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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 3. The Open Heaven - Chapter 4. The Kingdom Of Heaven
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 3. The Open Heaven - Chapter 4. The Kingdom Of Heaven Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :3397

Click below to download : The Bars Of Iron - Part 3. The Open Heaven - Chapter 4. The Kingdom Of Heaven (Format : PDF)

The Bars Of Iron - Part 3. The Open Heaven - Chapter 4. The Kingdom Of Heaven

PART III. THE OPEN HEAVEN
CHAPTER IV. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

For a week after Piers' arrival, Jeanie was better, so much better that she was able to be carried downstairs and into the garden where she loved to lie. There was a piano in the sitting-room, and Piers would sit at it by the hour together, playing anything she desired. She loved his music, would listen entranced for any length of time while he led her through a world of delight that she had never explored before. It soothed her restlessness, comforted her in weariness, made her forget her pain. And then the summer weather broke. There came a spell of rainy days that made the garden impossible, and immediately Jeanie's strength began to wane. It went from her very gradually. She suffered but little, save when her breathing or her cough troubled her. But it was evident to them all that her little craft was putting out to sea at last.

Piers went steadfastly on with the _role he had assigned to himself. He never by word or look reminded Avery of the compact between them. He merely took her support for granted, and--probably in consequence of this--it never failed him.

The nurse declared him to be invaluable. He always had a salutary effect upon her patient. For even more than at the sight of Avery did Jeanie brighten at his coming, and she was always happy alone with him. It even occurred to Avery sometimes that her presence was scarcely needed, so completely were they at one in understanding and sympathy.

One evening, entering the room unexpectedly, she found Piers on his knees beside the bed. He rose instantly and made way for her in a fashion she could not ignore; but, though Jeanie greeted her with evident pleasure, it was obvious that for the moment she was not needed, and an odd little pang went through her with the knowledge.

Piers left the room almost immediately, and in a few moments they heard him at the piano downstairs.

"May I have the door open?" whispered Jeanie.

Avery opened it, and drawing up a chair sat down with her work at the bedside.

And then, slowly rolling forth, there came that wonderful music with which he had thrilled her soul at the very beginning of his courtship.

Wordless, magnificent, the great anthem swelled through the falling dusk, and like a vision the unutterable arose and possessed her soul. Her eyes began to behold the Land that is very far off.

And then, throbbing through the wonder of that vision, she heard the coming of the vast procession. It was like a dream, and yet it was wholly real. As yet lost in distance, veiled in mystery, she heard the tread of the coming host.

Her hands were fast gripped together; she forgot all beside. It was as if the eyes of her soul had been opened, and she looked upon the Infinite. A voice at her side began to speak, or was it the voice of her own heart? It was only a whisper, but every word of it pierced her consciousness. She listened with parted lips.

"I saw Heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True ... His Eyes were as a flame of fire and on His Head were many crowns.... And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood.... And the armies which were in Heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.... And He treadeth the wine-press.... He treadeth the wine-press...."

The voice paused. Avery was listening with bated breath for more. But it did not come at once. Only the Veil began to lift, so that she saw the Opening Gates and the Glory behind them.

Then, and not till then, the dream-voice spoke again. "Surely--surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried--our sorrows.... And the Lord hath laid on Him--the iniquity of us all." The music crashed into wonder-chords such as Avery had never heard before, swelled to a climax that reached the Divine, held her quivering as it were upon wings in a space that was more transcendent than the highest mountain-top;--then softly, strangely, died....

"That is Heaven," whispered the voice by her side. "Oh, Avery, won't it be nice when we are all there together?"

But Avery sat as one in a trance, rapt and still. She felt as if the spirit had been charmed out of her body, and she did not want to return.

A little thin hand slid into hers and clasped it close, recalling her. "Wasn't it beautiful?" said Jeanie. "He said he would make me see the Kingdom of Heaven. You saw it too, dear Avery, didn't you?"

Yes, Avery had seen it too. She still felt as if the earth were very far below them both.

Jeanie's voice had grown husky, but she still spoke in a tremulous whisper. "Did you see the Open Gates, dear Avery? He says they are never shut. And anyone who can reach them will be let in,--it doesn't matter who. Do you know, I think Piers is different from what he used to be? I think he is learning to love God."

Absolutely simple words! Why did they send such a rush of feeling--tumultuous, indescribable feeling--through Avery? Was this the explanation? Was this how it came to pass that he treated her with that aloof reverence day by day? Was he indeed learning the supreme lesson to worship God with love?

She sat for a while longer with Jeanie, till, finding her drowsy, she slipped downstairs.

Piers was sitting in the hall, deep in a newspaper. He rose at her coming with an abruptness suggestive of surprise, and stood waiting for her to speak.

But curiously the only words that she could utter were of a trivial nature. She had come to him indeed, drawn by a power irresistible, but the moment she found herself actually in his presence she felt tongue-tied, helpless.

"Don't you want a light?" she said nervously. "I am sure you can't see to read."

He stood silent for a moment, and the old tormenting doubt began to rise within her. Would he think she desired to make an overture? Would he take for granted that because his magnetism had drawn her he could do with her as he would?

And then very quietly he spoke, and she experienced an odd revulsion of feeling that was almost disappointment.

"Have you been reading the papers lately?"

She had not. Jeanie occupied all her waking thoughts.

He glanced down at the sheet he held. "There is going to be a bust-up on the Continent," he said, and there was that in his tone--a grim elation--which puzzled her at the moment. "The mightiest bust-up the world has ever known. We're in for it, Avery; in for the very deuce of a row." His voice vibrated suddenly. He stopped as though to check some headlong force that threatened to carry him away.

Avery stood still, feeling a sick horror of impending disaster at her heart. "What can you mean?" she said.

He leaned his hands upon the table facing her, and she saw in his eyes the primitive, savage joy of battle. "I mean war," he said. "Oh, it's horrible; yes, of course it's horrible. But it'll bring us to our senses. It'll make men of us yet."

She shrank from his look. "Piers! Not--not a European war!"

He straightened himself slowly. "Yes," he said. "It will be that. But there's nothing to be scared about. It'll be the salvation of the Empire."

"Piers!" she gasped again through white lips. "But modern warfare! Modern weapons! It's Germany of course?"

"Yes, Germany." He stretched up his arms with a wide gesture and let them fall. "Germany who is going to cut out all the rot of party politics and bind us together as one man! Germany who is going to avert civil war and teach us to love our neighbours! Nothing short of this would have saved us. We've been a mere horde of chattering monkeys lately. Now--all thanks to Germany!--we're going to be men!"

"Or murderers!" said Avery.

The word broke from her involuntarily, she scarcely knew that she had uttered it until she saw his face. Then in a flash she saw what she had done, for he had the sudden tragic look of a man who has received his death-wound.

He made her a curious stiff bow as if he bent himself with difficulty. His face at that moment was whiter than hers, but his eyes glowed red with a deep anger.

"I shall remember that," he said, "when I go to fight for my country."

With the words he turned to the door. But she cried after him, dismayed, incoherent.

"Oh Piers, you know--you know--I didn't mean that!"

He did not pause or look back. "Nevertheless you said it," he rejoined in a tone that made her feel as if he had flung an icy shower of water in her face; and the next moment she heard his quick tread on the garden path and realized that he was gone.

It was useless to attempt to follow him. Her knees were trembling under her. Moreover, she knew that she must return to Jeanie. White-lipped, quivering, she moved to the stairs.

He had utterly misunderstood her; she had but voiced the horrified thought that must have risen in the minds of thousands when first brought face to face with that world-wide tragedy. But he had read a personal meaning into her words. He had deemed her deliberately cruel, ungenerous, bitter. That he could thus misunderstand her set her heart bleeding afresh. Oh, they were better apart! How was it possible that there could ever be any confidence, any intimacy, between them again?

Tears, scalding, blinding tears ran suddenly down her face. She bowed her head in her hands, leaning upon the banisters....

A voice called to her from above, and she started. What was she doing, weeping here in selfish misery, when Jeanie--Swiftly she commanded herself and mounted the stairs. The nurse met her at the top.

"The little one isn't so well," she said. "I thought she was asleep, but I am afraid she is unconscious."

"Oh, nurse, and I left her!"

There was a sound of such heart-break in Avery's voice that the nurse's grave face softened in sympathy.

"My dear, you couldn't have done anything," she said. "It is just the weakness before the end, and we can do nothing to avert it. What about her mother? Can she come?"

Avery shook her head in despair. "Not for a week."

"Ah!" the nurse said; and that was all. But Avery knew in that moment that only a few hours more remained ere little Jeanie Lorimer passed through the Open Gates.

She would not go to bed that night though the child lay wholly unconscious of her. She knew that she could not sleep.

She did not see Piers again till late. The nurse slipped down to tell him of Jeanie's condition, and he came up, white and sternly composed, and stood for many minutes watching the slender, quick-breathing figure that lay propped among pillows, close to the open window.

Avery could not look at his face during those minutes; she dared not. But when he turned away at length he bent and spoke to her.

"Are you going to stay here?"

"Yes," she whispered.

He made no attempt to dissuade her. All he said was, "May I wait in your room? I shall be within call there."

"Of course," she answered.

"And you will call me if there is any change?"

"Of course," she said again.

He nodded briefly and left her.

Then began the long, long night-watch. It was raining, and the night was very dark. The slow, deep roar of the sea rose solemnly and filled the quiet room. The tide was coming in. They could hear the water shoaling along the beach.

How often Avery had listened to it and loved the sound! To-night it filled her soul with awe, as the Voice of Many Waters.

Slowly the night wore on, and ever that sound increased in volume, swelling, intensifying, like the coming of a mighty host as yet far off. The rain pattered awhile and ceased. The sea-breeze blew in, salt and pure. It stirred the brown tendrils of hair on Jeanie's forehead, and eddied softly through the room.

The nurse sat working beside a hooded lamp that threw her grave, strong face into high relief, but only accentuated the shadows in the rest of the room. Avery sat close to the bed, not praying, scarcely thinking, waiting only for the opening of the Gates. And in that hour she longed,--oh, how passionately!--that when they opened she also might be permitted to pass through.

It was in the darkest hour of the night that the tide began to turn. She looked almost instinctively for a change but none came. Jeanie stirred not, save when the nurse stooped over her to give her nourishment, and each time she took less and less.

The tide receded. The night began to pass. There came a faint greyness before the window. The breeze freshened.

And very suddenly the breathing to which Avery had listened all the night paused, ceased for a second or two, then broke into the sharp sigh of one awaking from sleep.

She rose quickly, and the nurse looked up. Jeanie's eyes dark, unearthly, unafraid, were opened wide.

She gazed at Avery for a moment as if slightly puzzled. Then, in a faint whisper: "Has Piers said good-night?" she asked.

"No, darling. But he is waiting to. I will call him," Avery said.

"Quickly!" whispered the nurse, as she passed her.

Swiftly, noiselessly, Avery went to her own room. But some premonition of her coming must have reached him; for he met her on the threshold.

His eyes questioned hers for a moment, and then together they turned back to Jeanie's room. No words passed between them. None were needed.

Jeanie's face was turned towards the door. Her eyes looked beyond Avery and smiled a welcome to Piers. He came to her, knelt beside her.

"Dear Sir Galahad!" she said.

He shook his head. "No, Jeanie, no!"

She was panting. He slipped his arm under the pillow to support her. She turned her face to his.

"Oh, Piers," she breathed, "I do--so--want you--to be happy."

"I am happy, sweetheart," he said.

But Jeanie's vision was stronger in that moment than it had ever been before, and she was not deceived. "You are not happy, dear Piers," she said. "Avery is not happy either."

Piers turned slightly. "Come here, Avery!" he said.

The old imperious note was in his voice, yet with a difference. He stretched his free hand up to her, drawing her down to his side, and as she knelt also he passed his arm about her, pressing her to him.

Jeanie's eyes were upon them both, dying eyes that shone with a mystic glory. They saw the steadfast resolution in Piers' face as he held his wife against his heart. They saw the quivering hesitation with which she yielded.

"You're not happy--yet," she whispered. "But you will be happy."

Thereafter she seemed to slip away from them for a space, losing touch as it were, yet still not beyond their reach. Once or twice she seemed to be trying to pray, but they could not catch her words.

The dawn-light grew stronger before the window. The sound of the waves had sunk to a low murmuring. From where she knelt Avery could see the far, dim line of sea. Piers' arm was still about her. She felt as though they two were kneeling apart before an Altar invisible, waiting to receive a blessing.

Jeanie's breathing was growing less hurried. She seemed already beyond all earthly suffering. Yet her eyes also watched that far dim sky-line as though they waited for a sign.

Slowly the light deepened, the shadows began to lift. Piers' eyes were fixed unswervingly upon the child's quiet face. The light of the coming Dawn was reflected there. The great Change was very near at hand.

Far away to the left there grew and spread a wondrous brightness. The sky seemed to recede, turned from grey to misty blue. A veil of cloud that had hidden the stars all through the night dissolved softly into shreds of gold, and across the sea with a diamond splendour there shot the first great ray of sunlight.

It was then that Jeanie seemed to awake, to rise as it were from the depths of reverie. Her eyes widened, grew intense; then suddenly they smiled.

She sought to raise herself, and never knew that it was by Piers' strength alone that she was lifted. She gave a gasp that was almost a cry, but it was gladness not pain that it expressed.

For a few panting moments she gazed out as one rapt in delight, gazing from a mountain-peak upon a wider view than earthly eyes could compass.

Then eagerly she turned to Piers. "I saw Heaven opened ..." she said, and in her low voice there throbbed a rapture that could not be uttered in words.

She would have said more, but something stopped her. She made a gesture as though she would clasp him round the neck, failed, and sank down in his arms.

He held her closely to him, and so holding her, felt the last quivering breath slip from the little tired body....

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