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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 28. The Evesham Devil
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 28. The Evesham Devil Post by :JPatrick Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1262

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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 28. The Evesham Devil

PART I. THE GATES OF BRASS CHAPTER XXVIII. THE EVESHAM DEVIL

"Confound the boy!" said Sir Beverley.

He rose up from the black oak settle in the hall with a jerky movement of irritation, and tramped to the front-door.

It had been one of those strange soft days that sometimes come in the midst of blustering March storms, and though the sun had long gone down the warmth still lingered. It might have been an evening in May.

He opened the great door with an impatient hand. What on earth was the boy doing? Had he gone love-making to Wardenhurst? A grim smile touched the old man's grim lips as this thought occurred to him. That he was not wasting his time nearer home he was fairly convinced; for only that morning he had heard from Lennox Tudor that the mother's help at the Vicarage, over whom in the winter Piers had been inclined to make a fool of himself, had taken one of the children away for a change. It seemed more than probable by this time that Piers' wandering fancy had wholly ceased to stray in her direction, but the news of her absence had caused Sir Beverley undoubted satisfaction. He hoped his boy would not encounter that impertinent, scheming woman again until he was safely engaged to Ina Rose. That this engagement was imminent Sir Beverley was fully convinced. His only wonder was that it had not taken place sooner. The two had been thrown together almost daily during the sojourn of Colonel Rose and his daughter at Mentone, and they had always seemed to enjoy each other's society. Of course Sir Beverley did not like the girl. He actively disliked the whole female species. But she belonged to the county, and she seemed moreover to be a normal healthy young woman who would be the mother of normal healthy children. And this was the sort of wife Piers wanted. For Piers--drat the boy!--was not normal. He inherited a good deal of his Italian grandmother's temperament as well as her beauty. And life was not likely to be a very easy matter for him in consequence.

But an ordinary young English wife of his own rank would be a step in the right direction. So reasoned Sir Beverley, who had taken that fatal step in the wrong one in his youth and had never recovered the ground thus lost.

Standing there at the open door, he dwelt upon his boy's future with a kind of grim pleasure that was not unmixed with heartache. He and his wife would have to go and live at the Dower House of course. No feminine truck at the Abbey for him! But the lad should continue to manage the estate with him. That would bring them in contact every day. He couldn't do without that much. The evenings would be lonely enough. He pictured the long silent dinners with a weary frown. How infernally lonely the Abbey could be!

The steady tick of the clock in the corner forced itself upon his notice. He swore at it under his breath, and went out upon the steps.

At the same instant a view-halloo from the dark avenue greeted him, and in spite of himself his face softened.

"Hullo, you rascal!" he shouted back. "What the devil are you up to?"

Piers came running up, light-footed and alert. "I've been unlucky," he explained. "Had two punctures. I left the car at the garage and came on as quickly as I could. I say, I'm awfully sorry. I've been with Dick Guyes."

Sir Beverley growled inarticulately, and turned inwards. So he had not been to the Roses' after all!

"Get along with you!" he said. "And dress as fast as you can!"

And Piers bounded past him and went up the stairs in three great leaps. He seemed to have grown younger during the few days that had elapsed since their return, more ardent, more keenly alive. The English spring seemed to exhilarate him; but for the first time Sir Beverley began to have his doubts as to the reason for his evident pleasure in returning. What on earth had he been to see Guyes for? Guyes of all people--who was well-known as one of Miss Ina's most devoted adorers!

It was evident that the news he desired to hear would not be imparted to him that night, and Sir Beverley considered himself somewhat aggrieved in consequence. He was decidedly short with Piers when he reappeared--a fact which in no way disturbed his grandson's equanimity. He talked cheery commonplaces throughout dinner without effort, regardless of Sir Beverley's discouraging attitude, and it was not till dessert was placed upon the table that he allowed his conversational energies to flag.

Then indeed, as David finally and ceremoniously withdrew, did he suddenly seem to awake to the fact that conversation was no longer a vital necessity, and forthwith dropped into an abrupt, uncompromising silence.

It lasted for a space of minutes during which neither of them stirred or uttered a syllable, becoming at length ominous as the electric stillness before the storm.

They came through it characteristically, Sir Beverley staring fixedly before him under the frown that was seldom wholly absent from his face; Piers, steady-eyed and intent, keenly watching the futile agonies of a night-moth among the candles. There was about him a massive, statuesque look in vivid contrast to the pulsing vitality of a few minutes before.

It was Sir Beverley who broke the silence at last with a species of inarticulate snarl peculiarly his own. Piers' dark eyes were instantly upon him, but he said nothing, merely waiting for the words to which this sound was the preface.

Sir Beverley's brow was thunderous. He looked back at Piers with a piercing grim regard.

"Well?" he said. "What fool idea have you got in your brain now? I suppose I've got to hear it sooner or later."

It was not a conciliatory speech, yet Piers received it with no visible resentment. "I don't know that I want to say anything very special," he said, after a moment's thought.

"Oh, don't you?" growled Sir Beverley. "Then what are you thinking about? Tell me that!"

Piers leaned back in his chair. "I was thinking about Dick Guyes," he said. "He is dining at the Roses' to-night."

"Oh!" said Sir Beverley shortly.

A faint smile came at the corners of Piers' mouth. "He wants to propose to Ina for about the hundred and ninetieth time," he said, "but doesn't know if he can screw himself up to it. I told him not to be such a shy ass. She is only waiting for him to speak."

"Eh?" said Sir Beverley.

A queer little dancing gleam leaped up in Piers' eyes--the gleam that had invariably heralded some piece of especial devilry in the days of his boyhood.

"I told him she was his for the asking, sir," he said coolly, "and promised not to flirt with her any more till they were safely married."

"Damn you!" exclaimed Sir Beverley violently and without warning.

He had a glass of wine in front of him, and with the words his fingers gripped the stem. In another second he would have hurled the liquid full in Piers' face; but Piers was too quick for him. Quick as lightning, his own hand shot out across the corner of the table and grasped the old man's wrist.

"No, sir! No!" he said sternly.

They glared into each other's eyes, and Sir Beverley uttered a furious oath; but after the first instinctive effort to free himself he did no more.

At the end of possibly thirty seconds Piers took his hand away. He pushed back his chair in the same movement and rose.

"Shall we talk in the library?" he said. "This room is hot."

Sir Beverley raised the wine-glass to his lips with a hand that shook, and drained it deliberately.

"Yes," he said then, "We will--talk in the library."

He got up with an agility that he seldom displayed, and turned to the door. As he went he glanced up suddenly at the softly mocking face on the wall, and a sharp spasm contracted his harsh features. But he scarcely paused. Without further words he left the room; and Piers followed, light of tread, behind him.

The study windows stood wide open to the night. Piers crossed the room and quietly closed them. Then, without haste and without hesitation, he came to the table and stopped before it.

"I never intended to marry Ina Rose," he said. "I was only amusing myself--and her."

"The devil you were!" ejaculated Sir Beverley.

Piers went on with the utmost steadiness. "We are not in the least suited to one another, and we have the sense to realize it. The next time Guyes asks her, I believe she will have him."

"Sense!" roared Sir Beverley. "Do you dare to talk to me of sense, you--you blind fool? Mighty lot of sense you can boast of! And what the devil does it matter whether you suit one another--as you call it--or not, so long as you keep the whip-hand? You'll tell me next that you're not--in love with her, I suppose?"

The bitterness of the last words seemed to shake him from head to foot. He looked at Piers with the memory of a past torment in his eyes. And because of it Piers turned away his own.

"It's quite true, sir," he said, in a low voice. "I am not--in love with her. I never have been."

Sir Beverley's fist crashed down upon the table. "Love!" he thundered. "Love! Do you want to make me sick? I tell you, sir, I would sooner see you in your coffin than married to a woman with whom you imagined yourself in love. Oh, I know what you have in your mind. I've known for a long time. You're caught in the toils of that stiff-necked, scheming Judy at the Vicarage, who--"

"Sir!" blazed forth Piers.

He leaned across the table with a face gone suddenly white, and struck his own fist upon the polished oak with a passionate force that compelled attention.

Sir Beverley ceased his tirade in momentary astonishment. Such violence from Piers was unusual.

Instantly Piers went on speaking, his voice quick and low, quivering with the agitation that he had no time to subdue. "I won't hear another word on that subject! You hear me, sir? Not one word! It is sacred, and as such I will have it treated."

But the check upon Sir Beverley was but brief, and the flame of his anger burned all the more fiercely in consequence of it. He broke in upon those few desperate words of Piers' with redoubled fury.

"You will have this, and you won't have that! Confound you! What the devil do you mean? Are you master in this house, or am I?"

"I am master where my own actions are concerned," threw back Piers. "And what I do--what I decide to do--is my affair alone."

Swiftly he uttered the words. His breathing came quick and short as the breathing of a man hard pressed. He seemed to be holding back every straining nerve with a blind force that was physical rather than mental.

He drew himself suddenly erect as he spoke. He had flung down the gauntlet of his independence at last, and with clenched hands he waited for the answer to his challenge.

It came upon him like a whirlwind. Sir Beverley uttered an oath that fell with the violence of a blow, and after it a tornado of furious speech against which it was futile to attempt to raise any protest. He could only stand as it were at bay, like an animal protecting its own, fiery-veined, quivering, yet holding back from the spring.

Not for any insult to himself would he quit that attitude. He was striving desperately to keep his self-control. He had been within an ace of losing it, as the blood that oozed over his closed fist testified; but, for the sake of that manhood which he was seeking to assert, he made a Titanic effort to command himself.

And Sir Beverley, feeling the dumb strength that opposed him, resenting the forbearance with which he was confronted, infuriated by the unexpected force of the boy's resistance, turned with a snarl to seize and desecrate that which he had been warned was holy.

"As for this designing woman, I tell you, she is not for you,--not, that is, in any honourable sense. If you choose to make a fool of her, that's your affair. I suppose you'll sow the usual crop of wild oats before you've done. But as to marrying her--"

"By God, sir!" broke in Piers passionately. "Do you imagine that I propose to do anything else?"

The words came from him like a cry wrung from a man in torture, and as he uttered them the last of his self-control slipped from his grasp. With a face gone suddenly devilish, he strode round the table and stood before his grandfather, furiously threatening.

"I have warned you!" he said, and his voice was low, sunk almost to a whisper. "You can say what you like of me. I'm used to it. But--if you speak evil of her--I'll treat you as I would any other blackguard who dared to insult her. And now that we are on the subject, I will tell you this. If I do not marry this woman whom I love--I swear that I will never marry at all! That is my final word!"

He hurled the last sentence in Sir Beverley's face, and with it he would have swung round upon his heel; but something in that face detained him.

Sir Beverley's eyes were shining with an icy, intolerable sparkle. His thin lips were drawn in the dreadful semblance of a smile. He was half-a-head taller than Piers, and he seemed to tower above him in that moment of conflict.

"Wait a minute!" he said. "Wait a minute!"

His right hand was feeling along the leathern surface of the writing-table, but neither his eyes nor Piers' followed the movement. They held each other in a fixed, unalterable glare.

There followed several moments of complete and terrible silence--a silence more fraught with violence than any speech.

Then, with a slight jerk, Sir Beverley leaned towards Piers. "So," he said, "you defy me, do you?"

His voice was as grim as his look. A sudden, odd sense of fear went through Piers. Sharply the thought ran through his mind that the same Evesham devil possessed them both. It was as if he had caught a glimpse of the monster gibing at his elbow, goading him, goading them, both.

He made a sharp, involuntary movement; he almost flinched from those pitiless, stony eyes.

"Ha!" Sir Beverley uttered a brief and very bitter laugh. "You've begun to think better of it, eh?"

"No, sir." Curtly Piers made answer, speaking because he must. "I meant what I said, and I shall stick to it. But it wasn't for the sake of defying you that I said it. I have a better reason than that."

He was still quivering with anger, yet because of that gibing devil at his elbow he strove to speak temperately, strove to hold back the raging flood of fierce resentment that threatened to overwhelm him.

As for Sir Beverley, he had never attempted to control himself in moments such as these, and he did not attempt to do so now. Before Piers' words were fairly uttered, he had raised his right hand and in it a stout, two-foot ruler that he had taken from the writing-table.

"Take that then, you young dog!" he shouted, and struck Piers furiously, as he stood. "And that! And that!"

The third blow never fell. It was caught in mid-air by Piers who, with eyes that literally flamed in his white face, sprang straight at his grandfather, and closed with him.

There was a brief--a very brief--struggle, then a gasping oath from Sir Beverley as the ruler was torn from his grasp. The next moment he was free and tottering blindly. Piers, with an awful smile, swung the weapon back as if he would strike him down with it. Then, as Sir Beverley clutched instinctively at the nearest chair for support, he flung savagely round on his heel, altering his purpose. There followed the loud crack of rending wood as he broke the ruler passionately across his knee, putting forth all his strength, and the clatter of the falling fragments as he hurled them violently from him.

And then in a silence more dreadful than any speech, he strode to the door and went out, crashing it furiously shut behind him.

Sir Beverley, grown piteously feeble, sank down in the chair, and remained there huddled and gasping for many dragging minutes.

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