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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 2. The Place Of Torment - Chapter 8. A Friend In Need
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 2. The Place Of Torment - Chapter 8. A Friend In Need Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :891

Click below to download : The Bars Of Iron - Part 2. The Place Of Torment - Chapter 8. A Friend In Need (Format : PDF)

The Bars Of Iron - Part 2. The Place Of Torment - Chapter 8. A Friend In Need

PART II. THE PLACE OF TORMENT
CHAPTER VIII. A FRIEND IN NEED

"Why, Avery dear, is it you? Come in!" Mrs. Lorimer looked up with a smile of eager welcome on her little pinched face and went forward almost at a run to greet her.

The brown holland smock upon which she had been at work fell to the ground. It was Avery who, after a close embrace, stooped to pick it up.

"Who is this for? Baby Phil? You must let me lend a hand," she said.

"Ah, my dear, I do miss you," said Mrs. Lorimer wistfully. "The village girl who comes in to help is no good at all at needlework, and you know how busy Nurse always is. Jeanie does her best, and is a great help in many ways. But she is but a child. However," she caught herself up, "I mustn't start grumbling the moment you enter the house. Tell me about yourself, dear! You are looking very pale. Does the heat try you?"

"A little," Avery admitted.

She was spreading out the small garment on her knee, looking at it critically, with eyes downcast. She certainly was pale that morning. The only colour in her face seemed concentrated in her lips.

Mrs. Lorimer looked at her uneasily. There was something not quite normal about her, she felt. She had never seen Avery look so statuesque. She missed the quick sweetness of her smile, the brightness and animation of her glance.

"It is very dear of you to come and see me," she said gently, after a moment. "Did you walk all the way? I hope it hasn't been too much for you."

"No," Avery said. "It did me good."

She was on the verge of saying something further, but the words did not come.

She continued to smooth out the little smock with minute care, while Mrs. Lorimer watched her anxiously.

"Is all well, dear?" she ventured at last.

Avery raised her brows slightly, but her eyes remained downcast. "I went to the wedding yesterday," she said, after a momentary pause.

"Oh, did you, dear? Stephen went, but I stayed at home. Did you see him?"

"Only from a distance," said Avery.

"It was a very magnificent affair, he tells me." Mrs. Lorimer was becoming a little nervous. She had begun to be conscious of something tragic in the atmosphere. "And did you enjoy it, dear? Or was the heat too great?"

"It was hot," Avery said.

Again she seemed to be about to say something more, and again she failed to do so. Her lips closed.

Mrs. Lorimer remained silent also for several seconds. Then softly she rose, went to Avery, put her arms about her.

"My darling!" she said fondly.

That was all. No further questioning, no anxious probing, simply her love poured out in fullest measure upon the altar of friendship! And it moved Avery instantly and overwhelmingly, shattering her reserve, sweeping away the stony ramparts of her pride.

She turned and hid her face upon Mrs. Lorimer's breast in an anguish of tears.

It lasted for several minutes, that paroxysm of weeping. It was the pent misery of hours finding vent at last. All she had suffered, all the humiliation, the bitterness of desecrated love, the utter despair of her soul, was in those tears. They shook her being to the depths. They seemed to tear her heart asunder.

At last in broken whispers she began to speak. Still with those scalding tears falling between her words, she imparted the whole miserable story; she bared her fallen pride. There was no other person in the world to whom she could thus have revealed that inner agony, that lacerating shame. But Mrs. Lorimer, the despised, the downtrodden, was as an angel from heaven that day. A new strength was hers, born of her friend's utter need. She held her up, she sustained, her, through that the darkest hour of her life, with a courage and a steadfastness of which no one had ever deemed her capable.

When Avery whispered at length, "I can never, never go back to him!" her answer was prompt.

"My dear, you must. It will be hard, God knows. But He will give you strength. Oh Avery, don't act for yourself, dear! Let Him show the way!"

"If He will!" sobbed Avery, with her burning face hidden against her friend's heart.

"He will, dearest, He will," Mrs. Lorimer asserted with conviction. "He is much nearer to us in trouble than most of us ever realize. Only let Him take the helm; He will steer you through the storm."

"I feel too wicked," whispered Avery, "too--overwhelmed with evil."

"My dear, feelings are nothing," said the Vicar's wife, with a decision that would have shocked the Reverend Stephen unspeakably. "We can't help our feelings, but we can put ourselves in the way of receiving help. Oh, don't you think He often lets us miss our footing just because He wants us to lean on Him?"

"I don't know," Avery said hopelessly. "But I think it will kill me to go back. Even if--if I pretended to forgive him--I couldn't possibly endure to--to go on as if nothing had happened. Eric--my first husband--will always stand between us now."

"Dear, are you sure that what you heard was not an exaggeration?" Mrs. Lorimer asked gently.

"Oh yes, I am sure." There was utter hopelessness in Avery's reply. "I have always known that there was something in his past, some cloud of which he would never speak openly. But I never dreamed--never guessed--" She broke off with a sharp shudder. "Besides, he has offered no explanation, no excuse, no denial. He lets me believe the worst, and he doesn't care. He is utterly callous--utterly brutal. That is how I know that the worst is true." She rose abruptly, as if inaction had become torture to her. "Oh, I must leave him!" she cried out wildly. "I am nothing to him. My feelings are less than nothing. He doesn't really want me. Any woman could fill my place with him equally well!"

"Hush!" Mrs. Lorimer said. She went to Avery and held her tightly, as if she would herself do battle with the evil within. "You are not to say that, Avery. You are not to think it. It is utterly untrue. Suffering may have goaded him into brutality, but he is not wicked at heart. And, my dear, he is in your hands now--to make or to mar. He worships you blindly, and if his worship has become an unholy thing, it is because the thought of losing you has driven him nearly distracted. You can win it back--if you will."

"I don't want to win it back!" Avery said. She suffered the arms about her, but she stood rigid in their embrace, unyielding, unresponding. "His love is horrible to me! I abhor it!"

"Avery! Your husband!"

"He is a murderer!" Avery cried passionately. "He would murder me too if--if he could bring himself to do without me! He hates me in his soul."

"Avery, hush! You are distraught. You don't know what you are saying." Mrs. Lorimer drew her back to her chair with tender insistence. "Sit down, darling! And try--do try--to be quiet for a little! You are worn out. I don't think you can have had any sleep."

"Sleep!" Avery almost laughed, and then again those burning, blinding tears rushed to her eyes. "Oh, you don't know what I've been through!" she sobbed. "You don't know! You don't know!"

"God knows, darling," whispered Mrs. Lorimer.

Minutes later, when Avery was lying back exhausted, no longer sobbing, only dumbly weeping, there came a gentle knock at the door.

Mrs. Lorimer went to it quickly, and met her eldest daughter upon the point of entering. Jeanie looked up at her enquiringly.

"Is anyone here?"

"Yes, dear. Avery is here. She isn't very well this morning. Run and fetch her a glass of milk!"

Jeanie hastened away. Mrs. Lorimer returned to Avery.

"My darling," she said, "do you know I think I can see a way to help you?"

Avery's eyes were closed. She put out a trembling hand. "You are very good to me."

"I wonder how often I have had reason to say that to you," said Mrs. Lorimer softly. "Listen, darling! You must go back. Yes, Avery, you must! You must! But--you shall take my little Jeanie with you."

Avery's eyes opened. Mrs. Lorimer was looking at her with tears in her own.

"I know I may trust her to you," she said. "But oh, you will take care of her! Remember how precious she is--and how fragile!"

"But, my dear--you couldn't spare her!" Avery said.

"Yes, I can,--I will!" Mrs. Lorimer hastily rubbed her eyes and smiled--a resolute smile. "You may have her, dear. I know she will be happy with you. And Piers is so fond of her too. She will be a comfort to you--to you both, please God. She comforts everyone--my little Jeanie. It seems to be her _role in life. Ah, here she comes! You shall tell her, dear. It will come better from you."

"May I come in?" said Jeanie at the door.

Her mother went to admit her. Avery sat up, and pushed her chair back against the window-curtain.

Jeanie entered, a glass of milk in one hand and a plate in the other. "Good morning, dear Avery!" she said, in her gentle, rather tired voice. "I've brought you a hot cake too--straight out of the oven. It smells quite good." She came to Avery's side, and stood within the circle of her arm; but she did not kiss her or look into her piteous, tearstained face. "I hope you like currants," she said. "Baby Phil calls them flies. Have you seen Baby Phil lately? He has just cut another tooth. He likes everybody to look at it."

"I must see it presently," Avery said, with an effort.

She drank the milk, and broke the cake, still holding Jeanie pressed to her side.

Jeanie, gravely practical, held the plate. "I saw Piers ride by a little while ago," she remarked. "He was on Pompey. But he was going so fast he didn't see me. He always rides fast, doesn't he? But I think Pompey likes it, don't you?"

"I don't know." There was an odd frozen note in Avery's voice. "He has to go--whether he likes it or not."

"But he is very fond of Piers," said Jeanie. "And so is Caesar." She gave a little sigh. "Poor Mikey! Do you remember how angry he used to be when Caesar ran by?"

Avery suppressed a shiver. Vivid as a picture flung on a screen, there rose in her brain the memory of that winter evening when Piers and Mike and Caesar had all striven together for the mastery. Again she seemed to hear those savage, pitiless blows. She might have known! She might have known!

Sharply she wrenched herself back to the present. "Jeanie darling," she said, "your mother says that you may come and stay at the Abbey for a little while. Do you--would you--like to come?"

Her voice was unconsciously wistful. Jeanie turned for the first time and looked at her.

"Oh, Avery!" she said. "Stay with you and Piers?"

Her eyes were shining. She slid a gentle arm round Avery's neck.

"You would like to?" Avery asked, faintly smiling.

"I would love to," said Jeanie earnestly. She looked across at her mother. "Shall you be able to manage, dear?" she asked in her grown-up way.

Mrs. Lorimer stifled a sigh. "Oh yes, Jeanie dear. I shall do all right. Gracie will help with the little ones, you know."

Jeanie smiled at that. "I think I will go and talk to Gracie," she said, quietly releasing herself from Avery's arm.

But at the door she paused. "I hope Father won't mind," she said. "But he did say I wasn't to have any more treats till my Easter holiday-task was finished."

"I will make that all right, dear," said Mrs. Lorimer.

"Thank you," said Jeanie. "Of course I can take it with me. I expect I shall get more time for learning it at the Abbey. You might tell him that, don't you think?"

"I will tell him, darling," said Mrs. Lorimer.

And Jeanie smiled and went her way.

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