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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 35. The Dark Hour
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 35. The Dark Hour Post by :JPatrick Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2432

Click below to download : The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 35. The Dark Hour (Format : PDF)

The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 35. The Dark Hour

PART I. THE GATES OF BRASS
CHAPTER XXXV. THE DARK HOUR

Avery was very early at the church on the following morning, and had begun the work of decorating even before Miss Whalley appeared on the scene. It was a day of showers and fleeting gleams of sunshine, and the interior of the little building flashed from gloom to brilliance, and from brilliance back to gloom with fitful frequency.

Daffodils and primroses were littered all around Avery, and a certain subdued pleasure was hers as she decked the place with the spring flowers. She was quite alone, for by the Vicar's inflexible decree all the elder children, with the exception of Olive, were confined to the schoolroom for the morning with their respective tasks.

The magnitude of these tasks had struck dismay to Avery's heart. She did not privately believe that any one of them could ever be accomplished in the prescribed time. But the day of reckoning was not yet, and she put it resolutely from her mind. It was useless to forestall trouble, and her own burden of toil that day demanded all her energies.

The advent of Miss Whalley, thin and acid, put an end to all enjoyment thereof. She bestowed a cool greeting upon Avery, and came at once to her side to criticize her decoration of the font. Miss Whalley always assumed the direction of affairs on these occasions, and she regarded Avery's assistance in the place of Mrs. Lorimer's weak efforts in something of the light of an intrusion.

Avery stood and listened to her suggestions with grave forbearance. She never disputed anything with Miss Whalley, which may have been in part the reason for the latter's somewhat suspicious attitude towards her.

They were still standing before the font while Miss Whalley unfolded her scheme when there came the sound of feet in the porch, and Lennox Tudor put his head in.

His eyes fell at once upon Avery. He hesitated a moment then entered.

She turned eagerly to meet him. "Oh, how is the Squire this morning? Have you been up to the Abbey yet?"

"The Squire!" echoed Miss Whalley. "Is he ill? I was not aware of it."

Avery's eyes were fixed on Tudor's face, and all in a moment she realized that he had been up all night.

He did not seem to notice Miss Whalley, but spoke to Avery, and to her alone. "I have just come back from the Abbey. The Squire died about an hour ago."

"The Squire!" said Miss Whalley again, in staccato tones.

Avery said nothing, but she turned suddenly white, so white that Tudor was moved to compunction.

"I shouldn't have blurted it out like that. Sit down! The poor old chap never rallied really. He had a little talk with Piers half-an-hour or so before he went. But it was only the last flicker of the candle. We couldn't save him."

He bent down over her. "Don't look like that! It wasn't your fault. It was bound to come. I've foreseen it for some little time. I told him it was madness to go out riding as he did; but he wouldn't listen to me. Avery, I say! Avery!" His voice sank to an undertone.

She forced her stiff lips to smile faintly in answer to the concern it held. With an effort she commanded herself.

"What of Piers?" she said.

He stood up again with a sharp gesture, and turned from her to answer Miss Whalley's eager questions.

"Surely it is very sudden!" the latter was saying. "How did it happen? Will there be an inquest?"

"There will not," said Tudor curtly. "I have been attending the Squire, for some time, and I knew that sooner or later this would happen. The Vicar is not here?" He turned to Avery. "I promised to look in on him on my way back. Shall I find him at the Vicarage?"

He was gone almost before she could answer, and Avery was left on the seat by the door, staring before her with a wildly throbbing heart, still asking herself with a curious insistence, "What of Piers? What of Piers?"

Miss Whalley surveyed her with marked disapproval. She considered it great presumption on Avery's part to be upset by such a matter, and her attitude said as much as she walked with a stately air down the church and commenced her own self-appointed task of decorating the pulpit.

Avery did not stir for several seconds; and when she did it was to go to the open door and stand there looking out into the spring sunshine. She felt strangely incapable of grasping what had happened. She could not realize that that dominant personality that had striven with her only yesterday--only yesterday--had passed utterly away in a few hours. It seemed incredible, beyond the bounds of possibility. Again and again Sir Beverley's speech and look returned to her. How emphatic he had been, how resolutely determined to attain his end! He had discharged his obligation, as he had said. He had paid his last debt. And in the payment of it he had laid upon her a burden which she had felt compelled to accept.

Would it prove too much for her, she wondered? Had she yet again taken a false step that could never be retraced? Again the thought of Piers went through her, piercing her like a sword. Piers alone! Piers in trouble! She wished that Dr. Tudor had answered her question even though she regretted having asked it. How would he bear his solitude, she wondered with an aching heart; and a sudden great longing arose within her to go and comfort him, as she alone possessed the power to comfort. All selfish considerations departed with the thought. She realized poignantly all that Sir Beverley had visualized when he had told her that very soon his boy would be all alone. She knew fully why he had pressed upon her the task of helping Piers through his dark hour. He had known--as she also knew--how sore would be his need of help. And as this came home to her, her strength--that strength which was the patient building of all the years of her womanhood--came back to her, and she felt renewed and unafraid.

She returned to her work with a steadfastness of purpose that even Miss Whalley viewed with distant admiration; working throughout the morning while the minute bell tolled overhead, rendering honour to the departed Squire.

When she left at length to return to the Vicarage for the midday meal, her portion was done.

But it was not till night came again that she found time to write the few brief words that she had been revolving in her mind all day long.

"DEAR PIERS,

"I am thinking of you constantly, and longing to help you in your trouble. Let me know if there is anything whatever that I can do, and I shall be ready at any time.

"With love from Avery."

Her face glowed softly over the writing of the note. She slipped out and posted it before she went to bed.

He would get it in the morning, and he would be comforted. For he would understand. She was sure that he would understand.

Of herself all through that second wakeful night she did not think at all, and so no doubts rose to torment her. She lay in a species of tired wonder. She was keeping her promise to the dead man, and in the keeping of it there was peace.

The great square Abbey pew at the top of the church was empty throughout Easter Sunday. A heavy gloom reigned at the Vicarage. Avery and the children were in dire disgrace, and Mrs. Lorimer, spent most of the day in tears. She could not agree with the Vicar that they were directly responsible for the Squire's death. Dr. Tudor had been very emphatic in assuring them that what had happened had been the inevitable outcome of a disease of long standing. But this assurance did not in any way modify the Vicar's attitude, and he decided that the five children should spend their time in solitary confinement until after the day fixed for the funeral.

This was to be Easter Tuesday, and he himself had arranged to depart the day after--an event to which the entire household, with the single exception of Olive, looked forward with the greatest eagerness.

No message came from Piers that night, and Avery wondered a little, but without uneasiness. He must have so very much to think of and do at such a time, she reflected. He would scarcely even have begun to feel the dreadful loneliness.

But when the next day passed, and still no answer came, a vague anxiety awoke within her. Surely her message had reached him! Surely he must have read it! The Piers she knew would have dashed off some species of reply at once. How was it he delayed?

The day of the funeral came, and the Easter flowers were all taken away. The Vicarage blinds were drawn, the bell tolled again, and Jeanie, weighed down with a dreadful sense of wickedness, lay face downwards on the schoolroom sofa and wept and wept.

Avery was very anxious about her. The disgrace and punishment of the past few days had told upon her. She was sick with trouble and depression, and Avery could find no means of comforting her. She had meant herself to slip out and to go to the funeral for Piers' sake, but she felt she could not leave the child. So she sat with her in the darkened room, listening to her broken sobbing, aware that in the solitude of her room Gracie was crying too, and longing passionately to gather together all five of the luckless offenders and deliver them from their land of bondage.

But there was to be no deliverance that day, nor any lightening of the burden. The funeral over, the Vicar returned and sent for each child separately to the study for prayer and admonition. Jeanie was the last to face this ordeal and before it was half over Avery was sent for also to find her lying on the study sofa in a dead faint.

Avery's indignation was intense, but she could not give it vent. Even the Vicar was a little anxious, and when Avery's efforts succeeded at length in restoring her, he reprimanded Jeanie severely and reduced her once more to tears of uncontrollable distress.

The long, dreary day came to an end at last, and the thought of a happier morrow comforted them all. But Avery, though she slept that night, was troubled by a dream that came to her over and over again throughout the long hours. She seemed to see Piers, as he had once described himself, a prisoner behind bars; and ever as she looked upon him he strove with gigantic efforts that were wholly vain, to force the bars asunder and come to her. She could not help him, could not even hear his voice. But the agony of his eyes haunted her--haunted her. She awoke at last in anguish of spirit, and slept no more.

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