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The Bars of Iron by Ethel May Dell

Part 6 out of 10

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He reached the thatched summer-house at last, noted with a curious
detachment that it was beginning to look dilapidated, wondered if he
would find it after all deserted, and the next moment was nearly
overwhelmed by a huge grey body that hurled itself upon him from the
interior of the little arbour.

It was Caesar the great Dalmatian who greeted him thus effusively, and
Piers realized in an instant that the dog had some news to impart. He
pushed him aside with a brief word of welcome and entered the
ivy-grown place.

"Hullo!" gasped a voice with painful utterance. "Hullo!"

And in a moment he discerned Sir Beverley crouched in a corner,
grey-faced, his riding-whip still clutched in his hand.

Impetuously he went to him, stooped above him. "What on earth has
happened, sir? You haven't been thrown?" he queried anxiously.

"Thrown! I!" Sir Beverley's voice cracked derisively. "No! I got off--to
have a look at the place,--and the brute jibbed--and gave me the slip."

The words came with difficult jerks, his breathing was short and
laboured. Piers, bending over him, saw a spasm of pain contract the grey
face that nevertheless looked so indomitably into his.

"He'll go back to stables," growled Sir Beverley. "It's a way colts
have--when they've had their fling. What have you come back for, eh?
Thought I couldn't do without you?"

There was a stony glint in his eyes as he asked the question. His thin
lips curved sardonically.

Piers, still with anxiety lying cold at his heart, had no place left for
resentment. He made swift and winning answer. "I've been a brute, sir.
I've come back to ask your forgiveness."

The sardonic lips parted. "Instead of--a hiding--eh?" gasped Sir

Piers drew back momentarily; but the grey, drawn face compelled his
pity. He stifled his wrath unborn. "I'll take that first, sir," he
said steadily.

Sir Beverley's frown deepened, but his breathing was growing less
oppressed. He suddenly collected his energies and spoke with his usual

"Oh, don't try any of your damned heroics on me, sir! Apologize like a
gentleman--if you can! If not--if not--" He broke off panting, his lips
still forming words that he lacked the strength to utter.

Piers sat down beside him on the crazy bench. "I will do anything you
wish, sir," he said. "I'm horribly sorry for the way I've treated you.
I'm ready to make any amends in my power."

"Oh, get away!" growled out Sir Beverley. But with the words his hand
came gropingly forth and fastened in a hard grip on Piers' arm. "You
talk like a Sunday-school book," he said. "What the devil did you do
it for, eh?"

It was roughly spoken, but Piers was quick to recognize the spirit behind
the words. He clapped his own hand upon his grandfather's, and was
shocked afresh at its icy coldness.

"I say, do let's go" he said. "We can't talk here. It's downright madness
to sit in this draughty hole. Come along, sir!" He thrust a vigorous arm
about the old man and hoisted him to his feet.

"Oh, you're mighty strong!" gasped Sir Beverley. "Strong enough--to kick
over--the traces, eh?"

"Never again, sir," said Piers with decision.

Whereat Sir Beverley looked at him searchingly, and gibed no more.

They went out together on to the open wind-swept hillside, Piers still
strongly supporting him, for he stumbled painfully. It was a difficult
progress for them both, and haste was altogether out of the question.

Sir Beverley revived somewhat as they went, but more than once he had to
pause to get his breath. His weakness was a revelation to Piers though he
sought to reassure himself with the reflection that it was the natural
outcome of his night's vigil; and moment by moment his compunction grew.

They were no more than a mile from the Abbey, but it took them the
greater part of two hours to accomplish the distance, and at the end
of it Sir Beverley was hanging upon Piers in a state that bordered
upon collapse.

His animal had just returned riderless, and considerable consternation
prevailed. Victor, who was on the watch, rushed to meet them with
characteristic nimbleness, and he and Piers between them carried Sir
Beverley in, and laid him down before the great hall fire.

But though so exhausted as to be scarcely conscious, he still clung fast
to Piers, not suffering him to stir from side; and there Piers remained,
chafing the cold hands administering brandy, while Victor, invaluable in
an emergency, procured pillows, blankets, hot-water bottles, everything
that his fertile brain could suggest to restore the failing strength.

Again, though slowly, Sir Beverley rallied, recovered his faculties, came
back to full understanding. "Had anything to eat?" he rapped out so
suddenly that Piers, kneeling beside him, jumped with astonishment.

"I, sir? No, I'm not hungry," he said. "You're feeling better, what? Can
I get you something?"

"Oh, don't be a damn' fool!" said Sir Beverley. "Tell 'em to fetch
some lunch!"

It was the turning-point. From that moment he began to recover in a
fashion that amazed Piers, cast aside blankets and pillows, sternly
forbade Piers to summon the doctor, and sat up before the fire with a
grim refusal to be coddled any longer.

They lunched together in the warmth of the blazing logs, and Sir Beverley
became so normal in his attitude that Piers began at last to feel

He did not broach the matter that lay between them, knowing well that his
grandfather's temperament was not such as to leave it long in abeyance;
and they smoked together in peace after the meal as though the strife of
the previous evening had never been.

But the memory of it overhung them both, and finally at the end of a
lengthy silence Sir Beverley turned his stone-grey eyes upon his grandson
and spoke.

"Well? What have you to say for yourself?"

Piers came out of a reverie and looked up with a faint rueful smile.
"Nothing, sir," he said.

"Nothing? What do you mean by that?" Sir Beverley's voice was sharp. "You
go away like a raving lunatic, and stay away all night, and then come
back with nothing to say. What have you been up to? Tell me that!"

Piers leaned slowly forward, took up the poker and gently pushed it
into the fire. "She won't have me," he said, with his eyes upon the
leaping flames.

"What?" exclaimed Sir Beverley. "You've been after that hussy again?"

Piers' brows drew together in a thick, ominous line; but he merely nodded
and said, "Yes."

"The devil you have!" ejaculated Sir Beverley. "And she refused you?"

"She did." Again very softly Piers poked at the blazing logs, his eyes
fixed and intent. "It served me right--in a way," he said, speaking
meditatively, almost as if to himself. "I was a hound--to ask her.
But--somehow--I was driven. However," he drove the poker in a little
further, "it's all the same now as she's refused me. That's why," he
turned his eyes suddenly upon Sir Beverley, "there's nothing to be said."

There was no defiance in his look, but it held something of a baffling
quality. It was almost as if in some fashion he were conscious of relief.

Sir Beverley stared at him, angry and incredulous. "Refused you! What the
devil for? Wanted my consent, I suppose? Thought I held the
purse-strings, eh?"

"Oh no," said Piers, again faintly smiling, "she didn't care a damn about
that. She knows I am not dependent upon you. But--she has no use for me,
that's all."

"No use for you!" Sir Beverley's voice rose. "What the--what the devil
does she want then, I should like to know?"

"She doesn't want anyone," said Piers. "At least she thinks she doesn't.
You see, she's been married before."

There was a species of irony in his voice that yet was without
bitterness. He turned back to his aimless stirring of the fire, and there
fell a silence between them.

But Sir Beverley's eyes were fixed upon his grandson's face in a close,
unsparing scrutiny. "So you thought you might as well come back," he
said at last.

"She made me," said Piers, without looking round.

"Made you!"

Again Piers nodded. "I was to tell you from her that she quite
understands your attitude; but that you needn't be anxious, as she has no
intention of marrying again."

"Confound her impudence!" ejaculated Sir Beverley.

"Oh no!" Piers' voice sounded too tired to be indignant. "I don't think
you can accuse her of that. There has never been any flirtation between
us. It wasn't her fault. I--made a fool of myself. It just happened in
the ordinary course of things."

He ceased to speak, laid down the poker without sound, and sat with
clasped hands, staring blindly before him.

Again there fell a silence. The clock in the corner ticked on with
melancholy regularity, the logs hissed and spluttered viciously; but
the two men sat in utter stillness, both bowed as if beneath a
pressing burden.

One of them moved at last, stretched out a bony, trembling hand, laid it
on the other's shoulder.

"Piers boy," Sir Beverley said, with slow articulation, "believe me,
there's not a woman on this earth worth grizzling about. They're liars
and impostors, every one."

Piers started a little, then with a very boyish movement, he laid his
cheek against the old bent fingers. "My dear sir," he said, "but you're a

"I know," said Sir Beverley, still in that heavy, fateful fashion. "And I
have reason. I tell you, boy,--and I know,--you would be better off in
your coffin than linked to a woman you seriously cared for. It's hell on
earth--hell on earth!"

"Or paradise," muttered Piers.

"A fool's paradise, boy; a paradise that turns to dust and ashes." Sir
Beverley's voice quivered suddenly. He withdrew his hand to fumble in an
inner pocket. In a moment he stretched it forth again with a key lying
on the palm.

"Take that!" he said. "Open that bureau thing behind you! Look in the
left-hand drawer! There's something there for you to see."

Piers obeyed him. There was that in Sir Beverley's manner that silenced
all questioning. He pulled out the drawer and looked in. It contained one
thing only--a revolver.

Sir Beverley went on speaking, calmly, dispassionately, wholly
impersonally. "It's loaded--has been loaded for fifty years. But I never
used it. And that not because my own particular hell wasn't hot enough,
but just because I wouldn't have it said that I'd ever loved any
she-devil enough to let her be my ruin. There were times enough when I
nearly did it. I've sat all night with the thing in my hand. But I hung
on for that reason, till at last the fire burnt out, and I didn't care.
Every woman is the same to me now. I know now--and you've got to know it
too--that woman is only fit to be the servant, not the mistress, of
man,--and a damn treacherous servant at that. She was made for man's
use, and if he is fool enough to let her get the upper hand, then Heaven
help him, for he certainly won't be in a position to help himself!"

He stopped abruptly, and in the silence Piers shut and relocked
the drawer. He dropped the key into his own pocket, and came back
to the fire.

Sir Beverley looked up at him with something of an effort. "Boy," he
said, "you've got to marry some day, I know. You've got to have
children. But--you're young, you know. There's plenty of time before
you. You might wait a bit--just a bit--till I'm out of the way. I won't
keep you long; and I won't beat you often either--if you'll condescend
to stay with me."

He smiled with the words, his own grim ironical smile; but the pathos of
it cut straight to Piers' heart. He went down on his knees beside the old
man and thrust his arm about the shrunken shoulders.

"I'll never leave you again, sir," he vowed earnestly. "I've been a
heartless brute, and I'm most infernally sorry. As to marrying,
well--there's no more question of that for me. I couldn't marry Ina Rose.
You understand that?"

"Never liked the chit," growled Sir Beverley. "Only thought she'd answer
your purpose better than some. For you've got to get an heir, boy;
remember that! You're the only Evesham left."

"Oh, damn!" said Piers very wearily. "What does it matter?"

Sir Beverley looked at him from under his thick brows piercingly but
without condemnation. "It's up to you, Piers," he said.

"Is it?" said Piers, with a groan. "Well, let's leave it at that for the
present! Sure you've forgiven me?"

Sir Beverley's grim face relaxed again. He put his arm round Piers and
held him hard for a moment.

Then: "Oh, drat it, Piers!" he said testily. "Get away, do! And behave
yourself for the future!"

Whereat Piers laughed, a short, unsteady laugh, and went back to
his chair.



"The matter is settled," said the Reverend Stephen Lorimer, in the tones
of icy decision with which his wife was but too tragically familiar. "I
engaged Mrs. Denys to be a help to you, not exclusively to Jeanie. The
child is quite well enough to return home, and I do not feel myself
justified in incurring any further expense now that her health is quite
sufficiently restored."

"But the children were all counting on going to Stanbury Cliffs for the
Easter holidays," protested Mrs. Lorimer almost tearfully. "We cannot
disappoint them, Stephen!" Mr. Lorimer's lips closed very firmly for a
few seconds. Then, "The change home will be quite sufficient for them,"
he said. "I have given the matter my full consideration, my dear
Adelaide, and no argument of yours will now move me. Mrs. Denys and
Jeanie have been away for a month, and they must now return. It is your
turn for a change, and as soon as Eastertide is over I intend to take you
away with me for ten days or so and leave Mrs. Denys in charge of--the
bear-garden, as I fear it but too truly resembles. You are quite unfit
for the noise and racket of the holidays. And I myself have been feeling
lately the need of a little--shall I call it recreation?" Mr. Lorimer
smiled self-indulgently over the term. He liked to play with words. "I
presume you have no vital objection to accompanying me?"

"Oh, of course not. I should like it above all things," Mrs. Lorimer
hastened to assure him, "if it were not for Jeanie. I don't like the
thought of bringing her home just when her visit is beginning to do her
so much good."

"She cannot remain away for ever," said Mr. Lorimer. "Moreover, her
delicacy must have been considerably exaggerated, or such a sudden
improvement could scarcely have taken place. At all events, so it appears
to me. She must therefore return home and spend the holidays in wholesome
amusements with the other children; and when they are over, I really must
turn my serious attention to her education which has been so sadly
neglected since Christmas. Mrs. Denys is doubtless a very excellent woman
in her way, but she is not, I fear, one to whom I could safely entrust
the intellectual development of a child of Jeanie's age." He paused,
looking up with complacent enquiry at his wife's troubled face. "And now
what scruples are stirring in the mind of my spouse?" he asked, with
playful affection.

Mrs. Lorimer did not smile in answer. Her worried little face only
drew into more anxious lines. "Stephen," she said, "I do wish you
would consult Dr. Tudor before you quite decide to have Jeanie home
at present."

The Vicar's mouth turned down, and he looked for a moment so extremely
unpleasant that Mrs. Lorimer quailed. Then, "My dear," he said
deliberately, "when I decide upon a specific course of action, I carry it
through invariably. If I were not convinced that what I am about to do
were right, I should not do it. Pray let me hear no more upon the
subject! And remember, Adelaide, it is my express command that you do not
approach Dr. Tudor in this matter. He is a most interfering person, and
would welcome any excuse to obtain a footing in this house again. But now
that I have at length succeeded in shaking him off, I intend to keep him
at a distance for the future. And he is not to be called in--understand
this very clearly, if you please--except in a case of extreme urgency.
This is a distinct order, Adelaide, and I shall be severely displeased if
you fail to observe it. And now," he resumed his lighter manner again as
he rose from his chair, "I must hie me to the parish room where my good
Miss Whalley is awaiting me."

He stretched forth a firm, kind hand and patted his wife's shoulder.

"We must see what we can do to bring a little colour into those pale
cheeks," he said. "A fortnight in the Cornish Riviera perhaps. Or we
might take a peep at Shakespeare's country. But we shall see, we
shall see! I will write to Mrs. Denys and acquaint her with my
decision this evening."

He was gone, leaving Mrs. Lorimer to pace up and down his study in futile
distress of mind. Only that morning a letter from Avery had reached her,
telling her of Jeanie's continued progress, and urging her to come and
take her place for a little while. It was such a change as her tired soul
craved, but she had not dared to tell her husband so. And now, it seemed,
Jeanie's good time also was to be terminated.

There was no doubt about it. Rodding did not suit the child. She was
never well at home. The Vicarage was shut in by trees, a damp, unhealthy
place. And Dr. Tudor had told her in plain terms that Jeanie lacked the
strength to make any headway there. She was like a wilting plant in that
atmosphere. She could not thrive in it. Dry warmth was what she needed,
and it had made all the difference to her. Avery's letter had been full
of hope. She referred to Dr. Tudor's simile of the building of a
sea-wall. "We are strengthening it every day," she wrote. "In a few more
weeks it ought to be proof against any ordinary tide."

A few more weeks! Mrs. Lorimer wrung her hands. Stephen did not know,
did not realize; and she was powerless to convince him. Avery would not
convince him either. He tolerated only Avery because she was so useful.

She knew exactly the sort of letter he would write, desiring their
return; and Avery, for all her quiet strength, would have to submit. Oh,
it was cruel--cruel!

The tears were coursing down her cheeks when the door opened unexpectedly
and Olive entered. She paused at sight of her mother, looking at her with
just the Vicar's air of chill enquiry.

"Is anything the matter?" she asked.

Mrs. Lorimer turned hastily to the window and began to dry her eyes.

Olive went to a bookshelf and stood before it. After a moment she took
out a book and deliberately turned we leaves. Her attitude was plainly

Finally she returned the book to the shelf and turned. "Why are you
crying, Mother?"

Mrs. Lorimer leaned her head against the window-frame with a heavy sigh.
"I am very miserable, Olive," she said, a catch in her voice.

"No one need be that," observed Olive. "Father says that misery is a sign
of mental weakness."

Mrs. Lorimer was silent.

"Don't you think you had better leave off crying and find something to
do?" suggested her daughter in her cool, young voice.

Still Mrs. Lorimer neither moved nor spoke.

Olive came a step nearer. There was obvious distaste on her face. "I
wish you would try to be a little brighter--for Father's sake," she
said. "I don't think you treat him very kindly."

It was evident that she spoke from a sense of duty. Mrs. Lorimer
straightened herself with another weary sigh.

"Run along, my dear!" she said. "I am sure you are busy."

Olive turned, half-vexed and half-relieved, and walked to the door. Her
mother watched her wistfully. It was in her mind to call her back, fold
her in her arms, and appeal for sympathy. But the severity of the child's
pose was too suggestive of the Vicar's unbending attitude towards
feminine weakness, and she restrained the impulse, knowing that she would
appeal in vain. There was infinitely more comfort to be found in the
society of Baby Phil, and, smiling wanly at the thought, she went up to
the nursery in search of it.



There was no combating the Vicar's decision. Avery realized that fact
from the outset even before Mrs. Lorimer's agitated note upon the subject
reached her. The fiat had gone forth, and submission was the only course.

Jeanie received the news without a murmur. "I don't mind really," she
said. "It's very nice here, but then it's nice at home too when you are
there. And then there is Piers too."

Yes, there was Piers,--another consideration that filled Avery with
uneasiness. No word from Piers had reached her since that early morning
on the shore, but his silence did not reassure her. She had half expected
a boyish letter of apology, some friendly reassurance, some word at least
of his return to Rodding Abbey. But she had heard nothing. She did not so
much as know if he had returned or not.

Neither had she heard from her friend Edmund Crowther. With a sense of
keen disappointment she wrote to his home in the North to tell him of the
change in her plans. She could not ask him to the Vicarage, and it seemed
that she might not meet him after all.

She also sent a hurried note to Lennox Tudor, but they had only three
days in which to terminate their visit, and she received no reply. Later,
she heard that Tudor had been away for those days and did not open the
note until the actual day of their return.

The other children were expected home from school during the week before
Easter, and Mr. Lorimer desired that Avery should be at the Vicarage to
prepare for them. So, early in the week, they returned.

It seemed that Spring had come at last. The hedges were all bursting into
tenderest green, and all the world looked young.

"The primroses will be out in the Park woods," said Jeanie. "We will go
and gather heaps and heaps."

"Are you allowed to go wherever you like there?" asked Avery, thinking
of the game.

"Oh no," said Jeanie thoughtfully. "But we always do. Mr. Marshall chases
us sometimes, but we always get away."

She smiled at the thought, and Avery frankly rejoiced to see her
enthusiasm for the wicked game of trespassing in the Squire's preserves.
She did not know that the amusement had been strictly prohibited by the
Vicar, and it did not occur to Jeanie to tell her. None of the children
had ever paid any attention to the prohibition. There were some rules
that no one could keep.

The return of the rest of the family kept the days that succeeded their
return extremely lively. Jeanie was in higher spirits than Avery had
ever seen her. She seemed more childish, more eager for fun, as though
some of the zest of life had got into her veins at last. Her mother
ascribed the change to Avery's influence, and was pathetic in her
gratitude, though Avery disclaimed all credit declaring that the sea-air
had wrought the wonder.

When Lennox Tudor saw her, he looked at Avery with an odd smile behind
his glasses. "You've built the wall," he said.

They had met by the churchyard gate, and Jeanie and Pat were having a
hopping race down the hill. Avery looked after them with a touch of
wistfulness. "But I wish she could have been away longer."

Tudor frowned. "Yes. Why on earth not? The Reverend Stephen again, I
suppose. I wish I had had your letter sooner, though as a matter of fact
I'm not in favour just now, and my interference would probably weigh in
the wrong balance. Keep the child out as much as possible! It's the only
way. She has made good progress. There is no reason at present why she
should go back again."

No, there was no reason; yet Avery's heart misgave her. She wished she
might have had longer for the building of that wall. Good Friday was more
or less a day of penance in the Vicar's family. It began with lengthy
prayers in the dining-room, so lengthy that Avery feared that Mrs.
Lorimer would faint ere they came to an end. Then after a rigorously
silent breakfast the children were assembled in the study to be
questioned upon the Church Catechism--a species of discipline peculiarly
abhorrent to them all by reason of the Vicar's sarcastic comments upon
their ignorance.

At the end of this dreary exercise they were dismissed to prepare for
church where there followed a service which Avery regarded as downright
revolting. It consisted mainly of prayers--as many prayers as the Vicar
could get in, rendered in an emotionless monotone with small regard for
sense and none whatever for feeling. The whole thing was drab and
unattractive to the utmost limit, and Avery rose at length from her
knees with a feeling of having been deliberately cheated of a thing she
valued. She left the church in an unwonted spirit of exasperation, which
lasted throughout the midday meal, which was as oppressively silent as
breakfast had been.

The open relief with which the children trooped away to the schoolroom
found a warm echo in her heart. She even almost smiled in sympathy when
Julian breathed a deep thanksgiving that that show was over for one
more year.

Neither Piers nor his grandfather had been in the church, and their
absence did not surprise her. She did not feel that she herself could
ever face such a service again. The memory of Piers at the organ came to
her as she dressed to accompany the children upon their primrosing
expedition, and a sudden passionate longing followed it to hear that
music again. She was feeling starved in her soul that day.

But when they reached the green solitudes of the park woodlands the
bitterness began to pass away. It was all so beautiful; the mossy riding
up which they turned was so springy underfoot, and the singing of a
thousand birds made endless music whichever way they wandered.

"It's better than church, isn't it?" said Jeanie softly, pressing close
to her. And Avery smiled in answer. It was balm to the spirit.

The Squire's preserves were enclosed in wire netting, and over this they
climbed into their primrose paradise. Several partridges rose from the
children's feet, and whirred noisily away, to the huge delight of the
boys but to Avery's considerable dismay. However, Marshall was evidently
not within earshot, and they settled down to the serious business of
filling their baskets for the church decorations without interference.

The primroses grew thickly in a wonderful carpet that spread in all
directions, sloping down to a glade where gurgled a brown stream. Down
this glade Avery directed her party, keeping a somewhat anxious eye upon
Gracie and the three boys who were in the wildest spirits after the
severe strain of the morning. She and Jeanie picked rapidly and
methodically. Olive had decided not to accompany the expedition. She did
not care for primrosing, she told Avery, and her father had promised to
read the Testament in Greek with her later in the afternoon, an
intellectual exercise which she plainly regarded as extremely

Her absence troubled no one; in fact Julian, having over-heard her
excuse, remarked rudely that if she was going to put on side, they were
better off without her; and Avery secretly agreed with him.

So in cheery accord they went their careless way through the preserves,
scaring the birds and filling their baskets with great industry. They had
reached the end of the glade and were contemplating fording the brook
when like a bolt from the blue discovery came upon them. A sound, like
the blare of an angry bull, assailed them--a furious inarticulate sound
that speedily resolved into words.

"What the devil are you mischievous brats doing there?"

The whole party jumped violently at the suddenness of the attack. Avery's
heart gave a most unpleasant jerk. She knew that voice.

Swiftly she turned in the direction whence it came, and saw again the
huge white horse of the trampling hoofs that had once before been urged
against her.

He was stamping and fretting on the other side of the stream, the banks
of which were so steep as almost to form a chasm, and from his back the
terrible old Squire hurled the vials of his wrath.

Ronald drew near to Avery, while Jeanie slipped a nervous hand into hers.
Julian, however, turned a defiant face. "It's all right. He can't get at
us," he said audibly.

At which remark Gracie laughed a little hysterically, and Pat made
a grimace.

Perhaps it was this last that chiefly infuriated the Squire, for he
literally bellowed with rage, snatched his animal back with a merciless
hand, and then with whip and spur set him full at the stream.

It was a dangerous leap, for the ground on both banks was yielding and
slippery. Avery stood transfixed to watch the result.

The horse made a great effort to obey his master's behests. It almost
seemed as if he were furious too, Avery thought, as he pounded forward to
clear the obstacle. His leap was superb, clearing the stream by a good
six feet, but as he landed among the primroses disaster overtook him. It
must have been a rabbit-hole, Avery reflected later; for he blundered as
he touched the ground, plunged forward, and fell headlong.

There followed a few moments of sickening confusion during which the
horrified spectators had time to realize that Sir Beverley was pinned
under the kicking animal; then with a savage effort the great brute
rolled over and struggled to his feet.

With a promptitude that spoke well for his nerve, Julian sprang forward
and caught the dangling bridle. The creature tried to jib back upon his
prostrate master, but he dragged him forward and held him fast.

Old Sir Beverley lay prone on the ground, in an awful stillness, with his
white face turned to the sky. His eyes were fast shut, his arms flung
wide, one hand still grasping the whip which he had wielded so fiercely a
few seconds before.

"Is he dead?" whispered Jeanie, clinging close to Avery.

Avery gently released herself and moved forward. "No, dear, no! He--he is
only stunned."

She knelt beside Sir Beverley, overcoming a horrible sensation of
sickness as she did so. The whole catastrophe had been of so sudden and
so violent a nature that she felt almost stunned herself.

She slipped an arm under the old man's head, and it hung upon her like a
leaden weight.

"Oh, Avery, how dreadful!" exclaimed Gracie, aghast.

"Take my handkerchief!" said Avery quickly. "Run down and soak it in the
stream! Mind how you go! It's very steep."

Gracie went like the wind.

Avery began with fingers that shook in spite of her utmost resolution,
to try to loosen Sir Beverley's collar.

"Let me!" said Ronald, gently.

She glanced up gratefully and relinquished the task to him. Ronald was
neat in all his ways.

The return of Gracie with the wet handkerchief gave her something to do,
and she tenderly moistened the stark, white face. But the children's
fears were crowding thick in her own heart. That awful inertness looked
so terribly like death.

And then suddenly the grim lips parted and a quivering sigh passed
through them.

The next moment abruptly the grey eyes opened and gazed full at Avery
with a wide, glassy stare.

"What the--what the--" stammered Sir Beverley, and broke off with a
hard gasp.

Avery sought to raise him higher, but his weight was too much for her
even with Ronald assisting.

"Find my--flask!" jerked out Sir Beverley, with panting breath.

Ronald began to search in his pockets and finally drew it forth. He
opened it and gave it to Avery who held it to the twitching lips.

Sir Beverley drank and closed his eyes. "I shall be--better soon," he
said, in a choked whisper.

Avery waited, supporting him as strongly as she could, listening to the
short laboured breathing with deep foreboding.

"Couldn't I run down to the Abbey for help?" suggested Julian, who had
succeeded at length in tying the chafing animal to a tree.

Avery considered. "I don't know. How far is it?"

"Not more than a mile. P'r'aps I should find Piers there. I'm sure I'd
better go," the boy urged, with his eyes on the deathly face.

And after a moment Avery agreed with him. "Yes, I think perhaps you'd
better. Gracie and Pat might go for Dr. Tudor meanwhile. I do hope you
will find Piers. Tell him to bring two men, and something that they can
carry him on. Jeanie dear, you run home to your mother and tell her how
it is that we shall be late for tea. You won't startle her, I know."

They fell in with her desires at once. There was not one of them who
would not have done anything for her. And so they scattered, departing
upon their several missions, leaving Ronald only to share her vigil by
the old Squire's side.

For a long time after their departure, there was no change in Sir
Beverley's state. He lay propped against Avery's arm and Ronald's knee
breathing quickly, with painful effort, through his parted lips. He kept
his eyes closed, but they knew that he was conscious by the heavy frown
that drew his forehead. Once Avery offered him more brandy, but he
refused it impatiently, and she desisted.

The deathly pallor had, however, begun to give place to a more natural
hue, and as the minutes passed his breathing gradually grew less
distressed. Once more his eyes opened, and he stared into Avery's face.

"Help me--to sit up!" he commanded.

They did their best, he struggling with piteously feeble efforts to
help himself. Finally he managed to drag himself to a leaning position
on one elbow, though for several seconds thereafter his gasping was
terrible to hear.

Avery saw his lips move several times before any sound came from them. At
length, "Send--that boy--away!" he gasped out.

Avery and Ronald looked at each other, and the boy got to his feet with
an undecided air.

"Do you hear? Go!" rapped out Sir Beverley.

"Shall I, Avery?" whispered Ronald.

She nodded. "Yes, just a little way! I'll call you if I want you."

And half-reluctantly Ronald obeyed.

"Has he gone?" asked Sir Beverley.

"Yes." Avery remained on her knees beside him. He looked as if he might
collapse at any moment.

For awhile he lay struggling for breath with his face towards the ground;
then very suddenly his strength seemed to return. He raised his head and
regarded her piercingly.

"You," he said curtly, "are the young woman who refused to marry my

The words were so totally unexpected that Avery literally gasped with
astonishment. To be taken to task on this subject was an ordeal for which
she was wholly unprepared.

"Well?" he said irritably. "That is so, I believe? You did refuse to
marry him?"

"Yes," Avery admitted, feeling the hot colour flood her face under the
merciless scrutiny of the stone-grey eyes.


"Well?" he said again, still more irritably. "But what?"

"Oh, need we discuss it?" she said appealingly. "I would so much
rather not."

"I desire to discuss it," said Sir Beverley autocratically. "I desire
to know--what objection you have to my grandson. Many women, let me
tell you, of far higher social standing than yourself would jump at
such a chance. But you--you take upon yourself to refuse it. I desire
to know why."

He spoke with a stubbornness that overbore all bodily weakness. He would
be a tyrant to his last breath.

But Avery could not bring herself to answer him. She felt as if he were
trying to force his way into a place which regarded as peculiarly sacred,
from which in some fashion she owed it to Piers as well as to herself to
bar him out.

"I am sorry," she said gently after a moment, "but I am afraid that is
just what I can't tell you."

She saw Sir Beverley's chin thrust out at just the indomitable angle with
which Piers had made her familiar, and she realized that he had no
intention of abandoning his point.

"You told him, I suppose?" he demanded gruffly.

A faint sense of amusement arose within her, her anxiety notwithstanding.
It struck her as ludicrous that she should be browbeaten on this point.

She made answer with more assurance. "I told him that the idea was
unsuitable, out of the question, that he ought to marry a girl of his own
age and station--not a middle-aged widow like me."

"Pshaw!" exclaimed Sir Beverley impatiently. "You belong to the same
generation, don't you? What more do you want?"

If he had slapped her face, Avery would scarcely have felt more amazed,
She gazed at him in silence, wondering if she could have heard aright.

Sir Beverley frowned upon her fiercely, the iron will of him scorning and
surmounting his physical weakness.

"You've got nothing against the boy, I suppose?" he pursued, with the
evident determination to get at the truth despite all opposition. "He has
never given you any cause for complaint? He's behaved himself like a
gentleman, hey?"

"Oh, of course, of course!" Avery said in distress. "It's not that!"

Sir Beverley frowned still more heavily. "Then--what the devil is it?"
he demanded. "Don't you like him well enough? Aren't you--in love with
him?" His lips curled ironically over the words; they sounded
inexpressibly bitter.

Avery's eyes fell before his pitiless stare. She began with fingers that
trembled to pluck the primroses that grew in a large tuft close to her,
saying no word.

"Well?" said Sir Beverley, with growing impatience.

She kept her eyes lowered, for she felt she could not meet his look as
she made reluctant answer. "No, it is not either. In fact, if I were a
girl--I had not been married before--I think I should say Yes.
But--but--" she paused, searching for words, striving to restrain a
rising agitation, "as it is, I don't think it would be quite fair to him.
I don't know if I could make him happy. I am not young enough, fresh
enough, gay enough. I can't offer him a girl's first love, and that is
what he ought to have. I so want him to have the best. I so want him to
be happy."

The words were out with a rush, almost before she was aware of uttering
them, and suddenly her eyes were full of tears, tears that caught her off
her guard, so that she had neither time nor strength to check them. She
turned quickly from him, fighting for self-control.

Sir Beverley uttered a grunt that might have denoted either surprise or
disgust, and there followed a silence that she found peculiarly
difficult to bear.

"So," he said at last, in a tone that was strictly devoid of feeling,
"you care for him too much to marry him? Is that it?"

It sounded preposterous, but she was still too near tears for any sense
of humour to penetrate her distress. She felt as if he had remorselessly
wrested from her and dragged to light a treasure upon which she herself
had scarcely dared to look. She continued feverishly to pluck the pale
flowers that grew all about them, her eyes fixed upon her task.

With a growling effort, Sir Beverley raised himself, thrust forward a
quivering hand and gripped hers.

Startled, she turned towards him, meeting not hostility but a certain
grim kindliness in the hard old eyes.

"Will you honour me with your attention for a moment?" he asked, with
ironical courtesy.

"I am attending," she answered meekly.

"Then," he said, dropping all pretence at courtesy without further
ceremony, "permit me to say that if you don't marry my grandson, you'll
be a bigger fool than I take you for. And in my opinion, a sober-minded
woman like you who will see to his comfort and be faithful to him is more
likely to make him happy than any of your headlong, flighty girls."

He stopped; but he did not relinquish his hold upon her. There was
to Avery something oddly pathetic in the close grasp of those
unsteady fingers. It was as if they made an appeal which he would
have scorned to utter.

"You really wish me to marry him?" she said.

He snarled at her like a surly dog. "Wish it? I! Good Heavens above, if
I had my way I'd never let him marry at all! But unfortunately
circumstances demand it; and the boy himself--the boy himself, well--"
his voice softened imperceptibly, rasped on a note of tenderness, "he
wants looking after; he's young, you know. He'll be all alone very
soon, and--it isn't considered good for a man to live alone--not a young
man anyway."

He broke off, still looking hard at Avery from under his drawn white
brows as if daring her to dispute the matter.

But she said nothing, and after a moment he resumed more equably: "That's
all I have to say on the subject. I wish you to understand that for the
boy's sake--and for other considerations--I have withdrawn my opposition.
You can marry him--as soon as you like."

He sank down again on his elbow, and she saw a look of exhaustion on his
face. His head drooped forward on his chest, and, watching him, she
realized that he was an old, old man and very tired of life.

Suddenly he jerked his head up again and met her pitying eyes.

"I'm done, yes," he said grimly, as if in response to her unspoken
thought. "But I've paid my debts--all of 'em, including this last." His
voice began to fail, but he forced it on, speaking spasmodically, with
increasing difficulty. "You sent my boy back to me--the other
day--against his will. Now I--make you a present of him--in return.
There's good stuff in the lad,--nothing shabby about him. If you care for
him at all--you ought to be able to hold him--make him happy.
Anyway--anyway--you might try!"

The appeal in the last words, whispered though they were, was
undisguised; and swiftly, impulsively, almost before she knew what she
was doing, Avery responded to it.

"Oh, I will try!" she said very earnestly. "I will indeed!"

He looked at her fixedly for a moment with eyes of deep searching that
she never forgot, and then his head dropped forward heavily.

"You--have--said it!" he said, and sank unconscious upon the ground.



"My good Mrs. Denys, it is quite fruitless for you to argue the matter.
Nothing you can say can alter the fact that you took the children
trespassing in the Rodding Park preserves against my most stringent
commands, and this deplorable accident to the Squire is the direct
outcome of the most flagrant insubordination. I have borne a good deal
from you, but this I cannot overlook. You will therefore take a month's
notice from to-day, and as it is quite impossible for me to reconsider
my decision in this respect it would be wasted effort on your part to
lodge any appeal against it. As for the children, I shall deal with them
in my own way."

The Vicar's thin lips closed upon the words with the severity of an
irrevocable resolution. Avery heard him with a sense of wild rebellion at
her heart to which she knew she must not give rein. She stood before him,
a defenceless culprit brought up for punishment.

It was difficult to be dignified under such circumstances, but she
did her best.

"I am extremely sorry that I took the children into the preserves," she
said. "But I accept the full responsibility for having done so. They were
not greatly to blame in the matter."

"Upon that point," observed Mr. Lorimer, "I am the best judge. The
children will be punished as severely as I deem necessary. Meantime, you
quite understand, do you not, that your duties here must terminate a
month from now? I am only sorry that I allowed myself to be persuaded to
reconsider my decision on the last occasion. For more than one reason I
think it is to be regretted. However,--" he completed the sentence with a
heavy sigh and said no more.

It was evident that he desired to close the interview, yet Avery
lingered. She could not go with the children's fate still in the balance.

He looked at her interrogatively with raised brows.

"You will not surely punish the children very severely?" she said.

He waved a hand of cool dismissal. "I shall do whatever seems to me right
and advisable," he said.

It came to Avery that interference on this subject would do more harm
than good, and she turned to go. At the door his voice arrested her.
"This day month then, Mrs. Denys!"

She bent her head in silent acquiescence, and went out.

In the passage Gracie awaited her and wound eager arms about her.

"Was he very horrid to you, Avery darling? What did he say?"

Avery went with her to the schoolroom where the other offenders were
assembled. It seemed to her almost cruel to attempt to suppress the
truth, but their reception of it went to her heart. Jeanie--the placid,
sweet-tempered Jeanie--wept tears of such anguished distress that she
feared she would make herself ill. Gracie was too angry to weep. She
wanted to go straight to the study and beard the lion in his den, and
only Avery's most strenuous opposition restrained her. And into the midst
of their tribulation came Mrs. Lorimer to mingle her tears with theirs.

"What I shall do without you, Avery, I can't think," was the burden of
her lament.

Avery couldn't think either, for she knew better even than Mrs. Lorimer
herself how much the latter had come to lean upon her.

She had to turn her energies to comforting her disconsolate companions,
but this task was still unaccomplished when the door opened and the Vicar
stalked in upon them.

He observed his wife's presence with cold displeasure, and at once
proceeded to dismiss her.

"I desire your presence in the study for a few moments, Adelaide. Perhaps
you will be kind enough to precede me thither."

He held the door open for her with elaborate ceremony, and Mrs. Lorimer
had no choice but to obey. She departed with a scared effort to check her
tears under the stern disapproval of his look.

He closed the door upon her and advanced to the table, gazing round upon
them with judicial severity.

"I am here," he announced, "to pass sentence."

Jeanie, crying softly in her corner, made desperate attempts to
control herself under the awful look that was at this point
concentrated upon her.

After a pause the Vicar proceeded, with a spiteful glance at Avery. "It
is my intention to impose a holiday-task of sufficient magnitude to keep
you all out of mischief during the rest of the holidays. You will
therefore commit to memory various different portions of Milton's
_Paradise Lost_ which I shall select, and which must be repeated to me in
their entirety without mistake on my return from my own hard-earned
holiday. And let me give you all fair warning," he raised his voice and
looked round again, regarding poor Jeanie with marked austerity, "that if
any one of you is not word-perfect in his or her task by the day of my
return--boy or girl I care not, the offence is the same--he or she will
receive a sound caning and the task will be returned."

Thus he delivered himself, and turned to go; but paused at the door to
add, "Also, Mrs. Denys, will you be good enough to remember that it is
against my express command that either you or any of the children should
enter any part of Rodding Park during my absence. I desire that to be
clearly understood."

"It is understood," said Avery in a low voice.

"That is well," said the Reverend Stephen, and walked majestically
from the room.

A few seconds of awed silence followed his departure; then to Avery's
horror Gracie snatched off one of her shoes and flung it violently at the
door that he had closed behind him. Luckily for Gracie, her father was at
the foot of the stairs before this episode took place and beyond earshot
also of the furious storm of tears that followed it, with which even
Avery found it difficult to cope.

It had been a tragic day throughout, and she was thankful when at length
it drew to a close.

But when night came at last, and she lay down in the darkness, she found
herself much too full of thought for sleep. Till then, she had not had
time to review the day's happenings, but they crowded upon her as she
lay, driving away all possibility of repose.

What was she going to do? Over and over again she asked herself the
question, bringing herself as it were each time to contemplate afresh the
obstacle that had arisen in her path. Had she really promised to marry
Piers? The Squire evidently thought she had. The memory of those last
words of his came back to her again and again. He had been very much in
earnest, very anxious to provide for his boy's future, desperately afraid
of leaving him alone. How would he view his impetuous action, she
wondered, on the morrow? Had he not even now possibly begun to repent?
Would he really desire her to take him literally?

And Piers,--what of Piers? A sudden, warm thrill ran through her. She
glowed from head to foot. She had not seen Piers since that morning by
the sea. She had a feeling that he was purposely avoiding her, and yet
deep in the secret heart of her she knew that what she had rejected over
and over again was still irrevocably her own. He would come back to her.
She knew he would come back. And again that strange warmth filled her
veins. The memory of him just then was like a burst of sunshine after a
day of storm.

He had not been at home when Julian had taken the news of the Squire's
accident to the Abbey, and only menservants had come to the rescue. She
had accompanied them part of the way back, but Tudor had overtaken them
in the drive, and she and the boys had turned back. Sir Beverley had been
exhausted and but half-conscious, and he had not uttered another word to
her. She wished Dr. Tudor had looked in on his way home, and then
wondered if the Squire's condition were such as to necessitate his
spending the night at the Abbey. He had once told her that Sir Beverley
suffered from a weakness of the heart which might develop seriously at
any time; but though himself fully aware of the fact, the old man had
never permitted Piers to be told. She had deemed it unfair to Piers, but
it was no matter for interference. A great longing to know what was
happening possessed her. Surely--surely Mr. Lorimer would send up in the
morning to enquire!

Her thoughts took another turn. She had been given definite notice to go.
In her efforts to console Mrs. Lorimer, and the children, she had
scarcely herself realized all that it would imply. She began to picture
the parting, and a quiver of pain went through her. How they had all
grown about her heart! How would she bear to say good-bye to her little
delicate Jeanie? And how would the child fare without her? She hardly
dared to think.

And then again that blinding ray of sunshine burst riotously through her
clouds. If the impossible happened, if she ever married Piers--for the
first time she deliberately faced and contemplated the thought--would she
not be at least within reach if trouble came? A little thrill of spiteful
humour ran through her at this point. She was quite sure that under such
circumstances she would not be refused admittance to the Vicar's home. As
Piers' wife, its doors would always be open to her.

As Piers' wife! She found herself repeating the words, repeating and
repeating them till their strangeness began to give place to a certain
familiarity. Was it after all true, as he had once so vehemently
asserted, that they were meant for each other, belonged to each other,
that the fate of each was bound in that of the other? What if she were a
woman grown? What if her years outnumbered his? Had he not waked in her
such music as her soul had never known before? Had he not opened for her
the gates of the forbidden land? And was there after all, any actual
reason that she should refuse to enter? That land where the sun shone
always and the flowers bloomed without fading! That land where it was
always spring!

There came in her soul a sudden swift ecstasy that was like the singing
of many birds in the dawning, thrilling her through and through. She rose
from her bed as though in answer to a call, and went to her open window.

There before her, silver against the darkness, there shone a single star.
The throbbing splendour of it seemed to pierce her. She held her breath
as one waiting for a message.

And, as she stood waiting, through her heart, softly, triumphantly, the
message came, spoken in the voice she had come to hear through all
other voices.

"It is the Star of Hope, Avery; yours--and mine."

But even as she watched with all her spirit a-quiver with the wonder of
it, the vision passed; the star was veiled.



Avery was very early at the church on the following morning, and had
begun the work of decorating even before Miss Whalley appeared on the
scene. It was a day of showers and fleeting gleams of sunshine, and the
interior of the little building flashed from gloom to brilliance, and
from brilliance back to gloom with fitful frequency.

Daffodils and primroses were littered all around Avery, and a certain
subdued pleasure was hers as she decked the place with the spring
flowers. She was quite alone, for by the Vicar's inflexible decree all
the elder children, with the exception of Olive, were confined to the
schoolroom for the morning with their respective tasks.

The magnitude of these tasks had struck dismay to Avery's heart. She did
not privately believe that any one of them could ever be accomplished in
the prescribed time. But the day of reckoning was not yet, and she put it
resolutely from her mind. It was useless to forestall trouble, and her
own burden of toil that day demanded all her energies.

The advent of Miss Whalley, thin and acid, put an end to all enjoyment
thereof. She bestowed a cool greeting upon Avery, and came at once to her
side to criticize her decoration of the font. Miss Whalley always assumed
the direction of affairs on these occasions, and she regarded Avery's
assistance in the place of Mrs. Lorimer's weak efforts in something of
the light of an intrusion.

Avery stood and listened to her suggestions with grave forbearance. She
never disputed anything with Miss Whalley, which may have been in part
the reason for the latter's somewhat suspicious attitude towards her.

They were still standing before the font while Miss Whalley unfolded her
scheme when there came the sound of feet in the porch, and Lennox Tudor
put his head in.

His eyes fell at once upon Avery. He hesitated a moment then entered.

She turned eagerly to meet him. "Oh, how is the Squire this morning? Have
you been up to the Abbey yet?"

"The Squire!" echoed Miss Whalley. "Is he ill? I was not aware of it."

Avery's eyes were fixed on Tudor's face, and all in a moment she realized
that he had been up all night.

He did not seem to notice Miss Whalley, but spoke to Avery, and to her
alone. "I have just come back from the Abbey. The Squire died about an
hour ago."

"The Squire!" said Miss Whalley again, in staccato tones.

Avery said nothing, but she turned suddenly white, so white that Tudor
was moved to compunction.

"I shouldn't have blurted it out like that. Sit down! The poor old chap
never rallied really. He had a little talk with Piers half-an-hour or so
before he went. But it was only the last flicker of the candle. We
couldn't save him."

He bent down over her. "Don't look like that! It wasn't your fault. It
was bound to come. I've foreseen it for some little time. I told him it
was madness to go out riding as he did; but he wouldn't listen to me.
Avery, I say! Avery!" His voice sank to an undertone.

She forced her stiff lips to smile faintly in answer to the concern it
held. With an effort she commanded herself.

"What of Piers?" she said.

He stood up again with a sharp gesture, and turned from her to answer
Miss Whalley's eager questions.

"Surely it is very sudden!" the latter was saying. "How did it happen?
Will there be an inquest?"

"There will not," said Tudor curtly. "I have been attending the Squire,
for some time, and I knew that sooner or later this would happen. The
Vicar is not here?" He turned to Avery. "I promised to look in on him on
my way back. Shall I find him at the Vicarage?"

He was gone almost before she could answer, and Avery was left on the
seat by the door, staring before her with a wildly throbbing heart, still
asking herself with a curious insistence, "What of Piers? What of Piers?"

Miss Whalley surveyed her with marked disapproval. She considered it
great presumption on Avery's part to be upset by such a matter, and her
attitude said as much as she walked with a stately air down the church
and commenced her own self-appointed task of decorating the pulpit.

Avery did not stir for several seconds; and when she did it was to go to
the open door and stand there looking out into the spring sunshine. She
felt strangely incapable of grasping what had happened. She could not
realize that that dominant personality that had striven with her only
yesterday--only yesterday--had passed utterly away in a few hours. It
seemed incredible, beyond the bounds of possibility. Again and again Sir
Beverley's speech and look returned to her. How emphatic he had been,
how resolutely determined to attain his end! He had discharged his
obligation, as he had said. He had paid his last debt. And in the
payment of it he had laid upon her a burden which she had felt compelled
to accept.

Would it prove too much for her, she wondered? Had she yet again taken a
false step that could never be retraced? Again the thought of Piers went
through her, piercing her like a sword. Piers alone! Piers in trouble!
She wished that Dr. Tudor had answered her question even though she
regretted having asked it. How would he bear his solitude, she wondered
with an aching heart; and a sudden great longing arose within her to go
and comfort him, as she alone possessed the power to comfort. All
selfish considerations departed with the thought. She realized
poignantly all that Sir Beverley had visualized when he had told her
that very soon his boy would be all alone. She knew fully why he had
pressed upon her the task of helping Piers through his dark hour. He had
known--as she also knew--how sore would be his need of help. And as
this came home to her, her strength--that strength which was the patient
building of all the years of her womanhood--came back to her, and she
felt renewed and unafraid.

She returned to her work with a steadfastness of purpose that even
Miss Whalley viewed with distant admiration; working throughout the
morning while the minute bell tolled overhead, rendering honour to the
departed Squire.

When she left at length to return to the Vicarage for the midday meal,
her portion was done.

But it was not till night came again that she found time to write the few
brief words that she had been revolving in her mind all day long.


"I am thinking of you constantly, and longing to help you in your
trouble. Let me know if there is anything whatever that I can do, and I
shall be ready at any time.

"With love from Avery."

Her face glowed softly over the writing of the note. She slipped out and
posted it before she went to bed.

He would get it in the morning, and he would be comforted. For he would
understand. She was sure that he would understand.

Of herself all through that second wakeful night she did not think at
all, and so no doubts rose to torment her. She lay in a species of tired
wonder. She was keeping her promise to the dead man, and in the keeping
of it there was peace.

The great square Abbey pew at the top of the church was empty
throughout Easter Sunday. A heavy gloom reigned at the Vicarage. Avery
and the children were in dire disgrace, and Mrs. Lorimer, spent most of
the day in tears. She could not agree with the Vicar that they were
directly responsible for the Squire's death. Dr. Tudor had been very
emphatic in assuring them that what had happened had been the
inevitable outcome of a disease of long standing. But this assurance
did not in any way modify the Vicar's attitude, and he decided that the
five children should spend their time in solitary confinement until
after the day fixed for the funeral.

This was to be Easter Tuesday, and he himself had arranged to depart the
day after--an event to which the entire household, with the single
exception of Olive, looked forward with the greatest eagerness.

No message came from Piers that night, and Avery wondered a little, but
without uneasiness. He must have so very much to think of and do at such
a time, she reflected. He would scarcely even have begun to feel the
dreadful loneliness.

But when the next day passed, and still no answer came, a vague anxiety
awoke within her. Surely her message had reached him! Surely he must have
read it! The Piers she knew would have dashed off some species of reply
at once. How was it he delayed?

The day of the funeral came, and the Easter flowers were all taken away.
The Vicarage blinds were drawn, the bell tolled again, and Jeanie,
weighed down with a dreadful sense of wickedness, lay face downwards on
the schoolroom sofa and wept and wept.

Avery was very anxious about her. The disgrace and punishment of the
past few days had told upon her. She was sick with trouble and
depression, and Avery could find no means of comforting her. She had
meant herself to slip out and to go to the funeral for Piers' sake, but
she felt she could not leave the child. So she sat with her in the
darkened room, listening to her broken sobbing, aware that in the
solitude of her room Gracie was crying too, and longing passionately to
gather together all five of the luckless offenders and deliver them from
their land of bondage.

But there was to be no deliverance that day, nor any lightening of the
burden. The funeral over, the Vicar returned and sent for each child
separately to the study for prayer and admonition. Jeanie was the last to
face this ordeal and before it was half over Avery was sent for also to
find her lying on the study sofa in a dead faint.

Avery's indignation was intense, but she could not give it vent. Even the
Vicar was a little anxious, and when Avery's efforts succeeded at length
in restoring her, he reprimanded Jeanie severely and reduced her once
more to tears of uncontrollable distress.

The long, dreary day came to an end at last, and the thought of a happier
morrow comforted them all. But Avery, though she slept that night, was
troubled by a dream that came to her over and over again throughout the
long hours. She seemed to see Piers, as he had once described himself, a
prisoner behind bars; and ever as she looked upon him he strove with
gigantic efforts that were wholly vain, to force the bars asunder and
come to her. She could not help him, could not even hear his voice. But
the agony of his eyes haunted her--haunted her. She awoke at last in
anguish of spirit, and slept no more.



With the morning came a general feeling of relief. The Vicar was almost
jocose, and Mrs. Lorimer made timid attempts to be mirthful though the
parting with her children sorely tried her fortitude.

The boys' spirits were subdued, but they burst forth uproariously as soon
as the station-cab was well outside the gate. Ronald and Julian cheered
themselves hoarse, and Pat scuttled off to the back of the house to
release Mike from his chain to participate in the great rejoicing.

There was no disguising the fact that everyone was pleased--everyone
except Olive who went away to her father's study which had been left
in her especial charge, and locked herself in for a morning of
undisturbed reading.

Avery could not feel joyful. The thought of Piers was still with her
continually. She had heard so little of him--merely that he had followed
his grandfather to the grave supported by the old family solicitor from
Wardenhurst, Lennox Tudor, and a miscellaneous throng of neighbours; that
he had borne himself without faltering, and had gone back to his solitude
with no visible sign of suffering. Only indirectly had she heard this,
and she yearned to know more.

She knew that like herself he was practically devoid of relatives,--the
last of his race,--a figure of splendid isolation that would appeal to
many. She knew that as a wealthy and unmarried baronet, he would be
greatly sought after and courted; made much of by the whole county, and
half London as well. He was so handsome, so romantic, so altogether
eligible in every way. Was it for this that he had left that note of
hers unanswered? Did he think that now that his horizon had widened the
nearer haven was hardly worth attaining? Above all, if he decided to
take that which she had so spontaneously offered, would it satisfy him?
Would he be content therewith? Had she not done better to have waited
till he came again to ask of her that which she had till the day of his
bereavement withheld?

It was useless to torture herself with such questionings. Because of her
promise to the dead, she had acted, and she could now but await the
result of her action. If he never answered,--well, she would understand.

So passed yet another day of silence.

She was busy with the household accounts that night which Mrs. Lorimer in
her woe had left in some confusion, and they kept her occupied till long
after the children had gone to bed, so late indeed that the servants also
had retired and she was left alone in the dining-room to wrestle with her

She found it next to impossible to straighten out the muddle, and she
came at length reluctantly to the conclusion that it was beyond her
powers. Wondering what the Reverend Stephen would have said to such a
crime, she abstracted a few shillings from her own purse and fraudulently
made up the deficit that had vexed Mrs. Lorimer's soul.

"I can write and tell her now that it has come right," she murmured to
herself, as she rose from the table.

It was close upon eleven o'clock. The house was shuttered and silent. The
stillness was intense; when suddenly, as she was in the act of lighting a
candle, the electric bell pinged through the quiet of the night.

She started and listened. The thought of Piers sprang instinctively to
her mind. Could it be he? But surely even Piers would not come to her at
this hour! It must be some parishioner in need of help.

She turned to answer the summons, but ere she reached the hall it was
repeated twice, with nervous insistence. She hastened to withdraw the
bolts and open the door.

At once a voice accosted her, and a sharp pang of disappointment or
anxiety, she knew not which, went through her.

"Mrs. Denys, is she here?" it said. "May I speak with her?"

It was the unmistakable speech of a Frenchman. By the light of the
hall-lamp, Avery saw the plump, anxious face and little pointed moustache
of the speaker. He entered uninvited and stood before her.

"Ah! But you are Mrs. Denys!" he exclaimed with relief. "_Madame_, I beg
that you will pardon me! I am come to you in distress the most profound.
You will listen to me, yes?"

He regarded her with quick black eyes that both confided and besought.
Avery's heart was beating in great throbs, she felt strangely breathless
and uncertain of herself.

"Where do you come from?" she said. "Who are you?"

But she knew the answer before it came. "I am Victor, _madame_,--Victor
Lagarde. I am the valet of _Monsieur Pierre_ almost since he was born. He
calls me his _bonne_!" A brief smile touched his worried countenance and
was gone. "And now I am come to you, _madame_,--not by his desire. _Mais
non_, he does not know even that I am here. But because he is in great,
great misery, and I cannot console him. I have not the power. And he is
all alone--all alone. And I fear--I fear--" He broke off with eloquent
hands outspread. Avery saw the tears standing in his eyes.

She closed the door softly. "What is it?" she said. "Tell me what
you fear!"

He looked at her, mastering his emotion with difficulty.
"_Madame, Monsieur Pierre_ has sentiments the most profound. He
feel--_passionnement_. He try to hide his sentiments from me. But me--I
know. He sit alone in the great hall and look--and look. He sleep--never
at all. He will not even go to bed. And in the great hall is an
_escritoire_, and in it a drawer." Victor's voice sank mysteriously.
"To-night--when he think he is alone--he open that drawer, and I see
inside. It hold a revolver, _madame_. And he look at it, touch it, and
then shake his head. But I am so afraid--so afraid. So--_enfin_--in my
trouble I come to you. You have the influence with him, is it not so? You
have--the power to console. _Madame--chere madame_--will you not come
and speak with him for five little minutes? Just to encourage him,
_madame_, in his sadness; for he is all alone!"

The tears ran down Victor's troubled face as he made his earnest appeal.
He mopped them openly, making no secret of his distress which was too
pathetic to be ludicrous.

Avery looked at him in dismay. She knew not what to say or do; and even
as she stood irresolute the hall-clock struck eleven through the silence
of the house.

Victor watched her anxiously. "_Madame_ is married," he insinuated. "She
can please herself, no? And _Monsieur Pierre_--"

"Wait a minute, please!" she interrupted gently. "I want to think."

She went to the unlatched door and stood with her face to the night. She
felt as if a call had come to her, but somehow--for no selfish
reason--she hesitated to answer. Some unknown influence held her back.

Victor came softly up and stood close to her. "_Madame_," he said in a
whisper, "I tell you a secret--I, Victor, who have known _Monsieur
Pierre_ from his infancy. He loves you, _madame_. He loves you much.
_C'est la grande passion_ which comes only once in a life--only once."

The low words went through her, seeming to sink into her very heart. She
made a slight, involuntary gesture as of wincing. There was something in
them that was almost more than she could bear.

She stood motionless with the chill night air blowing in upon her, trying
to collect her thoughts, trying to bring herself to face and consider the
matter before she made her decision. But it was useless. Those last words
had awaked within her a greater force than she could control. From the
moment of their utterance she was driven irresistibly, the decision was
no longer her own.

Piers was alone. Piers loved her--wanted her. His soul cried to hers
through the darkness. She saw him again as in her dream wrestling with
those cruel iron bars, striving with vain agony to reach her. And all
doubt went from her like a cloud.

She turned to Victor with grey eyes shining and resolute. "Let us
go!" she said.

She took a cloak from a peg in the hall, lowered the light, took the key
from the lock, and passed out into the dark.

Victor followed her closely, softly latching the door behind him. He had
known from the outset that the English _madame_ would not be able to
resist his appeal. Was not _Monsieur Pierre_ as handsome and as desirable
as though he had been a prince of the blood? He walked a pace behind her,
saying no word, fully satisfied with the success of his mission.

Avery went with swift unerring feet; yet it seemed to her afterwards as
if she had moved in a dream, for only the vaguest impression of that
journey through the night remained with her. It was dark, but the
darkness did not hinder her. She went as if drawn irresistibly--even
against her will. At the back of her mind hovered the consciousness that
she was doing a rash thing, but the woman's heart in it was too deeply
stirred to care for minor considerations. The picture of Piers in his
lonely hall hung ever before her, drawing her on.

He had not sent for her. She knew now that he would not send. Yet she
went to him on winged feet. For she knew that his need of her was great.

There was no star in the sky and the night wind moaned in the trees as
they went up the long chestnut avenue to the Abbey. The loneliness was
great. It folded them in on every hand. It seemed to hang like a pall
about the great dim building massed against the sky, as though the whole
place lay beneath a spell of mourning.

Emerging from the deep shadow of the trees, she paused for the first time
in uncertainty. Victor pressed forward instantly to her side.

"We will enter by the library, _madame_. See, I will show you the way.
From there to the great hall, it is only a few steps. And you will find
him there. I leave you alone to find him."

He led her across a dew-drenched lawn and up a flight of steps to the
door of a conservatory which gave inwards at his touch.

Obedient to his gesture, Avery entered. Her heart was beating hard and
fast. She was conscious of a wild misgiving which had not assailed her
during all the journey thither. What if he did not want her after all?
What if her coming were unwelcome?

Silently Victor piloted her, and she could not choose but follow, though
she felt sick with the sudden apprehension that had sprung to life as she
left the sleeping world outside. She seemed to be leaving her freedom,
all she valued, behind her as she entered this shadowy prison. And all
for what? Her quivering heart could find no answer.

There was a heavy scent of hothouse flowers in the air. She almost
gasped for breath in the exotic fragrance of the unseen blossoms. A
strong impulse possessed her to turn and flee by the way she had come.

"_Madame!_" It was Victor's voice, low and entreating. He had opened an
inner door, and stood waiting for her.

Had he seen her wavering resolution, she wondered? Was he trying to
hasten her ere it should wholly evaporate--to close the way of escape
ere she could avail herself of it? Or was he anxious solely on Piers'
account--lest after all she might arrive too late?

She could not determine, but the urgency of his whisper moved her. She
passed him and entered the room beyond.

It was dimly lighted by a single shaded electric lamp that illumined a
writing-table. She saw that it was the ancient library of the Abbey, a
wonderful apartment which she knew to contain an almost priceless
collection of old parchments. It was lined with bookshelves and had the
musty smell inseparable from aged bindings.

Victor motioned her silently to a door at the further end, but before
either of them could reach it there came a sudden footfall on the other
side, the handle turned sharply, and it opened.

"Ah!" exclaimed Victor, and fell back as one caught red-handed in a

Avery stood quite motionless with her heart beating up against her
throat, and a tragic sense of trespass overwhelming her. She could not
find a single word to say, so sudden and so terrible was the ordeal. She
could only wait in silence.

Piers stood still as one transfixed, with eyes that blazed sleepless out
of a drawn, pale face; then at length with a single snap of the fingers
imperiously he dismissed Victor by the still open door.

It closed discreetly upon the Frenchman's exit, and then only did Piers
move forward; he came to Avery, drew her to a chair, knelt mutely down
before her, and bowed his head upon her lap.



She spoke to him at last, half-frightened by his silence, yet by his
attitude wholly reassured. For he wanted her still, of that no doubt
remained. His hands were clasped behind her. He could have held her in
his arms; but he did not. He only knelt there at her feet in utter
silence, his black head pillowed on her hands.

"Piers!" she said. "Piers! Let me help you!"

He groaned in answer, and she felt a great shiver run through him. She
knew intuitively that he was battling for self-control and dared not for
the moment show his face.

"You--can't," he said at last.

"But I think I can," she urged gently. "It isn't so very long ago that
you wanted me."

"I was an infernal blackguard to tell you so!" he made answer.

And then suddenly his arms tightened about her, and he held her fast.
"That you--you, Avery,--should come to me--like this!" he said.

She freed one of her hands and laid it on his bent head. "Shall I tell
you what made me come, Piers?"

He shook his head in silence, but there was passion in the holding
of his arms.

For a space he continued to hold her so, speaking no word, and through
his silence there came to her the quick, fierce beat of his heart. Then
at length very suddenly, almost with violence, he flung his arms wide
and started to his feet.

"Avery," he said, "you were a saint to come to me like this. I shan't
forget it ever. But there's nothing--nothing you can do, except leave me
to my own devices. It's only just at first, you know, that the loneliness
seems so--awful." His voice shook unexpectedly; he swung round away from
her and walked to the end of the room.

He came back almost immediately and stood before her. "Victor was a
criminal fool to bring you here. He meant well though. He always does.
That note of yours--I ought to have answered it. I was just coming in
here to do so. I shouldn't have kept you waiting so long, but
somehow--somehow--" Again, in spite of him, his voice quivered. He turned
sharply and walked to the fireplace, leaned his arms upon it, and stood
so, his back to her, his head bent.

"It was so awfully good of you," he went on after a moment. "You always
have been--awfully good. My grandfather realized that, you know. I think
he told you so, didn't he? He wasn't really sorry that I wouldn't marry
Ina Rose. By the way, she is engaged to Dick Guyes already, so there was
not much damage done in that direction. I told you it was nothing but a
game, didn't I? You didn't quite believe me, what?"

It came to her that he was talking to gain time, that he was trying to
muster strength to give the lie to the passion that had throbbed in the
holding of his arms, that for some reason he deemed it incumbent upon him
to mask his feelings and hide from her the misery that had driven Victor
in search of her.

She rose quietly and moved across the room till she stood beside him.
"Piers," she said, "tell me what is wrong!"

He stiffened at her approach, straightened himself, faced her.
"Avery," he said, "do you know, dear, it would be better if you went
straight back again? I hate to say it. It was so dear of you,
so--so--great of you to come. But--no, there's nothing wrong,--nothing
that is, that hasn't been wrong for ages. Fact is, I'm not fit to
speak to you, never have been; far less make love to you. And I was a
cur and a brute to do it. I've had a bit of a shake-up lately. It's
made me feel my responsibilities, see things as they are. I've got an
awful lot to see to just now. I'm going to work mighty hard. I mustn't
think of--other things."

He stopped. He was looking at her, looking at her, with the red fire of
passion kindling in his eyes, a gleam so fierce and so insistent that she
was forced to lower her own. It was as if his soul cried out to her all
that he restrained his lips from uttering.

He saw her instinctive avoidance of his gaze, and turned away from her,
leaning again upon the mantelpiece as if spent.

"I can't help it, Avery. I'm so dog-tired, and I can't sleep. I'm
horribly sorry, but I'm nothing but a brute-beast to-night.
Really--really--you had better go."

There was desperation in his voice. He bowed his head upon his arms, and
she saw that his hands were clenched.

But she could not leave him so. That inner urging that had impelled her
thither warned her to remain, even against her own judgment, even against
her will. The memory of Victor's fears came back to her. She could not
turn and go.

"My dear boy," she said, speaking very gently, "do you think I don't know
that you are miserable, lonely, wretched? That is why I am here!"

"God knows how lonely!" he whispered.

Her heart stirred within her at the desolation of the words. "Nearly all
of us go through it some time," she said gently. "And if there isn't a
friend to stand by, it's very hard to bear. That is the part I want to
play--if you will let me. Won't you treat me as a friend?"

But Piers neither moved nor spoke. With his head still upon his arms he
stood silent.

She drew nearer to him. "Piers, I think I understand. I think you are a
little afraid of going too far, of--of--" her voice faltered a little in
spite of her--"of hurting my feelings. Is that it? Because,--my
dear,--you needn't be afraid any longer. If you really think I can make
you happy, I am willing--quite willing--to try."

The words were spoken, and with them she offered all she had, freely,
generously, with a quick love that was greater possibly than even she

She was standing close to him waiting for him to turn and clasp her in
his arms, as he had so nearly clasped her once against her will. But
seconds passed and he did not move, and a cold foreboding began to knock
at her heart lest after all--lest after all--his love for her had waned.

He stirred at last, just as she was on the point of turning from him,
stretched out a groping hand that found and drew her to his side. But
still he did not look at her or so much as raise his head.

He spoke after a moment in a choked voice that seemed to be wrung from
him by sheer physical torture. "Avery, don't--don't tempt me.

The anguish of the words went through her, banishing all thought of
anything else. Very suddenly she knew that he was fighting a desperate
battle for her sake, that he was striving with all the strength that was
in him to set her happiness before his own. And something that was
greater than pity entered into her with the knowledge, something so great
as to be all-possessing, compelling her to instant action.

She slipped her arm about his bent shoulders with a gesture of infinite
tenderness. "Piers--dear boy, what is it?" she said softly. "Is there
some trouble in your past--something you can't bear to speak of?
Remember, I am not a girl, I may understand--some things--better than
you think."

She felt his hold upon her tighten almost convulsively, but for a while
he made no answer.

Then at length slowly he raised his head and looked at her. "Do
you--really--think the past matters?" he said.

She met his eyes with their misery and their longing, and a tremor of
uncertainty went through her.

"Tell me, Avery!" he insisted. "If you felt yourself able to get away
from old burdens, and if--if there was no earthly reason why they should
hamper your future--" He broke off, and again his arm tightened. "It's
damnable that they should!" he muttered savagely.

"My dear, I don't know how to answer you," she said. "Are--you afraid to
be open with me? Do you think I shouldn't understand?"

His eyes fell abruptly. "I am quite sure," he said, "that it would be
easier for me to give you up." And with that he suddenly set her free and
stood up before her straight and stiff. "Let me see you home!" he said.

They faced one another in the dimness, and Avery marked afresh the
weariness of his face. He looked like a man who had come through many
days and nights of suffering.

He glanced up as she did not speak. "Shall we go?" he said.

But Avery stood hesitating, asking herself if this could indeed be the
end, if the impulse that had drawn her thither had been after all a
mistaken one, or if even yet it might not carry her further than she had
ever thought to go.

He turned towards the conservatory door by which she had entered, and
quietly opened it. A soft wind blew through to her, laden with the scent
of the wet earth and a thousand opening buds. It seemed to carry the
promise of eternal hope on unseen wings straight to her heart.

Slowly she followed him across the room, reached him, passed through into
the scented darkness. A few steps more and she would have been in the
open air, but she was uncertain of the way. The place was too dim for her
to see it. She paused for him to guide her.

The door closed behind her; she heard it softly swing on its hinges, and
then came his light footfall close to her.

"Straight on!" he said, and his voice sounded oddly cold and constrained.
"There are three steps at the end. Be careful how you go! Perhaps you
would rather wait while I fetch a light."

His tone hurt her subtly, wounding her more deeply than she had realized
that he had it in his power to wound.

She moved forward blindly with a strangled sensation at her throat and a
rush of hot tears in her eyes. She had never dreamed that Piers--the
warm-hearted, the eager--had it in him to treat her so.

The instinct to escape awoke within her. She quickened her steps and
reached the further door. Before her lay the open night, immense and
quiet and very dark. She pressed forward, hoping he would not follow,
longing only for solitude and silence.

But in her agitation she forgot his warning, forgot to tread warily, and
missed her footing on the steps. She slipped with a sharp exclamation and
went down, catching vainly at the door-post to save herself.

Piers exclaimed also, and sprang forward. His arms were about her before
she reached the ground. He lifted her bodily ere she could recover her
balance; and suddenly she knew that with the touch of her the fire of his
passion had burst into scorching flame--knew herself powerless--a woman
in the hold of her captor.

For he held her so fast that she gasped for breath, and with her head
pressed back against his shoulder, he kissed her on the lips, fiercely,
violently, hungrily--kissed her eyes, her hair, and again her lips,
sealing them closely with his own, making protest impossible. Neither
could she resist him, for he held her gathered up against his heart,
bearing her whole weight with a strength that mocked her weakness,
compelling her to lie at his mercy while the wild storm of his passion
swept on its way.

She was as one caught in the molten stream of a volcano, and
carried by the fiery current that seethed all about her, consuming
her with its heat.

Once when his lips left hers she tried to whisper his name, to call him
back from his madness; but her voice was gone. She could only gasp and
gasp till with an odd, half-savage laugh he silenced her again with those
burning kisses that made her feel that he had stormed his way to the last
and inner sanctuary of her soul, depriving her even of the right to
dispute his overwhelming possession.

Later it seemed to her that she must have been near to fainting, for
though she knew that he bore her inwards from the open door she could not
so much as raise a hand in protest. She was utterly spent and almost
beyond caring, so complete had been his conquest. When he set her on her
feet she tottered, clinging to him nervelessly for support.

He kept his arm about her, but his hold was no longer insistent. She was
aware of his passion still; it seemed to play around her like a lambent
flame; but the first fierce flare was past. He spoke to her at last in a
voice that was low but not without the arrogance of the conqueror.

"Are you very angry with me, I wonder?"

She did not answer him, for still she could not.

He went on, a vein of recklessness running through his speech. "It won't
make any difference if you are. Do you understand? I've tried to let you
go, but I can't. I must have you or die."

He paused a moment, and it seemed as if the tornado of his passion were
sweeping back again; but, curiously, he checked it.

"That's how it is with me, Avery," he said. "The fates have played a
ghastly joke on me, but you are mine in spite of it. You came to tell me
so; didn't you?"

Was there a note of pleading in his voice? She fancied so; but still she
could not speak in answer. She leaned against him with every pulse
throbbing. She dared not turn her face to his.

"Are you afraid of me, Avery?" he said, and this time surely she heard a
faint echo of that boyish humour that had first won her. "Because it's
all right, dear," he told her softly. "I've got myself in hand now. You
know, I couldn't hold you in my arms just then and not--not kiss you. You
don't hate me for it, do you? You--understand?"

Yes, she understood. Yet she felt as if he had raised a barrier between
them which nothing could ever take away. She tried to ignore it, but
could not. The glaring fact that he had not cared how much or how little
she had desired those savage kisses of his had begun already to torment
her, and she knew that she would carry the scorching memory of those
moments with her for the rest of her life.

She drew herself slowly from him. "I am going now," she said.

He put out a hand that trembled and laid it on her shoulder. "If I will
let you go, Avery!" he said, and she was again aware of the leaping of
the flame that had scarcely died down but a moment before.

She straightened herself and resolutely faced him. "I am going,
Piers," she said.

His hand tightened sharply. He caught his breath for a few tense seconds.
Then very slowly his hold relaxed; his hand fell. "You will let me see
you back," he said, and she knew by his voice that he was putting strong
force upon himself.

She turned. "No. I will go alone."

He did not move. "Please, Avery!" he said.

Her heart gave a quick throb at the low-spoken words. She paused almost
involuntarily, realizing with a great rush of thankfulness that he would
not stir a step to follow unless she gave him leave.

For an instant she stood irresolute. Then: "Come if you wish!" she said.

She heard him move, and herself passed on, descending the steps into the
dewy garden with again that odd feeling of unreality, almost as if she
walked in a dream.

He came behind her, silent as a shadow, and not till she deliberately
waited for him did he overtake and walk beside her.

No words passed between them as they went. They seemed to move through a
world of shadows,--a spell-bound, waiting world. And gradually, as if a
soothing hand had been laid upon her, Avery felt the wild tumult at her
heart subside. She remembered that he had refrained himself almost at her
first word, and slowly her confidence came back. He had appealed to her
to understand, and she could not let his appeal go wholly unanswered.

As they passed at length through the gate that led into the Vicarage
lane, she spoke. "Piers, I am not angry."

"Aren't you?" he said, and by the eager relief of his voice she knew that
her silence had been hard to bear.

She put out a hand to him as they walked. "But, Piers, that--is not the
way to make me love you."

"I know--I know," he said quickly; and then haltingly: "I've been--so
beastly lonely, Avery. Make allowances for me--forgive me!"

He had not taken her hand; she slipped it into his. "I do," she said
simply. She felt his fingers close tensely, but in a moment they opened
again and set her free.

He did not utter another word, merely walked on beside her till they
reached the Vicarage gate. She thought he would have left her there, but
he did not. They went up the drive together to the porch.

From his kennel at the side of the house Mike barked a sharp challenge
that turned into an unmistakable note of welcome as they drew near. Avery
silenced him with a reassuring word.

She found the key, and in the darkness of the porch she began to fumble
for the lock.

Piers stooped. "Let me!"

She gave him the key, and as she stood up again she noted the brightness
of the fanlight over the floor. She thought that she had lowered the
light at leaving; she had certainly intended to do so.

Very softly Piers opened the door. It swung noiselessly back upon its
hinges, and the full light smote upon them.

In the same instant a slim, white figure came calmly forward through the
hall and stopped beneath the lamp.

Olive Lorimer, pale, severe, with fixed, accusing eyes, stood
confronting them.

"Mrs. Denys!" she said, in accents of frozen surprise.



The encounter was so amazing, so utterly unlooked for, that Avery had a
moment of downright consternation. The child's whole air and expression
were so exactly reminiscent of her father that she almost felt as if she
stood before the Vicar himself--a culprit caught in a guilty act.

She looked at Olive without words, and Olive looked straight back at her
with that withering look of the righteous condemning the ungodly which so
often regarded a dumb but rebellious congregation through the Vicar's
stern eyes.

Piers, however, was not fashioned upon timid lines, and he stepped into
the hall without the faintest sign of embarrassment.

"Hullo, little girl!" he said. "Why aren't you in bed?"

The accusing eyes turned upon him. Olive seemed to swell with
indignation. "I was in bed long ago," she made answer, still in those
frozen tones. "May I ask what you are doing here, Mr. Evesham?"

"I?" said Piers jauntily. "Now what do you suppose?"

"I cannot imagine," the child said.

"Not really?" said Piers. "Well, perhaps when you are a little older
your imagination will develop. In the meantime, if you are a wise
little girl, you will run back to bed and leave your elders to settle
their own affairs."

Olive drew herself up with dignity. "It is not my intention to go so
long as you are in the house," she said with great distinctness.

"Indeed!" said Piers. "And why not?"

He spoke with the utmost quietness, but Avery caught the faintest tremor

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