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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 2. The Place Of Torment - Chapter 12. The Dream
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 2. The Place Of Torment - Chapter 12. The Dream Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :3108

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The Bars Of Iron - Part 2. The Place Of Torment - Chapter 12. The Dream

PART II. THE PLACE OF TORMENT
CHAPTER XII. THE DREAM

How many times had he paced up and down the terrace? Piers could not have said. He had been there for hours, years, half a lifetime, waiting--waiting eternally for the summons that never came.

Could it have been only that morning that Mrs. Lorimer's urgent telegram had reached him? Only that morning that he had parted from Crowther for the first time in six months? It seemed aeons ago. And yet here he was in the cold grey dusk, still waiting to be called to his wife's side.

The night was fast approaching--a bitter, cheerless night with a driving wind that seemed to promise snow. It was growing darker every moment. Only her window shone like a beacon in the gloom. How long would he have to wait? How long? How long?

He had brought a doctor with him in obedience to Mrs. Lorimer's message, transmitting Tudor's desire. Tudor was not satisfied. He wanted Maxwell Wyndham, the great surgeon--a man still comparatively young in years but high in his profession--a man in whose presence--so it was said--no patient ever died. That of course was an exaggeration--some hysterical woman's tribute to his genius. But genius he undoubtedly possessed and that of a very high order.

If anyone could save her, it would be Maxwell Wyndham. So Piers told himself each time he turned in his endless pacing and looked at that lighted window. Tudor believed in him. And--yes, he believed in him also. There had been something in the great man's attitude, something of arrogant self-assurance that had inspired him with confidence almost against his will. He had watched him saunter up the stairs with his hands thrust into his pockets and an air of limitless leisure pervading his every movement, and he had been exasperated by the man's deliberation and subtly comforted at the same time. He was thankful that he had been able to secure him.

Ah, what was that? A cry in the night! The weird, haunting screech of an owl! He ridiculed himself for the sudden wild thumping of his heart. But would they never call him? This suspense was tearing at the very roots of his being.

Away in the distance a dog was barking, fitfully, peevishly--the bark of a chained animal. Piers stopped in his walk and cursed the man who had chained him. Then--as though driven by an invisible goad--he pressed on, walking resolutely with his back turned upon the lighted window, forcing himself to pace the whole length of the terrace.

He had nearly reached the further end when a sudden fragrance swept across his path--pure, intoxicating, exquisitely sweet. Violets! The violets that grew in the great bed under the study-window! The violets that Sir Beverley's bride had planted fifty years ago!

The thought of his grandfather went through him like a stab through the heart. He clenched his hands and held his breath while the spasm passed. Never since the night Victor had summoned Avery to comfort him, had he felt so sick a longing for the old man's presence. For a few lingering seconds it was almost more than he could bear. Then he turned about and faced the chill night-wind and that lighted window, and the anguish of his vigil drove out all other griefs. How long had he yet to wait? How long? How long?

There came a low call behind him on the terrace. He wheeled, strangling a startled exclamation in his throat. A man's figure--a broad, powerful figure--lounged towards him. He seemed to be wearing carpet slippers, for he made no sound. It was Maxwell Wyndham, and Piers' heart ceased to beat. He stood as if turned to stone. All the blood in his body seemed to be singing in his ears. His head was burning, the rest of him cold--cold as ice. He would have moved to meet the advancing figure, but he could not stir. He could only stop and listen to that maddening tarantella beating out in his fevered brain.

"I say, you know--" the voice came to him out of an immensity of space, as though uttered from another world--"it's a bit too chilly for this sort of thing. Why didn't you put on an overcoat?"

A man's hand, strong and purposeful, closed upon his arm and impelled him towards the house.

Piers went like an automaton, but he could not utter a word. His mouth felt parched, his tongue powerless.

Avery! Avery! The woman he had wronged--the woman he worshipped so madly--for whom his whole being mental and physical craved desperately, yearning, unceasingly,--without whom he lived in a torture that was never dormant! Avery! Avery! Was she lying dead behind that lighted window? If so, if so, those six months of torment had been in vain. He would end his misery swiftly and finally before it turned his brain.

Maxwell Wyndham was guiding him towards the conservatory where a dim light shone. It was like an altar-flame in the darkness--that place where first their lips had met. The memory of that night went through him like a sword-thrust. Oh, Avery! Oh, Avery!

"Now look here," said Maxwell Wyndham, in his steady, emotionless voice; "you're wanted upstairs, but you can't go unless you are absolutely sure of yourself."

Wanted! His senses leapt to the word. Instinctively he pulled himself together, collecting all his strength. He spoke, and found to his surprise that speech was not difficult.

"She has asked for me?"

"Yes; but," Wyndham's tone was impressive, "I warn you, she is not altogether herself. And--she is very desperately ill."

"The child?" questioned Piers.

"The child never breathed." Curt and cold came the answer. "I have had to concentrate all my energies upon saving the mother's life, and--to be open with you--I don't think I have succeeded. There is still a chance, but--" He left the sentence unfinished.

They had reached the conservatory, and, entering, it was Piers who led the way. His face, as they emerged into the library, was deathly, but he was absolute master of himself.

"I believe there is a meal in the dining-room," he said. "Will you help yourself while I go up?"

"No," said Wyndham briefly. "I am coming up with you."

He kept a hand upon Piers' arm all the way up the stairs, deliberately restraining him, curbing the fevered impetuosity that urged him with a grim insistence that would not yield an inch to any chafing for freedom.

He gave utterance to no further injunctions, but his manner was eloquent of the urgent need for self-repression. When Piers entered his wife's room, that room which he had not entered since the night of Ina's wedding, his tread was catlike in its caution, and all the eagerness was gone from his face.

Then only did the doctor's hand fall from him, so that he advanced alone.

She was lying on one side of the great four-poster, straight and motionless as a recumbent figure on a tomb. Her head was in deep shadow. He could see her face only in vaguest outline.

Softly he approached, and Mrs. Lorimer, rising silently from a chair by the bedside, made room for him. He sat down, sinking as it were into a great abyss of silence, listening tensely, but hearing not so much as a breath.

The doctor took up his stand at the foot of the bed. In the adjoining room sat Lennox Tudor, watching ceaselessly, expectantly, it seemed to Piers. Behind him moved a nurse, noiselessly intent upon polishing something that flashed like silver every time it caught his eye.

Suddenly out of the silence there came a voice. "If I go down to hell,--Thou art there also. If I take the wings of the morning--the wings of the morning--" There came a pause, the difficult pause of uncertainty--"the wings of the morning--" murmured the voice again.

Piers leaned upon the pillow. "Avery!" he said.

She turned as if some magic moved her. Her hands came out to him, piteously weak and trembling. "Piers,--my darling!" she said.

He gathered the poor nerveless hands into a tight clasp, kissing them passionately. He forgot the silent watcher at the foot of the bed, forgot little Mrs. Lorimer hovering in the shadows, and Tudor waiting with the nurse behind him. They all slipped into nothingness, and Avery--his wife--alone remained in a world that was very dark.

Her voice came to him in a weak whisper. "Oh, Piers, I've been--wanting you so!"

"My own darling!" he whispered back. "I will never leave you again!"

"Oh yes, you will!" she answered drearily. "You always say that, but you are always gone in the morning. It's only a dream--only a dream!"

He slipped his arms beneath her and drew her to his breast. "It is not a dream, Avery," he told her very earnestly. "I am here in the flesh. I am holding you."

"I know," she said. "It's always so."

The weary conviction of her tone smote cold to his heart. He gathered her closer still. He pressed his lips to her forehead.

"Avery, can't you feel me?" he said.

Her head sank against his shoulder. "Yes--yes," she said. "But you have always done that."

"Done what, darling?"

"Imposed your will on mine--made me feel you." Her voice quivered; she began to cry a little, weakly, like a tired child. "Do you remember--what you said--about--about--the ticket of leave?" she said. "You leave your dungeon--my poor Piers. But you have to go back again--when the leave has expired. And I--I am left alone."

The tears were running down her face. He wiped them tenderly away.

"My dearest, if you want me--if you need me,--I will stay," he said.

"But you can't," she said hopelessly. "Even to-night--even to-night--I thought you were never coming. And I went at last to look for you--behind your iron bars. But, oh, Piers, the agony of it! And I couldn't reach you after all, though I tried so hard--so hard."

"Never mind, my darling!" he whispered. "We are together now."

"But we shan't be when the morning comes," sobbed Avery. "I know it is all a dream. It's happened so many, many times."

He clasped her closer, hushing her with tender words, vowing he would never leave her, while the Shadow of Death gathered closer about them, threatening every instant to come between.

She grew calmer at last, and presently sank into a state of semi-consciousness lying against his breast.

Time passed. Piers did not know how it went. With his wife clasped in his arms he sat and waited, waited--for the falling of a deeper night or the coming of the day--he knew not which. His brain felt like a stopped watch; it did not seem to be working at all. Even the power to suffer seemed to have left him. He felt curiously indifferent, strangely submissive to circumstances,--like a man scourged into the numbness of exhaustion. He knew at the back of his mind that as soon as his vitality reasserted itself the agony would return. The respite could not last, but while it lasted he knew no pain. Like one in a state of coma, he was not even aware of thought.

It might have been hours later, or possibly only minutes, that Maxwell Wyndham came round to his side and bent over him, a quiet hand on his shoulder.

"You had better lay her down," he said. "She won't wake now."

"What?" said Piers sharply.

The words had stabbed him back to understanding in a second. He glared at the doctor with eyes half-savage, half-frightened.

"No, no!" said Wyndham gently. "I don't mean that. She is asleep. She is breathing. But she will rest better if you lay her down."

The absolute calmness with which he spoke took effect upon Piers. He yielded, albeit not very willingly, to the mandate.

They laid her down upon the pillow between them, and then for many seconds Wyndham stood, closely watching, almost painfully intent. Piers waited dumbly, afraid to move, afraid to speak.

The doctor turned to him at last. "What about that meal you spoke of? Shall we go down and get it?"

Piers stared at him. "I am not leaving her," he said in a quick whisper.

Wyndham's hand was on his shoulder again--a steady, compelling hand. "Oh yes, you are. I want to talk to you," he said. "She is sleeping naturally, and she won't wake for some time. Come!"

There was nothing peremptory about him, yet he gained his end. Piers rose. He hung for a moment over the bed, gazing hungrily downwards upon the shadowy, motionless form, then in silence turned.

Tudor had risen. He met them in the doorway, and between him and the London doctor a few words passed. Then the latter pushed his hand through Piers' arm, and drew him away.

They descended the wide oak stairs together and entered the dining-room. Piers moved like a man dazed. His companion went straight to the table and poured out a drink, which he immediately held out to Piers, looking at him with eyes that were green and very shrewd.

"I think we shall save her," he said.

Piers drank in great gulps, and came to himself. "I say, I'm beastly rude!" he said, with sudden boyishness. "For goodness' sake, help yourself! Sit down, won't you?"

Maxwell Wyndham seated himself with characteristic deliberation of movement. He had fiery red hair that shone brazenly in the lamplight.

"I can't eat by myself, Sir Piers," he remarked, after a moment. "And it isn't particularly good for you to drink without eating either, in your present frame of mind."

Piers sat down, his attitude one of intense weariness. "You really think she'll pull through?" he said.

"I think so," Wyndham answered. "But it won't be a walk over. She will be ill for a long time."

"I'll take her away somewhere," said Piers. "A quiet time at the sea will soon pick her up."

Maxwell Wyndham said nothing.

Piers glanced at him with quick impatience. "Don't you advise that?"

The green eyes countered his like the turn of a swordblade. "Certainly quiet is essential," said Wyndham enigmatically.

Piers made a chafing movement. "What do you mean?"

"I mean," very calmly came the answer, "that if you really value your wife's welfare, you will let someone else take her away."

It was a straight thrust, and it went home. Piers flinched sharply. But in a moment he had recovered himself. He was on guard. He looked at Wyndham with haughty enquiry.

"Why do you say that?"

"Because her peace of mind depends upon it." Wyndham's answer came with brutal directness. "You will find, when this phase of extreme weakness is past, that your presence is not desired. She may try to hide it from you. That depends upon the kind of woman she is. But the fact will remain--does remain--that for some reason best known to yourself, she shrinks from you. I am not speaking rashly without knowledge. When a woman is in agony she can't help showing her soul. I saw your wife's soul to-day."

Piers was white to the lips. He sat rigid, no longer looking at the doctor, but staring beyond him fixedly at a woman's face on the wall that smiled and softly mocked.

"What did she say to you?" he said, after a moment.

"She said," curtly Wyndham made reply,--"it was at a time when she could hardly speak at all--'Even if I ask for my husband, don't send--don't send!'"

"Yet you fetched me!" Piers' eyes came swiftly back to him; they shone with a fierce glint.

But Wyndham was undismayed. "I fetched you to save her life," he said. "There was nothing else to be done. She was in delirium, and nothing else would calm her."

"And she wanted me!" said Piers. "She begged me to stay with her!"

"I know. It was a passing phase. When her brain is normal, she will have forgotten."

Piers sprang to his feet with sudden violence. "But--damn it--she is my wife!" he cried out fiercely.

Maxwell Wyndham leaned across the table. "She is your wife--yes," he said. "But isn't that a reason for considering her to the very utmost? Have you always done that, I wonder? No, don't answer! I've no right to ask. Only--you know, doctors are the only men in the world who know just what women have to put up with, and the knowledge isn't exactly exhilarating. Give her a month or two to get over this! You won't be sorry afterwards."

It was kindly spoken, so kindly that the flare of anger died out of Piers on the instant, and the sweetness dormant in him--that latent sweetness that had won Avery's heart--came swiftly to the surface.

He threw himself down again, looking into the alert, green eyes with an oddly rueful smile. "All right, doctor!" he said. "I shan't go to her if she doesn't want me. But I've got to make sure she doesn't, haven't I? What?"

There was a wholly unconscious note of pathos in the last word that sent the doctor's mouth up at one corner in a smile that was more pitying than humorous. "I should certainly do that," he said. "But I'm afraid you'll find I've told you the beastly truth."

"For which I am obliged to you," said Piers, with a bow.

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