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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 29. A Watch In The Night
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 29. A Watch In The Night Post by :JPatrick Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1639

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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 29. A Watch In The Night


He came at last out of what had almost been a stupor of inertia, sat slowly up, turned his brooding eyes upon the door through which Piers had passed. A tremor of anger crossed his face, and was gone. A grim smile took its place. He still panted spasmodically; but he found his voice.

"Egad!" he said. "The fellow's as strong as a young bear. He's hugged--all the wind--out of my vitals."

He struggled to his feet, straightening his knees with difficulty, one hand pressed hard to his labouring heart.

"Egad!" he gasped again. "He's getting out of hand--the cub! But he'll come to heel,--he'll come to heel! I know the rascal!"

He stumbled to the bell and rang it.

David appeared with a promptitude that seemed to indicate a certain uneasiness.

"Coffee!" growled his master. "And liqueur!"

David departed at as high a rate of speed as decorum would permit.

During his absence Sir Beverley set himself rigidly to recover his normal demeanour. The encounter had shaken him, shaken him badly; but he was not the man to yield to physical weakness. He fought it with angry determination.

Before David's reappearance he had succeeded in controlling his gasping breath, though the hand with which he helped himself shook very perceptibly.

There were two cups on the tray. David lingered.

"You can go," said Sir Beverley.

David cocked one eyebrow in deferential enquiry. "Master Piers in the garden, sir?" he ventured. "Shall I find him?"

"No!" snapped Sir Beverley.

"Very good, sir." David turned regretfully to the door. "Shall I keep the coffee hot, Sir Beverley?" he asked, as he reached it, with what was almost a pleading note in his voice.

Sir Beverley's frown became as menacing as a thunder-cloud. "No!" he shouted.

David nodded in melancholy submission and withdrew.

Sir Beverley sat down heavily in his chair and slowly drank his coffee. Finally he put aside the empty cup and sat staring at the closed door, his brows drawn heavily together.

How had the young beggar dared to defy him so? He must have been getting out of hand for some time by imperceptible degrees. He had always vowed to himself that he would not spoil the boy. Had that resolution of his become gradually relaxed? His frown grew heavier. He had never before contemplated the possibility that Piers might some day become an individual force utterly beyond his control.

His eye fell upon a fragment of the broken ruler lying under the table and again grimly he smiled.

"Confound the scamp! He's got some muscle," he murmured.

Again his look went to the door. Why didn't the young fool come back and apologize? How much longer did he mean to keep him waiting?

The minutes dragged away, and the silence of emptiness gathered and brooded in the great room and about the master of the house who sat within it, with bent head, waiting.

It was close upon ten o'clock when at length he rose and irritably rang the bell.

"See if you can find Master Piers!" he said to David. "He can't be far away. Look in the drawing-room! Look in the garden! Tell him I want him!"

David withdrew upon the errand, and again the oppressive silence drew close. For a long interval Sir Beverley sat quite motionless, still staring at the door as though he expected Piers to enter at any moment. But when at length it opened, it was only to admit David once more.

"I'm sorry to say I can't find Master Piers anywhere in the house or garden, Sir Beverley," he said, looking straight before him and blinking vacantly at the lamp. "I'm inclined to believe, sir, that he must have gone into the park."

Sir Beverley snarled inarticulately and dismissed him.

During the hour that followed, he did not move from his chair, and scarcely changed his position. But at last, as the stable-clock was tolling eleven, he rose stiffly and walked to the window. It was fastened; he dragged at the catch with impatient fingers.

His face was haggard and grey as he finally thrust up the sash, and leaned out with his hands on the sill.

The night was very still all about him. It might have been a night in June. Only very far away a faint breeze was stirring, whispering furtively in the bare boughs of the elm trees that bordered the park. Overhead the stars shone dimly behind a floating veil of mist, and from the garden sleeping at his feet there arose a faint, fugitive scent of violets.

The old man's face contracted as at some sudden sense of pain as that scent reached his nostrils. His mouth twitched with a curious tremor, and he covered it with his hand as though he feared some silent watcher in that sleeping world might see and mock his weakness. That violet-bed beneath the window had been planted fifty years before at the whim of a woman.

"We must have a great many violets," she had said. "They are sweeter than all the roses in the world. Next year I must have handfuls and handfuls of sweetness."

And the next year the violets had bloomed in the chosen corner, but her hands had not gathered them. And they had offered their magic ever since, year after year--even as they offered it tonight--to a heart that was too old and too broken to care.

Fifty years before, Sir Beverley had stood at that same window waiting and listening in the spring twilight for the beloved footfall of the woman who was never again to enter his house. They had had a disagreement, he had spoken harshly, he had been foolishly, absurdly jealous; for her wonderful beauty, her quick, foreign charm drew all the world. But, returning from a long ride that had lasted all day, he had entered with the desire to make amends, to win her sweet and gracious forgiveness. She had forgiven him before. She had laughed with a sweet, elusive mockery and passed the matter by as of no importance. It had seemed a foregone conclusion that she would forgive him again, would reassure him, and set his mind at rest. But he had come back to an empty house--every door gaping wide and the beloved presence gone.

So he had waited for her, expecting her every moment, refusing to believe the truth that nevertheless had forced itself upon him at the last. So now he waited for her grandson--the boy with her beauty, her quick and generous charm, her passionate, emotional nature--to come back to him. And yet again he waited in vain.

Piers had gone forth in fierce anger, driven by that devil that had descended to him through generations of stiff-necked ancestors; and for the first time in all his hot young life he had not returned repentant.

"I treated him like a dog, egad," murmured Sir Beverley into the shielding hand. "But he'll come back. He always comes back, the scamp."

But the minutes crawled by, the night-wind rustled and passed; and still Piers did not come.

It was hard on midnight when Sir Beverley suddenly raised both hands to his mouth and sent a shrill, peculiar whistle through them across the quiet garden. It had been his special call for Piers in his childhood. Even as he sent it out into the darkness, he seemed to see the sturdy, eager little figure that had never failed to answer that summons with delight racing headlong towards him over the dim, dewy lawn.

But to-night it brought no answer though he repeated it again and yet again; and as twelve o'clock struck heavily upon the stillness he turned from the window and groaned aloud. The boy had gone, gone for good, as he might have known he would go. He had driven him forth with blows and bitter words, and it was out of his power to bring him back again.

Slowly he crossed the room and rang the bell. He was very cold, and he shivered as he moved.

It was Victor who answered the summons, Victor with round, vindictive eyes that openly accused him for a moment, and then softened inexplicably and looked elsewhere.

"You ask me for _Monsieur Pierre_?" he said, spreading out his hands, "_Mais--_"

"I didn't ask for anything," growled Sir Beverley. "I rang the bell to tell you and all the other fools to lock up and go to bed."

"But--me!" ejaculated Victor, rolling his eyes upwards in astonishment.

"Yes, you! Where's the sense of your sitting up? Master Piers knows how to undress himself by this time, I suppose?"

Sir Beverley scowled at him aggressively, but Victor did not even see the scowl. Like a hen with one chick, and that gone astray, he could think of naught beside.

"_Mais Monsieur Pierre is not here! Where then is _Monsieur Pierre?_" he questioned in distress.

"How the devil should I know?" snarled Sir Beverley. "Stop your chatter and be off with you! Shut the window first, and then go and tell David to lock up! I shan't want anything more to-night."

Victor shrugged his shoulders in mute protest, and went to the window. Here he paused, looking forth with eyes of eager searching till recalled to his duty by a growl of impatience from his master. Then with a celerity remarkable in one of his years and rotundity, he quickly popped in his head and closed the window.

"Leave the blind!" ordered Sir Beverley. "And the catch too! There! Now go! _Allez-vous-en!_? Don't let me see you again to-night!"

Victor threw a single shrewd glance at the drawn face, and trotted with a woman's nimbleness to the door. Here he paused, executed a stiff bow; then wheeled and departed. The door closed noiselessly behind him, and again Sir Beverley was left alone.

He dragged a chair to the window, and sat down to watch.

Doubtless the boy would return when he had walked off his indignation. He would be sure to see the light in the study, and he would come to him for admittance. He himself would receive him with a gruff word or two of admonition and the whole affair should be dismissed. Grimly he pictured the scene to himself as, ignoring the anxiety that was growing within him, he settled himself to his lonely vigil.

Slowly the night dragged on. A couple of owls were hooting to one another across the garden, and far away a dog barked at intervals. Old Sir Beverley never stirred in his chair. His limbs were rigid, his eyes fixed and watchful. But his face was grey--grey and stricken and incredibly old. He had the look of a man who carried a burden too heavy to be borne.

One after another he heard the hours strike, but his position never altered, his eyes never varied, his face remained as though carved in granite--a graven image of despair. Unspeakable weariness was in his pose, and yet he did not relax or yield a hair's breadth to the body's importunity. He suffered too bitterly in the spirit that night to be aware of physical necessity.

Slowly the long hours passed. The night began to wane. A faint grey glimmer, scarcely perceptible, came down from a mist-veiled sky. The wind that had sunk to stillness came softly back and wandered to and fro as though to rouse the sleeping world. Behind the mist the stars went out, and from the rookery in the park a hoarse voice suddenly proclaimed the coming day.

The grey light grew. In the garden ghostly shapes arose, phantoms of the dawn that gradually resolved into familiar forms of tree and shrub. From the rookery there swelled a din of many raucous voices. The dog in the distance began to bark again with feverish zest, and from the stables came Caesar's cheery answering yell.

The mist drifted away from the face of the sky. A brightness was growing there. Stiffly, painfully, Sir Beverley struggled up from his chair, stood steadying himself--a figure tragic and forlorn--with his hands against the wood of the window-frame, then with a groaning effort thrust up the sash.

Violets! Violets! The haunting scent of them rose to greet him. The air was full of their magic fragrance. For a second he was aware of it; he almost winced. And then in a moment he had forgotten. He stood there motionless--a desolate old man, bowed and shrunken and grey--staring blindly out before him, unconscious of all things save the despair that had settled in his heart.

The night had passed and his boy had not returned.

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