Part 8 out of 10
"It's high time you sent for me now," said Tudor.
He looked at her searchingly through his glasses, holding her hand firmly
clasped in his.
"Are you happy?" he asked her suddenly.
She started at the question, started and flushed. "Why--why do you ask me
that?" she said in confusion.
"Because you don't look it," he said plainly. "No, don't be vexed with
me! I speak as a friend--a friend who desires your happiness more than
anything else on earth. And do you know, I think I should see a doctor
pretty soon if I were you. If you don't, you will probably regret it. Get
Piers to take you up to town! Maxwell Wyndham is about the best man I
know. Go to him!"
"Thank you," Avery said. "Perhaps I will."
It was at this point that a sudden uproarious laugh sounded from
below the window near which they sat, Avery looked round startled,
and Tudor frowned.
"It's that little brute of a best man--drunk as a lord. He's some sort
of cousin of Guyes', just home from Australia; and the sooner he goes
back the better for the community at large, I should say."
"Piers knows him!" broke almost involuntarily from Avery.
And with that swiftly she turned her head to listen, for the man outside
had evidently gathered to himself an audience at the entrance of a tent
that had been erected for refreshments, and was declaiming at the top of
"Eric Denys was the name of the man. He was a chum of mine. Samson we
used to call him. This Evesham fellow killed him in the first round. I've
never forgotten it. I recognized him the minute I set eyes on him, though
it's years ago now. And he recognized me! I wish you'd seen his face."
Again came the uncontrolled, ribald laughter. "A bully sort of squire,
eh? I suppose he's a justice of the peace now, a law-giver, eh? Damn
funny, I call it!"
Tudor was on his feet. He looked at Avery, but she sat like a statue,
making no sign.
Another man was speaking in a lower tone, as though he were trying to
restrain the first; but his efforts were plainly useless, for the best
man had more to say.
"Oh, I can tell you a Queensland crowd is no joke. He'd have been
manhandled if he hadn't bolted. Mistaken? Not I! Could anyone mistake a
face like that? Go and ask the man himself, if you don't believe me!
You'll find he won't deny it!"
"Shall we go?" suggested Tudor brusquely.
Avery made a slight movement, wholly mechanical; but she did not turn her
head. Her whole attitude was one of tense listening.
"I think I'll go in any case," said Tudor, after a moment. "That fellow
will make an exhibition of himself if someone doesn't interfere."
He went to the door, but before he reached it Avery turned in her chair
"He has gone inside for another drink. You had better let him have it."
There was that in her voice that he had never heard before. He stopped
short, looking back at her.
"Let him have it!" she reiterated. "Let him soak himself with it! You
won't quiet him any other way."
Even as she spoke, that horrible, half-intoxicated laugh came to
them, insulting the beauty of the summer afternoon. Avery shivered
from head to foot.
"Don't go!" she said. "Please!"
She rose as Tudor came back, rose and faced him, her face like death.
"I think I must go home," she said. "Will you find the car? No, I am not
ill. I--" She paused, seemed to grope for words, stopped, and suddenly a
bewildered look came into her face. Her eyes dilated. She gave a sharp
gasp. Tudor caught her as she fell.
The bride and bridegroom departed amid a storm of rice and good wishes,
Ina's face still wearing that slightly contemptuous smile to the last.
Piers, in the foremost of the crowd, threw a handful straight into her
lap as the car started, but only he and Dick Guyes saw her gather it up
with sudden energy and fling it back in his face.
Piers dropped off the step laughing. "Ye gods! What fun for Dick
Guyes!" he said.
A hand grasped his shoulder, and he turned and saw Lennox Tudor.
"Hullo!" he said, sharply freeing himself.
"I want a word with you," said Tudor briefly.
A wary look came into Piers' face on the instant. He looked at Tudor with
the measuring eye of a fencer.
"What about?" he asked.
"I can't tell you here. Will you walk back with me? Lady Evesham has
already gone in the car."
Piers' black brows went up, "Why was that? Wasn't she well?"
"No," said Tudor curtly.
"But she will send the car back," said Piers, stubbornly refusing to
"No, she won't. I told her we would walk."
"The devil you did!" said Piers.
He turned his back on Tudor, and went into the house.
But Tudor was undaunted. In a battle of wills, he was fully a match for
Piers. He kept close behind.
Eventually, Piers turned upon him. "Look here! I'll give you five minutes
in the library. I'm not going to walk three miles with you in this
blazing heat. It would be damned unhealthy for us both. Moreover, I've
promised to spend the evening with Colonel Rose."
It was the utmost he could hope for, and Tudor had the sense to accept
what he could get. He followed him to the library in silence.
They found it empty, and Tudor quietly turned the key.
"What's that for?" demanded Piers sharply.
"Because I don't want to be disturbed," returned Tudor.
He moved forward into the middle of the room and faced Piers.
"I have an unpleasant piece of news for you," he said, in a grim,
emotionless voice. "That cousin of Guyes'--you have met him before, I
think? He claims to know something of your past, and he has been
"What has he been saying?" said Piers.
He stood up before Tudor with the arrogance of a man who mocks defeat,
but there was a gleam of desperation in his eyes--something of the
cornered animal in his very nonchalance.
A queer touch of pity moved Tudor from his attitude of cold informer.
There was an undercurrent of something that was almost sympathy in his
voice as he made reply.
"The fellow was more or less drunk, but I am afraid he was rather
circumstantial. He recognized in you a man who had killed some chum of
his years ago, in Queensland."
"Well?" said Piers.
Just the one word, uttered like a command! Tudor's softer impulse passed.
"He was bawling it out at the top of his voice. A good many people must
have heard him. I was in this room with Lady Evesham. We heard also."
"Well?" Piers said again.
He spoke without stirring an eyelid, and again, involuntarily, Tudor was
moved, this time with a species of unwilling admiration. The fellow was
no coward at least.
He went on steadily. "It was impossible not to hear what the beast said.
He mentioned names also,--your name and the name of the man whom he
alleged you had killed. Lady Evesham heard it. We both heard it."
He paused. Piers had not moved. His face was like a mask in its
composure, but it was a dreadful mask. Tudor had a feeling that it hid
"What was the man's name?" Piers asked, after a moment.
Piers nodded, as one verifying a piece of information. His next question
came with hauteur and studied indifference.
"Lady Evesham heard, you say? Did she pay any attention to these maudlin
"She fainted," said Tudor shortly.
"Oh? And what happened then?"
It was maddeningly cold-blooded; but it was the mask that spoke. Tudor
"I brought her round," he made answer. "No one else was present. She
begged me to let her go home alone. I did so."
"She also asked you to make full explanation to me?" came in measured
tones from Piers.
"She did." Tudor paused a moment as though he found some difficulty in
forming his next words. But he went on almost at once with resolution.
"She said to me at parting: 'I must be alone. I must think. Beg Piers to
understand! Beg him not to see me again to-day! I will talk to him in
the morning!' I promised to deliver the message exactly as she gave it."
"Thank you," said Piers. He turned with the words, moved away to the
window, and looked forth at the now deserted marquee.
Tudor stood mutely waiting; he felt as if it had been laid upon
him to wait.
Suddenly Piers jerked his head round and glanced at the chair in which
Avery had been sitting, then abruptly turned himself and looked at Tudor.
"What were you--and my wife--doing in here?" he said.
Tudor frowned impatiently at the question. "Oh, don't be a fool,
Evesham!" he said with vehemence.
"I'm not a fool." Piers left the window with the gait of a prowling
animal; he stood again face to face with the other man. But though his
features were still mask-like, his eyes shone through the mask; and they
were eyes of leaping flame. "Oh, I am no fool, I assure you," he said,
and in his voice there sounded a deep vibration that was almost like a
snarl. "I know you too well by this time to be hoodwinked. You would come
between us if you could."
"You lie!" said Tudor.
He did not raise his voice or speak in haste. His vehemence had departed.
He simply made the statement as if it had been a wholly impersonal one.
Piers' hands clenched, but they remained at his sides. He looked at Tudor
hard, as if he did not understand him.
After a moment Tudor spoke again. "I am no friend of yours, and I never
shall be. But I am the friend of your wife, and--whether you like it or
not--I shall remain so. For that reason, whatever I do will be in your
interests as well as hers. I have not the smallest intention or desire to
come between you. And if you use your wits you will see that I couldn't
if I tried. Your marriage with her tied my hands."
"What proof have I of that?" said Piers, his voice low and fierce.
Tudor made a slight gesture of disgust. "I am dealing with facts, not
proofs," he said. "You know as well as I do that though you obtained her
love on false pretences, still you obtained it. Whether you will keep it
or not remains to be seen, but she is not the sort of woman to solace
herself with anyone else. If you lose it, it will be because you failed
to guard your own property--not because anyone deprived you of it."
"Damnation!" exclaimed Piers furiously, and with the word the storm of
his anger broke like a fiery torrent, sweeping all before it, "are you
taking me to task, you--you--for this accursed trick of Fate? How was I
to know that this infernal little sot would turn up here? Why, I don't so
much as know the fellow's name! I had forgotten his very existence! Where
the devil is he? Let me find him, and break every bone in his body!" He
whirled round to the door, but in a moment was back again. "Tudor! Damn
you! Where's the key?"
"In my pocket," said Tudor quietly. "And, Piers, before you go--since I
am your ally in spite of myself--let me warn you to keep your head!
There's no sense in murdering another man. It won't improve your case.
There's no sense in running amok. Sit down for Heaven's sake, and review
the situation quietly!"
The calm words took effect. Piers stopped, arrested in spite of himself
by the other's steady insistence. He looked at Tudor with half-sullen
respect dawning behind his ungoverned fury.
"Listen!" Tudor said. "The fellow has gone. I packed him off myself. It
was a piece of sheer ill-luck that brought him home in time for this
show. He starts for America _en route_ for Australia in less than a week,
and it is utterly unlikely that either you or any of your friends will
see or hear anything more of him. Guyes himself is by no means keen on
him and only had him as best man because a friend failed him at the last
minute. If you behave rationally the whole affair will probably pass off
of itself. Everyone knows the fellow was intoxicated, and no one is
likely to pay any lasting attention to what he said. Treat the matter as
unworthy of notice, and you will very possibly hear no more of it! But if
you kick up a row, you will simply court disaster. I am an older man than
you are. Take my word for it,--I know what I am talking about."
Piers listened in silence. The heat had gone from his face, but his eyes
still gleamed with a restless fire.
Tudor watched him keenly. Not by his own choice would he have ranged
himself on Piers' side, but circumstances having placed him there he was
oddly anxious to effect his deliverance. He was fighting heavy odds, and
he knew it, but there was a fighting strain in his nature also. He
relished the odds.
"For Heaven's sake don't be a fool and give the whole show away!" he
urged. "You have no enemies. No one will want to take the matter up if
you will only let it lie. No one wants to believe evil of you. Possibly
no one will."
"Except yourself!" said Piers, with a smile that showed his set teeth.
"Quite so." Tudor also smiled, a grim brief smile. "But then I happen to
know you better than most. You gave yourself away so far as I am
concerned that night in the winter. I knew then that once upon a time in
your career--you had--killed a man."
"And you didn't tell Avery!" The words shot out unexpectedly. Piers was
"I'm not a woman!" said Tudor contemptuously. "That affair was
between us two."
"Great Scott!" said Piers.
"At the same time," Tudor continued sternly, "if I had known what I know
now, I would have told her everything sooner than let her ruin her
happiness by marrying you."
Piers made a sharp gesture that passed unexplained. He had made no
attempt at self-defence; he made none then. Perhaps his pride kicked at
the idea; perhaps in the face of Tudor's shrewd grip of the situation it
did not seem worth while.
He held out his hand. "May I have that key?"
Tudor gave it to him. He was still watching narrowly, but Piers' face
told him nothing. The mask had been replaced, and the man behind it was
securely hidden from scrutiny. Tudor would have given much to have rent
it aside, and have read the thoughts and intentions it covered. But he
knew that he was powerless. He knew that he was deliberately barred out.
Piers went to the door and fitted the key into the lock. His actions were
all grimly deliberate. The volcanic fires which Tudor had seen raging but
a few seconds before had sunk very far below the surface. Whatever was
happening in the torture-chamber where his soul agonized, it was certain
that no human being--save possibly one--would ever witness it. What he
suffered he would suffer in proud aloofness and silence. It was only the
effect of that suffering that could ever be made apparent, when the soul
came forth again, blackened and shrivelled from the furnace.
Yet ere he left Tudor, some impulse moved him to look back.
He met Tudor's gaze with brooding eyes which nevertheless held a faint
warmth like the dim reflection of a light below the horizon.
"I am obliged to you," he said, and was gone before Tudor could
THE GATES OF HELL
Up and down, up and down, in a fever of restlessness, Avery walked. She
felt trapped. The gloomy, tapestried room seemed to close her in like a
prison. The whole world seemed to have turned into a monstrous place of
punishment. One thing only was needed to complete the anguish of her
spirit, and that was the presence of her husband.
She could not picture the meeting with him. Body and soul recoiled from
the thought. It would not be till the morning; that was her sole comfort.
By the morning this fiery suffering would have somewhat abated. She would
be calmer, more able to face him and hear his defence--if defence there
could be. Somehow she never questioned the truth of the story. She knew
that Tudor had not questioned it either. She knew moreover that had it
been untrue, Piers would have been with her long ago in vehement
indignation and wrath.
No, the thing was true. He was the man who had wrecked her life at its
beginning, and now--now he had wrecked it again. He was the man whose
hands were stained with her husband's blood. He had done the deed in one
of those wild tempests of anger with which she was so familiar. He had
done the deed, possibly unintentionally, but certainly with murderous
impulse; and then deliberately cynically, he had covered it up, and gone
his arrogant way.
He had met her, he had desired her; with a few, quickly-stifled qualms
he had won her, trusting to luck that his sin would never find him out.
And so he had made her his own, his property, his prisoner, the slave of
his pleasure. She was bound for ever to her husband's murderer.
Again body and soul shrank in quivering horror from the thought, and a
wild revolt awoke within her. She could not bear it. She must break free.
The bare memory of his passion sickened her. For the first time in her
life hatred, fiery, intense, kindled within her. The thought of his touch
filled her with a loathing unutterable. He had become horrible to her, a
thing unclean, abominable, whose very proximity was pollution. She felt
as if the blood on his hands had stained her also--the blood of the man
she had once loved. For a space she became like a woman demented. The
thing was too abhorrent to be endured.
And then by slow degrees her brain began to clear again. She grew a
little calmer. Monstrous though he was, he was still human. He was, in a
fashion, at her mercy. He had sinned, but it was in her hands that his
She was stronger than he. She had always known it. But she must keep her
strength. She must not waste it in futile resentment. She would need it
all. He had entered her kingdom by subtlety; but she would drive him
forth in the strength of a righteous indignation. To suffer him to remain
was unthinkable. It would be to share his guilt.
Her thoughts tried to wander into the future, but she called them
resolutely back. The future would provide for itself. Her immediate duty
was all she now needed to face. When that dreaded interview was over,
when she had shut him out finally and completely then it would be time
enough to consider that. Probably some arrangement would have to be made
by which they would meet occasionally, but as husband and wife--never,
It was growing late. The dinner-gong had sounded, but she would not go
down. She rang for Victor, and told him to bring her something on a tray.
It did not matter what.
He looked at her with keen little eyes of solicitude, and swiftly obeyed
her desire. He then asked her if the dinner were to be kept for _Monsieur
Pierre_, who had not yet returned. She did not know what to say, but lest
he should wonder at her ignorance of Piers' doings, she answered in the
negative, and Victor withdrew.
Then, again lest comment should be made, she forced herself to eat and
drink, though the food nauseated her. A feeling of sick suspense was
growing upon her, a strange, foreboding fear that hung leaden about her
heart. What was Piers doing all this time? What effect had that message,
delivered by Tudor, had upon him? Why had he not returned?
Time passed. The evening waned and became night. A full moon rose red and
wonderful out of a bank of inky cloud, lighting the darkness with an
oddly tropical effect. The night was tropical, breathless, terribly
still. It seemed as if a storm must be upon its way.
She began to undress at last there in the moonlight. The heat was too
intense to veil the windows, and she would not light the candles lest
bats or moths should be attracted. At another time the eerieness of the
shadowy room would have played upon her nerves, but to-night she was not
even aware of it. The shadows within were too dark, too sinister.
A great weariness had come upon her. She ached for rest. Her body felt
leaden, and her brain like a burnt-out furnace. The very capacity for
thought seemed to have left her. Only the horror of the day loomed
gigantic whichever way she turned, blotting out all beside. Prayer was an
impossibility to her. She felt lost in a wilderness of doubt, forsaken
and wandering, and terribly alone.
If she could rest, if she could sleep, she thought that strength might
return to her--the strength to grapple with and overthrow the evil that
had entered into and tainted her whole life. But till sleep should come
to her, she was impotent. She was heavy and numb with fatigue.
She lay down at length with a vague sense of physical relief beneath her
crushing weight of trouble. How unutterably weary she was! How tired--how
tired of life!
Time passed. The moon rose higher, filling the room with its weird cold
light. Avery lay asleep.
Exhaustion had done for her what no effort of will could have
accomplished, closing her eyes, drawing a soft veil of oblivion across
But it was only a temporary lull. The senses were too alert, too fevered,
for true repose. That blessed interval of unconsciousness was all too
short. After a brief, brief respite she began to dream.
And in her dream she saw a man being tortured in a burning, fiery
furnace, imprisoned behind bars of iron, writhing, wrestling, agonizing,
to be free. She saw the flames leaping all around him, and in the flames
were demon-faces that laughed and gibed and jested. She saw his hands all
blistered in the heat, reaching out to her, straining through those cruel
bars, beseeching her vainly for deliverance. And presently, gazing with a
sick horror that compelled, she saw his face....
With a gasping cry she awoke, started up with every nerve stretched and
quivering, her heart pounding as if it would choke her. It was a
dream--it was a dream! She whispered it to herself over and over again,
striving to control those awful palpitations. Surely it was all a dream!
Stay! What was that? A sound in the room beyond--a movement--a step! She
sprang up, obeying blind impulse, sped softly to the intervening door,
with hands that trembled shot the bolt. Then, like a hunted creature,
almost distracted by the panic of her dream, she slipped back to the
gloomy four-poster, and cowered down again.
Lying there, crouched and quivering, she began to count those hammering
heart-beats, and wondered wildly if the man on the other side of the door
could hear them also. She was sure that he had been there, sure that he
had been on the point of entering when she had shot the bolt.
He would not enter now, she whispered to her quaking heart. She would not
have to meet him before the morning. And by then she would be strong. It
was only her weariness that made her so weak to-night!
She grew calmer. She began to chide herself for her senseless panic--she
the bearer of other people's burdens, who prided herself upon her steady
nerve and calmness of purpose. She had never been hysterical in her life
before. Surely she could muster self-control now, when her need of it was
so urgent, so imperative.
And then, just as a certain measure of composure had returned to her,
something happened. Someone passed down the passage outside her room and
paused at the outer door. Her heart stood still, but again desperately
she steadied herself. That door was bolted also.
Yes, it was bolted, but there was a hand upon it,--a hand that felt
softly for the lock, found the key outside, softly turned it.
Then indeed panic came upon Avery. Lying there, tense and listening, she
heard the quiet step return along the passage and enter her husband's
room, heard that door also close and lock, and knew herself a prisoner.
Every pulse leapt, every nerve shrank. She started up, wide-eyed,
"I will talk to you in the morning, Piers," she said, steadying her voice
with difficulty. "Not now! Not now!"
"Open this door!" he said.
There was dear command in his voice, and with it the old magnetic force
reached her, quick, insistent, vital. She threw a wild look round, but
only the dazzling moonlight met her eyes. There was no escape for
She turned her face to the door behind which he stood. "Piers, please,
not to-night!" she said beseechingly.
"Open the door!" he repeated inexorably.
Again that force reached her. It was like an electric current suddenly
injected into her veins. Her whole body quivered in response. Almost
before she knew it, she had started to obey.
And then horror seized her--a dread unutterable. She stopped.
"Piers, will you promise--"
"I promise nothing," he said, in the same clear, imperious voice, "except
to force this door unless you open it within five seconds."
She stood in the moonlight, trembling, unnerved. He did not sound like a
man bereft of reason. And yet--and yet--something in his voice appalled
her. Her strength was utterly gone. She was just a weak, terrified woman.
"Avery," his voice came to her again, short and stern, "I don't wish to
threaten you; but it will be better for us both if I don't have to force
She forced herself to speak though her tongue felt stiff and dry. "I
can't let you in now," she said. "I will hear what you have to say in
He made no reply. There was an instant of dead silence. Then there came a
sudden, hideous shock against the panel of the door. The socket of the
bolt gave with the strain, but did not wholly yield. Avery shrank back
trembling against the shadowy four-poster. She felt as if a raging animal
were trying to force an entrance.
Again came that awful shock. The wood splintered and rent, socket and
bolt were torn free; the door burst inwards.
There came a brief, fiendish laugh, and Piers broke in upon her.
He recovered himself with a sharp effort, and stood breathing heavily,
looking at her. The moonlight was full upon him, showing him deadly pale,
and in his eyes there shone the red glare of hell.
"Did you really think--a locked door--would keep me out?" he said,
speaking with an odd jerkiness, with lips that twitched.
She drew herself together with an instinctive effort at self-control. "I
thought you would respect my wish," she said, her voice very low.
"Did you?" said Piers. "Then why did you lock the door?"
He swung it closed behind him and came to her.
"Listen to me, Avery!" he said. "You are not your own any longer--to give
or to take away. You are mine."
She faced him with all the strength she could muster, but she could not
meet those awful eyes that mocked her, that devoured her.
"Piers," she said, almost under her breath, "remember,--what happens
to-night we shall neither of us ever forget. Don't make me hate you!"
"Haven't you begun to hate me then?" he demanded. "Would you have locked
that door against me if you hadn't?"
She heard the rising passion in his voice, and her heart fainted within
her. Yet still desperately she strove for strength.
"I don't want to do anything violent or unconsidered. I must have time to
think. Piers, you have me at your mercy. Be merciful!"
He made a sharp movement. "Are you going to be merciful to me?" he said.
She hesitated. There was something brutal in the question, yet it
pierced her. She knew that he had divined all that had been passing
within her during that evening of misery. She did not answer him, for she
"Listen!" he said again. "What has happened has happened by sheer
ill-luck. The past is nothing to you. You have said so yourself. The
future shall not be sacrificed to it. If you will give me your solemn
promise to put this thing behind you, to behave as if it had never been,
I will respect your wishes, I will do my utmost to help you to forget.
But if you refuse--" He stopped.
"If I refuse--" she repeated faintly.
He made again that curious gesture that was almost one of helplessness.
"Don't ask for mercy!" he said.
In the silence that followed there came to her the certain knowledge that
he was suffering, that he was in an inferno of torment that goaded him
into fierce savagery against her, like a mad animal that will wreak its
madness first upon the being most beloved. It was out of his torment that
he did this thing. She saw him again agonizing in the flames.
If he had had patience then, that divine pity of hers might have come to
help them both; but he read into her silence the abhorrence which a
little earlier had possessed her soul; and the maddening pain of it drove
him beyond all bounds.
He seized her suddenly and savagely between his hands. "Are you any the
less my wife," he said, speaking between his teeth, "because you have
found out what manner of man I am?"
She resisted him, swiftly, instinctively, her hands against his breast,
pressing him back. "I may be your wife," she said gaspingly. "I am
He laughed a fiendish laugh. Her resistance fired him. He caught her
fiercely to him. He covered her face, her throat, her arms, her hands,
with kisses that burned her through and through, seeming to sear her
He crushed her in a grip that bruised her, that suffocated her. He
pressed his lips, hot with passion, to hers.
"And now!" he said. "And now!"
She lay in his arms spent and quivering and helpless. The cruel triumph
of his voice silenced all appeal.
He went on deeply, speaking with his lips so close that she felt his
breath scorch through her like the breath of a fiery furnace.
"You are bound to me for better--for worse, and nothing will ever set
you free. Do you understand? If you will not be my wife, you shall
Quiveringly, through lips that would scarcely move she spoke at last. "I
shall never forgive you."
"I shall never ask your forgiveness," he said.
So the gates of hell closed upon Avery also. She went down into the
unknown depths. And in an agony of shame she learned the bitterest lesson
of her life.
A FRIEND IN NEED
"Why, Avery dear, is it you? Come in!" Mrs. Lorimer looked up with a
smile of eager welcome on her little pinched face and went forward almost
at a run to greet her.
The brown holland smock upon which she had been at work fell to the
ground. It was Avery who, after a close embrace, stooped to pick it up.
"Who is this for? Baby Phil? You must let me lend a hand," she said.
"Ah, my dear, I do miss you," said Mrs. Lorimer wistfully. "The village
girl who comes in to help is no good at all at needlework, and you know
how busy Nurse always is. Jeanie does her best, and is a great help in
many ways. But she is but a child. However," she caught herself up, "I
mustn't start grumbling the moment you enter the house. Tell me about
yourself, dear! You are looking very pale. Does the heat try you?"
"A little," Avery admitted.
She was spreading out the small garment on her knee, looking at it
critically, with eyes downcast. She certainly was pale that morning. The
only colour in her face seemed concentrated in her lips.
Mrs. Lorimer looked at her uneasily. There was something not quite normal
about her, she felt. She had never seen Avery look so statuesque. She
missed the quick sweetness of her smile, the brightness and animation of
"It is very dear of you to come and see me," she said gently, after a
moment. "Did you walk all the way? I hope it hasn't been too much for
"No," Avery said. "It did me good."
She was on the verge of saying something further, but the words did not
She continued to smooth out the little smock with minute care, while Mrs.
Lorimer watched her anxiously.
"Is all well, dear?" she ventured at last.
Avery raised her brows slightly, but her eyes remained downcast. "I went
to the wedding yesterday," she said, after a momentary pause.
"Oh, did you, dear? Stephen went, but I stayed at home. Did you see him?"
"Only from a distance," said Avery.
"It was a very magnificent affair, he tells me." Mrs. Lorimer was
becoming a little nervous. She had begun to be conscious of something
tragic in the atmosphere. "And did you enjoy it, dear? Or was the heat
"It was hot," Avery said.
Again she seemed to be about to say something more, and again she failed
to do so. Her lips closed.
Mrs. Lorimer remained silent also for several seconds. Then softly she
rose, went to Avery, put her arms about her.
"My darling!" she said fondly.
That was all. No further questioning, no anxious probing, simply her love
poured out in fullest measure upon the altar of friendship! And it moved
Avery instantly and overwhelmingly, shattering her reserve, sweeping away
the stony ramparts of her pride.
She turned and hid her face upon Mrs. Lorimer's breast in an anguish of
It lasted for several minutes, that paroxysm of weeping. It was the pent
misery of hours finding vent at last. All she had suffered, all the
humiliation, the bitterness of desecrated love, the utter despair of her
soul, was in those tears. They shook her being to the depths. They seemed
to tear her heart asunder.
At last in broken whispers she began to speak. Still with those scalding
tears falling between her words, she imparted the whole miserable story;
she bared her fallen pride. There was no other person in the world to
whom she could thus have revealed that inner agony, that lacerating
shame. But Mrs. Lorimer, the despised, the downtrodden, was as an angel
from heaven that day. A new strength was hers, born of her friend's utter
need. She held her up, she sustained, her, through that the darkest hour
of her life, with a courage and a steadfastness of which no one had ever
deemed her capable.
When Avery whispered at length, "I can never, never go back to him!" her
answer was prompt.
"My dear, you must. It will be hard, God knows. But He will give you
strength. Oh Avery, don't act for yourself, dear! Let Him show the way!"
"If He will!" sobbed Avery, with her burning face hidden against her
"He will, dearest, He will," Mrs. Lorimer asserted with conviction. "He
is much nearer to us in trouble than most of us ever realize. Only let
Him take the helm; He will steer you through the storm."
"I feel too wicked," whispered Avery, "too--overwhelmed with evil."
"My dear, feelings are nothing," said the Vicar's wife, with a decision
that would have shocked the Reverend Stephen unspeakably. "We can't help
our feelings, but we can put ourselves in the way of receiving help. Oh,
don't you think He often lets us miss our footing just because He wants
us to lean on Him?"
"I don't know," Avery said hopelessly. "But I think it will kill me to
go back. Even if--if I pretended to forgive him--I couldn't possibly
endure to--to go on as if nothing had happened. Eric--my first
husband--will always stand between us now."
"Dear, are you sure that what you heard was not an exaggeration?" Mrs.
Lorimer asked gently.
"Oh yes, I am sure." There was utter hopelessness in Avery's reply. "I
have always known that there was something in his past, some cloud of
which he would never speak openly. But I never dreamed--never guessed--"
She broke off with a sharp shudder. "Besides, he has offered no
explanation, no excuse, no denial. He lets me believe the worst, and he
doesn't care. He is utterly callous--utterly brutal. That is how I know
that the worst is true." She rose abruptly, as if inaction had become
torture to her. "Oh, I must leave him!" she cried out wildly. "I am
nothing to him. My feelings are less than nothing. He doesn't really want
me. Any woman could fill my place with him equally well!"
"Hush!" Mrs. Lorimer said. She went to Avery and held her tightly, as if
she would herself do battle with the evil within. "You are not to say
that, Avery. You are not to think it. It is utterly untrue. Suffering may
have goaded him into brutality, but he is not wicked at heart. And, my
dear, he is in your hands now--to make or to mar. He worships you
blindly, and if his worship has become an unholy thing, it is because the
thought of losing you has driven him nearly distracted. You can win it
back--if you will."
"I don't want to win it back!" Avery said. She suffered the arms about
her, but she stood rigid in their embrace, unyielding, unresponding. "His
love is horrible to me! I abhor it!"
"Avery! Your husband!"
"He is a murderer!" Avery cried passionately. "He would murder me too
if--if he could bring himself to do without me! He hates me in his soul."
"Avery, hush! You are distraught. You don't know what you are saying."
Mrs. Lorimer drew her back to her chair with tender insistence. "Sit
down, darling! And try--do try--to be quiet for a little! You are worn
out. I don't think you can have had any sleep."
"Sleep!" Avery almost laughed, and then again those burning, blinding
tears rushed to her eyes. "Oh, you don't know what I've been through!"
she sobbed. "You don't know! You don't know!"
"God knows, darling," whispered Mrs. Lorimer.
Minutes later, when Avery was lying back exhausted, no longer sobbing,
only dumbly weeping, there came a gentle knock at the door.
Mrs. Lorimer went to it quickly, and met her eldest daughter upon the
point of entering. Jeanie looked up at her enquiringly.
"Is anyone here?"
"Yes, dear. Avery is here. She isn't very well this morning. Run and
fetch her a glass of milk!"
Jeanie hastened away. Mrs. Lorimer returned to Avery.
"My darling," she said, "do you know I think I can see a way to help
Avery's eyes were closed. She put out a trembling hand. "You are very
good to me."
"I wonder how often I have had reason to say that to you," said Mrs.
Lorimer softly. "Listen, darling! You must go back. Yes, Avery, you must!
You must! But--you shall take my little Jeanie with you."
Avery's eyes opened. Mrs. Lorimer was looking at her with tears in her
"I know I may trust her to you," she said. "But oh, you will take care
of her! Remember how precious she is--and how fragile!"
"But, my dear--you couldn't spare her!" Avery said.
"Yes, I can,--I will!" Mrs. Lorimer hastily rubbed her eyes and smiled--a
resolute smile. "You may have her, dear. I know she will be happy with
you. And Piers is so fond of her too. She will be a comfort to you--to
you both, please God. She comforts everyone--my little Jeanie. It seems
to be her _role_ in life. Ah, here she comes! You shall tell her, dear.
It will come better from you."
"May I come in?" said Jeanie at the door.
Her mother went to admit her. Avery sat up, and pushed her chair back
against the window-curtain.
Jeanie entered, a glass of milk in one hand and a plate in the other.
"Good morning, dear Avery!" she said, in her gentle, rather tired voice.
"I've brought you a hot cake too--straight out of the oven. It smells
quite good." She came to Avery's side, and stood within the circle of her
arm; but she did not kiss her or look into her piteous, tearstained face.
"I hope you like currants," she said. "Baby Phil calls them flies. Have
you seen Baby Phil lately? He has just cut another tooth. He likes
everybody to look at it."
"I must see it presently," Avery said, with an effort.
She drank the milk, and broke the cake, still holding Jeanie pressed
to her side.
Jeanie, gravely practical, held the plate. "I saw Piers ride by a little
while ago," she remarked. "He was on Pompey. But he was going so fast he
didn't see me. He always rides fast, doesn't he? But I think Pompey likes
it, don't you?"
"I don't know." There was an odd frozen note in Avery's voice. "He has to
go--whether he likes it or not."
"But he is very fond of Piers," said Jeanie. "And so is Caesar." She gave
a little sigh. "Poor Mikey! Do you remember how angry he used to be when
Caesar ran by?"
Avery suppressed a shiver. Vivid as a picture flung on a screen, there
rose in her brain the memory of that winter evening when Piers and Mike
and Caesar had all striven together for the mastery. Again she seemed
to hear those savage, pitiless blows. She might have known! She might
Sharply she wrenched herself back to the present. "Jeanie darling," she
said, "your mother says that you may come and stay at the Abbey for a
little while. Do you--would you--like to come?"
Her voice was unconsciously wistful. Jeanie turned for the first time and
looked at her.
"Oh, Avery!" she said. "Stay with you and Piers?"
Her eyes were shining. She slid a gentle arm round Avery's neck.
"You would like to?" Avery asked, faintly smiling.
"I would love to," said Jeanie earnestly. She looked across at her
mother. "Shall you be able to manage, dear?" she asked in her
Mrs. Lorimer stifled a sigh. "Oh yes, Jeanie dear. I shall do all right.
Gracie will help with the little ones, you know."
Jeanie smiled at that. "I think I will go and talk to Gracie," she said,
quietly releasing herself from Avery's arm.
But at the door she paused. "I hope Father won't mind," she said. "But he
did say I wasn't to have any more treats till my Easter holiday-task was
"I will make that all right, dear," said Mrs. Lorimer.
"Thank you," said Jeanie. "Of course I can take it with me. I expect I
shall get more time for learning it at the Abbey. You might tell him
that, don't you think?"
"I will tell him, darling," said Mrs. Lorimer.
And Jeanie smiled and went her way.
THE GREAT GULF
"Hullo!" said Piers. "Has the Queen of all good fairies come to call?"
He strode across the garden with that high, arrogant air of his as of one
who challenges the world, and threw himself into the vacant chair by the
tea-table at which his wife sat.
The blaze of colour that overspread her pale face at his coming faded
as rapidly as it rose. She glanced at him momentarily, under
"Jeanie has come to stay," she said, her voice very low.
His arm was already round Jeanie who had risen to meet him. He pulled her
down upon his knee.
"That is very gracious of her," he said. "Good Heavens, child! You are as
light as a feather! Why don't you eat more?"
"I am never hungry," explained Jeanie. She kissed him and then drew
herself gently from him, sitting down by his side with innate dignity.
"Have you been riding all day?" she asked. "Isn't Pompey tired?"
"Caesar and Pompey are both dead beat," said Piers. "And I--" he looked
deliberately at Avery, "--am as fresh as when I started."
Again, as it were in response to that look, her eyelids fluttered; but
she did not raise them. Again the colour started and died in her cheeks.
"Have you had anything to eat?" she asked.
"Nothing," said Piers.
He took the cup she offered him, and drained it. There was a fitful gleam
in his dark eyes as of a red, smouldering fire.
But Jeanie's soft voice intervening dispelled it. "How very hungry you
must be!" she said in a motherly tone. "Will bread and butter and cake be
enough for you?"
"Quite enough," said Piers. "Like you, Jeanie, I am not hungry." He
handed back his cup to be filled again. "But I have a lively
thirst," he said.
"It has been so hot to-day," observed Avery.
"It is never too hot for me," he rejoined. "Hullo! Who's that?"
He was staring towards the house under frowning brows. A figure had just
emerged upon the terrace.
"Dr. Tudor!" said Jeanie.
Again Piers' eyes turned upon his wife. He looked at her with a
sombre scrutiny. After a moment she lifted her own and resolutely
returned the look.
"Won't you go and meet him?" she said.
He rose abruptly, and strode away.
Avery's eyes followed him, watching narrowly as the two men met. Lennox
Tudor, she saw, offered his hand, and after the briefest pause, Piers
took it. They came back slowly side by side.
Again, unobtrusively, Jeanie rose. Tudor caught sight of her almost
before he saw Avery.
"Hullo!" he said. "What are you doing here?"
Jeanie explained with her customary old-fashioned air of responsibility:
"I have come to take care of Avery, as she isn't very well."
Tudor's eyes passed instantly and very swiftly to Avery's face. He bent
slightly over the hand she gave him.
"A good idea!" he said brusquely. "I hope you will take care of
He joined them at the tea-table, and talked of indifferent things. Piers
talked also with that species of almost fierce gaiety with which Avery
had become so well acquainted of late. She was relieved that there was no
trace of hostility apparent in his manner.
But, notwithstanding this fact, she received a shock of surprise when at
the end of a quarter of an hour he got up with a careless: "Come along,
my queen! We'll see if Pompey has got the supper he deserves."
Even Tudor looked momentarily astonished, but as he watched Piers saunter
away with his arm round Jeanie's thin shoulders his expression changed.
He turned to her abruptly. "How are you feeling to-day?" he enquired. "I
had to come in and ask."
"It was very kind of you," she answered.
He smiled in his rather grim fashion. "I came more for my own
satisfaction than for yours," he observed. "You are better, are you?"
She smiled also. "There is nothing the matter with me, you know."
He gave her a shrewd look through his glasses. "No," he said. "I know."
He said no more at all about her health, nor did he touch upon any other
intimate subject, but she had a very distinct impression that he did not
cease to observe her closely throughout their desultory conversation. She
even tried to divert his attention, but she knew she did not succeed.
He remained with her until they saw Piers and Jeanie returning, and then
somewhat suddenly he took his leave. He joined the two on the lawn, sent
Jeanie back to her, and walked away himself with his host.
What passed between them she did not know and could not even conjecture,
for she did not see Piers again till they met in the hall before dinner.
Jeanie was with her, looking delicately pretty in her white muslin frock,
and it was to her that Piers addressed himself.
"Come here, my queen! I want to look at you."
She went to him readily enough. He took her by the shoulders.
"Are you made of air, I wonder? I should be ashamed of you, Jeanie, if
you belonged to me."
Jeanie looked up into the handsome, olive face with eyes that smiled
love upon him. "I expect it's partly because you are so big and
strong," she said.
"No, it isn't," said Piers. "It's because you're so small and weak. Avery
will have to take you away to the sea again, what? You'd like that."
"And you too!" said Jeanie.
"I? Oh no, you wouldn't want me. Would you, Avery?"
He deliberately addressed her for the first time that day. Over the
child's head his eyes flashed their mocking message. She felt as if he
had struck her across the face.
"Would you?" he repeated, with arrogant insistence.
She tried to turn the question aside. "Well, as we are not going--"
"But you are going," he said. "You and Jeanie. How soon can you start?
Avery looked at him in astonishment. "Are you in earnest?"
"Of course I'm in earnest," he said, with a frown that was oddly boyish.
"You had better go to Stanbury Cliffs. It suited you all right in the
spring. Fix it up with Mrs. Lorimer first thing in the morning, and go
down in the afternoon!"
He spoke impatiently. Opposition or delay always set him chafing.
Jeanie looked at him with wonder in her eyes. "But you, Piers!" she
said. "What will you do?"
"I? Oh, I shall be busy," he said. "I've got a lot on hand just now.
Besides," again the gibing note was in his voice, "you'll get along much
better without me. Avery says so."
"She didn't!" exclaimed Jeanie, with a sudden rare touch of indignation.
"All right. She didn't," laughed Piers. "My mistake!" He flicked the
child's cheek teasingly, and then abruptly stooped and kissed it. "Don't
be angry, Queen of the fairies! It isn't worth it."
She slipped her arm round his neck on the instant. "I'm not, dear Piers.
I'm not angry. But we shouldn't want to go away and leave you alone. We
He laughed again, carelessly, without effort. "No, but you'd get on all
right without me. You and Avery are such pals. What do you say to it,
Avery? Isn't it a good idea?"
"I think perhaps it is," she said slowly, her voice very low.
He straightened himself, and looked at her, and again that vivid, painful
blush covered her face and neck as though a flame had scorched her. She
did not meet his eyes.
"Very well then. It's settled," he said jauntily. "Now let's go and have
He kept up his light attitude throughout the meal, save that once he
raised his wine-glass mockingly to the woman on the wall. But his mood
was elusive. Avery felt it. It was as if he played a juggling game on the
edge of the pit of destruction, and she watched him with a leaden heart.
She rose from the table earlier than usual, for the atmosphere of the
dining-room oppressed her almost unbearably. It was a night of heavy
"You ought to go to bed, dear," she said to Jeanie.
"Oh, must I?" said Jeanie wistfully. "I never sleep much on these hot
nights. One can't breath so well lying down."
Avery looked at her with quick anxiety, but she had turned to Piers and
was leaning against him with a gentle coaxing air.
"Please, dear Piers, would it tire you to play to us?" she begged.
He looked down at her for a moment as if he would refuse; then very
gently he laid his hand on her head, pressing back the heavy, clustering
hair from her forehead to look into her soft eyes.
"What do you want me to play?" he said.
She made a wide gesture of the hands and let them fall. "Something big,"
she said. "Something to take to bed with us and give us happy dreams."
His lips--those mobile, sensitive lips--curved in a smile that made Avery
avert her eyes with a sudden hot pang. He released Jeanie, and turned
away to the door.
"I'll see what I can do," he said. "You had better go into the
garden--you and Avery."
They went, though Jeanie looked as if she would have preferred to
accompany him to the music-room. It was little cooler on the terrace than
in the house. The heat brooded over all, dense, black, threatening.
"I hope it will rain soon," said Jeanie, drawing her chair close
"There will be a storm when it does," Avery said.
"I like storms, don't you?" said Jeanie.
Avery shook her head. "No, dear."
She was listening in tense expectancy, waiting with a dread that was
almost insupportable for the music that Piers was about to make. They
were close to the open French window of the music-room, but there was no
light within. Piers was evidently sitting there silent in the darkness.
Her pulses were beating violently. Why did he sit so still? Why was
there no sound?
A flash of lightning quivered above the tree-tops and was gone. Jeanie
drew in her breath, saying no word. Avery shrank and closed her eyes. She
could hear her heart beating audibly, like the throbbing of a distant
drum. The suspense was terrible.
There came from far away the growl and mutter of the rising storm. The
leaves of the garden began to tremble. And then, ere that roll of
distant thunder had died away, another sound came through the
darkness--a sound that was almost terrifying in its suddenness, and the
grand piano began to speak.
What music it uttered, Avery knew not. It was such as she had never heard
before. It was unearthly, it was devilish, a fiendish chorus that was
like the laughter of a thousand demons--a pandemonium that shocked her
Just as once he had drawn aside for her the veil that shrouded the Holy
Place, so now he rent open the gates of hell and showed her the horrors
of the prison-house, forcing her to look upon them, forcing her to
She clung to Jeanie's hand in nightmare fear. The anguish of the
revelation was almost unendurable. She felt as if he had caught her
quivering soul and was thrusting it into an inferno from which it could
never rise again. Through and above that awful laughter she seemed to
hear the crackling of the flames, to feel the blistering heat that had
consumed so many, to see the red glare of the furnace gaping wide
She cried out without knowing it, and covered her face. "O God," she
prayed wildly, "save us from this! Save us! Save us!"
The man at the piano could not have heard her cry. Of that she was
certain. But their souls were in more subtle communion than any
established by bodily word or touch. He must have known, have fathomed
her anguish. For quite suddenly, as if a restraining hand had been
laid upon him, he checked that dread torrent of sound. A few bitter
chords, a few stray notes that somehow spoke to her of a spirit
escaped and wandering alone and naked in a desert of indescribable
emptiness, and then silence--a crushing, fearful silence like the
ashes of a burnt-out fire.
"And in hell he lift up his eyes." ... Why did those words flash
through her brain as though a voice had uttered them? She bowed her head
lower, lower, barely conscious of Jeanie's enfolding arms. She was as one
in the presence of a vision, hearing words that were spoken to her alone.
"And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments...."
She waited quivering. Surely there was more to come. She listened for it
even while she shrank in every nerve.
It came at length slowly, heavily, like a death-sentence uttered within
her. "Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which
would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that
would come from thence."
The words were spoken, the vision passed. Avery sat huddled in her chair
as one stricken to the earth, rapt in a trance of dread foreboding from
which Jeanie was powerless to rouse her.
The lightning flashed again, and the thunder crashed above them like the
clanging of brazen gates. From the room behind them came the sound of a
man's laugh, but it was a laugh that chilled her to the soul.
Again there came the sound of the piano,--a tremendous chord, then a
slow-swelling volume of harmony, a muffled burst of music like the coming
of a great procession still far away.
Avery sprang upright as one galvanized into action by an electric force.
"I cannot bear it!" she cried aloud, "I cannot bear it!"
She almost thrust Jeanie from her. "Oh, go, child, go! Tell him--tell
him--" Her voice broke, went into a gasping utterance more painful than
speech, finally dropped into hysterical sobbing.
Jeanie sprang into the dark room with a cry of, "Piers, oh, Piers!"--and
the music stopped, went out utterly as flame extinguished in water.
"What's the matter?" said Piers.
His voice sounded oddly defiant, almost savage. But Jeanie was too
precipitate to notice it.
"Oh, please, will you go to Avery?" she begged breathlessly. "I think she
is frightened at the storm."
Piers left the piano with a single, lithe movement that carried him to
the window in a second. He passed Jeanie and was out on the terrace
almost in one bound.
He discerned Avery on the instant, as she discerned him. A vivid flash of
lightning lit them both, lit the whole scene, turned the night into
sudden, glaring day. Before the thunder crashed above them he had caught
her to him. They stood locked in the darkness while the great
reverberations rolled over their heads, and as he held her he felt the
wild beating of her heart against his own.
She had not resisted him, she did not resist him. She even convulsively
clung to him. But her whole body was tense against his, tense and
quivering like a stretched wire.
As the last of the thunder died, she raised her head and spoke.
"Piers, haven't you tortured me enough?"
He did not speak in answer. Only she heard his breath indrawn sharply as
though he checked some headlong word or impulse.
She stifled a great sob that took her unawares, and even as she did so
she felt his arms slacken. He set her free.
"There is nothing to be afraid of," he said. "Better come indoors before
the rain begins."
They went within, Jeanie pressing close to Avery in tender solicitude.
They turned on the lights, but throughout the frightful storm that
followed, Piers leaned against the window-frame sombrely watching.
Avery sat on a sofa with Jeanie, her throbbing head leaning against the
cushions, her eyes closed.
Nearly half an hour passed thus, then the storm rolled sullenly away; and
at last Piers turned.
As though his look pierced her, Avery's eyes opened. She looked back at
him, white as death, waiting for him to speak.
"Hadn't you better send Jeanie to bed?" he said.
Jeanie rose obediently. "Good-night, dear Avery."
Avery sat up. Her hand was pressed hard upon her heart. "I am coming with
you," she said.
Piers crossed the room to the door. He held it open for them.
Jeanie lifted her face for his kiss. An unaccustomed shyness seemed to
have descended upon her. "Good-night," she whispered.
He bent to her. "Good-night, Jeanie!"
Her arms were round his neck in a moment. "Piers, thank you for your
"Good-night, dear!" said Piers again gently, but with obvious decision.
"Good-night!" said Jeanie at once.
She would have passed out instantly, but Avery paused, detaining her.
Her eyes were raised steadily to her husband's face. "I will say
good-night, too," she said. "I am spending the night with Jeanie. She is
not used to sleeping alone, and--the storm may come back."
She was white to the lips as she said it. She looked as if she
"Oh, but--" began Jeanie, "I don't mind really. I--"
With a brief, imperious gesture Piers silenced her for the second
time. He looked over her head, straight into Avery's eyes for a long,
Then: "So be it!" he said, and with ironical ceremony he bowed her out.
"Hullo, sonny! You!"
Edmund Crowther turned from his littered writing-table, and rose to greet
his visitor with a ready smile of welcome.
"Hullo!" said Piers. "How are you getting on? I was in town and thought
I'd look you up. By Jove, though, you're busy! I'd better not stay."
"Sit down!" said Crowther.
He took him by the shoulders with kindly force and made him sit in his
easy-chair. "I'm never too busy to be pleased to see you, Piers," he
"Very decent of you," said Piers.
He spoke with a short laugh, but his dark eyes roved round restlessly.
There was no pleasure in his look.
The light from Crowther's unshaded lamp flared full upon him. In his
faultless evening dress he looked every inch an aristocrat. That air of
the old-Roman patrician was very strong upon him that night. But there
was something behind it that Crowther was quick to note, something that
reminded him vividly of an evening months before when he had fought hand
to hand with the Evesham devil and had with difficulty prevailed.
He pushed his work to one side and foraged in his cupboard for drinks.
Piers watched him with an odd, half-scoffing smile about his lips. "Do
you never drink when you are by yourself?" he asked.
"Not when I'm working," said Crowther.
"I see! Work is sacred, what?"
Crowther looked at him. The mockery of the tone had been scarcely veiled;
but there was no consciousness of the fact in Crowther's quiet reply.
"Yes; just that, sonny."
Piers laughed again, a bitter, gibing laugh. "I suppose it's more to you
than your own soul--or anyone else's," he said.
Crowther paused in the act of pouring out. "Now what do you mean?" he
His eyes, direct and level, looked full at Piers. They held no anger, no
indignation, only calm enquiry.
Piers faced the look with open mockery. "I mean, my good friend," he
said, "that if I asked you to chuck it all and go round the world with
me--you'd see me damned first."
Crowther's eyes dropped gravely to the job in hand. "Say when!" he said.
Piers made a restless movement. "Oh, that's enough! Strong drink is not
my weakness. Why don't you answer my question?"
"I didn't know you asked one," said Crowther.
He set the tumbler in front of Piers and began to help himself.
Piers watched him for a couple of seconds longer, then leapt impulsively
to his feet. "Oh, I'm going!" he said. "I was a fool to come!"
Crowther set down the decanter and straightened himself. He did not seem
to move quickly, but he was at the door before Piers reached it.
He stood massively before him, blocking the way. "You've behaved
foolishly a good many times in your life, my lad," he said. "But I
shouldn't call you a fool. Why do you want me to go round the world with
you? Tell me that!"
His tone was mild, but there was a certain grimness about him
notwithstanding. He looked at Piers with a faint smile in his eyes that
had in it a quality of resolution that made itself felt. Piers stood
still before him, half-chafing, half-subdued.
"Tell me!" Crowther said again.
"Oh, what's the good?" With a defiance that was oddly boyish Piers flung
the question. "I see I've applied in the wrong quarter. Let me go!"
"I will not," Crowther said. Deliberately he raised a hand and pointed to
the chair from which Piers had just sprung. "Sit down again, sonny, and
Piers swung round with an impatient gesture and went to the window. He
threw it wide, and the distant roar of traffic filled the quiet room like
the breaking of the sea.
After a distinct pause Crowther followed him. They stood together gazing
out over the dim wilderness of many roofs and chimneys to where the crude
glare of an advertisement lit up the night sky.
Piers was absolutely motionless, but there was a species of violence in
his very stillness, as of a trapped animal preparing to make a wild rush
for freedom. His attitude was feverishly tense.
Suddenly and very quietly Crowther's hand came forth and linked itself in
his arm. "What is it, lad?" he said.
Piers made a jerky movement as if to avoid the touch, but the hand closed
slowly and steadily upon him. He turned abruptly and met Crowther's eyes.
"Crowther," he said, "I've behaved like a cur. I--broke that promise I
made to you."
He ground out the words savagely, between clenched teeth. Yet his look
was defiant still. He held himself as a man defying shame.
Crowther's eyes never varied. They looked straight back with a wide
kindliness greater than compassion, wholly devoid of reproach.
"All right, Piers," he said simply.
Piers stared at him for a moment as one in blank amazement, then very
strangely his face altered. The hardness went from it like a mask
suddenly rent away. He made an inarticulate sound and turned from the
A second later he was sunk in Crowther's chair with his head in his
hands, sobbing convulsively, painfully, uncontrollably, in an agony that
tore like a living thing at the very foundations of his being.
A smaller man than Crowther might have been at a loss to deal with such
distress, but Crowther was ready. He had seen men in extremities of
suffering before. He knew how to ease a crushing burden. He sat down on
the arm of the chair and thrust a strong hand over Piers' shoulder,
saying no word.
Minutes passed ere by sheer violence that bitter anguish wore itself out
at last. There came a long, piteous silence, then Piers' hand feeling
blindly upwards. Crowther's grip encompassed it like a band of iron, but
still for a space no word was spoken.
Then haltingly Piers found his voice. "I'm sorry--beastly sorry--to have
made such an ass of myself. You're jolly decent to me, Crowther."
To which Crowther made reply with a tenderness as simple as his own soul.
"You're just a son to me, lad."
"A precious poor specimen!" muttered Piers.
He remained bowed for a while longer, then lifted at length a face of
awful whiteness and leaned back upon Crowther's arm, still fast holding
to his hand.
"You know, you're such an awfully good chap," he said, "that one gets
into the way of taking you for granted. But I won't encroach on your
goodness much longer. You're busy, what?" He smiled a quivering smile,
and glanced momentarily towards the littered table.
"It will keep," said Crowther quietly.
"No, it won't. Life isn't long enough. On my soul, do you know it's like
coming into sanctuary to enter a place like this? I feel as if I'd shut
my own particular devil on the other side of the door. But he'll wait for
me all right. We shan't lose each other on that account."
He uttered a laugh that testified more to the utter weariness of his soul
than its bitterness.
"Where are you staying?" said Crowther.
"At Marchmont's. At least I've got a room there. I haven't any definite
plans at present."
"Unless you go round the world with me," said Crowther.
Piers' eyes travelled upwards sharply. "No, old chap. I didn't mean it. I
wouldn't have you if you'd come. It was only a try-on, that."
"Some try-ons fit," said Crowther gravely. He turned towards the table,
and reached for the drink he had prepared for Piers. "Look here, sonny!
Have a drink!"
Piers drank in silence, Crowther steadily watching.
"You would have to be back by March," he said presently.
"What?" said Piers.
It was like a protest, the involuntary startled outcry of the patient
under the probe. Crowther's hand grasped his more closely. "I'll go with
you on that understanding, Piers," he said. "You'll be wanted then."
Piers groaned. "If it hadn't been for--that," he said, "I'd have ended
the whole business with a bullet before now."
"No, you wouldn't," said Crowther quietly. "You don't know yourself, boy,
when you talk like that. You've given up Parliament for the present?"
"For good," said Piers. He paused, as if bracing himself for a great
effort. "I went to Colonel Rose yesterday and told him I must withdraw.
He had heard the rumours of course, but he advised me to hold on. I told
him--I told him--" Piers stopped and swallowed hard, then forced himself
on,--"I told him there was truth in it, and then--he let me go."
There fell a painful silence, broken by Crowther. "How did this rumour
"Oh, that was at Ina Rose's wedding." Piers' words came more freely now,
as if the obstruction were passed. "A cousin of Guyes', the bridegroom,
was there. He came from Queensland, had been present that night when I
fought and killed Denys, and he recognized me. Then--he got tight and
told everybody who would listen. It was rotten luck, but it had to
happen." He paused momentarily; then: "I wasn't enjoying myself,
Crowther, before it happened," he said.
"I saw that, sonny." Crowther's arm pressed his shoulder in sympathy.
It was characteristic of the man to display understanding rather than
pity. He stood ever on the same level with his friends, however low
that level might be.
Again Piers looked at him as if puzzled by his attitude. "You've done
me a lot of good," he said abruptly. "You've made me see myself as you
don't see me, dear old fellow, and never would. Well, I'm going.
He made as if he would rise, but Crowther restrained him. "No, lad. I'm
not parting with you for to-night. We'll send round for your traps. I'll
put you up."
"What? No, no, you can't! I shall be all right. Don't worry about me!"
Piers began to make impulsive resistance, but Crowther's hold only
"I'm not parting with you to-night," he reiterated firmly. "And look
here, boy! You've come to me for help, and, to the best of my ability,
I'll help you. But first,--are you sure you are justified in leaving
home? Are you sure you are not wanted?"
"Wanted! I!" Piers looked at him from under eye-lids that quivered a
little. "Yes," he said, after a moment, with a deliberation that sounded
tragically final. "I am quite sure of that, Crowther."
Crowther asked no more. He patted Piers' shoulder gently and rose.
"Very well," he said. "I'll take that six months' trip round the world
"But you can't!" protested Piers. "I never seriously thought you could! I
only came to you because--" he halted, and a slow, deep flush mounted to
his forehead--"because you've saved me before," he said. "And I was
so--so horribly near--the edge of the pit this time."
He spoke with an odd boyishness, and Crowther's lips relaxed in a smile
that had in it something of a maternal quality. "So long as I can help
you, you can count on me," he said.
"You're the only man in the world who can help me," Piers said
impulsively. "At least--" he smiled himself--"I couldn't take it from
anyone else. But I'm not taking this from you, Crowther. You've got your
own pet job on hand, and I'm not going to hinder it."
Crowther was setting his writing-table in order. He did not speak for
a few seconds. Then: "I am a man under authority, sonny," he said. "My
own pet job, as you call it, doesn't count if it isn't what's wanted
of me. It has waited twenty-five years; it'll keep--easy--for another
Piers got up. "I'm a selfish brute if I let you," he said, irresolutely.
"You can't help yourself, my son." Crowther turned calm eyes upon him.
"And now just sit down here and write a line home to say what you are
going to do!"
He had cleared a space upon the table; he pulled forward a chair.
"Oh, I can't! I can't!" said Piers quickly.
But Crowther's hand was on his shoulder. He pressed him down. "Do it,
lad! It's got to be done," he said.
And with a docility that sat curiously upon him, Piers submitted. He
leaned his head on his hand, and wrote.
THE FALLING NIGHT
"You ought to rest, you know," said Tudor. "This sort of thing is
downright madness for you."
They were walking together in the February twilight along the long, dark
avenue of chestnuts that led to Rodding Abbey. Avery moved with lagging
feet that she strove vainly to force to briskness.
"I don't think I do too much," she said. "It isn't good for me to be
idle. It makes me--it makes me mope."
The involuntary falter in the words spoke more eloquently than the words
themselves, but she went on after a moment with that same forced
briskness to which she was trying to compel her dragging limbs. "I only
ran down to the Vicarage after lunch because it is Jeanie's birthday. It
is no distance across the Park. It seemed absurd to go in state."
"You are not wise," said Tudor in a tone that silenced all argument.
Avery gave a little sigh and turned from the subject. "I thought Jeanie
looking very fragile. Mrs. Lorimer has promised that she may come to me
again just as soon as I am able to have her."
"Ah! Jeanie is a comfort to you?" said Tudor.
To which she answered with a catch in her breath, "The greatest comfort."
They reached the great grey house and entered. A letter lay on the table
by the door. Avery took it up with a sharp shiver.
"Prom Piers?" asked Tudor abruptly.
She bent her head. "He writes--every week."
"When is he coming home?" He uttered the question with a directness that
sounded almost brutal, but Avery caught the note of anxiety behind it and
She opened the letter in silence, and read it by the waning light of the
open door. The crackling of the fire behind her was the only sound
within. Without, the wind moaned desolately through the bare trees. It
was going to rain.
Slowly Avery raised her head at last and gazed out into the
"Come inside!" said Tudor peremptorily.
His hand closed upon her arm, he almost compelled her. "How painfully
thin you are!" he said, as she yielded. "Are you starving yourself of
food as well as rest?"
Again she did not answer him. Her eyes were fixed, unseeing. They
focused their gaze upon the fire as he led her to it. She sat down in
the chair he placed for her and then very suddenly she began to shiver
as if with an ague.
"Don't!" said Tudor sharply.
He bent over her, his hands upon her shoulders, holding her.
She controlled herself, and leaned back. "Do sit down, doctor! I'm afraid
I'm very rude--very forgetful. Will you ring for tea? Piers is in town.
He writes very kindly, very--very considerately. He is only just back
from Egypt--he and Mr. Crowther. The last letter was from Cairo. Would
you--do you care to see what he says?"
She offered him the letter with the words, and after the faintest
hesitation Tudor took it.
"I have come back to be near you." So without preliminary the letter ran.
"You will not want me, I know, but still--I am here. For Heaven's sake,
take care of yourself, and have anything under the sun that you need.
Your husband, Piers."
It only covered the first page. Tudor turned the sheet frowningly and
replaced it in its envelope.
"He always writes like that," said Avery. "Every week--all through the
winter--just a sentence or two. I haven't written at all to him though
I've tried--till I couldn't try any more."
She spoke with a weariness so utter that it seemed to swamp all feeling.
Tudor turned his frowning regard upon her. His eyes behind their glasses
intently searched her face.
"How does he get news of you?" he asked abruptly.
"Through Mrs. Lorimer. She writes to him regularly, I believe,--either
she or Jeanie. I suppose--presently--"
Avery stopped, her eyes upon the fire, her hands tightly clasped
"Presently?" said Tudor.
She turned her head slightly, without moving her eyes. "Presently there
will have to be some--mutual arrangement made. But I can't see my way
yet. I can't consider the future at all. I feel as if night were falling.
Perhaps--for me--there is no future."
"May I take your pulse?" said Tudor.
She gave him her hand in the same tired fashion. He took it gravely,
feeling her pulse, his eyes upon her face.
"Have you no relations of your own?" he asked her suddenly.
She shook her head. "No one near. My parents were both only children."
"And no friends?" he said.
"Only Mrs. Lorimer. I lost sight of people when I married. And then--"
Avery halted momentarily "after my baby girl died, for a long time I
didn't seem to care for making new friends."
"Ah!" said Tudor, his tone unwontedly gentle. "You will soon have another
child to care for now."
She made a slight gesture as of protest. "Do you know I can't picture
it? I do not feel that it will be so. I believe one of us--or
She spoke calmly, so calmly that even Tudor, with all his experience, was
momentarily shocked. "Avery!" he said sharply. "You are morbid!"
She looked at him then with her tired eyes. "Am I?" she said. "I really
don't feel particularly sad--only worn out. When anyone has been
burnt--badly burnt--it destroys the nerve tissues, doesn't it? They don't
suffer after that has happened. I think that is my case."
"You will suffer," said Tudor.
He spoke brutally; he wanted to rouse her from her lethargy, to pierce
somehow that dreadful calm.
But he failed; she only faintly smiled.
"I can bear bodily suffering," she said, "particularly if it leads to
freedom and peace."
He got up as if it were he who had been pierced. "You won't die!" he said
harshly. "I won't let you die!"
Her eyes went back to the fire, as if attracted thereto irresistibly.
"Most of me died last August," she said in a low voice.
"You are wrong!" He stood over her almost threateningly. "When you hold
your child in your arms you will see how wrong. Tell me, when is your
husband coming back to you?"
That reached her. She looked up at him with a quick hunted look.
"Never!" she said.
He looked back at her mercilessly. "Never is a long time, Lady Evesham.
Do you think he will be kept at arm's length when you are through your
trouble? Do you think--whatever his sins--that he has no claim upon
you? Mind, I don't like him. I never did and I never shall. But you--you
are sworn to him."
He had never spoken so to her before. She flinched as if he had struck
her with a whip. She put her hands over her face, saying no word.
He stood for a few moments stern, implacable, looking down at her. Then
very suddenly his attitude changed. His face softened. He stooped and
touched her shoulder.
"Avery!" His voice was low and vehement; he spoke into her ear. "When you
first kicked him out, I was mean enough to feel glad. But I soon
saw--that he took all that is vital in you with him. Avery,--my
dear,--for God's sake--have him back!"
She did not speak or move, save for a spasmodic shuddering that shook her
He bent lower. "Avery, I say, can't you--for the baby's sake--anyway
She flung out her hands with a cry. "The child is cursed! The child will
die!" There was terrible conviction in the words. She lifted a tortured
face. "Oh, don't you see," she said piteously, "how impossible it is for
me? Don't--don't say any more!"
"I won't," said Tudor.
He took the outflung hands and held them closely, restrainingly,
"I won't," he said again. "Forgive me for saying so much! Poor girl!
His lips quivered a little as he said it, but his hold was full of
sustaining strength. She grew gradually calmer, and finally submitted to
the gentle pressure with which he laid her back in her chair.
"You are always so very good to me," she said presently. "I sometimes
wonder how I ever came to--to--" She stopped herself abruptly.
"To refuse me?" said Tudor quietly. "I always knew why, Lady Evesham. It
was because you loved another man. It has been the case for as long as I
have known you."
He turned from her with the words wholly without emotion and took up his
stand on the hearth-rug.
"Now may I talk to you about your health?" he said professionally.
She leaned forward slowly. "Dr. Tudor, first will you make me a promise?"
He smiled a little. "I don't think so. I never do make promises."
"Just this once!" she pleaded anxiously. "Because it means a great
deal to me."
"Well?" said Tudor.
"It is only--" she paused a moment, breathing quickly--"only that you
will not--whatever the circumstances--let Piers be sent for."
"I can't promise that," said Tudor at once.
She clasped her hands beseechingly. "You must--please--you must!"
He shook his head. "I can't. I will undertake that he shall not come to
you against your will. I can't do more than that."
"Do you suppose you could keep him out?" Avery said, a note of quivering
bitterness in her voice.
"I am quite sure I can," Tudor answered steadily. "Don't trouble
yourself on that head! I swear that, unless you ask for him, he shall
not come to you."
She shivered again and dropped back in her chair. "I shall never do
that--never--never--so long as I am myself!"
"Your wishes--whatever they are--shall be obeyed," Tudor promised
And with that gently but very resolutely he changed the subject.
How many times had he paced up and down the terrace? Piers could not have
said. He had been there for hours, years, half a lifetime,
waiting--waiting eternally for the summons that never came.
Could it have been only that morning that Mrs. Lorimer's urgent telegram
had reached him? Only that morning that he had parted from Crowther for
the first time in six months? It seemed aeons ago. And yet here he was in
the cold grey dusk, still waiting to be called to his wife's side.
The night was fast approaching--a bitter, cheerless night with a driving
wind that seemed to promise snow. It was growing darker every moment.
Only her window shone like a beacon in the gloom. How long would he have
to wait? How long? How long?
He had brought a doctor with him in obedience to Mrs. Lorimer's message,
transmitting Tudor's desire. Tudor was not satisfied. He wanted Maxwell
Wyndham, the great surgeon--a man still comparatively young in years but
high in his profession--a man in whose presence--so it was said--no
patient ever died. That of course was an exaggeration--some hysterical
woman's tribute to his genius. But genius he undoubtedly possessed and
that of a very high order.
If anyone could save her, it would be Maxwell Wyndham. So Piers told
himself each time he turned in his endless pacing and looked at that
lighted window. Tudor believed in him. And--yes, he believed in him also.
There had been something in the great man's attitude, something of
arrogant self-assurance that had inspired him with confidence almost
against his will. He had watched him saunter up the stairs with his hands
thrust into his pockets and an air of limitless leisure pervading his
every movement, and he had been exasperated by the man's deliberation and
subtly comforted at the same time. He was thankful that he had been able
to secure him.
Ah, what was that? A cry in the night! The weird, haunting screech of an
owl! He ridiculed himself for the sudden wild thumping of his heart. But
would they never call him? This suspense was tearing at the very roots of
Away in the distance a dog was barking, fitfully, peevishly--the bark of
a chained animal. Piers stopped in his walk and cursed the man who had
chained him. Then--as though driven by an invisible goad--he pressed on,
walking resolutely with his back turned upon the lighted window, forcing
himself to pace the whole length of the terrace.
He had nearly reached the further end when a sudden fragrance swept
across his path--pure, intoxicating, exquisitely sweet. Violets! The
violets that grew in the great bed under the study-window! The violets
that Sir Beverley's bride had planted fifty years ago!
The thought of his grandfather went through him like a stab through the
heart. He clenched his hands and held his breath while the spasm passed.
Never since the night Victor had summoned Avery to comfort him, had he
felt so sick a longing for the old man's presence. For a few lingering
seconds it was almost more than he could bear. Then he turned about and
faced the chill night-wind and that lighted window, and the anguish of
his vigil drove out all other griefs. How long had he yet to wait? How
long? How long?
There came a low call behind him on the terrace. He wheeled, strangling a
startled exclamation in his throat. A man's figure--a broad, powerful
figure--lounged towards him. He seemed to be wearing carpet slippers, for
he made no sound. It was Maxwell Wyndham, and Piers' heart ceased to
beat. He stood as if turned to stone. All the blood in his body seemed to
be singing in his ears. His head was burning, the rest of him cold--cold
as ice. He would have moved to meet the advancing figure, but he could
not stir. He could only stop and listen to that maddening tarantella
beating out in his fevered brain.
"I say, you know--" the voice came to him out of an immensity of space,
as though uttered from another world--"it's a bit too chilly for this
sort of thing. Why didn't you put on an overcoat?"
A man's hand, strong and purposeful, closed upon his arm and impelled him
towards the house.
Piers went like an automaton, but he could not utter a word. His mouth
felt parched, his tongue powerless.
Avery! Avery! The woman he had wronged--the woman he worshipped so
madly--for whom his whole being mental and physical craved desperately,
yearning, unceasingly,--without whom he lived in a torture that was never
dormant! Avery! Avery! Was she lying dead behind that lighted window? If
so, if so, those six months of torment had been in vain. He would end his
misery swiftly and finally before it turned his brain.
Maxwell Wyndham was guiding him towards the conservatory where a dim
light shone. It was like an altar-flame in the darkness--that place where
first their lips had met. The memory of that night went through him like
a sword-thrust. Oh, Avery! Oh, Avery!
"Now look here," said Maxwell Wyndham, in his steady, emotionless voice;
"you're wanted upstairs, but you can't go unless you are absolutely sure
Wanted! His senses leapt to the word. Instinctively he pulled himself
together, collecting all his strength. He spoke, and found to his
surprise that speech was not difficult.
"She has asked for me?"