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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 17. The Place Of Torment
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 17. The Place Of Torment Post by :JPatrick Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :932

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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 17. The Place Of Torment

PART I. THE GATES OF BRASS CHAPTER XVII. THE PLACE OF TORMENT

The surgery-bell pealed imperiously, and Tudor looked up from his book. It was his custom to read far into the night, for he was a poor sleeper and preferred a cosy fireside to his bed. But that night he was even later than usual. Glancing at the clock on the mantelpiece, he saw that it was a quarter to two. With a shrug of the shoulders expressive rather of weariness than indifference, he rose to answer the bell.

It pealed again before he reached the door, and the doctor frowned. He was never very tolerant of impatience. He unfastened the bolts without haste. The case might be urgent, but a steady hand and cool nerve were usually even more essential than speed in his opinion. He opened the door therefore with a certain deliberation, and faced the sharp night air with grim resignation. "Well? Who is it? Come in!"

He expected to see some village messenger, and the sight of Piers, stern-faced, with the fur collar of his motor-coat turned up to his ears, was a complete surprise.

"Hullo!" he said, staring at him. "Anything wrong?"

Piers stared back with eyes of burning hostility. "I want a word with you," he announced curtly. "Will you come out, or shall I come in?"

"You'd better come in," said Tudor, suppressing a shiver, "unless I'm wanted up at the Abbey."

"You're not," said Piers.

He stepped into the passage, and impetuously stripped off his heavy coat. Tudor shut the door, and turned round. He surveyed his visitor's evening-dress with a touch of contempt. He himself was clad in an ancient smoking-jacket, much frayed at the cuffs; and his carpet-slippers were so trodden down at the heel that he could only just manage to shuffle along in them.

"Go into the consulting-room!" he said. "There's a light there."

Piers strode in, and waited for him. Seen by the light of the gas that burned there, his face was pale and set in lines of iron determination. His eyes shone out of it like the eyes of an infuriated wild beast.

"Do you know what I've come for?" he said, as Tudor shambled into the room.

Tudor looked him over briefly and comprehensively. "No, I don't," he said. "I hoped I'd seen the last of you."

His words were as brief as his look. It was obvious that he had no intention of wasting time in mere courtesy.

Piers' lips tightened at his tone. He looked full and straight at the baffling glasses that hid the other man's contemptuous eyes.

"I've come for a reckoning with you," he said.

"Really?" said Tudor. He glanced again at the clock. "Rather an unusual hour, isn't it?"

Piers passed the question by. He was chafing on his feet like a caged animal. Abruptly he came to the point.

"I told you the other day that I wouldn't put up with any interference from you. I didn't know then how far your interference had gone. I do know now. This scheme to get me out of the country was of your contrivance."

Fiercely he flung the words. He was quivering with passionate indignation. But the effect on Tudor was scarcely perceptible. He only looked a little colder, a little more satirical, than was his wont.

"Well?" he said. "What of it?"

Piers showed his teeth momentarily. His hands were hard gripped behind him, as though he restrained himself by main force from open violence.

"You don't deny it?" he said.

"Why should I?" Tudor's thin lips displayed a faint sneer. "I certainly advised your grandfather to go away, and I think the advice was sound."

"It was--from your point of view." A tremor of fierce humour ran through Piers' speech. "But plans--even clever ones--don't always turn out as they should. This one for instance--what do you think you are going to gain by it?"

"What do you mean?" Tudor stood by the table facing Piers, his attitude one of supreme indifference. He seemed scarcely to feel the stormy atmosphere that pulsated almost visibly around the younger man. His eyes behind their glasses were cold and shrewd, wholly emotionless.

Piers paused an instant to grip his self-control the harder, for every word he uttered seemed to make his hold the more precarious.

"I'll tell you what I mean," he said, his voice low and savagely distinct. "I mean that what you've done--all this sneaking and scheming to get me out of your way--isn't going to serve your purpose. I mean that you shall swear to me here and now to give up the game during my absence, or take the consequences. It is entirely due to you that I am going, but--by Heaven--you shall reap no advantage from it!"

His voice rose a little, and the menace of it became more apparent. He bent slightly towards the man he threatened. His eyes blazed red and dangerous. Tudor stood his ground, but it was impossible any longer to ignore Piers' open fury. It was like the blast of a hurricane hurled full against him. He made a slight gesture of remonstrance.

"My good fellow, all this excitement is utterly uncalled for. The advice I gave your grandfather would, I am convinced, have been given by any other medical man in the country. If you are not satisfied with it, you had better get him to have another opinion. As to taking advantage of your absence, I really don't know what you mean, and I think if you are wise you won't stop to explain. It's getting late and if you don't value your night's rest, I can't do without mine. Also, I think when the morning comes, you'll be ashamed of this foolery."

He spoke with studied coldness. He knew the value of a firm front when facing odds. But he did not know the fiery soul of the man before him, or realize that contempt poured upon outraged pride is as spirit poured upon flame.

He saw the devil in Piers' eyes too late to change his tactics. Almost in the same moment the last shred of Piers' self-control vanished like smoke in a gale. He uttered a fearful oath and sprang upon Tudor like an animal freed from a leash.

The struggle that followed was furious if brief. Tudor's temper, once thoroughly roused, was as fierce as any man's, and though his knowledge of the science of fighting was wholly elementary, he made a desperate resistance. It lasted for possibly thirty seconds, and then he found himself flung violently backwards across the table and pinned there, with Piers' hands gripping his throat, and Piers' eyes, grim and murderous, glaring down into his own.

"Be still!" ordered Piers, his voice no more than a whisper. "Or I'll kill you--by Heaven, I will!"

Tudor was utterly powerless in that relentless grip. His heart was pumping with great hammer-strokes; his breathing came laboured between those merciless hands. His own hands were closed upon the iron wrists, but their hold was weakening moment by moment, he knew their grasp to be wholly ineffectual. He obeyed the order because he lacked the strength to do otherwise.

Piers slowly slackened his grip. "Now," he said, speaking between lips that scarcely seemed to move, "you will make me that promise."

"What--promise?" Gaspingly Tudor uttered the question, yet something of the habitual sneer which he always kept for Piers distorted his mouth as he spoke. He was not an easy man to beat, despite his physical limitations.

Sternly and implacably Piers answered him. "You will swear--by all you hold sacred--to take no advantage whatever of me while I am away. You had a special purpose in view when you planned to get me out of the way. You will swear to give up that purpose, till I come back."

"I?" said Tudor.

Just the one word flung upwards at his conqueror, but carrying with it a defiance so complete that even Piers was for the moment taken by surprise! Then, the devil urging him, he tightened his grip again. "Either that," he said, "or--"

He left the sentence unfinished. His hands completed the threat. He had passed the bounds of civilization, and his savagery whirled him like a fiery torrent through the gaping jaws of hell. The maddening flames were all around him, the shrieking of demons was in his ears, driving him on to destruction. He went, blinded by passion, goaded by the intolerable stabs of jealousy. In those moments he was conscious of nothing save a wild delirium of anger against the man who, beaten, yet resisted him, yet threw him his disdainful refusal to surrender even in the face of overwhelming defeat.

But the brief respite had given Tudor a transient renewal of strength. Ere that terrible grip could wholly lock again, he made another frantic effort to free himself. Spasmodic as it was, and wholly unconsidered, yet it had the advantage of being unexpected. Piers shifted his hold, and in that instant Tudor found and gripped the edge of the table. Sharply, with desperate strength, he dragged himself sideways, and before his adversary could prevent it he was over the edge. He fell heavily, dragging Piers with him, struck his head with violence against the table-leg, and crumpled with the blow like an empty sack.

Piers found himself gripping a limp, inanimate object, and with a sudden sense of overpowering horror he desisted. He stumbled up, staggering slightly, and drew a long, hard breath. His heart was racing like a runaway engine. All the blood in his body seemed to be concentrated there. Almost mechanically he waited for it to slow down. And, as he waited, the madness of that wild rush through hell fell away from him. The demons that had driven him passed into distance. He was left standing in a place of desolation, utterly and terribly alone.

* * * * *

A trickle of cold water ran down Tudor's chin. He put up a hesitating, groping hand, and opened his eyes.

He was lying in the arm-chair before the fire in which he had spent the evening. The light danced before him in blurred flashes.

"Hullo!" he muttered thickly. "I've been asleep."

He remained passive for a few moments, trying, not very successfully, to collect his scattered senses. Then, with an effort that seemed curiously laboured, he slowly sat up. Instinctively, his eyes went to the clock above him, but the hands of it seemed to be swinging round and round. He stared at it bewildered.

But when he tried to rise and investigate the mystery, the whole room began to spin, and he sank back with a feeling of intense sickness.

It was then that he became aware of another presence. Someone came from behind him and, stooping, held a tumbler to his lips. He looked up vaguely, and as in a dream he saw the face of Piers Evesham.

But it was Piers as he had never before seen him, white-lipped, unnerved, shaking. The hand that held the glass trembled almost beyond control.

"What's the matter?" questioned Tudor in hazy wonder. "Have you been boozing, or have I?"

And then, his perceptions growing stronger, he took the glass from the quivering hand and slowly drank.

The draught steadied him. He looked up with more assurance, and saw Piers, still with that deathly look on his face, leaning against the mantelpiece for support.

"What on earth's the matter?" said Tudor sharply.

He felt for his glasses, found them dangling over his shoulder, and put them on. One of them was cracked across, an illuminating fact which accounted for much. He looked keenly at Piers for several quiet seconds.

At length with a shade of humour he spoke. "Here endeth the first lesson! You'd make a better show if you had a drink also. I'm sorry there's only one glass. You see, I wasn't expecting any friends to-night."

Piers started a little and straightened himself; but his face remained bloodless, and there was a curiously stunned look in his eyes. He did not attempt to utter a word.

Tudor drained his glass, sat a moment or two longer, then got up. There were brandy and water on his writing-table. He poured out a stiff dose, and turned to Piers with authority.

"Pull yourself together, Evesham! I should have thought you'd made a big enough fool of yourself for one night. Drink this! Don't spill it now! And don't sit down on the fire, for I don't feel equal to pulling you off!"

His manner was briskly professional, the manner he usually reserved for the hysterical portion of his patients. He was still feeling decidedly shaky himself, but Piers' collapse was an admirable restorative. He stood by, vigilant and resolute, while the brandy did its work.

Piers drank in silence, not looking at him. All the arrogance had gone out of him. He looked broken and unmanned.

"Better?" asked Tudor at length.

He nodded mutely, and set down the glass.

Tudor surveyed him questioningly. "What happened to you?" he asked finally.

"Nothing!" Piers found his voice at last, it was low and shamed. "Nothing whatever! You--you--my God!--I thought you were dead, that's all."

"That all?" said Tudor. He put his hand up to his temple. There was a fair-sized lump there already, and it was swelling rapidly.

Piers nodded again. The deathly pallor had gone from his face, but he still avoided Tudor's eyes. He spoke again, below his breath, as if more to himself than to Tudor.

"You looked so horribly like--like--a man I once--saw killed."

"If you are wise, you will go home to bed," said Tudor gruffly.

Piers flashed a swift look at him. He stood hesitating. "You're not really hurt?" he questioned, after a moment.

"Thank you," said Tudor drily, "I am not."

He made no movement of reconciliation. Perhaps it was hardly to be expected of him. Piers made none either. He turned away in silence.

The clock on the mantelpiece chimed the hour. Two o'clock! Tudor looked at it with a wry smile. It had been a lively quarter of an hour.

The surgery-door banged upon Piers' departure. He heard his feet move heavily to the gate, and the dull clang of the latter closing behind him. Then, after a protracted pause, there came the sound of his motor.

As this throbbed away into distance Tudor smiled again grimly, ironically. "Yes, you young ruffian," he said. "It's given your nerves a nasty jolt, and serves you jolly well right! I never saw any fellow in such a mortal funk before, and--from your somewhat rash remark--I gather that it's not the first lesson after all. I wonder when--and how--you killed that other man."

He was still speculating as he turned out the light and went to his room.

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