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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 3. The Open Heaven - Chapter 5. The Desert Road
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 3. The Open Heaven - Chapter 5. The Desert Road Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2722

Click below to download : The Bars Of Iron - Part 3. The Open Heaven - Chapter 5. The Desert Road (Format : PDF)

The Bars Of Iron - Part 3. The Open Heaven - Chapter 5. The Desert Road

PART III. THE OPEN HEAVEN
CHAPTER V. THE DESERT ROAD

"That is just where you make a mistake, my good Crowther. You're an awfully shrewd chap in some ways, but you understand women just about as thoroughly as I understand theology."

Piers clasped his hands behind his head, and regarded his friend affectionately.

"Do you think so?" said Crowther a little drily.

Piers laughed. "Now I've trodden on your pet corn. Bear up, old chap! It'll soon be better."

Crowther's own face relaxed, but he did not look satisfied. "I'm not happy about you, my son," he said. "I think you've missed a big opportunity."

"You think wrong," said Piers, unmoved. "I couldn't possibly have stayed another hour. I was in a false position. So--poor girl!--was she. We buried the hatchet for the kiddie's sake, but it wasn't buried very deep. I did my best, and I think she did hers. But--even that last night--we kicked against it. There was no sense in pretending any longer. The game was up. So--I came away."

He uttered the last words nonchalantly; but if Crowther's knowledge of women was limited, he knew his own species very thoroughly, and he was not deceived.

"You didn't see her at all after the little girl died?" he asked.

"Not at all," said Piers. "I came away by the first train I could catch."

"And left her to her trouble!" Crowther's wide brow was a little drawn. There was even a hint of sternness in his steady eyes.

"Just so," said Piers. "I left her to mourn in peace."

"Didn't you so much as write a line of explanation?" Crowther's voice was troubled, but it held the old kindliness, the old human sympathy.

Piers shook his head, and stared upwards at the ceiling. "Really there was nothing to explain," he said. "She knows me--so awfully well."

"I wonder," said Crowther.

The dark eyes flashed him a derisive glance. "Better than you do, dear old man, though, I admit, I've let you into a few of my most gruesome corners. I couldn't have done it if I hadn't trusted you. You realize that?"

Crowther looked him straight in the face. "That being so, my son," he said, "you needn't be so damned lighthearted for my benefit."

A gleam of haughty surprise drove the smile out of Piers' eyes. He straightened himself sharply. "On my soul, Crowther--" he began; then stopped and leaned back again in his chair. "Oh, all right. I forgot. You say any silly rot you like to me."

"And now and then the truth also," said Crowther.

Piers' eyes fenced with his, albeit a faint smile hovered about the corners of his mouth. "I really am not such a humbug as you are pleased to imagine," he said, after a moment with an oddly boyish touch of pride. "I'm feeling lighthearted, and that's a fact."

"Then you are about the only man in England today who is," responded Crowther.

"That may be," carelessly Piers made answer. "Nearly everyone is more or less scared. I'm not. It's going to be a mighty struggle--a Titanic struggle--but we shall come out on top."

"At a frightful cost," Crowther said.

Piers leapt to his feet. "We shan't shirk it on that account. See here, Crowther! I'll tell you something--if you'll swear to keep it dark!"

Crowther looked up at the eager, glowing face and a very tender look came into his own. "Well, Piers?" he said.

Piers caught him suddenly by the shoulders. "Crowther, Crowther, old chap, congratulate me! I took--the King's shilling--to-day!"

"Ah!" Crowther said.

He gripped Piers' arms tightly, feeling the vitality of him pulse in every sinew, every tense nerve. And before his mental sight there rose the dread vision of war--the insatiable--striding like a devouring monster over a whole continent. With awful clearness he saw the fields of slain...

His eyes came back to Piers, splendid in the fire of his youth, flushed already with the grim joy of the coming conflict. He got up slowly, still looking into the handsome, olive face with its patrician features and arrogant self-confidence. And a cold hand seemed to close upon his heart.

"Oh, boy!" he said.

Piers frowned upon him, still half-laughing. "What? Are we down-hearted? Buck up, man! Congratulate me! I was one of the first."

But congratulation stuck in Crowther's throat. "I wish this had come--twenty years ago!" was all he found to say.

"Thank Heaven it didn't!" ejaculated Piers. "Why, don't you see it's the one thing for me--about the only stroke of real luck I've ever had in my life?"

"And your wife doesn't know?" said Crowther.

"She does not. And I won't have her told. Mind that!" Piers' voice was suddenly determined. "She knows I shan't keep out of it, and that's enough. If she wants me--which she won't--she can get at me through Victor or one of them. But that won't happen. Don't you worry yourself as to that, my good Crowther! I know jolly well what I'm doing. Don't you see it's the chance of my life? Do you think I'm going to miss it, what?"

"I think you're going to break her heart," Crowther said gravely.

"That's because you don't understand," Piers made steady reply. "Nothing will alter so long as I stay. But this war is going to alter everything. We shall none of us come out of it as we went in. When I come back--things will be different."

He spoke sombrely. The boyish ardour had gone out of him. Something of fatefulness, something of solemn realization, of steadfast fortitude, had taken its place.

"I tell you, Crowther," he said, "I am not doing this thing without weighing the cost. But--I haven't much to lose, and I've all to gain. Even if it doesn't do--what I hope, it'll steady me down, it'll make a man of me--and not--a murderer."

His voice sank on the last word. He freed himself from Crowther's hold and turned away.

Once more he opened the window to the roar of London's life; and so standing, with his back to Crowther, he spoke again jerkily, with obvious effort. "Do you remember telling me that something would turn up? Well,--it has. I'm waiting to see what will come of it. But--if it's any satisfaction to you to know it--I've got clear of my own particular hell at last. I haven't got very far, mind, and it's a beastly desert road I'm on. But I know it'll lead somewhere; so I shall stick to it now."

He paused a moment; then flung round and faced Crowther with a certain air of triumph.

"Meantime, old chap, don't you worry yourself about either of us! My wife will go to her friend Mrs. Lorimer till I come home again. Then possibly, with any luck, she'll come to me."

He smiled with the words and came back to the table. "May I have a drink?" he said.

Crowther poured one out for him in silence. Somehow he could not speak. There was something about Piers that stirred him too deeply for speech just then. He lifted his own glass with no more than a gesture of goodwill.

"I say, don't be so awfully jolly about it!" laughed Piers. "I tell you it's going to end all right. Life is like that."

His voice was light, but it held an appeal to which Crowther could not fail to respond.

"God bless you, my son!" he said. "Life is such a mighty big thing that even what we call failure doesn't count in the long run. You'll win through somehow."

"And perhaps a little over, what?" laughed Piers. "Who knows?"

"Who knows?" Crowther echoed, with a smile.

But he could not shake free from the chill foreboding that had descended upon him, and when Piers had gone he stood for a long time before his open window, wrestling with the dark phantom, trying to reason away a dread which he knew to be beyond all reasoning.

And all through the night that followed, those words of Piers' pursued him, marring his rest: "It's a beastly desert road I'm on, but I know it'll lead somewhere." And the high courage of his bearing! The royal confidence of his smile!

Ah, God! Those boys of the Empire, going forth so gallantly to the sacrifice!

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