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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 2. The Place Of Torment - Chapter 11. The Falling Night
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 2. The Place Of Torment - Chapter 11. The Falling Night Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2820

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The Bars Of Iron - Part 2. The Place Of Torment - Chapter 11. The Falling Night


"You ought to rest, you know," said Tudor. "This sort of thing is downright madness for you."

They were walking together in the February twilight along the long, dark avenue of chestnuts that led to Rodding Abbey. Avery moved with lagging feet that she strove vainly to force to briskness.

"I don't think I do too much," she said. "It isn't good for me to be idle. It makes me--it makes me mope."

The involuntary falter in the words spoke more eloquently than the words themselves, but she went on after a moment with that same forced briskness to which she was trying to compel her dragging limbs. "I only ran down to the Vicarage after lunch because it is Jeanie's birthday. It is no distance across the Park. It seemed absurd to go in state."

"You are not wise," said Tudor in a tone that silenced all argument.

Avery gave a little sigh and turned from the subject. "I thought Jeanie looking very fragile. Mrs. Lorimer has promised that she may come to me again just as soon as I am able to have her."

"Ah! Jeanie is a comfort to you?" said Tudor.

To which she answered with a catch in her breath, "The greatest comfort."

They reached the great grey house and entered. A letter lay on the table by the door. Avery took it up with a sharp shiver.

"Prom Piers?" asked Tudor abruptly.

She bent her head. "He writes--every week."

"When is he coming home?" He uttered the question with a directness that sounded almost brutal, but Avery caught the note of anxiety behind it and understood.

She opened the letter in silence, and read it by the waning light of the open door. The crackling of the fire behind her was the only sound within. Without, the wind moaned desolately through the bare trees. It was going to rain.

Slowly Avery raised her head at last and gazed out into the gathering dark.

"Come inside!" said Tudor peremptorily.

His hand closed upon her arm, he almost compelled her. "How painfully thin you are!" he said, as she yielded. "Are you starving yourself of food as well as rest?"

Again she did not answer him. Her eyes were fixed, unseeing. They focused their gaze upon the fire as he led her to it. She sat down in the chair he placed for her and then very suddenly she began to shiver as if with an ague.

"Don't!" said Tudor sharply.

He bent over her, his hands upon her shoulders, holding her.

She controlled herself, and leaned back. "Do sit down, doctor! I'm afraid I'm very rude--very forgetful. Will you ring for tea? Piers is in town. He writes very kindly, very--very considerately. He is only just back from Egypt--he and Mr. Crowther. The last letter was from Cairo. Would you--do you care to see what he says?"

She offered him the letter with the words, and after the faintest hesitation Tudor took it.

"I have come back to be near you." So without preliminary the letter ran. "You will not want me, I know, but still--I am here. For Heaven's sake, take care of yourself, and have anything under the sun that you need. Your husband, Piers."

It only covered the first page. Tudor turned the sheet frowningly and replaced it in its envelope.

"He always writes like that," said Avery. "Every week--all through the winter--just a sentence or two. I haven't written at all to him though I've tried--till I couldn't try any more."

She spoke with a weariness so utter that it seemed to swamp all feeling. Tudor turned his frowning regard upon her. His eyes behind their glasses intently searched her face.

"How does he get news of you?" he asked abruptly.

"Through Mrs. Lorimer. She writes to him regularly, I believe,--either she or Jeanie. I suppose--presently--"

Avery stopped, her eyes upon the fire, her hands tightly clasped before her.

"Presently?" said Tudor.

She turned her head slightly, without moving her eyes. "Presently there will have to be some--mutual arrangement made. But I can't see my way yet. I can't consider the future at all. I feel as if night were falling. Perhaps--for me--there is no future."

"May I take your pulse?" said Tudor.

She gave him her hand in the same tired fashion. He took it gravely, feeling her pulse, his eyes upon her face.

"Have you no relations of your own?" he asked her suddenly.

She shook her head. "No one near. My parents were both only children."

"And no friends?" he said.

"Only Mrs. Lorimer. I lost sight of people when I married. And then--" Avery halted momentarily "after my baby girl died, for a long time I didn't seem to care for making new friends."

"Ah!" said Tudor, his tone unwontedly gentle. "You will soon have another child to care for now."

She made a slight gesture as of protest. "Do you know I can't picture it? I do not feel that it will be so. I believe one of us--or both--will die."

She spoke calmly, so calmly that even Tudor, with all his experience, was momentarily shocked. "Avery!" he said sharply. "You are morbid!"

She looked at him then with her tired eyes. "Am I?" she said. "I really don't feel particularly sad--only worn out. When anyone has been burnt--badly burnt--it destroys the nerve tissues, doesn't it? They don't suffer after that has happened. I think that is my case."

"You will suffer," said Tudor.

He spoke brutally; he wanted to rouse her from her lethargy, to pierce somehow that dreadful calm.

But he failed; she only faintly smiled.

"I can bear bodily suffering," she said, "particularly if it leads to freedom and peace."

He got up as if it were he who had been pierced. "You won't die!" he said harshly. "I won't let you die!"

Her eyes went back to the fire, as if attracted thereto irresistibly. "Most of me died last August," she said in a low voice.

"You are wrong!" He stood over her almost threateningly. "When you hold your child in your arms you will see how wrong. Tell me, when is your husband coming back to you?"

That reached her. She looked up at him with a quick hunted look. "Never!" she said.

He looked back at her mercilessly. "Never is a long time, Lady Evesham. Do you think he will be kept at arm's length when you are through your trouble? Do you think--whatever his sins--that he has no claim upon you? Mind, I don't like him. I never did and I never shall. But you--you are sworn to him."

He had never spoken so to her before. She flinched as if he had struck her with a whip. She put her hands over her face, saying no word.

He stood for a few moments stern, implacable, looking down at her. Then very suddenly his attitude changed. His face softened. He stooped and touched her shoulder.

"Avery!" His voice was low and vehement; he spoke into her ear. "When you first kicked him out, I was mean enough to feel glad. But I soon saw--that he took all that is vital in you with him. Avery,--my dear,--for God's sake--have him back!"

She did not speak or move, save for a spasmodic shuddering that shook her whole frame.

He bent lower. "Avery, I say, can't you--for the baby's sake--anyway consider it?"

She flung out her hands with a cry. "The child is cursed! The child will die!" There was terrible conviction in the words. She lifted a tortured face. "Oh, don't you see," she said piteously, "how impossible it is for me? Don't--don't say any more!"

"I won't," said Tudor.

He took the outflung hands and held them closely, restrainingly, soothingly.

"I won't," he said again. "Forgive me for saying so much! Poor girl! Poor girl!"

His lips quivered a little as he said it, but his hold was full of sustaining strength. She grew gradually calmer, and finally submitted to the gentle pressure with which he laid her back in her chair.

"You are always so very good to me," she said presently. "I sometimes wonder how I ever came to--to--" She stopped herself abruptly.

"To refuse me?" said Tudor quietly. "I always knew why, Lady Evesham. It was because you loved another man. It has been the case for as long as I have known you."

He turned from her with the words wholly without emotion and took up his stand on the hearth-rug.

"Now may I talk to you about your health?" he said professionally.

She leaned forward slowly. "Dr. Tudor, first will you make me a promise?"

He smiled a little. "I don't think so. I never do make promises."

"Just this once!" she pleaded anxiously. "Because it means a great deal to me."

"Well?" said Tudor.

"It is only--" she paused a moment, breathing quickly--"only that you will not--whatever the circumstances--let Piers be sent for."

"I can't promise that," said Tudor at once.

She clasped her hands beseechingly. "You must--please--you must!"

He shook his head. "I can't. I will undertake that he shall not come to you against your will. I can't do more than that."

"Do you suppose you could keep him out?" Avery said, a note of quivering bitterness in her voice.

"I am quite sure I can," Tudor answered steadily. "Don't trouble yourself on that head! I swear that, unless you ask for him, he shall not come to you."

She shivered again and dropped back in her chair. "I shall never do that--never--never--so long as I am myself!"

"Your wishes--whatever they are--shall be obeyed," Tudor promised gravely.

And with that gently but very resolutely he changed the subject.

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