Part 4 out of 10
while I go up!"
She rushed upstairs in furious anger to the room in which the three
little girls slept. The door was locked, but the sounds within were
unmistakable. Gracie was plainly receiving severe punishment from her
irate parent. Her agonized crying tore Avery's heart.
She threw herself at the door and battered at it with her fists. "Mr.
Lorimer!" she called. "Mr. Lorimer, let me in!"
There was no response. Possibly she was not even heard, for the dreadful
crying continued and, mingled with it, the swish of the slender little
riding-switch which in the earlier, less harassed days of his married
life the Reverend Stephen had kept for the horse he rode, and which now
he kept for his children.
They were terrible moments for Avery that she spent outside that locked
door, listening impotently to a child's piteous cries for mercy from one
who knew it not. But they came to an end at last. Gracie's distress sank
into anguished sobs, and Avery knew that the punishment was over. Mr.
Lorimer had satisfied both his sense of duty and his malice.
She heard him speak in cold, cutting tones. "I have punished you more
severely than I had ever expected to find necessary, and I hope that the
lesson will be sufficient. But I warn you, Grace, most solemnly that I
shall watch your behaviour very closely for the future, and if I detect
in you the smallest indication of the insolence and defiance for which I
have inflicted this punishment upon you to-day I shall repeat the
punishment fourfold. No! Not another word!" as Gracie made some
inarticulate utterance. "Or you will compel me to repeat it to-night!"
And with that, he walked quietly to the door and unlocked it.
Avery had ceased to beat upon it; she met him white and stiff in
"I have just sent for the doctor," she said. "Mrs. Lorimer has been
She passed him at once with the words, not looking at him, for she could
not trust herself. Straight to Gracie, huddled on the floor in her
night-dress, she went, and lifted the child bodily to her bed.
Gracie clung to her, sobbing passionately. Mr. Lorimer lingered in
"Will you go, please?" said Avery, tight-lipped and rigid, the child
clasped to her throbbing heart.
It was a definite command, spoken in a tone that almost compelled
compliance, and Mr. Lorimer lingered no more.
Then for one long minute Avery sat and rocked the poor little tortured
body in her arms.
At length, through Gracie's sobs, she spoke. "Gracie darling, I'm going
to ask you to do something big for me."
"Yes?" sobbed Gracie, clinging tightly round her neck.
"Leave off crying!" Avery said. "Please leave off crying, darling, and be
your own brave self!"
"I can't," cried Gracie.
"But do try, darling!" Avery urged her softly. "Because, you see, I can't
leave you like this, and your poor little mother wants me so badly. She
is ill, Gracie, and I ought to go to her, but I can't while you are
Thus adjured, Gracie made gallant efforts to check herself. But her
spirit was temporarily quite broken. She stood passively with the tears
running down her face while Avery hastily dressed her again and set her
rumpled hair to rights. Then again for a few seconds they held each other
"Bless you, my own brave darling!" Avery whispered.
To which Gracie made tearful reply: "Whatever should we do without you,
"And you won't cry any more?" pleaded Avery, who was nearer to tears
herself than she dared have owned.
"No," said Gracie valiantly.
She began to dry her eyes with vigour--a hopeful sign; and after pressing
upon Avery another damp kiss was even able to muster a smile.
"Now you can do something to help me," said Avery. "Give yourself five
minutes--here's my watch to go by!" She slipped it off her own wrist and
on to Gracie's. "Then run up to the nursery and see after the children
while Nurse is downstairs! And drink a cup of milk, dearie! Mind you do,
for you've had nothing yet."
"I shall love to wear your watch," murmured Gracie, beginning to be
"I know you'll take care of it," Avery said, with a loving hand on the
child's hair. "Now you'll be all right, will you? I can leave you without
Grade gave her face a final polish, and nodded. Spent and sore though she
was, her spirit was beginning to revive. "Is Mother really ill?" she
asked, as Avery turned to go.
"I don't know, dear. I'm rather anxious about her," said Avery.
"It's all Father's fault," said Gracie.
Avery was silent. She could not contradict the statement.
As she reached the door, Gracie spoke again, but more to herself than to
Avery. "I hope--when he dies--he'll go to hell and stay there for ever
and ever and ever!"
"Oh, Gracie!" Avery stopped, genuinely shocked. "How wrong!" she said.
Gracie nodded several times. "Yes, I know it's wrong, but I don't care.
And I hope he'll die to-morrow."
"Hush! Hush!" Avery said.
Whereat Gracie broke into a propitiatory smile. "The things I wish for
never happen," she said.
And Avery departed, wondering if this statement deserved to be treated in
the light of an amendment.
THE DAY OF TROUBLE
Lennox Tudor spent hours at the Vicarage that day in close attendance
upon Mrs. Lorimer in company with Avery who scarcely left her side.
Terrible hours they were, during which they battled strenuously to keep
the poor, quivering life in her weary body.
"There is no reason why she shouldn't pull round," Tudor assured Avery.
But yet throughout the day she hovered on the verge of collapse.
By night the worst danger was over, but intense weakness remained. She
lay white and still, taking notice of nothing. Only once, when Avery was
giving her nourishment, did she rouse herself to speak.
"Beg my husband not to be vexed with me!" she whispered. "Tell him there
won't be another little one after all! He'll be glad to know that."
And Avery, cut to the heart, promised to deliver the message.
A little later she stole away, leaving the children's nurse in charge,
and slipped up to the schoolroom for some tea. Tudor had gone to see
another patient, but had promised to return as soon as possible.
The children were all gathered round the table at which Olive very
capably presided. Gracie, looking wan and subdued, sat on the end of
Jeanie's sofa; but she sprang to meet Avery the moment she appeared.
Avery sat down, holding the child's hand in hers. She glanced round the
table as she did so.
"Where is Julian?"
"Upstairs," said Ronald briefly. "In disgrace."
Avery felt her heart contract with a sick sense of further trouble in the
air. "Has he been there all day?" she asked. Ronald nodded. "And another
flogging to-night if he doesn't apologize. He says he'll die first."
"So would I," breathed Gracie.
At this juncture the door swung open with stately precision, and Mr.
Lorimer entered. Everyone rose, according to established custom, with the
exceptions of Avery and Jeanie. Gracie's fingers tightened convulsively
upon Avery's hand, and she turned as white as the table-cloth.
Mr. Lorimer, however, looked over her head as if she did not exist, and
"Mrs. Denys, be so good as to spare me two minutes in the study!" he said
with extreme formality.
"Certainly," Avery made quiet reply. "I will come to you before I go back
to Mrs. Lorimer."
He raised his brows slightly, as if he had expected a more prompt
compliance with his request. And then his eyes fell upon Gracie, clinging
fast to Avery's hand.
"Grace," he said, in his clear, definite tones, "come here!"
The child gave a great start and shrank against Avery's shoulder. "Oh
no!" she whispered. "No!"
"Come here!" repeated Mr. Lorimer.
He extended his hand, but Gracie only shrank further away. She was
trembling violently, so violently that Avery felt impelled to pass a
sustaining arm around her.
"Come, my child!" said the Vicar, the majestic composure of his features
gradually yielding to a look of dawning severity.
"Go, dear!" whispered Avery.
"I don't want to," gasped Gracie.
"I shall not punish you," her father said, "unless I find you disobedient
or still unrepentant."
"Darling, go!" Avery urged softly into her ear. "It'll be all right now."
But Gracie, shaking from head to foot and scarcely able to stand, only
clung to her the faster, and in a moment she began agitatedly to cry.
Mr. Lorimer's hand fell to his side. "Still unrepentant, I fear," he
Avery, with the child gathered closely to her, looked across at him with
wide, accusing eyes.
"She is frightened and upset," she said. "It is not fair to judge her in
Mr. Lorimer's eyes gleamed back malignantly. He made her an icy bow. "In
that case, Mrs. Denys," he said, "she had better go to bed and stay there
until her condition has improved."
Avery compressed her lips tightly, and made no rejoinder.
The Reverend Stephen compressed his, and after a definite pause of most
unpleasant tension, he uttered a deep sigh and withdrew.
"I know he means to do it again!" sobbed Grade. "I know he does!"
"He shall not!" said Avery.
And with the words she put the child from her, rose, and with great
determination walked out of the room.
Mr. Lorimer had scarcely settled himself in what he called his "chair of
ease" in the study when her low knock reached him, and she entered. Her
grey eyes were no longer angry, but very resolute. She closed the door
softly, and came straight to the fire.
"Mr. Lorimer," she said, her voice pitched very low, "I want you to be
patient with me just for a minute. Will you?"
Mr. Lorimer sighed again. "I am yearning for the refreshment of a little
solitary meditation, Mrs. Denys," he said.
"I shall not keep you," Avery rejoined steadily. She stood before him,
very pale but wholly composed. "What I have to say can be said in a very
few seconds. First, with regard to Gracie; the child is so upset that I
think any further punishment would make her downright ill."
"Pooh, my dear Mrs. Denys!" said the Reverend Stephen.
Avery paused a moment. "Will you try to listen to me with an open
mind?" she said.
"I am listening," said Mr. Lorimer.
"I know she was naughty this morning," Avery continued. "I am not trying
to defend her behaviour. But her punishment was a very severe one, and it
has so terrified her that at present she can think of nothing else. Give
her time to be sorry! Please give her time!"
Mr. Lorimer glanced at the clock. "She has already had nine hours," he
observed. "I shall give her three more."
"And then?" said Avery.
His eyes travelled up to her troubled face. "And if by then," he said
deliberately, "she has not come to me to express her penitence, I shall
be reluctantly compelled to repeat the punishment."
"You will drive the child out of her senses if you do!" Avery exclaimed.
He shrugged his shoulders. "My dear Mrs. Denys, permit me to remind you
that I have had considerable experience in the upbringing of children."
"And they are all afraid of you," Avery said.
He smiled. "In my opinion a little wholesome awe is salutary. No, Mrs.
Denys, I cannot listen any further to your persuasion. In fact I fear
that in Grace's case I have so far erred on the side of laxness. She has
become very wild and uncontrolled, and--she must be tamed."
He closed his lips upon the word, and despair entered Avery's heart. She
gripped her self-control with all her might, realizing that the moment
she lost it, her strength would be gone.
With a great effort she turned from the subject. "I have a message for
you from Mrs. Lorimer," she said, after a moment, and proceeded to
deliver it in a low, steady voice, her eyes upon the fire.
The man in the chair heard it without the movement of a muscle of his
face. "I will endeavour to look in upon her presently," was all the
reply he made.
Avery turned to go, but he stopped her with a gesture.
"Mrs. Denys," he said smoothly, "you forget, I think, that I also had
something to say."
Avery paused. She had forgotten.
He turned his eyes deliberately up to hers, as he leaned back in his
chair. "I am sorry to have to tell you," he said, "that in consequence of
your unfortunate zeal in encouraging the children in insubordination, I
can no longer look upon you as in any sense a help in my household. I
therefore desire that you will take a month's notice from now. If I can
fill your place sooner, I shall dispense with your services earlier."
Calmly, dispassionately, he uttered the words. Avery stood quite still to
hear them. And through her like a stab there ran the thought of the poor
little woman upstairs. The pain of it was almost unbearable. She caught
her breath involuntarily.
But the next moment she was herself again. She bowed without a word, and
turned to go.
She had nearly reached the door ere she discovered that it stood open,
and that Lennox Tudor was on the threshold, more grimly strong than she
had ever before realized him to be.
He stood back for her to pass, holding the door for her without speaking.
And in silence Avery departed.
THE STRAIGHT TRUTH
"Ah, my worthy physician, enter, enter!" was Mr. Lorimer's bland
greeting. "What news of the patient?"
Tudor tramped up to the hearth, looking very square and resolute. "I've
come from the schoolroom," he said, "where I went to take a look at
Jeanie. But I found Gracie required more of my attention than she did.
Are you absolutely mad, I wonder, to inflict corporal punishment upon a
highly-strung child like that? Let me tell you this! You'll turn her into
a senseless idiot if you persist! The child is nearly crazed with terror
as it is. I've told them to put her to bed, and I'm going up to give her
a soothing draught directly."
Mr. Lorimer rose with dignity. "You somewhat magnify your office,
doctor," he said.
"No, I don't!" said Tudor rudely. "I do what I must. And I warn you that
child is wrought up to a highly dangerous pitch of excitement. You don't
want her to have brain-fever, I suppose?"
"Pooh!" said Mr. Lorimer.
Tudor stamped a furious foot, and let himself go. He had no scruples
about losing his temper at that moment. He poured forth his indignation
in a perfect tornado of righteous anger.
"That's all you have to say, is it? You--a man of God, so-called--killing
your wife by inches and not caring a damn what suffering you cause! I
tell you, she has been at death's door all day, thanks to your infernal
behaviour. She may die yet, and you will be directly responsible. You've
crushed her systematically, body and soul. As to the children, if you
touch that little girl again--or any of 'em--I'll haul you before the
Bench for cruelty. Do you hear that?"
Mr. Lorimer, who had been waving a protesting hand throughout this
vigorous denunciation, here interposed a lofty: "Sir! You
"Not I!" flung back Tudor. "I know very well what I'm about. I spoke to
you once before about your wife, and you wouldn't listen. But--by
Heaven--you shall listen this time, and hear the straight truth for once.
Her life has been a perpetual martyrdom for years. You've tortured her
through the children as cruelly as any victim was ever tortured on the
rack. But it's got to stop now. I don't deal in empty threats. What I've
said I shall stick to. You may be the Vicar of the parish, but you're
under the same law as the poorest of 'em. And if anything more of this
kind happens, you shall feel the law. And a pretty scandal it'll make."
He paused a moment, but Mr. Lorimer stood in frozen silence; and almost
immediately he plunged on.
"Now as regards Mrs. Denys; I heard you give her notice just now. That
must be taken back--if she will consent to stay. For Mrs. Lorimer
literally can't do without her yet. Mrs. Lorimer will be an invalid for
some time to come, if not for good and all. And who is going to take
charge of the house if you kick out the only capable person it contains?
Who is going to look after your precious comfort, not to mention that of
your wife and children? I tell you Mrs. Denys is absolutely indispensable
to you all for the present. If you part with her, you part with every
shred of ease and domestic peace you have. And you will have to keep a
properly qualified nurse to look after your wife. And it isn't every
nurse that is a blessing in the home, I can assure you."
He stopped again; and finding Mr. Lorimer still somewhat dazed by this
sudden attack, he turned and began to pace the room to give him time
There followed a prolonged silence. Then at last, with a deep sigh, the
Vicar dropped down again in his chair.
"My good, doctor," he said, "I am convinced that your motives are good
though your language be somewhat lacking in restraint. I am sorely
perplexed; let me admit it! Mrs. Denys is, I believe, a thoroughly
efficient housekeeper, but--" he paused impressively--"her presence is a
disturbing element with which I would gladly dispense. She is continually
inventing some pretext for presenting herself at the study-door.
Moreover, she is extremely injudicious with the children, and I am bound
to think of their spiritual welfare before their mere bodily needs."
He was evidently anxious to avoid an open rupture, so perhaps it was as
well that he did not see the look on Tudor's face as he listened to
"Why don't you pack them off to school?" said Tudor, sticking to the
point with commendable resolution. "Peace in the house is absolutely
essential to Mrs. Lorimer. All the elder ones would be better out of
it--with the exception of Jeanie."
"And why with the exception of Jeanie, may I ask?" There was a touch of
asperity in Mr. Lorimer's voice. He had been badly browbeaten, and--for
some reason--he had had to submit. But he was in no docile mood
Tudor heard the note of resentment in his tone, and came back to the
hearth. "I have been awaiting a suitable opportunity to talk to you about
Jeanie," he said.
"What next? What next?" said Mr. Lorimer fretfully.
Tudor proceeded to tell him, his tone deliberately unsympathetic. "She
needs most careful treatment, most vigilant watching. There is a weakness
of the lungs which might develop at any time. Mrs. Denys understands her
and can take care of her. But she is in no state to be entrusted to
"Why was this not mentioned to me before?" said Mr. Lorimer querulously.
"Though the head of the house, I am always the last to be told of
anything of importance. I suppose you are sure of what you say?"
"Quite sure," said Tudor, "though I should be absolutely willing for you
to have another opinion at any time. As to not telling you, I have always
found it difficult to get you to listen, and, as a rule, I have no time
to waste on persuasion." He looked at the clock. "I ought to be going
now. You will consider what I have said about sending the other children
away to school? You'll find it's the only thing to do."
Mr. Lorimer sighed again with deep melancholy.
Tudor squared his shoulders aggressively. "And with your permission I'll
tell Mrs. Denys that you have reconsidered the matter and hope she will
remain for a time at least, if she can see her way to do so."
He paused very definitely for a reply to this. Mr. Lorimer's mouth was
drawn down at the corners, but he looked into the fire with the aloofness
of a mind not occupied with mundane things.
Tudor faced him and waited with grim resolution; but several seconds
passed ere his attitude seemed to become apparent to the abstracted
Vicar. Then with extreme deliberation his eyelids were raised.
"Excuse me, doctor! My thoughts were for the moment elsewhere. Yes, you
have my permission to tell her that. And--I agree with you. It seems
advisable to remove the elder children from her influence without delay.
I shall therefore take steps to do so."
Tudor nodded with a shrug of the shoulders. It did not matter to him in
what garb his advice was dressed, so long as it was followed.
"Very well," he said. "I am now going to settle Gracie, and I shall tell
her you have issued a free pardon all round, and no more will be said to
anyone. I was told one of the boys was in hot water too, but you can let
him off for once. You're much more likely to make him ashamed of himself
Mr. Lorimer resumed his contemplation of the fire without speaking.
Tudor turned to go. He was fairly satisfied that he had established peace
for the time being, and he was not ill-pleased with his success.
He told himself as he departed that he had discovered how to deal with
the Reverend Stephen. It had never occurred to him to attempt such
To Avery later he gave but few details of the interview, but she could
not fail to see his grim elation and smiled at it.
"I am to stay then, am I?" she said.
"If you will graciously consent to do so," said Tudor, with his
"I couldn't do anything else," she said.
"I'm glad of that," he said abruptly, "for my own sake."
And with that very suddenly he turned the subject.
THE ENCHANTED LAND
At ten o'clock that night, Avery went round to bid each child good-night.
She found Gracie sleeping peacefully with her bed pushed close to
Jeanie's. The latter was awake and whispered a greeting. On the other
side of the room Olive slept the sleep of the just. Avery did not pause
by her bed, but went straight to Jeanie, who held her hand for a little
and then gently begged her to go to bed herself.
"You must be so tired," she said.
Avery could not deny the fact. But she had arranged to sleep in Mrs.
Lorimer's room, so she could not look forward to a night without care.
She did not tell Jeanie this, however, but presently kissed her tenderly
and stole away.
She visited the younger boys, and found them all asleep; then slipped up
to the attic in which the elder lads slept.
She heard their voices as she reached the closed door. She knocked softly
therefore, and in a moment heard one of them leap to open it.
It was Ronald, clad in pyjamas but unfailingly courteous, who invited
her to enter.
"I knew it must be you, Mrs. Denys. Come in! Very pleased to see you.
Wait a second while I light a candle!"
He did so, and revealed Julian sitting up in bed with sullen defiance
writ large upon his face. But he smiled at sight of her, and patted the
side of his bed invitingly.
"Don't sit on the chair! It's untrustworthy. It's awfully decent of you
to look us up like this,--that is, if you haven't come to preach."
"I haven't," said Avery, accepting the invitation since she felt too
weary to stand.
Julian nodded approval. "That's right. I knew you were too much of a
brick. I'm awaiting my next swishing for upsetting my cup at breakfast in
your defence, so I hardly think I deserve any pi-jaw from you, do I?"
"Oh, I'm not at all pi, I assure you," Avery said. "And if it was done
for my sake, I'm quite grateful, though I wish you hadn't."
Julian grinned at her, and she proceeded.
"I don't think you need wait any longer for the swishing. Your father has
decided, I understand, not to carry the matter any further."
Julian opened his eyes wide. "What? You've been at him, have you?"
Avery smiled even while she sighed.
"Oh, I'm no good, Julian. I only make things worse when I interfere. No,
it's not due to me. But, all the same, I hope and believe the trouble has
blown over for the present. Do--do try and keep the peace in the future!"
Her weariness sounded in her voice; it quivered in spite of her.
Julian placed a quick, clammy hand on hers and squeezed it
"Anything to oblige!" he promised generously. "Here Ron! Shy over those
letters! She wants something to cheer her up."
"Letters!" Avery looked round sharply. "I had forgotten my
letters!" she said.
"Here they are!" Ronald came forward and placed them in her hand. "I
picked 'em up this morning, and then when you sent me off for the doc, I
forgot all about 'em. I'm sorry. I only came across them when I was
undressing, and you were busy in the mater's room, so I thought I'd keep
them safe till to-morrow. I hope they are not important," he added.
"I don't suppose so," said Avery; yet her heart jerked oddly as she
slipped them into her dress. "Thank you for taking care of them. I must
be going now. You are going to be good?"
She looked at Julian, who, still feeling generous, thrust a rough, boyish
arm about her neck and kissed her.
"You're a trump!" he said. "There! Good-night! I'll be as meek as Moses
in the morning."
It was a definite promise, and Avery felt relieved. She took leave of
Ronald more ceremoniously. His scrupulous politeness demanded it. And
then with feet that felt strangely light, considering her fatigue, she
ran softly down again to Mrs. Lorimer's room.
In the dressing-room adjoining, she opened and read her letters. One of
them--the one with the Australian stamp, characteristically brief but
kind--was to tell her that the writer, a friend of some standing, was
coming to England, and hoped to see her again ere long.
The other, bearing the sinister Evesham crest, lay on the table unopened
till she was undressed and ready to join Mrs. Lorimer. Then--for the
first time in all that weary day of turmoil--Avery stole a few moments
She sat down and opened Piers' letter.
It began impetuously, without preliminary. "I wonder whether you have any
idea what it costs to clear out without a word of farewell. Perhaps you
are even thinking that I've forgotten. Or perhaps it matters so little to
you that you haven't thought at all. I know you won't tell me, so it's
not much good speculating. But lest you should misunderstand in any way,
I want to explain that I haven't been fit to come near you since we
parted on Christmas Eve. You were angry with me then, weren't you? Avery
in a temper! Do you remember how it went? At least you meant to be, but
somehow you didn't get up the steam. You wished me a happy Christmas
instead, and I ought to have had one in consequence. But I didn't. I
played the giddy goat off and on all day long, and my grandfather--dear
old chap--thought what a merry infant I was. But--you've heard of the
worm that dieth not and the fire that is not quenched? The Reverend
Stephen has taken care of that. Do you remember his 'penny-terrible' of a
Sunday or two ago? You were very angry about it, Avery. I love you when
you're angry. And how he dilated on the gates of brass and the bars of
iron and the outer darkness etc, etc, till we all went home and shivered
in our beds! Well, that's the sort of place I spent my Christmas in, and
I wanted to come to you and Jeanie and be made happy, but--I couldn't. I
was too fast in prison. I felt too murderous. I hunted all the next day
to try and get more wholesome. But it was no good. I was seeing red all
the time. And at night something happened that touched me off like an
exploded train of gunpowder. Has Tudor told you about it yet? Doubtless
he will. I tried to murder him, and succeeded in cracking his eye-glass.
Banal, wasn't it? And I have an uneasy feeling that he came out top-dog
after all, confound him!
"Avery, whomever else you have no use for, I know you're not in love with
him, and in my saner moments I realize that you never could be. But I
wasn't sane just then. I love you so! I love you so! It's good to be able
to get it right out before you have time to stop me. For I worship you,
Avery, my darling! You don't realize it. How should you? You think it is
just the passing fancy of a boy. A boy--ye gods!
"I think of you hour by hour. You are always close in your own secret
place in my heart. I hold you in my arms when no one else is near. I
kiss your forehead, your eyes, your hair. No, not your lips, dear, even
in fancy. I have never in my maddest dreams kissed your lips. But I ache
and crave and long for them, though--till you give me leave--I dare not
even pretend that they are mine. Will you ever give me leave? You say No
now. Yet I think you will, Avery. I think you will. I have known ever
since that first moment when you held me back from flaying poor old
Caesar that I have met my Fate, and because I know it I'm trying--for
your sweet sake--to make myself a better man. It's beastly uphill work,
and that episode with Tudor has pulled me back. Confound him! By the way
though, it's done me good in one sense, for I find I don't detest him
quite so hideously as I did. The man has his points.
"And now Avery,--dear Avery, will you forgive me for writing all this? I
know you won't write to me, but I send my address in case! And I shall
watch every mail day after day, night after night, for the letter that
will never come.
"Pathetic picture, isn't it? Good-bye!
"My love to the Queen of all good fairies, and tell Pixie that I hope the
Avery's lips parted in a smile; a soft flush overspread her face. That
costly gift from the children--she had guessed from the beginning
whence it came.
And then slowly, even with reverence, she folded the letter up, and rose.
Her smile became a little tremulous. It had been a day of many troubles,
and she was very tired. The boy's adoration was strangely sweet to her
wearied senses. She felt subtly softened and tender towards him.
No, it must not be! It could not be! He must forget her. She would write
to-morrow and tell him so. Yet for that one night the charm held her.
She viewed from afar an enchanted land--a land of sunshine and singing
birds--a land where it was always spring. It was a country she had seen
before, but only in her dreams. Her feet had never wandered there. The
path she had followed had not led to it. Perhaps it was all a mirage.
Perhaps there was no path.
Yet in her dreams she crossed the boundary, and entered the
THE COMING OF A FRIEND
"Eternal sunshine!" said Piers, with a grimace at the deep, deep blue
of the slumbering water that stretched below him to the horizon. "And
at night eternal moonshine. Romantic but monotonous. I wonder if the
post is in."
He cast an irresolute glance up the path behind him, but decided to
remain where he was. He had looked so many times in vain.
There were a good many people in the hotel, but he was not feeling
sociable. The night before he had dropped a considerable sum at the
Casino, but it had not greatly interested him. Regretfully he had come to
the conclusion that gambling in that form did not attract him. The greedy
crowd that pushed and strove in the heated rooms, he regarded as
downright revolting. He himself had been robbed with astonishing audacity
by a lady with painted eyes who had snatched his only winnings before he
could reach them. It was a small episode, and he had let it pass, but it
had not rendered the tables more attractive. He had in fact left them in
Altogether he was feeling decidedly out of tune with his surroundings
that morning, and the beauty of the scene irritated rather than soothed
him. In the garden a short distance from him, a voluble French party were
chattering with great animation and a good deal of cackling laughter. He
wondered what on earth they found to amuse them so persistently. He also
wondered if a swim in that faultless blue would do anything to improve
his temper, and decided with another wry grimace that it was hardly worth
while to try.
It was at this point that there fell a step on the winding path below him
that led down amongst shrubs to the sea. The top of a Panama hat caught
Piers' attention. He watched it idly as it ascended, speculating without
much interest as to the face beneath it. It mounted with the utmost
steadiness, neither hastening nor lingering. There was something about
its unvarying progress that struck Piers as British. His interest
increased at once. He suddenly discovered that he wanted someone British
to talk to, forgetting the fact that he had fled but ten minutes before
from the boring society of an Anglo-Indian colonel.
The man in the Panama came nearer. Piers from above began to have a
glimpse of a tweed coat and a strong brown hand that swung in time to the
steady stride. The path curved immediately below him, and the last few
yards of it led directly to the spot on which he stood. As the stranger
rounded the curve he came into full view.
He was a big man, broadly built and powerful. His whole personality was
suggestive of squareness. And yet to Piers' critical eyes he did not look
wholly British. His gait was that of a man accustomed to long hours in
the saddle. Under the turned-down Panama the square, determined chin
showed massively. It was a chin that obviously required constant shaving.
Quietly the man drew near. He did not see Piers under his lowered
hat-brim till he was within a few feet of him. Then, becoming suddenly
aware of him, he raised his eyes. A moment later, his hand went up in a
brief, friendly salute.
Piers' hand made instant response. "Splendid morning!" he began to
say--and stopped with the words half-uttered. The blood surged up to his
forehead in a great wave. "Good Heavens!" he said instead.
The other man paused. He did not look at Piers very narrowly, but merely
glanced towards him and then turned his eyes towards the wonderful,
far-stretching blue below them.
"Yes, splendid," he said quietly. "Worth remembering--a scene
His tone was absolutely impersonal. He stood beside Piers for a moment or
two, gazing forth into the infinite distance; then with a slight gesture
of leave-taking he turned as if to continue his progress.
In that instant, however, Piers recovered himself sufficiently to speak.
His face was still deeply flushed, but his voice was steady enough as he
turned fully and addressed the new-comer.
"Don't you know me? We have met before."
The other man stopped at once. He held out his hand. "Yes, of course I
know you--knew you the moment I set eyes on you. But I wasn't sure that
you would care to be recognized by me."
"What on earth do you take me for?" said Piers bluntly.
He gripped the hand hard, looking straight into the calm eyes with a
curious sense of being sustained thereby. "I believe," he said, with an
odd impulse of impetuosity, "that you are the one man in the world that I
couldn't be other than pleased to see."
The elder man smiled. "That's very kind of you," he said.
He had the slow speech of one accustomed to solitude. He kept Piers' hand
in his in a warm, firm grip. "I have often thought about you," he said.
"You know, I never heard your name."
"My name is Evesham," said Piers, with the quick, gracious manner
habitual to him. "Piers Evesham."
"Thank you. Mine is Edmund Crowther. Odd that we should meet like this!"
"A piece of luck I didn't expect!" said Piers boyishly. "Have you only
"I came here last night from Marseilles." Crowther's eyes rested on the
smiling face with its proud, patrician features with the look of a man
examining a perfect bronze. "It's very kind of you to welcome me like
this," he said. "I was feeling a stranger in a strange land as I came up
"I've been watching you," said Piers. "I liked the business-like way you
tackled it. It was British."
Crowther smiled. "I suppose it has become second nature with me to put
business first," he said.
"Wish I could say the same," said Piers; and then, with his hand on
the other man's arm: "Come and have a drink! You are staying for some
time, I hope?"
"No, not for long," said Crowther. "It was yielding to temptation to come
here at all."
"Are you alone?" asked Piers.
"Then there's no occasion to hurry," said Piers. "You stay here for a
bit, and kill time with me."
"I never kill time," said Crowther deliberately. "It's too scarce a
"It is when you're happy," said Piers.
Crowther looked at him with a question in his eyes that he did not put
into words, and in answer to which Piers laughed a reckless laugh.
They were walking side by side up the hotel-garden, and each successive
group of visitors that they passed turned to stare. For both men were in
a fashion remarkable. The massive strength of the elder with his square,
dogged face and purposeful stride; the lithe, muscular power of the
younger with his superb carriage and haughty nobility of feature, formed
a contrast as complete as it was arresting.
They ascended the steps that led up to the terrace, and here Piers
paused. "You sit down here while I go and order drinks! Here's a
comfortable seat, and here's an English paper!"
He thrust it into Crowther's hand and departed with a careless whistle on
his lips. But Crowther did not look at the paper. His eyes followed Piers
as long as he was in sight, and then with that look in them as of one who
watches from afar turned contemplatively towards the sea. After a little
he took his hat off and suffered the morning-breeze to blow across his
forehead. He had the serene brow of a child, though the hair above it was
broadly streaked with grey.
He was still sitting thus when there came the sound of jerky footsteps on
the terrace behind him and an irascible voice addressed him with scarcely
"Excuse me! I saw you talking to my grandson just now. Do you know where
the young fool is gone to?"
Crowther turned in his solid, imperturbable fashion, looked at the
speaker, and got to his feet.
"I can," he said, with a smile. "He has gone to procure drinks in my
honour. He and I are--old friends."
"Oh!" said Sir Beverley, and looked him up and down in a fashion which
another man might have found offensive. "And who may you be?"
"My name is Crowther," said the other with simplicity.
Sir Beverley grunted. "That doesn't tell me much. Never heard of
"I daresay not." Crowther was quite unmoved; there was even a hint of
humour in his tone. "Your grandson is probably a man of many friends."
"Why should you say that?" demanded Sir Beverley suspiciously.
"Won't you sit down?" said Crowther.
Sir Beverley hesitated a moment, then abruptly complied with the
suggestion. Crowther followed his example, and they faced one another
across the little table.
"I say it," said Crowther, "because that is the sort of lad I take
him to be."
Sir Beverley grunted again. "And when and where did you make his
acquaintance?" he enquired, with a stern, unsparing scrutiny of the calm
"We met in Australia," said Crowther. "It must be six years or more ago."
"Australia's a big place," observed Sir Beverley.
Crowther's slow smile appeared. "Yes, sir, it is. It's so mighty big that
it makes all the other places of the world seem small. Have you ever been
in Queensland--ever seen a sheep-farm?"
"No, I've never been in Queensland," snapped Sir Beverley. "But as to
sheep-farms, I've got one of my own."
"How many acres?" asked Crowther.
"Oh, don't ask me! Piers will tell you. Piers knows. Where the devil is
the boy? Why doesn't he come?"
"Here, sir, here!" cried Piers, coming up behind him. "I see you have
made the acquaintance of my friend. Crowther, let me present you to my
grandfather, Sir Beverley Evesham! I've just been to look for you," he
added to the latter. "But Victor told me you had gone out, and then I
spied you out of the window."
"I told you I was coming out, didn't I?" growled Sir Beverley. "So this
is a friend of yours, is it? How is it I've never heard of him before?"
"We lost sight of each other," explained Piers, pulling forward a chair
between them and dropping into it. "But that state of affairs is not
going to happen again. How long are you over for, Crowther?"
"Possibly a year, possibly more." Again Crowther's eyes were upon him,
critical but kindly.
"Going to spend your time in England?" asked Piers.
Crowther nodded. "Most of it, yes."
"Good!" said Piers with satisfaction. "We shall see plenty of you then."
"But I am going to be busy," said Crowther, with a smile.
"Of course you are. You can come down and teach me how to make the Home
Farm a success," laughed Piers.
"I shall be very pleased to try," said Crowther, "though," he turned
towards Sir Beverley, "I expect you, sir, know as much on that subject as
either of us."
Sir Beverley's eyes were upon him with searching directness. He seemed to
be trying to discover a reason for his boy's obvious pleasure in his
unexpected meeting with this man who must have been nearly twice his age.
"I've never done much in the farming line," he said briefly, in answer to
Crowther's observation. "It's been more of a pastime with me than
anything else. It's the same with Piers here. He's only putting in time
with it till the constituency falls vacant."
"I see," said Crowther, adding with his quiet smile: "There seems to be
plenty of time anyhow in the old country, whatever else she may be
Piers laughed as he lifted his glass. "Time for everything but work,
Crowther. She has developed beastly loose morals in her old age. Some day
there'll come a nasty bust up, and she may pull herself together and do
things again, or she may go to pieces. I wonder which."
"I don't," said Crowther.
"You don't?" Piers paused, glass in hand, looking at him expectantly.
"No, I don't." Crowther also raised his glass; he looked Piers straight
in the eyes. "Here's to the boys of England, Piers!" he said. "They'll
see to it that she comes through."
Sir Beverley also drank, but with a distasteful air. "You've a higher
opinion of the young fools than I have," he remarked.
"I've made a study of the breed, sir," said Crowther.
The conversation drifted to indifferent matters, but Piers' interest
remained keen. It seemed that all his vitality had reawakened at the
coming of this slow-speaking man who had looked so long upon the wide
spaces of the earth that his vision seemed scarcely adaptable to lesser
things. There was that in his personality that caught Piers' fancy
irresistibly. Perhaps it was his utter calmness, his unvarying, rock-like
strength. Perhaps it was just the good fellowship that looked out of the
steady eyes and sounded in every tone of the leisurely voice. Whatever
the cause, his presence had made a vast difference to Piers. His boredom
had completely vanished. He even forgot to wonder if there were a letter
lying waiting for him inside the hotel.
Crowther excused himself at length and rose to take his leave, whereupon
Sir Beverley very abruptly, and to his grandson's surprise and
gratification, invited him to dine with them that night. Piers at once
seconded the invitation, and Crowther without haste or hesitation
Then, square and purposeful, he went away.
"A white man!" murmured Piers half to himself.
"One who knows his own mind anyhow," remarked Sir Beverley drily.
He did not ask Piers for the history of their friendship, and Piers,
remembering this later, wondered a little at the omission.
A FRIEND'S COUNSEL
When Piers went to dress that night he found two letters laid discreetly
upon his table, awaiting perusal.
Victor, busily engaged in laying out his clothes, cast a wicked eye back
over his shoulder as his young master pounced upon them, then with a
shrug resumed his task, smiling to himself the while.
Both letters were addressed in womanly handwriting, but Piers went
unerringly to the one he most desired to read. His hands shook a little
as he opened it, but he caught sight of his Christian name at the head of
it and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Dear Piers,"--so in clear, decided writing the message ran,--"I have
wondered many times if I ought to be angry as well as sorry over that
letter of yours. It was audacious, wasn't it? Only I know so well that
you did not mean to hurt me when you wrote it. But, Piers, what I said
before, you compel me to say again. This thing must stop. You say you are
not a boy, so I shall not treat you as such. But indeed you must take my
word for it when I tell you that I shall never marry again.
"I want to be quite honest with you, so you mustn't think that my two
years of married life were by any means idyllic. They were not. The man I
married was a failure, but I loved him, and because I loved him I
followed him to the world's end. We were engaged two years before we
married. My father disapproved; but when he died I was left lonely, so I
followed Eric, whom I had not seen for eighteen months, to Australia. We
were married in Sydney. He had work at that time in a shipping-office,
but he did not manage to keep it. I did not know why at first. I was
young, and I had always led a sheltered life. Then one night I found that
he had been drinking, and after that I understood--many things. I think I
know what you will say of him when you read this. It looks so crude
written. But, Piers, he was not a bad man. He had this one fatal
weakness, but he loved me, and he was good to me nearly always."
Piers' teeth closed suddenly and fiercely on his lower lip at this point;
but he read on grimly with no other sign of indignation.
"Do you remember how I took upon myself once to warn you against losing
your self-control?" The handwriting was not quite so steady here; the
letters looked hurried, as if some agitation had possessed the writer. "I
felt I had to do it, for I had seen a man's life completely wrecked
through it. I know he was one of the many that go under every day, but
the tragedy was so near me. I have never quite been able to shake off the
dreadful memories of it. He was to all outward appearance a strong-willed
man, but that habit was stronger, though he fought and fought against it.
When he failed, he seemed to lose everything,--self-respect,
self-control, strength of purpose,--everything. But when the demon left
him, he always repented so bitterly, so bitterly. I had a little money,
enough to live on. He used to urge me to leave him, to go back to
England, and live in peace. As if I could have done such a thing! And so
we struggled on, making a desperately hard fight for it, till one awful
night when he came home in raving delirium. I can't describe that to
you. I don't want you to know what it was like. I nursed him through it,
but it was terrible. He did not always know what he was doing. At times
he was violent."
A drop of blood suddenly ran down Piers' chin; he pulled out his
handkerchief sharply and wiped it away, still reading on.
"He got over it, but it broke him. He knew--we both knew--that things
were hopeless. We tried for a time to shut our eyes to the fact, but it
remained. And then one day very suddenly he roused himself and told me
that he had heard of a job up-country and was going to it. I could not
stop him. I could not even go with him. And so--for the first time since
our marriage--we parted. He promised to come back to me for the birth of
our child. But before that happened he was dead, killed in a drunken
brawl. It was just what I had always feared--the tragedy that overhung us
from the beginning. Piers, that's all. I've told it very badly. But I
felt you must know how my romance died; and how impossible it is that I
should ever have another. It didn't break my heart. It wasn't sudden
enough for that. And now that he is gone, I can see it is best. But the
manner of his going--that was the dreadful part. I told you about my baby
girl, how she was born blind, and how five years ago she died.
"So now you know my little tragic history from beginning to end. There is
no accounting for love. We follow our instincts, I suppose. But it leads
us sometimes along paths that we could never bear to travel twice. Is
there any pain, I wonder, like the pain of disillusionment, of seeing the
beloved idol lying in the dust? This is a selfish point of view, I know;
but I want you to realize that you have made a mistake. Dear Piers, I am
very, very sorry it has happened. No, not angry at all; somehow I can't
be angry. It's such a difficult world to live in, and there are so many
influences at work. But you must forget this wish of yours
indeed--indeed. I am too old, too experienced, too worldly-wise, too
prosaic for you in every way. You must marry a girl who has never loved
before. You must have the first and best of a woman's heart. You must
have 'The True Romance.'
"That, Piers, will always be the wish and prayer of
"Your loving friend,
Piers' hands were steady enough now. There was something slow and
fatalistic in the way they folded the letter. He looked up from it at
length with dark eyes that gazed unwaveringly before him, as though they
saw a vision.
"You will be late, _Monsieur Pierre_," suggested Victor softly at
"What?" Piers turned those dreaming eyes upon him, and suddenly he
laughed and stretched his arms wide as one awaking. The steadfast look
went out of his eyes; they danced with gaiety. "Hullo, you old joker!
Well, let's dress then and be quick about it!"
During the process it flashed upon Piers that all mention of Tudor had
been avoided in the letter he had just read. He frowned momentarily at
the thought. Had she deliberately avoided the subject? And if so--but on
the instant his brow cleared again. No, she had written too frankly for
that. She had not mentioned the matter simply because she regarded it as
unimportant. The great question lay between herself and him alone. Of
that he was wholly certain. He smiled again at the thought. No, he was
not afraid of Tudor.
"_Monsieur_ is well pleased," murmured Victor, with a flash of his round
"Quite well pleased, _mon vieux!_" laughed back Piers
"_C'est bien_!" said Victor, regarding him with the indulgent smile that
he had bestowed upon him in babyhood. "And _Monsieur_ does not want his
other letter? But no--no!"
His voice was openly quizzical; he dodged a laughing backhander from
Piers with a neat gesture of apology. It had not escaped his notice
that the letter Piers had read had disappeared unobtrusively into an
"Who's the other letter from?" said Piers, glancing at it perfunctorily.
"Oh, I know. No one of importance. She'll keep till after dinner."
Ina Rose would not have felt flattered had she heard the statement. The
fan Piers had promised to send her had duly arrived from Paris with a
brief--very brief--note from him, requesting her acceptance of it. She
had written in reply a letter which she had been at some pains to
compose, graciously accepting the gift and suggesting that an account of
any adventures that befell him would be received by her with interest.
She added that, a spell of frost having put an end to the hunting, life
at Wardenhurst had become extremely flat, and she had begun to envy Piers
in his exile. Her father was talking of going to Mentone for a few weeks,
and wanted her to accompany him. But she was not sure that she would care
for it. What did Piers think?
When Piers did eventually read the letter, he smiled at this point,--a
smile that was not altogether good to see. He was just going out to the
Casino with Crowther. The latter had gone to fetch a coat, and he had
occupied the few moments of waiting with Ina's letter.
He was still smiling over the open page when Crowther joined him; but he
folded the letter at once, and they went out together.
"Have you had any luck at the tables?" Crowther asked.
"None," said Piers. "At least I won, eventually, but Fate, in the form of
a powdered and bedizened female snatched the proceeds before I got the
chance. A bad omen, what?"
"I hope not," said Crowther.
There was a touch of savagery in Piers' laugh. "It won't happen again,
anyhow," he said.
They entered the Casino with its brilliant rooms and pushing crowds. The
place was thronged. As they entered, a woman with a face of evil beauty,
pressed close to Piers and spoke a word or two in French. But he looked
at her and through her with royal disdain, and so passed her by.
They made their way to the table at which Piers had tried his luck the
previous night, waited for and finally secured a place.
"You take it!" said Crowther. "I believe in your luck."
Piers laughed. He staked five francs on the figure five and lost, doubled
his stakes and lost again, trebled them and lost again.
"This is getting serious," said Crowther.
But still Piers laughed. "Damn it!" he said. "I will win to-night!"
"Try another figure!" said Crowther.
But Piers refused. He laid down twenty-five francs, and with that he won.
It was the turning-point. From that moment it seemed he could not do
wrong. Stake after stake he won, either with his own money, or
Crowther's; and finally left the table in triumph with full pockets.
A good many watched him enviously as he went. He refused to try his luck
elsewhere, but went arrogantly away with his hand through Crowther's arm.
"He'll come back to-morrow," observed a shrewd American. "And the next
day, and the next. He's just the sort that helps to keep this
establishment going. They'll pick him clean."
But he was wrong. Though elated by victory, Piers was not drawn by the
gambling vice. The thing amused him, but it did not greatly attract. He
was by no means dazzled by the spoils he carried away.
They went out to the gardens, and called for liqueurs. The woman who had
spoken to Piers yet hovered about the doors. She cursed him through her
painted lips as he passed, but he went by her like a prince, haughtily
aloof, contemptuously regardless.
They sat down in a comparatively quiet corner, whence they could watch
the ever-shifting picture without being disturbed. A very peculiar mood
possessed Piers. He was restless and uneasy in spite of his high spirits.
For no definite reason he wanted to keep on the move. In deference to
Crowther's wish, he controlled the desire, but it was an obvious effort.
He seemed to find difficulty also in attending to Crowther's quiet
remarks, and after a while Crowther ceased to make them. He finished his
liqueur and sat smoking with his eyes on the dark, sensitive face that
watched the passing crowd so indifferently, yet so persistently.
Piers noticed his silence at last, and looked at him enquiringly.
"Shall we go?"
Crowther leaned slowly towards him. The place was public, but their
privacy was complete.
"Piers," he said, "may I take the privilege of an old friend?"
"You may take anything you like so far as I am concerned," said Piers
Crowther smiled a little. "Thank you. Then I will go ahead. Are you
engaged to be married?"
"What?" said Piers. He looked momentarily startled; then laughed across
the table with a freedom that was wholly unaffected. "Am I engaged, did
you say? No, I'm not. But I'm going to be married for all that."
"Ah!" said Crowther. "I thought I knew the signs."
He rose with the words, and instantly Piers sprang up also. "Yes, let's
go! I can't breathe here. Come down to the shore for a breath of air, and
I'll tell you all about it!"
He linked his arm again in Crowther's, obviously glad to be gone; but
when they had left the glittering place behind them, he still talked
inconsequently about a thousand things till in his calm fashion Crowther
turned him back.
"I don't want you to tell me anything personal," he said, "save one
thing. This girl whom you hope to marry--I gather you are pretty
sure of her?"
Piers threw back his head with a gesture that defied the world. "I am
quite sure of her," he said; and a moment later, with impulsive
confidence: "She has just taken the trouble to write at length and tell
me why she can't have me."
"Ah?" Crowther's tone held curiosity as well as kindly sympathy. "A
"No reason at all," flung back Piers, still with his face to the stars.
"She knows that as well as I do. I tell you, Crowther, I know the way to
that woman's heart, and I could find it blindfold. She is mine already."
"And doesn't know it?" suggested Crowther.
"Yes, she does in her heart of hearts,--or soon will. I shall send her a
post-card to-morrow and sum up the situation."
"On a post-card?"
Crowther sounded puzzled, and Piers broke into a laugh and descended to
"Yes, in one expressive word--'Rats!' No one else will understand it, but
"A little abrupt!" commented Crowther.
"Yes, I'm going to be abrupt now," said Piers with imperial confidence.
"I'm going to storm the position."
"And you are sure you will carry it?"
"Quite sure." Piers' voice held not the faintest shade of doubt.
"I hope you will, lad," said Crowther kindly. "And--that being the
case--may I say what I set out to say?"
"Oh, go ahead!" said Piers.
"It's only this," said Crowther, in his slow, quiet way. "Only a word of
advice, sonny, which I shouldn't give if I didn't know that your life's
happiness hangs on your taking it. You're young, but there's a locked
door in your past. Open that door just once before you marry the woman
you love, and show her what is behind it! It'll give her a shock maybe.
But it'll be better for you both in the end. Don't let there be any
locked doors between you and your wife! You're too young for that. And if
she's the right sort, it won't make a pin's difference to her love. Women
are like that, thank God!"
He spoke with the utmost earnestness. He was evidently keenly anxious to
gain his point. But his words went into utter silence. Ere they were
fully spoken Piers' hand was withdrawn from his arm. His careless,
swinging stride became a heavy, slackening tramp, and at last he halted
altogether. They stood side by side in silence with their faces to the
moon-silvered water. And there fell a long, long pause, as though the
whole world stopped and listened.
After all, it was Crowther who broke that tragic silence; perhaps because
he could bear it no longer. The path on which they stood was deserted. He
laid a very steady hand upon Piers' shoulder with a compassionate glance
at the stony young face which a few minutes before had been so full of
"It comes hard to you, eh, lad?" he said.
Piers stirred, almost made as if he would toss the friendly hand away;
but in the end he suffered it, though he would not meet Crowther's eyes.
"You owe it to her," urged Crowther gently. "Tell her, lad! She's bound
to be up against it sooner or later if you don't."
"Yes," Piers said. "I know."
He spoke heavily; all the youth seemed to have gone out of him. After a
moment, as Crowther waited he turned with a gesture of hopelessness and
faced him. "I'm like a dog on a chain," he said. "I drag this way and
that, and eat my heart out for freedom. But it's all no use. I've got to
live and die on it." He clenched his hands in sudden passionate
rebellion. "But I'm damned if I'm going to tell anybody! It's hell enough
Crowther's hand closed slowly and very steadily on his shoulder. "It's
just hell that I want to save you from, sonny," he said. "It may seem the
hardest part to you now, but if you shirk it you'll go further in still.
I know very well what I'm saying. And it's just because you're man enough
to feel this thing and not a brute beast to forget it, that it's hurt you
so infernally all these years. But it'll hurt you worse, lad, it'll wring
your very soul, if you keep it a secret between you and the woman you
love. It's a big temptation, but--if I know you--you're going to stand up
to it. She'll think the better of you for it in the end. But it'll be a
shadow over both your lives if you don't. And there are some things that
even a woman might find it hard to forgive."
He stopped. Piers' eyes were hard and fixed. He scarcely looked as if he
heard. From below them there arose the murmur of the moonlit sea. Close
at hand the trees in a garden stirred mysteriously as though they moved
in their sleep. But Piers made neither sound nor movement. He stood like
an image of stone.
Again the silence began to lengthen intolerably, to stretch out into a
desert of emptiness, to become fateful with a bitterness too poignant to
be uttered. Crowther said no more. He had had his say. He waited with
unswerving patience for the result.
Piers spoke at last, and there was a queer note of humour in his
voice,--humour that was tragic. "So I've got to go back again, have I?
Back to my valley of dry bones! There's no climbing the heights for me,
Crowther, never will be. Somehow or other, I am always tumbled back."
"You're wrong," Crowther said, with quiet decision. "It's the only way
out. Take it like a man, and you'll win through! Shirk it and--well,
sonny, no shirker ever yet got anything worth having out of life. You
know that as well as I do."
Piers straightened himself with a brief laugh. "Yes, I know that much.
But--I sometimes ask myself if I'm any better than a shirker. Life is
such a beastly farce so far as I am concerned. I never do anything.
There's never anything to do."
"Oh, rats!" said Crowther, and smiled. "There are not many fellows who do
half as much. If to-day is a fair sample of your life, I'm damned if it's
an easy one."
"I'm used to it," said Piers quickly. "You know, I'm awfully fond of my
grandfather--always have been. We suit each other marvellously well--in
some ways." He paused a moment, then, with an effort, "I never told him
either, Crowther. I never told a soul."
"No," Crowther said. "I don't see any reason that you should. But the
woman you marry--she is different. If you take her into your inner life
at all, she is bound to come upon it sooner or later. You must see it,
lad. You know it in your heart."
"And you think she will marry me when she knows I'm a--murderer?" Piers
uttered the word through clenched teeth. He had the haggard look of a man
who has endured long suffering.
There was deep compassion in Crowther's eyes as he watched him. "I don't
think--being a woman--she will put it in that way," he said, "not, that
is, if she loves you."
"How else could she put it?" demanded Piers harshly. "Is there any other
way of putting it? I killed the man intentionally. I told you so at the
time. The fellow who taught me the trick warned me that it would almost
certainly be fatal to a heavy man taken unawares. Why, he himself is now
doing five years' penal servitude for the very same thing. Oh, I'm not a
humbug, Crowther. I bolted from the consequences. You made me bolt. But
I've often wished to heaven since that I'd stayed and faced it out. It
would have been easier in the end, God knows."
"My dear fellow," Crowther said, "you will never convince me of that as
long as you live. There was nothing to gain by your staying and all to
lose. Consequences there were bound to be--and always are. But there was
no good purpose to be served by wrecking your life. You were only a boy,
and the luck was against you. I couldn't have stood by and seen you
Piers groaned. "I sometimes wish I was dead!" he said.
"My dear chap, what's the good of that?" Crowther slipped his hand from
his shoulder to his arm, and drew him quietly forward. "You've suffered
infernally, but it's made a man of you. Don't forget that! It's the
Sculptor and the Clay, lad. He knows how best to fashion a good thing. It
isn't for the clay to cry out."
"Is that your point of view?" Piers spoke with reckless bitterness. "It
"You'll come to it," said Crowther gently.
They walked on for a space in silence, till turning they began to ascend
the winding path that led up to the hotel,--the path which Piers had
watched Crowther ascend that morning.
Side by side they mounted, till half-way up Crowther checked their
progress. "Piers," he said, "I'm grateful to you for enduring my
interference in this matter."
"Pshaw!" said Piers, "I owe you that much anyhow."
"You owe me nothing," said Crowther emphatically. "What I did for you, I
did for myself. I've rather a weakness--it's a very ordinary one too--for
trying to manage other people's concerns. And there's something so fine
about you that I can't bear to stand aside and see you mess up your own.
So, sonny,--for my satisfaction,--will you promise me not to take a wrong
turning over this?"
He spoke very earnestly, with a pleading that could not give offence.
Piers' face softened almost in spite of him. "You're an awfully good
chap," he said.
"Promise me, lad!" pleaded Crowther, still holding his arm in a friendly
grasp; then as Piers hesitated: "You know, I'm an older man than you
are. I can see further. You'll be making your own hell if you don't."
"But why should I promise?" said Piers uneasily.
"Because I know you will keep a promise--even against your own judgment."
Simply, with absolute conviction, Crowther made reply. "I shan't feel
happy about you--unless you promise."
Piers smiled a little, but the lines about his mouth were grim. "Oh, all
right," he said, after a moment, "I promise;--for I think you are right,
Crowther. I think too that I should probably have to tell her--whether I
wanted to or not. She's that sort--the sort that none but a skunk could
deceive. But--" his voice altered suddenly; he turned brooding eyes upon
the sleeping sea--"I wonder if she will forgive me," he said.
"Does she love you?" said Crowther.
Piers' eyes flashed round at him. "I can make her love me," he said.
"You are sure?"
"I am sure."
"Then, my son, she'll forgive you. And if you want to play a straight
game, tell her soon!" said Crowther.
And Piers, with all the light gone out of his eyes, answered soberly,
In the morning they hired horses and went towards the mountains. The day
was cloudless, but Sir Beverley would not be persuaded to accompany them.
"I'm not in the mood for exertion," he said to Piers. "Besides, I detest
hired animals, always did. I shall spend an intellectual morning
listening to the band."
"Hope you won't be bored, sir," said Piers.
"Your going or coming wouldn't affect that one way or another," responded
Whereat Piers laughed and went his way.
He was curiously light-hearted again that morning. The soft Southern air
with its many perfumes exhilarated him like wine. The scent of the
orange-groves rose as incense to the sun.
The animal he rode danced a skittish side-step from time to time. It was
impossible to go with sober mien.
"It's a good land," said Crowther.
"Flowing with milk and honey," laughed Piers, with his eyes on the
olive-clothed slopes. "But there's no country like one's own, what?"
"No country like England, you mean," said Crowther.
"Of course I do, but I was too polite to say so."
"You needn't be polite to me," said Crowther with his slow smile. "And
England happens to be my country. I am as British--" he glanced at Piers'
dark face--"perhaps even a little more so--than you are."
"I plead guilty to an Italian grandmother," said Piers. "But you--I
thought you were Colonial."
"I am British born and bred," said Crowther.
"You?" Piers looked at him in surprise. "You don't belong to
"Only by adoption. I was the son of an English parson. I was destined for
the Church myself for the first twenty years of my life." Crowther was
still smiling, but his eyes had left Piers; they scanned the horizon
"Great Scott!" said Piers. "Lucky escape for you, what?"
"I didn't think so at the time," Crowther spoke thoughtfully, sitting
motionless in his saddle and gazing straight before him. "You see, I was
keen on the religious life. I was narrow in my views--I was astonishingly
narrow; but I was keen."
"Ye gods!" said Piers.
He looked at the square, strong figure incredulously. Somehow he could
not associate Crowther with any but a vigorous, outdoor existence.
"You would never have stuck to it," he said, after a moment. "You'd have
loathed the life."
"I don't think so," said Crowther, in his deliberate way, "though I admit
I probably shouldn't have expanded much. It wasn't easy to give it up at
"What made you do it?" asked Piers.
"Necessity. When my father died, my mother was left with a large family
and quite destitute. I was the eldest, and a sheep-farming uncle--a
brother of hers--offered me a wage sufficient to keep her going if I
would give up the Church and join him. I was already studying. I could
have pushed through on my own; but I couldn't have supported her. So I
had to go. That was the beginning of my Colonial life. It was
five-and-twenty years ago, and I've never been Home since."
He turned his horse quietly round to continue the ascent. The road was
steep. They went slowly side by side.
Crowther went on in a grave, detached way, as though he were telling the
story of another man's life. "I kicked hard at going, but I've lived to
be thankful that I went. I had to rough it, and it did me good. It was
just that I wanted. There's never much fun for a stranger in a strange
land, sonny, and it took me some time to shake down. In fact just for a
while I thought I couldn't stand it. The loneliness out there on those
acres and acres of grass-land was so awful; for I was city-bred. I'd
never been in the desert, never been out of the sound of church-bells."
He began to smile again. "I'd even got a sort of feeling that God wasn't
to be found outside civilization," he said. "I think we get
ultra-civilized in our ideas sometimes. And the emptiness was almost
overpowering. It was like being shut down behind bars of iron with
occasional glimpses of hell to enliven the monotony. That was when one
went to the townships, and saw life. They didn't tempt me at first. I
was too narrow even for that. But the loneliness went on eating and
eating into me till I got so desperate in the end I was ready to snatch
at any diversion." He paused a moment, and into his steady eyes there
came a shadow that made them very human. "I went to hell," he said. "I
waded up to the neck in mire. I gave myself up to it body and soul. I
wallowed. And all the while it revolted me, though it was so sickeningly
easy and attractive. I loathed myself, but I went on with it. It seemed
anyhow one degree better than that awful homesickness. And then one day,
right in the middle of it all, I had a sort of dream. Or perhaps it
wasn't any more a dream than Jacob had in the desert. But I felt as if
I'd been called, and I just had to get up and go. I expect most people
know the sensation, for after all the Kingdom of Heaven is within us;
but it made a bigger impression on me at the time than anything in my
experience. So I went back into the wilderness and waited. Old chap, I
didn't wait in vain."
He suddenly turned his head, and his eyes rested upon Piers with the
serenity of a man at peace with his own soul. "That's about all my
story," he said with simplicity. "I got the strength for the job, and so
carried it through. When my uncle died, I was left in command, and I've
stuck to it ever since. But I took a partner a few years back, and now
I've handed over the whole thing to him and I'm going Home at last to my
"Going to settle in England?" asked Piers.
Crowther shook his head. "Not now, lad. I couldn't. There's too much to
be done. No; I'm going to fulfil my old ambitions if I can. I'm going to
get myself ordained. After that--"
He paused, for Piers had turned to stare at him in open amazement. "You!"
Crowther's smile came over his face like a spreading light. "You don't
think much of parsons, I gather, sonny," he said.
Piers broke into his sudden laugh. "Not as a tribe, I admit. I can't
stand any man who makes an ass of himself, whatever his profession. But
of course I don't mean to assert that all parsons answer to that
description. I've met a few I liked."
Crowther's smile developed into a laugh. "Then you, won't deprive me of
the pleasure of your friendship if I become one?"
"My dear chap," said Piers forcibly, "if you became the biggest
blackguard in creation, you would remain my friend."
It was regally spoken, but the speaker was plainly so unconscious of
arrogance that Crowther's hand came out to him and lay for a moment on
his arm. "I gathered that, sonny," he said gently.
Piers' eyes flashed sympathy. "And what are you going to do then? You say
you're not going to settle in England?"
"I am not," said Crowther, and again he was looking out ahead of him with
eyes that spanned the far distance. "No; I'm going back again to the old
haunts. There's a thundering lot to do there. It's more than a one-man
job. But, please God, I'll do what I can. I know I can do a little. It's
a hell of a place, sonny. You saw the outside edge of it yourself."
Piers nodded without speaking. It had been in a sense his baptism of
"It's the new chums I want to get hold of," Crowther said. "They get
drawn in so devilishly easily. They're like children, many of 'em, trying
to walk on quicksands. They're bound to go in, bound to go under, and a
big percentage never come up again. It's the children I want to help. I
hate to think of fresh, clean lives being thrown on to the dust-heap.
It's so futile,--such a crying waste."
"If anyone can do it, you can," said Piers.
"Ah! I wonder. It won't be easy, but I know their temptations so awfully
well. I've seen scores go under, I've been under myself. And that makes a
lot of difference."
"Life is infernally difficult for most of us," said Piers.
They rode in silence for awhile, and then he changed the subject.
It was not till they returned that Crowther announced his intention of
leaving on the following day.
"I've no time for slacking," he said. "I didn't come Home to slack. And
there's the mother waiting for me."
"Oh, man," Piers said suddenly, "how I wish I had a mother!"
And then half-ashamed, he turned and went in search of his grandfather.
Again that evening Crowther accepted Sir Beverley's invitation to dine at
their table. The old man seemed to regard Piers' friend with a kind of
suspicious interest. He asked few questions but he watched him narrowly.
"If you and the boy want to go to the Casino again, don't mind me!" he
said, at the end of dinner.
"We don't, sir," said Piers promptly. "Can't we sit out on the terrace
all together and smoke?"
"I don't go beyond the lounge," said Sir Beverley, with decision.
"All right, we'll sit in the lounge," said Piers.
His grandfather frowned at him. "Don't be a fool, Piers! Can't you see
you're not wanted?" He thrust out an abrupt hand to Crowther. "Good-night
to you! I shall probably retire before you come in."
"He is leaving first thing in the morning," said Piers.
Sir Beverley's frown was transferred to Crowther. He looked at him
piercingly. "Leaving, are you? Going to England, eh? I suppose we shall
meet again then?"
"I hope so," said Crowther.
Sir Beverley grunted. "Do you? Well, we shan't be moving yet. But--if
you care to look us up at Rodding Abbey when we do get back--you can;
"I tell him, he must, sir," said Piers.
"You are very kind," said Crowther. "Good-bye sir! And thank you!"
He and Piers went out together, and walked to and fro in the garden above
the sea. The orchestra played fitfully in the hotel behind them, and now
and then there came the sounds of careless voices and wandering feet.
They themselves talked but little. Piers was in a dreamy mood, and his
companion was plainly deep in thought.
He spoke at length out of a long silence. "Did your grandfather say
Rodding Abbey just now?"
"Yes," said Piers, waking up.
"It's near a place called Wardenhurst?" pursued Crowther.
"Yes," said Piers again. "Ever been there?"
"No," Crowther spoke slowly, as though considering his words. "Someone I
know lives there, that's all."
"Someone you know?" Piers stood still. He looked at Crowther sharply
through the dimness.
"I don't suppose you have ever met her, lad," said Crowther quietly.
"From what I know of society in the old country you wouldn't move in the
same circle. But as I have promised myself to visit her, it seems better
to mention the fact."
"Why shouldn't you mention it? What is her name?" Piers spoke quickly, in
the imperious fashion habitual to him when not quite at his ease.
Crowther hesitated. He seemed to be debating some point with himself.
At length, "Her name," he said slowly, "is Denys."
Piers made a sudden movement that passed unexplained. There fell a few
moments of silence. Then, in a voice even more measured than
Crowther's, he spoke.
"As it happens, I have met her. Tell me what you know about her,--if you
Again Crowther hesitated.
"Go on," said Piers.
They were facing one another in the darkness. The end of Piers' cigar had
ceased to glow. He did not seem to be breathing. But in the tense moments
that followed his words there came to Crowther the hard, quick beating of
his heart like the thud of a racing engine far away.
Instinctively he put out a hand. "Piers, old chap,--" he said.
"Go on!" Piers said again.
He gripped both hand and wrist with nervous fingers, holding them almost
as though he would force from him the information he desired.
Crowther waited no longer, for he knew in that moment that he stood in
the presence of a soul in torment. "You'll have to know it," he said,
"though why these things happen, God alone knows. Sonny, she is the widow
of the man whose death you caused."
The words were spoken, and after them came silence--such a silence as
could be felt. Once the hands that gripped Crowther's seemed about to
slacken, and then in a moment they tightened again as the hands of a
drowning man clinging to a spar.
Crowther attempted nothing in the way of sympathy or consolation. He
merely stood ready. But it was evident that he did not need to be told
of the tragedy that had suddenly fallen upon Piers' life. His attitude
said as much.
Very, very slowly at last, as if not wholly sure of his balance, Piers
let him go. He took out his cigar with a mechanical movement and
looked at it; then abruptly returned it to his lips and drew it
fiercely back to life.
Then, through a cloud of smoke, he spoke. "Crowther, I made you a promise
"You did," said Crowther gravely.
Piers threw him a quick look. "Oh, you needn't be afraid," he said. "I'm
not going to cry off. It's not my way. But--I want you to make me a
promise in return."
"What is it, sonny?" There was just a hint of anxiety in Crowther's tone.
Piers made a reckless, half-defiant movement of the head. "It is that you
will never--whatever the circumstances--speak of this thing again to
anyone--not even to me."
"You think it necessary to ask that of me?" said Crowther.
"No, I don't!" Impulsively Piers made answer. "I believe I'm a cur to
ask it. But this thing has dogged me so persistently that I feel like an
animal being run to earth. For my peace of mind, Crowther;--because I'm a
coward if you like--give me your word on it!"
He laid a hand not wholly steady upon Crowther's shoulder, and impelled
him forward. His voice was low and agitated.
"Forgive me, old chap!" he urged. "And understand, if you can. It's all
you can do to help."
"My dear lad, of course I do!" Instant and reassuring came Crowther's
reply. "If you want my promise, you have it. The business is yours, not
mine. I shall never interfere."
"Thank you--thanks awfully!" Piers said.
He drew a great breath. His hand went through Crowther's arm.
"That gives me time to think," he said. "What an infernal tangle this
beastly world is! I suppose you think there's a reason for everything?"
"You've heard of gold being tried in the fire," said Crowther.
Piers broke into his sudden laugh. "I'm not gold, my dear chap, but the
tinniest dross that ever was made. Shall we go and have a drink, what?
This sort of thing always makes me thirsty."
It was characteristically abrupt. It ended the matter in a trice. They
went together to the hotel _buffet_, and there Piers quenched his thirst.
It was while there that Crowther became aware that his mood had wholly
changed. He laughed and joked with the bright-eyed French girl who waited
upon them, and seemed loth to depart. Silently, but with a growing
anxiety, Crowther watched him. There was certainly nothing forced about
his gaiety. It was wildly, recklessly spontaneous; but there was about it
a fevered quality that set Crowther almost instinctively on his guard.
He did not know, and he had no means of gauging, exactly how deeply the
iron had pierced. But that some sort of wound had been inflicted he could
not doubt. It might be merely a superficial one, but he feared that it
was something more than that. There was a queer, intangible species of
mockery in Piers' attitude, as though he set the whole world at defiance.
And yet he did not look like a man who had been stunned by an unexpected,
sledge-hammer blow of Fate. He was keenly, fiercely alive to his
surroundings. He seemed to be gibing rather at a blow that had glanced
aside. Uneasily Crowther wondered.
It was he who finally suggested a move. It was growing late.
"So it is!" said Piers. "You ought to be turning in if you really mean to
make an early start."
He stood still in the hall and held out his hand. "Good-night, old chap!
I'm not going up at present."
"You'd better," said Crowther.
"No, I can't. I couldn't possibly turn in yet." He thrust his hand upon
Crowther. "Good-night! I shall see you in the morning."
Crowther took the hand. The hall was deserted. They stood together under
a swinging lamp, and by its flaring light Crowther sought to read his
For a moment or two Piers refused to meet his look, then with sudden
stubbornness he raised his eyes and stared back. They shone as black and
hard as ebony.
"Good-night!" he said again.
Crowther's level brows were slightly drawn. His hand, square and strong,
closed upon Piers' and held it.
For a few seconds he did not speak; then: "I don't know that I feel like
turning in yet either, sonny," he said deliberately.
Piers made a swift movement of impatience. His eyes seemed to grow
brighter, more grimly hard.
"I'm afraid I must ask you to excuse me in any case," he said. "I'm going
up to see if my grandfather has all he wants."
It was defiantly spoken. He turned with the words, almost wresting his
hand free, and strode away towards the lift.
Reaching it, some sense of compunction seemed to touch him for he looked
back over his shoulder with an abrupt gesture of farewell.
Crowther made no answering sign. He stood gravely watching. But, as
the lift shot upwards, he turned aside and began squarely to ascend
When Piers came out of his room ten minutes later with a coat over his
arm he came face to face with him in the corridor. There was a certain
grimness apparent about Crowther also by that time. He offered no
explanation of his presence, although quite obviously he was waiting.
Piers stood still. There was a dangerous glitter in his eyes that came
and went. "Look here, Crowther!" he said. "It's no manner of use your
attempting this game with me. I'm going out, and--whether you like it or
not, I don't care a damn--I'm going alone."
"Where are you going?" said Crowther.
"To the Casino," Piers flung the words with a gleam of clenched teeth.
Crowther looked at him straight and hard. "What for?" he asked.
"What do people generally go for?" Piers prepared to move on as he
uttered the question.
But Crowther deliberately blocked his way. "No, Piers," he said quietly.
"You're not going to-night."
The blood rose in a great wave to Piers' forehead. His eyes shone
suddenly red. "Do you think you're going to stop me?" he said.
"For to-night, sonny--yes." Quite decidedly Crowther made reply.
"To-morrow you will be your own master. But to-night--well, you've had a
bit of a knock out; you're off your balance. Don't go to-night!"
He spoke with earnest appeal, but he still blocked the passage squarely,
The hot flush died out of Piers' face; he went slowly white. But the
blaze of wrath in his eyes leaped higher. For the moment he looked
"If you don't clear out of my path, I shall throw you!" he said, speaking
very quietly, but with a terrible distinctness that made misunderstanding
Crowther, level-browed and determined, remained where he was. "I don't
think you will," he said.
"Don't you?" A faint smile of derision twisted Piers' lips. He gathered
up the coat he carried, and threw it across his shoulder.
Crowther watched him with eyes that never varied. "Piers!" he said.
"Well?" Piers looked at him, still with that slight, grim smile.
Crowther stood like a rock. "I will let you pass, sonny, if you can tell
me--on your word of honour as a gentleman--that the tables are all you
have in your mind."
Piers tossed back his head with the action of an angry beast. "What the
devil has that to do with you?"
"Everything," said Crowther.
He moved at last, quietly, massively, and took Piers by the shoulders.
"My son," he said, "I know where you are going. I've been there myself.
But in God's name, lad, don't--don't go! There are some stains that never
come out though one would give all one had to be rid of them."
"Let me go!" said Piers.
He was breathing quickly; his eyes gazed fiercely into the elder man's
face. He made no violent movement, but his whole body was tensely strung
Crowther's hands tightened upon him. "Not to-night!" he said.
"Yes, now!" Something of electricity ran through Piers; there came as it
were the ripple of muscles contracting for a spring. Yet still he stood
motionless, menacing but inactive.
"I will not!" Sudden and hard Crowther's answer came; his hold became a
grip. By sheer unexpectedness of action, he forced Piers back against the
door behind him.
It gave inwards, and they stumbled into the darkness of the bedroom.
"You fool!" said Piers. "You fool!"
Yet he gave ground, scarcely resisting, and coming up against the bed sat
down upon it suddenly as if spent.
There fell a brief silence, a tense, hard-breathing pause. Then Piers
reached up and freed himself.
"Oh, go away, Crowther!" he said. "You're a kind old ass, but I don't
want you. And you needn't spend the night in the corridor either. See?
Just go to bed like a Christian and let me do the same!"
The struggle was over; so suddenly, so amazingly, that Crowther stood
dumbfounded. He had girded himself to wrestle with a giant, but there was
nothing formidable about the boy who sat on the edge of his bed and
laughed at him with easy ridicule.
"Why don't you switch on the light," he jeered, "and have a good look
round for the devil? He was here a minute ago. What? Don't you believe in
devils? That's heresy. All good parsons--" He got up suddenly and went to
the switch. In a second the room was flooded with light. He returned to
Crowther with the full flare on his face, and the only expression it wore
was one of careless friendliness. He held out his hand. "Good-night,
dear old fellow! Say your prayers and go to bed! And you needn't have any
more nightmares on my account. I'm going to turn in myself directly."