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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 19. The Day Of Trouble
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 19. The Day Of Trouble Post by :JPatrick Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1435

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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 19. The Day Of Trouble

PART I. THE GATES OF BRASS CHAPTER XIX. THE DAY OF TROUBLE

Lennox Tudor spent hours at the Vicarage that day in close attendance upon Mrs. Lorimer in company with Avery who scarcely left her side. Terrible hours they were, during which they battled strenuously to keep the poor, quivering life in her weary body.

"There is no reason why she shouldn't pull round," Tudor assured Avery.

But yet throughout the day she hovered on the verge of collapse.

By night the worst danger was over, but intense weakness remained. She lay white and still, taking notice of nothing. Only once, when Avery was giving her nourishment, did she rouse herself to speak.

"Beg my husband not to be vexed with me!" she whispered. "Tell him there won't be another little one after all! He'll be glad to know that."

And Avery, cut to the heart, promised to deliver the message.

A little later she stole away, leaving the children's nurse in charge, and slipped up to the schoolroom for some tea. Tudor had gone to see another patient, but had promised to return as soon as possible.

The children were all gathered round the table at which Olive very capably presided. Gracie, looking wan and subdued, sat on the end of Jeanie's sofa; but she sprang to meet Avery the moment she appeared.

Avery sat down, holding the child's hand in hers. She glanced round the table as she did so.

"Where is Julian?"

"Upstairs," said Ronald briefly. "In disgrace."

Avery felt her heart contract with a sick sense of further trouble in the air. "Has he been there all day?" she asked. Ronald nodded. "And another flogging to-night if he doesn't apologize. He says he'll die first."

"So would I," breathed Gracie.

At this juncture the door swung open with stately precision, and Mr. Lorimer entered. Everyone rose, according to established custom, with the exceptions of Avery and Jeanie. Gracie's fingers tightened convulsively upon Avery's hand, and she turned as white as the table-cloth.

Mr. Lorimer, however, looked over her head as if she did not exist, and addressed Avery.

"Mrs. Denys, be so good as to spare me two minutes in the study!" he said with extreme formality.

"Certainly," Avery made quiet reply. "I will come to you before I go back to Mrs. Lorimer."

He raised his brows slightly, as if he had expected a more prompt compliance with his request. And then his eyes fell upon Gracie, clinging fast to Avery's hand.

"Grace," he said, in his clear, definite tones, "come here!"

The child gave a great start and shrank against Avery's shoulder. "Oh no!" she whispered. "No!"

"Come here!" repeated Mr. Lorimer.

He extended his hand, but Gracie only shrank further away. She was trembling violently, so violently that Avery felt impelled to pass a sustaining arm around her.

"Come, my child!" said the Vicar, the majestic composure of his features gradually yielding to a look of dawning severity.

"Go, dear!" whispered Avery.

"I don't want to," gasped Gracie.

"I shall not punish you," her father said, "unless I find you disobedient or still unrepentant."

"Darling, go!" Avery urged softly into her ear. "It'll be all right now."

But Gracie, shaking from head to foot and scarcely able to stand, only clung to her the faster, and in a moment she began agitatedly to cry.

Mr. Lorimer's hand fell to his side. "Still unrepentant, I fear," he said.

Avery, with the child gathered closely to her, looked across at him with wide, accusing eyes.

"She is frightened and upset," she said. "It is not fair to judge her in this condition."

Mr. Lorimer's eyes gleamed back malignantly. He made her an icy bow. "In that case, Mrs. Denys," he said, "she had better go to bed and stay there until her condition has improved."

Avery compressed her lips tightly, and made no rejoinder.

The Reverend Stephen compressed his, and after a definite pause of most unpleasant tension, he uttered a deep sigh and withdrew.

"I know he means to do it again!" sobbed Grade. "I know he does!"

"He shall not!" said Avery.

And with the words she put the child from her, rose, and with great determination walked out of the room.

Mr. Lorimer had scarcely settled himself in what he called his "chair of ease" in the study when her low knock reached him, and she entered. Her grey eyes were no longer angry, but very resolute. She closed the door softly, and came straight to the fire.

"Mr. Lorimer," she said, her voice pitched very low, "I want you to be patient with me just for a minute. Will you?"

Mr. Lorimer sighed again. "I am yearning for the refreshment of a little solitary meditation, Mrs. Denys," he said.

"I shall not keep you," Avery rejoined steadily. She stood before him, very pale but wholly composed. "What I have to say can be said in a very few seconds. First, with regard to Gracie; the child is so upset that I think any further punishment would make her downright ill."

"Pooh, my dear Mrs. Denys!" said the Reverend Stephen.

Avery paused a moment. "Will you try to listen to me with an open mind?" she said.

"I am listening," said Mr. Lorimer.

"I know she was naughty this morning," Avery continued. "I am not trying to defend her behaviour. But her punishment was a very severe one, and it has so terrified her that at present she can think of nothing else. Give her time to be sorry! Please give her time!"

Mr. Lorimer glanced at the clock. "She has already had nine hours," he observed. "I shall give her three more."

"And then?" said Avery.

His eyes travelled up to her troubled face. "And if by then," he said deliberately, "she has not come to me to express her penitence, I shall be reluctantly compelled to repeat the punishment."

"You will drive the child out of her senses if you do!" Avery exclaimed.

He shrugged his shoulders. "My dear Mrs. Denys, permit me to remind you that I have had considerable experience in the upbringing of children."

"And they are all afraid of you," Avery said.

He smiled. "In my opinion a little wholesome awe is salutary. No, Mrs. Denys, I cannot listen any further to your persuasion. In fact I fear that in Grace's case I have so far erred on the side of laxness. She has become very wild and uncontrolled, and--she must be tamed."

He closed his lips upon the word, and despair entered Avery's heart. She gripped her self-control with all her might, realizing that the moment she lost it, her strength would be gone.

With a great effort she turned from the subject. "I have a message for you from Mrs. Lorimer," she said, after a moment, and proceeded to deliver it in a low, steady voice, her eyes upon the fire.

The man in the chair heard it without the movement of a muscle of his face. "I will endeavour to look in upon her presently," was all the reply he made.

Avery turned to go, but he stopped her with a gesture.

"Mrs. Denys," he said smoothly, "you forget, I think, that I also had something to say."

Avery paused. She had forgotten.

He turned his eyes deliberately up to hers, as he leaned back in his chair. "I am sorry to have to tell you," he said, "that in consequence of your unfortunate zeal in encouraging the children in insubordination, I can no longer look upon you as in any sense a help in my household. I therefore desire that you will take a month's notice from now. If I can fill your place sooner, I shall dispense with your services earlier."

Calmly, dispassionately, he uttered the words. Avery stood quite still to hear them. And through her like a stab there ran the thought of the poor little woman upstairs. The pain of it was almost unbearable. She caught her breath involuntarily.

But the next moment she was herself again. She bowed without a word, and turned to go.

She had nearly reached the door ere she discovered that it stood open, and that Lennox Tudor was on the threshold, more grimly strong than she had ever before realized him to be.

He stood back for her to pass, holding the door for her without speaking. And in silence Avery departed.

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