"It's been--so infernal," he whispered presently. "You know--I was
shot--through the heart."
Tudor's face was very grave. "Yes, you're pretty bad," he said. "But
you've pulled through so far. It's in your favour, that. And look here,
you must lie flat on your back always. Do you understand? It's about your
"Of living?" whispered Piers. "But I don't want to live. I want to die."
"Don't be a fool!" said Tudor.
"I'm not a fool. I hate life!" A tremor of passion ran through the words.
Tudor laid a hand upon him. "Piers, if ever any man had anything to live
for, you are that man," he said.
"What do you mean?" Piers' eyes, dark as the night through which he had
come, looked up at him.
"I mean just that. If you can't live for your own sake, live for hers!
She wants you. It'll break her heart if you go out now."
"Great Scott, man! You're not in earnest!" whispered Piers.
"I am in earnest. I know exactly what I am saying. I don't talk at
random. She loved you. She wants you. You've lived for yourself all your
life. Now--you've got to live for her."
Tudor's voice was low and vehement. A faint sparkle came into Piers' eyes
as he heard it.
"By George!" he said softly. "You're rather a brick, what? But haven't
you thought--what might happen--if--if I went out after all? You used to
be rather great--at getting me out of the way."
"I didn't realize how all-important you were," rejoined Tudor, with a
bitter smile. "You needn't go any further in that direction. It leads to
a blank wall. You've got to live whether you like it or not. I'm going
to do all I can to make you live, and you'll be a hound if you don't
back me up."
His eyes looked down upon Piers, dominant and piercingly intent.
And--perhaps it was mere physical weakness, or possibly the voluntary
yielding of a strong will that was in its own way as great as the
strength to which it yielded--Piers surrendered with a meekness such as
Tudor had never before witnessed in him.
"All right," he said. "I'll do--my best."
And so oddly they entered into a partnership that had for its sole end
and aim the happiness of the woman they loved; and in that partnership
their rivalry was forever extinguished.
"They say he will never fight again," said Crowther gravely. "He may
live. They think he will live. But he will never be strong."
"If only I might see him!" Avery said.
"Yes, I know. That is the hardest part. But be patient a little longer!
So much depends on it. I was told only this morning that any agitation
might be fatal. No one seems to understand how it is that he has managed
to live at all. He is just hanging on, poor lad,--just hanging on."
"I want to help him," Avery said.
"I know you do. And so you can--if you will. But not by going to him.
That would do more harm than good."
"How else can I do anything?" she said. "Surely--surely he wants
to see me!"
She was standing in Crowther's room, facing him with that in her eyes
that moved him to a great compassion.
He put his hand on her shoulder. "My dear, of course he wants to see you;
but there will be no keeping him quiet when he does. He isn't equal to
it. He is putting up the biggest fight of his life, and he wants all his
strength for it. But you can do your part now if you will. You can go
down to Rodding Abbey and make ready to receive him there. And you can
send Victor to help me with him as soon as he is able to leave the
hospital. He and I will bring him down to you. And if you will be there
just in the ordinary way, I think there will be less risk of excitement.
Will you do this, Avery? Is it asking too much of you?"
His grey eyes looked straight down into hers with the wide friendliness
that was as the open gateway to his soul, and some of the bitter strain
of the past few weeks passed from her own as she looked back.
"Nothing would be too much," she said. "I would do anything--anything.
But if he should want me--and I were not at hand? If--if--he
should--die--" Her voice sank.
Crowther's hand pressed upon her. "He is not going to die," he said
stoutly. "He doesn't mean to die. But he will probably have to go slow
for the rest of his life. That is where you will be able to help him. His
only chance lies in patience. You must teach him to be patient."
Her lips quivered in a smile. "Piers!" she said. "Can you picture it?"
"Yes, I can. Because I know that only patience can have brought him to
where he is at present. They say it is nothing short of a miracle, and I
believe it. God often works His miracles that way. And I always knew
that Piers was great."
Crowther's slow smile appeared, transforming his whole face. He held
Avery's hand for a little, and let it go.
"So you will do this, will you?" he said. "I think the boy would be just
about pleased to find you there. And you can depend on me to bring him
down to you as soon as he is able to bear it."
"You are very good," Avery said. "Yes, I will go."
But, as Crowther knew, in going she accepted the hardest part; and the
weeks that she then spent at Rodding Abbey waiting, waiting with a sick
anxiety, left upon her a mark which no time could ever erase.
When Crowther's message came to her at last, she was almost too crushed
to believe. Everything was in readiness, had been in readiness for weeks.
She had prepared in fevered haste, telling herself that any day might
bring him. But day had followed day, and the news had always been
depressing, first of weakness, fits of pain, terrible collapses, and
again difficult recoveries. Not once had she been told that any ground
had been gained.
And so when one day a telegram reached her earlier than usual, she
hardly dared to open it, so little did she anticipate that the news
could be good.
And even when the words stared her in the face: "Bringing Piers this
afternoon, Crowther," she could not for awhile believe them, and sought
instinctively to read into them some sinister meaning.
How she got through that day, she never afterwards knew. The hours
dragged leaden-footed. There was nothing to be done. She would not leave
the house lest by some impossible chance he might arrive before the
afternoon, but she felt that to stay within its walls was unendurable. So
for the most part she paced the terrace, breathing the dank, autumnal
air, picturing every phase of his journey, but never daring to picture
his arrival, praying piteous, disjointed prayers that only her own soul
seemed to hear.
The afternoon began to wane, and dusk came down. A small drifting rain
set in with the darkness, but she was not even aware of it till David,
very deferential and subdued, came to her and suggested that if she would
wait in the hall Sir Piers would see her at once, as he had taken the
liberty to turn on all the lights.
She knew that the old man made the suggestion out of the goodness of his
heart, and she fell in with it, realizing the wisdom of going within. But
when she found herself in the full glare of the great hall, alone with
those shining suits of armour that mounted guard on each side of the
fireplace, the awful suspense came upon her with a force that nothing
could alleviate. She turned with sick loathing from the tea-tray that
David had placed for her so comfortingly close to the fire. Every moment
that passed was an added torture. It was dark, it was late. The
conviction was growing in her heart that when they came at last, they
would bring with them only her husband's dead body.
She rose and went to the open door. Where was his spirit now, she
wondered? Had he leapt ahead of that empty, travelling shell? Was he
already close--close--his arm entwined in hers? She covered her face
with her hands. "Oh, Piers, I can't go on alone," she sobbed. "If you are
dead--I must die too!"
And then, as though in obedience to a voice that had spoken within her,
she raised her head again and gazed forth. The rain had drifted away.
Through scudding clouds of darkness there shone, serene and splendid, a
single star. Her heart gave a great throb, and was still.
"The Star of Hope!" she murmured wonderingly. "The Star of Hope!"
And in that moment inexplicably yet convincingly she knew that her
prayers that had seemed so fruitless had been heard, and that an answer
was very near at hand....
There came the sound of a horn from the direction of the lodge. They
She turned her head and looked down the dark avenue. But she was no
longer agitated or distressed by fear. She knew not what might be in
store for her, but somehow, mystically, she had been endued with strength
to meet it unafraid.
She heard the soft buzz of a high-powered car, and presently two lights
appeared at the further end. They came towards her swiftly, almost
silently. It was like the swoop of an immense bird. And then in the
strong glare shed forth by the hall-lamps she saw the huge body of an
ambulance-car, and a Red Cross flared symbolic in the light.
The car came to a stand immediately before her, and for a few moments
nothing happened. And still she was not afraid. Still she was as it were
guided and sustained and lifted above all turmoil. She seemed to stand on
a mountain-top, above the seething misery that had for so long possessed
her. She was braced to look upon even Death unshaken, undismayed.
Steadily she moved. She went down to the car. Old David was behind her.
He came forward and opened the door with fumbling, quivering hands. She
had time to notice his agitation and to be sorry for him.
Then a voice came to her from within, and a great throb went through her
of thankfulness, of relief, of joy unspeakable.
"Victor, you old ass, what are you blubbing for? Anyone would think--" A
sudden pause, then in a low, eager tone, "Hullo,--Avery?"
The incredulous interrogation of the words cut her to the heart. She went
up the step and into the car as if drawn by an irresistible magnetism,
seeing neither Crowther nor Victor, aware only of a prone, gaunt figure
on a stretcher, white-haired, skeleton-featured, that reached a trembling
hand to her and said again, "Hullo!"
For one wild second she felt as if she were in the presence of old Sir
Beverley, so striking was the likeness that the drawn, upturned face bore
to him. Then Piers' eyes, black as the night, smiled up at her,
half-imperious, half-pleading, and the illusion was gone.
She stooped over him, that trembling hand fast clasped in hers; but she
could not speak. No words would come.
"Been waiting, what?" he said. "I hope not for long?"
But still she could not speak. She felt choked. It was all so unnatural,
so cruelly hard to bear.
"I shan't be like this always," he said. "Afraid I look an awful guy just
That was all then, for Crowther came gently between them; and then he
and Victor, with infinite care, lifted the stretcher and bore the master
of the house into his own home.
Half an hour later Avery turned from waving a farewell to Crowther, who
had insisted upon going back to town with the car that had brought them,
and softly shut out the night.
She had had the library turned into a bedroom for Piers, and she crossed
the hall to the door with an eagerness that carried her no further.
There, gripping the handle, she was stayed.
Within, she could hear Victor moving to and fro, but she listened in vain
for her husband's voice, and a great shyness came upon her. She could not
ask permission to enter.
Minutes passed while she stood there, minutes of tense listening,
during which she scarcely seemed to breathe. Then very suddenly she
heard a sound that set every nerve a-quiver--a groan that was more of
weariness than pain, but such weariness as made her own heart throb in
Almost without knowing it, she turned the handle of the door, and opened
it. A moment more, and she was in the room.
He was lying flat in the bed, his dark eyes staring upwards out of deep
hollows that had become cruelly distinct. There was dumb endurance in
every line of him. His mouth was hard set, the chin firm as granite. And
even then in his utter helplessness there was about him a greatness, a
mute, unconscious majesty, that caught her by the throat.
She went softly to the bedside.
He turned his head at her coming, not quickly, not with any eagerness of
welcome; but with that in his eyes, a slow kindling, that seemed to
surround her with the glow of a great warmth.
But when he spoke, it was upon no intimate subject. "Has Crowther
gone?" he asked.
His voice was pitched very low. She saw that he spoke with deliberate
quietness, as if he were training himself thereto.
"Yes," she made answer. "He wouldn't stay."
"He couldn't," said Piers. "He is going to be ordained tomorrow."
"Oh, is he?" she said in surprise. "He never told me!"
"He wouldn't," said Piers. "He never talks about himself." He moved his
hand slightly towards her. "Won't you sit down?"
She glanced round. Victor was advancing behind her with a chair. Piers'
eyes followed hers, and an instant later, turning back, she saw his quick
frown. He raised his hand and snapped his fingers with the old imperious
gesture, pointing to the door; and in a moment Victor, with a smile of
peculiar gratification, put down the chair, trotted to it, opened it with
a flourish, and was gone.
Avery was left standing by the bed, slightly uncertain, wanting to smile,
but wanting much more to cry.
Piers' hand fell heavily. For a few seconds he lay perfectly still, with
quickened breathing and drawn brows. Then his fingers patted the edge of
the bed. "Sit down, sweetheart!" he said.
It was Piers the boy-lover who spoke to her with those words, and,
hearing them, something seemed to give way within her. It was as if a
tight band round her heart had suddenly been torn asunder.
She sank down on her knees beside the bed, and hid her face in his
pillow. Tears--tears such as she had not shed since the beginning
of their bitter estrangement--came welling up from her heart and
would not be restrained. She sobbed her very soul out there beside
him, subconsciously aware that in that hour his strength was
greater than hers.
Like an overwhelming torrent her distress came upon her, caught her
tempestuously, swept her utterly from her own control, tossed her hither
and thither, flung her at last into a place of deep, deep silence, where,
still kneeling with head bowed low, she became conscious, strangely,
intimately conscious, of the presence of God.
It held her like a spell, that consciousness. She was as one who kneels
before a vision. And even while she knelt there, lost in wonder, there
came to her the throbbing gladness of faith renewed, the certainty that
all would be well.
Piers' hand was on her head, stroking, caressing, soothing. By no words
did he attempt to comfort her. It was strange how little either of them
felt the need of words. They were together upon holy ground, and in
closer communion each with each than they had ever been before. Those
tears of Avery's had washed away the barrier.
Once, some time later, he whispered to her, "I never asked you to forgive
me, Avery; but--"
And that was the nearest he ever came to asking her forgiveness. For she
stopped the words with her lips on his, and he never thought of uttering
Christmas Eve and children's voices singing in the night! Two figures by
the open window listening--a man and a woman, hand in hand in the dark!
"Don't let them see us yet!" It was the woman's voice, low but with a
deep thrill in it as of full and complete content. "I knew they were
coming. Gracie whispered it to me this morning. But I wasn't to tell
anyone. She was so afraid their father might forbid it."
The man answered with a faint, derisive laugh that yet had in it an echo
of the woman's satisfaction. He did not speak, for already through the
winter darkness a single, boyish voice had taken up another verse:
"He comes, the prisoners to release
In Satan's bondage held;
The gates of brass before Him burst,
The iron fetters yield."
The woman's fingers clung fast to his. "Love opens every door," she
His answering grip was close and strong. But he said nothing while the
last triumphant lines were repeated.
"The gates of brass before Him burst,
The iron fetters yield."
The next verse was sung by two voices in harmony, very soft and hushed.
"He comes the broken heart to bind,
The bleeding soul to cure,
And with the treasures of His grace
To bless the humble poor."
Then came a pause, while through the quiet night there floated the sound
of distant bells.
"Look!" said Piers suddenly.
And Avery, kneeling beside him, raised her eyes.
There, high above the trees, alone and splendid, there shone a great,
His arm slid round her neck. "The Star of Hope, Avery," he whispered.
She clung to him silently, with a closeness that was passionate.
And so the last verse, very clear and strong, came to them out of
"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."
Avery leaned her head against her husband's shoulder. "I hear an angel
singing," she said.
* * * * *
Ten minutes later, Gracie stood in the great hall with the red glow of
the fire spreading all about her, her bright eyes surveying the master of
the house who lay back in a low easy-chair with his wife kneeling beside
him and Caesar the Dalmatian curled up with much complacence at his feet.
"How very comfy you look!" she remarked.
And, "We are comfy," said Piers, with a smile.