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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 2. The Place Of Torment - Chapter 6. The Mask
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 2. The Place Of Torment - Chapter 6. The Mask Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1034

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The Bars Of Iron - Part 2. The Place Of Torment - Chapter 6. The Mask

PART II. THE PLACE OF TORMENT
CHAPTER VI. THE MASK

The bride and bridegroom departed amid a storm of rice and good wishes, Ina's face still wearing that slightly contemptuous smile to the last. Piers, in the foremost of the crowd, threw a handful straight into her lap as the car started, but only he and Dick Guyes saw her gather it up with sudden energy and fling it back in his face.

Piers dropped off the step laughing. "Ye gods! What fun for Dick Guyes!" he said.

A hand grasped his shoulder, and he turned and saw Lennox Tudor.

"Hullo!" he said, sharply freeing himself.

"I want a word with you," said Tudor briefly.

A wary look came into Piers' face on the instant. He looked at Tudor with the measuring eye of a fencer.

"What about?" he asked.

"I can't tell you here. Will you walk back with me? Lady Evesham has already gone in the car."

Piers' black brows went up, "Why was that? Wasn't she well?"

"No," said Tudor curtly.

"But she will send the car back," said Piers, stubbornly refusing to betray himself.

"No, she won't. I told her we would walk."

"The devil you did!" said Piers.

He turned his back on Tudor, and went into the house.

But Tudor was undaunted. In a battle of wills, he was fully a match for Piers. He kept close behind.

Eventually, Piers turned upon him. "Look here! I'll give you five minutes in the library. I'm not going to walk three miles with you in this blazing heat. It would be damned unhealthy for us both. Moreover, I've promised to spend the evening with Colonel Rose."

It was the utmost he could hope for, and Tudor had the sense to accept what he could get. He followed him to the library in silence.

They found it empty, and Tudor quietly turned the key.

"What's that for?" demanded Piers sharply.

"Because I don't want to be disturbed," returned Tudor.

He moved forward into the middle of the room and faced Piers.

"I have an unpleasant piece of news for you," he said, in a grim, emotionless voice. "That cousin of Guyes'--you have met him before, I think? He claims to know something of your past, and he has been talking--somewhat freely."

"What has he been saying?" said Piers.

He stood up before Tudor with the arrogance of a man who mocks defeat, but there was a gleam of desperation in his eyes--something of the cornered animal in his very nonchalance.

A queer touch of pity moved Tudor from his attitude of cold informer. There was an undercurrent of something that was almost sympathy in his voice as he made reply.

"The fellow was more or less drunk, but I am afraid he was rather circumstantial. He recognized in you a man who had killed some chum of his years ago, in Queensland."

"Well?" said Piers.

Just the one word, uttered like a command! Tudor's softer impulse passed.

"He was bawling it out at the top of his voice. A good many people must have heard him. I was in this room with Lady Evesham. We heard also."

"Well?" Piers said again.

He spoke without stirring an eyelid, and again, involuntarily, Tudor was moved, this time with a species of unwilling admiration. The fellow was no coward at least.

He went on steadily. "It was impossible not to hear what the beast said. He mentioned names also,--your name and the name of the man whom he alleged you had killed. Lady Evesham heard it. We both heard it."

He paused. Piers had not moved. His face was like a mask in its composure, but it was a dreadful mask. Tudor had a feeling that it hid unutterable things.

"What was the man's name?" Piers asked, after a moment.

"Denys--Eric Denys."

Piers nodded, as one verifying a piece of information. His next question came with hauteur and studied indifference.

"Lady Evesham heard, you say? Did she pay any attention to these maudlin revelations?"

"She fainted," said Tudor shortly.

"Oh? And what happened then?"

It was maddeningly cold-blooded; but it was the mask that spoke. Tudor recognized that.

"I brought her round," he made answer. "No one else was present. She begged me to let her go home alone. I did so."

"She also asked you to make full explanation to me?" came in measured tones from Piers.

"She did." Tudor paused a moment as though he found some difficulty in forming his next words. But he went on almost at once with resolution. "She said to me at parting: 'I must be alone. I must think. Beg Piers to understand! Beg him not to see me again to-day! I will talk to him in the morning!' I promised to deliver the message exactly as she gave it."

"Thank you," said Piers. He turned with the words, moved away to the window, and looked forth at the now deserted marquee.

Tudor stood mutely waiting; he felt as if it had been laid upon him to wait.

Suddenly Piers jerked his head round and glanced at the chair in which Avery had been sitting, then abruptly turned himself and looked at Tudor.

"What were you--and my wife--doing in here?" he said.

Tudor frowned impatiently at the question. "Oh, don't be a fool, Evesham!" he said with vehemence.

"I'm not a fool." Piers left the window with the gait of a prowling animal; he stood again face to face with the other man. But though his features were still mask-like, his eyes shone through the mask; and they were eyes of leaping flame. "Oh, I am no fool, I assure you," he said, and in his voice there sounded a deep vibration that was almost like a snarl. "I know you too well by this time to be hoodwinked. You would come between us if you could."

"You lie!" said Tudor.

He did not raise his voice or speak in haste. His vehemence had departed. He simply made the statement as if it had been a wholly impersonal one.

Piers' hands clenched, but they remained at his sides. He looked at Tudor hard, as if he did not understand him.

After a moment Tudor spoke again. "I am no friend of yours, and I never shall be. But I am the friend of your wife, and--whether you like it or not--I shall remain so. For that reason, whatever I do will be in your interests as well as hers. I have not the smallest intention or desire to come between you. And if you use your wits you will see that I couldn't if I tried. Your marriage with her tied my hands."

"What proof have I of that?" said Piers, his voice low and fierce.

Tudor made a slight gesture of disgust. "I am dealing with facts, not proofs," he said. "You know as well as I do that though you obtained her love on false pretences, still you obtained it. Whether you will keep it or not remains to be seen, but she is not the sort of woman to solace herself with anyone else. If you lose it, it will be because you failed to guard your own property--not because anyone deprived you of it."

"Damnation!" exclaimed Piers furiously, and with the word the storm of his anger broke like a fiery torrent, sweeping all before it, "are you taking me to task, you--you--for this accursed trick of Fate? How was I to know that this infernal little sot would turn up here? Why, I don't so much as know the fellow's name! I had forgotten his very existence! Where the devil is he? Let me find him, and break every bone in his body!" He whirled round to the door, but in a moment was back again. "Tudor! Damn you! Where's the key?"

"In my pocket," said Tudor quietly. "And, Piers, before you go--since I am your ally in spite of myself--let me warn you to keep your head! There's no sense in murdering another man. It won't improve your case. There's no sense in running amok. Sit down for Heaven's sake, and review the situation quietly!"

The calm words took effect. Piers stopped, arrested in spite of himself by the other's steady insistence. He looked at Tudor with half-sullen respect dawning behind his ungoverned fury.

"Listen!" Tudor said. "The fellow has gone. I packed him off myself. It was a piece of sheer ill-luck that brought him home in time for this show. He starts for America _en route for Australia in less than a week, and it is utterly unlikely that either you or any of your friends will see or hear anything more of him. Guyes himself is by no means keen on him and only had him as best man because a friend failed him at the last minute. If you behave rationally the whole affair will probably pass off of itself. Everyone knows the fellow was intoxicated, and no one is likely to pay any lasting attention to what he said. Treat the matter as unworthy of notice, and you will very possibly hear no more of it! But if you kick up a row, you will simply court disaster. I am an older man than you are. Take my word for it,--I know what I am talking about."

Piers listened in silence. The heat had gone from his face, but his eyes still gleamed with a restless fire.

Tudor watched him keenly. Not by his own choice would he have ranged himself on Piers' side, but circumstances having placed him there he was oddly anxious to effect his deliverance. He was fighting heavy odds, and he knew it, but there was a fighting strain in his nature also. He relished the odds.

"For Heaven's sake don't be a fool and give the whole show away!" he urged. "You have no enemies. No one will want to take the matter up if you will only let it lie. No one wants to believe evil of you. Possibly no one will."

"Except yourself!" said Piers, with a smile that showed his set teeth.

"Quite so." Tudor also smiled, a grim brief smile. "But then I happen to know you better than most. You gave yourself away so far as I am concerned that night in the winter. I knew then that once upon a time in your career--you had--killed a man."

"And you didn't tell Avery!" The words shot out unexpectedly. Piers was plainly astonished.

"I'm not a woman!" said Tudor contemptuously. "That affair was between us two."

"Great Scott!" said Piers.

"At the same time," Tudor continued sternly, "if I had known what I know now, I would have told her everything sooner than let her ruin her happiness by marrying you."

Piers made a sharp gesture that passed unexplained. He had made no attempt at self-defence; he made none then. Perhaps his pride kicked at the idea; perhaps in the face of Tudor's shrewd grip of the situation it did not seem worth while.

He held out his hand. "May I have that key?"

Tudor gave it to him. He was still watching narrowly, but Piers' face told him nothing. The mask had been replaced, and the man behind it was securely hidden from scrutiny. Tudor would have given much to have rent it aside, and have read the thoughts and intentions it covered. But he knew that he was powerless. He knew that he was deliberately barred out.

Piers went to the door and fitted the key into the lock. His actions were all grimly deliberate. The volcanic fires which Tudor had seen raging but a few seconds before had sunk very far below the surface. Whatever was happening in the torture-chamber where his soul agonized, it was certain that no human being--save possibly one--would ever witness it. What he suffered he would suffer in proud aloofness and silence. It was only the effect of that suffering that could ever be made apparent, when the soul came forth again, blackened and shrivelled from the furnace.

Yet ere he left Tudor, some impulse moved him to look back.

He met Tudor's gaze with brooding eyes which nevertheless held a faint warmth like the dim reflection of a light below the horizon.

"I am obliged to you," he said, and was gone before Tudor could speak again.

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