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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 9. The Ticket Of Leave
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 9. The Ticket Of Leave Post by :boloreid Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2124

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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 9. The Ticket Of Leave


Seated at the schoolroom piano, Piers was thoroughly in his element. He had a marvellous gift for making music, and his audience listened spell-bound. His own love for it amounted to a passion, inherited, so it was said, from his Italian grandmother. He threw his whole soul into the instrument under his hands, and played as one inspired.

Jeanie, from her sofa, drank in the music with shining eyes. She had never heard anything to compare with it before, and it stirred her to the depths.

It stirred Avery also, but in a different way. The personality of the player forced itself upon her with a curious insistence, and she had an odd feeling that he did it by deliberate intention. Every chord he struck seemed to speak to her directly, compelling her attention, dominating her will. He was playing to her alone, and, though she chose to ignore the fact, she was none the less aware of it. By his music he enthralled her, making her see the things he saw, making her feel the fiery unrest that throbbed in every beat of his heart.

Gracie, standing beside him, watching with fascinated eyes the strong hands that charmed from the old piano such music as probably it had never before uttered, was enthralled also, but only in a superficial sense. She was keenly interested in the play of his fingers, which seemed to her quite wonderful, as indeed it was.

He took no more notice of her admiring gaze than if she had been a fly, pouring out his magic flood of music with eyes fixed straight before him and lips that were sometimes hard and sometimes tender. He might have been a man in a trance.

And then very suddenly the spell was broken. For no apparent reason, he fell headlong from his heights and burst into a merry little jig that set Gracie dancing like an elf.

He became aware of her then, threw her a laugh, quickened to a mad tarantella that nearly whirled her off her feet, finally ended with a crashing chord, and whizzed round on the music-stool in time to catch her as she fell gasping against him.

"What a featherweight you are!" he laughed. "You'll dance the Thames on fire some day. Giddy, what?"

Gracie lay in his arms in a collapsed condition. "You--you made me do it!" she panted.

"To be sure!" said Piers. "I'm a wizard. Didn't you know? I can make anybody do anything." There was a ring of triumph in his voice.

Jeanie drew a deep breath and nodded from her sofa. "It's called hyp--hyp--Aunt Avery, what is the word?"

"Aunt Avery doesn't know," said Piers. "And why Aunt Avery, I wonder? You'll be calling me Uncle Piers next."

Both children laughed. "I have a special name for you," Jeanie said.

But Piers was not attending. He cast a daring glance across the room at Avery who was darning stockings under the lamp.

"Do they call you Aunt Avery because you are so old?" he enquired, as Avery did not respond to it.

She smiled a little. "I expect so," she said.

"Oh no!" said Jeanie politely. "Only because we are children and she is grown up."

Piers, with Gracie still lounging comfortably on his knee, bowed to her. "I thank your majesty. I appeal to you as queen of this establishment; am I--as a grown-up--entitled to drop the title of Aunt when addressing the gracious lady in question?"

Again he glanced towards Avery, but she did not raise her eyes. She worked on, still with that faint, enigmatical smile about her lips.

Jeanie looked slightly dubious. "I don't think you could ever call her Aunt, could you?" she said.

Piers turned upon the music-stool, and with one of Gracie's fingers began to pick out an impromptu tune that somehow had a saucy ring.

"I like that," said Gracie, enchanted.

He laughed. "Yes, it's pretty, isn't it? It's--Avery without the Aunt."

He began to elaborate the tune, accompanying it with his left hand, to Gracie's huge delight, "Here we come into a minor key," he said, speaking obviously and exclusively to Gracie; "this is Avery when she is cross and inclined to be down on a fellow. And here we begin to get a little excited and breathless; this is Avery in a tantrum, getting angrier and angrier every moment." He hammered out his impertinent little melody with fevered energy, protest from Gracie notwithstanding. "No, you've never seen her in a tantrum of course. Thank your lucky stars you haven't! It's an awful sight, take my word for it! She calls you a brute and nearly knocks you down with a horsewhip." The music became very descriptive at this point; then gradually returned to the original refrain, somewhat amplified and embellished. "This is Avery in her everyday mood--sweet and kind and reasonable,--the Avery we all know and love--with just a hint of what the French call _'diablerie' to make her--_tout-a-fait adorable_."

He cast his eyes up at the ceiling, and then, releasing Gracie's hand, brought his impromptu to a close with a few soft chords.

"Here endeth the Avery Symphony!" he declared, swinging round again on the music-stool. "I could show you another Avery, but she is not on view to everybody. It's quite possible that she has never seen herself yet."

He got up with the words, tweaked Gracie's hair, caressed Jeanie's, and strolled across to the fire beside which Avery sat with her work.

"It's awfully kind of you to tolerate me like this," he said.

"Isn't it?" said Avery, without raising her eyes.

He looked down at her, an odd gleam in his own that came and went like a leaping flame.

"You suffer fools gladly, don't you?" he said, a queer inflection that was half a challenge in his voice.

She frowned very slightly above her stocking. "Not particularly," she said.

"You bear with them then?" Piers tone was insistent.

She paused as though considering her reply. "I generally try to avoid them," she said finally.

"You keep aloof--and darn stockings," suggested Piers.

"And listen to your music," said Avery.

"Do you like my music?" He shot the question at her imperiously.

Avery nodded.

"Really? You do really?" There was boyish eagerness about him now. He leaned towards her, his brown face aglow.

She nodded again. "Do you ever--write music?"

"No," said Piers.

"Why not?"

He answered with a curious touch of bitterness. "No one would understand it if I did."

"But what a mistake!" she said.

"Is it? Why?" His voice sounded stubborn.

She looked suddenly straight up at him and spoke with impulsive warmth. "Because it is quite beside the point. It wouldn't matter to anyone but yourself whether people understood it or not. Of course popularity is pleasant. Everyone likes it. But do you suppose the really big people think at all about the world's opinion when they are at work? They just give of their best because nothing less would satisfy them, but they don't do it because they want to be appreciated by the crowd. Genius always gets above the crowd. It's only those who can't rise above their critics who really care what the critics say."

She stopped. Her face was flushed, her eyes kindling; but she lowered them very suddenly and returned to her work. For the fitful gleam in Piers' eyes had leaped in response to a blaze so hot, so ardent, that she could not meet it unflinching.

She was oddly grateful to him when he passed her brief confusion by as though he had not seen it. "So I'm a genius, am I?" he said, and laughed a careless laugh. "Are you listening, Queen of my heart? Aunt Avery says I'm a genius."

He moved to Jeanie's sofa, and sat down on the edge of it. Her hand stole instantly into his.

"Yes, of course," she said, in her soft, tired voice. "That's what I meant when I was trying to remember that other word--the word that begins 'hyp.'"

"Hypnotism," said Avery very quietly.

Piers laughed again. "It's a word you don't understand, my Queen of all good fairies. It's only the naughty fairies--the will-o'-the-wisps and the hobgoblins--that know anything about it. It's a wicked spell concocted by the King of Evil himself, and it's only under that spell that his prisoners ever see the light. It's the one ticket of leave from the dungeons, and they must either use it or die in the dark."

Jeanie was listening with a puzzled frown, but Gracie's imagination was instantly fired.

"Do go on!" she said eagerly. "I know what a ticket of leave is. Nurse's uncle had one. It means you have to go back after a certain time, doesn't it?"

"Exactly," said Piers grimly. "When the ticket expires."

"But I don't see," began Jeanie. Her face was flushed and a little distressed. "How can hypnotism be like--like a ticket of leave?"

"I told you you wouldn't understand," said Piers. "You see you've got to realize what hypnotism is before you can know what it's like. It's really the art of imposing one's will upon someone else's, of making that other person see things as you want them to see them--not as they really are. It's the power of deception carried to a superlative degree. And when that power is exhausted, the ticket may be said to have expired--and the prisoner returns to the dungeon. Sometimes he takes the other person with him. Sometimes he goes alone."

He stopped abruptly as a hand rapped smartly on the door.

Avery looked up again from her work. "Come in!" she said.

"It's the doctor!" whispered Gracie to Piers. "Bother him!"

Piers laughed with his lower lip between his teeth, and Lennox Tudor opened the door and paused upon the threshold.

Avery rose to receive him, but his look passed her almost instantly and rested frowningly upon Piers.

"Enter the Lord High Executioner!" said Piers flippantly. "Well? Who is the latest victim? And what have you come here for?"

The doctor came in. He shook hands with Avery, and turned at once to Piers.

"I have come to see my patient," he said aggressively.

"Have you?" said Piers. "So have I." He stood up, squaring his broad shoulders. "And I'm coming again--by special invitation." His dark eyes flung a gibe with the words.

"Good-bye, Mr. Evesham!" said Avery somewhat pointedly.

He turned sharply, and took her extended hand with elaborate courtesy.

"Good-bye,--Mrs. Denys!" he said.

"I'll come down and see you off," cried Gracie, attaching herself to his free arm.

"Ah! Wait a bit!" said Piers. "I haven't said good-bye to the Queen of the fairies yet."

He dropped upon one knee by Jeanie's sofa. Her arm slid round his neck.

"When will you come again?" she whispered.

"When do you hold your next court?" he whispered back.

She smiled, her pale face close to his. "I love to see you--always," she said. "Come just any time!"

"Shall I?" said Piers.

He was looking straight into the tired, blue eyes, and his own were soft with a tenderness that must have charmed any child to utter confidence. She lifted her lips to his. "As often as ever you can," she murmured.

He kissed her. "I will. Good-night, my Queen!"

"Good-night," she answered softly, "dear Sir Galahad!"

Avery had a glimpse of Piers' face as he went away, and she wondered momentarily at the look it wore.

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