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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 7. A Friend In Need
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 7. A Friend In Need Post by :boloreid Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :3168

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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 7. A Friend In Need

PART I. THE GATES OF BRASS CHAPTER VII. A FRIEND IN NEED

Mrs. Marshall at the lodge was a hard-featured old woman whose god was cleanliness. Perhaps it was hardly to be expected of her that she should throw open her door to the whole party. Piers, with his limp burden, and Avery she had to admit, but after the latter's entrance she sternly blocked the way.

"There's no room for any more," she declared with finality. "You'd best run along home."

And with that she shut the door upon them and followed her unwelcome visitors into her spotless parlour.

"What's the matter with the young lady?" she enquired sourly.

Avery answered her in her quick, friendly way. "She has had a fall, poor little thing, and hurt her foot--I'm afraid, badly. It's so good of you to let us bring her in here. Won't you spread a cloth to keep her boots off your clean chintz?"

The suggestion was what Piers described later as "a lucky hit." It melted old Mrs. Marshall on the instant. She hastened to comply with it, and saw Jeanie laid down upon her sofa with comparative resignation.

"She do look mortal bad, to be sure," she remarked.

"Can't you find some brandy?" said Piers.

"I think she will come to, now," Avery said. "Yes, look! Her eyes are opening."

She was right. Jeanie's eyes opened very wide and fixed themselves enquiringly upon Piers' face. There was something in them, a species of dumb appeal, that went straight to his heart. He moved impulsively, and knelt beside her.

Jeanie's hand came confidingly forth to him. "I did try to be brave," she whispered.

Piers' hand closed instantly and warmly upon hers. "That's all right, little girl," he said kindly. "Pain pretty bad, eh?"

"Yes," murmured Jeanie.

"Ah, well, don't move!" he said. "We'll get your boot off and then you'll feel better."

"Oh, don't trouble, please!" said Jeanie politely.

She held his hand very tightly, and he divined that the prospect of the boot's removal caused her considerable apprehension.

He looked round to consult Avery on the subject, but found that she had slipped out of the room. He heard her in the porch speaking to the children, and in a few seconds she was back again.

"Don't let us keep you!" she said to Piers. "I can stay with Jeanie now. I have sent the children home, all but Ronald and Julian who have gone to fetch Dr. Tudor."

Piers looked at Jeanie, and Jeanie looked at Piers. Her hand was still fast locked in his.

"Shall I go?" said Piers.

Jeanie's blue eyes were very wistful. "I would like you to stay," she said shyly, "if you don't mind."

"If Mrs. Denys doesn't mind?" suggested Piers.

To which Avery responded. "Thank you. Please stay!"

She said it for Jeanie's sake, since it was evident that the child was sustaining herself on the man's strength, but the look Piers flashed her made her a little doubtful as to the wisdom of her action. She realized that it might not be easy to keep him at arm's length after this.

Piers turned back to Jeanie. "Very well, I'll stay," he said, "anyhow till Tudor comes along. Let's see! You're the eldest girl, aren't you? I ought to know you by name, but somehow my memory won't run to it."

He could not as a matter of fact remember that he had ever spoken to any of the young Lorimers before, though by sight he was well acquainted with them.

Jeanie, in whose eyes he had ever shone as a knight of romance, murmured courteously that no one ever remembered them all by name.

"Well, I shall remember you anyhow," said Piers. "Queenie is it?"

"No,--Jeanie."

"I shall call you Queenie," he said. "It sounds more imposing. Now won't you let me just slit off that boot? I can do it without hurting you."

"Slit it!" said Jeanie, shocked.

"We shan't get it off without," said Piers. "What do you think about it, Mrs. Denys?"

"I will unfasten the lace first," Avery said.

This she proceeded to do while Piers occupied Jeanie's attention with a success which a less dominant personality could scarcely have achieved.

But when it came to removing the boot he went to Avery's assistance. It was no easy matter but they accomplished it between them, Piers ruthlessly cutting the leather away from the injured ankle which by that time was badly swollen. They propped it on a cushion, and made her as comfortable as circumstances would allow.

"Can't that old woman make you some tea?" Piers said then, beginning to chafe at the prospect of an indefinite period of inaction.

"I think she is boiling her kettle now," Avery answered.

Piers grunted. He fidgeted to the window and back, and then, finding Jeanie's eyes still mutely watching him, he pulled up a chair to her side and took the slender hand again into his own.

Avery turned her attention to coaxing the fire to burn, and presently went out to Mrs. Marshall in her kitchen to offer her services there. She was graciously permitted to cut some bread and butter while the old woman prepared a tray.

"I suppose it was Master Piers' fault," the latter remarked with severity. "He's always up to some mischief or other."

Avery hastened to assure her that upon this occasion Piers was absolutely blameless and had been of the utmost assistance to them.

"I'm very glad to hear it," said Mrs. Marshall. "He's a feckless young gentleman, and I often think as he's like to bring the old master's hairs with sorrow to the grave. Sir Beverley do set such store by him, always did from the day he brought him back from his dead mother in Paris, along with that French valet who carried him like as if he'd been a parcel of goods. He's been brought up by men from his cradle, miss, and it hasn't done him any good. But there! Sir Beverley is that set against all womenkind there's no moving him."

Mrs. Marshall was beginning to expand--a mark of high favour which she bestowed only upon the few.

Avery listened with respect, comfortably aware that by this simple means she was creating a good impression. She was anxious to win the old dame to a benevolent frame of mind if possible, since to be thrown upon unwilling hospitality was the last thing she desired.

It was characteristic of her that she achieved her purpose. When she returned to the parlour in Mrs. Marshall's wake, she had completely won her hostess's heart, a fact which Piers remarked on the instant.

"There's magic in you," he said to Avery, as she gave him his cup of tea.

"I prefer to call it common sense," she answered.

She turned her attention at once to Jeanie, coaxing her to drink the tea though her utmost persuasion could not induce her to eat anything. She was evidently suffering a good deal of pain, but she begged them not to trouble about her. "Please have your tea, Aunt Avery! I shall be quite all right."

"Yes, Aunt Avery must certainly have some tea," said Piers with determination, and he refused to touch his own until she had done so.

It was a relief to all three of them when the doctor's dogcart was heard on the drive. Avery rose at once and went to receive him.

Piers stretched a kindly arm behind the cushion that supported Jeanie's head. "Do you really want me to stay with you, little girl?" he asked.

Jeanie was very white, but she looked at him bravely. "Do you mind?" she said.

His dark eyes smiled encouragement. "No, of course I don't mind if I can be of any use to you. Tudor will probably want to kick me out, but if you have the smallest desire to keep me, I'll stay."

"You are kind," said Jeanie very earnestly. "I think it will help me to be brave if I may hold your hand. You have such a strong hand."

"It is entirely at your service," said Piers.

He turned in his chair at the doctor's entrance, without rising. His attitude was decidedly dogged. He looked as if he anticipated a struggle.

Dr. Tudor came in behind Avery. He was a man of forty, curt of speech and short of temper, with eyes that gleamed shrewdly behind gold pince-nez. He gave Piers a look that was conspicuously lacking in cordiality.

"Hullo!" he said. "You here!"

"Yes, I'm here," said Piers.

The doctor's eyes passed him and went straight to the white face of the child on the sofa. He advanced and bent over her.

"So you've had an accident, eh?" he said.

"Yes," whispered Jeanie, pressing a little closer to Piers.

"What happened?"

"I think it was a rabbit-hole," said Jeanie not very lucidly.

"Caught your foot and fell, I suppose?" said the doctor. "Was that all? Did you do any walking after it?"

"Oh no!" said Jeanie, with a shudder. "Mr. Evesham carried me."

"I see." He was holding her wrist between his fingers. Very suddenly he looked at Piers again. "I can't have you here," he said.

"Can't you?" said Piers. He threw back his head with an aggressive movement, but said no more.

"Please let him stay!" said Jeanie beseechingly.

The doctor frowned.

In a low voice Avery intervened. "I told him he might--for the child's sake."

Dr. Tudor turned his hawk eyes upon her. "Who are you, may I ask?"

Piers' free hand clenched, and a sudden hot flush rose to his forehead. But Avery made answer before he could speak.

"I am the mother's help at the Vicarage. My name is Denys--Mrs. Denys. And Jeanie is in my care. Now, will you look at the injury?"

She smiled a little as she said it, but the decision of her speech was past disputing. Dr. Tudor regarded her piercingly for a moment or two, then without a word turned aside.

The tension went out of Piers' attitude; he held Jeanie comfortingly close.

At the end of a brief examination the doctor spoke. "Yes. A simple fracture. I can soon put that to rights. You can help me, Mrs. Denys."

He went to work at once, giving occasional curt directions to Avery, while Jeanie clung convulsively to Piers, her face buried in his coat, and fought for self-control.

It was a very plucky fight, for the ordeal was a severe one; and when it was over the poor child broke down completely in spite of all her efforts and wept upon Piers' shoulder. He soothed and consoled her with the utmost kindness. It had been something of an ordeal for him also, and with relief he turned his attention to comforting her.

She soon grew calmer and apologized humbly for her weakness. "I don't think I could have borne it without you," she told him, with tremulous sincerity. "But I'm so dreadfully sorry to have given you all this trouble."

"That's all right," Piers assured her. "I'm glad you found me of use."

He dried her tears for the second time that afternoon, and then, with a somewhat obvious effort at civility, addressed the doctor.

"I suppose it will be all right to move her now? Can we take her home in the landaulette?"

Curtly the doctor made answer. "Very well indeed, I should say, if we lift her carefully and keep the foot straight. I'll drive you to the Abbey if you like. I'm going up to see your grandfather."

"I don't know why you should," said Piers quickly. "There's nothing the matter with him."

Dr. Tudor made no reply. "Are you coming?" he asked.

"No, thanks." There was latent triumph in Piers' response. "If you are going up, you can give the order for the landaulette, and tell my grandfather I am staying to see Miss Lorimer safely home."

Dr. Tudor grunted and turned away, frowning.

"Well, so long!" he said to Jeanie. "I'll look in on my way back, and lend a hand with moving you. But you will be all right now if you do as you're told."

"Thank you," said Jeanie meekly.

He went out with Avery, and the door closed behind them.

Jeanie stole a glance at Piers who was looking decidedly grim.

"Yes," he said in answer. "I detest him, and he knows it."

Jeanie looked a little startled. "Oh, do you?" she said.

"Don't you?" said Piers.

"I--I really don't know. Isn't it--isn't it wrong to detest anyone!" faltered Jeanie.

"Wrong!" said Piers. He frowned momentarily, then as suddenly he smiled. He bent very abruptly and kissed her on the forehead. "Yes, of course it's wrong," he said, "for the people who keep consciences."

"Oh, but--" Jeanie remonstrated, and then something in his face stopped her. She flushed and murmured in confusion, "Thank you for!--for kissing me!"

"Don't mention it!" said Piers, with a laugh.

"I should like to kiss you if I may," said Jeanie. "You have been so very kind."

He bent his face to hers and received the kiss. "You're a nice little girl," he said, and there was an odd note of feeling in the words for all their lightness that made Jeanie aware that in some fashion he was moved.

"I don't think he is quite--quite happy, do you?" she said to Avery that night when the worst of her troubles were over, and she was safely back at the Vicarage.

And Avery answered thoughtfully, "Perhaps--not quite."

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