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   Chapter 7 TRESPASS

The Hermit of Far End By Margaret Pedler Characters: 13656

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Sara stood on the great headland known as Monk's Cliff, watching with delight the white-topped billows hurling themselves against its mighty base, only to break in a baulked fury of thunder and upflung spray.

She had climbed the steep ascent thither on more than one day of storm and bluster, reveling in the buffeting of the gale and in the pungent tang of brine from the spray-drenched air. The cry of the wind, shrieking along the face of the sea-bitten cliff, reminded her of the scream of the hurricane as it tore through the pinewoods at Barrow-shaking their giant tops hither and thither as easily as a child's finger might shake a Canterbury bell.

Something wild and untamed within her responded to the savage movement of the scene, and she stood for a long time watching the expanse of restless, wind-tossed waters, before turning reluctantly in the direction of home. If for nothing else than for this gift of glorious sea and cliff, she felt she could be content to pitch her tent in Monkshaven indefinitely.

Her way led past Far End, the solitary house perched on the sloping side of the headland, and, as she approached, she became aware of a curious change of character in the sound of the wind. She was sheltered now from its fiercest onslaught, and it seemed to her that it rose and fell, moaning in strange, broken cadences, almost like the singing of a violin.

She paused a moment, thinking at first that this was due to the wind's whining through some narrow passage betwixt the outbuildings of the house, then, as the chromatic wailing broke suddenly into vibrating harmonies, she realized that some one actually was playing the violin, and playing it remarkably well, too.

Instinctively she yielded to the fascination of it, and, drawing nearer to the house, leaned against a sheltered wall, all her senses subordinate to that of hearing.

Whoever the musician might be, he was a thorough master of his instrument, and Sara listened with delight, recognizing some of the haunting melodies of the wild Russian music which he was playing-music that even in its moments of delirious joy seemed to hold always an underlying bourdon of tragedy and despair.

"Hi, there!"

She started violently. Entirely absorbed in the music, she had failed to observe a man, dressed in the style of an indoor servant, who had appeared in the doorway of one of the outbuildings and who now addressed her in peremptory tones.

"Hi, there! Don't you know you're trespassing?"

Jerked suddenly out of her dreamy enjoyment, Sara looked round vaguely.

"I didn't know that Monk's Cliff was private property," she said after a pause.

"Nor is it, that I know of. But you're on the Far End estate now-this is a private road," replied the man disagreeably. "You'll please to take yourself off."

A faint flush of indignation crept up under the warm pallor of Sara's skin. Then, a sudden thought striking her, she asked-

"Who is that playing the violin?"

Mentally she envisioned a pair of sensitive, virile hands, lean and brown, with the short, well-kept nails that any violinist needs must have-the contradictory hands which had aroused her interest on the journey to Monkshaven.

"I don't hear no one playing," replied the man stolidly. She felt certain he was lying, but he gave her no opportunity for further interrogation, for he continued briskly-

"Come now, miss, please to move off from here. Trespassers aren't allowed."

Sara spoke with a quiet air of dignity.

"Certainly I'll go," she said. "I'm sorry. I had no idea that I was trespassing."

The man's truculent manner softened, as, with the intuition of his kind, he recognized in the composed little apology the utterance of one of his "betters."

"Beggin' your pardon, miss," he said, with a considerable accession of civility, "but it's as much as my place is worth to allow a trespasser here on Far End."

Sara nodded.

"You're perfectly right to obey orders," she said, and bending her steps towards the public road from which she had strayed to listen to the unseen musician, she made her way homewards.

"Your mysterious 'Hermit' is nothing if not thorough," she told Doctor Dick and Molly on her return. "I trespassed on to the Far End property to-day, and was ignominiously ordered off by a rather aggressive person, who, I suppose, is Mr. Trent's servant."

"That would be Judson," nodded Selwyn. "I've attended him once or twice professionally. The fellow's all right, but he's under strict orders, I believe, to allow no trespassers."

"So it seems," returned Sara. "By the way, who is the violinist at Far End? Is it the 'Hermit' himself?"

"It's rumoured that he does play," said Molly. "But no one has ever been privileged to hear him."

"Their loss, then," commented Sara shortly. "I should say he is a magnificent performer."

Molly nodded, an expression of impish amusement in her eyes.

"On the sole occasion I met him, I asked him why no one was ever allowed to hear him play," she said, chuckling. "I even suggested that he might contribute a solo to the charity concert we were getting up at the time!"

"And what did he say?" asked Sara, smiling.

"Told me that there was no need for a man to exhibit his soul to the public! So I asked him what he meant, and he said that if I understood anything about music I would know, and that if I didn't, it was a waste of his time trying to explain. Do you know what he meant?"

"Yes," said Sara slowly, "I think I do." And recalling the passionate appeal and sadness of the music she had heard that afternoon, she was conscious of a sudden quick sense of pity for the solitary hermit of Far End. He was afraid-afraid to play to any one, lest he should reveal some inward bitterness of his soul to those who listened!

The following day, Molly carried Sara off to Rose Cottage to make the acquaintance of "the Lavender Lady" and her nephew.

Miss Herrick-or Miss Lavinia, as she was invariably addressed-looked exactly as though she had just stepped out of the early part of last century. She wore a gown of some soft, silky material, sprigged with heliotrope, and round her neck a fichu of cobwebby lace, fastened at the breast with a cameo brooch of old Italian workmanship. A coquettish little lace cap adorned the silver-grey hair, and the face beneath the cap was just what you would have expected to find it-soft and very gentle, its porcelain pink and white a little faded, the pretty old eyes a misty, lavender blue.

She was alone when the two girls arrived, and greeted Sara with a humorous little smile.

"How kind of you to come, Miss Tennant! We've been all agog to meet you, Miles and I. In a tiny place like Monkshaven, you see, every one knows every one else's business, so of course we have been hearing of yo

u constantly."

"Then you might have come to Sunnyside to investigate me personally," replied Sara, smiling back.

Miss Lavinia's face sobered suddenly, a shadow falling across her kind old eyes.

"Miles is-rather difficult about calling," she said hesitatingly. "You will understand-his lameness makes him a little self-conscious with strangers," she explained.

Sara looked distressed.

"Oh! Perhaps it would have been better if I had not come?" she suggested hastily. "Shall I run away and leave Molly here?"

Miss Lavinia flushed rose-pink.

"My dear, I hope Miles knows how to welcome a guest in his own house as befits a Herrick," she said, with a delicious little air of old-world dignity. "Indeed, it is an excellent thing for him to be dragged out of his shell. Only, please-will you remember?-treat him exactly as though he were not lame-never try to help him in any way. It is that which hurts him so badly-when people make allowances for his lameness. Just ignore it."

Sara nodded. She could understand that instinctive man's pride which recoiled from any tolerant recognition of a physical handicap.

"Was his lameness caused by an accident?" she asked.

"It came through a very splendid deed." Little Miss Lavinia's eyes glowed as she spoke. "He stopped a pair of runaway carriage-horses. They had taken fright at a motor-lorry, and, when they bolted, the coachman was thrown from the box, so that it looked as if nothing could save the occupants of the carriage. Miles flung himself at the horses' heads, and although, of course, he could not actually stop them single-handed, he so impeded their progress that a second man, who sprang forward to help, was able to bring them to a standstill."

"How plucky of him!" exclaimed Sara warmly. "You must be very proud of your nephew, Miss Lavinia!"

"She is," interpolated Molly affectionately. "Aren't you, dear Lavender Lady?"

Miss Lavinia smiled a trifle wistfully.

"Ah! My dear," she said sadly, "splendid things are done at such a cost, and when they are over we are apt to forget the splendour and remember only the heavy price. . . . My poor Miles was horribly injured-he had been dragged for yards, clinging to the horses' bridles-and for weeks we were not even sure if he would live. He has lived-but he will walk lame to the end of his life."

The little instinctive silence which followed was broken by the sound of voices in the hall outside, and, a minute later, Miles Herrick himself came into the room, escorting a very fashionably attired and distinctly attractive woman, whom Sara guessed at once to be Audrey Maynard.

She was not in the least pretty, but the narrowest of narrow skirts in vogue in the spring of 1914 made no secret of the fact that her figure was almost perfect. Her face was small and thin and inclined to be sallow, and beneath upward-slanting brows, to which art had undoubtedly added something, glimmered a pair of greenish-grey eyes, clear like rain. Nor was there any mistaking the fact that the rich copper-colour of the hair swathed beneath the smart little hat had come out of a bottle, and was in no way to be accredited to nature. It was small wonder that primitive Monkshaven stood aghast at such flagrant tampering with the obvious intentions of Providence.

But notwithstanding her up-to-date air of artificiality, there was something immensely likeable about Audrey Maynard. Behind it all, Sara sensed the real woman-clever, tactful, and generously warm-hearted.

Woman, when all is said and done, is frankly primitive in her instincts, and the desire to attract-with all its odd manifestations-is really but the outcome of her innate desire for home and a mate. It is this which lies at the root of most of her little vanities and weaknesses-and of all the big sacrifices of which she is capable as well. So she may be forgiven the former, and trusted to fall short but rarely of the latter when the crucial test comes.

"Miles and I have been-as usual-squabbling violently," announced Mrs. Maynard. "Sugar, please-lots of it," she added, as Herrick handed her her tea. "It was about the man who lives at Far End," she continued in reply to the Lavender Lady's smiling query. "Miles has been very irritating, and tried to smash all my suggested theories to bits. He insists that the Hermit is quite a commonplace, harmless young man-"

"He must be at least forty," interposed Herrick mildly.

Audrey frowned him into silence and continued-

"Now that's so dull, when half Monkshaven believes him to be a villain of the deepest dye, hiding from justice-or, possibly, a Bluebeard with an unhappy wife imprisoned somewhere in that weird old house of his."

Sara listened with undignified interest. It was strange how the enigmatical personality of the owner of Far End kept cropping up across her path.

"And what is your own opinion, Mrs. Maynard?" she asked.

Audrey flashed her a keen glance from her rain-clear eyes.

"I think he's a-sphinx," she said slowly.

"The Sphinx was a lady," objected Herrick pertinently.

"Mr. Trent's a masculine re-incarnation of her, then," retorted Mrs. Maynard, undefeated.

Herrick smiled tolerantly. He was a tall, slenderly built man, with whimsical brown eyes and the half-stern, half-sweet mouth of one who has been through the mill of physical pain.

"Homme incompris," he suggested lightly. "Give the fellow his due-he at least supplies the feminine half of Monkshaven with a topic of perennial interest."

Audrey took up the implied challenge with enthusiasm, and the two of them wrangled comfortably together till tea was over. Then she demanded a cigarette-and another cushion-and finally sent Miles in search of some snapshots they had taken together and which he had developed since last they had met. She treated him exactly as though he suffered no handicap, demanding from him all the little services she would have asked from a man who was physically perfect.

Sara herself, accustomed to anticipating every need of Patrick Lovell's, would have been inclined to feel somewhat compunctious over allowing a lame man to wait upon her, yet, as she watched the eager way in which Miles responded to the visitor's behests, she realized that in reality Audrey was behaving with supreme tact. She let Miles feel himself a man as other men, not a mere "lame duck" to whom indulgence must needs be granted.

And once, when her hair just brushed his cheek, as he stooped over her to indicate some special point in one of the recently developed photos, Sara surprised a sudden ardent light in his quiet brown eyes that set her wondering whether possibly, the incessant sparring between Herrick and the lively, impulsive woman who shocked half Monkshaven, did not conceal something deeper than mere friendship.

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