Part 9 out of 10
"Yes; but," Wyndham's tone was impressive, "I warn you, she is not
altogether herself. And--she is very desperately ill."
"The child?" questioned Piers.
"The child never breathed." Curt and cold came the answer. "I have had to
concentrate all my energies upon saving the mother's life, and--to be
open with you--I don't think I have succeeded. There is still a chance,
but--" He left the sentence unfinished.
They had reached the conservatory, and, entering, it was Piers who led
the way. His face, as they emerged into the library, was deathly, but he
was absolute master of himself.
"I believe there is a meal in the dining-room," he said. "Will you help
yourself while I go up?"
"No," said Wyndham briefly. "I am coming up with you."
He kept a hand upon Piers' arm all the way up the stairs, deliberately
restraining him, curbing the fevered impetuosity that urged him with a
grim insistence that would not yield an inch to any chafing for freedom.
He gave utterance to no further injunctions, but his manner was eloquent
of the urgent need for self-repression. When Piers entered his wife's
room, that room which he had not entered since the night of Ina's
wedding, his tread was catlike in its caution, and all the eagerness was
gone from his face.
Then only did the doctor's hand fall from him, so that he
She was lying on one side of the great four-poster, straight and
motionless as a recumbent figure on a tomb. Her head was in deep shadow.
He could see her face only in vaguest outline.
Softly he approached, and Mrs. Lorimer, rising silently from a chair
by the bedside, made room for him. He sat down, sinking as it were
into a great abyss of silence, listening tensely, but hearing not so
much as a breath.
The doctor took up his stand at the foot of the bed. In the adjoining
room sat Lennox Tudor, watching ceaselessly, expectantly, it seemed to
Piers. Behind him moved a nurse, noiselessly intent upon polishing
something that flashed like silver every time it caught his eye.
Suddenly out of the silence there came a voice. "If I go down to
hell,--Thou art there also. If I take the wings of the morning--the wings
of the morning--" There came a pause, the difficult pause of
uncertainty--"the wings of the morning--" murmured the voice again.
Piers leaned upon the pillow. "Avery!" he said.
She turned as if some magic moved her. Her hands came out to him,
piteously weak and trembling. "Piers,--my darling!" she said.
He gathered the poor nerveless hands into a tight clasp, kissing them
passionately. He forgot the silent watcher at the foot of the bed, forgot
little Mrs. Lorimer hovering in the shadows, and Tudor waiting with the
nurse behind him. They all slipped into nothingness, and Avery--his
wife--alone remained in a world that was very dark.
Her voice came to him in a weak whisper. "Oh, Piers, I've
been--wanting you so!"
"My own darling!" he whispered back. "I will never leave you again!"
"Oh yes, you will!" she answered drearily. "You always say that, but you
are always gone in the morning. It's only a dream--only a dream!"
He slipped his arms beneath her and drew her to his breast. "It is not a
dream, Avery," he told her very earnestly. "I am here in the flesh. I am
"I know," she said. "It's always so."
The weary conviction of her tone smote cold to his heart. He gathered her
closer still. He pressed his lips to her forehead.
"Avery, can't you feel me?" he said.
Her head sank against his shoulder. "Yes--yes," she said. "But you have
always done that."
"Done what, darling?"
"Imposed your will on mine--made me feel you." Her voice quivered; she
began to cry a little, weakly, like a tired child. "Do you remember--what
you said--about--about--the ticket of leave?" she said. "You leave your
dungeon--my poor Piers. But you have to go back again--when the leave has
expired. And I--I am left alone."
The tears were running down her face. He wiped them tenderly away.
"My dearest, if you want me--if you need me,--I will stay," he said.
"But you can't," she said hopelessly. "Even to-night--even to-night--I
thought you were never coming. And I went at last to look for you--behind
your iron bars. But, oh, Piers, the agony of it! And I couldn't reach you
after all, though I tried so hard--so hard."
"Never mind, my darling!" he whispered. "We are together now."
"But we shan't be when the morning comes," sobbed Avery. "I know it is
all a dream. It's happened so many, many times."
He clasped her closer, hushing her with tender words, vowing he would
never leave her, while the Shadow of Death gathered closer about them,
threatening every instant to come between.
She grew calmer at last, and presently sank into a state of
semi-consciousness lying against his breast.
Time passed. Piers did not know how it went. With his wife clasped in his
arms he sat and waited, waited--for the falling of a deeper night or the
coming of the day--he knew not which. His brain felt like a stopped
watch; it did not seem to be working at all. Even the power to suffer
seemed to have left him. He felt curiously indifferent, strangely
submissive to circumstances,--like a man scourged into the numbness of
exhaustion. He knew at the back of his mind that as soon as his vitality
reasserted itself the agony would return. The respite could not last, but
while it lasted he knew no pain. Like one in a state of coma, he was not
even aware of thought.
It might have been hours later, or possibly only minutes, that
Maxwell Wyndham came round to his side and bent over him, a quiet
hand on his shoulder.
"You had better lay her down," he said. "She won't wake now."
"What?" said Piers sharply.
The words had stabbed him back to understanding in a second. He glared at
the doctor with eyes half-savage, half-frightened.
"No, no!" said Wyndham gently. "I don't mean that. She is asleep. She is
breathing. But she will rest better if you lay her down."
The absolute calmness with which he spoke took effect upon Piers. He
yielded, albeit not very willingly, to the mandate.
They laid her down upon the pillow between them, and then for many
seconds Wyndham stood, closely watching, almost painfully intent. Piers
waited dumbly, afraid to move, afraid to speak.
The doctor turned to him at last. "What about that meal you spoke of?
Shall we go down and get it?"
Piers stared at him. "I am not leaving her," he said in a quick whisper.
Wyndham's hand was on his shoulder again--a steady, compelling hand. "Oh
yes, you are. I want to talk to you," he said. "She is sleeping
naturally, and she won't wake for some time. Come!"
There was nothing peremptory about him, yet he gained his end. Piers
rose. He hung for a moment over the bed, gazing hungrily downwards upon
the shadowy, motionless form, then in silence turned.
Tudor had risen. He met them in the doorway, and between him and the
London doctor a few words passed. Then the latter pushed his hand through
Piers' arm, and drew him away.
They descended the wide oak stairs together and entered the dining-room.
Piers moved like a man dazed. His companion went straight to the table
and poured out a drink, which he immediately held out to Piers, looking
at him with eyes that were green and very shrewd.
"I think we shall save her," he said.
Piers drank in great gulps, and came to himself. "I say, I'm beastly
rude!" he said, with sudden boyishness. "For goodness' sake, help
yourself! Sit down, won't you?"
Maxwell Wyndham seated himself with characteristic deliberation of
movement. He had fiery red hair that shone brazenly in the lamplight.
"I can't eat by myself, Sir Piers," he remarked, after a moment. "And it
isn't particularly good for you to drink without eating either, in your
present frame of mind."
Piers sat down, his attitude one of intense weariness. "You really think
she'll pull through?" he said.
"I think so," Wyndham answered. "But it won't be a walk over. She will be
ill for a long time."
"I'll take her away somewhere," said Piers. "A quiet time at the sea
will soon pick her up."
Maxwell Wyndham said nothing.
Piers glanced at him with quick impatience. "Don't you advise that?"
The green eyes countered his like the turn of a swordblade. "Certainly
quiet is essential," said Wyndham enigmatically.
Piers made a chafing movement. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," very calmly came the answer, "that if you really value your
wife's welfare, you will let someone else take her away."
It was a straight thrust, and it went home. Piers flinched sharply. But
in a moment he had recovered himself. He was on guard. He looked at
Wyndham with haughty enquiry.
"Why do you say that?"
"Because her peace of mind depends upon it." Wyndham's answer came with
brutal directness. "You will find, when this phase of extreme weakness
is past, that your presence is not desired. She may try to hide it from
you. That depends upon the kind of woman she is. But the fact will
remain--does remain--that for some reason best known to yourself, she
shrinks from you. I am not speaking rashly without knowledge. When a
woman is in agony she can't help showing her soul. I saw your wife's
Piers was white to the lips. He sat rigid, no longer looking at the
doctor, but staring beyond him fixedly at a woman's face on the wall that
smiled and softly mocked.
"What did she say to you?" he said, after a moment.
"She said," curtly Wyndham made reply,--"it was at a time when she
could hardly speak at all--'Even if I ask for my husband, don't
"Yet you fetched me!" Piers' eyes came swiftly back to him; they shone
with a fierce glint.
But Wyndham was undismayed. "I fetched you to save her life," he said.
"There was nothing else to be done. She was in delirium, and nothing else
would calm her."
"And she wanted me!" said Piers. "She begged me to stay with her!"
"I know. It was a passing phase. When her brain is normal, she will have
Piers sprang to his feet with sudden violence. "But--damn it--she is my
wife!" he cried out fiercely.
Maxwell Wyndham leaned across the table. "She is your wife--yes," he
said. "But isn't that a reason for considering her to the very utmost?
Have you always done that, I wonder? No, don't answer! I've no right to
ask. Only--you know, doctors are the only men in the world who know just
what women have to put up with, and the knowledge isn't exactly
exhilarating. Give her a month or two to get over this! You won't be
It was kindly spoken, so kindly that the flare of anger died out of Piers
on the instant, and the sweetness dormant in him--that latent sweetness
that had won Avery's heart--came swiftly to the surface.
He threw himself down again, looking into the alert, green eyes with
an oddly rueful smile. "All right, doctor!" he said. "I shan't go to
her if she doesn't want me. But I've got to make sure she doesn't,
haven't I? What?"
There was a wholly unconscious note of pathos in the last word that sent
the doctor's mouth up at one corner in a smile that was more pitying than
humorous. "I should certainly do that," he said. "But I'm afraid you'll
find I've told you the beastly truth."
"For which I am obliged to you," said Piers, with a bow.
THE HAND OF THE SCULPTOR
During the week that followed, no second summons came to Piers from his
wife's room. He hung about the house, aimless, sick at heart, with hope
sinking ever lower within him like a fire dying for lack of
He could neither sleep nor eat, and Victor watched him with piteous
though unspoken solicitude. Victor knew the wild, undisciplined
temperament of the boy he had cherished from his cradle, and he lived in
hourly dread of some sudden passionate outburst of rebellion, some
desperate act that should lead to irremediable disaster. He had not
forgotten that locked drawer in the old master's bureau or the quick
release it contained, and he never left Piers long alone in its vicinity.
But he need not have been afraid. Piers' thoughts never strayed in that
direction. If his six months in Crowther's society had brought him no
other comfort, they had at least infused in him a saner outlook and
steadier balance. Very little had ever passed between them on the subject
of the tragedy that had thrown them together. After the first bitter
outpouring of his soul, Piers had withdrawn himself with so obvious a
desire for privacy that Crowther had never attempted to cross the
boundary thus clearly defined. But his influence had made itself felt
notwithstanding. It would have been impossible to have lived with the man
for so long without imbibing some of that essential greatness of soul
that was his main characteristic, and Piers was ever swift to feel the
effect of atmosphere. He had come to look upon Crowther with a reverence
that in a fashion affected his daily life. That which Crowther regarded
as unworthy, he tossed aside himself without consideration. Crowther had
not despised him at his worst, and he was determined that he would show
himself to be not despicable. He was moreover under a solemn promise to
return to Crowther when he found himself at liberty, and in very
gratitude to the man he meant to keep that promise.
But, albeit he was braced for endurance, the long hours of waiting were
very hard to bear. His sole comfort lay in the fact that Avery was making
gradual progress in the right direction. It was a slow and difficult
recovery, as Maxwell Wyndham had foretold, but it was continuous. Tudor
assured him of this every day with a curt kindliness that had grown on
him of late. It was his own fashion of showing a wholly involuntary
sympathy of which he was secretly half-ashamed, and which he well knew
Piers would have brooked in no other form. It established an odd sort of
truce between them of which each was aware the while he sternly ignored
it. They could never be friends. It was fundamentally impossible, but at
least they had, if only temporarily, ceased to be enemies.
Little Mrs. Lorimer's sympathy was also of a half-ashamed type. She did
not want to be sorry for Piers, but she could not wholly restrain her
pity. The look in his eyes haunted her. Curiously it made her think of
some splendid animal created for liberty, and fretting its heart out in
utter, hopeless misery on a chain.
She longed with all her motherly heart to comfort him, and by the irony
of circumstance it fell to her to deal the final blow to what was left of
his hope. She wondered afterwards how she ever brought herself to the
task, but it was in reality so forced upon her that she could not evade
it. Avery, lying awake during the first hours of a still night, heard her
husband's feet pacing up and down the terrace, and the mischief was done.
She was thrown into painful agitation and wholly lost her sleep in
consequence. When Mrs. Lorimer arrived about noon on the following day,
she found her alarmingly weak, and the nurse in evident perplexity.
"I am sure there is something worrying her," the latter said to Mrs.
Lorimer. "I can't think what it is."
But directly Mrs. Lorimer was alone with Avery, the trouble came out. For
she reached out fevered hands to her, saying, "Why, oh, why did you
persuade me to come back here? I knew he would come if I did!"
Again the emergency impelled Mrs. Lorimer to a display of common-sense
with which few would have credited her.
"Oh, do you mean Piers, dear?" she said. "But surely you are not afraid
of him! He has been here all the time--ever since you were so ill."
"And I begged you not to send!" groaned Avery.
"My dear," said Mrs. Lorimer very gently, "it was his right to be here."
"Then that night--that night--" gasped Avery, "he really did come to
me--that night after the baby was born."
"My darling, you begged for him so piteously," said Mrs. Lorimer
Avery's lip quivered. "That was just what I feared--what I wanted to make
impossible," she said. "When one is suffering, one forgets so."
"But surely it was the cry of your heart, darling," urged Mrs. Lorimer
tremulously. "And do you know--poor lad--he looks so ill, so miserable."
But Avery's face was turned away. "I can't help it," she said. "I
can't--possibly--see him again. I feel as if--as if there were a curse
upon us both, and that is why the baby died. Oh yes, morbid, I know;
perhaps wrong. But--I have been steeped in sin. I must be free for a
time. I can't face him yet. I haven't the strength."
"Dearest, he will never force himself upon you," said Mrs. Lorimer.
Avery's eyes went instinctively to the door that led into the room that
Piers had occupied after his marriage. The broken bolt had been removed,
but not replaced. A great shudder went through her. She covered her face
with her hands.
"Oh, beg him--beg him to go away," she sobbed, "till I am strong enough
to go myself!"
Argument was useless. Mrs. Lorimer abandoned it with the wisdom born of
close friendship. Instead, she clasped Avery tenderly to her and gave
herself to the task of calming her distress.
And when that was somewhat accomplished, she left her to go sadly in
search of Piers.
She found him sitting on the terrace with the morning-paper beside him
and Caesar pressed close to his legs, his great mottled head resting on
his master's knee.
He was not reading. So much Mrs. Lorimer perceived before with a sharp
turn of the head he discovered her. He was on his feet in a moment, and
she saw his boyish smile for an instant, only for an instant, as he came
to meet her. She noted with a pang how gaunt he looked and how deep were
the shadows about his eyes. Then he had reached her, and was holding both
her hands almost before she realized it.
"I say, you're awfully good to come up every day like this," he said. "I
can't think how you make the time. Splendid sun to-day, what? It's like a
day in summer, if you can get out of the wind. Come and bask with me!"
He drew her along the terrace to his sheltered corner, and made her sit
down, spreading his newspaper on the stone seat for her accommodation.
Her heart went out to him as he performed that small chivalrous act. She
could not help it. And suddenly the task before her seemed so monstrous
that she felt she could not fulfil it. The tears rushed to her eyes.
"What's the matter?" said Piers gently. He sat down beside her, and
slipped an encouraging hand through her arm. "Was it something you came
out to say? Don't mind me! You don't, do you?"
His voice was softly persuasive. He leaned towards her, his dark
eyes searching her face. Mrs. Lorimer felt as if she were about to
hurt a child.
She blew her nose, dried her eyes, and took the brown hand very tightly
between her own. "My dear, I'm so sorry for you--so sorry for you
both!" she said.
A curious little glint came and went in the eyes that watched her. Piers'
fingers closed slowly upon hers.
"I've got to clear out, what?" he said.
She nodded mutely; she could not say it.
He was silent awhile; then: "All right," he said. "I'll go this
His voice was dead level, wholly emotionless, but for a few seconds his
grip taxed her endurance to the utmost. Then, abruptly, it relaxed.
He bent his black head and kissed the nervous little hands that were
clasped upon his own.
"Don't you fret now!" he said, with an odd kindness that was to her more
pathetic than any appeal for sympathy. "You've got enough burdens of your
own to bear without shouldering ours. How is Jeanie?"
Mrs. Lorimer choked down a sob. "She isn't a bit well. She has a cold and
such a racking cough. I'm keeping her in bed."
"I'm awfully sorry," said Piers steadily. "Give her my love! And look
here, when Avery is well enough, let them go away together, will you? It
will do them both good."
"It's dear of you to think of it," said Mrs. Lorimer wistfully. "Yes, it
did do Jeanie good in the autumn. But Avery--"
"It will do Avery good too," he said. "She can take that cottage at
Stanbury Cliffs for the whole summer if she likes. Tell her to! And look
here! Will you take her a message from me?"
"A written message?" asked Mrs. Lorimer.
He pulled out a pocket-book. "Six words," he said. He scrawled them, tore
out the leaf and gave it to her, holding it up before her eyes that she
might read it.
"Good-bye till you send for me. Piers."
"That's all," he said. "Thanks awfully. She'll understand that. And
now--I say, you're not going to cry any more, are you?" He shook his head
at her with a laugh in his eyes. "You really mustn't. You're much too
tender-hearted. I say, it was a pity about the baby, what? I thought the
baby might have made a difference. But it'll be all the same presently.
She's wanting me really. I've known that ever since that night--you
know--ever since I held her in my arms."
He spoke with absolute simplicity. She had never liked him better than at
that moment. His boyishness had utterly disarmed her, and not till later
did she realize how completely he had masked his soul therewith.
She parted with him with a full heart, and had a strictly private little
cry on his account ere she returned to Avery. Poor lad! Poor lad! And
when he wasn't smiling, he did look so ill!
The same thought struck Crowther a few hours later as Piers sat with him
in his room, and devoted himself with considerable adroitness to making
his fire burn through as quickly as possible, the while he briefly
informed him that his wife was considered practically out of danger and
had no further use for him for the present.
Crowther's heart sank at the news though he gave no sign of dismay.
"What do you think of doing, sonny?" he asked, after a moment.
"I? Why, what is there for me to do?" Piers glanced round momentarily.
"I wonder what you'd do, Crowther," he said, with a smile that was
Crowther came to his side, and stood there massively, while he filled his
pipe. "Piers," he said, "I presume she knows all there is to know of that
Piers rammed the poker a little deeper into the fire and said nothing.
But Crowther had broken through the barricade of silence at last, and
would not be denied.
"Does she know, Piers?" he insisted. "Did you ever tell her how the
thing came to pass? Does she know that the quarrel was forced upon
you--that you took heavy odds--that you did not of your own free will
avoid the consequences? Does she know that you loved her before you knew
who she was?"
He paused, but Piers remained stubbornly silent, still prodding at the
He bent a little, taking him by the shoulder. "Piers, answer me!"
Again Piers' eyes glanced upwards. His face was hard. "Oh, get away,
Crowther!" he growled. "What's the good?" And then in his winning way
he gripped Crowther's hand hard. "No, I never told her anything," he
said. "And I made it impossible for her to ask. I couldn't urge
extenuating circumstances because there weren't any. Moreover, it
wouldn't have made a ha'porth's difference if I had. So shunt the
subject like a good fellow! She must take me at my worst--at my worst,
do you hear?--or not at all."
"But, my dear lad, you owe it to her," began Crowther gravely.
Piers cut him short with a recklessness that scarcely veiled the pain in
his soul. "No, I don't! I don't owe her anything. She doesn't think any
worse of me than I am. She knows me jolly well,--better than you do, most
worthy padre-elect. If she ever forgives me, it won't be because she
thinks I've been punished enough, but just because she is my mate,--and
she loves me." His voice sank upon the words.
"And you are going to wait for that?" said Crowther.
Piers nodded. He dropped the poker with a careless clatter and stretched
his arms high above his head. "You once said something to me about the
Hand of the Sculptor," he said. "Well, if He wants to do any shaping so
far as I am concerned, now is His time. I am willing to be shaped."
"What do you mean?" asked Crowther.
Piers' eyes were half-closed, and there was a drawn look about the lids
as of a man in pain. "I mean, my good Crowther," he said, "that the mire
and clay have ceased to attract me. My house is empty--swept and
garnished,--but it is not open to devils at present. You want to know my
plans. I haven't any. I am waiting to be taken in hand."
He spoke with a faint smile that moved Crowther to deep compassion. "You
will have to be patient a long while, maybe, sonny," he said.
"I can be patient," said Piers. He shifted his position slightly,
clasping his hands behind his head, so that his face was in shadow. "You
think that is not much like me, Crowther," he said. "But I can wait for a
thing if I feel I shall get it in the end. I have felt that--ever since
the night after I went down there. She was so desperately ill. She wanted
me--just to hold her in my arms." His voice quivered suddenly. He stopped
for a few seconds, then went on in a lower tone. "She wasn't--quite
herself at the time--or she would never have asked for me. But it made a
difference to me all the same. It made me see that possibly--just
possibly--there is a reason for things,--that even misery and iron
may have their uses--that there may be something behind it
He stopped altogether, and pushed his chair further still into shadow.
Crowther was smoking. He did not speak for several seconds, but smoked on
with eyes fixed straight before him as though they scanned a far-distant
horizon. At length: "I rather think the shaping has begun, sonny," he
said. "You don't believe in prayer now?"
"No, I don't," said Piers.
Crowther's eyes came down to him. "Can't you pray without believing?" he
Piers made a restless movement. "What should I pray for?"
Crowther was smiling slightly--the smile of a man who has begun to see,
albeit afar off, the fulfilment of a beloved project.
"Do you know, old chap," he said, "I expect I seem a fool to you; but
it's the fools who confound the wise, isn't it? I believe a thundering
lot in prayer. But I didn't always. I prayed without believing for a long
"That seems to me like offering an insult to God," said Piers.
"I don't think He views it in that light," said Crowther, "any more than
He blames a blind man for feeling his way. The great thing is to do
it--to get started. You're wanting a big thing in life. Well,--ask for
it! Don't be afraid of asking! It's what you're meant to do."
He drew a long whiff from his pipe and puffed it slowly forth.
There fell a deep silence between them. Piers sat in absolute stillness,
gazing downwards into the fire with eyes still half-closed.
Suddenly he jerked back his head. "It's a bit of a farce, what?" he said.
"But I'll do it on your recommendation, I'll give it a six months' trial,
and see what comes of it. That's a fair test anyhow. Something ought to
turn up in another six months."
He got to his feet with a laugh, and stood in front of Crowther with a
species of challenge in his eyes. He looked as if he expected rebuke, and
were prepared to meet it with arrogance.
But Crowther uttered neither reproach nor admonition. He met the look
with the utmost kindliness--the most complete understanding.
"Something will turn up, lad," he said, with steady conviction. "But
not--probably--in the way you expect."
Piers' face showed a momentary surprise. "How on earth do you
know?" he said.
"I do know," Crowther made steadfast reply; but he offered no explanation
for his confidence.
Piers thrust out an impulsive hand. "You may be right and you may not;
but you've been a brick to me, old fellow," he said, a note of deep
feeling in his voice,--"several kinds of a brick, and I'm not likely to
forget it. If you ever get into the Church, you'll be known as the parson
who doesn't preach, and it'll be a reputation to be proud of."
Crowther's answering grip was the grip of a giant. There was a great
tenderness in the far-seeing grey eyes as he made reply. "It would be
rank presumption on my part to preach to you, lad. You are made of
infinitely finer stuff than I."
"Oh, rats!" exclaimed Piers in genuine astonishment.
But the elder man shook his head with a smile. "No; facts, Piers!" he
said. "There are greater possibilities in you than I could ever
"Possibilities for evil then," said Piers, with a very bitter laugh.
Crowther looked him straight in the eyes. "And possibilities for good, my
son," he said. "They grow together, thank God."
THE OPEN HEAVEN
"It's much better than learning by heart," said Jeanie, with her tired
little smile. "Somehow, you know, I can't learn by heart--at least not
long things. Father says it is because my brain is deficient. But Mother
says hers is just the same, so I don't mind so much."
"My dear, it will take you hours to read through all this," said
Avery, surveying with dismay the task which the Vicar had set his
"Yes," said Jeanie. "I am to devote three hours of every day to it. I had
to promise I would." She gave a short sigh. "It's very good for me, you
know," she said.
"Is it?" said Avery. She smoothed back the brown hair lovingly. "You
mustn't overwork, Jeanie darling," she said.
"I can't help it," said Jeanie quietly. "You see, I promised."
That she would keep her promise, whatever the cost, was evidently a
foregone conclusion; and Avery could say nothing against it.
She left the child to work therefore, and wandered down herself to
It was June. A soft breeze came over the sea, salt and pure, with the
life-giving quality of the great spaces. She breathed it deeply,
thankfully, conscious of returning strength.
She and Jeanie had arrived only the week before, and she was sure their
visit was going to do wonders for them both. Her own convalescence had
been a protracted one, but she told herself as she walked along the beach
towards the smiling, evening sea that she was already stronger than her
companion. The old lassitude was evidently very heavy upon Jeanie. The
smallest exertion seemed to tax her energies to the utmost. She had never
shaken off her cough, and it seemed to wear her out.
Avery had spoken to Lennox Tudor about her more than once, but he never
discussed the subject willingly. He was never summoned to the Vicarage
now, and, when they chanced to meet, the Vicar invariably reserved for
him the iciest greeting that courtesy would permit. Tudor had defeated
him once on his own ground, and he was not the man to forget it. So
poor Jeanie's ailments were given none but home treatment to alleviate
them, and it seemed to Avery that her strength had dwindled almost
perceptibly of late.
She pondered the matter as she strolled along the shore, debating with
herself if she would indeed take a step that she had been contemplating
for some time, and, now that Jeanie was in her care, take her up to town
and obtain Maxwell Wyndham's opinion with regard to her. It was a project
she had mentioned to no one, and she hesitated a good deal over putting
it into practice. That Mrs. Lorimer would readily countenance such an act
she well knew, but she was also aware that it would be regarded as a
piece of rank presumption by the child's father which might easily be
punished by the final withdrawal of Jeanie from her care. That was a
contingency which she hardly desired to risk. Jeanie had become so
infinitely precious to her in those days.
Unconsciously her feet had turned towards their old haunt. She found
herself halting by the low square rock on which Piers once had sat and
cursed the sea-birds in bitterness of spirit. Often as she had visited
the spot since, she had never done so without the memory of that spring
morning flashing unbidden through her brain. It went through her now like
a sharp dart of physical pain; the boyish figure, the ardent eyes, the
black hair plastered wet on the wide, patrician brow. Her heart
contracted. She seemed to hear again the eager, wooing words.
He never wrote to her now. She believed he was in town, probably amusing
himself as he had amused himself at Monte Carlo, passing the time in a
round of gaieties, careless flirtations, possibly deeper intrigues.
Crowther had probably kept him straight through the winter, but she did
not believe that Crowther's influence would be lasting. There was a sting
in the very thought of Crowther. She was sure now that he had always
known the bitter secret that Piers had kept from her. It had been the
bond between them. Piers had obviously feared betrayal, but Crowther had
not deemed it his business to betray him. He had suffered the deception
to continue. She recognized that his position had been a difficult one;
but it did not soften her heart towards him. Her heart had grown hard
towards all men of late. She sometimes thought that but for Jeanie it
would have atrophied altogether. There were so few things nowadays that
seemed to touch her. She could not even regret her lost baby. But yet the
memory of Piers sitting on that rock at her feet pierced her oddly;
Piers, the passionate, the adoring, the hot-blooded; Piers the
invincible; Piers the prince!
She turned from the spot with a wrung feeling of heart-break. She
wished--how she wished--that she had died!
In that moment she realized that she was no longer alone. A man's figure,
thick-set and lounging, was sauntering towards her along the sand. He
seemed to move with extreme leisureliness, yet his approach was but a
matter of seconds. His hands were in his pockets, his hat rammed down
over his eyes.
There seemed to her to be something vaguely familiar about him, though
wherein it lay she could not have told. She stood and awaited him with
the certainty that he was coming with the express purpose of joining her.
She knew him; she was sure she knew him, though who he was she had not
the faintest idea.
He reached her, lifted his cap, and the sun glinted on a head of fiery
red hair. "I thought I was not mistaken, Lady Evesham," he said.
She recognized him with an odd leap of the pulses, and in a moment held
out her hand. "Dr. Wyndham!" she said. "How amazing!"
"Why amazing?" said Wyndham. He held her hand for a second while his
green eyes scanned her face. When he dropped it she felt that he had made
a full and exhaustive inspection, and she was strangely disconcerted, as
if in some fashion he had gained an unfair advantage over her.
"Amazing that you should be here," she explained, with a flush of
"Oh, not in the least, I assure you," he said. "I am staying at Brethaven
for a couple of days with my wife's people. It's only ten miles away, you
know. And I bicycled over here on the chance of seeing you."
"But how did you know I was here?" she asked.
"From your husband. I told him I was coming in this direction, and he
suggested that I should come over and look you up." Very casually he made
reply, and he could not have been aware of the flood of colour his words
sent to her face, for he continued in the same cool fashion as he
strolled by her side. "I was afraid you might consider it an unpardonable
liberty, but he assured me you wouldn't. So--" the green eyes smiled upon
her imperturbably--"as I am naturally interested in your welfare, I took
my courage in both hands and, at the risk of being considered
It was unexpected, but it was disarming. Avery found herself smiling
"I am very pleased to see you," she said. "But your coming just at this
time is rather amazing all the same, for I was thinking of you, wishing I
could see you, only a few minutes ago."
"What can I do for you?" said Maxwell Wyndham.
She hesitated a little before the direct question; then as simply as he
had asked she answered, laying the matter before him without reservation.
He listened in his shrewd, comprehending way, asking one or two
questions, but making no comments.
"There need be no difficulty about it," he said, when she ended. "You say
the child is tractable. Keep her in bed to-morrow, and say a medical
friend of yours is coming over to see if he can do anything for her
cough! Then if you'll ask me to lunch--I'll do the rest."
He smiled as he ended, and thrust out his hand.
"I'll be going now. I left my bicycle in the village and hope to find it
still there. Now remember, Lady Evesham, my visit to-morrow is to be of a
strictly unprofessional character. You didn't send for me, so I shall
assume the privilege of coming as a friend. Is that understood?"
He spoke with smiling assurance, and seeing that he meant to gain his
point she yielded it.
Not till he was gone did she come to ponder the errand that had brought
She went back to Jeanie, and found her with aching eyes fixed resolutely
on her book. Yes, she was a little tired, but she would rather go on,
thank you. Oh no, she did not mind staying in bed to-morrow to please
Avery, and she was sure she would like Avery's doctor though she didn't
expect he would manage to stop the cough. She would have to do her task
though all the same; dear Avery mustn't mind. You see, she had promised.
But she would certainly stay in bed if Avery wished.
And then came the tired sigh, and then that racking, cruel cough that
seemed to rend her whole frame. No, she would not finish for another hour
yet. Really she must go on.
The brown head dropped on to the little bony hands, and Jeanie was
immersed once more in her task.
More than once in the night Avery awoke to hear that tearing, breathless
cough in the room next to hers. It was no new thing, but in view of the
coming ordeal it filled her with misgiving.
When she rose herself in the morning she felt weighed down with anxious
Yet, when Maxwell Wyndham arrived in his sauntering, informal fashion at
about noon, she was able to meet him with courage. There was something
electric about his personality that seemed almost unconsciously to impart
strength to the downhearted. He had drawn her back from the very Door of
Death, and her confidence in him was absolute.
They lunched alone together, and talked of many things. More than once,
wholly incidentally, he mentioned her husband. She gathered that he did
not know of their bitter estrangement. He talked of the polo-craze, with
which it seemed Piers was badly bitten, and commented on his splendid
"Yes, he is a wonderful athlete," Avery said.
She wondered if he deemed her unresponsive, but decided that he set her
coldness down to anxiety; for he finished his luncheon without lingering
and declared himself ready for the business in hand.
He became in fact strictly business-like from that moment, and throughout
the examination that followed she had not the faintest notion as to what
was passing in his mind. To Jeanie he was curtly kind, but to herself he
was as utterly uncommunicative as if he had been a total stranger.
The examination was a protracted one, and more painful than Avery had
thought possible. It taxed poor Jeanie's powers of endurance to the
uttermost, and long before it was finished she was weeping from sheer
exhaustion. He was absolutely patient with her, but he insisted upon
carrying the matter through, remaining when it was at last over until she
had somewhat recovered from the ordeal.
To Avery the suspense was well-nigh unbearable; but she dared not show
the impatience that consumed her. She had a feeling that in some fashion
the great doctor was depending upon her self-control, her strength of
mind; and she was determined that he should not find her wanting.
Yet, when she at length preceded him downstairs and into the little
sitting-room she wondered if the hammering of her heart reached him, so
tremendous were its strokes. They seemed to her to be beating out a
death-knell in her soul.
"You will tell me the simple truth, I know," she said, and waited,
straining to catch his words above the clamour.
He answered her instantly with the utmost quietness, the utmost kindness.
"Lady Evesham, your own heart has already told you the truth."
She put out a quick hand, and he took it and held it firmly,
sustainingly, while he went on.
"There is nothing whatever to be done. Give her rest, that's all;
absolute rest. She looks as if she has been worked beyond her strength.
Is that so?"
Avery nodded mutely.
"It must stop," he said. "She is in a very precarious state, and any
exertion, mental or physical, is bound to hasten the end--which cannot,
in any case, be very far off."
He released Avery's hand and walked to the window, where he stood gazing
out to sea with drawn brows.
"The disease is of a good many months' standing," he said. "It has taken
very firm hold. Such a child as that should have been sheltered and
cosseted, shielded from every hardship. Even then--very possibly--this
would have developed. No one can say for certain."
"Can you advise--nothing?" said Avery in a voice that sounded oddly dull
and emotionless even to herself.
"Nothing," said Maxwell Wyndham. "No medical science can help in a case
like this. Give her everything she wants, and give her rest! That is all
you can do for her now."
Avery came and stood beside him. The blow had fallen, but she had
scarcely begun to feel its effects. There was so much to be
thought of first.
"Please be quite open with me!" she said. "Tell me how long you think she
He turned slightly and looked at her. "I can tell you what I think,
Lady Evesham," he said. "But, remember, that does not bring the end
"I know," she said.
She looked straight back at him with eyes unflinching, and after a
moment's thought he spoke.
"I think that--given every care--she may live through the summer, but I
do not consider it likely."
Avery's face was very pale, but still she did not flinch. "Will she
suffer?" she asked.
He raised his brows at the question. "My dear lady, she has suffered
already far more than you have any idea of. One lung is practically gone,
wholly useless. The other is rapidly going the same way. She has probably
suffered for a year or more, first lassitude, then shortness of breath,
and pretty often actual pain. Hasn't she complained of these things?"
"She is a child who never complains," Avery said. "But both her mother
and I thought she was wasting."
"She is mere skin and bone," he said. "Now--about her people, Lady
Evesham; who is going to tell them? You or I?"
She hesitated. "But I could hardly ask you to do that," she said.
"You may command me in any way," he answered. "If I may presume to
advise, I should say that the best course would be for me to go to
Rodding, see the doctor there, and get him to take me to the Vicarage."
"Oh, but they mustn't take her from me!" Avery said. "Let her mother come
here! She can't--she mustn't--go back home!"
"Exactly what I was going to say," he returned, in his quiet practical
fashion. "To take her back there would be madness. But look here, Lady
Evesham, you must have a nurse."
"Oh, not yet!" said Avery. "I am quite strong now. I am used to nursing.
I have--no other call upon me. Let me do this!"
"None?" he said.
His tone re-called her. She coloured burningly. "My husband--would
understand," she said, with difficulty.
He passed the matter by. "Will you promise to send me a message if you
find night-nursing a necessity?"
He frowned. "Lady Evesham, you must promise me this in fairness to the
child as well as to yourself. Also, you will give me your word that you
will never under any circumstances sleep with her."
She saw that he would have his way, and she yielded both points rather
than fight a battle which instinct warned her she could not win.
"Then I will be going," he said.
He turned back into the room, and again she was aware of his green eyes
surveying her closely, critically. But he made no reference whatever to
her health, and inwardly she blessed him for his forbearance.
She did not know that as he rode away, he grimly remarked to himself:
"The best tonics generally taste the bitterest, and she'll drink this one
to the dregs, poor girl! But it'll help her in the end."
THE TIDE COMES BACK
"Give her everything she wants!" How often in the days that followed were
those words in Avery's mind! She strove to fulfil them to the uttermost,
but Jeanie seemed to want so little. The only trouble in her existence
just then was her holiday-task, and that she steadily refused to
relinquish unless her father gave her leave.
A few days after Maxwell Wyndham's departure there came an agonized
letter from Mrs. Lorimer. Olive had just developed scarlet fever, and as
they could not afford a nurse she was nursing her herself. She entreated
Avery to send her daily news of Jeanie and to telegraph at once should
she become worse. She added in a pathetic postscript that her husband
found it difficult to believe that Jeanie could be as ill as the great
doctor had represented, and she feared he was a little vexed that Maxwell
Wyndham's opinion had been obtained.
It was exactly what Avery had expected of him. She wrote a soothing
letter to Mrs. Lorimer, promising to keep her informed of Jeanie's
condition, promising to lavish every care upon the child, and begging
her to persuade Mr. Lorimer to remit the task which had become so
heavy a burden.
The reply to this did not come at once, and Avery had repeated the
request twice very urgently and was contemplating addressing a protest
to the Reverend Stephen in person when another agitated epistle arrived
from Mrs. Lorimer. Her husband had decided to run down to them for a
night and judge of Jeanie's state for himself.
Avery received the news with dismay which, however, she was careful to
conceal. Jeanie heard of the impending visit with as much perturbation as
her tranquil nature would allow, and during the day that intervened
before his arrival gave herself more sedulously than ever to her task.
She had an unhappy premonition that he would desire to examine her upon
what she had read, and she was guiltily aware that her memory had not
retained very much of it.
So for the whole of one day she strove to study, till she was so
completely tired out that Avery actually took the book from her at last
and declared that she should not worry herself any more about it. Jeanie
yielded submissively, but a wakeful night followed, and in the morning
she looked so wan that Avery wanted to keep her in bed.
On this point, however, Jeanie was less docile than usual. "He will think
I am shamming," she protested. "He never likes us to lie in bed unless we
are really ill."
So, since she was evidently anxious to get up, Avery permitted it, though
she marked her obvious languor with a sinking heart.
The Vicar arrived at about noon, and Avery saw at a glance that he was in
no kindly mood.
"Dear me, what is all this fuss?" he said to Jeanie. "You look to me
considerably rosier than I have seen you for a long time."
Jeanie was indeed flushed with nervous excitement, and Avery thought she
had never seen her eyes so unnaturally bright. She endured her father's
hand under her chin with evident discomfort, and the Vicar's face was
somewhat severe when he finally released her.
"I am afraid you are getting a little fanciful, my child," he said
gravely. "I know that our kind friend, Lady Evesham--" his eyes twinkled
ironically and seemed to slip inwards--"has always been inclined to
indulge your whims. Now how do you occupy your time?"
"I read," faltered Jeanie.
"And sew, I presume," said the Vicar, who prided himself upon bringing up
his daughter to be useful.
"A little," said Jeanie.
He opened his eyes upon her again with that suggestion of severity in his
regard which Jeanie so plainly dreaded. "But you have done none since you
have been here? Jeanie, my child, I detect in you the seeds of idleness.
If your time were more fully occupied, you would find your general health
would considerably improve. Now, do you rise early and go for a bathe
"No," said Jeanie, with a little shiver.
He shook his head at her. "Then let us institute the habit at once! I
cannot have you becoming slack just because you are away from home. If
this indolence continue, I shall be compelled to have you back under my
own eye. I clearly see that the self-indulgent life you lead here is
having disastrous results. You will bathe with me to-morrow at
seven-thirty, after which we will have half an hour of physical exercise.
Then after a wholesome breakfast you will feel renewed and ready for the
Avery, when this programme was laid before her, looked at him in
"But surely Dr. Wyndham explained to you the serious condition she is
in!" she exclaimed.
Mr. Lorimer smiled his own superior smile. "He explained his point of
view most thoroughly, my dear Lady Evesham." He always pronounced her
name and title with satirical emphasis. "But that--very curious as it may
appear to you--does not prevent my holding a very strong opinion of my
own. And it chances to be in direct opposition to that expressed by Dr.
Maxwell Wyndham. I know my own child,--her faults and her tendencies. She
has been allowed to become extremely lax with regard to her daily duties,
and this laxness is in my opinion the root of the evil. I shall therefore
take my own measures to correct it, and if they are in any way resisted
or neglected I shall at once remove the child from your care. I trust I
have made myself quite explicit."
He had. But Avery's indignation could not be contained.
"You will kill her if you persist!" she said. "Even as it is--even as it
is--her days are numbered."
"The days of all of us are numbered," said the Reverend Stephen. "And it
behoves us to make the very utmost of each one of them. I cannot allow
my child's character to be ruined on account of a physical weakness
which a little judicious discipline will speedily overcome. The spirit
must triumph over the flesh, Lady Evesham. A hard rule for worldlings, I
grant you, but one which must be observed by all who would enter the
Kingdom of Heaven."
Argument was futile. Avery realized it at the outset. He would have his
way, whatever the cost, and no warning or entreaty would move him. For
the rest of that day she had to stand by in impotent anguish, and watch
Jeanie's martyrdom. During the afternoon he sat alone with her,
conducting the intellectual examination which Jeanie had so dreaded,
reprimanding, criticizing, scoffing at her ignorance. In the evening he
took her for what he called a stroll upon which Avery was not allowed to
accompany them. Mr. Lorimer playfully remarking that he wished to give
his young daughter the benefit of his individual attention during the
period of his brief sojourn with them.
They returned from their expedition at eight. Avery was walking to and
fro by the gate in a ferment of anxiety. They came by the cliff-road,
and she went eagerly to meet them.
Jeanie was hanging on her father's arm with a face of deathly whiteness,
and looked on the verge of collapse.
The Reverend Stephen was serenely satisfied with himself, laughed gently
at his child's dragging progress, and assured Avery that a little
wholesome fatigue was a good thing at the end of the day.
Jeanie said nothing. She seemed to be speechless with exhaustion, almost
incapable of standing alone.
Mr. Lorimer recommended a cold bath, a brisk rub-down, and supper.
"After which," he said impressively, "I shall hope to conduct a few
prayers before we retire to rest."
"That will be impossible, I am afraid," Avery rejoined. "Jeanie is
overtired and must go at once to bed."
She spoke with quiet decision, but inwardly she was quivering with fierce
anger. She longed passionately to have the child to herself, to comfort
and care for her and ease away the troubles of the day.
But Mr. Lorimer at once asserted his authority. "Jeanie will certainly
join us at supper," he said. "Run along, my child, and prepare for the
meal at once!"
Jeanie went up the stairs like an old woman, stumbling at every step.
Avery followed her, chafing but impotent.
At the top of the stairs Jeanie began to cough. She turned into her own
room with blind, staggering movements and sank down beside the bed.
The coughing was spasmodic and convulsive. It shook her whole frame. In
the end there came a dreadful tearing sound, and she caught her
handkerchief to her mouth.
Avery knelt beside her, supporting her. She saw the white linen turn
suddenly scarlet, and she called sharply to Mr. Lorimer to come to them.
He came, and between them they got her on to the bed.
"This is most unfortunate," said Mr. Lorimer. "Pray how did it happen?"
And then Avery's pent fury blazed suddenly forth upon him. "It is your
doing!" she said. "You--and you alone--are responsible for this!"
He looked at her malignantly. "Pshaw, my dear Lady Evesham! You are
hysterical!" he said.
Avery was bending over the bed. "Go!" she said, without looking up. "Go
quickly, and fetch a doctor!"
And, very curiously, Mr. Lorimer obeyed her.
Jeanie rallied. As though to comfort Avery's distress, she came back for
a little space; but no one--not even her father--could doubt any longer
that the poor little mortal life had nearly run out.
"My intervention has come too late, alas!" said Mr. Lorimer.
Which remark was received by Avery in bitter silence.
She had no further fear of being deprived of the child. It was quite out
of the question to think of moving her, and she knew that Jeanie was hers
for as long as the frail cord of her earthly existence lasted.
She was thankful that the advent of a nurse made it impossible for the
Vicar to remain, and she parted from him with almost open relief.
"We must bow to the Supreme Will," he said, with his heavy sigh.
And again Avery was silent.
"I fear you are rebellious," he said with severity.
"Good-bye!" said Avery.
Her heart bled more for Mrs. Lorimer than for herself just then. She knew
by instinct that she would not be allowed to come to her child.
The nurse was middle-aged and kindly, and both she and Jeanie liked her
from the outset. She took the night duty, and the day was Avery's, a
division that pleased them all.
Mr. Lorimer had demurred about having a nurse at all, but Avery had
swept the objection aside. Jeanie was in her care, and she would provide
all she needed. Mr. Lorimer had conceded the point as gracefully as
possible, for it seemed that for once his will could not be regarded as
paramount. Of course, as he openly reflected, Lady Evesham was very much
in their debt, and it was but natural that she should welcome this
opportunity to repay somewhat of their past kindness to her.
So, for the first time in her life, little Jeanie was surrounded with all
that she could desire; and very slowly, like a broken flower coaxed back
to life, she revived again.
It could scarcely be regarded in the light of an improvement. It was
just a fluctuation that deceived neither Avery nor the nurse; but to the
former those days were infinitely precious. She clung to them hour by
hour, refusing to look ahead to the desolation that was surely coming,
cherishing her darling with a passion of devotion that excluded all
The long summer days slipped away. June passed like a dream. Jeanie lay
in the tiny garden with her face to the sea, gazing forth with eyes that
were often heavy and wistful but always ready to smile upon Avery. The
holiday-task was put away, not because Mr. Lorimer had remitted it, but
because Avery--with rare despotism--had insisted upon removing it from
her patient's reach.
"Not till you are better, darling," she said. "That is your biggest duty
now, just to get back all the strength you can."
And Jeanie had smiled her wistful, dreamy smile, and submitted.
Avery sometimes wondered if she knew of the great Change that was drawing
so rapidly near. If so, it had no terrors for her; and she thanked God
that the Vicar was not at hand to terrify the child. The journey from
Rodding to Stanbury Cliffs was not an easy one by rail, and parish
matters were fortunately claiming his attention very fully just then. As
he himself had remarked more than once, he was not the man to permit mere
personal matters to interfere with Duty, and many a weak soul depended
upon his ministrations.
So Jeanie was left entirely to Avery's motherly care while the golden
days slipped by.
With July came heat, intense, oppressive, airless; and Jeanie flagged
again. A copper-coloured mist rose every morning over the sea, blotting
out the sky-line, veiling the passing ships. Strange voices called
through the fog, sirens hooted to one another persistently.
"They are like people who have lost each other," Jeanie said once, and
the simile haunted Avery's imagination.
And then one sunny day a pleasure-steamer passed quite near the shore
with a band on board. They were playing _The Little Grey Home in the
West_, and very oddly Jeanie's eyes filled with sudden tears.
Avery did not take any notice for a few moments, but as the strains
died-away over the glassy water, she leaned towards the child.
"My darling, what is it?" she whispered tenderly.
Jeanie's hand found its way into hers. "Oh, don't you ever want Piers?"
she murmured wistfully. "I do!"
It was the first time she had spoken his name to Avery since they had
left him alone nearly a year before, and almost as soon as she had
uttered it she made swift apology.
"Please forgive me, dear Avery! It just slipped out."
"My dear!" Avery said, and kissed her.
There fell a long silence between them. Avery's eyes were on the thick
heat-haze that obscured the sky-line. In her brain there sounded again
those words that Maxwell Wyndham had spoken so short a time before. "Give
her everything she wants! It's all you can do for her now."
But behind those words was something that shrank and quivered like a
frightened child. Could she give her this one thing? Could she?
It would mean the tearing open of a wound that was scarcely closed. It
would mean a calling to life of a bitterness that was hardly past. It
would mean--it would mean--
"Avery darling!" Softly Jeanie's voice broke through her agitated
Avery turned and looked at her,--the frail, sweet face with its shining
eyes of love.
"I didn't mean to hurt you," whispered Jeanie. "Don't think any more
"Do you want him so dreadfully?" Avery said.
Jeanie's eyes were full of tears again. She tried to answer, but her lips
quivered. She turned her face aside, and was silent.
The day waxed hotter, became almost insupportable. In the afternoon
Jeanie was attacked by breathlessness and coughing, both painful to
witness. She could find no rest or comfort, and Avery was in momentary
dread of a return of the hemorrhage.
It did not return, but when evening came at length and with it the
blessed coolness of approaching night, Jeanie was so exhausted as to be
unable to speak above a whisper. She lay white and still, scarcely
conscious, only her difficult breathing testifying to the fluttering life
that had ebbed so low.
The nurse's face was very grave as she came on duty, but after an
interval of steady watching, during which the wind blew in with
rising freshness from the sea, she turned to Avery, saying, "I think
she will revive."
Avery nodded and slipped away.
There was not much time left. She ran all the way to the post-office and
scribbled a message there with trembling fingers.
"Jeanie wants you. Will you come? Avery."
She sent the message to Rodding Abbey. She knew they would forward it
Passing out again into the road, a sudden sense of sickness swept over
her. What had she done? What uncontrolled force would that telegram
unfetter? Would he come to her like a whirlwind and sweep her back into
his own tempestuous life? Would he break her will once more to his? Would
he drag her once more through the hell of his passion, kindle afresh for
her the flame that had consumed her happiness?
She dared not face the possibility. She felt as if an iron hand had
closed upon her, drawing her surely, irresistibly, back towards those
gates of brass through which she had escaped into the desert. That fiery
torture would be infinitely harder to bear now, and she knew that the
fieriest point of it all would be the desperate, aching longing to know
again the love that had shone and burnt itself out in the blast-furnace
of his sin. He had loved her once; she was sure he had loved her. But
that love had died with his boyhood, and it could never rise again. He
had trodden it underfoot and her own throbbing heart with it. He had
destroyed that which she had always believed to be indestructible.
She never wanted to see him again. She would have given all she had to
have avoided the meeting. Her whole being recoiled from the thought of
it. And yet--and yet--she saw again the black head laid against her knee,
and heard the low, half-rueful words: "Oh, my dear, there is no other
woman but you in all the world!"
The vision went with her all through the night. She could not escape it.
In the morning she rose with a sense of being haunted, and a terrible
weariness that hung upon her like a chain.
The day was cooler. Jeanie was better. She had had a nice sleep, the
nurse said. But there could be no question of allowing her to leave her
bed that day.
"You are looking so tired," the nurse said, in her kind way to Avery. "I
am not wanting to go off duty till this afternoon. So won't you go and
sit down somewhere on the rocks? Please do!"
She was so anxious to gain her point that Avery yielded. She felt too
feverishly restless to be a suitable companion for Jeanie just then. She
went down to her favourite corner to watch the tide come in. But she
could not be still. She paced the shore like a caged creature seeking a
way of escape, dreading each turn lest it should bring her face to face
with the man she had summoned.
The tide came in and drove her up the beach. She went back not
unwillingly, for the suspense had become insupportable.
Had he come? But surely not! She was convinced he would have followed her
to the shore if he had.
She entered the tiny hall. It was square, and served them as a
sitting-room. Coming in from the glare without, she was momentarily
dazzled. And then all suddenly her eyes lighted upon an unaccustomed
object, and her heart ceased to beat. A man's tweed cap lay carelessly
tossed upon the back of a chair!
She stood quite still, feeling her senses reel, knowing herself to be on
the verge of fainting, and clinging with all her strength to her
Gradually she recovered, felt her heart begin to beat again and the
deadly faintness pass. There was a telegram on the table. She took it up,
found it addressed to herself, opened it with fumbling fingers.
"Tell Jeanie I am coming to-day. Piers."
It had arrived an hour before, and she was conscious of a vague sense of
thankfulness that she had been spared that hour of awful certainty.
A door opened at the top of the stairs. A voice spoke. "I'll come back,
my queen. But I've got to pay my respects, you know, to the mistress of
the establishment, or she'll be cross. Do you remember the Avery
symphony? We'll have it presently."
A light step followed the voice. Already he was on the stairs. He came
bounding down to her like an eager boy. For one wild moment she thought
he was going to throw his arms about her. But he stopped himself before
he reached her.
"I say, how ill you look!" he said.
That was all the greeting he uttered, and in the same moment she saw that
the black hair above his forehead was powdered with white. It sent such a
shock through her as no word or action of his could have caused.
She stood for a moment gazing at him in stiff inaction. Then, still
stiffly, she held out her hand. But she could not utter a word. She felt
as if she were going to burst into tears.
He took the hand. His dark eyes interrogated her, but they told her
nothing. "It's all right," he said rapidly. "I'm Jeanie's visitor. I
shan't forget it. It was decent of you to send. I say, you--you are not
really ill, what?"
No, she was not ill. She heard herself telling him so in a voice she did
not know. And all the while she felt as if her heart were bleeding,
bleeding to death.
He let her hand go, and straightened himself with the old free arrogance
of movement. "May I have something to eat?" he said. "Your message only
got to me this morning. I was at breakfast, and I had to leave it to
catch the train. So I've had practically nothing."
That moved her to activity. She led the way into the little parlour
where luncheon had been laid. He sat down at the table, and she waited
upon him, almost in silence, yet no longer with embarrassment.
"Aren't you going to join me?" he said.
She sat down also, and took a minute helping of cold chicken.
"I say, you're not going to eat all that!" ejaculated Piers.
She had to laugh a little, though still with that horrified sense of
tragedy at her heart.
He laughed too his careless boyish laugh, and in a moment all the
electricity of the past few moments had gone out of the atmosphere. He
leaned forward unexpectedly and transferred a wing of chicken from his
plate to hers.
"Look here, Avery! You must eat. It's absurd. So fire away like a
There was no tenderness in his tone, but, oddly, she thrilled to its
imperiousness, conscious of the old magnetism compelling her. She began
to eat in silence.
Piers ate too in his usual quick fashion, glancing at her once or twice
but making no further comment.
"Tell me about Jeanie!" he said, finally. "What has brought her to this?
Can't we do anything--take her to Switzerland or somewhere?"
Avery shook her head. "Can't you see?" she said, in a low voice.
He frowned upon her abruptly. "I see lots," he said enigmatically. "It's
quite hopeless, what? Wyndham told me as much. But--I don't believe in
Avery looked at him, mystified by his tone. "She is dying," she said.
"I don't believe in death either," said Piers, in the tone of one who
challenged the world. "And now look here, Avery! Let's make the best of
things for the kiddie's sake! She's had a rotten time all her days. Let's
give her a decent send-off, what? Let's give her the time of her life
before she goes!"
He got up suddenly from his chair and went to the open window.
Avery turned her head to watch him, but for some reason she could
He went on vehemently, his face turned from her. "In Heaven's name don't
let's be sorry! It's such a big thing to go out happy. Let's play the
game! I know you can; you were always plucky. Let's give her everything
she wants and some over! What, Avery, what? I'm not asking for myself."
She did not know exactly what he was asking, but she did not dare to tell
him so. She sat quite silent, feeling her heart quicken, striving
desperately to be calm.
He flung round suddenly, and came to her. "Will you do it?" he said.
She raised her eyes to his. She was white to the lips.
He made one of his quick, half-foreign gestures. "Don't!" he said
harshly. "You make me feel such a brute. Can't you trust me--can't you
pretend to trust me--for Jeanie's sake?" His hand closed fiercely on the
back of her chair. He bent towards her. "It's only a hollow bargain.
You'll hate it of course. Do you suppose I shall enjoy it any better? Do
you suppose I would ask it of you for any reason but this?"
Something in his face or voice pierced her. She felt again that dreadful
pain at her heart, as if the blood were draining from it with every beat.
"I don't know what to say to you, Piers," she said at last.
He bit his lip in sheer impatience, but the next moment he controlled
himself. "I'm asking a difficult thing of you," he said, forcing his
voice to a quiet level. "It isn't particularly easy for me either;
perhaps in a sense, it's even harder. But you must have known when you
sent for me that something of the kind was inevitable. What you didn't
know--possibly--was that Jeanie is grieving badly over our estrangement.
She wants to draw us together again. Will you suffer it? Will you play
the game with me? It won't be for long."
His eyes looked straight into hers, but they held only a great darkness
in which no flicker of light burned. Avery felt as if the gulf between
them had widened to a measureless abyss. Once she could have read him
like an open book; but now she had not the vaguest clue to his feelings
or his motives. He had as it were withdrawn beyond her ken.
"Is it to be only make-believe?" she asked at last.
"Just that," he said, but she thought his voice rang hard as he said it.
An odd little tremor went through her. She put her hand up to her throat.
"Piers, I don't know--I am afraid--" She broke off in agitation.
He leaned towards her. "Don't be afraid!" he said. "There is
nothing so damning as fear. Shall we go up to her now? I promised I
wouldn't be long."
She rose. He was still standing close to her, so close that she felt the
warmth of his body, heard the sharp indrawing of his breath.
For one sick second she thought he would snatch her to him; but the
second passed and he had not moved.
"Shall we go?" he said again. "And I say, can you put me up? I don't care
where I sleep. Any sort of shakedown will do. That sofa--" he glanced
towards the one by the window upon which Jeanie had been wont to lie.
"If you like," Avery said.
She felt that the power to refuse him had left her. He would do as he
They went upstairs together, and she saw Jeanie's face light up as they
entered. Piers was behind. Coming forward, he slipped a confident hand
through Avery's arm. She felt his fingers close upon her warningly,
checking her slight start; and she knew with an odd mixture of relief and
dismay that this was the beginning of the game. She forced herself to
smile in answer, and she knew that she succeeded; but it was one of the
greatest efforts of her life.
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
For a week after Piers' arrival, Jeanie was better, so much better that
she was able to be carried downstairs and into the garden where she loved
to lie. There was a piano in the sitting-room, and Piers would sit at it
by the hour together, playing anything she desired. She loved his music,
would listen entranced for any length of time while he led her through a
world of delight that she had never explored before. It soothed her
restlessness, comforted her in weariness, made her forget her pain. And
then the summer weather broke. There came a spell of rainy days that made
the garden impossible, and immediately Jeanie's strength began to wane.
It went from her very gradually. She suffered but little, save when her
breathing or her cough troubled her. But it was evident to them all that
her little craft was putting out to sea at last.
Piers went steadfastly on with the _role_ he had assigned to himself. He
never by word or look reminded Avery of the compact between them. He
merely took her support for granted, and--probably in consequence of
this--it never failed him.
The nurse declared him to be invaluable. He always had a salutary effect
upon her patient. For even more than at the sight of Avery did Jeanie
brighten at his coming, and she was always happy alone with him. It even
occurred to Avery sometimes that her presence was scarcely needed, so
completely were they at one in understanding and sympathy.
One evening, entering the room unexpectedly, she found Piers on his knees
beside the bed. He rose instantly and made way for her in a fashion she
could not ignore; but, though Jeanie greeted her with evident pleasure,
it was obvious that for the moment she was not needed, and an odd little
pang went through her with the knowledge.
Piers left the room almost immediately, and in a few moments they heard
him at the piano downstairs.
"May I have the door open?" whispered Jeanie.
Avery opened it, and drawing up a chair sat down with her work at
And then, slowly rolling forth, there came that wonderful music with
which he had thrilled her soul at the very beginning of his courtship.
Wordless, magnificent, the great anthem swelled through the falling dusk,
and like a vision the unutterable arose and possessed her soul. Her eyes
began to behold the Land that is very far off.
And then, throbbing through the wonder of that vision, she heard the
coming of the vast procession. It was like a dream, and yet it was wholly
real. As yet lost in distance, veiled in mystery, she heard the tread of
the coming host.
Her hands were fast gripped together; she forgot all beside. It was as if
the eyes of her soul had been opened, and she looked upon the Infinite. A
voice at her side began to speak, or was it the voice of her own heart?
It was only a whisper, but every word of it pierced her consciousness.
She listened with parted lips.
"I saw Heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him
was called Faithful and True ... His Eyes were as a flame of fire and on
His Head were many crowns.... And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in
blood.... And the armies which were in Heaven followed Him upon white
horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.... And He treadeth the
wine-press.... He treadeth the wine-press...."
The voice paused. Avery was listening with bated breath for more. But it
did not come at once. Only the Veil began to lift, so that she saw the
Opening Gates and the Glory behind them.
Then, and not till then, the dream-voice spoke again. "Surely--surely He
hath borne our griefs, and carried--our sorrows.... And the Lord hath
laid on Him--the iniquity of us all." The music crashed into
wonder-chords such as Avery had never heard before, swelled to a climax
that reached the Divine, held her quivering as it were upon wings in a
space that was more transcendent than the highest mountain-top;--then
softly, strangely, died....
"That is Heaven," whispered the voice by her side. "Oh, Avery, won't it
be nice when we are all there together?"
But Avery sat as one in a trance, rapt and still. She felt as if the
spirit had been charmed out of her body, and she did not want to return.
A little thin hand slid into hers and clasped it close, recalling her.
"Wasn't it beautiful?" said Jeanie. "He said he would make me see the
Kingdom of Heaven. You saw it too, dear Avery, didn't you?"
Yes, Avery had seen it too. She still felt as if the earth were very far
below them both.
Jeanie's voice had grown husky, but she still spoke in a tremulous
whisper. "Did you see the Open Gates, dear Avery? He says they are never
shut. And anyone who can reach them will be let in,--it doesn't matter
who. Do you know, I think Piers is different from what he used to be? I
think he is learning to love God."
Absolutely simple words! Why did they send such a rush of
feeling--tumultuous, indescribable feeling--through Avery? Was this the
explanation? Was this how it came to pass that he treated her with that
aloof reverence day by day? Was he indeed learning the supreme lesson to
worship God with love?
She sat for a while longer with Jeanie, till, finding her drowsy, she
Piers was sitting in the hall, deep in a newspaper. He rose at her
coming with an abruptness suggestive of surprise, and stood waiting for
her to speak.
But curiously the only words that she could utter were of a trivial
nature. She had come to him indeed, drawn by a power irresistible, but
the moment she found herself actually in his presence she felt
"Don't you want a light?" she said nervously. "I am sure you can't
see to read."
He stood silent for a moment, and the old tormenting doubt began to rise
within her. Would he think she desired to make an overture? Would he take
for granted that because his magnetism had drawn her he could do with her
as he would?
And then very quietly he spoke, and she experienced an odd revulsion of
feeling that was almost disappointment.
"Have you been reading the papers lately?"
She had not. Jeanie occupied all her waking thoughts.
He glanced down at the sheet he held. "There is going to be a bust-up on
the Continent," he said, and there was that in his tone--a grim
elation--which puzzled her at the moment. "The mightiest bust-up the
world has ever known. We're in for it, Avery; in for the very deuce of a
row." His voice vibrated suddenly. He stopped as though to check some
headlong force that threatened to carry him away.
Avery stood still, feeling a sick horror of impending disaster at her
heart. "What can you mean?" she said.
He leaned his hands upon the table facing her, and she saw in his eyes
the primitive, savage joy of battle. "I mean war," he said. "Oh, it's
horrible; yes, of course it's horrible. But it'll bring us to our senses.
It'll make men of us yet."
She shrank from his look. "Piers! Not--not a European war!"
He straightened himself slowly. "Yes," he said. "It will be that.
But there's nothing to be scared about. It'll be the salvation of
"Piers!" she gasped again through white lips. "But modern warfare! Modern
weapons! It's Germany of course?"
"Yes, Germany." He stretched up his arms with a wide gesture and let them
fall. "Germany who is going to cut out all the rot of party politics and
bind us together as one man! Germany who is going to avert civil war and
teach us to love our neighbours! Nothing short of this would have saved
us. We've been a mere horde of chattering monkeys lately. Now--all thanks
to Germany!--we're going to be men!"
"Or murderers!" said Avery.
The word broke from her involuntarily, she scarcely knew that she had
uttered it until she saw his face. Then in a flash she saw what she had
done, for he had the sudden tragic look of a man who has received his
He made her a curious stiff bow as if he bent himself with difficulty.
His face at that moment was whiter than hers, but his eyes glowed red
with a deep anger.
"I shall remember that," he said, "when I go to fight for my country."
With the words he turned to the door. But she cried after him, dismayed,
"Oh Piers, you know--you know--I didn't mean that!"
He did not pause or look back. "Nevertheless you said it," he rejoined
in a tone that made her feel as if he had flung an icy shower of water in
her face; and the next moment she heard his quick tread on the garden
path and realized that he was gone.
It was useless to attempt to follow him. Her knees were trembling under
her. Moreover, she knew that she must return to Jeanie. White-lipped,
quivering, she moved to the stairs.
He had utterly misunderstood her; she had but voiced the horrified
thought that must have risen in the minds of thousands when first brought
face to face with that world-wide tragedy. But he had read a personal
meaning into her words. He had deemed her deliberately cruel, ungenerous,
bitter. That he could thus misunderstand her set her heart bleeding
afresh. Oh, they were better apart! How was it possible that there could
ever be any confidence, any intimacy, between them again?
Tears, scalding, blinding tears ran suddenly down her face. She bowed her
head in her hands, leaning upon the banisters....
A voice called to her from above, and she started. What was she doing,
weeping here in selfish misery, when Jeanie--Swiftly she commanded
herself and mounted the stairs. The nurse met her at the top.
"The little one isn't so well," she said. "I thought she was asleep, but
I am afraid she is unconscious."
"Oh, nurse, and I left her!"
There was a sound of such heart-break in Avery's voice that the nurse's
grave face softened in sympathy.
"My dear, you couldn't have done anything," she said. "It is just the
weakness before the end, and we can do nothing to avert it. What about
her mother? Can she come?"
Avery shook her head in despair. "Not for a week."
"Ah!" the nurse said; and that was all. But Avery knew in that moment
that only a few hours more remained ere little Jeanie Lorimer passed
through the Open Gates.
She would not go to bed that night though the child lay wholly
unconscious of her. She knew that she could not sleep.
She did not see Piers again till late. The nurse slipped down to tell him
of Jeanie's condition, and he came up, white and sternly composed, and
stood for many minutes watching the slender, quick-breathing figure that
lay propped among pillows, close to the open window.
Avery could not look at his face during those minutes; she dared not. But
when he turned away at length he bent and spoke to her.
"Are you going to stay here?"
"Yes," she whispered.
He made no attempt to dissuade her. All he said was, "May I wait in your
room? I shall be within call there."
"Of course," she answered.
"And you will call me if there is any change?"
"Of course," she said again.
He nodded briefly and left her.
Then began the long, long night-watch. It was raining, and the night was
very dark. The slow, deep roar of the sea rose solemnly and filled the
quiet room. The tide was coming in. They could hear the water shoaling
along the beach.
How often Avery had listened to it and loved the sound! To-night it
filled her soul with awe, as the Voice of Many Waters.
Slowly the night wore on, and ever that sound increased in volume,
swelling, intensifying, like the coming of a mighty host as yet far off.
The rain pattered awhile and ceased. The sea-breeze blew in, salt and
pure. It stirred the brown tendrils of hair on Jeanie's forehead, and
eddied softly through the room.
The nurse sat working beside a hooded lamp that threw her grave, strong
face into high relief, but only accentuated the shadows in the rest of
the room. Avery sat close to the bed, not praying, scarcely thinking,
waiting only for the opening of the Gates. And in that hour she
longed,--oh, how passionately!--that when they opened she also might be
permitted to pass through.
It was in the darkest hour of the night that the tide began to turn. She
looked almost instinctively for a change but none came. Jeanie stirred
not, save when the nurse stooped over her to give her nourishment, and
each time she took less and less.
The tide receded. The night began to pass. There came a faint greyness
before the window. The breeze freshened.
And very suddenly the breathing to which Avery had listened all the night
paused, ceased for a second or two, then broke into the sharp sigh of one
awaking from sleep.
She rose quickly, and the nurse looked up. Jeanie's eyes dark, unearthly,
unafraid, were opened wide.
She gazed at Avery for a moment as if slightly puzzled. Then, in a faint
whisper: "Has Piers said good-night?" she asked.
"No, darling. But he is waiting to. I will call him," Avery said.
"Quickly!" whispered the nurse, as she passed her.
Swiftly, noiselessly, Avery went to her own room. But some premonition of
her coming must have reached him; for he met her on the threshold.
His eyes questioned hers for a moment, and then together they turned back
to Jeanie's room. No words passed between them. None were needed.
Jeanie's face was turned towards the door. Her eyes looked beyond Avery
and smiled a welcome to Piers. He came to her, knelt beside her.
"Dear Sir Galahad!" she said.
He shook his head. "No, Jeanie, no!"
She was panting. He slipped his arm under the pillow to support her. She
turned her face to his.
"Oh, Piers," she breathed, "I do--so--want you--to be happy."
"I am happy, sweetheart," he said.
But Jeanie's vision was stronger in that moment than it had ever been
before, and she was not deceived. "You are not happy, dear Piers," she
said. "Avery is not happy either."
Piers turned slightly. "Come here, Avery!" he said.
The old imperious note was in his voice, yet with a difference. He
stretched his free hand up to her, drawing her down to his side, and as
she knelt also he passed his arm about her, pressing her to him.
Jeanie's eyes were upon them both, dying eyes that shone with a mystic
glory. They saw the steadfast resolution in Piers' face as he held his
wife against his heart. They saw the quivering hesitation with which
"You're not happy--yet," she whispered. "But you will be happy."
Thereafter she seemed to slip away from them for a space, losing touch as
it were, yet still not beyond their reach. Once or twice she seemed to be
trying to pray, but they could not catch her words.
The dawn-light grew stronger before the window. The sound of the waves
had sunk to a low murmuring. From where she knelt Avery could see the
far, dim line of sea. Piers' arm was still about her. She felt as though
they two were kneeling apart before an Altar invisible, waiting to receive
Jeanie's breathing was growing less hurried. She seemed already beyond
all earthly suffering. Yet her eyes also watched that far dim sky-line as
though they waited for a sign.
Slowly the light deepened, the shadows began to lift. Piers' eyes were
fixed unswervingly upon the child's quiet face. The light of the coming
Dawn was reflected there. The great Change was very near at hand.
Far away to the left there grew and spread a wondrous brightness. The sky
seemed to recede, turned from grey to misty blue. A veil of cloud that
had hidden the stars all through the night dissolved softly into shreds
of gold, and across the sea with a diamond splendour there shot the first
great ray of sunlight.
It was then that Jeanie seemed to awake, to rise as it were from the
depths of reverie. Her eyes widened, grew intense; then suddenly
She sought to raise herself, and never knew that it was by Piers'
strength alone that she was lifted. She gave a gasp that was almost a
cry, but it was gladness not pain that it expressed.
For a few panting moments she gazed out as one rapt in delight, gazing
from a mountain-peak upon a wider view than earthly eyes could compass.
Then eagerly she turned to Piers. "I saw Heaven opened ..." she said,
and in her low voice there throbbed a rapture that could not be
uttered in words.
She would have said more, but something stopped her. She made a
gesture as though she would clasp him round the neck, failed, and sank
down in his arms.
He held her closely to him, and so holding her, felt the last quivering
breath slip from the little tired body....
THE DESERT ROAD
"That is just where you make a mistake, my good Crowther. You're an
awfully shrewd chap in some ways, but you understand women just about as
thoroughly as I understand theology."
Piers clasped his hands behind his head, and regarded his friend
"Do you think so?" said Crowther a little drily.
Piers laughed. "Now I've trodden on your pet corn. Bear up, old chap!
It'll soon be better."
Crowther's own face relaxed, but he did not look satisfied. "I'm not
happy about you, my son," he said. "I think you've missed a big
"You think wrong," said Piers, unmoved. "I couldn't possibly have stayed
another hour. I was in a false position. So--poor girl!--was she. We
buried the hatchet for the kiddie's sake, but it wasn't buried very deep.
I did my best, and I think she did hers. But--even that last night--we
kicked against it. There was no sense in pretending any longer. The game
was up. So--I came away."
He uttered the last words nonchalantly; but if Crowther's knowledge of
women was limited, he knew his own species very thoroughly, and he was
"You didn't see her at all after the little girl died?" he asked.
"Not at all," said Piers. "I came away by the first train I could
"And left her to her trouble!" Crowther's wide brow was a little drawn.
There was even a hint of sternness in his steady eyes.
"Just so," said Piers. "I left her to mourn in peace."
"Didn't you so much as write a line of explanation?" Crowther's voice was
troubled, but it held the old kindliness, the old human sympathy.
Piers shook his head, and stared upwards at the ceiling. "Really there
was nothing to explain," he said. "She knows me--so awfully well."
"I wonder," said Crowther.