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The Bars of Iron by Ethel May Dell

Part 3 out of 10

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The lamplight from within shone on her upturned face with its saucy,
confiding smile. Her head was uncovered and gleamed golden in the
radiance. She was wearing a very ancient fur cloak belonging to her
mother, and she glowed like a rose in the sombre drapery.

Piers stooped to her with hands invitingly outstretched. "Come along,
Pixie! We shan't eat you, and I'll take you home on my shoulder
afterwards and see you don't get copped."

She uttered a delighted little laugh, and went upwards into his hold like
a scrap of floating thistledown.

He lifted her high in his arms, crossed the room with her, and set her
down before the old man who still sat at the table, sardonically
watching. "Miss Gracie Lorimer!" he said.

"Hullo, child!" growled Sir Beverley.

Gracie looked at him with sparkling, adventurous eyes. As she had told
Piers, she was not a bit afraid. After the briefest pause she held out
her hand with charming _insouciance_.

"How do you do?" she said.

Sir Beverley slowly took the hand, and pulled her towards him, gazing at
her from under his black brows with a piercing scrutiny that would have
terrified a more timid child.

Timidity however was not one of Gracie's weaknesses. She gave him a
friendly smile, and waited without the smallest sign of uneasiness for
him to speak.

"What have you come here for?" he demanded gruffly at length.

"I'll tell you," said Gracie readily. She went close to him, confidingly
close, looking straight into the formidable grey eyes. "You see, it was
my idea. Pat didn't want to come, but I made him."

"Forward young minx!" commented Sir Beverley.

Gracie laughed at the compliment.

Piers, smoking his cigarette behind her, stood ready to take her part,
but quite obviously she was fully equal to the occasion.

"Yes, I know," she agreed, with disarming amiability. "But it wouldn't
have mattered a bit if you hadn't found out who it was. You won't tell
anyone, will you?"

"Why not?" demanded Sir Beverley.

Gracie pulled down her red lips, and cast up her dancing eyes. "There'd
be such a scandal," she said.

Piers broke into an involuntary laugh, and Sir Beverley's thin lips
twitched in a reluctant smile.

"You're a saucy little baggage!" he observed. "Well, get on! Let's hear
what you've come for! Cadging money, I'll be bound."

Gracie nodded in eager confirmation of this suggestion. "That's just it!"
she said. "And that's where the scandal would come in if you told. You
see, poor children can go round squalling carols to their hearts' content
for pennies, but children like us who want pennies just as much haven't
any way of getting them. We mayn't carry hand-bags, or open
carriage-doors, or turn cart-wheels, or--or do anything to earn a living.
It's hard luck, you know."

"Beastly shame!" said Piers.

Sir Beverley scowled at him. "You needn't stick your oar in. Go and
shut the window, do you hear? Now, child, let's have the truth, so far
as any female is capable of speaking it! You've come here for pennies,
you say. Don't you know that's a form of begging? And begging is
breaking the law."

"I often do that," said Grade, quite undismayed. "So would you, if you
were me. I expect you did too when you were young."

"I!" Sir Beverley uttered a harsh laugh, and released the child's hand.
"So you break the law, do you?" he said. "How often?"

Gracie's laugh followed his like a silvery echo. "I shan't tell you 'cos
you're a magistrate. But we weren't really begging, Pat and I. At least
it wasn't for ourselves."

"Oh, of course not!" said Sir Beverley.

She looked at him with her clear eyes, unconscious of irony. "No. We
wanted to buy a pair of gloves for someone for Christmas. And nice
gloves cost such a lot, don't they? And we hadn't got more than
tenpence-halfpenny among us. So I said I'd think of a plan to get more.
And--that was the plan," ended Grade, with her sweetest smile.

"I see," said Sir Beverley, with his eyes still fixed immovably upon her.
"And what made you come here?"

"Oh, we came here just because of Piers," said Grade, without hesitation.
"You see, he's a great friend of ours."

"Is he?" said Sir Beverley. "And so you think you'll get what you can out
of him, eh?"

"Sir!" said Piers sharply.

"Be quiet, Piers!" ordered his grandfather testily. "Who spoke to you?
Well, madam, continue! How much do you consider him good for?"

Piers pulled a coin impetuously from his pocket and slapped it down on
the table in front of Grade. "There you are, Pixie!" he said. "I'm good
for that."

Gracie stared at the coin with widening eyes, not offering to touch it.

"Oh, Piers!" she said, with a long indrawn breath. "It's a whole
sovereign! Oh no!"

He laughed a reckless laugh, while over her head his eyes challenged his
grandfather's. "That's all right, Piccaninny," he said lightly. "Put it
in your pocket! And I'll come round with the car to-morrow and run you
into Wardenhurst to buy those gloves."

But Gracie shook her head. "Gloves don't cost all that," she said
practically. "And besides, you won't have any left for yourself. Fancy
giving away a whole sovereign at a time!" She addressed Sir Beverley. "It
seems almost a tempting of Providence, doesn't it!"

"The deed of a fool!" said Sir Beverley.

But Piers, with a sudden hardening of the jaw, stooped over Gracie. "Take
it!" he said. "I wish it."

She looked up at him. "No, Piers; I mustn't really. It's ever so nice of
you." She rubbed her golden head against his shoulder caressingly.
"Please don't be cross! I do thank you--awfully. But I don't want it.
Really, I don't."

"Rot!" said Piers. "Do as I tell you! Take it!"

Gracie turned to Sir Beverley. "I can't, can I? Tell him I can't!"

But Piers was not to be thwarted. With a sudden dive he seized the coin
and without ceremony swept Gracie's hair from her shoulders and dropped
it down the back of her neck.

"There!" he said, slipping his hands over her arms and holding her while
she squealed and writhed. "It's quite beyond reach. You can't in decency
return it now. It's no good wriggling. You won't get it up again unless
you stand on your head."

"You're horrid--horrid!" protested Gracie; but she reached back and
kissed him notwithstanding. "Thank you ever so much. I hope I shan't lose
it. But I don't know what I shall do with it all. It's quite dreadful to
think of. Please don't be cross with him!" she said to Sir Beverley.

Sir Beverley smiled sardonically. "And whom are the gloves for? Some
other kind youth?"

"Oh no!" she laughed. "Only Aunt Avery. She tore hers all to bits this
afternoon. I expect it was over a dog fight or something, but she
wouldn't tell us what. They were nice gloves too. She isn't a bit rich,
but she always wears nice gloves."

"Being a woman!" growled Sir Beverley.

"Don't you like women?" asked Gracie sympathetically. "I like men best
too as a rule. But Aunt Avery is so very sweet. No one could help loving
her, could they, Piers?"

"Have an orange!" said Piers, pulling the dish towards him.

"Oh, thank you, I mustn't stop," Gracie turned to Sir Beverley and lifted
her bright face. "Good-bye! Thank you for being so kind."

There was no irony in her thanks, and even he could scarcely refuse the
friendly offer of her lips. He stooped and grimly received her farewell
salute on his cheek.

Piers loaded her with as many oranges as she could carry, and they
finally departed through the great hall which Gracie surveyed with eyes
of reverent admiration.

"It's as big as a church," she said, in an awed whisper.

Sir Beverley followed them to the front-door, and saw them out into the
night. Gracie waved an ardent farewell from her perch on Piers' shoulder,
and he heard the merry childish laugh more than once after they had
passed from sight.

The night air was chilly, and he turned inwards at length with an
inarticulate growl, and shut the door.

Heavily he tramped across to the old carved settle before the fire, and
dropped down upon it, his whole bearing expressive of utter weariness.

David came in with stealthy footfall and softly replenished the fire.

"Shall I bring the coffee, Sir Beverley?" he asked him.

"No," said Sir Beverley. "I'll ring."

And David effaced himself without sound.

Half an hour passed, and Sir Beverley still sat there motionless as a
statue, with thin lips drawn in a single bitter line, and eyes that gazed
aloofly at the fire. The silence was intense. The hall seemed desolate
as a vault. Over in a corner a grandfather's clock ticked the seconds
away--slowly, monotonously, as though very weary of its task.

Suddenly in the distance there came a faint sound, the opening of a door;
and a breath of night-air, pure and cold, blew in across the stillness.
In a moment there followed a light, elastic step, and Piers came into
view at the other end of the hall. He moved swiftly as though he trod
air. His head was thrown back, his face rapt and intent as though he saw
a vision. He did not see the lonely figure sitting there before the
hearth, but turned aside ere he neared it and entered an unlighted room,
shutting himself gently in.

Again the silence descended, but only for a few seconds. Then softly it
was dispelled, as through it there stole the tender, passionate-sweet
harmonies of a Chopin nocturne.

At the first note Sir Beverley started, almost winced as at the sudden
piercing of a nerve. Then as the music continued, he leaned rigidly back
again and became as still as before.

Very softly the music thrilled through the silence. It might have come
from somewhere very far away. There was something almost unearthly about
it, a depth and a mystery that seemed to spread as it were invisible
wings, filling the place with dim echoes of the Divine.

It died away at last into a silence like the hush of prayer. And then the
still figure of the old man before the fire became suddenly vitalized. He
sat up abruptly and seized with impatience a small hand-bell from the
table beside him.

David made his discreet appearance with the coffee almost at the
first tinkle.

"Coffee!" his master flung at him. "And fetch Master Piers!"

David set down the tray at his master's elbow, and turned to obey the
second behest. But the door of the drawing-room opened ere he reached
it, and Piers came out. His dark eyes were shining. He whistled softly
as he came.

David stood respectfully on one side, and Piers passed him like a man in
a dream. He came to his grandfather, and threw himself on to the settle
by his side in silence.

"Well?" said Sir Beverley. "You took that chattering monkey back,
I suppose?"

Piers started and seemed to awake. "Oh yes, I got her safely home. We had
to dodge the Reverend Stephen. But it was all right. She and the boy got
in without being caught."

He stirred his coffee thoughtfully, and fell silent again.

"You'd better go to bed," said Sir Beverley abruptly.

Piers looked up, meeting the hard grey eyes with the memory of his dream
still lingering in his own.

Slowly the dream melted. He began to smile. "I think I'd better," he
said. "I'm infernally sleepy, and it's getting late." He drank off his
coffee and rose. "You must be pretty tired yourself, sir," he remarked.
"Time you trotted to bed too."

He moved round to the back of the settle and paused, looking down at the
thick white hair with a curious expression of hesitancy in his eyes.

"Oh, go on! Go on!" said Sir Beverley irritably. "What are you
waiting for?"

Piers stooped impulsively in response, his hand on the old man's
shoulder, and kissed him on the forehead.

"Good-night, sir!" he said softly.

The action was purely boyish. It pleaded for tolerance. Sir Beverley
jerked his head impatiently, but he did not repulse him.

"There! Be off with you!" he said. "Go to bed and behave yourself!
Good-night, you scamp! Good-night!"

And Piers went from him lightfooted, a smile upon his lips. He knew that
his tacit overture for peace had been accepted for the time at least.



It was growing very dark in the little church, almost too dark to see the
carving of the choir-stalls, and Avery gave a short sigh of weariness.

She had so nearly finished her task that she had sent the children in to
prepare for tea, declaring that she would follow them in five minutes,
and then just at the last a whole mass of ivy and holly, upon which the
boys had been at work, had slipped and strewn the chancel-floor. She was
the only one left in the church, and it behooved her to remove the
litter. It had been a hard day, and she was frankly tired of the very
sight and smell of the evergreens.

There was no help for it, however. The chancel must be made tidy before
she could go, and she went to the cupboard under the belfry for the
dustpan and brush which the sexton's wife kept there. She found a candle
also, and thus armed she returned to the scene of her labours at the
other end of the dim little church. She tried to put her customary energy
into the task, but it would not rise to the occasion, and after a few
strenuous seconds she paused to rest.

It was very still and peaceful, and she was glad of the solitude. All day
long she had felt the need of it; and all day long it had been denied
her. She had been decorating under Miss Whalley's superintendence, and
the task had been no light one. Save for the fact that she had gone in
Mrs. Lorimer's stead, she had scarcely undertaken it. For Miss Whalley
was as exacting as though the church were her own private property. She
deferred to the Vicar alone, and he was more than willing to leave the
matter in her hands. "My capable assistant" was his pet name for this
formidable member of his flock, and very conscientiously did Miss Whalley
maintain her calling. She would have preferred to direct Mrs. Lorimer
rather than the mother's help, but since the latter had firmly determined
to take the former's place, she had accepted her with condescension and
allotted to her all the hardest work.

Avery had laboured uncomplainingly in her quiet, methodical fashion, but
now that the stress was over and Miss Whalley safely installed in the
Vicarage drawing-room for tea, she found it impossible not to relax
somewhat, and to make the most of those few exquisite moments of

She was very far from expecting any invasion of her solitude, and when
after a moment or two she went on with her sweeping she had no suspicion
of another presence in the dark building. She had set herself resolutely
to finish her task, and so energetic was she that she heard no sound of
feet along the aisle behind her.

Some unaccountable impulse induced her to pause at length and still
kneeling, brush in hand, to throw a backward glance along the nave. Then
it was that she saw a man's figure standing on the chancel-steps, and so
unexpected was the apparition that her weary nerves leapt with violence
out of all proportion to the event, and she sprang to her feet with a
startled cry that echoed weirdly through the empty place. Then with a
rush of self-ridicule she recognized Piers Evesham. "Oh, it is you!" she
said. "How stupid of me!"

He came straight to her with an air of determination that would brook no
opposition and took the brush out of her hand. "That's not your job," he
said. "You go and sit down!"

She stared at him in silence, trying to still the wild agitation that his
unlooked-for coming had raised in her. He was wearing a heavy motor-coat,
but he divested himself of this, and without further parley bent himself
to the task of which he had deprived her.

Avery sat down somewhat limply on the pulpit-stairs and watched him. He
was very thorough and far brisker than she could have been. In a very few
minutes the litter was all collected, and Piers turned round and looked
back at her across the dim chancel.

"Feeling better?" he said.

She did not answer him. "What made you come in like that?" she asked.

He replied to the question with absolute simplicity. "I've just brought
Gracie home again. She asked me to tea in the schoolroom, but you weren't
there, and they said I should find you here, so I came to fetch you."

He moved slowly across and stood before her, looking down into her tired
eyes with an odd species of relentlessness in his own.

"It's an infernal shame that you should work so hard!" he said, with
sudden resentment. "You're looking fagged to death."

Avery smiled a little. "I like hard work," she said.

"Not such as this!" said Piers. "It isn't fit for you. Why can't the lazy
hound do it himself?"

Her smile passed. "Hush, Piers!" she said. "Not here!"

He glanced towards the altar, and she thought a shade of reverence came
into his face for a moment. But he turned to her again immediately with
his flashing, boyish smile.

"Well, it isn't good for you to overwork, you know, Avery. I hate to
think of it. And you have no one to take care of you and see you don't."

Avery got up slowly. Her own face was severe in the candlelight, but
before she could speak he went lightly on.

"Would you like me to play you something before we go? Or are you too
tired to blow? It's rather a shame to suggest it. But it's such a grand

Avery turned at once to the organ with a feeling of relief. As usual she
found it very hard to rebuke him as he deserved.

"Yes, I will blow for you," she said. "But it must be something short,
for we ought to be going."

She sat down and began to blow.

Piers took his place at once at the organ. It was characteristic of him
that he never paused for inspiration. His fingers moved over the keys as
it were by instinct, and in a few moments Avery forgot that she was tired
and dispirited with the bearing of many burdens, forgot all the problems
and difficulties of life, forgot even her charges at the Vicarage and the
waiting schoolroom tea, and sat wrapt as it were in a golden mist of
delight, watching the slow spreading of a dawn such as she had never seen
even in her dreams. What he played she knew not, and yet the music was
not wholly unfamiliar to her. It waked within her soul harmonies that
vibrated in throbbing response. He spoke to her in a language that she
knew. And as the magic moments passed, the wonderful dawn so grew and
deepened that it seemed to her that all pain, all sorrow, had fallen
utterly away, and she stood on the threshold of a new world.

Wider and wider spread the glory. There came to her an overwhelming sense
of greatness about to be revealed. She became strung to a pitch of
expectancy that was almost anguish, while the music swelled and swelled
like the distant coming of a vast procession as yet unseen. She stood as
it were on a mountain-top before the closed gates of heaven, waiting for
the moment of revelation.

It came. Just when she felt that she could bear no more, just when the
wild beating of her heart seemed as if it would choke her, the music
changed, became suddenly all-conquering, a paean of triumph, and the
gates swung back before her eager eyes.

In spirit she entered the Holy Place, and the same hand that had admitted
her lifted for her the last great Veil. For one moment of unutterable
rapture such as no poor palpitating mortal body could endure for long,
the vision was her own. She saw Heaven opened....

And then the Veil descended, and the Gates closed. She came down from the
mountain-top, leaving the golden dawn very far behind her. She opened her
eyes in darkness and silence.

Someone was bending over her. She felt warm hands about her own. She
heard a voice, sudden and imploring, close to her.

"Avery! Avery darling! For God's sake, dear, speak to me! What is it?
Are you ill?"

"Ill!" she said, bewildered.

His hands gripped hers impetuously. "You gave me such a fright," he said.
"I thought you'd fainted. Did you faint?"

"Of course not!" she said slowly. "I never faint. Why did you stop

"I didn't," said Piers. "At least, you stopped first."

"Oh, did I forget to blow?" she said. "I'm sorry."

She knew that she ought not to suffer that close clasp of his, but
somehow for the moment she was powerless to resist it. She sat quite
still, gazing out before her with a curious sense of powerlessness.

"You're tired out," said Piers softly. "It was a shame to keep you here.
I'm awfully sorry, dear."

She stirred at that, beginning to seek for freedom. "Don't, Piers!" she
said. "It--it isn't right of you. It isn't fair."

He knelt swiftly down before her. His voice came quick and passionate in
answer. "It can't be wrong to love you," he said. "And you will never be
any the worse for my love. Let me love you, Avery! Let me love you!"

The words rushed out tempestuously. His forehead was bowed upon her
hands. He became silent, and through the silence she heard his breathing,
hard and difficult,--the breathing of a man who faces stupendous odds.

With an effort she summoned her strength. Yet she could not speak harshly
to him, for her heart went out in pity. "No, you mustn't, Piers," she
said. "You mustn't indeed. I am years older than you are, and it is
utterly unsuitable. You must forget it. You must indeed. There! Let us be
friends! I like you well enough for that."

He uttered a laugh that sounded as though it covered a groan. "Yes,
you're awfully good to me," he said. "But you're not--in one
sense--anything approaching my age, and pray Heaven you never will be!"

He raised his head and looked at her. "And you're not angry with me?" he
said, half wistfully.

No, she was not angry. She could not even pretend to be. "But please be
sensible!" she begged. "I know it was partly my fault. If I hadn't been
so tired, it wouldn't have happened."

He got to his feet, still holding her hands. "No; you're not to blame
yourself," he said. "What has happened was bound to happen, right from
the very beginning. But I'm sorry if it has upset you. There is no reason
why it should that I can see. You are better now?"

He helped her gently to rise. They stood face to face in the dim
candlelight, and his eyes looked into hers with such friendly concern
that again she had it not in her heart to be other than kind.

"I am quite well," she assured him. "Please forget my foolishness! Tell
me what it was you played just now!"

"That last thing?" he said. "Surely you know that! It was Handel's

She started. "Of course! I remember now! But--I've never heard it played
like that before."

A very strange smile crossed his face. "No one but you would have
understood," he said. "I wanted you to hear it--like that."

She withdrew her hands from his. Something in his words sent a curious
feeling that was almost dread through her heart.

"I don't--quite--know what you mean," she said.

"Don't you?" said Piers, and in his voice there rang a note of
recklessness. "It's a difficult thing to put into words, isn't it? I just
wanted you to see the Open Heaven as I have seen it--and as I shall never
see it again."

"Piers!" she said.

He answered her almost fiercely. "No, you won't understand. Of course you
can't understand. You will never stand hammering at the bars, breaking
your heart in the dark. Wasn't that the sort of picture our kindly parson
drew for us on Sunday? It's a pretty theme--the tortures of the damned!"

"My dear Piers!" Avery spoke quickly and vehemently. "Surely you have too
much sense to take such a discourse as that seriously! I longed to tell
the children not to listen. It is wicked--wicked--to try to spread
spiritual terror in people's hearts, and to call it the teaching of
religion. It is no more like religion than a penny-terrible is like life.
It is a cruel and fantastic distortion of the truth."

She paused. Piers was listening to her with that odd hunger in his eyes
that had looked out of them the night before.

"You don't believe in hell then?" he said quietly, after a moment.

"As a place of future torment--no!" she said. "The only real hell is here
on earth--here in our hearts when we fall away from God. Hell is the
state of sin and all that goes with it--the fiery hell of the spirit. It
is here and now. How could it be otherwise? Can you imagine a God of Love
devising hideous tortures hereafter, for the punishment of the pigmies
who had offended Him? Tortures that were never to do them any good, but
just to keep them in misery for ever and ever? It is unthinkable--it's
almost ludicrous. What is the good of suffering except to purify? That we
can understand and thank God for. But the other--oh, the other is sheer
imagery, more mythical than Jonah and the whale. It just doesn't go."
Again she paused, then very frankly held out her hand to him. "But I like
your picture of the Open Heaven, Piers," she said. "Show it me again some
day--when I'm not as tired and stupid as I am to-day."

He bent over her hand with a gesture that betrayed the foreign blood in
him, and his lips, hot and passionate, pressed her cold fingers. He did
not utter a word. Only when he stood up again he looked at her with eyes
that burned with the deep fires of manhood, and suddenly all-unbidden
the woman's heart in her quivered in response. She bent her head and
turned away.



"Aren't you going to kiss Aunt Avery under the mistletoe?" asked Gracie.

"No," said Piers. "Aunt Avery may kiss me if she likes." He looked at
Avery with his sudden, boyish laugh. "But I know she doesn't like, so
that's an end of the matter."

"How do you know?" persisted Gracie. "She's very fond of kissing. And
anyone may kiss under the mistletoe."

"That quite does away with the charm of it in my opinion," declared
Piers. "I don't appreciate things when you can get 'em cheap."

He moved over to Jeanie's sofa and sat down on the edge. Her soft eyes
smiled a welcome, the little thin hand slipped into his.

"I've been wishing for you all day long," she said.

He leaned towards her. "Have you, my fairy queen? Well, I'm here at

Avery, from the head of the schoolroom table, looked across at them with
a feeling of fulness at her heart. She never liked Piers so well as when
she saw him in company with her little favourite. His gentleness and
chivalry made of him a very perfect knight.

"Yes," said Jeanie, giving his hand a little squeeze. "We're going to
have our Christmas Tree to-night, and Dr. Tudor is coming. You don't like
him, I know. But he's really quite a nice man."

She spoke the last words pleadingly, in response to a slight frown
between Piers' brows.

"Oh, is he?" said Piers, without enthusiasm.

"He's been very kind," said Jeanie in a tone of apology.

"He'd better be anything else--to you!" said Piers, with a smile that was
somewhat grim.

Jeanie's fingers caressed his again propitiatingly. "Do let's all be nice
to each other just for to-night!" she said.

Piers' smile became tender again. "As your gracious majesty decrees!" he
said. "Where is the ceremony to be held?"

"Up in the nursery. We've had the little ones in here all day, while
Mother and Nurse have been getting it ready. I haven't seen it yet."

"Can't we creep up when no one's looking and have a private view?"
suggested Piers.

Jeanie beamed at the idea. "I would like to, for I've been in the secret
from the very beginning. But you must finish your tea first. We'll go
when the crackers begin."

As the pulling of crackers was the signal for every child at the table to
make as much noise as possible, it was not difficult to effect their
retreat without exciting general attention. Avery alone noted their
departure and smiled at Jeanie's flushed face as the child nodded
farewell to her over Piers' shoulder.

"You do carry me so beautifully," Jeanie confided to him as he mounted
the stairs to the top of the house. "I love the feel of your arms. They
are so strong and kind. You're sure I'm not too heavy?"

"I could carry a dozen of you," said Piers.

They found the nursery brilliantly lighted and lavishly adorned with
festoons of coloured paper.

"Aunt Avery and I did most of that," said Jeanie proudly.

Piers bore her round the room, admiring every detail, finally depositing
her in a big arm-chair close to the tall screen that hid the Christmas
Tree. Jeanie's leg was mending rapidly, and gave her little trouble now.
She lay back contentedly, with shining eyes upon her cavalier.

"It was very nice of you to be so kind to Gracie last night," she said.
"She told me all about it to-day. Of course she ought not to have done
it. I hope--I hope Sir Beverley wasn't angry about it."

Piers laughed a little. "Oh no! He got over it. Was Gracie scared?"

"Not really. She said she thought he wasn't quite pleased with you. I do
hope he didn't think it was your fault."

"My shoulders are fairly broad," said Piers.

"Yes, but it wouldn't be right," maintained Jeanie. "I think I ought to
write to him and explain."

"No, no!" said Piers. "You leave the old chap alone. He
understands--quite as much as he wants to understand."

There was a note of bitterness in his voice which Jeanie was quick to
discern. She reached up a sympathetic hand to his. "Dear Sir Galahad!"
she said softly.

Piers looked down at her for a few moments in silence. And then, very
suddenly, moved by the utter devotion that looked back at him from her
eyes, he went down on his knees beside her and held her to his heart.

"It's a beast of a world, Jeanie," he said.

"Is it?" whispered Jeanie, with his hand pressed tight against her cheek.

There was silence between them for a little space; then she lifted her
face to his, to murmur in a motherly tone, "I expect you're tired."

"Tired!" said Piers with gloomy vehemence. "Yes, I am tired--sick to
death of everything. I'm like a dog on a chain. I can see what I want,
but it's always just out of my reach."

Jeanie's hand came up and softly stroked his face. "I wish I could get
it for you," she said.

"Bless you, sweetheart!" said Piers. "You don't so much as know what it
is, do you?"

"Yes, I do," said Jeanie. She leaned her head back against his shoulder,
looking up into his face with all her child's soul shining in her eyes.
"It's--Aunt Avery; isn't it?"

"How did you know?" said Piers.

"I don't know," said Jeanie. "It just--came to me--that day in the
schoolroom when you talked about the ticket of leave. You were unhappy
that day, weren't you?"

"Yes," said Piers. He added after a moment, "You see, I'm not good
enough for her."

"Not good enough!" Jeanie's face became incredulous and a little
distressed. "I'm sure--she--doesn't think that," she said.

"She doesn't know me properly," said Piers. "Nor do you. If you did,
you'd be shocked,--you'd be horrified."

He spoke recklessly, almost defiantly; but Jeanie only stretched up a
thin arm and wound it about his neck. "Never!" she told him softly.
"No, never!"

He held her to him; but he would not be silenced. "I assure you, I'm no
saint," he said. "I feel more like a devil sometimes. I've done bad
things, Jeanie, I can't tell you how bad. It would only hurt you."

The words ran out impulsively. His breathing came quick and short; his
hold was tense. In that moment the child's pure spirit recognized that
the image had crumbled in her shrine, but the brave heart of her did
not flinch. Very tenderly she veiled the ruin. The element of worship
had vanished in that single instant of revelation; but her love
remained, and it shone out to him like a beacon as he knelt there in
abasement by her side.

"But you're sorry," she whispered. "You would undo the bad things if
you could."

"God knows I would!" he said.

"Perhaps He will undo them for you," she murmured softly. "Have you
asked Him?"

"There are some things that can't be undone," groaned Piers. "It would be
too big a job even for Him."

"Nothing is that," said Jeanie with conviction. "If we are sorry and if
we pray, some day He will undo all the bad we've ever done."

"I haven't prayed for six years," said Piers. "Things went wrong with me.
I felt as if I were under a curse. And I gave it up."

"Oh, Piers!" she said, holding him closer. "How miserable you must
have been!"

"I've been in hell!" he said with bitter vehemence. "And the gates tight
shut! Not that I was ever very great in the spiritual lines," he added
more calmly. "But I used to think God took a friendly interest in my
affairs till--till I went down into hell and the gates shut on me; and
then--" he spoke grimly--"I knew He didn't care a rap."

"But, dear, He does care!" said Jeanie very earnestly.

"He doesn't!" said Piers moodily. "He can't!"

"Piers, He does!" She raised her head and looked him straight in the
eyes. "Everyone feels like that sometimes," she said. "But Aunt Avery
says it's only because we are too little to understand. Won't you begin
and pray again? It does make a difference even though we can't see it."

"I can't," said Piers. And then with swift compunction he kissed her
face of disappointment. "Never mind, my queen! Don't you bother your
little head about me! I shall rub along all right even if I don't come
out on top."

"But I want you to be happy," said Jeanie. "I wish I could help you,
Piers,--dear Piers."

"You do help me," said Piers.

There came the sound of voices on the stairs, and he got up.

Jeanie looked up at him wistfully. "I shall try," she said. "I shall

He patted her head and turned away.

Mr. Lorimer and Miss Whalley entered the room. The former raised his
brows momentarily at the sight of Piers, but he greeted him with much

"I am quite delighted to welcome you to the children's Christmas party,"
he declared, with Piers' hand held impressively in his. "And how is your
grandfather, my dear lad?"

Piers contracted instinctively. "He is quite well, thanks," he said. "I
haven't come to stay. I only looked in for a moment."

He glanced towards Miss Whalley whom he had never met before. The Vicar
smilingly introduced him. "This is the Squire's grandson and heir, Miss
Whalley. Doubtless you know him by sight as well as by repute--the
keenest sportsman in the county, eh, my young friend?" His eyes
disappeared with the words as if pulled inwards by a string.

"I don't know," said Piers, becoming extremely blunt and British. "I'm
certainly keen, but so are dozens of others." He bowed to Miss Whalley
with stiff courtesy. "Pleased to meet you," he said formally.

Miss Whalley acknowledged the compliment with a severe air of
incredulity. She had never approved of Piers since a certain Sunday
morning ten years before when she had caught him shooting at the
choir-boys with a catapult, during the litany, over the top of the
squire's large square pew.

She had reported the crime to the Vicar, and the Vicar had lodged a
formal complaint with Sir Beverley, who had soundly caned the delinquent
in his presence, and given him half a sovereign as soon as the clerical
back had been turned for taking the punishment like a man.

But in Miss Whalley's eyes Piers had from that moment ceased to be
regarded as one of the elect, and his curt reception of the good Vicar's
patronage did not further elevate him in her esteem. She made as brief a
response to the introduction as politeness demanded, and crossed the room
to Jeanie.

"I must be off," said Piers. "I've stayed longer than I intended

"Pray do not hurry!" urged Mr. Lorimer. "The festivities are but just

But Piers was insistent, and even Jeanie's wistful eyes could not detain
him. He waved her a careless farewell, and extricated himself as quickly
as possible from surroundings that had become uncongenial.

Descending the stairs somewhat precipitately, he nearly ran into Avery
ascending with a troop of children, and stopped to say good-bye.

"You're not going!" cried Gracie, with keen disappointment.

"Yes, I am. I can't stop. It's later than I thought. See you to-morrow!"
said Piers.

He held Avery's hand again in his, and for one fleeting second his eyes
looked into hers. Then lightly he pressed her fingers and passed on
without further words.

On the first landing he encountered Mrs. Lorimer. She smiled upon him
kindly. "Oh, Piers, is it you?" she said. "Have you been having tea in
the schoolroom?"

He admitted that he had.

"And must you really go?" she said. "I'm sorry for that. Come again,
won't you?"

Her tone was full of gentle friendliness, and Piers was touched. "It's
awfully good of you to ask me," he said.

"I like to see you here," she answered simply. "And I am so grateful to
you for your kindness to my little Jeanie."

"Oh, please don't!" said Piers. "I assure you it's quite the other way
round. I shall certainly come again since you are good enough to ask me."

He smiled with boyish gallantry into the wistful, faded face, carried her
fingers lightly to his lips, and passed on.

"Such a nice boy!" Mrs. Lorimer murmured to herself as she went up to
the nursery.

"Poor little soul!" was Piers' inward comment as he ran down to the hall.

Here he paused, finding himself face to face with Lennox Tudor who was
taking off his coat preparatory to ascending.

The doctor nodded to him without cordiality. Neither of them ever
pretended to take any pleasure in the other's society.

"Are you just going?" he asked. "Your grandfather is wanting you."

"Who says so?" said Piers aggressively.

"I say so." Curtly Tudor made answer, meeting Piers' quick frown with one
equally decided.

Piers stood still in front of him. "Have you just come from the Abbey?"
he demanded.

"I have." Tudor's tone was non-committal. He stood facing Piers,
waiting to pass.

"What are you always going there for?" burst forth Piers, with heat. "He
doesn't want you--never follows your advice, and does excellently well
without it."

"Really!" said Tudor. He uttered a short, sarcastic laugh, albeit his
thick brows met closely above his glasses. "Well, you ought to
know--being such a devoted and attentive grandson."

Piers' hands clenched at the words. He looked suddenly dangerous. "What
in thunder do you mean?" he demanded.

Tudor was nothing loth to enlighten him. He was plainly angry himself.
"I mean," he said, "if you must have it, that the time you spend
philandering here would be better employed in looking after the old man,
who has spent a good deal over you and gets precious little interest out
of the investment."

"Confound you!" exclaimed Piers violently. "Who the devil are you to talk
to me like this? Do you think I'm going to put up with it, what? If so,
you're damned well mistaken. You leave me alone--and my grandfather too;
do you hear? If you don't--" He broke off, breathing short and hard.

But Tudor remained unimpressed. He looked at Piers as one might
look at an animal raging behind bars. "Well?" he said. "Pray
finish! If I don't--"

Piers' face was very pale. His eyes blazed out of it, red and
threatening. "If you don't--I'll murder you!" he said.

And at that he stopped short and suddenly wheeled round as he caught the
swish of a dress on the stairs. He looked up into Avery's face as she
came swiftly down, and the blood rose in a deep, dark wave to his
forehead. He made no attempt to cover or excuse his passionate outburst,
which it was perfectly obvious she must have heard. He merely made way
for her, his hands still hard clenched, his eyes immovably upon her.

Avery passed him with scarcely a glance, but her voice as she addressed
Lennox Tudor sounded a trifle austere. "I heard you speaking," she said,
"and ran down to fetch you upstairs. Will you come up at once, please?
The ceremony is just beginning."

Tudor held out a steady hand, "Very kind of you, Mrs. Denys," he said.
"Will you lead the way?" And then for a moment he turned from her to
Piers. "If you have anything further to say to me, Evesham, I shall be
quite ready to give you a hearing on a more suitable occasion."

"I have nothing further to say," said Piers, still with his eyes
upon Avery.

She would not look at him. With deliberate intention, she ignored his
look. "Come, doctor!" she said.

They mounted the stairs together, Piers still standing motionless, still
mutely watching. There was no temper nor anger in his face. Simply he
stood and waited. And, as if that silent gaze drew her, even against her
will, suddenly at the top she turned. Her own sweet smile flashed into
her face. She threw a friendly glance down to him.

"Good-night, Mr. Evesham!" she called softly. "A happy Christmas to you!"

And as if that were what he had been waiting for, Piers bowed very low in
answer and at once turned away.

His face as he went out into the night wore a very curious expression. It
was not grim, nor ashamed, nor triumphant, and yet there was in it a
suggestion of all three moods.

He reached his car, standing as he had left it in the deserted lane, and
stooped to start the engine. Then, as it throbbed in answer, he
straightened himself, and very suddenly he laughed. But it was not a
happy laugh; and in a moment more he shot away into the dark as though
pursued by fiends. If he had gained his end, if he had in any fashion
achieved his desire, it was plain that it did not give him any great
satisfaction. He went like a fury through the night.



"Look here, boy!" Very suddenly, almost fiercely, Sir Beverley addressed
his grandson that evening as they sat together over dessert. "I've had
enough of this infernal English climate. I'm going away."

Piers was peeling a walnut. He did not raise his eyes or make the
faintest sign of surprise. Steadily his fingers continued their task. His
lips hardened a little, that was all.

"Do you hear?" rapped out Sir Beverley.

Piers bent his head. "What about the hunting?" he said.

"Damn the hunting!" growled Sir Beverley.

Piers was silent a moment. Then: "I suggested it to you myself, didn't
I?" he said deliberately, "six weeks ago. And you wouldn't hear of it."

"Confound your impertinence!" began Sir Beverley. But abruptly Piers
raised his eyes, and he stopped. "What do you mean?" he said, in a
calmer tone.

Very steadily Piers met his look. "That's a question I should like to
ask, sir," he said. "Why do you want to go abroad? Aren't you well?"

"I am perfectly well," declared Sir Beverley, who furiously resented any
enquiry as to his health. "Can't a man take it into his head that he'd
like a change from this beastly damp hole of a country without being at
death's door, I should like to know?"

"You generally have a reason for what you do, sir," observed Piers.

"Of course I have a reason," flung back Sir Beverley.

A faint smile touched the corners of Piers' mouth. "But I am not to know
what it is, what?" he asked.

Sir Beverley glared at him. There were times when he was possessed by an
uneasy suspicion that the boy was growing up into a manhood that
threatened to overthrow his control. He had a feeling that Piers'
submission to his authority had become a matter of choice rather than of
necessity. He had inherited his Italian grandmother's fortune,
moreover,--a sore point with Sir Beverley who would have repudiated every
penny had it been left at his disposal--and was therefore independent.

"I've given you a reason. What more do you want?" he growled.

Piers looked straight at him for a few seconds longer; then broke into
his sudden boyish laugh. "All right, sir. When shall we start?" he said.

Sir Beverley stared. "What the devil are you laughing at?" he demanded.

Piers had returned to the peeling of his walnut. "Nothing, sir," he
said airily. "At least, nothing more important than your reason for
going abroad."

"Damn your impudence!" said Sir Beverley, and then for some reason he too
began to smile. "That's settled then. We'll go to Monte Carlo, eh, Piers?
You'll like that."

"Do you think I am to be trusted at Monte Carlo?" said Piers.

"I let you go round the world by yourself while you were still an infant,
so I almost think I can trust you at Monte Carlo under my own eye,"
returned Sir Beverley.

Piers was silent. The smile had left his lips. He frowned slightly
over his task.

"Well?" said Sir Beverley, suddenly and sharply.

"Well, sir?" Piers raised his brows without looking up.

The old man brought down an impatient fist on the table. "Why can't you
say what you think?" he demanded angrily. "You sit there with your mouth
shut as if--as if--" His eyes went suddenly to the woman's face on the
wall with the red lips that smiled half-sadly, half-mockingly, and the
eyes that perpetually followed him but never smiled at all. "Confound
you, Piers!" he said. "I sometimes think that voyage round the world did
you more harm than good."

"Why, sir?" said Piers quickly.

Sir Beverley's look left the smiling, baffling face upon the wall and
sought his grandson's. "You were so mad to be off the bearing-rein,
weren't you?" he said. "So keen to feel your own feet? I thought it would
make a man of you, but I was a fool to do it. I'd better have kept you on
the rein after all."

"I should have run away if you had," said Piers. He poured himself
out a glass of wine and raised it to his lips. He looked at Sir Beverley
above it with a smile half-sad, half-mocking, and eyes that veiled his
soul. "I should have gone to the devil if you had, sir," he said,
"and--probably--I shouldn't have come back." He drank slowly, his eyes
still upon Sir Beverley's face.

When he set the glass down again he was openly laughing. "Besides, you
horsewhipped me for something or other, do you remember? It hurts to be
horsewhipped at nineteen."

Sir Beverley growled at him inarticulately.

"Yes, I know," said Piers, "But it doesn't affect me so much now. I'm
past the sensitive age." He ate his walnut, drained his glass, and rose.

"You--puppy!" said Sir Beverley, looking up at him.

Piers came to his side. He suddenly knelt down and pulled the old man's
arm round his shoulders. "I say, I'm going to enjoy that trip," he said
boyishly. "Let's get away before the New Year!"

Sir Beverley suffered the action with no further protest than a frown.
"You weren't so mighty anxious when I first suggested it," he grumbled.

Piers laughed. "Can't a man change his mind? I'm keen enough now."

"What do you want to go for?" Sir Beverley looked at him suspiciously.

But Piers' frank return of his look told him nothing. "I love the South
as you know," he said.

"Damn it, yes!" said Sir Beverley irritably. He could never endure any
mention of the Southern blood in Piers.

"And--" Piers' brown fingers grew suddenly tight upon the bony hand he
had drawn over his shoulder--"I like going away with you."

"Oh, stow it, Piers!" growled Sir Beverley.

"The truth, sir!" protested Piers, with eyes that suddenly danced. "It
does me good to be with you. It keeps me young."

"Young!" ejaculated Sir Beverley. "You--infant!"

Piers broke into a laugh. He looked a mere boy when he gave himself up to
merriment. "And it'll do you good too," he said, "to get away from that
beastly doctor who is always hanging around. I long to give him the boot
whenever I see him."

"You don't like each other, eh?" Sir Beverley's smile was sardonic.

"We loathe and detest each other," said Piers. All the boyishness went
out of his face with the words; he looked suddenly grim, and in that
moment the likeness between them was very marked. "I presume this change
of air scheme was his suggestion," he said abruptly.

"And if it was?" said Sir Beverley.

Piers threw back his head and laughed again through clenched teeth. "For
which piece of consideration he has my sincere gratitude," he said. He
pressed his grandfather's hand again and rose. "So it's to be Monte
Carlo, is it? Well, the sooner the better for me. I'll tell Victor to
look up the trains. We can't get away to-morrow or the next day. But we
ought to be able to manage the day after."

He strolled across to the fire, and stood there with his back to the
room, whistling below his breath.

Sir Beverley regarded him frowningly. There was no denying the fact, he
did not understand Piers. He had expected a strenuous opposition to his
scheme. He had been prepared to do battle with the boy. But Piers had
refused the conflict. What was the fellow's game, he asked himself? Why
this prompt compliance with his wishes? He was not to be deceived into
the belief that he wanted to go. The attraction was too great for that.
Unless indeed--he looked across at the bent black head in sudden
doubt--was it possible that the boy had met with a check in the least
likely direction of all? Could it be that the woman's plans did not
include him after all?

No! No! That was out of the question. He knew women. A hard laugh rose to
his lips. If she had put a check upon Piers' advances it was not with the
ultimate purpose of stopping him. She knew what she was about too well
for that, confound her!

He stared at Piers who had wheeled suddenly from the fire at the sound of
the laugh. "Well?" he said irritably. "Well? What's the matter now?"

The eyes that countered his were hard, with just a hint of defiance. "You
laughed, sir," said Piers curtly.

"Well, what of it?" threw back Sir Beverley. "You're deuced suspicious. I
wasn't laughing at you."

"I know that," said Piers. He spoke deliberately, as one choosing his
words. His face was stern. "I don't want to know the joke if it's
private. But I should like to know how long you want to be away."

"How long? How the devil can I tell?" growled Sir Beverley. "Till I've
had enough of it, I suppose."

"Does it depend on that only?" said Piers.

Sir Beverley pushed back his chair with fierce impatience. "Oh, leave me
alone, boy, do! I'll let you know when it's time to come home again."

Piers came towards him. He halted with the light from the lamp full on
his resolute face. "If you are going to wait on Tudor's convenience," he
said, "you'll wait--longer than I shall."

"What the devil do you mean?" thundered Sir Beverley.

But again Piers turned aside from open conflict. He put a quiet hand
through his grandfather's arm.

"Come along, sir! We'll smoke in the hall," he said. "I think you
understand me. If you don't--" he paused and smiled his sudden, winning
smile into the old man's wrathful eyes--"I'll explain more fully when the
time comes."

"Confound you, Piers!" was Sir Beverley's only answer.

Yet he left the room with the boy's arm linked in his. And the woman's
face on the wall smiled behind them--the smile of a witch, mysterious,
derisive, aloof, yet touched with that same magic with which Piers had
learned even in his infancy to charm away the evil spirit that lurked in
his grandfather's soul.



"Going away to-morrow, are you?" said Ina Rose, in her cool young voice.
"I hope you'll enjoy it."

"Thanks!" said Piers. "No doubt I shall."

He spoke with his eyes on the dainty lace fan he had taken from her.

Ina frankly studied his face. She had always found Piers Evesham

"I should be wild if I were in your place," she remarked, after a moment.

He shrugged his shoulders, and his brown face slightly smiled. "Because
of the hunting?" he said, and turned his eyes upon her fresh, girlish
face. "But there's always next year, what?"

"Good gracious!" said Ina. "You talk as if you were older than your
grandfather. It wouldn't comfort me in the least to think of next
season's hunting. And I don't believe it does you either. You are only
putting it on."

"All right!" said Piers. His eyes dwelt upon her with a species of
mocking homage that yet in a fashion subtly flattered. He always knew how
to please Ina Rose, though not always did he take the trouble. "Let us
say--for the sake of argument--that I am quite inconsolable. It doesn't
matter to anyone, does it?"

"I don't know why you should say that," said Ina. "It ought to
matter--anyhow to your grandfather. Why don't you make him go by

Piers laughed a careless laugh, still boldly watching her. "That wouldn't
be very dutiful of me, would it?" he said.

"I suppose you're not afraid of him?" said Ina, who knew not the meaning
of the word.

"Why should you suppose that?" said Piers.

She met his look in momentary surprise. "To judge by the way you behaved
the other day, I should say you were not."

Piers frowned. "Which day?"

Ina explained without embarrassment. "The day that girl held up the whole
Hunt in Holland's meadow. My word, Piers, how furious the old man was!
Does he often behave like that?"

Piers still frowned. His fingers were working restlessly at the ivory
sticks of her fan. "If you mean, does he often thrash me with a
horsewhip, no, he doesn't," he said shortly. "And he wouldn't have done
it then if I'd had a hand to spare. I'm glad you enjoyed the spectacle.
Hope you were all edified."

"You needn't be waxy," said Ina calmly. "I assure you, you never showed
to greater advantage. I hope your lady friend was duly grateful to her
deliverer. I rather liked her pluck, Piers. Who is she?"

There was a sudden crack between Piers' fingers. He looked down hastily,
and in a moment displayed three broken ivory fan-sticks to the girl
beside him. "I'm horribly sorry, Ina," he said.

Ina looked at the damage, and from it to his face of contrition. "You did
it on purpose," she said.

"I did not," said Piers.

"You're very rude," she rejoined.

"No, I'm not," he protested. "I'm sorry. I hope you didn't value it for
any particular reason. I'll send you another from Paris."

She spurned the broken thing with a careless gesture. "Not you! You'd be
afraid to."

Piers' brows went up. "Afraid?"

"Of your grandfather," she said, with a derisive smile. "If he caught you
sending anything to me--or to the lady of the meadow--" she paused

Piers looked grim. "Of course I shall send you a fan if you'll
accept it."

"How nice of you!" said Ina. "Wouldn't you like to send something for
her in the same parcel? I'll deliver it for you--if you'll tell me the
lady's address."

Her eyes sparkled mischievously as she made the suggestion. Piers frowned
yet a moment longer, then laughed back with abrupt friendliness.

"Thanks awfully! But I won't trouble you. It's decent of you not to be
angry over this. I'll get you a ripping one to make up."

Ina nodded. "That'll be quite amusing. Everyone will think that you're
really in earnest at last. Poor Dick will be furious when he knows."

"You'll probably console him pretty soon," returned Piers.

"Think so?" Ina's eyes narrowed a little; she looked at Piers
speculatively. "That's what you want to believe, is it?"

"I? Of course not!" Piers laughed again. "I never wished any girl
engaged yet."

"Save one," suggested Ina, and an odd little gleam hovered behind
her lashes with the words. "Why won't you tell me her name? You
might as well."

"Why?" said Piers.

"I shall find it out in any case," she assured him. "I know already that
she dwells under the Vicar's virtuous roof, and that the worthy Dr. Tudor
finds it necessary to drop in every day. I suppose she is the
nurse-cook-housekeeper of that establishment."

"I say, how clever of you!" said Piers.

The girl laughed carelessly. "Isn't it? I've studied her in church--and
you too, my cavalier. I don't believe you have ever attended so regularly
before, have you? Did she ever tell you her age?"

"Never," said Piers.

"I wonder," said Ina coolly. And then rather suddenly she rose. "Piers,
if I'm a prying cat, you're a hard-mouthed mule! There! Why can't you
admit that you're in love with her?"

Piers faced her with no sign of surprise. "Why don't you tell me that
you're in love with Guyes?" he said.

"Because it wouldn't be true!" She flung back her answer with a laugh
that sounded unaccountably bitter. "I have yet to meet the man who is
worth the trouble."

"Oh, really!" said Piers. "Don't flatter us more than you need! I'm sorry
for Guyes myself. If he weren't so keen on you, it's my belief you'd like
him better."

"Oh no, I shouldn't!" Ina spoke with a touch of scorn. "I shouldn't like
him either less or more, whatever he did. I couldn't. But of course he's
extremely eligible, isn't he?"

"Does that count with you?" said Piers curiously.

She looked at him. "It doesn't with you of course?" she said.

"Not in the least," he returned with emphasis.

She laughed again, and pushed the remnants of her fan with her foot. "It
wouldn't. You're so charmingly young and romantic. Well, mind the doctor
doesn't cut you out in your absence! He would be a much more suitable
_parti_ for her, you know, both as to age and station. Shall we go back
to the ball-room now? I am engaged to Dick for the next dance. I mustn't
cut him in his own house."

It was an annual affair but quite informal--this Boxing Night dance at
the Guyes'. Dick himself called it a survival of his schoolboy days, and
it was always referred to in the neighbourhood as "Dick's Christmas
party." He and his mother would no more have dreamed of discontinuing the
festivity than of foregoing their Christmas dinner, and the Roses of
Wardenhurst were invariably invited and as invariably attended it. Piers
was not so constant a guest. Dick had thrown him an open invitation on
the hunting-field a day or two before, and Piers, having nothing better
to do, had decided to present himself.

He liked dancing, and was easily the best dancer among the men. He also
liked Ina Rose, or at least she had always thought so, till that night.
They were friends of the hunting-field rather than of the drawing-room,
but they always drifted together wherever they met. Sir Beverley had
never troubled himself about the intimacy. The girl belonged to the
county, and if not quite the brilliant match for Piers that he would have
chosen, she came at least of good old English stock. He knew and liked
her father, and he would not have made any very strenuous opposition to
an alliance between the two. The girl was well bred and heiress to the
Colonel's estate. She would have added considerably to Piers' importance
as a landowner, and she knew already how to hold up her head in society.
Also, she led a wholesome, outdoor existence, and was not the sort of
girl to play with a man's honour.

No, on the whole Sir Beverley had no serious objection to the prospect of
a marriage between them, save that he had no desire to see Piers married
for another five years at feast. But Ina could very well afford to wait
five years for such a prize as Piers. Meanwhile, if they cared to get
engaged--it would keep the boy out of mischief, and there would be no
harm in it.

So had run Sir Beverley's thoughts prior to the appearance of the
mother's help at the Vicarage. But she--the woman with the resolute mouth
and grey, steadfast eyes--had upset all his calculations. It had not
needed Lennox Tudor's hint to put him on his guard. He had known whither
the boy's wayward fancy was tending before that. The scene in the
hunting-field had been sufficient revelation for him, and had lent
strength to his arm and fury to his indignation.

Piers' decision to spend his last night in England at a dance had been a
surprise to him, but then the boy had puzzled him a good many times of
late. He had even asked himself once or twice if it had been his
deliberate intention to do so. But since it was absolutely certain that
the schemer at the Vicarage would not be present at Dick Guyes' party,
Sir Beverley did not see any urgent necessity for keeping his grandson at
his side. He even hoped that Piers would enjoy himself though he deemed
him a fool to go.

And, to judge from appearances, Piers was enjoying himself. Having parted
from Ina, he claimed for his partner his hostess,--a pretty, graceful
woman who danced under protest, but so exquisitely that he would hardly
be persuaded to give her up when the dance was over.

He scarcely left the ball-room for the rest of the evening, and when the
party broke up he was among the last to leave. Dick ingenuously thanked
him for helping to make the affair a success. He was not feeling
particularly happy himself, since Ina had consistently snubbed him
throughout; but he did not hold Piers in any way responsible for her
attitude. Dick's outlook on life was supremely simple. He never attempted
to comprehend the ways of women, being serenely content to regard them as
beyond his comprehension. He hoped and believed that one day Ina would be
kind to him, but he was quite prepared to wait an indefinite time for
that day to dawn. He took all rebuffs with resignation, and could
generally muster a smile soon after.

He smiled tranquilly upon Piers at parting and congratulated him upon the
prospect of missing the worst of the winter. To which Piers threw back a
laugh as he drove away in his little two-seater, coupled with the
careless assurance that he meant to make the most of his time, whatever
the weather.

"Lucky dog!" said Guyes, as he watched him disappear down the drive.

But if he had seen the expression that succeeded Piers' laugh, he might
have suppressed the remark. For Piers' face, as he raced alone through
the darkness, was the set, grim face of a man who carries a deadly
purpose in his soul. He had laughed and danced throughout the evening,
but in his first moment of solitude the devil he had kept at bay had
entered into full possession.

To the rush and throb of his engine, he heard over and over the gibing,
malicious words of a girl's sore heart: "Mind the doctor doesn't cut you
out in your absence!"

Obviously then this affair was the common talk of the neighbourhood since
news of it had even penetrated to Wardenhurst. People were openly
watching the rivalry between Lennox Tudor and himself, watching and
speculating as to the result. And he, about to be ignominiously removed
from the conflict by his grandfather, at Tudor's suggestion, had become
the laughing-stock of the place. Piers' teeth nearly met in his lower
lip. Let them laugh! And let them chatter! He would give them ample food
for amusement and gossip before he left.

He had yielded to his grandfather's desire because instinct had told him
that his absence just at that stage of his wooing would be more
beneficial than his presence. He was shrewd enough to realize that the
hot blood in him was driving him too fast, urging him to a pace which
might irreparably damage his cause. For that reason alone, he was ready
to curb his fierce impetuosity. But to leave a free field for Lennox
Tudor was not a part of his plan. He had scarcely begun to regard the man
in the light of a serious rival, although fully aware of the fact that
Tudor was doing his utmost to remove him from his path. But if Ina
thought him so, he had probably underestimated the danger.

He had always detested Tudor very thoroughly. Piers never did anything by
halves, and the doctor's undisguised criticism of him never failed to
arouse his fiercest resentment. That Tudor disliked him in return was a
fact that could scarcely escape the notice of the most careless observer.
The two were plainly antipathetic, and were scarcely civil to one another
even in public.

But that night Piers' antagonism flared to a deadly hatred. The
smouldering fire had leaped to a fierce blaze. Two nights before he had
smothered it with the exultant conviction that Tudor's chances with Avery
were practically non-existent. He had known with absolute certainty that
he was not the type of man to attract her. But to-night his mood had
changed. Whether Tudor's chances had improved or not, he scarcely stopped
to question, but that other people regarded them as possibly greater than
his own was a fact that sent the mad blood to his head. He tore back
through the winter night like a man possessed, with Ina Rose's scoffing
warning beating a devil's tattoo in his brain.



The surgery-bell pealed imperiously, and Tudor looked up from his book.
It was his custom to read far into the night, for he was a poor sleeper
and preferred a cosy fireside to his bed. But that night he was even
later than usual. Glancing at the clock on the mantelpiece, he saw that
it was a quarter to two. With a shrug of the shoulders expressive rather
of weariness than indifference, he rose to answer the bell.

It pealed again before he reached the door, and the doctor frowned. He
was never very tolerant of impatience. He unfastened the bolts without
haste. The case might be urgent, but a steady hand and cool nerve were
usually even more essential than speed in his opinion. He opened the door
therefore with a certain deliberation, and faced the sharp night air with
grim resignation. "Well? Who is it? Come in!"

He expected to see some village messenger, and the sight of Piers,
stern-faced, with the fur collar of his motor-coat turned up to his ears,
was a complete surprise.

"Hullo!" he said, staring at him. "Anything wrong?"

Piers stared back with eyes of burning hostility. "I want a word with
you," he announced curtly. "Will you come out, or shall I come in?"

"You'd better come in," said Tudor, suppressing a shiver, "unless I'm
wanted up at the Abbey."

"You're not," said Piers.

He stepped into the passage, and impetuously stripped off his heavy
coat. Tudor shut the door, and turned round. He surveyed his visitor's
evening-dress with a touch of contempt. He himself was clad in an
ancient smoking-jacket, much frayed at the cuffs; and his
carpet-slippers were so trodden down at the heel that he could only just
manage to shuffle along in them.

"Go into the consulting-room!" he said. "There's a light there."

Piers strode in, and waited for him. Seen by the light of the gas that
burned there, his face was pale and set in lines of iron determination.
His eyes shone out of it like the eyes of an infuriated wild beast.

"Do you know what I've come for?" he said, as Tudor shambled into the

Tudor looked him over briefly and comprehensively. "No, I don't," he
said. "I hoped I'd seen the last of you."

His words were as brief as his look. It was obvious that he had no
intention of wasting time in mere courtesy.

Piers' lips tightened at his tone. He looked full and straight at the
baffling glasses that hid the other man's contemptuous eyes.

"I've come for a reckoning with you," he said.

"Really?" said Tudor. He glanced again at the clock. "Rather an unusual
hour, isn't it?"

Piers passed the question by. He was chafing on his feet like a caged
animal. Abruptly he came to the point.

"I told you the other day that I wouldn't put up with any interference
from you. I didn't know then how far your interference had gone. I do
know now. This scheme to get me out of the country was of your

Fiercely he flung the words. He was quivering with passionate
indignation. But the effect on Tudor was scarcely perceptible. He only
looked a little colder, a little more satirical, than was his wont.

"Well?" he said. "What of it?"

Piers showed his teeth momentarily. His hands were hard gripped behind
him, as though he restrained himself by main force from open violence.

"You don't deny it?" he said.

"Why should I?" Tudor's thin lips displayed a faint sneer. "I certainly
advised your grandfather to go away, and I think the advice was sound."

"It was--from your point of view." A tremor of fierce humour ran through
Piers' speech. "But plans--even clever ones--don't always turn out as
they should. This one for instance--what do you think you are going to
gain by it?"

"What do you mean?" Tudor stood by the table facing Piers, his attitude
one of supreme indifference. He seemed scarcely to feel the stormy
atmosphere that pulsated almost visibly around the younger man. His eyes
behind their glasses were cold and shrewd, wholly emotionless.

Piers paused an instant to grip his self-control the harder, for every
word he uttered seemed to make his hold the more precarious.

"I'll tell you what I mean," he said, his voice low and savagely
distinct. "I mean that what you've done--all this sneaking and scheming
to get me out of your way--isn't going to serve your purpose. I mean that
you shall swear to me here and now to give up the game during my absence,
or take the consequences. It is entirely due to you that I am going,
but--by Heaven--you shall reap no advantage from it!"

His voice rose a little, and the menace of it became more apparent. He
bent slightly towards the man he threatened. His eyes blazed red and
dangerous. Tudor stood his ground, but it was impossible any longer to
ignore Piers' open fury. It was like the blast of a hurricane hurled
full against him. He made a slight gesture of remonstrance.

"My good fellow, all this excitement is utterly uncalled for. The advice
I gave your grandfather would, I am convinced, have been given by any
other medical man in the country. If you are not satisfied with it, you
had better get him to have another opinion. As to taking advantage of
your absence, I really don't know what you mean, and I think if you are
wise you won't stop to explain. It's getting late and if you don't value
your night's rest, I can't do without mine. Also, I think when the
morning comes, you'll be ashamed of this foolery."

He spoke with studied coldness. He knew the value of a firm front when
facing odds. But he did not know the fiery soul of the man before him,
or realize that contempt poured upon outraged pride is as spirit poured
upon flame.

He saw the devil in Piers' eyes too late to change his tactics. Almost in
the same moment the last shred of Piers' self-control vanished like smoke
in a gale. He uttered a fearful oath and sprang upon Tudor like an animal
freed from a leash.

The struggle that followed was furious if brief. Tudor's temper, once
thoroughly roused, was as fierce as any man's, and though his knowledge
of the science of fighting was wholly elementary, he made a desperate
resistance. It lasted for possibly thirty seconds, and then he found
himself flung violently backwards across the table and pinned there, with
Piers' hands gripping his throat, and Piers' eyes, grim and murderous,
glaring down into his own.

"Be still!" ordered Piers, his voice no more than a whisper. "Or I'll
kill you--by Heaven, I will!"

Tudor was utterly powerless in that relentless grip. His heart was
pumping with great hammer-strokes; his breathing came laboured between
those merciless hands. His own hands were closed upon the iron wrists,
but their hold was weakening moment by moment, he knew their grasp to be
wholly ineffectual. He obeyed the order because he lacked the strength to
do otherwise.

Piers slowly slackened his grip. "Now," he said, speaking between lips
that scarcely seemed to move, "you will make me that promise."

"What--promise?" Gaspingly Tudor uttered the question, yet something of
the habitual sneer which he always kept for Piers distorted his mouth as
he spoke. He was not an easy man to beat, despite his physical

Sternly and implacably Piers answered him. "You will swear--by all you
hold sacred--to take no advantage whatever of me while I am away. You had
a special purpose in view when you planned to get me out of the way. You
will swear to give up that purpose, till I come back."

"I?" said Tudor.

Just the one word flung upwards at his conqueror, but carrying with it a
defiance so complete that even Piers was for the moment taken by
surprise! Then, the devil urging him, he tightened his grip again.
"Either that," he said, "or--"

He left the sentence unfinished. His hands completed the threat. He had
passed the bounds of civilization, and his savagery whirled him like a
fiery torrent through the gaping jaws of hell. The maddening flames were
all around him, the shrieking of demons was in his ears, driving him on
to destruction. He went, blinded by passion, goaded by the intolerable
stabs of jealousy. In those moments he was conscious of nothing save a
wild delirium of anger against the man who, beaten, yet resisted him, yet
threw him his disdainful refusal to surrender even in the face of
overwhelming defeat.

But the brief respite had given Tudor a transient renewal of strength.
Ere that terrible grip could wholly lock again, he made another frantic
effort to free himself. Spasmodic as it was, and wholly unconsidered, yet
it had the advantage of being unexpected. Piers shifted his hold, and in
that instant Tudor found and gripped the edge of the table. Sharply, with
desperate strength, he dragged himself sideways, and before his adversary
could prevent it he was over the edge. He fell heavily, dragging Piers
with him, struck his head with violence against the table-leg, and
crumpled with the blow like an empty sack.

Piers found himself gripping a limp, inanimate object, and with a sudden
sense of overpowering horror he desisted. He stumbled up, staggering
slightly, and drew a long, hard breath. His heart was racing like a
runaway engine. All the blood in his body seemed to be concentrated
there. Almost mechanically he waited for it to slow down. And, as he
waited, the madness of that wild rush through hell fell away from him.
The demons that had driven him passed into distance. He was left standing
in a place of desolation, utterly and terribly alone.

* * * * *

A trickle of cold water ran down Tudor's chin. He put up a hesitating,
groping hand, and opened his eyes.

He was lying in the arm-chair before the fire in which he had spent the
evening. The light danced before him in blurred flashes.

"Hullo!" he muttered thickly. "I've been asleep."

He remained passive for a few moments, trying, not very successfully, to
collect his scattered senses. Then, with an effort that seemed curiously
laboured, he slowly sat up. Instinctively, his eyes went to the clock
above him, but the hands of it seemed to be swinging round and round. He
stared at it bewildered.

But when he tried to rise and investigate the mystery, the whole room
began to spin, and he sank back with a feeling of intense sickness.

It was then that he became aware of another presence. Someone came from
behind him and, stooping, held a tumbler to his lips. He looked up
vaguely, and as in a dream he saw the face of Piers Evesham.

But it was Piers as he had never before seen him, white-lipped, unnerved,
shaking. The hand that held the glass trembled almost beyond control.

"What's the matter?" questioned Tudor in hazy wonder. "Have you been
boozing, or have I?"

And then, his perceptions growing stronger, he took the glass from the
quivering hand and slowly drank.

The draught steadied him. He looked up with more assurance, and saw
Piers, still with that deathly look on his face, leaning against the
mantelpiece for support.

"What on earth's the matter?" said Tudor sharply.

He felt for his glasses, found them dangling over his shoulder, and put
them on. One of them was cracked across, an illuminating fact which
accounted for much. He looked keenly at Piers for several quiet seconds.

At length with a shade of humour he spoke. "Here endeth the first lesson!
You'd make a better show if you had a drink also. I'm sorry there's only
one glass. You see, I wasn't expecting any friends to-night."

Piers started a little and straightened himself; but his face remained
bloodless, and there was a curiously stunned look in his eyes. He did not
attempt to utter a word.

Tudor drained his glass, sat a moment or two longer, then got up. There
were brandy and water on his writing-table. He poured out a stiff dose,
and turned to Piers with authority.

"Pull yourself together, Evesham! I should have thought you'd made a
big enough fool of yourself for one night. Drink this! Don't spill it
now! And don't sit down on the fire, for I don't feel equal to
pulling you off!"

His manner was briskly professional, the manner he usually reserved for
the hysterical portion of his patients. He was still feeling decidedly
shaky himself, but Piers' collapse was an admirable restorative. He stood
by, vigilant and resolute, while the brandy did its work.

Piers drank in silence, not looking at him. All the arrogance had gone
out of him. He looked broken and unmanned.

"Better?" asked Tudor at length.

He nodded mutely, and set down the glass.

Tudor surveyed him questioningly. "What happened to you?" he asked

"Nothing!" Piers found his voice at last, it was low and shamed. "Nothing
whatever! You--you--my God!--I thought you were dead, that's all."

"That all?" said Tudor. He put his hand up to his temple. There was a
fair-sized lump there already, and it was swelling rapidly.

Piers nodded again. The deathly pallor had gone from his face, but he
still avoided Tudor's eyes. He spoke again, below his breath, as if more
to himself than to Tudor.

"You looked so horribly like--like--a man I once--saw killed."

"If you are wise, you will go home to bed," said Tudor gruffly.

Piers flashed a swift look at him. He stood hesitating. "You're not
really hurt?" he questioned, after a moment.

"Thank you," said Tudor drily, "I am not."

He made no movement of reconciliation. Perhaps it was hardly to be
expected of him. Piers made none either. He turned away in silence.

The clock on the mantelpiece chimed the hour. Two o'clock! Tudor looked
at it with a wry smile. It had been a lively quarter of an hour.

The surgery-door banged upon Piers' departure. He heard his feet move
heavily to the gate, and the dull clang of the latter closing behind him.
Then, after a protracted pause, there came the sound of his motor.

As this throbbed away into distance Tudor smiled again grimly,
ironically. "Yes, you young ruffian," he said. "It's given your nerves a
nasty jolt, and serves you jolly well right! I never saw any fellow in
such a mortal funk before, and--from your somewhat rash remark--I gather
that it's not the first lesson after all. I wonder when--and how--you
killed that other man."

He was still speculating as he turned out the light and went to his room.



It was the Reverend Stephen Lorimer's custom to have all letters that
arrived by the morning post placed beside his breakfast plate to be
sorted by him at the end of family prayers,--a custom which Gracie freely
criticized in the sanctuary of the schoolroom, and which her mother in
earlier days had gently and quite ineffectually tried to stop. It was
always a somewhat lengthy proceeding as it entailed a careful scrutiny of
each envelope, especially in the case of letters not addressed to the
Reverend Stephen. He was well acquainted with the handwriting of all his
wife's correspondents, and was generally ready with some shrewd guess as
to their motives for writing. They were usually submitted to him for
perusal as soon as she had read them herself, a habit formed by Mrs.
Lorimer when she discovered that he looked upon her correspondence as his
own property and deeply resented any inclination on her part to keep it
to herself.

Avery's arrival had brought an additional interest to the morning budget.
Her letters were invariably examined with bland curiosity and handed on
to her with comments appropriate to their appearance. Occasionally
envelopes with an Australian postmark reached her, and these always
excited especial notice. The brief spell of Avery's married life had been
spent in a corner of New South Wales. In the early part of their
acquaintance, Mr. Lorimer had sought to draw her out on the subject of
her experiences during this period, but he had found her reticent. And so
whenever a letter came addressed in the strong, masculine hand of her
Australian correspondent, some urbane remark was invariably made, while
his small daughter Gracie swelled with indignation at the further
end of the table.

"Two epistles for Mrs. Denys!" he announced, as he turned over the
morning's mail at the breakfast-table two days after Christmas. "Ah, I
thought our Australian friend would be calling attention to himself ere
the festive season had quite departed. He writes from Adelaide on this
occasion. That indicates a move if I mistake not. His usual
_pied-a-terre_ has been Brisbane hitherto, has it not?"

His little dark eyes interrogated Avery for a moment before they vanished
inwards with disconcerting completeness.

Avery stiffened instinctively. She was well aware that Mr. Lorimer did
not like her, but the fact held no disturbing element. To her mind the
dislike of the man was preferable to his favour and after all she saw but
little of him.

She went on therefore with her occupation of cutting bread and butter for
the children with no sign of annoyance save that slight, scarcely
perceptible stiffening of the neck which only Gracie saw.

"I hope you are kind to your faithful correspondent," smiled Mr. Lorimer,
still holding the letter between his finger and thumb. "He evidently
regards your friendship as a pearl of price, and doubtless he is
well-advised to do so."

Here he opened his eyes again, and sent a barbed glance at Avery's
unresponsive face.

"Friendship is a beautiful thing, is it not?" he said.

"It is," said Avery, deftly cutting her fifth slice.

The Reverend Stephen proceeded with clerical fervour to embellish his
subject, for no especial reason save the pleasure of listening to his own
eloquence--a pleasure which never palled. "It partakes of that divine
quality of charity so sadly lacking in many of us, and sheds golden beams
of sunshine in the humblest earthly home. It has been aptly called the
true earnest of eternity."

"Really!" said Avery.

"An exquisite thought, is it not?" said the Vicar. "Grace, my child, for
the one-and-twentieth time I must beg of you not to swing your legs when
sitting at table."

"I wasn't," said Gracie.

Her father's brows were elevated in surprise. His eyes as a consequence
were opened rather wider than usual, revealing an unmistakably
malignant gleam.

"That is not the way in which a Christian child should receive
admonition," he said. "If you were not swinging your legs, you were
fidgeting in a fashion which you very well know to be unmannerly. Do not
let me have to complain of your behaviour again!"

Gracie's cheeks were crimson, her violet eyes blazing with resentment;
and Avery, dreading an outburst, laid a gentle restraining hand upon her
shoulder for an instant.

The action was well-meant, but its results were unfortunate. Gracie
impulsively seized and kissed the hand with enthusiasm. "All right, Avery
dear," she said with pointed docility.

Mr. Lorimer's brows rose a little higher, but being momentarily at a loss
for a suitable comment he contented himself with a return to Avery's

"The other letter," he said, "bears the well-known crest of the Evesham
family. Ah, Mrs. Denys!" he shook his head at her. "Now, what does
that portend?"

"What is the crest?" asked Avery, briskly cutting another slice.

"The devil," said Gracie.

"My dear!" remonstrated Mrs. Lorimer, with a nervous glance towards
her husband.

The Reverend Stephen was smiling, but in a fashion she did not quite
like. He addressed Avery.

"The Evesham crest, Mrs. Denys, is a gentleman with horns and hoofs and
under him the one expressive word, _'Cave.'_ Excellent advice, is it not?
I think we should do well to follow it." He turned the envelope over, and
studied the address. "What a curious style of writing the young man has,
unrestrained to a degree! This looks as if it had been written in a
desperate mood. Mrs. Denys, Mrs. Denys, what have you been doing?"

He began to laugh, but stopped abruptly as Julian, who was seated near
him, with a sudden, clumsy movement, upset a stream of cocoa across the
breakfast-table. This created an instant diversion. Mr. Lorimer turned
upon him vindictively, and soundly smacked his head, Mrs. Lorimer covered
her face and wept, and Avery, with Gracie close behind, hurried to remedy
the disaster.

Ranald came to help her in his quiet, gentlemanly way, dabbing up the
thick brown stream with his table-napkin. Pat slipped round to his
mother and hugged her hard. And Olive, the only unmoved member of the
party, looked on with contemptuous eyes the while she continued her
breakfast. Jeanie still breakfasted upstairs in the schoolroom, and so
missed the _fracas_.

"The place is a pig-sty!" declared Mr. Lorimer, roused out of all
complacence and casting dainty phraseology to the winds. "And you,
sir,"--he addressed his second son,--"wholly unfit for civilized
society. Go upstairs, and--if you have any appetite left after this
disgusting exhibition--satisfy it in the nursery!"

Julian, crimson but wholly unashamed, flung up his head defiantly and
walked to the door.

"Stop!" commanded Mr. Lorimer, ere he reached it.

Julian stopped.

His father looked him up and down with gradually returning composure.
"You will not go to the nursery," he said. "You will go to the study and
there suffer the penalty for insolence."

"Stephen!" broke from Mrs. Lorimer in anguished protest.

"A beastly shame!" cried Gracie vehemently, flinging discretion to the
winds; she adored her brother Julian. "He never spoke a single word!"

"Go, Julian!" said Mr. Lorimer.

Julian went, banging the door vigorously behind him.

Then, amid an awful silence, the Vicar turned his scrutiny upon his
small daughter.

Gracie stood up under it with all the courage at her disposal, but she
was white to the lips before that dreadful gaze passed from her to Avery.

"Mrs. Denys," said Mr. Lorimer, in tones of icy courtesy, "will you
oblige me by taking that child upstairs, undressing her, and putting her
to bed? She will remain there until I come."

Avery, her task accomplished, turned and faced him. She was as white as
Gracie, but there was a steadfast light in her eyes that showed her
wholly unafraid.

"Mr. Lorimer," she said, "with your permission I will deal with
Gracie. She has done wrong, I know. By-and-bye, she will be sorry and
tell you so."

Mr. Lorimer smiled sarcastically. "An apology, my dear Mrs. Denys, does
not condone the offence. It is wholly against my principles to spare the
rod when it is so richly merited, and I shall not do so on this occasion.
Will you kindly do as I have requested?"

It was final, and Avery knew it. Mrs. Lorimer knew it also, and burst
into hysterical crying.

Avery turned swiftly. "Go upstairs, dear!" she said to Gracie, and Gracie
went like an arrow.

Mrs. Lorimer started to her feet. "Stephen! Stephen!" she cried

But her husband turned a deaf ear. With a contemptuous gesture he tossed
Avery's letters upon the table and stalked from the room.

Mrs. Lorimer uttered a wild cry of despair, and fell back fainting in
her chair.

For the next quarter of an hour Avery was fully occupied in restoring
her, again assisted by Ronald. When she came to herself, it was only to
shed anguished tears on Avery's shoulder and repeat over and over again
that she could not bear it, she could not bear it.

Avery was of the same opinion, but she did not say so. She strove
instead with the utmost tenderness to persuade her to drink some tea.
But even when she had succeeded in this, Mrs. Lorimer continued to be so
exhausted and upset that at last, growing uneasy, Avery despatched
Ronald for the doctor.

She sent Olive for the children's nurse and took counsel with her as to
getting her mistress back to bed. But Nurse instantly discouraged this

"For the Lord's sake, ma'am, don't take her upstairs!" she said. "The
master's up there with Miss Gracie, and he's whipping the poor lamb
something cruel. He made me undress her first."

"Oh, I cannot have that!" exclaimed Avery. "Stay here a minute, Nurse,

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