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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 36. The Summons
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 36. The Summons Post by :JPatrick Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2790

Click below to download : The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 36. The Summons (Format : PDF)

The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 36. The Summons

PART I. THE GATES OF BRASS
CHAPTER XXXVI. THE SUMMONS

With the morning came a general feeling of relief. The Vicar was almost jocose, and Mrs. Lorimer made timid attempts to be mirthful though the parting with her children sorely tried her fortitude.

The boys' spirits were subdued, but they burst forth uproariously as soon as the station-cab was well outside the gate. Ronald and Julian cheered themselves hoarse, and Pat scuttled off to the back of the house to release Mike from his chain to participate in the great rejoicing.

There was no disguising the fact that everyone was pleased--everyone except Olive who went away to her father's study which had been left in her especial charge, and locked herself in for a morning of undisturbed reading.

Avery could not feel joyful. The thought of Piers was still with her continually. She had heard so little of him--merely that he had followed his grandfather to the grave supported by the old family solicitor from Wardenhurst, Lennox Tudor, and a miscellaneous throng of neighbours; that he had borne himself without faltering, and had gone back to his solitude with no visible sign of suffering. Only indirectly had she heard this, and she yearned to know more.

She knew that like herself he was practically devoid of relatives,--the last of his race,--a figure of splendid isolation that would appeal to many. She knew that as a wealthy and unmarried baronet, he would be greatly sought after and courted; made much of by the whole county, and half London as well. He was so handsome, so romantic, so altogether eligible in every way. Was it for this that he had left that note of hers unanswered? Did he think that now that his horizon had widened the nearer haven was hardly worth attaining? Above all, if he decided to take that which she had so spontaneously offered, would it satisfy him? Would he be content therewith? Had she not done better to have waited till he came again to ask of her that which she had till the day of his bereavement withheld?

It was useless to torture herself with such questionings. Because of her promise to the dead, she had acted, and she could now but await the result of her action. If he never answered,--well, she would understand.

So passed yet another day of silence.

She was busy with the household accounts that night which Mrs. Lorimer in her woe had left in some confusion, and they kept her occupied till long after the children had gone to bed, so late indeed that the servants also had retired and she was left alone in the dining-room to wrestle with her difficulties.

She found it next to impossible to straighten out the muddle, and she came at length reluctantly to the conclusion that it was beyond her powers. Wondering what the Reverend Stephen would have said to such a crime, she abstracted a few shillings from her own purse and fraudulently made up the deficit that had vexed Mrs. Lorimer's soul.

"I can write and tell her now that it has come right," she murmured to herself, as she rose from the table.

It was close upon eleven o'clock. The house was shuttered and silent. The stillness was intense; when suddenly, as she was in the act of lighting a candle, the electric bell pinged through the quiet of the night.

She started and listened. The thought of Piers sprang instinctively to her mind. Could it be he? But surely even Piers would not come to her at this hour! It must be some parishioner in need of help.

She turned to answer the summons, but ere she reached the hall it was repeated twice, with nervous insistence. She hastened to withdraw the bolts and open the door.

At once a voice accosted her, and a sharp pang of disappointment or anxiety, she knew not which, went through her.

"Mrs. Denys, is she here?" it said. "May I speak with her?"

It was the unmistakable speech of a Frenchman. By the light of the hall-lamp, Avery saw the plump, anxious face and little pointed moustache of the speaker. He entered uninvited and stood before her.

"Ah! But you are Mrs. Denys!" he exclaimed with relief. "_Madame_, I beg that you will pardon me! I am come to you in distress the most profound. You will listen to me, yes?"

He regarded her with quick black eyes that both confided and besought. Avery's heart was beating in great throbs, she felt strangely breathless and uncertain of herself.

"Where do you come from?" she said. "Who are you?"

But she knew the answer before it came. "I am Victor, _madame_,--Victor Lagarde. I am the valet of _Monsieur Pierre almost since he was born. He calls me his _bonne_!" A brief smile touched his worried countenance and was gone. "And now I am come to you, _madame_,--not by his desire. _Mais non_, he does not know even that I am here. But because he is in great, great misery, and I cannot console him. I have not the power. And he is all alone--all alone. And I fear--I fear--" He broke off with eloquent hands outspread. Avery saw the tears standing in his eyes.

She closed the door softly. "What is it?" she said. "Tell me what you fear!"

He looked at her, mastering his emotion with difficulty. "_Madame, Monsieur Pierre has sentiments the most profound. He feel--_passionnement_. He try to hide his sentiments from me. But me--I know. He sit alone in the great hall and look--and look. He sleep--never at all. He will not even go to bed. And in the great hall is an _escritoire_, and in it a drawer." Victor's voice sank mysteriously. "To-night--when he think he is alone--he open that drawer, and I see inside. It hold a revolver, _madame_. And he look at it, touch it, and then shake his head. But I am so afraid--so afraid. So--_enfin_--in my trouble I come to you. You have the influence with him, is it not so? You have--the power to console. _Madame--chere madame_--will you not come and speak with him for five little minutes? Just to encourage him, _madame_, in his sadness; for he is all alone!"

The tears ran down Victor's troubled face as he made his earnest appeal. He mopped them openly, making no secret of his distress which was too pathetic to be ludicrous.

Avery looked at him in dismay. She knew not what to say or do; and even as she stood irresolute the hall-clock struck eleven through the silence of the house.

Victor watched her anxiously. "_Madame is married," he insinuated. "She can please herself, no? And _Monsieur Pierre_--"

"Wait a minute, please!" she interrupted gently. "I want to think."

She went to the unlatched door and stood with her face to the night. She felt as if a call had come to her, but somehow--for no selfish reason--she hesitated to answer. Some unknown influence held her back.

Victor came softly up and stood close to her. "_Madame_," he said in a whisper, "I tell you a secret--I, Victor, who have known _Monsieur Pierre from his infancy. He loves you, _madame_. He loves you much. _C'est la grande passion which comes only once in a life--only once."

The low words went through her, seeming to sink into her very heart. She made a slight, involuntary gesture as of wincing. There was something in them that was almost more than she could bear.

She stood motionless with the chill night air blowing in upon her, trying to collect her thoughts, trying to bring herself to face and consider the matter before she made her decision. But it was useless. Those last words had awaked within her a greater force than she could control. From the moment of their utterance she was driven irresistibly, the decision was no longer her own.

Piers was alone. Piers loved her--wanted her. His soul cried to hers through the darkness. She saw him again as in her dream wrestling with those cruel iron bars, striving with vain agony to reach her. And all doubt went from her like a cloud.

She turned to Victor with grey eyes shining and resolute. "Let us go!" she said.

She took a cloak from a peg in the hall, lowered the light, took the key from the lock, and passed out into the dark.

Victor followed her closely, softly latching the door behind him. He had known from the outset that the English _madame would not be able to resist his appeal. Was not _Monsieur Pierre as handsome and as desirable as though he had been a prince of the blood? He walked a pace behind her, saying no word, fully satisfied with the success of his mission.

Avery went with swift unerring feet; yet it seemed to her afterwards as if she had moved in a dream, for only the vaguest impression of that journey through the night remained with her. It was dark, but the darkness did not hinder her. She went as if drawn irresistibly--even against her will. At the back of her mind hovered the consciousness that she was doing a rash thing, but the woman's heart in it was too deeply stirred to care for minor considerations. The picture of Piers in his lonely hall hung ever before her, drawing her on.

He had not sent for her. She knew now that he would not send. Yet she went to him on winged feet. For she knew that his need of her was great.

There was no star in the sky and the night wind moaned in the trees as they went up the long chestnut avenue to the Abbey. The loneliness was great. It folded them in on every hand. It seemed to hang like a pall about the great dim building massed against the sky, as though the whole place lay beneath a spell of mourning.

Emerging from the deep shadow of the trees, she paused for the first time in uncertainty. Victor pressed forward instantly to her side.

"We will enter by the library, _madame_. See, I will show you the way. From there to the great hall, it is only a few steps. And you will find him there. I leave you alone to find him."

He led her across a dew-drenched lawn and up a flight of steps to the door of a conservatory which gave inwards at his touch.

Obedient to his gesture, Avery entered. Her heart was beating hard and fast. She was conscious of a wild misgiving which had not assailed her during all the journey thither. What if he did not want her after all? What if her coming were unwelcome?

Silently Victor piloted her, and she could not choose but follow, though she felt sick with the sudden apprehension that had sprung to life as she left the sleeping world outside. She seemed to be leaving her freedom, all she valued, behind her as she entered this shadowy prison. And all for what? Her quivering heart could find no answer.

There was a heavy scent of hothouse flowers in the air. She almost gasped for breath in the exotic fragrance of the unseen blossoms. A strong impulse possessed her to turn and flee by the way she had come.

"_Madame!_" It was Victor's voice, low and entreating. He had opened an inner door, and stood waiting for her.

Had he seen her wavering resolution, she wondered? Was he trying to hasten her ere it should wholly evaporate--to close the way of escape ere she could avail herself of it? Or was he anxious solely on Piers' account--lest after all she might arrive too late?

She could not determine, but the urgency of his whisper moved her. She passed him and entered the room beyond.

It was dimly lighted by a single shaded electric lamp that illumined a writing-table. She saw that it was the ancient library of the Abbey, a wonderful apartment which she knew to contain an almost priceless collection of old parchments. It was lined with bookshelves and had the musty smell inseparable from aged bindings.

Victor motioned her silently to a door at the further end, but before either of them could reach it there came a sudden footfall on the other side, the handle turned sharply, and it opened.

"Ah!" exclaimed Victor, and fell back as one caught red-handed in a crime.

Avery stood quite motionless with her heart beating up against her throat, and a tragic sense of trespass overwhelming her. She could not find a single word to say, so sudden and so terrible was the ordeal. She could only wait in silence.

Piers stood still as one transfixed, with eyes that blazed sleepless out of a drawn, pale face; then at length with a single snap of the fingers imperiously he dismissed Victor by the still open door.

It closed discreetly upon the Frenchman's exit, and then only did Piers move forward; he came to Avery, drew her to a chair, knelt mutely down before her, and bowed his head upon her lap.

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