Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 25. Dross
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 25. Dross Post by :JPatrick Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :3032

Click below to download : The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 25. Dross (Format : PDF)

The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 25. Dross

PART I. THE GATES OF BRASS CHAPTER XXV. DROSS

In the morning they hired horses and went towards the mountains. The day was cloudless, but Sir Beverley would not be persuaded to accompany them.

"I'm not in the mood for exertion," he said to Piers. "Besides, I detest hired animals, always did. I shall spend an intellectual morning listening to the band."

"Hope you won't be bored, sir," said Piers.

"Your going or coming wouldn't affect that one way or another," responded Sir Beverley.

Whereat Piers laughed and went his way.

He was curiously light-hearted again that morning. The soft Southern air with its many perfumes exhilarated him like wine. The scent of the orange-groves rose as incense to the sun.

The animal he rode danced a skittish side-step from time to time. It was impossible to go with sober mien.

"It's a good land," said Crowther.

"Flowing with milk and honey," laughed Piers, with his eyes on the olive-clothed slopes. "But there's no country like one's own, what?"

"No country like England, you mean," said Crowther.

"Of course I do, but I was too polite to say so."

"You needn't be polite to me," said Crowther with his slow smile. "And England happens to be my country. I am as British--" he glanced at Piers' dark face--"perhaps even a little more so--than you are."

"I plead guilty to an Italian grandmother," said Piers. "But you--I thought you were Colonial."

"I am British born and bred," said Crowther.

"You?" Piers looked at him in surprise. "You don't belong to Australia then?"

"Only by adoption. I was the son of an English parson. I was destined for the Church myself for the first twenty years of my life." Crowther was still smiling, but his eyes had left Piers; they scanned the horizon contemplatively.

"Great Scott!" said Piers. "Lucky escape for you, what?"

"I didn't think so at the time," Crowther spoke thoughtfully, sitting motionless in his saddle and gazing straight before him. "You see, I was keen on the religious life. I was narrow in my views--I was astonishingly narrow; but I was keen."

"Ye gods!" said Piers.

He looked at the square, strong figure incredulously. Somehow he could not associate Crowther with any but a vigorous, outdoor existence.

"You would never have stuck to it," he said, after a moment. "You'd have loathed the life."

"I don't think so," said Crowther, in his deliberate way, "though I admit I probably shouldn't have expanded much. It wasn't easy to give it up at the time."

"What made you do it?" asked Piers.

"Necessity. When my father died, my mother was left with a large family and quite destitute. I was the eldest, and a sheep-farming uncle--a brother of hers--offered me a wage sufficient to keep her going if I would give up the Church and join him. I was already studying. I could have pushed through on my own; but I couldn't have supported her. So I had to go. That was the beginning of my Colonial life. It was five-and-twenty years ago, and I've never been Home since."

He turned his horse quietly round to continue the ascent. The road was steep. They went slowly side by side.

Crowther went on in a grave, detached way, as though he were telling the story of another man's life. "I kicked hard at going, but I've lived to be thankful that I went. I had to rough it, and it did me good. It was just that I wanted. There's never much fun for a stranger in a strange land, sonny, and it took me some time to shake down. In fact just for a while I thought I couldn't stand it. The loneliness out there on those acres and acres of grass-land was so awful; for I was city-bred. I'd never been in the desert, never been out of the sound of church-bells." He began to smile again. "I'd even got a sort of feeling that God wasn't to be found outside civilization," he said. "I think we get ultra-civilized in our ideas sometimes. And the emptiness was almost overpowering. It was like being shut down behind bars of iron with occasional glimpses of hell to enliven the monotony. That was when one went to the townships, and saw life. They didn't tempt me at first. I was too narrow even for that. But the loneliness went on eating and eating into me till I got so desperate in the end I was ready to snatch at any diversion." He paused a moment, and into his steady eyes there came a shadow that made them very human. "I went to hell," he said. "I waded up to the neck in mire. I gave myself up to it body and soul. I wallowed. And all the while it revolted me, though it was so sickeningly easy and attractive. I loathed myself, but I went on with it. It seemed anyhow one degree better than that awful homesickness. And then one day, right in the middle of it all, I had a sort of dream. Or perhaps it wasn't any more a dream than Jacob had in the desert. But I felt as if I'd been called, and I just had to get up and go. I expect most people know the sensation, for after all the Kingdom of Heaven is within us; but it made a bigger impression on me at the time than anything in my experience. So I went back into the wilderness and waited. Old chap, I didn't wait in vain."

He suddenly turned his head, and his eyes rested upon Piers with the serenity of a man at peace with his own soul. "That's about all my story," he said with simplicity. "I got the strength for the job, and so carried it through. When my uncle died, I was left in command, and I've stuck to it ever since. But I took a partner a few years back, and now I've handed over the whole thing to him and I'm going Home at last to my old mother."

"Going to settle in England?" asked Piers.

Crowther shook his head. "Not now, lad. I couldn't. There's too much to be done. No; I'm going to fulfil my old ambitions if I can. I'm going to get myself ordained. After that--"

He paused, for Piers had turned to stare at him in open amazement. "You!" he ejaculated.

Crowther's smile came over his face like a spreading light. "You don't think much of parsons, I gather, sonny," he said.

Piers broke into his sudden laugh. "Not as a tribe, I admit. I can't stand any man who makes an ass of himself, whatever his profession. But of course I don't mean to assert that all parsons answer to that description. I've met a few I liked."

Crowther's smile developed into a laugh. "Then you, won't deprive me of the pleasure of your friendship if I become one?"

"My dear chap," said Piers forcibly, "if you became the biggest blackguard in creation, you would remain my friend."

It was regally spoken, but the speaker was plainly so unconscious of arrogance that Crowther's hand came out to him and lay for a moment on his arm. "I gathered that, sonny," he said gently.

Piers' eyes flashed sympathy. "And what are you going to do then? You say you're not going to settle in England?"

"I am not," said Crowther, and again he was looking out ahead of him with eyes that spanned the far distance. "No; I'm going back again to the old haunts. There's a thundering lot to do there. It's more than a one-man job. But, please God, I'll do what I can. I know I can do a little. It's a hell of a place, sonny. You saw the outside edge of it yourself."

Piers nodded without speaking. It had been in a sense his baptism of fire.

"It's the new chums I want to get hold of," Crowther said. "They get drawn in so devilishly easily. They're like children, many of 'em, trying to walk on quicksands. They're bound to go in, bound to go under, and a big percentage never come up again. It's the children I want to help. I hate to think of fresh, clean lives being thrown on to the dust-heap. It's so futile,--such a crying waste."

"If anyone can do it, you can," said Piers.

"Ah! I wonder. It won't be easy, but I know their temptations so awfully well. I've seen scores go under, I've been under myself. And that makes a lot of difference."

"Life is infernally difficult for most of us," said Piers.

They rode in silence for awhile, and then he changed the subject.

It was not till they returned that Crowther announced his intention of leaving on the following day.

"I've no time for slacking," he said. "I didn't come Home to slack. And there's the mother waiting for me."

"Oh, man," Piers said suddenly, "how I wish I had a mother!"

And then half-ashamed, he turned and went in search of his grandfather.

Again that evening Crowther accepted Sir Beverley's invitation to dine at their table. The old man seemed to regard Piers' friend with a kind of suspicious interest. He asked few questions but he watched him narrowly.

"If you and the boy want to go to the Casino again, don't mind me!" he said, at the end of dinner.

"We don't, sir," said Piers promptly. "Can't we sit out on the terrace all together and smoke?"

"I don't go beyond the lounge," said Sir Beverley, with decision.

"All right, we'll sit in the lounge," said Piers.

His grandfather frowned at him. "Don't be a fool, Piers! Can't you see you're not wanted?" He thrust out an abrupt hand to Crowther. "Good-night to you! I shall probably retire before you come in."

"He is leaving first thing in the morning," said Piers.

Sir Beverley's frown was transferred to Crowther. He looked at him piercingly. "Leaving, are you? Going to England, eh? I suppose we shall meet again then?"

"I hope so," said Crowther.

Sir Beverley grunted. "Do you? Well, we shan't be moving yet. But--if you care to look us up at Rodding Abbey when we do get back--you can; eh, Piers?"

"I tell him, he must, sir," said Piers.

"You are very kind," said Crowther. "Good-bye sir! And thank you!"

He and Piers went out together, and walked to and fro in the garden above the sea. The orchestra played fitfully in the hotel behind them, and now and then there came the sounds of careless voices and wandering feet. They themselves talked but little. Piers was in a dreamy mood, and his companion was plainly deep in thought.

He spoke at length out of a long silence. "Did your grandfather say Rodding Abbey just now?"

"Yes," said Piers, waking up.

"It's near a place called Wardenhurst?" pursued Crowther.

"Yes," said Piers again. "Ever been there?"

"No," Crowther spoke slowly, as though considering his words. "Someone I know lives there, that's all."

"Someone you know?" Piers stood still. He looked at Crowther sharply through the dimness.

"I don't suppose you have ever met her, lad," said Crowther quietly. "From what I know of society in the old country you wouldn't move in the same circle. But as I have promised myself to visit her, it seems better to mention the fact."

"Why shouldn't you mention it? What is her name?" Piers spoke quickly, in the imperious fashion habitual to him when not quite at his ease.

Crowther hesitated. He seemed to be debating some point with himself.

At length, "Her name," he said slowly, "is Denys."

Piers made a sudden movement that passed unexplained. There fell a few moments of silence. Then, in a voice even more measured than Crowther's, he spoke.

"As it happens, I have met her. Tell me what you know about her,--if you don't mind."

Again Crowther hesitated.

"Go on," said Piers.

They were facing one another in the darkness. The end of Piers' cigar had ceased to glow. He did not seem to be breathing. But in the tense moments that followed his words there came to Crowther the hard, quick beating of his heart like the thud of a racing engine far away.

Instinctively he put out a hand. "Piers, old chap,--" he said.

"Go on!" Piers said again.

He gripped both hand and wrist with nervous fingers, holding them almost as though he would force from him the information he desired.

Crowther waited no longer, for he knew in that moment that he stood in the presence of a soul in torment. "You'll have to know it," he said, "though why these things happen, God alone knows. Sonny, she is the widow of the man whose death you caused."

The words were spoken, and after them came silence--such a silence as could be felt. Once the hands that gripped Crowther's seemed about to slacken, and then in a moment they tightened again as the hands of a drowning man clinging to a spar.

Crowther attempted nothing in the way of sympathy or consolation. He merely stood ready. But it was evident that he did not need to be told of the tragedy that had suddenly fallen upon Piers' life. His attitude said as much.

Very, very slowly at last, as if not wholly sure of his balance, Piers let him go. He took out his cigar with a mechanical movement and looked at it; then abruptly returned it to his lips and drew it fiercely back to life.

Then, through a cloud of smoke, he spoke. "Crowther, I made you a promise yesterday."

"You did," said Crowther gravely.

Piers threw him a quick look. "Oh, you needn't be afraid," he said. "I'm not going to cry off. It's not my way. But--I want you to make me a promise in return."

"What is it, sonny?" There was just a hint of anxiety in Crowther's tone.

Piers made a reckless, half-defiant movement of the head. "It is that you will never--whatever the circumstances--speak of this thing again to anyone--not even to me."

"You think it necessary to ask that of me?" said Crowther.

"No, I don't!" Impulsively Piers made answer. "I believe I'm a cur to ask it. But this thing has dogged me so persistently that I feel like an animal being run to earth. For my peace of mind, Crowther;--because I'm a coward if you like--give me your word on it!"

He laid a hand not wholly steady upon Crowther's shoulder, and impelled him forward. His voice was low and agitated.

"Forgive me, old chap!" he urged. "And understand, if you can. It's all you can do to help."

"My dear lad, of course I do!" Instant and reassuring came Crowther's reply. "If you want my promise, you have it. The business is yours, not mine. I shall never interfere."

"Thank you--thanks awfully!" Piers said.

He drew a great breath. His hand went through Crowther's arm.

"That gives me time to think," he said. "What an infernal tangle this beastly world is! I suppose you think there's a reason for everything?"

"You've heard of gold being tried in the fire," said Crowther.

Piers broke into his sudden laugh. "I'm not gold, my dear chap, but the tinniest dross that ever was made. Shall we go and have a drink, what? This sort of thing always makes me thirsty."

It was characteristically abrupt. It ended the matter in a trice. They went together to the hotel _buffet_, and there Piers quenched his thirst. It was while there that Crowther became aware that his mood had wholly changed. He laughed and joked with the bright-eyed French girl who waited upon them, and seemed loth to depart. Silently, but with a growing anxiety, Crowther watched him. There was certainly nothing forced about his gaiety. It was wildly, recklessly spontaneous; but there was about it a fevered quality that set Crowther almost instinctively on his guard. He did not know, and he had no means of gauging, exactly how deeply the iron had pierced. But that some sort of wound had been inflicted he could not doubt. It might be merely a superficial one, but he feared that it was something more than that. There was a queer, intangible species of mockery in Piers' attitude, as though he set the whole world at defiance.

And yet he did not look like a man who had been stunned by an unexpected, sledge-hammer blow of Fate. He was keenly, fiercely alive to his surroundings. He seemed to be gibing rather at a blow that had glanced aside. Uneasily Crowther wondered.

It was he who finally suggested a move. It was growing late.

"So it is!" said Piers. "You ought to be turning in if you really mean to make an early start."

He stood still in the hall and held out his hand. "Good-night, old chap! I'm not going up at present."

"You'd better," said Crowther.

"No, I can't. I couldn't possibly turn in yet." He thrust his hand upon Crowther. "Good-night! I shall see you in the morning."

Crowther took the hand. The hall was deserted. They stood together under a swinging lamp, and by its flaring light Crowther sought to read his companion's face.

For a moment or two Piers refused to meet his look, then with sudden stubbornness he raised his eyes and stared back. They shone as black and hard as ebony.

"Good-night!" he said again.

Crowther's level brows were slightly drawn. His hand, square and strong, closed upon Piers' and held it.

For a few seconds he did not speak; then: "I don't know that I feel like turning in yet either, sonny," he said deliberately.

Piers made a swift movement of impatience. His eyes seemed to grow brighter, more grimly hard.

"I'm afraid I must ask you to excuse me in any case," he said. "I'm going up to see if my grandfather has all he wants."

It was defiantly spoken. He turned with the words, almost wresting his hand free, and strode away towards the lift.

Reaching it, some sense of compunction seemed to touch him for he looked back over his shoulder with an abrupt gesture of farewell.

Crowther made no answering sign. He stood gravely watching. But, as the lift shot upwards, he turned aside and began squarely to ascend the stairs.

When Piers came out of his room ten minutes later with a coat over his arm he came face to face with him in the corridor. There was a certain grimness apparent about Crowther also by that time. He offered no explanation of his presence, although quite obviously he was waiting.

Piers stood still. There was a dangerous glitter in his eyes that came and went. "Look here, Crowther!" he said. "It's no manner of use your attempting this game with me. I'm going out, and--whether you like it or not, I don't care a damn--I'm going alone."

"Where are you going?" said Crowther.

"To the Casino," Piers flung the words with a gleam of clenched teeth.

Crowther looked at him straight and hard. "What for?" he asked.

"What do people generally go for?" Piers prepared to move on as he uttered the question.

But Crowther deliberately blocked his way. "No, Piers," he said quietly. "You're not going to-night."

The blood rose in a great wave to Piers' forehead. His eyes shone suddenly red. "Do you think you're going to stop me?" he said.

"For to-night, sonny--yes." Quite decidedly Crowther made reply. "To-morrow you will be your own master. But to-night--well, you've had a bit of a knock out; you're off your balance. Don't go to-night!"

He spoke with earnest appeal, but he still blocked the passage squarely, stoutly, immovably.

The hot flush died out of Piers' face; he went slowly white. But the blaze of wrath in his eyes leaped higher. For the moment he looked scarcely sane.

"If you don't clear out of my path, I shall throw you!" he said, speaking very quietly, but with a terrible distinctness that made misunderstanding impossible.

Crowther, level-browed and determined, remained where he was. "I don't think you will," he said.

"Don't you?" A faint smile of derision twisted Piers' lips. He gathered up the coat he carried, and threw it across his shoulder.

Crowther watched him with eyes that never varied. "Piers!" he said.

"Well?" Piers looked at him, still with that slight, grim smile.

Crowther stood like a rock. "I will let you pass, sonny, if you can tell me--on your word of honour as a gentleman--that the tables are all you have in your mind."

Piers tossed back his head with the action of an angry beast. "What the devil has that to do with you?"

"Everything," said Crowther.

He moved at last, quietly, massively, and took Piers by the shoulders. "My son," he said, "I know where you are going. I've been there myself. But in God's name, lad, don't--don't go! There are some stains that never come out though one would give all one had to be rid of them."

"Let me go!" said Piers.

He was breathing quickly; his eyes gazed fiercely into the elder man's face. He made no violent movement, but his whole body was tensely strung to resist.

Crowther's hands tightened upon him. "Not to-night!" he said.

"Yes, now!" Something of electricity ran through Piers; there came as it were the ripple of muscles contracting for a spring. Yet still he stood motionless, menacing but inactive.

"I will not!" Sudden and hard Crowther's answer came; his hold became a grip. By sheer unexpectedness of action, he forced Piers back against the door behind him.

It gave inwards, and they stumbled into the darkness of the bedroom.

"You fool!" said Piers. "You fool!"

Yet he gave ground, scarcely resisting, and coming up against the bed sat down upon it suddenly as if spent.

There fell a brief silence, a tense, hard-breathing pause. Then Piers reached up and freed himself.

"Oh, go away, Crowther!" he said. "You're a kind old ass, but I don't want you. And you needn't spend the night in the corridor either. See? Just go to bed like a Christian and let me do the same!"

The struggle was over; so suddenly, so amazingly, that Crowther stood dumbfounded. He had girded himself to wrestle with a giant, but there was nothing formidable about the boy who sat on the edge of his bed and laughed at him with easy ridicule.

"Why don't you switch on the light," he jeered, "and have a good look round for the devil? He was here a minute ago. What? Don't you believe in devils? That's heresy. All good parsons--" He got up suddenly and went to the switch. In a second the room was flooded with light. He returned to Crowther with the full flare on his face, and the only expression it wore was one of careless friendliness. He held out his hand. "Good-night, dear old fellow! Say your prayers and go to bed! And you needn't have any more nightmares on my account. I'm going to turn in myself directly."

There was no mistaking his sincerity, or the completeness of his surrender. Crowther could but take the extended hand, and, in silent astonishment, treat the incident as closed.

He even wondered as he went away if he had not possibly exaggerated the whole matter, though at the heart of him he knew that this was only what Piers himself desired him to believe. He could not but feel convinced, however, that the danger was past for the time at least. In his own inimitable fashion Piers had succeeded in reassuring him. He was fully satisfied that the boy would keep his word, for his faith in him was absolute. But he felt the victory that was his to be a baffling one. He had conquered merely because Piers of his own volition had ceased to resist. He did not understand that sudden submission. Like Sir Beverley, he was puzzled by it. There was about it a mysterious quality that eluded his understanding. He would have given a good deal for a glimpse of the motive that lay behind.

But he had to go without it. Piers was in no expansive mood. Perhaps he might have found it difficult to explain himself even had he so desired.

Whatever the motive that had urged him, it urged him no longer, or it had been diverted into a side-channel. For almost as soon as he was alone, he threw himself down and scribbled a careless line to Ina Rose, advising her to accompany her father to Mentone, and adding that he believed she would not be bored there.

When he had despatched Victor with the letter, he flung his window wide and leaned out of it with his eyes wide opened on the darkness, and on his lips that smile that was not good to see.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 26. Substance The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 26. Substance

The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 26. Substance
PART I. THE GATES OF BRASS CHAPTER XXVI. SUBSTANCEIt was a blustering spring day, and Avery, caught in a sudden storm of driving sleet, stood up against the railings of the doctor's house, sheltering as best she might. She was holding her umbrella well in the teeth of the gale, and trying to protect an armful of purchases as well. She was alone, Gracie, the black sheep, having been sent to school at the close of the Christmas holidays, and Jeanie being confined to the house with a severe cold. Olive, having become more and more her father's constant companion, disdained
PREVIOUS BOOKS

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

The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 24. The Promise
PART I. THE GATES OF BRASS CHAPTER XXIV. THE PROMISEAfter 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.
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT