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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 16. The Warning
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 16. The Warning Post by :JPatrick Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2914

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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 16. The Warning

PART I. THE GATES OF BRASS CHAPTER XVI. THE WARNING

"Going away to-morrow, are you?" said Ina Rose, in her cool young voice. "I hope you'll enjoy it."

"Thanks!" said Piers. "No doubt I shall."

He spoke with his eyes on the dainty lace fan he had taken from her.

Ina frankly studied his face. She had always found Piers Evesham interesting.

"I should be wild if I were in your place," she remarked, after a moment.

He shrugged his shoulders, and his brown face slightly smiled. "Because of the hunting?" he said, and turned his eyes upon her fresh, girlish face. "But there's always next year, what?"

"Good gracious!" said Ina. "You talk as if you were older than your grandfather. It wouldn't comfort me in the least to think of next season's hunting. And I don't believe it does you either. You are only putting it on."

"All right!" said Piers. His eyes dwelt upon her with a species of mocking homage that yet in a fashion subtly flattered. He always knew how to please Ina Rose, though not always did he take the trouble. "Let us say--for the sake of argument--that I am quite inconsolable. It doesn't matter to anyone, does it?"

"I don't know why you should say that," said Ina. "It ought to matter--anyhow to your grandfather. Why don't you make him go by himself?"

Piers laughed a careless laugh, still boldly watching her. "That wouldn't be very dutiful of me, would it?" he said.

"I suppose you're not afraid of him?" said Ina, who knew not the meaning of the word.

"Why should you suppose that?" said Piers.

She met his look in momentary surprise. "To judge by the way you behaved the other day, I should say you were not."

Piers frowned. "Which day?"

Ina explained without embarrassment. "The day that girl held up the whole Hunt in Holland's meadow. My word, Piers, how furious the old man was! Does he often behave like that?"

Piers still frowned. His fingers were working restlessly at the ivory sticks of her fan. "If you mean, does he often thrash me with a horsewhip, no, he doesn't," he said shortly. "And he wouldn't have done it then if I'd had a hand to spare. I'm glad you enjoyed the spectacle. Hope you were all edified."

"You needn't be waxy," said Ina calmly. "I assure you, you never showed to greater advantage. I hope your lady friend was duly grateful to her deliverer. I rather liked her pluck, Piers. Who is she?"

There was a sudden crack between Piers' fingers. He looked down hastily, and in a moment displayed three broken ivory fan-sticks to the girl beside him. "I'm horribly sorry, Ina," he said.

Ina looked at the damage, and from it to his face of contrition. "You did it on purpose," she said.

"I did not," said Piers.

"You're very rude," she rejoined.

"No, I'm not," he protested. "I'm sorry. I hope you didn't value it for any particular reason. I'll send you another from Paris."

She spurned the broken thing with a careless gesture. "Not you! You'd be afraid to."

Piers' brows went up. "Afraid?"

"Of your grandfather," she said, with a derisive smile. "If he caught you sending anything to me--or to the lady of the meadow--" she paused eloquently.

Piers looked grim. "Of course I shall send you a fan if you'll accept it."

"How nice of you!" said Ina. "Wouldn't you like to send something for her in the same parcel? I'll deliver it for you--if you'll tell me the lady's address."

Her eyes sparkled mischievously as she made the suggestion. Piers frowned yet a moment longer, then laughed back with abrupt friendliness.

"Thanks awfully! But I won't trouble you. It's decent of you not to be angry over this. I'll get you a ripping one to make up."

Ina nodded. "That'll be quite amusing. Everyone will think that you're really in earnest at last. Poor Dick will be furious when he knows."

"You'll probably console him pretty soon," returned Piers.

"Think so?" Ina's eyes narrowed a little; she looked at Piers speculatively. "That's what you want to believe, is it?"

"I? Of course not!" Piers laughed again. "I never wished any girl engaged yet."

"Save one," suggested Ina, and an odd little gleam hovered behind her lashes with the words. "Why won't you tell me her name? You might as well."

"Why?" said Piers.

"I shall find it out in any case," she assured him. "I know already that she dwells under the Vicar's virtuous roof, and that the worthy Dr. Tudor finds it necessary to drop in every day. I suppose she is the nurse-cook-housekeeper of that establishment."

"I say, how clever of you!" said Piers.

The girl laughed carelessly. "Isn't it? I've studied her in church--and you too, my cavalier. I don't believe you have ever attended so regularly before, have you? Did she ever tell you her age?"

"Never," said Piers.

"I wonder," said Ina coolly. And then rather suddenly she rose. "Piers, if I'm a prying cat, you're a hard-mouthed mule! There! Why can't you admit that you're in love with her?"

Piers faced her with no sign of surprise. "Why don't you tell me that you're in love with Guyes?" he said.

"Because it wouldn't be true!" She flung back her answer with a laugh that sounded unaccountably bitter. "I have yet to meet the man who is worth the trouble."

"Oh, really!" said Piers. "Don't flatter us more than you need! I'm sorry for Guyes myself. If he weren't so keen on you, it's my belief you'd like him better."

"Oh no, I shouldn't!" Ina spoke with a touch of scorn. "I shouldn't like him either less or more, whatever he did. I couldn't. But of course he's extremely eligible, isn't he?"

"Does that count with you?" said Piers curiously.

She looked at him. "It doesn't with you of course?" she said.

"Not in the least," he returned with emphasis.

She laughed again, and pushed the remnants of her fan with her foot. "It wouldn't. You're so charmingly young and romantic. Well, mind the doctor doesn't cut you out in your absence! He would be a much more suitable _parti for her, you know, both as to age and station. Shall we go back to the ball-room now? I am engaged to Dick for the next dance. I mustn't cut him in his own house."

It was an annual affair but quite informal--this Boxing Night dance at the Guyes'. Dick himself called it a survival of his schoolboy days, and it was always referred to in the neighbourhood as "Dick's Christmas party." He and his mother would no more have dreamed of discontinuing the festivity than of foregoing their Christmas dinner, and the Roses of Wardenhurst were invariably invited and as invariably attended it. Piers was not so constant a guest. Dick had thrown him an open invitation on the hunting-field a day or two before, and Piers, having nothing better to do, had decided to present himself.

He liked dancing, and was easily the best dancer among the men. He also liked Ina Rose, or at least she had always thought so, till that night. They were friends of the hunting-field rather than of the drawing-room, but they always drifted together wherever they met. Sir Beverley had never troubled himself about the intimacy. The girl belonged to the county, and if not quite the brilliant match for Piers that he would have chosen, she came at least of good old English stock. He knew and liked her father, and he would not have made any very strenuous opposition to an alliance between the two. The girl was well bred and heiress to the Colonel's estate. She would have added considerably to Piers' importance as a landowner, and she knew already how to hold up her head in society. Also, she led a wholesome, outdoor existence, and was not the sort of girl to play with a man's honour.

No, on the whole Sir Beverley had no serious objection to the prospect of a marriage between them, save that he had no desire to see Piers married for another five years at feast. But Ina could very well afford to wait five years for such a prize as Piers. Meanwhile, if they cared to get engaged--it would keep the boy out of mischief, and there would be no harm in it.

So had run Sir Beverley's thoughts prior to the appearance of the mother's help at the Vicarage. But she--the woman with the resolute mouth and grey, steadfast eyes--had upset all his calculations. It had not needed Lennox Tudor's hint to put him on his guard. He had known whither the boy's wayward fancy was tending before that. The scene in the hunting-field had been sufficient revelation for him, and had lent strength to his arm and fury to his indignation.

Piers' decision to spend his last night in England at a dance had been a surprise to him, but then the boy had puzzled him a good many times of late. He had even asked himself once or twice if it had been his deliberate intention to do so. But since it was absolutely certain that the schemer at the Vicarage would not be present at Dick Guyes' party, Sir Beverley did not see any urgent necessity for keeping his grandson at his side. He even hoped that Piers would enjoy himself though he deemed him a fool to go.

And, to judge from appearances, Piers was enjoying himself. Having parted from Ina, he claimed for his partner his hostess,--a pretty, graceful woman who danced under protest, but so exquisitely that he would hardly be persuaded to give her up when the dance was over.

He scarcely left the ball-room for the rest of the evening, and when the party broke up he was among the last to leave. Dick ingenuously thanked him for helping to make the affair a success. He was not feeling particularly happy himself, since Ina had consistently snubbed him throughout; but he did not hold Piers in any way responsible for her attitude. Dick's outlook on life was supremely simple. He never attempted to comprehend the ways of women, being serenely content to regard them as beyond his comprehension. He hoped and believed that one day Ina would be kind to him, but he was quite prepared to wait an indefinite time for that day to dawn. He took all rebuffs with resignation, and could generally muster a smile soon after.

He smiled tranquilly upon Piers at parting and congratulated him upon the prospect of missing the worst of the winter. To which Piers threw back a laugh as he drove away in his little two-seater, coupled with the careless assurance that he meant to make the most of his time, whatever the weather.

"Lucky dog!" said Guyes, as he watched him disappear down the drive.

But if he had seen the expression that succeeded Piers' laugh, he might have suppressed the remark. For Piers' face, as he raced alone through the darkness, was the set, grim face of a man who carries a deadly purpose in his soul. He had laughed and danced throughout the evening, but in his first moment of solitude the devil he had kept at bay had entered into full possession.

To the rush and throb of his engine, he heard over and over the gibing, malicious words of a girl's sore heart: "Mind the doctor doesn't cut you out in your absence!"

Obviously then this affair was the common talk of the neighbourhood since news of it had even penetrated to Wardenhurst. People were openly watching the rivalry between Lennox Tudor and himself, watching and speculating as to the result. And he, about to be ignominiously removed from the conflict by his grandfather, at Tudor's suggestion, had become the laughing-stock of the place. Piers' teeth nearly met in his lower lip. Let them laugh! And let them chatter! He would give them ample food for amusement and gossip before he left.

He had yielded to his grandfather's desire because instinct had told him that his absence just at that stage of his wooing would be more beneficial than his presence. He was shrewd enough to realize that the hot blood in him was driving him too fast, urging him to a pace which might irreparably damage his cause. For that reason alone, he was ready to curb his fierce impetuosity. But to leave a free field for Lennox Tudor was not a part of his plan. He had scarcely begun to regard the man in the light of a serious rival, although fully aware of the fact that Tudor was doing his utmost to remove him from his path. But if Ina thought him so, he had probably underestimated the danger.

He had always detested Tudor very thoroughly. Piers never did anything by halves, and the doctor's undisguised criticism of him never failed to arouse his fiercest resentment. That Tudor disliked him in return was a fact that could scarcely escape the notice of the most careless observer. The two were plainly antipathetic, and were scarcely civil to one another even in public.

But that night Piers' antagonism flared to a deadly hatred. The smouldering fire had leaped to a fierce blaze. Two nights before he had smothered it with the exultant conviction that Tudor's chances with Avery were practically non-existent. He had known with absolute certainty that he was not the type of man to attract her. But to-night his mood had changed. Whether Tudor's chances had improved or not, he scarcely stopped to question, but that other people regarded them as possibly greater than his own was a fact that sent the mad blood to his head. He tore back through the winter night like a man possessed, with Ina Rose's scoffing warning beating a devil's tattoo in his brain.

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