Part 5 out of 10
There was no mistaking his sincerity, or the completeness of his
surrender. Crowther could but take the extended hand, and, in silent
astonishment, treat the incident as closed.
He even wondered as he went away if he had not possibly exaggerated the
whole matter, though at the heart of him he knew that this was only what
Piers himself desired him to believe. He could not but feel convinced,
however, that the danger was past for the time at least. In his own
inimitable fashion Piers had succeeded in reassuring him. He was fully
satisfied that the boy would keep his word, for his faith in him was
absolute. But he felt the victory that was his to be a baffling one. He
had conquered merely because Piers of his own volition had ceased to
resist. He did not understand that sudden submission. Like Sir Beverley,
he was puzzled by it. There was about it a mysterious quality that eluded
his understanding. He would have given a good deal for a glimpse of the
motive that lay behind.
But he had to go without it. Piers was in no expansive mood. Perhaps he
might have found it difficult to explain himself even had he so desired.
Whatever the motive that had urged him, it urged him no longer, or it had
been diverted into a side-channel. For almost as soon as he was alone, he
threw himself down and scribbled a careless line to Ina Rose, advising
her to accompany her father to Mentone, and adding that he believed she
would not be bored there.
When he had despatched Victor with the letter, he flung his window wide
and leaned out of it with his eyes wide opened on the darkness, and on
his lips that smile that was not good to see.
It was a blustering spring day, and Avery, caught in a sudden storm of
driving sleet, stood up against the railings of the doctor's house,
sheltering as best she might. She was holding her umbrella well in the
teeth of the gale, and trying to protect an armful of purchases as well.
She was alone, Gracie, the black sheep, having been sent to school at the
close of the Christmas holidays, and Jeanie being confined to the house
with a severe cold. Olive, having become more and more her father's
constant companion, disdained shopping expeditions. The two elder boys
and Pat were all at a neighbouring school as weekly boarders, and though
she missed them Avery had it not in her heart to regret the arrangement.
The Vicarage might at times seem dreary, but it had become undeniably an
abode of peace.
Mrs. Lorimer was gradually recovering her strength, and Avery's care now
centred more upon Jeanie than her mother. Though the child had recovered
from her accident, she had not been really well all the winter, and the
cold spring seemed to tax her strength to the uttermost. Tudor still
dropped in at intervals, but he said little, and his manner did not
encourage Avery to question him. Privately she was growing anxious about
Jeanie, and she wished that he would be more communicative. He had
absolutely forbidden book-work, a fiat to which Mr. Lorimer had yielded
"The child will grow up a positive dunce," he had declared.
To which Tudor had brusquely rejoined, "What of it?"
But his word was law so far as Jeanie was concerned, and Mr. Lorimer had
relinquished the point with the sigh of one submitting to the inevitable.
He did not like Lennox Tudor, but for some reason he always avoided an
open disagreement with him.
It was of Jeanie that Avery was thinking as she stood there huddled
against the railings while the sleet beat a fierce tattoo on her levelled
umbrella and streamed from it in rivers on to the ground. She even
debated with herself if it seemed advisable to turn and enter the
doctor's dwelling, and try to get him to speak frankly of the matter as
he had spoken once before.
She dismissed the idea, however, reflecting that he would most
probably be out, and she was on the point of collecting her forces to
make a rush for another sheltered spot further on when the front door
opened unexpectedly behind her, and Tudor himself came forth
bareheaded into the rain.
"What are you doing there, Mrs. Denys?" he said. "Why don't you
He opened the gate for her, and took her parcels without waiting for a
reply. And Avery, still with her umbrella poised against the blast,
smiled her thanks and passed in.
The hair grew far back on Tudor's forehead, it was in fact becoming
scanty on the top of his head; and the raindrops glistened upon it as he
entered behind Avery. He wiped them away, and then took off his glasses
and wiped them also.
"Come into the dining-room!" he said. "You are just in time to join
me at tea."
"You're very kind," Avery said. "But I ought to hurry back the moment the
"It won't lessen yet," said Tudor. "Take off your mackintosh, won't you?
I expect your feet are wet. There's a fire to dry them by."
Certainly the storm showed no signs of abating. The sky was growing
darker every instant. Avery slipped the streaming mackintosh from her
shoulders and entered the room into which he had invited her.
The blaze on the hearth was cheering after the icy gale without. She went
to it, stretching her numbed hands to the warmth.
Tudor pushed forward a chair. "I believe you are chilled to the
bone," he said.
She laughed at that. "Oh no, indeed I am not! But it is a cold wind,
isn't it? Have you finished your work for to-day?"
Tudor foraged in a cupboard for an extra cup and saucer. "No. I've got to
go out again later. I've just come back from Miss Whalley's. She's got a
touch of jaundice."
"Oh, poor thing!" said Avery.
"Yes; poor thing!" echoed Tudor grimly. "She is very sorry for herself, I
can assure you; but as full of gossip as ever." He paused.
Avery, with her face to the fire, laughed a little. "Anything new?"
"Miss Whalley," said Tudor deliberately, "always gets hold of something
new. Never noticed that?"
"Wouldn't you like me to pour out?" suggested Avery.
"No. You keep your feet on the fender. Do you want to hear the latest
There was a wary gleam behind Tudor's glasses; but Avery did not turn her
eyes from the fire. A curious little feeling of uneasiness possessed her,
a sensation that scarcely amounted to dread yet which quickened the
beating of her heart in a fashion that she found vaguely disconcerting.
"Don't tell me anything ugly!" she said gently, still not looking at
Tudor uttered a short laugh. "There's nothing especially venomous about
it that I can see." He lifted the teapot and began to pour. "Have you
heard from young Evesham lately?"
The question was casually uttered; but Avery's hands made a slight
involuntary movement over the fire towards which she leaned.
"No," she said.
At the same moment the cup that Tudor was filling overflowed, and he
whispered something under his breath and set down the tea-pot.
Avery turned towards him instinctively, to see him dabbing the table with
"It's almost too dark to see what one is doing," he said.
"It is," she assented gravely, and turned back quietly to the fire, not
offering to assist. A soft veil of reserve seemed to have descended
upon her. She did not speak again until he had remedied the disaster
and brought her some tea. Then, with absolute composure, she raised her
eyes to his.
"You were going to tell me something about Piers Evesham," she said.
His eyes looked back into hers with a certain steeliness, as though they
sought to penetrate her reserve.
"I was," he said, after a moment, "though I don't suppose it will
interest you very greatly. I had it from Miss Whalley, but I was not told
the source of her information. Rumour says that the young man is engaged
to Miss Ina Rose of Wardenhurst."
"Oh, really?" said Avery. She took the cup he offered her with a hand
that was perfectly steady, though she was conscious of the fact that her
face was pale. "They are abroad, I think?"
"Yes, in the Riviera." Tudor's eyes fell away from hers abruptly. "At
least they have been. Someone said they were coming home." He stooped to
put wood on the fire, and there fell a silence.
Avery spoke after a moment. "No doubt he will be happier married."
"I wonder," said Tudor. "I should say myself that he has the sort of
temperament that is never satisfied. He's too restless for that. I don't
think Miss Ina Rose is greatly to be envied."
"Unless she loves him," said Avery. She spoke almost under her breath,
her eyes upon the fire. Tudor, standing beside her with his elbow on
the mantelpiece, was still conscious of that filmy veil of reserve
floating between them. It chafed him, but it was too intangible a thing
to tear aside.
He waited therefore in silence, watching her face, the tender lines of
her mouth, the sweet curves that in childhood must have made a perfect
picture of happiness.
She raised her eyes at length. "Dr. Tudor!"
And then she realized his scrutiny, and a soft flush rose and overspread
her pale face. She lifted her straight brows questioningly.
And all in a moment Tudor found himself speaking,--not of his own
volition, not the words he had meant to speak, but nervously,
stammeringly, giving utterance to the thoughts that suddenly welled over
from his soul. "I've been wanting to speak for ages. I couldn't get it
out. But it's no good keeping it in, is it? I don't get any nearer that
way. I don't want to vex you, make you feel uncomfortable. No one knows
better than I that I haven't much to offer. But I can give you a home
and--and all my love, if you will have it. It may seem a small thing to
you, but it's bigger than the calf-love of an infant like young Evesham.
I know he dared to let his fancy stray your way, and you see now what it
was worth. But mine--mine isn't fancy."
And there he stopped; for Avery had risen and was facing him in the
firelight with eyes of troubled entreaty.
"Oh, please," she said, "please don't go on!"
He stood upright with a jerk. The distress on her face restored his
normal self-command more quickly than any words. Half-mechanically he
reached out and took her tea-cup, setting it down on the mantelpiece
"Don't be upset!" he said. "I didn't mean to upset you. I shan't go on,
if it is against your wish."
"It is," said Avery. She spoke tremulously, locking her hands fast
together. "It must be my own fault," she said, "I'm dreadfully sorry. I
hoped you weren't--really in earnest."
He smiled at that with a touch of cynicism. "Did you think I was amusing
myself--or you? Sit down again, won't you? There is no occasion whatever
for you to be distressed. I assure you that you are in no way to blame."
"I am dreadfully sorry," Avery repeated.
"That's nice of you. I had scarcely dared to flatter myself that you
would be--glad. So you see, you have really nothing to reproach yourself
with. I am no worse off than I was before."
She put out her hand to him with a quick, confiding gesture. "You are
very kind to put it in that way. I value your friendship so much, so very
much. Yes, and I value your love too. It's not a small thing to me. Only,
you know--you know--" she faltered a little--"I've been married before,
and--though I loved my husband--my married life was a tragedy. Oh yes, he
loved me too. It wasn't that sort of misery. It was--it was drink."
"Poor girl!" said Tudor.
He spoke with unwonted gentleness, and he held her hand with the utmost
kindness. There was nothing of the rejected lover in his attitude. He
was man enough to give her his first sympathy.
Avery's lips were quivering. She went on with a visible effort. "He died
a violent death. He was killed in a quarrel with another man. I was told
it was an accident, but it didn't seem like that to me. And--it had an
effect on me. It made me hard--made me bitter."
"You, Avery!" Tudor's voice was gravely incredulous.
She turned her face to the fire, and he saw on her lashes the gleam of
tears. "I've never told anyone that; but it's the truth. It seemed to me
that life was cruel, mainly because of men's vices. And women were
created only to go under. It was a horrid sort of feeling to have, but it
has never wholly left me. I don't think I could ever face marriage a
"Oh yes, you could," said Tudor, quietly, "if you loved the man."
She shook her head. "I am too old to fall in love. I have somehow
missed the romance of life. I know what it is, but it will never come
to me now."
"And you won't marry without?" he said.
There fell a pause; then, still with the utmost quietness, he
relinquished her hand. "I think you are right," he said. "Marriage
without love on both sides is a ship without ballast. Yet, I can't help
thinking that you are mistaken in your idea that you have lost the
capacity for that form of love. You may know what it is. Most women do.
But I wonder if you have ever really felt it."
"Not to the full," Avery answered, her voice very low. "Then I was too
young. Mine was just a child's rapture and it was simply extinguished
when I came to know the kind of burden I had to bear. It all faded so
quickly, and the reality was so terribly grim. Now--now I look on the
world with experienced eyes. I am too old."
"You think experience destroys romance?" said Tudor.
She looked at him. "Don't you?"
"No," he said. "If it did, I do not think you would be afraid to marry
me. Don't think I am trying to persuade you! I am not. But are you sure
that in refusing me you are not sacrificing substance to shadow?"
"I don't quite understand you," she said.
He shrugged his shoulders slightly. "I can't be more explicit. No doubt
you will follow your own instincts. But allow me to say that I don't
think you are the sort of woman to go through life unmated; and though I
may not be romantic, I am sound. I think I could give you a certain
measure of happiness. But the choice is yours. I can only bow to your
There was a certain dignity in his speech that gave it weight. Avery
listened in silence, and into silence the words passed.
Several seconds slipped away, then without effort Tudor came back to
everyday things. "Sit down, won't you? Your tea is getting cold."
Avery sat down, and he handed it to her, and after a moment turned aside
to the table.
"As a matter of fact," he said, "I have just come back from the
"Oh, have you?" Avery looked round quickly. "You went to see Jeanie?"
"Yes." Tudor spoke gravely. "I also saw the Vicar. I told him the child
must go away. That cough of hers is tearing her to pieces. She ought to
go to the South Coast. I told him so."
"Oh! What did he say?" Avery spoke with eagerness. She had been longing
to suggest that very proposal for some time past.
Tudor smiled into his cup. "He said it was a total impossibility. That
was the starting-point. At the finish it was practically decided that
you should take her away next week."
"I!" said Avery.
"Yes, you. Mrs. Lorimer will manage all right now. The nurse can look
after her and the little ones without assistance. And the second
girl--Olive isn't it?--can look after the Reverend Stephen. It's all
arranged in fact, unless it fails to meet with your approval, in which
case of course the whole business must be reconsidered."
"But of course I approve," Avery said. "I would do anything that lay in
my power. But I don't quite like the idea of leaving Mrs. Lorimer."
"She will be all right," Tudor asserted again. "She wouldn't be happy
away from her precious husband, and she would sooner have you looking
after Jeanie than anyone. She told me so."
"She always thinks of others first," said Avery.
"So does someone else I know," rejoined Tudor. "It's just a habit
some women have,--not always a good habit from some points of view.
We may regard it as settled then, may we? You really have no
objections to raise?"
"None," said Avery. "I think the idea is excellent. I have been feeling
troubled about Jeanie nearly all the winter. This last cold has worn her
Tudor nodded. "Yes."
He drank his tea thoughtfully, and then spoke again. "I sounded her this
afternoon. The left lung is not in a healthy condition. She will need all
the attention you can give her if she is going to throw off the mischief.
It has not gone very far at present, but--to be frank with you--I am very
far from satisfied that she can muster the strength." He got up and began
to pace the room. "I have not said this plainly to anyone else. I don't
want to frighten Mrs. Lorimer before I need. The poor soul has enough to
bear without this added. Possibly the change will work wonders. Possibly
she will pull round. Children have marvellous recuperative powers. But I
have seen this sort of thing a good many times before, and--" he came
back to the hearth--"it doesn't make me happy."
"I am glad you have told me," Avery said.
"I had to tell you. I believe you more than half suspected it." Tudor
spoke restlessly; his thoughts were evidently not of his companion at
that moment. "There are of course a good many points in her favour. She
is a good, obedient child with a placid temperament. And the summer is
before us. We shall have to work hard this summer, Mrs. Denys." He smiled
at her abruptly. "It is like building a sea-wall when the tide is out.
We've got to make it as strong as possible before the tide comes back."
"You may rely on me to do my very best," Avery said earnestly.
He nodded. "Thank you. I know I may. I always do. Hence my confidence in
you. May I give you some more tea?"
He quitted the subject as suddenly as he had embarked upon it. There was
something very friendly in his treatment of her. She knew with
unquestioning intuition that for the future he would keep strictly within
the bounds of friendship unless he had her permission to pass beyond
them. And it was this knowledge that emboldened her at parting to say,
with her hand in his: "You are very, very good to me. I would like to
thank you if I could."
He pressed her hand with the kindness of an old friend. "No, don't thank
me!" he said, smiling at her in a way that somehow went to her heart. "I
shall always be at your service. But I'd rather you took it as a matter
of course. I feel more comfortable that way."
Avery left him at length and trudged home through the mud with a curious
feeling of uncertainty in her soul. It was as though she had been
vouchsafed a far glimpse of destiny which had been too fleeting for her
The preparations that must inevitably precede a departure for an
indefinite length of time kept Avery from dwelling overmuch on what had
passed on that gusty afternoon when she had taken shelter in the
Whether or not she believed the rumour concerning Piers she scarcely
asked herself. For some reason into which she did not enter she was
firmly resolved to exclude him from her mind, and she welcomed the many
occupations that kept her thoughts engrossed. No word from him had
reached her since that daring letter written nearly three months
before, just after his departure. It seemed that he had accepted her
answer just as she had meant him to accept it, and that he had nothing
more to say. So at least she viewed the matter, not suffering any
inward question to arise.
She saw Lennox Tudor several times before the last day arrived. He did
not seek her out. It simply came about in the ordinary course of things.
He was plainly determined that neither in public nor private should there
be any secret sense of embarrassment between them. And for this also she
was grateful, liking him for his blunt consideration for her better than
she had ever liked him before.
It was on the evening of the day preceding her departure with Jeanie that
she ran down in the dusk to the post at the end of the lane with a
letter. Her Australian friend had written to propose a visit, and she had
been obliged to put him off.
There was a bitter wind blowing, but she hastened along hatless, with a
cloak thrown round her shoulders. Past the church with its sheltering
yew-trees she ran, intent only upon executing her errand in as short a
time as possible.
Her hair blew loose about her face, and before she reached her goal she
was ashamed of her untidiness, but it was not worth while to return for a
hat, and she pressed on with a girl's impetuosity, hoping that she would
meet no one.
The hope was not to be fulfilled. She reached the box and deposited her
letter therein, but as she turned from doing so, there came the fall of a
horse's hoofs along the road at the end of the lane.
She caught the sound, and was pierced by a sudden, quite unaccountable
suspicion. Swiftly she gathered her cloak more securely about her, and
Instantly it seemed to her that the hoof-beats quickened. The lane was
steep, and she realized in a moment that if the rider turned up in her
wake, she must very speedily be overtaken. She slackened her pace
therefore, and walked on more quietly, straining her ears to listen, not
venturing to look back.
Round the corner came the advancing animal at a brisk trot. She had
known in her heart that it would be so. She had known from the first
moment of hearing those hoof-beats, that Fate, strong and relentless,
was on her track.
How she had known it she could not have said, but the wild clamour of her
heart stifled any reasoning that she might have tried to form. Her breath
came and went like the breath of a hunted creature. She could not hurry
because of the trembling of her knees. Every instinct was urging her to
flee, but she lacked the strength. She drew instead nearer to the wall,
hoping against hope that in the gathering darkness he would pass her by.
Nearer and nearer came the hammering hoofs. She could hear the horse's
sharp breathing, the creak of leather. And then suddenly she found she
could go no further. She stopped and leaned against the wall.
She saw the animal pulled suddenly in, and knew that she was caught. With
a great effort she lifted a smiling face, and simulated surprise.
"You! How do you do?"
"You knew it was me," said Piers rather curtly.
He dropped from the saddle with the easy grace that always marked his
movements, and came to her, leaving the animal free.
"Why were you running away from me?" he said. "Did you want to cut me?"
He must have felt the trembling of her hand, for all in a moment his
manner changed. His fingers closed upon hers with warm assurance. He
suddenly laughed into her face.
"Don't answer either of those questions!" he said. "Didn't you expect
to see me? We came home yesterday, thank the gods! I'm deadly sick of
"Haven't you enjoyed yourself?" Avery managed to ask.
He laughed again somewhat grimly. "I wasn't out for enjoyment. I've
been--amusing myself more or less. But that's not the same thing, is it?
I should have drowned myself if I'd stayed out there much longer."
"Don't talk nonsense!" said Avery.
She spoke with a touch of sharpness. Her agitation had passed leaving her
vexed with herself and with him.
He received the admonition with a grimace. "Have you heard about my
engagement yet?" he enquired irrelevantly, after a moment.
Avery looked at him very steadily through the falling dusk. She had a
feeling that he was trying to hoodwink her by some means not wholly
"Are you engaged?" she asked him, point-blank.
He made a careless gesture. "Everybody says so."
"Are you engaged?" Avery repeated with resolution.
She freed her hand as she uttered the question the second time. She was
standing up very straight against the churchyard wall sternly determined
to check all trifling.
Piers straightened himself also. From the pride of his attitude she
thought that he was about to take offence, but his voice held none as he
"I am not."
She felt as if some constriction at her heart, of which till that moment
she had scarcely been aware, had suddenly slackened. She drew a long,
"Sorry, what?" suggested Piers.
He began to tap a careless tattoo with his whip on the toe of his boot.
He did not appear to be regarding her very closely. Yet she did not feel
at her ease. That sudden sense as of strain relaxed had left her
She ignored his question and asked another. "Why is everybody saying that
you are engaged?"
He lifted his shoulders. "Because everybody is more or less of a
gossiping fool, I should say. Still," he threw up his head with a laugh,
"notions of that sort have their uses. My grandfather for instance is
firmly of the opinion that I have come home to be married. I didn't
"You let him believe--what wasn't true?" said Avery slowly.
He looked straight at her, with his head flung back. "I did. It suited my
purpose. I wanted to get home. He thought it was because the Roses had
returned to Wardenhurst. I let him think so. It certainly was deadly
It was then that Avery turned and began quietly to walk on up the hill.
He linked his arm in Pompey's bridle, and walked beside her.
She spoke after a few moments with something of constraint. "And how have
you been--amusing yourself?"
"I?" Carelessly he made reply. "I have been playing around with Ina Rose
chiefly--to save us both from boredom."
There sounded a faint jeering note behind the carelessness of his voice.
Avery quickened her pace almost unconsciously.
"It's all right," said Piers. "There's been no damage done."
"You don't know that," said Avery, without looking at him.
"Yes, I do. She'll marry Dick Guyes. I told her she would the night
before they left, and she didn't say she wouldn't. He's a much better
chap than I am, you know," said Piers, with an odd touch of sincerity.
"And he's head over ears in love with her into the bargain."
"Are you trying to excuse yourself?" said Avery.
He laughed. "What for? For not marrying Ina Rose? I assure you I never
meant to marry her."
"For trifling with her." Avery's voice was hard, but he affected not
"A game's a game," he said lightly.
Avery stopped very suddenly and faced round upon him. "That sort of
game," she said, and her voice throbbed with the intensity of her
indignation, "is monstrous--is contemptible--a game that none but
blackguards ever stoop to play!"
Piers stood still. "Great Scott!" he said softly.
Avery swept on. Once roused, she was ruthless in her arraignment.
"Men--some men--find it amusing to go through life breaking women's
hearts just for the sport of the thing. They regard it as a pastime, in
the same light as fox-hunting or cards or racing. And when the game is
over, they laugh among themselves and say what fools women are. And so
they may be, and so they are, many of them. But is it honourable, is it
manly, to take advantage of their weakness? I never thought you were that
sort. I thought you were at least honest."
"Did you?" said Piers.
He was holding himself very straight and stiff, just as he had held
himself on that day in the winter when she had so indignantly intervened
to save his dog from his ungovernable fury. But he did not seem to resent
her attack, and in spite of herself Avery's own resentment began to wane.
She suddenly remembered that her very protest was an admission of
intimacy of which he would not scruple to avail himself if it suited his
purpose, and with this thought in her mind she paused in confusion.
"Won't you finish?" said Piers.
She turned to leave him. "That's all I have to say."
He put out a restraining hand. "Then may I say something?"
The request was so humbly uttered that she could not refuse it. She
remained where she was.
"I should like you to know," said Piers, "that I have never given
Miss Rose or any other girl with whom I have flirted the faintest
shadow of a reason for believing that I was in earnest. That is the
truth--on my honour."
"I wonder if--they--would say the same," said Avery.
He shrugged his shoulders. "No one ever before accused me of being a
lady-killer. As to your other charge against me, it was not I who
deceived my grandfather. It was he who deceived himself."
"Isn't that a distinction without a difference?" said Avery, in a
She was beginning to wish that she had not spoken with such vehemence.
After all, what were his delinquencies to her? She almost expected him to
ask the question; but he did not.
"Do you mind explaining?" he said.
With an effort she made response. "You can't say it was honourable to let
your grandfather come home in the belief that you wanted to become
engaged to Miss Rose."
"Have I said so?" said Piers.
Avery paused. She had a sudden feeling of uncertainty as if he had kicked
away a foothold upon which she had rashly attempted to rest.
"You admit that it was not?" she said.
He smiled a little. "I admit that it was not strictly honest, but I
didn't see much harm in it. In any case it was high time we came home,
and it gave him the impetus to move."
"And when are you going to tell him the truth?" said Avery.
Piers was silent.
Looking at him through the dusk, she was aware of a change in his
demeanour, though as to its nature she was slightly doubtful.
"And if I don't tell him?" said Piers at length.
"You will," she said quickly.
"I don't know why I should." Piers' voice was dogged. "He'll know fast
enough--when she gets engaged to Guyes."
"Know that you have played a double game," said Avery.
"Well?" he said. "And if he does?"
"I think you will be sorry--then," she said.
Somehow she could not be angry any longer. He had accepted her rebuke in
so docile a spirit. She did not wholly understand his attitude. Yet it
"Why should I be sorry?" said Piers.
She answered him quickly and impulsively. "Because it isn't your nature
to deceive. You are too honest at heart to do it and be happy."
"Happy!" said Piers, an odd note of emotion in his voice. "Do you suppose
I'm ever that--or ever likely to be?"
She recoiled a little from the suppressed vehemence of his tone, but
almost instantly he put out his hand again to her with a gesture of
"Don't rag me, Avery! I've had a filthy time lately. And when I saw you
cut and run at sight of me--I just couldn't stand it. I've been wanting
to answer your letter, but I couldn't."
"But why should you?" Avery broke in gently. "My letter was the answer
She gave him her hand, because she could not help it.
He held it in a hungry clasp. "I know--I know," he said rather
incoherently. "It--it was very decent of you not to be angry. I believe I
let myself go rather--what? Thanks awfully for being so sweet about it!"
"My dear boy," Avery said, "you thank me for nothing! The matter is past.
Don't let us re-open it!"
She spoke with unconscious appeal. His hand squeezed hers in instant
response. "All right. We won't. And look here,--if you want me to tell my
grandfather that he has been building his castle in the air,--it'll mean
a row of course, but--I'll do it."
"Will you?" said Avery.
He nodded. "Yes--as you wish it. And may I come to tea with Jeanie
His dark eyes smiled suddenly into hers as he dropped her hand. She had a
momentary feeling of uncertainty as she met them--a sense of doubt that
disquieted her strangely. It was as if he had softly closed a door
against her somewhere in his soul.
With a curious embarrassment she answered him. "Jeanie has not been well
all the winter. Dr. Tudor has ordered a change, and we are going--she and
I--to Stanbury Cliffs to-morrow."
"Are you though?" He opened his eyes. "Just you and she, eh? What a
"The other children will probably join us for the Easter holidays," Avery
said. "It's a nice place, they say. Do you know it?"
"I should think I do. Victor and I used to go there regularly when I was
a kid. It was there I learnt to swim."
"Who is Victor?" asked Avery, beginning to walk on up the hill.
"Victor? Oh, he's my French nurse--the best chap who ever walked. We are
great pals," laughed Piers. "And so you're off to-morrow, are you? Hope
you'll have a good time. Give my love to the kiddie! She isn't really
"Dr. Tudor is not satisfied about her," Avery said.
"Oh, Tudor!" Piers spoke with instant disparagement. "I don't suppose
he's any good. What does he say anyway?"
"He is afraid of lung trouble," Avery said. "But we hope the change is
going to do wonders for her. Do you know, I think I must run in now? I
have several little jobs still to get through this evening."
Piers stopped at once. "Good-bye!" he said. "I'm glad I saw you. Take
care of yourself, Avery! And the next time you see me coming--don't
He set his foot in the stirrup and swung himself up into the saddle.
Pompey immediately began to execute an elaborate dance in the roadway,
rendering further conversation out of the question. Piers waved his cap
in careless adieu, and turned the animal round. In another moment he was
tearing down the lane at a gallop, and Avery was left looking after him
still with that curious sense of doubt lying cold at her heart.
The sight of a black, clerical figure emerging from the churchyard caused
her to turn swiftly and pursue her way to the Vicarage gate. But the
sounds of those galloping hoofs still wrought within her as she went.
They beat upon her spirit with a sense of swift-moving Destiny.
THE EVESHAM DEVIL
"Confound the boy!" said Sir Beverley.
He rose up from the black oak settle in the hall with a jerky movement of
irritation, and tramped to the front-door.
It had been one of those strange soft days that sometimes come in the
midst of blustering March storms, and though the sun had long gone down
the warmth still lingered. It might have been an evening in May.
He opened the great door with an impatient hand. What on earth was the
boy doing? Had he gone love-making to Wardenhurst? A grim smile touched
the old man's grim lips as this thought occurred to him. That he was not
wasting his time nearer home he was fairly convinced; for only that
morning he had heard from Lennox Tudor that the mother's help at the
Vicarage, over whom in the winter Piers had been inclined to make a fool
of himself, had taken one of the children away for a change. It seemed
more than probable by this time that Piers' wandering fancy had wholly
ceased to stray in her direction, but the news of her absence had caused
Sir Beverley undoubted satisfaction. He hoped his boy would not encounter
that impertinent, scheming woman again until he was safely engaged to Ina
Rose. That this engagement was imminent Sir Beverley was fully convinced.
His only wonder was that it had not taken place sooner. The two had been
thrown together almost daily during the sojourn of Colonel Rose and his
daughter at Mentone, and they had always seemed to enjoy each other's
society. Of course Sir Beverley did not like the girl. He actively
disliked the whole female species. But she belonged to the county, and
she seemed moreover to be a normal healthy young woman who would be the
mother of normal healthy children. And this was the sort of wife Piers
wanted. For Piers--drat the boy!--was not normal. He inherited a good
deal of his Italian grandmother's temperament as well as her beauty. And
life was not likely to be a very easy matter for him in consequence.
But an ordinary young English wife of his own rank would be a step in
the right direction. So reasoned Sir Beverley, who had taken that fatal
step in the wrong one in his youth and had never recovered the ground
Standing there at the open door, he dwelt upon his boy's future with a
kind of grim pleasure that was not unmixed with heartache. He and his
wife would have to go and live at the Dower House of course. No feminine
truck at the Abbey for him! But the lad should continue to manage the
estate with him. That would bring them in contact every day. He couldn't
do without that much. The evenings would be lonely enough. He pictured
the long silent dinners with a weary frown. How infernally lonely the
Abbey could be!
The steady tick of the clock in the corner forced itself upon his notice.
He swore at it under his breath, and went out upon the steps.
At the same instant a view-halloo from the dark avenue greeted him, and
in spite of himself his face softened.
"Hullo, you rascal!" he shouted back. "What the devil are you up to?"
Piers came running up, light-footed and alert. "I've been unlucky,"
he explained. "Had two punctures. I left the car at the garage and
came on as quickly as I could. I say, I'm awfully sorry. I've been
with Dick Guyes."
Sir Beverley growled inarticulately, and turned inwards. So he had not
been to the Roses' after all!
"Get along with you!" he said. "And dress as fast as you can!"
And Piers bounded past him and went up the stairs in three great leaps.
He seemed to have grown younger during the few days that had elapsed
since their return, more ardent, more keenly alive. The English spring
seemed to exhilarate him; but for the first time Sir Beverley began to
have his doubts as to the reason for his evident pleasure in returning.
What on earth had he been to see Guyes for? Guyes of all people--who was
well-known as one of Miss Ina's most devoted adorers!
It was evident that the news he desired to hear would not be imparted to
him that night, and Sir Beverley considered himself somewhat aggrieved in
consequence. He was decidedly short with Piers when he reappeared--a fact
which in no way disturbed his grandson's equanimity. He talked cheery
commonplaces throughout dinner without effort, regardless of Sir
Beverley's discouraging attitude, and it was not till dessert was placed
upon the table that he allowed his conversational energies to flag.
Then indeed, as David finally and ceremoniously withdrew, did he suddenly
seem to awake to the fact that conversation was no longer a vital
necessity, and forthwith dropped into an abrupt, uncompromising silence.
It lasted for a space of minutes during which neither of them stirred or
uttered a syllable, becoming at length ominous as the electric stillness
before the storm.
They came through it characteristically, Sir Beverley staring fixedly
before him under the frown that was seldom wholly absent from his face;
Piers, steady-eyed and intent, keenly watching the futile agonies of a
night-moth among the candles. There was about him a massive, statuesque
look in vivid contrast to the pulsing vitality of a few minutes before.
It was Sir Beverley who broke the silence at last with a species of
inarticulate snarl peculiarly his own. Piers' dark eyes were instantly
upon him, but he said nothing, merely waiting for the words to which this
sound was the preface.
Sir Beverley's brow was thunderous. He looked back at Piers with a
piercing grim regard.
"Well?" he said. "What fool idea have you got in your brain now? I
suppose I've got to hear it sooner or later."
It was not a conciliatory speech, yet Piers received it with no visible
resentment. "I don't know that I want to say anything very special," he
said, after a moment's thought.
"Oh, don't you?" growled Sir Beverley. "Then what are you thinking about?
Tell me that!"
Piers leaned back in his chair. "I was thinking about Dick Guyes," he
said. "He is dining at the Roses' to-night."
"Oh!" said Sir Beverley shortly.
A faint smile came at the corners of Piers' mouth. "He wants to propose
to Ina for about the hundred and ninetieth time," he said, "but doesn't
know if he can screw himself up to it. I told him not to be such a shy
ass. She is only waiting for him to speak."
"Eh?" said Sir Beverley.
A queer little dancing gleam leaped up in Piers' eyes--the gleam that
had invariably heralded some piece of especial devilry in the days of
"I told him she was his for the asking, sir," he said coolly, "and
promised not to flirt with her any more till they were safely married."
"Damn you!" exclaimed Sir Beverley violently and without warning.
He had a glass of wine in front of him, and with the words his fingers
gripped the stem. In another second he would have hurled the liquid full
in Piers' face; but Piers was too quick for him. Quick as lightning, his
own hand shot out across the corner of the table and grasped the old
"No, sir! No!" he said sternly.
They glared into each other's eyes, and Sir Beverley uttered a
furious oath; but after the first instinctive effort to free himself
he did no more.
At the end of possibly thirty seconds Piers took his hand away. He pushed
back his chair in the same movement and rose.
"Shall we talk in the library?" he said. "This room is hot."
Sir Beverley raised the wine-glass to his lips with a hand that shook,
and drained it deliberately.
"Yes," he said then, "We will--talk in the library."
He got up with an agility that he seldom displayed, and turned to the
door. As he went he glanced up suddenly at the softly mocking face on the
wall, and a sharp spasm contracted his harsh features. But he scarcely
paused. Without further words he left the room; and Piers followed, light
of tread, behind him.
The study windows stood wide open to the night. Piers crossed the room
and quietly closed them. Then, without haste and without hesitation, he
came to the table and stopped before it.
"I never intended to marry Ina Rose," he said. "I was only amusing
"The devil you were!" ejaculated Sir Beverley.
Piers went on with the utmost steadiness. "We are not in the least
suited to one another, and we have the sense to realize it. The next time
Guyes asks her, I believe she will have him."
"Sense!" roared Sir Beverley. "Do you dare to talk to me of sense,
you--you blind fool? Mighty lot of sense you can boast of! And what the
devil does it matter whether you suit one another--as you call it--or
not, so long as you keep the whip-hand? You'll tell me next that you're
not--in love with her, I suppose?"
The bitterness of the last words seemed to shake him from head to foot.
He looked at Piers with the memory of a past torment in his eyes. And
because of it Piers turned away his own.
"It's quite true, sir," he said, in a low voice. "I am not--in love with
her. I never have been."
Sir Beverley's fist crashed down upon the table. "Love!" he thundered.
"Love! Do you want to make me sick? I tell you, sir, I would sooner see
you in your coffin than married to a woman with whom you imagined
yourself in love. Oh, I know what you have in your mind. I've known for a
long time. You're caught in the toils of that stiff-necked, scheming Judy
at the Vicarage, who--"
"Sir!" blazed forth Piers.
He leaned across the table with a face gone suddenly white, and struck
his own fist upon the polished oak with a passionate force that compelled
Sir Beverley ceased his tirade in momentary astonishment. Such violence
from Piers was unusual.
Instantly Piers went on speaking, his voice quick and low, quivering with
the agitation that he had no time to subdue. "I won't hear another word
on that subject! You hear me, sir? Not one word! It is sacred, and as
such I will have it treated."
But the check upon Sir Beverley was but brief, and the flame of his
anger burned all the more fiercely in consequence of it. He broke in upon
those few desperate words of Piers' with redoubled fury.
"You will have this, and you won't have that! Confound you! What the
devil do you mean? Are you master in this house, or am I?"
"I am master where my own actions are concerned," threw back Piers. "And
what I do--what I decide to do--is my affair alone."
Swiftly he uttered the words. His breathing came quick and short as the
breathing of a man hard pressed. He seemed to be holding back every
straining nerve with a blind force that was physical rather than mental.
He drew himself suddenly erect as he spoke. He had flung down the
gauntlet of his independence at last, and with clenched hands he waited
for the answer to his challenge.
It came upon him like a whirlwind. Sir Beverley uttered an oath that fell
with the violence of a blow, and after it a tornado of furious speech
against which it was futile to attempt to raise any protest. He could
only stand as it were at bay, like an animal protecting its own,
fiery-veined, quivering, yet holding back from the spring.
Not for any insult to himself would he quit that attitude. He was
striving desperately to keep his self-control. He had been within an ace
of losing it, as the blood that oozed over his closed fist testified;
but, for the sake of that manhood which he was seeking to assert, he made
a Titanic effort to command himself.
And Sir Beverley, feeling the dumb strength that opposed him, resenting
the forbearance with which he was confronted, infuriated by the
unexpected force of the boy's resistance, turned with a snarl to seize
and desecrate that which he had been warned was holy.
"As for this designing woman, I tell you, she is not for you,--not, that
is, in any honourable sense. If you choose to make a fool of her, that's
your affair. I suppose you'll sow the usual crop of wild oats before
you've done. But as to marrying her--"
"By God, sir!" broke in Piers passionately. "Do you imagine that I
propose to do anything else?"
The words came from him like a cry wrung from a man in torture, and as he
uttered them the last of his self-control slipped from his grasp. With a
face gone suddenly devilish, he strode round the table and stood before
his grandfather, furiously threatening.
"I have warned you!" he said, and his voice was low, sunk almost to a
whisper. "You can say what you like of me. I'm used to it. But--if you
speak evil of her--I'll treat you as I would any other blackguard who
dared to insult her. And now that we are on the subject, I will tell you
this. If I do not marry this woman whom I love--I swear that I will
never marry at all! That is my final word!"
He hurled the last sentence in Sir Beverley's face, and with it he would
have swung round upon his heel; but something in that face detained him.
Sir Beverley's eyes were shining with an icy, intolerable sparkle. His
thin lips were drawn in the dreadful semblance of a smile. He was
half-a-head taller than Piers, and he seemed to tower above him in that
moment of conflict.
"Wait a minute!" he said. "Wait a minute!"
His right hand was feeling along the leathern surface of the
writing-table, but neither his eyes nor Piers' followed the movement.
They held each other in a fixed, unalterable glare.
There followed several moments of complete and terrible silence--a
silence more fraught with violence than any speech.
Then, with a slight jerk, Sir Beverley leaned towards Piers. "So," he
said, "you defy me, do you?"
His voice was as grim as his look. A sudden, odd sense of fear went
through Piers. Sharply the thought ran through his mind that the same
Evesham devil possessed them both. It was as if he had caught a glimpse
of the monster gibing at his elbow, goading him, goading them, both.
He made a sharp, involuntary movement; he almost flinched from those
pitiless, stony eyes.
"Ha!" Sir Beverley uttered a brief and very bitter laugh. "You've begun
to think better of it, eh?"
"No, sir." Curtly Piers made answer, speaking because he must. "I meant
what I said, and I shall stick to it. But it wasn't for the sake of
defying you that I said it. I have a better reason than that."
He was still quivering with anger, yet because of that gibing devil at
his elbow he strove to speak temperately, strove to hold back the raging
flood of fierce resentment that threatened to overwhelm him.
As for Sir Beverley, he had never attempted to control himself in moments
such as these, and he did not attempt to do so now. Before Piers' words
were fairly uttered, he had raised his right hand and in it a stout,
two-foot ruler that he had taken from the writing-table.
"Take that then, you young dog!" he shouted, and struck Piers furiously,
as he stood. "And that! And that!"
The third blow never fell. It was caught in mid-air by Piers who, with
eyes that literally flamed in his white face, sprang straight at his
grandfather, and closed with him.
There was a brief--a very brief--struggle, then a gasping oath from Sir
Beverley as the ruler was torn from his grasp. The next moment he was
free and tottering blindly. Piers, with an awful smile, swung the weapon
back as if he would strike him down with it. Then, as Sir Beverley
clutched instinctively at the nearest chair for support, he flung
savagely round on his heel, altering his purpose. There followed the loud
crack of rending wood as he broke the ruler passionately across his knee,
putting forth all his strength, and the clatter of the falling fragments
as he hurled them violently from him.
And then in a silence more dreadful than any speech, he strode to the
door and went out, crashing it furiously shut behind him.
Sir Beverley, grown piteously feeble, sank down in the chair, and
remained there huddled and gasping for many dragging minutes.
A WATCH IN THE NIGHT
He came at last out of what had almost been a stupor of inertia, sat
slowly up, turned his brooding eyes upon the door through which Piers had
passed. A tremor of anger crossed his face, and was gone. A grim smile
took its place. He still panted spasmodically; but he found his voice.
"Egad!" he said. "The fellow's as strong as a young bear. He's
hugged--all the wind--out of my vitals."
He struggled to his feet, straightening his knees with difficulty, one
hand pressed hard to his labouring heart.
"Egad!" he gasped again. "He's getting out of hand--the cub! But he'll
come to heel,--he'll come to heel! I know the rascal!"
He stumbled to the bell and rang it.
David appeared with a promptitude that seemed to indicate a certain
"Coffee!" growled his master. "And liqueur!"
David departed at as high a rate of speed as decorum would permit.
During his absence Sir Beverley set himself rigidly to recover his normal
demeanour. The encounter had shaken him, shaken him badly; but he was not
the man to yield to physical weakness. He fought it with angry
Before David's reappearance he had succeeded in controlling his gasping
breath, though the hand with which he helped himself shook very
There were two cups on the tray. David lingered.
"You can go," said Sir Beverley.
David cocked one eyebrow in deferential enquiry. "Master Piers in the
garden, sir?" he ventured. "Shall I find him?"
"No!" snapped Sir Beverley.
"Very good, sir." David turned regretfully to the door. "Shall I keep the
coffee hot, Sir Beverley?" he asked, as he reached it, with what was
almost a pleading note in his voice.
Sir Beverley's frown became as menacing as a thunder-cloud. "No!"
David nodded in melancholy submission and withdrew.
Sir Beverley sat down heavily in his chair and slowly drank his coffee.
Finally he put aside the empty cup and sat staring at the closed door,
his brows drawn heavily together.
How had the young beggar dared to defy him so? He must have been getting
out of hand for some time by imperceptible degrees. He had always vowed
to himself that he would not spoil the boy. Had that resolution of his
become gradually relaxed? His frown grew heavier. He had never before
contemplated the possibility that Piers might some day become an
individual force utterly beyond his control.
His eye fell upon a fragment of the broken ruler lying under the table
and again grimly he smiled.
"Confound the scamp! He's got some muscle," he murmured.
Again his look went to the door. Why didn't the young fool come back and
apologize? How much longer did he mean to keep him waiting?
The minutes dragged away, and the silence of emptiness gathered and
brooded in the great room and about the master of the house who sat
within it, with bent head, waiting.
It was close upon ten o'clock when at length he rose and irritably
rang the bell.
"See if you can find Master Piers!" he said to David. "He can't be far
away. Look in the drawing-room! Look in the garden! Tell him I want him!"
David withdrew upon the errand, and again the oppressive silence drew
close. For a long interval Sir Beverley sat quite motionless, still
staring at the door as though he expected Piers to enter at any moment.
But when at length it opened, it was only to admit David once more.
"I'm sorry to say I can't find Master Piers anywhere in the house or
garden, Sir Beverley," he said, looking straight before him and blinking
vacantly at the lamp. "I'm inclined to believe, sir, that he must have
gone into the park."
Sir Beverley snarled inarticulately and dismissed him.
During the hour that followed, he did not move from his chair, and
scarcely changed his position. But at last, as the stable-clock was
tolling eleven, he rose stiffly and walked to the window. It was
fastened; he dragged at the catch with impatient fingers.
His face was haggard and grey as he finally thrust up the sash, and
leaned out with his hands on the sill.
The night was very still all about him. It might have been a night in
June. Only very far away a faint breeze was stirring, whispering
furtively in the bare boughs of the elm trees that bordered the park.
Overhead the stars shone dimly behind a floating veil of mist, and
from the garden sleeping at his feet there arose a faint, fugitive
scent of violets.
The old man's face contracted as at some sudden sense of pain as that
scent reached his nostrils. His mouth twitched with a curious tremor,
and he covered it with his hand as though he feared some silent
watcher in that sleeping world might see and mock his weakness. That
violet-bed beneath the window had been planted fifty years before at
the whim of a woman.
"We must have a great many violets," she had said. "They are sweeter than
all the roses in the world. Next year I must have handfuls and handfuls
And the next year the violets had bloomed in the chosen corner, but her
hands had not gathered them. And they had offered their magic ever since,
year after year--even as they offered it tonight--to a heart that was too
old and too broken to care.
Fifty years before, Sir Beverley had stood at that same window waiting
and listening in the spring twilight for the beloved footfall of the
woman who was never again to enter his house. They had had a
disagreement, he had spoken harshly, he had been foolishly, absurdly
jealous; for her wonderful beauty, her quick, foreign charm drew all the
world. But, returning from a long ride that had lasted all day, he had
entered with the desire to make amends, to win her sweet and gracious
forgiveness. She had forgiven him before. She had laughed with a sweet,
elusive mockery and passed the matter by as of no importance. It had
seemed a foregone conclusion that she would forgive him again, would
reassure him, and set his mind at rest. But he had come back to an empty
house--every door gaping wide and the beloved presence gone.
So he had waited for her, expecting her every moment, refusing to believe
the truth that nevertheless had forced itself upon him at the last. So
now he waited for her grandson--the boy with her beauty, her quick and
generous charm, her passionate, emotional nature--to come back to him.
And yet again he waited in vain.
Piers had gone forth in fierce anger, driven by that devil that had
descended to him through generations of stiff-necked ancestors; and for
the first time in all his hot young life he had not returned repentant.
"I treated him like a dog, egad," murmured Sir Beverley into the
shielding hand. "But he'll come back. He always comes back, the scamp."
But the minutes crawled by, the night-wind rustled and passed; and still
Piers did not come.
It was hard on midnight when Sir Beverley suddenly raised both hands to
his mouth and sent a shrill, peculiar whistle through them across the
quiet garden. It had been his special call for Piers in his childhood.
Even as he sent it out into the darkness, he seemed to see the sturdy,
eager little figure that had never failed to answer that summons with
delight racing headlong towards him over the dim, dewy lawn.
But to-night it brought no answer though he repeated it again and yet
again; and as twelve o'clock struck heavily upon the stillness he turned
from the window and groaned aloud. The boy had gone, gone for good, as he
might have known he would go. He had driven him forth with blows and
bitter words, and it was out of his power to bring him back again.
Slowly he crossed the room and rang the bell. He was very cold, and he
shivered as he moved.
It was Victor who answered the summons, Victor with round, vindictive
eyes that openly accused him for a moment, and then softened inexplicably
and looked elsewhere.
"You ask me for _Monsieur Pierre_?" he said, spreading out his hands,
"I didn't ask for anything," growled Sir Beverley. "I rang the bell to
tell you and all the other fools to lock up and go to bed."
"But--me!" ejaculated Victor, rolling his eyes upwards in astonishment.
"Yes, you! Where's the sense of your sitting up? Master Piers knows how
to undress himself by this time, I suppose?"
Sir Beverley scowled at him aggressively, but Victor did not even see the
scowl. Like a hen with one chick, and that gone astray, he could think of
"_Mais Monsieur Pierre_ is not here! Where then is _Monsieur Pierre?_" he
questioned in distress.
"How the devil should I know?" snarled Sir Beverley. "Stop your chatter
and be off with you! Shut the window first, and then go and tell David to
lock up! I shan't want anything more to-night."
Victor shrugged his shoulders in mute protest, and went to the window.
Here he paused, looking forth with eyes of eager searching till recalled
to his duty by a growl of impatience from his master. Then with a
celerity remarkable in one of his years and rotundity, he quickly popped
in his head and closed the window.
"Leave the blind!" ordered Sir Beverley. "And the catch too! There! Now
go! _Allez-vous-en!_? Don't let me see you again to-night!"
Victor threw a single shrewd glance at the drawn face, and trotted with a
woman's nimbleness to the door. Here he paused, executed a stiff bow;
then wheeled and departed. The door closed noiselessly behind him, and
again Sir Beverley was left alone.
He dragged a chair to the window, and sat down to watch.
Doubtless the boy would return when he had walked off his indignation. He
would be sure to see the light in the study, and he would come to him for
admittance. He himself would receive him with a gruff word or two of
admonition and the whole affair should be dismissed. Grimly he pictured
the scene to himself as, ignoring the anxiety that was growing within
him, he settled himself to his lonely vigil.
Slowly the night dragged on. A couple of owls were hooting to one another
across the garden, and far away a dog barked at intervals. Old Sir
Beverley never stirred in his chair. His limbs were rigid, his eyes fixed
and watchful. But his face was grey--grey and stricken and incredibly
old. He had the look of a man who carried a burden too heavy to be borne.
One after another he heard the hours strike, but his position never
altered, his eyes never varied, his face remained as though carved in
granite--a graven image of despair. Unspeakable weariness was in his
pose, and yet he did not relax or yield a hair's breadth to the body's
importunity. He suffered too bitterly in the spirit that night to be
aware of physical necessity.
Slowly the long hours passed. The night began to wane. A faint grey
glimmer, scarcely perceptible, came down from a mist-veiled sky. The wind
that had sunk to stillness came softly back and wandered to and fro as
though to rouse the sleeping world. Behind the mist the stars went out,
and from the rookery in the park a hoarse voice suddenly proclaimed the
The grey light grew. In the garden ghostly shapes arose, phantoms of the
dawn that gradually resolved into familiar forms of tree and shrub. From
the rookery there swelled a din of many raucous voices. The dog in the
distance began to bark again with feverish zest, and from the stables
came Caesar's cheery answering yell.
The mist drifted away from the face of the sky. A brightness was growing
there. Stiffly, painfully, Sir Beverley struggled up from his chair,
stood steadying himself--a figure tragic and forlorn--with his hands
against the wood of the window-frame, then with a groaning effort thrust
up the sash.
Violets! Violets! The haunting scent of them rose to greet him. The air
was full of their magic fragrance. For a second he was aware of it; he
almost winced. And then in a moment he had forgotten. He stood there
motionless--a desolate old man, bowed and shrunken and grey--staring
blindly out before him, unconscious of all things save the despair that
had settled in his heart.
The night had passed and his boy had not returned.
Stanbury Cliffs was no more than a little fishing-town at the foot of the
sandy cliff--a sheltered nest of a place in which the sound of the waves
was heard all day long, but which no bitter wind could reach. The peace
of it was balm to Avery's spirit. She revelled in its quiet.
Jeanie loved it too. She delighted in the freedom and the warmth, and
almost from the day of their arrival her health began to improve.
They had their quarters in what was little more than a two-storey
cottage belonging to one of the fishermen, and there was only a tiny
garden bright with marigolds between them and the shore. Day after day
they went through the little wicket gate down a slope of loose sand to
the golden beach where they spent the sunny hours in perfect happiness.
The waves that came into the bay were never very rough, though they
sometimes heard them raging outside with a fury that filled the whole
world with its roaring. Jeanie called it "the desired haven," and
confided to Avery that she was happier than she had ever been in her
Avery was happy too, but with a difference; for she knew in her secret
heart that the days of her tranquillity were numbered. She knew with a
woman's sure instinct that the interval of peace would be but brief,
that with or without her will she must soon be drawn back again into
the storm and stress of life. And knowing it, she waited, strengthening
her defences day by day, counting each day as a respite while she
devoted herself to the child and rejoiced to see the change so quickly
wrought in her. Tudor's simile of the building of a sea-wall often
recurred to her. She told herself that the foundation thereof should be
as secure as human care could make it, so that when the tide came back
it should stand the strain.
The Vicar would have been shocked beyond words by the life of complete
indulgence led by his small daughter. She breakfasted in bed every day,
served by Avery who was firm as to the amount of nourishment taken but
comfortably lax on all other points. When the meal was over, Avery
generally went marketing while Jeanie dressed, and they then went to the
shore. If there were no marketing to be done, Avery would go down to the
beach alone and wait for her there. There was a sheltered corner that
they both loved where, protected by towering rocks, they spent many a
happy hour. It was just out of reach of the sea, exposed to the sun and
sheltered from the wind--an ideal spot; and here they brought letters,
books, or needlework, and were busy or idle according to their moods.
Jeanie was often idle. She used to lie in the soft sand and dream, with
her eyes on the far horizon; but of what she dreamed she said no word
even to Avery. But she was always happy. Her smile was always ready, the
lines of her mouth were always set in perfect content. She seemed to have
all she desired at all times. They did not often stray from the shore,
for she was easily tired; but they used to roam along it and search the
crevices of the scattered rocks which held all manner of treasures. They
spent the time in complete accord. It was too good to last, Avery told
herself. The way had become too easy.
It was on a morning about a week after their arrival that she went down
at an early hour to their favourite haunt. There had been rain in the
night, and a brisk west wind was blowing; but she knew that in that
sheltered spot they would be protected, and Jeanie was pledged to join
her there as soon as she was ready. The tide was coming in, and the sun
shone amidst scudding white clouds. It was a morning on which to be happy
for no other reason than lightness of heart; and Avery, with her work-bag
on her arm, sang softly to herself as she went.
As usual she met no one. It was a secluded part of the shore. The little
town was out of sight on the other side of a rocky promontory, and the
place was lonely to desolation.
But Avery did not feel the loneliness. She had had a letter only that
morning from Crowther, the friend of those far-off Australian days, and
he expressed a hope of being able to pay her a flying visit at Stanbury
Cliffs before settling down to work in grim earnest for the
accomplishment of his life's desire. She would have welcomed Edmund
Crowther at any time. He was the sort of friend whose coming could never
bring anything but delight.
She wondered as she walked along which day he would choose. She was
rather glad that he had not fixed a definite date. It was good to feel
that any day might bring him.
Nearing her destination she became aware of light feet running on the
firm sand behind her. She glanced over her shoulder, but the sun shone
full in her eyes, and she only managed to discern vaguely a man's figure
drawing near. He could not be pursuing her, she decided, and resumed her
walk and her thoughts of Crowther--the friend who had stood by her at a
time when she had been practically friendless.
But the running feet came nearer and nearer. She suddenly realized that
they meant to overtake her, and with the knowledge the old quick dread
pierced her heart. She wheeled abruptly round and stood still.
He was there, not a dozen yards from her. He hailed her as she turned.
She clenched her hands with sudden determination and went to meet him.
"Piers!" she said, and in her voice reproach and severity were
But Piers was unabashed. He ran swiftly up to her, and caught her
hands into his with an impetuous rush of words. "Here you are at last!
I've been waiting for you for hours. But I was in the water when you
first appeared, and I hadn't any towels, or I should have caught you
He was laughing as he spoke, but it seemed to Avery that there was
something not quite normal about him. His black hair lay in a wet plaster
on his forehead, and below it his eyes glittered oddly, as if he were
putting some force upon himself.
"How in the world did you get here?" she said.
He laughed again between his teeth. "I tell you, I've been here for
hours. I came last night. But I couldn't knock you up at two in the
morning. So I had to wait. How are you and Jeanie getting on?"
Avery gravely withdrew her hands, and turned to pursue her way towards
her rocky resting-place. "Jeanie is better," she said, in a voice that
did not encourage any further solicitude on either Jeanie's behalf or
Piers marched beside her, a certain doggedness in his gait. The laughter
had died out of his face. He looked pale and stern, and fully as
determined as she.
"Why didn't you tell us to expect you?" Avery asked at last.
"Were you not expecting me?" he returned, and his voice had the sharpness
of a challenge.
She looked at him steadily for a moment or two, meeting eyes that flung
back her scrutiny with grim defiance.
"Of course I was not expecting you," she said.
"And yet you were not--altogether--surprised to see me," he rejoined, a
faint jeering echo in his voice.
Avery walked on till she reached her sheltered corner. Then she laid her
work-bag down in the accustomed place, and very resolutely turned and
"Tell me why you have come!" she said.
He gazed at her for a moment fiercely from under his black brows; then
suddenly and disconcertingly he seized her by the wrists.
"I'll tell you," he said, speaking rapidly, with feverish utterance.
"I've come because--before Heaven--I can't keep away. Avery, listen to
me! Yes, you must listen. I've come because I must, because you are all
the world to me and I want you unutterably. I don't believe--I can't
believe--that I am nothing to you. You can't with honesty tell me so. I
love you with all my soul, with all there is of me, good and bad.
Avery--Avery, say you love me too!"
Just for an instant the arrogance went out of his voice, and it sank to
pleading. But Avery stood mute before him, very pale, desperately calm.
She made not the faintest attempt to free herself, but her hands were
hard clenched. There was nothing passive in her attitude.
He was aware of strong resistance, but it only goaded him to further
effort. He lifted the clenched hands and held them tight against his
"You needn't try to cast me off," he said, "for I simply won't go. I know
you care. You wouldn't have taken the trouble to write that letter if you
didn't. And so listen! I've come now to marry you. We can go up to town
to-day,--Jeanie too, if you like. And to-morrow--to-morrow we will be
married by special licence. I've thought it all out. You can't refuse. I
have money of my own--plenty of money. And you belong to me already.
It's no good trying to deny it any more. You are my mate--my mate; and I
won't try to live without you any longer!"
Wildly the words rushed out, spending themselves as it were upon utter
silence. Avery's hands were no longer clenched. They lay open against his
breast, and the mad beating of his heart thrilled through and through her
as she stood.
He bent towards her eagerly, passionately. His hands reached out to clasp
her; yet he paused. "Avery! Avery!" he whispered very urgently.
Her eyes were raised to his, grey and steady and fearless. Not by the
smallest gesture did she seek to escape him. She suffered the hands upon
her shoulders. She suffered the fiery passion of his gaze.
Only at last very clearly, very resolutely, she spoke. "Piers--no!"
His face was close to hers, glowing and vital and tensely determined. "I
say 'Yes,'" he said, with brief decision.
Avery was silent. His hands were drawing her, and still she did not
resist; but in those moments of silent inactivity she was stronger than
he. Her personality was at grips with his, and if she gained no ground at
least she held her own.
"Avery!" he said suddenly and sharply. "What's the matter with you? Why
don't you speak?"
"I am waiting," she said.
"Waiting!" he echoed. "Waiting for what?"
"Waiting for you to come to yourself, Piers," she made steadfast answer.
He laughed at that, a quick, insolent laugh. "Do you think I don't know
what I'm doing, then?"
"I am quite sure," she answered, "that when you know, you will be more
ashamed than any honourable man should ever have reason to be."
He winced at the words. She saw the hot blood surge in a great wave to
his forehead, and she quailed inwardly though outwardly she made no sign.
His grip was growing every instant more compelling. She knew that he was
bracing himself for one great effort that should batter down the strength
that withstood him. His lips were so close to hers that she could feel
his breath, quick and hot, upon her face. And still she made no struggle
for freedom, knowing instinctively that the instant her self-control
yielded, the battle was lost.
Slowly the burning flush died away under her eyes. His face changed, grew
subtly harder, less passionate. "So," he said, with an odd quietness,
"I'm not to kiss you. It would be dishonourable, what?"
She made unflinching reply. "It would be despicable and you know it--to
kiss any woman against her will."
"Would it be against your will?" he asked.
"Yes, it would." Firmly she answered him, yet a quiver of agitation went
through her. She felt her resolution begin to waver.
But in that moment something in Piers seemed to give way also. He cried
out to her as if in sudden, intolerable pain. "Avery! Avery! Are you made
of stone? Can't you see that this is life or death to me?"
She answered him instantly; it was almost as if she had been waiting for
that cry of his. "Yes, but you must get the better of it. You can if you
will. It is unworthy of you. You are trying to take what is not yours.
You have made a mistake, and you are wronging yourself and me."
"What?" he exclaimed. "You don't love me then!"
He flung his arms wide upon the words, with a gesture of the most utter
despair, and turned from her. A moment he stood swaying, as if bereft of
all his strength; and then with abrupt effort he began to move away. He
stumbled blindly, heavily, as he went, and the crying of the wheeling
sea-gulls came plaintively through a silence that could be felt.
But ere that silence paralysed her, Avery spoke, raising her voice, for
the urgency was great.
He stopped instantly, but he did not turn, merely stood tensely waiting.
She collected herself and went after him. She laid a hand that trembled
on his arm.
"Don't leave me like this!" she said.
Slowly he turned his head and looked at her, and the misery of that look
went straight to her heart. All the woman's compassion in her throbbed up
to the surface. She found herself speaking with a tenderness which a
moment before no power on earth would have drawn from her.
"Piers, something is wrong; something has happened. Won't you tell me
what it is?"
"I can't," he said.
His lower lip quivered unexpectedly and she saw his teeth bite savagely
upon it. "I'd better go," he said.
But her hand still held his arm. "No; wait!" she said. "You can't go like
this. Piers, what is the matter with you? Tell me!"
He hesitated. She saw that his self-control was tottering. Abruptly at
length he spoke. "I can't. I'm not master of myself. I--I--" He broke off
short and became silent.
"I knew you weren't," she said, and then, acting upon an impulse which
she knew instinctively that she would never regret, she gave him her
other hand also. "Let us forget all this!" she said.
It was generously spoken, so generously that it could not fail to take
effect. He looked at her in momentary surprise, began to speak, stopped,
and with a choked, unintelligible utterance took her two hands with the
utmost reverence into his own, and bowed his forehead upon them. The
utter abandonment of the action revealed to her in that moment how
completely he had made her the dominating influence of his life.
"Shall we sit down and talk?" she said gently.
She could not be other than gentle with him. The appeal of his
weakness was greater than any display of strength. She could not but
respond to it.
He set her free and dropped down heavily upon a rock, leaning his head in
She waited a few moments beside him; then, as he remained silent, she
bent towards him.
"Piers, what is it?"
With a sharp movement he straightened himself, and turned his face
to the sea.
"I'm a fool," he said, speaking with an odd, unsteady vehemence. "Fact
is, I've been out all night on this beastly shore. I've walked miles. And
I suppose I'm tired."
He made the confession with a shamefaced laugh, still looking away to
"All night!" Avery repeated in astonishment. "But, Piers!"
He nodded several times, emphatically. "And those infernal sea-birds have
been squawking along with those thrice-accursed crows ever since
day-break. I'd like to wring their ugly necks, every jack one of 'em!"
Avery laughed in spite of herself. "We all feel peevish sometimes," she
said, as one of the offenders sailed over-head with a melancholy cry.
"But haven't you had any breakfast? You must be starving."
"I am!" said Piers. "I feel like a wolf. But you needn't be afraid to sit
down. I shan't gobble you up this time."
She heard the boyish appeal in his voice and almost unconsciously she
yielded to it. She sat down on the rock beside him, but he instantly
slipped from it and stretched himself in a dog-like attitude at her feet.
His chin was propped in his hands, his face turned to the white sand on
which he lay. She looked down at his black head with more than compassion
in her eyes. It was horribly difficult to snub this boy-lover of hers.
She sat and waited silently for him to speak.
He dropped one hand at length and began to dig his brown fingers into the
powdery sand with irritable energy; but a minute or more passed before
very grumpily he spoke.
"I've had a row with my grandfather. We both of us behaved like wild
beasts. In the end, he thought he was going to give me a caning, and that
was more than I could stand. I smashed his ruler for him and bolted. I
should have struck him with it if I hadn't. And after that, I cleared out
and came here. And I'm not going back."
So with blunt defiance he made the announcement, and as he did so, it
came to Avery suddenly and quite convincingly that she had been the
cause of the quarrel. A shock of dismay went through her. She had not
anticipated this. She felt that the suspicion must be verified or
refuted at once.
"Piers," she said quickly, "why did you quarrel with your grandfather?
Was it because of your affair with Miss Rose?"
"I never had an affair with Miss Rose," said Piers rather sullenly. He
dug up a small stone, and flung it with vindictive force at the face of
the cliff. "Ask her, if you don't believe me!"
He paused a moment, then went on in a dogged note: "I told him--of a
certain intention of mine. He tackled me about it first, was absolutely
intolerable. I just couldn't hold myself in. And then somehow we got
violent. It was his fault. Anyway, he began it."
"You haven't told me--yet--what you quarrelled about," said Avery, with a
He shrugged his shoulders without looking at her. "It doesn't matter,
She made answer with a certain firmness. "Yes, I think it does."
"Well, then,"--abruptly he raised himself and faced round, his dark eyes
raised to hers,--"I told him, Avery, that if I couldn't marry the woman I
loved, I would never marry at all."
There was no sullenness about him now, only steadfast purpose. He looked
her full in the face as he said it, and she quivered a little before the
mastery of his look.
He laid a hand upon her knee as she sat above him in sore perplexity.
"Would you have me do anything else?" he said.
She answered him with a conscious effort. "I want you to love--and
marry--the right woman."
He uttered a queer, unsteady laugh and leaned his head against her. "Oh,
my dear," he said, "there is no other woman but you in all the world."
Something fiery that was almost like a dart of pain went through Avery at
his words. She moved instinctively, but it was not in shrinking. After a
moment she laid her hand upon his.
"Piers," she said, "I can't bear hurting you."
"You wouldn't hurt a fly," said Piers.
She smiled faintly. "Not if I could help it. But that doesn't prove that
I am fond of flies. And now, Piers, I am going to ask a very big thing of
you. I wonder if you will do it."
"I wonder," said Piers.
He had not moved at her touch, yet she felt his fingers close tensely
as they lay upon her knee, and she guessed that he was still striving to
control the inner tumult that had so nearly overwhelmed him a few
"I know it is a big thing," she said. "Yet--for my sake if you like--I
want you to do it."
"I will do anything for your sake," he made passionate answer.
"Thank you," she said gently. "Then, Piers, I want you--please--to go
back to Sir Beverley at once, and make it up."
He withdrew his hand sharply from hers, and sat up, turning his back upon
her. "No!" he said harshly. "No!"
"Please, Piers!" she said very earnestly.
He locked his arms round his knees and sat in silence, staring moodily
out to sea.
"Please, Piers!" she said again, and lightly touched his shoulder with
He hunched the shoulder away from her with a gesture of boyish
impatience, and then abruptly, as if realizing what he had done, he
turned back to her, caught the hand, and pressed it to his lips.
"I'm a brute, dear. Forgive me! Of course--if you wish it--I'll go back.
But as to making it up, well--" he gulped once or twice--"it doesn't rest
only with me, you know."
"Oh, Piers," she said, "you are all he has. He couldn't be hard to you!"
Piers smiled a wry smile, and said nothing.
"Besides," she went on gently, "there is really nothing for you to
quarrel about,--that is, if I am the cause of the trouble. It is
perfectly natural that your grandfather should wish you to make a
suitable marriage, perfectly natural that he should not want you to run
after the wrong woman. You can tell him, Piers, that I absolutely see his
point of view, but that so far as I am concerned, he need not be
anxious. It is not my intention to marry again."
"All right," said Piers.
He gave her hand a little shake and released it. For a second--only a
second--she caught a sparkle in his eyes that seemed to her almost like
a gleam of mockery. And then with characteristic suddenness he sprang
to his feet.
"Well, I'd better be going," he said in a voice that was perfectly normal
and free from agitation. "I can't stop to see the kiddie this time. I'm
glad she's going on all right. I wonder when you'll be back again."
"Not at present, I think," said Avery, trying not to be disconcerted by
He looked down at her whimsically. "You're a good sort, Avery," he said.
"I won't be so violent next time."
"There mustn't be a next time," she said quickly. "Please Piers, that
must be quite understood!"
"All right," he said again. "I understand."
And with that very suddenly he left her, so suddenly that she sat
motionless on her rock and stared after him, not believing that he was
really taking his leave.
He did not turn his head, however, and very soon he passed round the
jutting headland, and was gone from her sight. Only when that
happened did she draw a long, long breath and realize how much of her
strength had been spent to gain what after all appeared to be but a
very barren victory.
"_Ah! C'est Monsieur Pierre enfin!_" Eagerly Victor greeted the
appearance of his young master. He looked as if he would have liked to
Piers' attitude, however, did not encourage any display of tenderness.
He flung himself gloomily down into a chair and regarded the man with
"Where's Sir Beverley?" he said.
Victor spread forth expressive hands. _"Mais_, Sir Beverley, he sit up
all the night attending you, _mon petit monsieur. Et moi_, I sit up also.
_Mais Monsieur Pierre! Monsieur Pierre!"_
He began to shake his head at Piers in fond reproof, but Piers paid no
"Sat up all night, what?" he said. "Then where is he now? In bed?"
There was a deep line between his black brows; all the gaiety and sparkle
had gone from his eyes. He looked tired out.
It was close upon the luncheon-hour, and he had tramped up from the
station. There were refreshments in front of him, but he bluntly refused
to touch them.
"Why can't you speak, man?" he said irritably. "Tell me where he is!"
"He has gone for his ride as usual," Victor said, speaking through pursed
lips. "But he is very, very feeble to-day, _Monsieur Pierre_. We beg him
not to go. But what would you? He is the master. We could not stop him.
But he sit in his saddle--like this."
Victor's gesture descriptive of the bent, stricken figure that had ridden
forth that morning was painfully true to life.
Piers sprang to his feet. "And he isn't back yet? Where on earth can he
be? Which way did he go?"
Victor raised his shoulders. "He go down the drive--as always. _Apres
cela, je ne sais pas._"
"Confusion!" ejaculated Piers, and was gone.
He had returned by a short cut across the park, but now he tore down
the long avenue, running like a trained athlete, head up and elbows in,
possessed by the single purpose of reaching the lodge in as brief a
time as possible. They would know at the lodge which way his
grandfather had gone.
He found Marshall just turning in at his gate for the midday meal, and
hailed him without ceremony.
The old man stopped and surveyed him with sour disapproval. The news of
Piers' abrupt disappearance on the previous night had spread.
No, Marshall could give him no news as to the master's whereabouts; he
had been out all the morning.
"Well, find Mrs. Marshall!" ordered Piers impatiently. "She'll know
something. She must have opened the gate."
Mrs. Marshall, summoned by a surly yell from her husband, stood in the
door-way, thin-lipped and austere, and announced briefly that Sir
Beverley had gone down towards the Vicarage; she didn't know no more
It was enough for Piers. He was gone again like a bird on the wing. The
couple at the lodge looked after him with a species of unwilling
admiration. His very arrogance fed their pride in him, disapprove
though they might of his wild, foreign ways. Whatever the mixture in
his veins, the old master's blood ran there, and they would always be
loyal to that.
That run to the Vicarage taxed even Piers' powers. The steep hill at the
end made him aware that his strength had its limits, and he was forced to
pause for breath when he reached the top. He leaned against the Vicarage
gate-post with the memory of that winter evening in his mind when Avery
had come swift-footed to the rescue, and had cooled his fury with a
bucket of cold water.
A step in the garden made him straighten himself abruptly. He turned to
see a tall, black-coated figure emerge. The Reverend Stephen Lorimer came
up with dignity and greeted him.
"Were you about to enter my humble abode?" he enquired.
"Is my grandfather here?" asked Piers.
Mr. Lorimer smiled benignly. He liked to imagine himself upon terms of
intimacy with Sir Beverley though the latter did very little to
justify the idea.
"Well, no," he said, "I have not had the pleasure of seeing him here
to-day. Did he express the intention of paying me a visit?"
"No, sir, no!" said Piers impatiently. "I only thought it possible,
that's all. Good-bye!"
He swung round and departed, leaving the worthy Vicar looking after him
with a shrewd and not over-friendly smile at the corners of his eyes.
Beyond the Vicarage the road wound round again to the park, and Piers
followed it. It led to a gate that opened upon a riding which was a
favourite stretch for a gallop with both Sir Beverley and himself.
Through this he passed, no longer running, but striding over the springy,
turf between the budding beech saplings at a pace that soon took him into
the heart of the woodland.
Pressing on, he came at length to a cross-riding, and here on boggy
ground he discovered recent hoof-marks. There were a good many of them,
and he was puzzled for a time as to the direction they had taken. The
animal seemed to have wandered to and fro. But he found a continuous
track at length and followed it.
It led to an old summer-house perched on a slope that overlooked the
scene of Jeanie's accident in the winter. A cold wind drove down upon him
as he ascended. The sky was grey with scurrying clouds. The bare downs
looked indescribably desolate.
Piers hastened along with set teeth. The dread he would not acknowledge
hung like a numbing weight upon him. Somehow, inexplicably, he knew that
he was nearing the end of his quest.
The long moan of the wind was the only sound to be heard. It seemed to
fill the world. No voice of bird or beast came from near or far. He
seemed to travel through a vast emptiness--the only living thing astir.