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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 27. Love Makes All The Difference
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The Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 27. Love Makes All The Difference Post by :ClickBank Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2298

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The Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 27. Love Makes All The Difference

PART II CHAPTER XXVII. LOVE MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE

"I've been prayin' for you, dear Noel," said Peggy importantly, with her arms round her hero's neck.

"Have you, though?" said Noel. "I say, little pal, how decent of you! How often?"

"Ever so many times," said Peggy. "Every mornin', every evenin', and after grace besides."

"By Jove!" said Noel. "What did you say?"

"I said," Peggy swelled with triumph, "'Lighten Noel's darkness, we beseech Thee, O Lord!'"

"Why, that's what I said!" ejaculated Noel.

"Did you?" cried Peggy excitedly. "Did you really? Oh, Noel, then that's how it was, isn't it?"

"Quite so," said Noel.

He sat on the sofa in Daisy's little drawing-room with his small playfellow on his knee. They had not seen each other for six weeks. And in those weeks Noel had been transformed from a blind man to a man who saw, albeit through thick blue spectacles that emphasized the pallor of illness to such an alarming degree that Daisy had almost wept over him at sight.

Peggy, more practical in her sympathy, had gathered him straightway to her small but ardent bosom, and refused to let him go.

So they sat in the drawing-room tightly locked and related to each other all the doings of their separation.

"I wonder you're not afraid of me in these hideous goggles," Noel said once.

To which Peggy replied with indignation. "I'm not a baby!"

"And Olga has gone to Brethaven, has she?" he asked presently.

"Yes," said Peggy wisely. "Dr. Jim said she must have some sea air to make her fat again. So Captain Nick came yesterday and took her away. And d'you know," said Peggy, "I'm goin' there too very soon?"

"What ho!" said Noel. "Are they going to let you stay there all by yourself?"

Peggy nodded. "Daddy and Mummy are goin' away all by theirselves, so I'm goin' away all by myself."

"And who's going to slap you and put you to bed when you're naughty?" Noel enquired rudely. "Nick?"

"No!" said Peggy, affronted, "Captain Nick's a gentleman!"

"Is he though? Nasty snub for Noel Wyndham Esquire!" observed Noel. "Sorry, Peggy! Then unless Mrs. Nick rises nobly to the occasion, I'm afraid you'll go unslapped. Dear, dear! What a misfortune! I shall have to come down now and then and see what I can do."

Peggy embraced him again ecstatically at this suggestion. "Yes, dear Noel, yes! Come often, won't you?"

"Rather!" said Noel cheerily. "I believe I'm going to be married some time soon by the way," he added as an afterthought.

Peggy's face fell. "Oh, Noel, not really!"

"Why not really?" said Noel.

Peggy explained with a little quiver in her voice. "You did always say that when I was growed up you'd marry me."

"Oh, is that all?" said Noel. "That's easily done. I'll get permission to have two. Whom does one ask? The Pope, isn't it? I'll go and cultivate his acquaintance on my honeymoon."

"What's a honeymoon?" said Peggy.

Noel burst into his merriest laugh and sprang to his feet. "It's the nicest thing in the world. I'll tell you all about it when we're married, Peg-top! Meantime, will you take me to see the great Dr. Jim? I want to inveigle him into lending me his motor."

"Oh, are you goin' to Brethaven?" asked Peggy eagerly. "Take me! Do, dear Noel!"

"What for?" said Noel.

"Reggie lives there," said Peggy. "And Reggie's got some rabbits--big, white ones."

"But suppose they don't want you?" objected Noel.

"S'pose they don't want _you_?" countered Peggy, clinging ingratiatingly to his hand. "Then--you can come and play with me and the rabbits--and Reggie."

Noel stooped very suddenly and kissed her. "What an excellent idea, Peg-top!" he said. "There's nothing more useful when the road is blocked than to secure a good line of retreat."

Peggy looked up at him with puzzled eyes, but she did not ask him what he meant.

* * * * *

It was on that same afternoon that Olga found herself wandering along the tiny glen in the Redlands grounds that had been her favourite resort in childhood. It was only two days since she had left town, urged thereto by Dr. Jim who insisted that she had been there too long already. Nick, moreover, who had patiently chaperoned her for the past five weeks, was wanting to rejoin his wife who had returned to Redlands soon after Noel's operation. And Noel himself, though still undergoing treatment at his brother's hands, had so far recovered as to be able to leave the home and take up his abode temporarily with Sir Kersley Whitton and Max. He had cheerily promised to follow her in a day or two; and Olga, persuaded on all sides, had yielded without much resistance though not very willingly. She had a curious reluctance to return to her home. Something--that hovering phantom that she had almost forgotten--had arisen once more to menace her peace. And she was afraid; she knew not wherefore.

She was happier in Noel's society than in any other. To see him daily growing stronger was her one unalloyed pleasure, and, curiously, when with him she was never so acutely conscious of that chill shadow. Of Max she saw practically nothing. He was always busy, almost too busy to notice her presence, it seemed--a fact that hurt her vaguely even while it gave her relief.

There was another fact that imparted the same kind of miserable comfort, and that was that Noel, though impetuous and loving as ever, never made any but the most casual allusions to their marriage. She could only conclude that he was waiting to make a complete recovery, and she would not herself broach the subject a second time. She did not actually want him to speak, but it grieved her a little that he did not do so. She did not for a moment doubt his love, but she felt that she did not possess the whole of his confidence, and the feeling made her vaguely uneasy. She had been so ready to give all that he had desired. How was it he was slow to take?

These thoughts were running persistently in her mind as she moved along the edge of the stream. It was a day in the end of May, fragrant with many perfumes, crystallized with spring sunshine--such a day as she would have revelled in only last year. Only last year! How many things had happened since then! She was almost afraid to think.

There came the sound of feet on the drive above, and a cracked voice hailed her. "Hullo, Olga _mia_! How are you amusing yourself?"

She looked up with a smile. Last year she would have sprung to meet him; but she seemed to have outgrown all her impulsiveness lately. She moved to meet him indeed, but he was at her side before she had moved a couple of yards.

He caught her hand in his, and drew her to the water's edge. His eyes flickered over her and went beyond.

"Hullo! There goes the green dragon-fly!" he said.

She looked round startled. "Oh, Nick, where?"

"Gone away!" said Nick unconcernedly. "He'll come back again, I'll wager. What's the programme for this morning, kiddie? Anything special?"

"Nothing," said Olga.

Again rapidly his eyes comprehended her. "I'm going up to the Priory myself," he announced unexpectedly. "Care to come?"

She started again, coloured, then went very white. "I--don't know, Nick," she faltered.

"Might as well, dear," said Nick persuasively. "There's no one there. Did I tell you about the landslip? There was a bad one last February, and the old place is beginning to crack in all directions. It's been condemned as unsafe, and Campion is going to clear out bag and baggage. He hasn't lived there, you know, since last summer. They've taken to travelling. Wouldn't you like to come and see it once more before it is dismantled?"

Olga was standing very still. She did not seem to be breathing; only the hand Nick had taken vibrated in his hold.

"Don't come if you don't like!" he said. "But it's your last chance. They are going to start clearing it to-morrow. I've got to go myself to fetch poor old Cork. You remember Cork? Campion has handed him over to me."

Yes, Olga remembered Cork. She drew in a deep breath and spoke. "Dear old dog! I'm glad you are going to have him. Yes, Nick, I'll come. But is the place really doomed? What will happen to it?"

"It will probably fall in first," said Nick, "and the next big landslide it will go over the cliff."

"How--dreadful!" said Olga, and added half to herself, "Violet was wondering only that morning if she would--would--live to see it."

"Ah!" said Nick. He was leading her through the glen that led down to the shore. "It was bound to happen some time," he said, "but they didn't think it would be so soon."

Olga went with him as one moving in a dream, submitting though not of her own conscious volition.

Nick said no more. He had chosen the shortest route, and his main object was to accomplish the distance without disturbing her thoughts.

They came out at length upon the shore, where the stream from the glen gurgled and fell in bubbling cascades into its channel on the beach. The sun poured full over a sea of blue and purple, threaded with silvery pathways here and there.

Olga paused for a moment, as it were instinctively, because from her earliest childhood she had always paused in just that spot to drink in the beauty of the scene.

Nick waited beside her, alert but patient. When she turned along the beach, he turned also, walking close to her over the stones, saying no word.

They came to the hollow in the rocks where she and Violet had rested on that summer morning, and again Olga paused with her face to the sea. A curious little spasm passed across it as she looked. Far away a white sail floated over the blue, and the cries of circling gulls came to them over the water. There was no other sound but the long, long roar of the sea.

Again, in utter silence, Olga turned, pursuing her way. They reached the cliff-path that still remained intact, and began to climb.

The way was steep, but she did not seem aware of it. Nick, lithe and agile, followed her step for step. His yellow face was full of anxious wrinkles. He looked neither to right nor left, watching her only.

Olga never paused in the ascent. She went unswervingly, as though drawn by some magnetic force above. Reaching the summit of the cliff, she turned at once from the Redlands ground, and struck across towards the boundary of the Priory. Nick fell into pace beside her again, vigilant as an eagle guarding its young in the first terrifying flight, not offering help, but ready to give it at the first sign of weakness.

But Olga gave no such sign. Only as they came in sight of the old grey building, standing stark and gaunt above them, she uttered a sudden sigh that seemed to break from her in spite of rigid restraint. And a moment later she quickened her pace.

They passed at length around a buttressed corner and so on to the yew-lined drive that led to the front of the house. The Gothic archway gaped wide to the spring sunshine. Olga came swiftly to it, and there stood suddenly still.

"Nick!" she said. "Nick!"

Her voice was vibrant, her eyes widely staring into the gloom within.

He slipped his arm about her, that wiry arm of great strength that had served her so often. "I am here, darling," he said soothingly.

Olga turned to him in piteous appeal. "Nick," she whispered, "where is she? Where? Where?"

He answered her steadfastly, with the absolute conviction of one who knew. "She is there beyond the Door, dear. You'll find her some day, waiting for you where it is given to all of us to wait for those we love."

But Olga only trembled at his words. "What door, Nick?" she asked. "Do you--do you mean Death?"

"We call it Death," he said.

She scarcely heard his answer. She was shaking from head to foot. "Oh, Nick," she gasped, "I'm frightened--I'm frightened! I daren't go on!"

His arm encircled her more strongly still. He almost lifted her forward over the threshold into the cold and gloomy hall. "Don't be frightened, darling! I'm with you," he said.

She would have hung back, but her strength was gone. She tottered weakly whither he led. In a moment she was sitting on the old oak chest with her face to the sunshine, just as she had sat on that golden afternoon when she had come to summon Violet to her aid.

She covered her face and shivered. Surely the place was haunted--haunted! In a grim procession memories began to crowd upon her. With shrinking vision she beheld, and all the while Nick stood beside her, holding her hand, sustaining even while he compelled.

"Do you remember?" he said, and again, as she shrank and quivered, "Do you remember?"

There was something ruthless about him during those moments, something she had never encountered before, something against which she knew she would oppose herself in vain. For the first time she saw the man as he was, felt the colossal strength of him, quivered beneath his mastery. He was forcing her towards an obstacle from which every racked nerve winced in horror. He was driving her, and he meant to drive her, into conflict with a force that threatened to overwhelm her utterly.

"Oh, let me go, Nick! Let me go!" she cried in agonized entreaty. "It's more than I can bear."

He knelt beside her; he held her close. "Darling," he said, "face it--face it just this once! It's for your own peace of mind I'm doing it."

And then she knew that no cry of hers would move him. He was ready to help her--if he could; but he would not suffer her to flee before that dread procession that had begun to wind like a fiery serpent through her brain. So, in a quivering anguish of spirit such as she had never before known, she sat and faced it, faced the advancing phantom from the shadowy presence of which she had so often shrunk appalled. And the beat of her heart rose up in the silence above the sound of the sea till she thought the mad race of it would kill her.

Slowly the seconds throbbed away, the torture swept towards her. She was as one who, fascinated, watches a forest-fire while he waits to be engulfed.

Presently, from the shadows behind, the great dog Cork came like a ghost and gave them stately welcome. He licked Olga's quivering hands, standing beside her in earnest solicitude.

Nick rose to his feet and moved a little away. His hand was hard clenched against his side. He could not help, it seemed. He could only look on in impotence, while she suffered.

Slowly at last Olga raised her head and looked at him with tragic eyes. Her face was white and strained, but she had in a measure regained her self-control.

"I am going upstairs," she said, "just for a little while. Don't come with me, Nick! Wait for me! Wait for me!"

She rose with the words, swayed a little, then recovered herself, and, with her hand on Cork's head, moved slowly away down the great hall.

Dumbly Nick stood and watched the slim young figure with the wolf-hound pacing gravely beside it. At the end, immediately below the east window, she paused, and he saw her drawn face upraised to the dreadful picture above her; then, still slowly, she turned, and, with the dog, passed out of sight under the southern archway.

For a long, long space he waited in the utter stillness. He had faced a good many difficulties in his life and endured a good many adversities, but this thing stood by itself, unique in his experience, with a pain that was all its own. He would have given much to have gone with her, to have held her up while the storm raged round her, to have borne with her that which, it seemed, she could only bear alone. But, since this was denied him, he could only wait with set teeth while his little pal went through that fiery trial of hers, wait and picture her agonizing in solitude, wait till she should come back to him with all the gladness gone for ever from her eyes,--a woman who could never be young again.

Slowly the minutes dragged on till half an hour had passed. He fell to pacing up and down in a fever of anxiety. Would she never come back? She had begged him to wait for her, but he began to feel he could not wait any longer. The suspense was becoming intolerable.

Desperately he marked another quarter of an hour crawl by leaden-footed, moment by moment. And still she did not come. He went for the last time to the open door and looked forth restlessly. The warmth of the spring sunshine spread everywhere like a benediction. It was only within those walls of crumbling stone that it found no place. A sudden shiver went through him. He turned abruptly inwards. She should not stay alone in the vault-like solitude any longer. Surely anything--anything--must be better for her than that!

With quick strides he went down the old dim hall that once had been the chapel of the monks, turned sharply through the second archway, and approached the staircase beyond. And then very suddenly he stopped. For there above him at the open staircase-window that looked upon the sea stood Olga.

The afternoon sunshine streamed in upon her, and she seemed to be stretching out her hands to it, basking in the generous glow. Her face was upturned to the splendour. Her eyes were closed.

For a moment or two Nick stood narrowly watching her, then as suddenly as he had come he withdrew. For Olga's lips were moving, and it seemed to him that she was no longer alone....

He went back to the porch and stood in the sunshine waiting with renewed patience.

Ten minutes later a moist nose nozzled its way into his hand. He looked down into Cork's eyes of faithful friendliness. Then, hearing a light footfall, he turned. Olga had come back to him at last.

Straight to him she came, moving swiftly. Her face was still pale and very wan, but the strained look had utterly passed away. Her eyes sought his with fearless confidence, and Nick's heart gave a jerk of sheer relief. He had expected tragedy, and he beheld--peace.

She reached him. She laid her hands upon his shoulders. A tremulous smile hovered about her lips. "Nick--Nick darling," she said, "why--why--why didn't you tell me all this long ago?"

He stood before her dumb with astonishment. For once he was utterly and completely at a loss.

She slipped her hand through his arm, and drew him out. "Let us go into the sun!" she said. And then, as the glow fell around them, "Oh, Nick, I'm so thankful that I know the truth at last!"

"Are you, dear?" he said. "Well, I certainly think it is time you knew it now."

"I ought to have known it sooner," she said. "Why did you--you and Max--let me believe--a lie?"

He hesitated momentarily. "We thought it would be easier for you than the truth," he said then.

"You mean Max thought so," she said quickly. "You didn't, Nick!"

"Perhaps not," he admitted.

"I'm sure you didn't," she said. "You know me better than that." Again she stood still in the sunshine, lifting her face to the glory. "Love conquers so many things," she said.

"All things," put in Nick quickly.

She looked at him again. "I don't know about all things, Nick," she said.

"I have proved it," he said.

She shook her head slowly. "But I haven't." She passed from the subject as if it were one she could not bear to discuss openly. "What made you think the truth would hurt me so, I wonder? It was only the first great shock I couldn't bear. That nearly killed me. But now that it is over--and I can see clearly again--Nick, tell me,--as her friend--her only friend--could I have done anything else?"

Nick was silent. He had asked himself the same question many times, and had not found an answer.

"Nick," she said pleadingly, "none but a friend could have done it. It was--an act of love."

"I know it was," he said.

"And yet you blame me?" Her voice was low, full of the most earnest entreaty.

"You blamed Max," he pointed out.

"Oh, but Max didn't love her!" He heard a note of quick pain in her voice. "Oh, don't you see," she said, "how love makes all the difference? Surely that was what St. Paul meant when he said that love was the fulfilling of the law. Nick, you must agree with me in this. It was utterly hopeless. Think of it! Think of it! If she had been living now!" A sudden hard shiver went through her. "Nick, if I had been in her place--wouldn't you have done the same for me?"

"I don't know," he said.

But she clung to him more closely. "You do know, dear! You do know!"

And then Nick did a strange, impulsive thing. He suddenly flung down his reserve and bared to her his inmost soul.

"Yes, Olga _mia_, I do know," he said. "I would have done the same for you. I nearly did the same for Muriel when we were in a tight corner long ago at Wara. But whether it's right or whether it's wrong, God alone can judge. It may be we take too much upon us, or it may be He means us to do it. That is what I have never yet decided. But I solemnly believe with you that love makes all the difference. Love is the one extenuating circumstance which He will recognize and pass. It isn't the outward appearance that counts. It's just the heart of things."

He stopped. Olga was listening with earnest attention, her pale face rapt. For a moment, as he ceased to speak, their eyes met, and between them there ran the old electric current of sympathy, re-connected and entire.

"Oh, Nick," she said, "you never fail me! You always understand!"

But Nick shook his head in whimsical denial. "No, not always, believe me,--being but a man. But I've learnt to hide my ignorance by taking the difficult bits for granted. For instance, I didn't expect you to take this thing so sensibly. If I had, I should have acted very differently long ago."

"Do you call me sensible, Nick?" she said, with a wistful smile.

"Not in all respects, dear," said Nick. "But you have shown more sense than I expected on this occasion."

"Did you expect me to be very badly upset?" she asked. "Nick, shall I tell you something? You'll think me fanciful perhaps. Yet I don't know. Very likely you will understand. I've had a feeling for such a long, long time that she--that Violet--was calling to me, and I could never hear what she wanted to say. To-day--at last--I have been in touch with her, and I know that all is well." She turned her face up to the sun again, speaking with closed eyes. "I know that she is safe. I know that she is happy. And--Nick--Nick--" her voice thrilled on the words--"I know that she loves me still."

Nick bared his head with reverence. His face was strangely moved, but the restless eyes were steadfast as he made reply: "That, dear, is just the Omnipotence of Love. You can't explain it. It's too great a thing to grasp. You can only feel the pull of the everlasting Chain that binds us to those beyond."

"It is wonderful," she whispered, "wonderful!"

"It is Divine," said Nick.

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