Part 7 out of 7
"Who is it?" The question leaped from her, and Garth's answer came
with an irrevocability of refusal there was no combating.
"That I cannot tell you--or any one."
Sara's mouth twitched. Her face was very white, but her eyes were
"And you have borne this--all these years?" she said. "You have known
that you could clear yourself and have refrained?"
"There was no choice," he answered quietly. "I took on a certain
liability--years ago, and because it has turned out to be a much
heavier liability than I anticipated gives me no excuse for
repudiating it now."
For a moment Sara hid her face in her hands. When she uncovered it
again there was something almost akin to awe in her eyes.
"Will you ever forgive me, Garth, for doubting you?" she whispered.
"Forgive you?" He smiled. "What else could you have done, sweetheart?
I don't know, even now, why you believe in me," he added wonderingly.
"Just because--" she began, and fell silent, realizing that her belief
had no reason, but was founded on the intuitive knowledge of a love
that has suffered and won out on the other side.
When next she spoke it was with the simple, frank directness
characteristic of her.
"Thank God that I can prove that I do trust you--absolutely. When will
you marry me, Garth?"
"When will I marry you?" He repeated the words slowly, as though they
conveyed no meaning to him.
"Yes. I want every one to know, to see that I believe in you. I want
to stand at your side--go shares. Do you remember, once, how we
settled that married life meant going shares in everything--good and
bad?" She smiled a little at the remembrance drawn from the small
store of memories that was all her few days of unclouded love had
given her. "I want--my share, Garth."
For a moment he was silent. Then he spoke, and the quiet finality of
his tones struck her like a blow.
"We can never marry, Sara."
"Never--marry!" she repeated dazedly. Quick fear seized her, and she
rushed on impetuously: "Then you haven't forgiven me, after all--you
don't believe that I trust you! Oh! How can I make you /know/ that I
"Oh, my dear," he interrupted swiftly. "Don't misunderstand me. I know
that you believe in me now--and I thank God for it! And as for
forgiveness, as I told you, I have nothing to forgive. You'd have had
need of the faith that removes mountains"--Sara started at the
repetition of Patrick's very words--"to have believed in me under the
circumstances." He paused a moment, and when he spoke again there was
something triumphant in his tones--a serene gladness and contentment.
"You and I, beloved, are right with each other--now and always.
Nothing can ever again come between us to divide us as we have been
divided this last year. But, none the less," and his voice took on a
steadfast note of resolve, "I cannot marry you. I thought I could--I
thought the past had sunk into oblivion, and that I might take the
gift of love you offered me. . . . But I was wrong."
"No! No! You were not wrong!" She was clinging to him in a sudden
terror that even now their happiness was slipping from them. "The past
has nothing to say to you and me. It can't come between us. . . . You
have only to take me, Garth"--tremulously. "Let me /show/ that my love
is stronger than ill repute. Let me come to you and stand by you as
your wife. The past can't hurt us, then!"
He shook his head.
"The past never loses its power to hurt," he answered. "I've learned
that. As far as the world you belong to is concerned, I'm finished,
and I won't drag the woman I love through the same hell I've been
through. That's what it would mean, you know. You would be singled
out, pointed at, as the wife of a man who was chucked out of the
Service. There would be no place in the world for you. You would be
ostracized--because you were my wife."
"I shouldn't care," she urged. "Surely I can bear--what you have
borne? . . . I shouldn't mind--anything--so long as we were together."
He drew her close to him, his lips against her hair.
"Beloved!" he said, a great wonder in his voice. "Oh! Little /brave/
thing! What have I ever done that you should love me like that?"
Sara winked away a tear, and a rather tremulous smile hovered round
"I don't know, I'm sure," she acknowledged a little shakily. "But I
do. Garth, you /will/ marry me?"
He lifted his bent head, his eyes gazing straight ahead of him, as
though envisioning the lonely future and defying it.
"No," he said resolutely. "No. God helping me, I will never marry you,
Sara. I have--no right to marry. It could only bring you misery. Dear,
I must shield you, even from yourself--from your own big, generous
impulses which would let you join your life to mine. . . . Love is
denied to us--denied through my own act of long ago. But if you'll
give me friendship. . . ." She could sense the sudden passionate
entreaty behind the words. "Sara! Friendship is worth while--such
friendship as ours would be! Are you brave enough, strong enough, to
give me that--since I may not ask for more?"
There was a long silence, while Sara lay very still against his
breast, her face hidden.
In that silence, her spirit met and faced the ultimate issue--for
there was that in Garth's voice which told her that his decision not
to marry her was immutable. Could she--oh God!--could she give him
what he asked? Give only part to the man to whom she longed to give
all that a woman has to give? It would be far easier to go away--to
put him out of her life for ever.
And yet--he asked this of her! He needed something that she could
still give--the comradeship which was all that they two might ever
know of love. . . .
When at last she raised her face to his, it was ashen, but her small
chin was out-thrust, her eyes were like stars, and the grip of her
slim hands on his shoulders was as iron.
"I'm strong enough to give you anything that you want," she said
She had made the supreme sacrifice; she was ready to be his friend.
A sad and wistful gravity hung about their parting. Their lips met and
clung together, but it was in a kiss of renunciation, not of passion.
He held her in his arms a moment longer.
"Never forget I'm loving you--always," he said steadily. "Call me your
friend--but remember, in my heart I shall always be your lover."
Her eyes met his, unflinching, infinitely faithful.
"And I--I, too, shall be loving you," she answered, simply. "Always,
OUT OF THE NIGHT
Tim was home on sick leave, and, after two perfect weeks of reunion,
Elisabeth had written to ask if he might come down to Sunnyside,
suggesting that the sea-breezes might advance his convalescence.
"I wonder Mrs. Durward cares to spare him," commented Selwyn in some
surprise. "It seems out of keeping with her general attitude. However,
we shall be delighted to have him here. Write and say so, will you,
Sara acquiesced briefly, flushing a little. She thought she could read
the motive at the back of Elisabeth's proposal--the spirit which,
putting up a gallant fight even in the very face of defeat, could make
yet a final effort to secure success by throwing Tim and the woman he
loved together in the dangerously seductive intimacy of the same
But Sara had no fear that Tim would avail himself of the opportunity
thus provided in the way Elisabeth doubtless hoped he might. That
matter had been finally settled between herself and him before he went
to France, and she knew that he would never again ask her to be his
wife. So she wrote to him serenely, telling him to come down to
Monkshaven as soon as he liked; and a few days later found him
installed at Sunnyside, nominally under Dr. Selwyn's care.
He was the same unaffected, spontaneous Tim as of yore, and hugely
embarrassed by any reference to his winning of the Military Cross,
firmly refusing to discuss the manner of it, even with Sara.
"I just got on with my job--like dozens of other fellows," was all he
It was from a brother officer that Sara learned, later, than Tim had
"got on with his job" under a hellish enemy fire, in spite of being
twice wounded; and had thus saved the immediate situation in his
vicinity--and, incidentally, the lives of many of his comrades.
He seemed to Sara to have become at once both older and younger than
in former days. He had all the hilarious good spirits evinced by nine
out of ten of the boys who came home on leave--the cheery capacity to
laugh at the hardships and dangers of the front, to poke good-natured
fun at "old Fritz" and to make a jest of the German shells and the
Flanders mud, treating the whole great adventure of war as though it
were the finest game invented.
Yet back of the mirth and laughter in the blue eyes lurked something
new and strange and grave--inexpressibly touching--that indefinable
something which one senses shrinkingly in the young eyes of the boys
who have come back.
It hurt Sara somehow--that look of which she caught glimpses now and
then, in quiet moments, and she set herself to drive it away, or, at
least, to keep it at bay as much as possible, by filling every
available moment with occupation or amusement.
"I don't want him to think about what it was like--out there," she
told Molly. "His eyes make my heart ache, sometimes. They're too young
to have seen--such things. Suggest something we can play at to-day!"
So they threw themselves, heart and soul, into the task of
entertaining Tim, and, since he was very willing to be entertained,
the weeks at Sunnyside slipped by in a little whirl of gaiety, winding
up with a badminton tournament, at which Tim--whose right arm had not
yet quite recovered from the effects of the German bullet it had
stopped--played a left-handed game, and triumphantly maneuvered
himself and his partner into the semi-finals.
Probably--leniently handicapped, as they were, in the circumstances--
they would have won the tournament, but that, unluckily, in leaping to
reach a shuttle soaring high above his head, Tim somehow missed his
footing and came down heavily, with his leg twisted underneath him.
"Broken ankle," announced Selwyn briefly, when he had made his
Tim opened his eyes--he had lost consciousness, momentarily, from the
"Damn!" he observed succinctly. "That'll make it the very devil of a
time before I can get back to France!" Then, to Sara, who could be
heard murmuring something about writing to Elisabeth: "Not much, old
thing, you don't! She'd fuss herself, no end. Just write--and say--
it's a sprain." And he promptly fainted again.
They got him back to Sunnyside while he was still unconscious, and
when he returned to an intelligent understanding of material matters,
he found himself in bed, with a hump-like excrescence in front of him
keeping the weight of the bedclothes from the injured limb.
"Did I faint?" he asked morosely.
"Yes. Lucky you did, too," responded Sara cheerfully. "Doctor Dick
rigged your ankle up all nice and comfy without your being any the
"Fainted--like a girl--over a broken ankle, my hat!"--with immense
Sara was hard put to it not to laugh outright at his face of disgust.
"You might remember that you're not strong yet," she suggested
They talked for a little, and presently Tim, whose eyelids had been
blinking somnolently for some time, gave vent to an unmistakable yawn.
"I'm--I'm confoundedly sleepy," he murmured apologetically.
"Then go to sleep," came promptly from Sara. "It's quite the best
thing you can do. I'll run off and write a judicious letter to
Elisabeth--about your sprain"--smiling.
With a glance round to see that he had candle, matches, and a hand-
bell within reach, she turned out the lamp and slipped quietly away.
Tim was asleep almost before she had quitted the room.
It was several hours later when Sara sat up in bed, broad awake, in
response to the vigorous shaking that some one was administering to
She opened her eyes to the yellow glare of a candle. Behind the glare
materialized a vision of Jane Crab, attired in a red flannel dressing-
gown, and with her hair tightly strained into four skimpy plaits which
stuck out horizontally from her head like the surviving rays of a
badly damaged halo.
"Miss Sara! Miss Sara!" She apostrophized the rudely awakened sleeper
in a sibilant whisper, as though afraid of being overheard. "Get up,
quick! They 'Uns is 'ere!"
"/Who/ is here?" exclaimed Sara, somewhat startled.
"The Zepps, miss--the Zepps! The guns are firing off every minute or
two. There!"--as the blurred thunder of anti-aircraft guns boomed in
the distance. "There they go again!"
Sara leaped out of bed in an instant, hastily pulling on a fascinating
silk kimono and thrusting her bare feet into a pair of scarlet Turkish
"One may as well die tidy," she reflected philosophically. Then,
turning to Jane--
"Where's the doctor?" she demanded.
"Trying to get the mistress downstairs. She's that scared, she won't
budge from her bed."
Sara giggled--Jane's face was very expressive.
"Well, I'm going into Mr. Durward's room," she announced. "We shall
see better there."
Jane's little beady eyes glittered.
"Aye, I'd like to see them at their devil's work," she allowed fondly,
with a threatening "Just-let-me-catch-them-at-it!" intonation in her
Sara laughed, and they both repaired to Tim's room, encountering Molly
on the way and sweeping her along in their train. They found Tim
volubly cursing his inability to get up and "watch the fun."
"Look out and tell me if you can see the blighters," he commanded.
As Sara threw open the window, a dull, thudding sound came up to them
from the direction of Oldhampton. There was a sullen menace in the
Molly gurgled with the nervous excitement of a first experience under
"That's a bomb!" she whispered breathlessly.
She, and Sara, and Jane Crab wedged themselves together in the open
window and leaned far out, peering into the moonless dark. As they
watched, a search-light leapt into being, and a pencil of light moved
flickeringly across the sky. Then another and another--sweeping hither
and thither like the blind feelers of some hidden octopus seeking its
prey. There was something horribly uncanny in those long, straight
shafts of light wavering uncertainly across the dense darkness of the
"Can you see the Zepp?" demanded Tim, with lively interest, from his
"No, it's pitch black--too dark to see a thing," replied Sara.
Exactly as she spoke, a brilliant light hung for a moment suspended in
the dark arch of the sky, then shivered into a blaze of garish
effulgence, girdling the countryside and illuminating every road and
building, every field, and tree, and ditch, as brightly as though it
were broad daylight.
"A star-shell!" gasped Molly. "What a beastly thing! Positively"--
giggling nervously--"I believe they can see right inside this room!"
" 'Tisn't decent!" fulminated Jane indignantly, clutching with modest
fingers at her scanty dressing-gown and straining it tightly across
her chest whilst she backed hastily from the vicinity of the window.
"Lightin' up sudden like that in the middle of the night! I feel for
all the world as though I hadn't got a stitch on me! Come away from
the window, do, miss----"
The light failed as suddenly as it had flared, and a warning crash,
throbbing up against their ears, startled her into silence.
"That's a trifle too near to be pleasant," exclaimed Tim sharply. "Go
downstairs, you three! Do you hear?"
Simultaneously, Selwyn shouted from below--
"Come downstairs! Come down at once! Quick, Sara! I'm coming up to
carry Tim down--and Minnie won't stay alone. Come /on/!"
Obedient to something urgent and imperative in the voices of both men
--something that breathed of danger--the three women hastened from the
room. Jane's candle flared and went out in the draught from the
suddenly opened door, and in the smothering darkness they stumbled
pell-mell down the stairs.
A dim light burning in the hall showed them Mrs. Selwyn cowering
against her husband, her face hidden, sobbing hysterically, and in a
moment Sara had taken Dick's place, wrapping her strong arms about the
"Go on!" she whispered to him. "Go and get Tim down!"
He nodded, releasing himself with gentle force from his wife's
clinging fingers, which had closed upon his arm like a vise.
Immediately she lifted up her voice in a thin, querulous shriek--
"No! Dick, Dick--don't leave me! /Dick/"--
. . . And then it came--sped from that hovering Hate which hung above
--dropping soundlessly, implacable through the utter darkness of the
night and crashing into devilish life against a corner of the house.
Followed by a terrible flash and roar--a chaos of unimaginable sound.
It seemed as though the whole world had split into fragments and were
rocketing off into space; and, in quick succession, came the rumble of
falling beams and masonry, and the dense dust of disintegrated plaster
mingling with the fumes of high explosive.
Sara was conscious of being shot violently across the hall, and then
everything went out in illimitable black darkness.
"FROM SUDDEN DEATH----"
"Sara! Sara! For God's sake, open your eyes!"
The anguished tones pierced through the black curtain which had
suddenly cut away the outer world from Sara's consciousness, and she
opened her eyes obediently, to find herself looking straight into
Garth's face bent above her--a sickly white in the yellow glare of the
hurricane lamp he was holding.
"Are you hurt?" His voice came again insistently, sharp with hideous
She sat up, breathing rather fast.
"No," she said, as though surprised. "I'm not hurt--not the least
With Garth's help, she struggled to her feet and stood upright--rather
shakily, it is true, but still able to accomplish the feat without
much difficulty. She began to laugh weakly--a little helplessly.
"I think--I think I've only had my wind knocked out," she said. Then,
as gradually the comprehension of events returned to her: "The others?
Who's hurt? Oh, Garth! Is any one--/killed/?"
"No, no one, thank God!" He reassured her hastily. His arm went round
her, and for a moment their lips met in a silent passion of
"But you--how did you come here?" she asked, as they drew apart once
more. "You . . . weren't . . . here?"--her brows contracting in a
puzzled frown as she endeavoured to recall the incidents immediately
preceding the bombing of the house. "We'd--we'd just gone to bed."
"I was dining with the Herricks. The raid began just as I was leaving
them, so Judson and I drove straight on here instead of going home."
Sara pressed his hand.
"Bless you, dear!" she whispered quickly. Then, recollection returning
more completely: "Tim? Is Tim safe?"
"He was upstairs. Where is Doctor Dick? Did he--"
"I'm not far off," came Selwyn's voice, from the mouth of a dark
cavity that had once been the study doorway. "Come over here--but step
carefully. The floor's strewn with stuff."
Garth piloted Sara skillfully across the debris that littered the
floor, and they joined the group of shadowy figures huddled together
in the doorless study.
" 'Ware my arm!" warned Selwyn, as they approached. "It's broken,
confound it!" He seemed, for the moment, oblivious of the pain.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Selwyn, finding herself physically intact, was keeping
up an irritating moaning, interspersed with pettish diatribes against
a Government that could be so culpably careless as to permit her to be
bombed out of house and home; whilst Jane Crab, who had found and lit
a candle, and recklessly stuck it to the table in its own grease, was
bluffly endeavouring to console her.
For once Selwyn's saint-like patience failed him.
"Oh, shut up whining, Minnie!" he exclaimed forcefully. "It would be
more to the point if you got down on your knees and said thank you to
some one or something instead of grousing like that!"
He turned hurriedly to Garth, who was flashing his lantern hither and
thither, locating the damage done.
"Look here," he said. "Young Durward's upstairs. We must get him
"Where does he sleep? One side of the house is staved in."
"He's not that side, thank Heaven! But the odds are he's badly hurt.
And, anyway, he's helpless. I was just going up to carry him down when
that damned bomb got us."
Garth swung out into the hall and sent a ringing shout up through the
house. An instant later Tim's answer floated down to them.
"All serene! Can't move!"
Again Garth sent his voice pealing upwards--
"Hold on! We'll be with you in a minute."
He turned to Selwyn.
"I'll go up," he said. "You can't do anything with that arm of yours."
"I can help," maintained Dick stoutly.
Garth shook his head.
"No. If you slipped amongst the mess there'll be up there, I'd have
two cripples on my hands instead of one. You stay here and look after
the women--and get one of them to fix you up a temporary splint."
The two men moved forward, the women pressing eagerly behind them;
then, as the light from Garth's lantern steamed ahead there came an
instantaneous outcry of dismay.
The whole stairway was twisted and askew. It had a ludicrously drunken
look, as though it were lolling up against the wall--like a staircase
in a picture of which the perspective is all wrong.
"It isn't safe!" exclaimed Selwyn quickly. "You can't go up. We shall
have to wait till help comes."
"I'm going up--now," said Garth quietly.
"But it isn't safe, man! Those stairs won't bear you!"
"They'll have to"--laconically. "That top story may go at any minute.
It would collapse like a pack of cards if another bomb fell near
enough for us to feel the concussion. And young Durward would have
about as much chance as a rat in a trap."
A silence descended on the little group of anxious people as he
finished speaking. The gravity of Tim's position suddenly revealed
itself--and the danger involved by an attempt at rescue.
Sara drew close to Garth's side.
"/Must/ you go, Garth?" she asked. "Wouldn't it be safe to wait till
"Tim isn't /safe/ there, actually five minutes. The floors may hold--
or they mayn't! I must go, sweet."
She caught his hand and held it an instant against her cheek. Then--
"Go, dear," she whispered. "Go quickly. And oh!--God keep you!"
He was gone, picking his way gingerly, treading as lightly as a cat,
so that the wrenched stairway hardly creaked beneath his swift, lithe
Once there came the sudden rattle of some falling scrap of broken
plaster, and Sara, leaning with closed eyes and white, set face,
against the framework of a doorway, shivered soundlessly.
Soon he had disappeared round the distorted head of the staircase, and
those who were watching could only discern the bobbing glimmer of the
light he carried mounting higher and higher.
Then--after an interminable time, it seemed--there came the sound of
voices . . . he had found Tim . . . a pause . . . then again a short,
quick speech and the word "Right?" drifted faintly down to the
strained ears below.
Unconsciously Sara's hands had clenched themselves, and the nails were
biting into the flesh of her palms. But she felt no pain. Her whole
being seemed concentrated into the single sense of hearing as she
waited there in the candle-lit gloom, listening for every tiny sound,
each creak of a board, each scattering of loosened plaster, which
might herald danger.
Another eternity crawled by before, at length, Garth reappeared once
more round the last bend of the staircase. Tim was lying across his
shoulder, his injured leg hanging stiffly down, and in his hand he
grasped the lantern, while both Garth's arms supported him.
Sara's eyes had opened now and fixed themselves intently on the
burdened figure of the man she loved, as, with infinite caution, he
began the descent of the last flight of stairs.
There was a double strain now upon the dislocated boards and joists--
the weight of two men where one had climbed before with lithe, light,
unimpeded limbs--and it seemed to Sara's tense, set vision as if a
slight tremor ran throughout the whole stairway.
In an agony of terror she watched Garth's steady, downward progress.
She felt as though she must scream out to him to hurry--/hurry/! Yet
she bit back the scream lest it should startle him, every muscle of
her body rigid with the effort that her silence cost her.
Seven stairs more! Six!
Sara's lips were moving voicelessly. She was whispering rapidly over
and over again--
"God! God! God! Keep him safe! . . . You can do it. . . . Don't let
him fall. . . ."
Five! Only five steps more!
"Hold up the stairs! . . . God! /Don't/ let them give way! . . .
Again there came the familiar thudding sound of an explosion.
Somewhere another bomb, hurled from the cavernous dark that hid the
enemy, had fallen, and almost simultaneously, it seemed, a warning
thunder rumbled overhead like the menacing growl of a wild beast
suddenly let loose.
At the first low mutter of that threat of imminent disaster, Garth
Gripping Tim firmly in his arms, he leaped from the quaking staircase,
falling awkwardly, prone beneath the burden of the other's helpless
body, as he landed.
And even as he reached the ground, the upper story of the house, with
a roar that shook the whole remaining fabric of the building, crashed
to earth in an avalanche of stone and brick and flying slates, whilst
the stairway upon which he had been standing gave a sickening lurch,
rocked, and fell out sideways into the hall in a smother of dust and
Stumblingly, those who had been watching groped their way through the
powdery cloud, as it swirled and eddied, towards the dark blotch at
the foot of the stairs which was all that could be distinguished of
Trent and his burden.
To Sara, the momentary silence that ensued was in infinity of nameless
"We're all right," gasped Trent reassuringly, and choked violently as
he inhaled a mouthful of grit-laden air.
In the same instant, across the murk shot a broad beam of light from
the open doorway. Behind it Sara could discern white faces peering
anxiously--Audrey's and Miles's, and, behind them again, loomed the
heads and shoulders of others who had hurried to the scene of the
Then Herrick's voice rang out, high-pitched with gathering
"Are you all safe?"
And when the reassuring answer reached the little throng upon the
threshold, a murmur of relief went up, culminating in a ringing cheer
as the news percolated through to the crowd which had collected in the
In an amazingly short time, so it seemed to Sara, she found herself
comfortably tucked into the back seat of Garth's car, between him and
Molly. Judson, with Jane beside him, took the wheel, and they were
soon speeding swiftly away towards Greenacres, where Audrey had
insisted that the homeless household must take refuge--the remainder
of the party following in the Herricks' limousine.
It had been a night of adventure, but it was over at last, and, as
Jane Crab remarked with stolid conviction--
"The doctor--blessed saint!--was never intended to be killed by one of
they 'Uns, so they might as well have saved theirselves the trouble of
trying it--and we'd all have slept the easier in our beds!"
Elisabeth came slowly out of the room where her son was lying.
She had reached Greenacres--in response to Sara's letter, posted on
the eve of the raid--late in the afternoon of the following day, and
Audrey had at once taken her upstairs to see Tim and left them
together. And now, as she closed the door of his room behind her, she
leaned helplessly against the wall and her lips moved in a whispered
cry of poignant misery.
"Maurice! . . . Maurice saved him! . . . Oh, my God!"
Her eyes--the beautiful, hyacinth eyes--stared strickenly in front of
her, wide and horrified like the eyes of a hunted thing, and her hands
were twisted and wrung beneath the stress of the overwhelming
knowledge which Tim had so joyously prattled out to her. She could
hear him now, boyishly enthusiastic, extolling Garth with the eager,
unstinted hero-worship of youth, and every word he said had pierced
her like the stab of a knife.
"If ever a chap deserved the V.C., Trent does, by Jove! It was the
bravest thing I've ever known, mother mine, for he told me afterwards,
he never expected that the top story would hold out till he got me
away. He'd seen it from the outside first, you know! And there was I,
held up with this confounded ankle, /and/ with a whole heap of plaster
and a brick or two sitting on my chest I thought I'd gone west that
time, for a certainty!"
And Tim chuckled delightedly, blissfully unconscious that with each
word he spoke he was binding upon his mother's shoulders an
insuperable burden of remorse.
It was Garth Trent who had saved her son--Garth Trent, to whom she
owed all the garnered happiness of her married life, yet whose own
life's fabric she had pulled down about his ears! And now, to the
already overwhelming magnitude of her debt to him, he had added this--
this final act of sacrifice.
With an almost superhuman effort, Elisabeth had forced herself to
listen quietly to Tim's account of his rescue from the shattered upper
story of the Selwyn's house--to listen precisely as though Garth's
share in the matter held no particular significance for her beyond the
splendid one it must inevitably hold for any mother.
But now, safe from the clear-sighted glance of Tim's blue eyes, she
let the mask slip from her and crouched against his door in
uncontrollable agony of spirit.
The sin which she had sinned in secret--which, sometimes, she had
almost come to believe was not a sin, so beautiful had been its fruit
--revealed itself to her now in all its naked ugliness.
Looking backward, down the vista of years, the whole structure of her
happiness appeared in its true perspective, reared upon a lie--upon
that same lie which had blasted Garth Trent's career and sent him out,
dishonoured, from the company of his fellows.
And this man from whom she had taken faith, and hope, and good repute
--everything, in fact, that makes a man's life worth having--had given
her the life of her son!
She dropped her face between her hands with a low moan. It was
Then, afraid that Tim might hear her, she passed stumblingly into her
own room at the end of the corridor, and there, in solitude and
darkness, she fought out the battle between her desire still to
preserve the secret she had guarded three-and-twenty years, and the
impulse toward atonement which was struggling into life within her.
Like a scourge the knowledge of her debt to Garth drove her before it,
beating her into the very depths of self-abasement, but, even so, her
pride of name, and the mother-love which yearned to shield her son
from all that it must involve if she should now confess the sin of her
youth, urged her to let the present still keep the secrets of the
The habit of years, the very purpose for which she had worked, and
lied, and fought, must be renounced if she were to make atonement. A
tale that was unbelievably shameful must be revealed--and Tim would
have to know all that there was to be known.
To Elisabeth, this was the most bitter thing she had to face--the fact
that Tim, for whose sake she had so strenuously guarded her secret,
must learn, not only what was written on that turned-down page of
life, but also what kind of woman his mother had proved herself--how
totally unlike the beautiful conception which his ardent boyish faith
in her had formed.
Would he understand? Would he ever understand--and forgive?
Meanwhile, the Herricks and their guests--"Audrey's refugees," as
Molly elected to describe the latter, herself included--had gathered
round the fire in the library, and were chatting desultorily while
they awaited Elisabeth's return from her visit to Tim's sick-room.
The casualties of the previous evening had been found to be augmented
by two, since Mrs. Selwyn had remained in bed throughout the day,
under the impression that she was suffering from shock, whilst Garth
Trent was discovered to have dislocated his shoulder, and had been
compelled to keep his room by medical orders.
In endeavouring to shield Tim, as they crashed to the ground together
from the tottering staircase, Trent had fallen undermost, receiving
the full brunt of the fall; and a dislocated shoulder and a severe
shaking, which had left him bruised and sore from head to foot, were
Characteristically, he had maintained complete silence about his
injury, composedly accompanying Sara back to Greenacres in his car,
and he had just been making his way out of the house when he had
quietly fainted away on to the floor. After which, the Herricks had
taken over command.
"I think," remarked Molly pertinently, "you might as well turn
Greenacres into an annexe to the 'Convalescent,' Audrey. You've got
four cases already."
The Lavender Lady glanced up smilingly from one of the khaki socks
which, in these days, dangled perpetually from her shining needles,
and into which she knitted all the love, and pity, and tender prayers
of her simple old heart.
"Mr. Trent is better," she announced with satisfaction. "I had tea
upstairs with him this afternoon."
"Yes," supplements Selwyn, "I fancy one of your patients has struck,
Audrey. Trent intends coming down this evening. Judson has just come
back from Far End with some fresh clothes for him."
Audrey turned hastily to her husband.
"Good Heavens, Miles! We can't let him come down! Mrs. Durward will be
here with us."
"Well?"--placidly from Herrick.
"Well! It will be anything but well!" retorted Audrey significantly.
"Have you forgotten what happened that day in Haven Woods? I'm not
going to have Garth hurt like that again! He may have been cashiered a
hundred times--I don't care whether he was or not!--he's a man!"
A very charming smile broke over Miles's face.
"I've always known it," he said quietly. "And--I should think Mrs.
Durward knows it now."
"Yes. I know it now."
The low, contralto tones that answered were Elisabeth's. Unnoticed,
she had entered the room and was standing just outside the little
group of people clustered round the hearth--her slim, black-robed
figure, with its characteristic little air of stateliness, sharply
defined in the ruddy glow of the firelight.
A sudden tremor of emotion seemed to ripple through the room. The
atmosphere grew tense, electric--alert as with some premonition of
The two men had risen to their feet, but no one spoke, and the brief
rustle of movement, as every one turned instinctively towards that
slender, sable figure, whispered into blank silence.
To Miles, infinitely compassionate, there seemed something symbolical
in the figure of the woman standing there--isolated, outside the
friendly circle of the fireside group, standing solitary at the table
as a prisoner stands at the bar of judgment.
The firelight, flickering across her face, revealed its pallor and the
burning fever of her eyes, and drew strange lights from the heavy
chestnut hair that swathed her head like a folded banner of flame.
For a long moment she stood silently regarding the ring of startled
faces turned towards her. Then at last she spoke.
"I have something to tell you," she said, addressing herself
primarily, it seemed, to Miles.
Perhaps she recognized the compassionate spirit of understanding which
was his in so great a measure and appealed to it unconsciously.
Selwyn, with sensitive perception, turned as though to leave the room,
but she stopped him.
"No, don't go," she said quickly. "Please stay--all of you. I--I wish
you all to hear what I have to say." She spoke very composedly, with a
curious submissive dignity, as though she had schooled herself to meet
this moment. "It concerns Garth Trent--at least, that is the name by
which you know him. His real name is Maurice--Maurice Kennedy, and he
is my cousin, Lord Grisdale's younger son. He has lived here under an
assumed name because--because"--her voice trembled a little, then
steadied again to its accustomed even quality--"because I ruined his
life. . . . The only way in which I can make amends is by telling you
the true facts of the Indian Frontier episode which led to Maurice's
dismissal from the Army. He--ought never to have been--cashiered for
She paused, and with a sudden instinctive movement Sara grasped
Selwyn's arm, while the sharp sibilance of her quick-drawn breath cut
across the momentary silence.
"No," Elisabeth repeated. "Maurice ought never to have been cashiered.
He was absolutely innocent of the charge against him. The real
offender was Geoffrey . . . my husband. It was he--Geoffrey, not
Maurice--who was sent out in charge of the reconnaissance party from
the fort--and it was he whose nerve gave way when surprised by the
enemy. Maurice kept his head and tried to steady him, but, at the
time, Geoffrey must have been mad--caught by sudden panic, together
with his men. Don't judge him too hardly"--her voice took on a note of
pleading--"you must remember that he had been enduring days and nights
of frightful strain, and that the attack came without any warning
. . . in the darkness. He had no time to think--to pull himself
together. And he lost his head. . . . Maurice did his best to save the
situation. Realizing that for the moment Geoffrey was hardly
accountable, he deliberately shot him in the leg, to incapacitate him,
and took command himself, trying to rally the men. But they stampeded
past him, panic-stricken, and it was while he was storming at them to
turn round and put up a fight that--that he was shot in the back." She
faltered, meeting the measureless reproach in Sara's eyes, and
strickenly aware of the hateful interpretation she had put upon the
same incident when describing it to her on a former occasion.
For the first time, she seemed to lose her composure, rocking a little
where she stood and supporting herself by gripping the edge of the
table with straining fingers.
But no one stirred. In poignant silence they awaited the continuance
of the tale which each one sensed to be developing towards a climax of
"Afterwards," pursued Elisabeth at last, "at the court-martial, two of
the men gave evidence that they had seen Geoffrey fall wounded at the
beginning of the skirmish--they did not know that it was Maurice who
had disabled him intentionally--so that he was completely exonerated
from all blame, and the Court came to the conclusion that, the command
having thus fallen to Maurice, he had lost his nerve and been guilty
of cowardice in face of the enemy. Geoffrey himself knew nothing of
the actual facts--either then or later. He had gone down like a log
when Maurice shot him, striking his head as he fell, and concussion of
the brain wiped out of his mind all recollection of what had occurred
in the fight prior to his fall. The last thing he remembered was
mustering his men together in readiness to leave the fort. Everything
else was a blank."
Out of the shadows of the fire-lit room came a muttered question.
"Yes." Elisabeth bent her head in answer. "There was--other evidence
forthcoming. But not then, not at the time of the trial. Then Maurice
was dismissed from the Army."
She seemed to speak with ever-increasing difficulty, and her hand went
up suddenly to her throat. It was obvious that this self-imposed
disclosure of the truth was taking her strength to its uttermost
"I had better tell you the whole story--from the beginning," she said,
at last, haltingly, and, after a moment's hesitation, she resumed in
the hard, expressionless voice of intense effort.
"Before Maurice went out to India, he and I were engaged to be
married. On my part, it would have been only a marriage of
convenience, for I was not in love with him, although I had always
been fond of him in a cousinly way. There was another man whom I loved
--the man I afterwards married, Geoffrey Lovell--" for an instant her
eyes glowed with a sudden radiance of remembrance--"and he and I
became secretly engaged, in spite of the fact that I had already
promised to marry Maurice. I expect you think that was unforgivable of
me," she seemed to search the intent faces of her little audience as
though challenging the verdict she might read therein; "but there was
some excuse. I was very young, and at the time I promised myself to
Maurice I did not know that Geoffrey cared for me. And then--when I
knew--I hadn't the courage to break with Maurice. He and Geoffrey were
both going out to India--they were in the same regiment--and I kept
hoping that something might happen which would make it easier for me.
Maurice might meet and be attracted by some other woman. . . . I hoped
She fell silent for a moment, then, gathering her remaining strength
together, as it seemed, she went on relentlessly--
"Something did happen. Maurice was cashiered from the Army, and I had
a legitimate reason for terminating the engagement between us. . . .
Then, just as I thought I was free, he came to tell me his case would
be reopened; there was an eye-witness who could prove his innocence, a
private in his own regiment. I never knew who the man was"--she turned
slightly at the sound of a sudden brusque movement from Miles Herrick,
then, as he volunteered no remark, continued--"but it appeared he had
been badly wounded and had only learned the verdict of the court-
martial after his recovery. He had then written to Maurice, telling
him that he was in a position to prove that it was not he, but
Geoffrey Lovell who had been guilty of cowardice. When I understood
this, and realized what it must mean, I confessed to Maurice that
Geoffrey was the man I loved, and I begged and implored him to take
the blame--to let the verdict of the court-marital stand. It was a
horrible thing to do--I know that. . . . but think what it meant to
me! It meant the honour and welfare of the man I loved, as opposed to
the honour and welfare of a man for whom I cared comparatively little.
Maurice was not easy to move, but I made him understand that, whatever
happened now, I should never marry him--that I should sink or swim
with Geoffrey, and at last he consented to do the thing I asked. He
accepted the blame and went away--to the Colonies, I believe.
Afterwards, as you all know, he returned to England and lived at Far
End under the name of Garth Trent."
Such was the tale Elisabeth unfolded, and the hushed listeners, keyed
up by its tragic drama, could visualize for themselves the scene of
that last piteous interview between Elisabeth and the man who had
loved her to his own utter undoing.
She was still a very lovely woman, and it was easy to realize how
well-nigh bewilderingly beautiful she must have been in her youth,
easy to imagine how Garth--or Maurice Kennedy, as he must henceforth
be recognized--worshipping her with a boy's headlong passion, had
agreed to let the judgment of the Court remain unchallenged and to
shoulder the burden of another man's sin.
Probably he felt that, since he had lost her, nothing else mattered,
and, with the reckless chivalry of youth, he never stopped to count
the cost. He only knew that the woman he loved, whose beauty pierced
him to the very soul, so that his vision was blurred by the sheer
loveliness of her, demanded her happiness at his hands and that he
must give it to her.
"I suppose you think there was no excuse for what I did," Elisabeth
concluded, with something of appeal in her voice. "But I did not
realize, then, quite all that I was taking from Maurice. I think that
much must be granted me. . . . But I make no excuse for what I did
afterwards. There is none. I did it deliberately. Maurice had won the
woman Tim wanted, and I hoped that if he were utterly discredited,
Sara would refuse to marry him, and thus the way would be open to Tim.
So I made public the story of the court-martial which had sentenced
Maurice. Had it not been for that, I should have held my peace for
ever about his having been cashiered. I--I owed him that much." She
was silent a moment. Presently she raised her head and spoke in harsh,
wrung accents. "But I've been punished! God saw to that. What do you
think it has meant to me to know that my husband--the man I worshipped
--had been once a coward? It's true the world never knew it . . . but
I knew it."
The agony of pride wounded in its most sacred place, the suffering of
love that despises what it loves, yet cannot cease from loving, rang
in her voice, and her haunted eyes--the eyes which had guarded their
secret so invincibly--seemed to plead for comfort, for understanding.
It was Miles who answered that unspoken supplication.
"I think you need never feel shame again," he said very gently. "Major
Durward's splendid death has more than wiped out that one mistake of
his youth. Thank God he never knew it needed wiping out."
A momentary tranquility came into Elisabeth's face.
"No," she answered simply. "No, he never knew." Then the tide of
bitter recollection surged over her once more, and she continued
passionately: "Oh yes, I've been punished! Day and night, day and
night since the war began, I've lived in terror that the fear--his
father's fear--might suddenly grip Tim out there in Flanders. I kept
him out of the Army--because I was afraid. And then the war came, and
he had to go. Thank God--oh, thank God!--he never failed! . . . I
suppose I am a bad woman--I don't know . . . I fought for my own love
and happiness first, and afterwards for my son's. But, at least, I'm
not bad enough to let Maurice go on bearing . . . what he has borne
. . . now that he has saved Tim's life. He has given me the only thing
. . . left to me . . . of value in the whole world. In return, I can
give him the one thing that matters to him--his good name. Henceforth
Maurice is a free man."
"/What/ are you saying?"
The sharp, staccato question cut across Elisabeth's quiet,
concentrated speech like a rapier thrust, snapping the strained
attention of her listeners, who turned, with one accord, to see
Kennedy himself standing at the threshold of the room, his eyes
fastened on Elisabeth's face.
She met his glance composedly; on her lips a queer little smile which
held an indefinable pathos and appeal.
"I am telling them the truth--at last, Maurice," she said calmly. "I
have told them the true story of the court-martial."
"You--you have told them /that/?" he stammered. He was very pale. The
sudden realization of all that her words implied seemed to overwhelm
"Yes." She rose and moved quietly to the door, then face to face with
Kennedy, she halted. Her eyes rested levelly on his; in her bearing
there was something aloofly proud--an undiminished stateliness, almost
regal in its calm inviolability. "They know--now--all that I took from
you. I shall not ask your forgiveness, Maurice . . . I don't expect
it. I sinned for my husband and my son--that is my only justification.
I would do the same again."
Instinctively Maurice stood aside as she swept past him, her head
unbowed, splendid even in her moment of surrender--almost, it seemed,
unbeaten to the last.
For a moment there was a silence--palpitant, packed with conflicting
Then, with a little choking sob, Sara ran across the room to Maurice
and caught his hands in hers, smiling whilst the tears streamed down
"Oh, my dear!" she cried brokenly. "Oh, my dear!"
"There shall never be one lost good! What was, shall live as before;
The evil is null, is nought, is silence implying sound;
What was good, shall be good, with, for evil,
So much good more . . ."
"How can you prove it, Garth--Maurice, I mean?"--Selwyn corrected
himself with a smile. "You'll need more than Mrs. Durward's confession
to secure official reinstatement by the powers that be."
The clamour of joyful excitement and wonder and congratulation had
spent itself at last, the Lavender Lady had shed a few legitimate
tears, and now Selwyn voiced the more serious aspect of the matter.
It was Herrick who made answer.
"I have the necessary proofs," he said quietly. He had crossed to a
bureau in the corner of the room, and now returned with a packet of
papers in his hand.
"These," he pursued, "are from my brother Colin, who is farming in
Australia. He was a good many years my senior--and I've always
understood that he was a bit of a ne'er-do-well in his younger days.
Ultimately, he enlisted in the Army as a Tommy, and in that scrap on
the Indian Frontier he was close behind Maurice and saw the whole
thing. He got badly wounded then, and was dangerously ill for some
time afterwards, so it happened that he knew nothing about the court-
martial till it was all over. When he recovered, he wrote to Maurice,
offering his evidence, and"--smiling whimsically across at Kennedy--
"received a haughty letter in reply, assuring him that he was mistaken
in the facts and that the writer did not dispute the verdict of the
court. My brother rather suspected some wild-cat business, so before
he went to Australia, some years later, he placed in my hands properly
witnessed documents containing the true facts of the matter, and it
was only when, through Mrs. Durward, we learned that Maurice had been
cashiered from the Army, that the connection between that and the
Frontier incident flashed into my mind as a possibility. I had heard
that the Durwards' name had been originally Lovell--and I began to
wonder if Garth Trent's name had not been originally"--with a glint of
humour in his eyes--"Maurice Kennedy! Here's my brother's letter"--
passing it to Sara, who was standing next him--"and here's the
document which he left in my care. I've had 'em both locked away since
I was seventeen."
Sara's eyes flew down the few brief lines of the letter.
"Evidently the young fool wishes to be thought guilty," Colin
Herrick had written. "Shielding his pal Lovell, I suppose. Well,
it's his funeral, not mine! But one never knows how things may pan
out, and some day it might mean all the difference between heaven
and hell to Kennedy to be able to prove his innocence--so I am
enclosing herewith a properly attested record of the facts, Miles,
in case I should send in my checks while I'm at the other side of
As a matter of fact, however, Colin still lived and prospered in
Australia, so that there would be no difficulty in proving Maurice's
innocence down to the last detail.
"Do you mean," Sara appealed to Miles incredulously, "do you mean--
that there were these proofs--all the time? And you--/you knew/?"
"Herrick wasn't to blame," interposed Maurice hastily, sensing the
horrified accusation in her tones. "I forbade him to use those
Miles looked at her and a light kindled in his eyes.
"My dear, you're marrying a chivalrous, quixotic fool. Maurice refused
to let me show these proofs because, on the strength of his promise to
shield Geoffrey Lovell, Elisabeth had married and borne a son. Not
even though it meant smashing up his whole life would he go back on
"Garth! Garth!" The name by which she had always known him sprang
spontaneously from Sara's lips. Her voice was shaking, but her eyes,
likes Herrick's, held a glory of quiet shining. "How could you, dear?
What madness! What idiotic, glorious madness!"
"I don't see how I could have done anything else," said Maurice
simply. "Elisabeth's whole scheme of existence was fashioned on her
trust in my promise. I couldn't--afterwards, after her marriage and
Tim's birth--suddenly pull away the very foundation on which she had
built up her life."
Impulsively Sara slipped her hand into his.
"I'm glad--/glad/ you couldn't, dear," she whispered. "It would not
have been my Garth if you could have done."
He pressed her hand in silence. A curious lassitude was stealing over
him. He had borne the heat and burden of the day, and now that the
work was done and there was nothing further to fight for, nothing left
to struggle and contend against, he was conscious of a strange feeling
It seemed almost as though the long agony of those years of self-
immolation had been in vain--a useless sacrifice, made meaningless and
of no account by the destined march of events.
He felt vaguely baulked and disillusioned--bewildered that a man's aim
and purpose, which in its accomplishing had cost so immeasurable a
price--crushing the whole beauty and savour out of life--should
suddenly be destroyed and nullified. In the light of the present, the
past seemed futile--years that the locust had eaten.
It was a relief when presently some one broke in upon the confused
turmoil of his thoughts with a message from Tim. He was asking to see
both Sara and Maurice--would they go to him?
Together they went up to his room--Maurice still with that look of
grave perplexity upon his face which his somewhat bitter reflections
The eager, boyish face on the pillow flushed a little as they entered.
"Mother has told me everything," he said simply, going straight to the
point. "It's--it's been rather a facer."
Maurice pointed to the narrow ribbon--the white, purple, white of the
Military Cross--upon the breast of the khaki tunic flung across a
chair-back--a rather disheveled tunic, rescued with other odds and
ends from the wreckage of Tim's room at Sunnyside.
"It needn't be, Tim," he said, "with that to your credit."
Tim's eyes glowed.
"That's just it--that's what I wanted to see you for," he said. "I
hope you won't think it cheek," he went on rather shyly, "but I wanted
you to know that--that what you did for my mother--assuming the
disgrace, I mean, that wasn't yours--hasn't been all wasted. What
little I've done--well, it would never have been done had I known what
I know now."
"I think it would," Maurice dissented quietly.
Tim shook his head.
"No. Had my father been cashiered--for cowardice"--he stumbled a
little over the words--"the knowledge of it would have knocked all the
initiative out of me. I should have been afraid of showing the white
feather. . . . The fear of being afraid would have been always at the
back of me." He paused, then went on quickly: "And I think it would
have been the same with Dad. It--it would have broken him. He could
never have fought as he did with that behind him. You've . . . you've
given two men to the country. . . ."
He broke off, boyishly embarrassed, a little overwhelmed by his own
And suddenly to Maurice, all that had been dark and obscure grew clear
in the white shining of the light that gleamed down the track of those
A beautiful and ordered issue was revealed. Out of the ruin and bleak
suffering of the past had sprung the flaming splendour of heroic life
and death--a glory of achievement that, but for those arid years of
silence, had been thwarted and frustrated by the deadening knowledge
of the truth.
Kindling to the recognition of new and wonderful significances, his
eyes sought those of the woman who loved him, and in their quiet
radiance he read that she, too, had understood.
For her, as for him, the dark places had been made light, and with
quickened vision she perceived, in all that had befallen, the
fulfilling of the Divine law.
Her hands went out to him, and the grave happiness deepened in her
"Oh, my dear, no love--no sacrifice is ever wasted!"
She spoke very simply, very confidently.