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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 24. The Promise
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 24. The Promise Post by :JPatrick Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2732

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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 24. The Promise


After all, it was Crowther who broke that tragic silence; perhaps because he could bear it no longer. The path on which they stood was deserted. He laid a very steady hand upon Piers' shoulder with a compassionate glance at the stony young face which a few minutes before had been so full of abounding life.

"It comes hard to you, eh, lad?" he said.

Piers stirred, almost made as if he would toss the friendly hand away; but in the end he suffered it, though he would not meet Crowther's eyes.

"You owe it to her," urged Crowther gently. "Tell her, lad! She's bound to be up against it sooner or later if you don't."

"Yes," Piers said. "I know."

He spoke heavily; all the youth seemed to have gone out of him. After a moment, as Crowther waited he turned with a gesture of hopelessness and faced him. "I'm like a dog on a chain," he said. "I drag this way and that, and eat my heart out for freedom. But it's all no use. I've got to live and die on it." He clenched his hands in sudden passionate rebellion. "But I'm damned if I'm going to tell anybody! It's hell enough without that!"

Crowther's hand closed slowly and very steadily on his shoulder. "It's just hell that I want to save you from, sonny," he said. "It may seem the hardest part to you now, but if you shirk it you'll go further in still. I know very well what I'm saying. And it's just because you're man enough to feel this thing and not a brute beast to forget it, that it's hurt you so infernally all these years. But it'll hurt you worse, lad, it'll wring your very soul, if you keep it a secret between you and the woman you love. It's a big temptation, but--if I know you--you're going to stand up to it. She'll think the better of you for it in the end. But it'll be a shadow over both your lives if you don't. And there are some things that even a woman might find it hard to forgive."

He stopped. Piers' eyes were hard and fixed. He scarcely looked as if he heard. From below them there arose the murmur of the moonlit sea. Close at hand the trees in a garden stirred mysteriously as though they moved in their sleep. But Piers made neither sound nor movement. He stood like an image of stone.

Again the silence began to lengthen intolerably, to stretch out into a desert of emptiness, to become fateful with a bitterness too poignant to be uttered. Crowther said no more. He had had his say. He waited with unswerving patience for the result.

Piers spoke at last, and there was a queer note of humour in his voice,--humour that was tragic. "So I've got to go back again, have I? Back to my valley of dry bones! There's no climbing the heights for me, Crowther, never will be. Somehow or other, I am always tumbled back."

"You're wrong," Crowther said, with quiet decision. "It's the only way out. Take it like a man, and you'll win through! Shirk it and--well, sonny, no shirker ever yet got anything worth having out of life. You know that as well as I do."

Piers straightened himself with a brief laugh. "Yes, I know that much. But--I sometimes ask myself if I'm any better than a shirker. Life is such a beastly farce so far as I am concerned. I never do anything. There's never anything to do."

"Oh, rats!" said Crowther, and smiled. "There are not many fellows who do half as much. If to-day is a fair sample of your life, I'm damned if it's an easy one."

"I'm used to it," said Piers quickly. "You know, I'm awfully fond of my grandfather--always have been. We suit each other marvellously well--in some ways." He paused a moment, then, with an effort, "I never told him either, Crowther. I never told a soul."

"No," Crowther said. "I don't see any reason that you should. But the woman you marry--she is different. If you take her into your inner life at all, she is bound to come upon it sooner or later. You must see it, lad. You know it in your heart."

"And you think she will marry me when she knows I'm a--murderer?" Piers uttered the word through clenched teeth. He had the haggard look of a man who has endured long suffering.

There was deep compassion in Crowther's eyes as he watched him. "I don't think--being a woman--she will put it in that way," he said, "not, that is, if she loves you."

"How else could she put it?" demanded Piers harshly. "Is there any other way of putting it? I killed the man intentionally. I told you so at the time. The fellow who taught me the trick warned me that it would almost certainly be fatal to a heavy man taken unawares. Why, he himself is now doing five years' penal servitude for the very same thing. Oh, I'm not a humbug, Crowther. I bolted from the consequences. You made me bolt. But I've often wished to heaven since that I'd stayed and faced it out. It would have been easier in the end, God knows."

"My dear fellow," Crowther said, "you will never convince me of that as long as you live. There was nothing to gain by your staying and all to lose. Consequences there were bound to be--and always are. But there was no good purpose to be served by wrecking your life. You were only a boy, and the luck was against you. I couldn't have stood by and seen you dragged under."

Piers groaned. "I sometimes wish I was dead!" he said.

"My dear chap, what's the good of that?" Crowther slipped his hand from his shoulder to his arm, and drew him quietly forward. "You've suffered infernally, but it's made a man of you. Don't forget that! It's the Sculptor and the Clay, lad. He knows how best to fashion a good thing. It isn't for the clay to cry out."

"Is that your point of view?" Piers spoke with reckless bitterness. "It isn't mine."

"You'll come to it," said Crowther gently.

They walked on for a space in silence, till turning they began to ascend the winding path that led up to the hotel,--the path which Piers had watched Crowther ascend that morning.

Side by side they mounted, till half-way up Crowther checked their progress. "Piers," he said, "I'm grateful to you for enduring my interference in this matter."

"Pshaw!" said Piers, "I owe you that much anyhow."

"You owe me nothing," said Crowther emphatically. "What I did for you, I did for myself. I've rather a weakness--it's a very ordinary one too--for trying to manage other people's concerns. And there's something so fine about you that I can't bear to stand aside and see you mess up your own. So, sonny,--for my satisfaction,--will you promise me not to take a wrong turning over this?"

He spoke very earnestly, with a pleading that could not give offence. Piers' face softened almost in spite of him. "You're an awfully good chap," he said.

"Promise me, lad!" pleaded Crowther, still holding his arm in a friendly grasp; then as Piers hesitated: "You know, I'm an older man than you are. I can see further. You'll be making your own hell if you don't."

"But why should I promise?" said Piers uneasily.

"Because I know you will keep a promise--even against your own judgment." Simply, with absolute conviction, Crowther made reply. "I shan't feel happy about you--unless you promise."

Piers smiled a little, but the lines about his mouth were grim. "Oh, all right," he said, after a moment, "I promise;--for I think you are right, Crowther. I think too that I should probably have to tell her--whether I wanted to or not. She's that sort--the sort that none but a skunk could deceive. But--" his voice altered suddenly; he turned brooding eyes upon the sleeping sea--"I wonder if she will forgive me," he said. "I--wonder."

"Does she love you?" said Crowther.

Piers' eyes flashed round at him. "I can make her love me," he said.

"You are sure?"

"I am sure."

"Then, my son, she'll forgive you. And if you want to play a straight game, tell her soon!" said Crowther.

And Piers, with all the light gone out of his eyes, answered soberly, "I will."

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