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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 34. The Message
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 34. The Message Post by :JPatrick Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :794

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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 34. The Message

PART I. THE GATES OF BRASS
CHAPTER XXXIV. THE MESSAGE

"My good Mrs. Denys, it is quite fruitless for you to argue the matter. Nothing you can say can alter the fact that you took the children trespassing in the Rodding Park preserves against my most stringent commands, and this deplorable accident to the Squire is the direct outcome of the most flagrant insubordination. I have borne a good deal from you, but this I cannot overlook. You will therefore take a month's notice from to-day, and as it is quite impossible for me to reconsider my decision in this respect it would be wasted effort on your part to lodge any appeal against it. As for the children, I shall deal with them in my own way."

The Vicar's thin lips closed upon the words with the severity of an irrevocable resolution. Avery heard him with a sense of wild rebellion at her heart to which she knew she must not give rein. She stood before him, a defenceless culprit brought up for punishment.

It was difficult to be dignified under such circumstances, but she did her best.

"I am extremely sorry that I took the children into the preserves," she said. "But I accept the full responsibility for having done so. They were not greatly to blame in the matter."

"Upon that point," observed Mr. Lorimer, "I am the best judge. The children will be punished as severely as I deem necessary. Meantime, you quite understand, do you not, that your duties here must terminate a month from now? I am only sorry that I allowed myself to be persuaded to reconsider my decision on the last occasion. For more than one reason I think it is to be regretted. However,--" he completed the sentence with a heavy sigh and said no more.

It was evident that he desired to close the interview, yet Avery lingered. She could not go with the children's fate still in the balance.

He looked at her interrogatively with raised brows.

"You will not surely punish the children very severely?" she said.

He waved a hand of cool dismissal. "I shall do whatever seems to me right and advisable," he said.

It came to Avery that interference on this subject would do more harm than good, and she turned to go. At the door his voice arrested her. "This day month then, Mrs. Denys!"

She bent her head in silent acquiescence, and went out.

In the passage Gracie awaited her and wound eager arms about her.

"Was he very horrid to you, Avery darling? What did he say?"

Avery went with her to the schoolroom where the other offenders were assembled. It seemed to her almost cruel to attempt to suppress the truth, but their reception of it went to her heart. Jeanie--the placid, sweet-tempered Jeanie--wept tears of such anguished distress that she feared she would make herself ill. Gracie was too angry to weep. She wanted to go straight to the study and beard the lion in his den, and only Avery's most strenuous opposition restrained her. And into the midst of their tribulation came Mrs. Lorimer to mingle her tears with theirs.

"What I shall do without you, Avery, I can't think," was the burden of her lament.

Avery couldn't think either, for she knew better even than Mrs. Lorimer herself how much the latter had come to lean upon her.

She had to turn her energies to comforting her disconsolate companions, but this task was still unaccomplished when the door opened and the Vicar stalked in upon them.

He observed his wife's presence with cold displeasure, and at once proceeded to dismiss her.

"I desire your presence in the study for a few moments, Adelaide. Perhaps you will be kind enough to precede me thither."

He held the door open for her with elaborate ceremony, and Mrs. Lorimer had no choice but to obey. She departed with a scared effort to check her tears under the stern disapproval of his look.

He closed the door upon her and advanced to the table, gazing round upon them with judicial severity.

"I am here," he announced, "to pass sentence."

Jeanie, crying softly in her corner, made desperate attempts to control herself under the awful look that was at this point concentrated upon her.

After a pause the Vicar proceeded, with a spiteful glance at Avery. "It is my intention to impose a holiday-task of sufficient magnitude to keep you all out of mischief during the rest of the holidays. You will therefore commit to memory various different portions of Milton's _Paradise Lost which I shall select, and which must be repeated to me in their entirety without mistake on my return from my own hard-earned holiday. And let me give you all fair warning," he raised his voice and looked round again, regarding poor Jeanie with marked austerity, "that if any one of you is not word-perfect in his or her task by the day of my return--boy or girl I care not, the offence is the same--he or she will receive a sound caning and the task will be returned."

Thus he delivered himself, and turned to go; but paused at the door to add, "Also, Mrs. Denys, will you be good enough to remember that it is against my express command that either you or any of the children should enter any part of Rodding Park during my absence. I desire that to be clearly understood."

"It is understood," said Avery in a low voice.

"That is well," said the Reverend Stephen, and walked majestically from the room.

A few seconds of awed silence followed his departure; then to Avery's horror Gracie snatched off one of her shoes and flung it violently at the door that he had closed behind him. Luckily for Gracie, her father was at the foot of the stairs before this episode took place and beyond earshot also of the furious storm of tears that followed it, with which even Avery found it difficult to cope.

It had been a tragic day throughout, and she was thankful when at length it drew to a close.

But when night came at last, and she lay down in the darkness, she found herself much too full of thought for sleep. Till then, she had not had time to review the day's happenings, but they crowded upon her as she lay, driving away all possibility of repose.

What was she going to do? Over and over again she asked herself the question, bringing herself as it were each time to contemplate afresh the obstacle that had arisen in her path. Had she really promised to marry Piers? The Squire evidently thought she had. The memory of those last words of his came back to her again and again. He had been very much in earnest, very anxious to provide for his boy's future, desperately afraid of leaving him alone. How would he view his impetuous action, she wondered, on the morrow? Had he not even now possibly begun to repent? Would he really desire her to take him literally?

And Piers,--what of Piers? A sudden, warm thrill ran through her. She glowed from head to foot. She had not seen Piers since that morning by the sea. She had a feeling that he was purposely avoiding her, and yet deep in the secret heart of her she knew that what she had rejected over and over again was still irrevocably her own. He would come back to her. She knew he would come back. And again that strange warmth filled her veins. The memory of him just then was like a burst of sunshine after a day of storm.

He had not been at home when Julian had taken the news of the Squire's accident to the Abbey, and only menservants had come to the rescue. She had accompanied them part of the way back, but Tudor had overtaken them in the drive, and she and the boys had turned back. Sir Beverley had been exhausted and but half-conscious, and he had not uttered another word to her. She wished Dr. Tudor had looked in on his way home, and then wondered if the Squire's condition were such as to necessitate his spending the night at the Abbey. He had once told her that Sir Beverley suffered from a weakness of the heart which might develop seriously at any time; but though himself fully aware of the fact, the old man had never permitted Piers to be told. She had deemed it unfair to Piers, but it was no matter for interference. A great longing to know what was happening possessed her. Surely--surely Mr. Lorimer would send up in the morning to enquire!

Her thoughts took another turn. She had been given definite notice to go. In her efforts to console Mrs. Lorimer, and the children, she had scarcely herself realized all that it would imply. She began to picture the parting, and a quiver of pain went through her. How they had all grown about her heart! How would she bear to say good-bye to her little delicate Jeanie? And how would the child fare without her? She hardly dared to think.

And then again that blinding ray of sunshine burst riotously through her clouds. If the impossible happened, if she ever married Piers--for the first time she deliberately faced and contemplated the thought--would she not be at least within reach if trouble came? A little thrill of spiteful humour ran through her at this point. She was quite sure that under such circumstances she would not be refused admittance to the Vicar's home. As Piers' wife, its doors would always be open to her.

As Piers' wife! She found herself repeating the words, repeating and repeating them till their strangeness began to give place to a certain familiarity. Was it after all true, as he had once so vehemently asserted, that they were meant for each other, belonged to each other, that the fate of each was bound in that of the other? What if she were a woman grown? What if her years outnumbered his? Had he not waked in her such music as her soul had never known before? Had he not opened for her the gates of the forbidden land? And was there after all, any actual reason that she should refuse to enter? That land where the sun shone always and the flowers bloomed without fading! That land where it was always spring!

There came in her soul a sudden swift ecstasy that was like the singing of many birds in the dawning, thrilling her through and through. She rose from her bed as though in answer to a call, and went to her open window.

There before her, silver against the darkness, there shone a single star. The throbbing splendour of it seemed to pierce her. She held her breath as one waiting for a message.

And, as she stood waiting, through her heart, softly, triumphantly, the message came, spoken in the voice she had come to hear through all other voices.

"It is the Star of Hope, Avery; yours--and mine."

But even as she watched with all her spirit a-quiver with the wonder of it, the vision passed; the star was veiled.

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