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The Hermit of Far End By Margaret Pedler Characters: 20720

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

It had not taken Sara very long to cut a niche for herself in the household at Sunnyside. In a dwelling where the master of the house was away the greater part of the day, the mistress a chronic invalid, and the daughter a beautiful young thing whose mind was intent upon "colour" and "atmosphere," and altogether hazy concerning the practical necessities of housekeeping, the advent of any one possessing even half Sara's intelligent efficiency would have been provocative of many reforms.

Dick Selwyn, pushed to the uttermost limits of his strength by the demands of his wide practice and by the nervous strain of combating his wife's incessant fretfulness, quickly learned to turn to Sara for that sympathetic understanding which had hitherto been denied him in his home-life.

He had, of course, never again discussed with her his wife's incurable self-absorption, as on the day of her arrival, when the painful scene created by Mrs. Selwyn had practically forced him into some sort of explanation, but Sara's quick grasp of the situation had infinitely simplified matters, and by devoting a considerable amount of her own time to the entertainment of the captious invalid, and thus keeping her in a good humour, she contrived to save Selwyn many a bad half-hour of recrimination and complaint.

Sara was essentially a good "comrade," as Patrick Lovell had recognized in the old days at Barrow Court, and instinctively Selwyn came to share with her the pin-prick worries that dog a man's footsteps in this vale of woe, learning to laugh at them; and even his apprehensions concerning Molly's ultimate development and welfare were lessened by the knowledge that Sara was at hand.

Molly herself seemed to float through life like a big, beautiful moth, sailing serenely along, and now and then blundering into things, but never learning by experience the dangers of such blunders. One day, in the course of her inconsequent path through life, she would probably flutter too near the attractive blaze of some perilous fire, just as a moth flies against the flame of a candle and singes its frail, soft wings in the process.

It was of this that Sara was inwardly afraid, realizing, perhaps more clearly than the girl's overworked and sometimes absent-minded father, the risks attaching to her temperament.

Of late, Molly had manifested a certain moodiness and irritability very unlike her usual facile sweetness of disposition, and Sara was somewhat nonplussed to account for it. Finally, she approached the matter by way of a direct inquiry.

"What's wrong, Molly?"

Molly was hunched up in the biggest and shabbiest armchair by the fire, smoking innumerable cigarettes and flinging them away half-finished. At Sara's question, she looked up with a shade of defiance in her eyes.

"Why should anything be wrong?" she countered, obviously on the defensive.

"I don't know, I'm sure," responded Sara good-humouredly. "But I'm pretty certain there is something. Come, out with it, you great baby!"

Molly sighed, smoked furiously for a moment, and then tossed her cigarette into the fire.

"Well, yes," she admitted at last. "There is-something wrong." She rose and stood looking across at Sara like a big, perplexed child. "I-I owe some money."

Sara was conscious of a distinct shock.

"How much?" she asked sharply.

"It's-it's rather a lot-twenty pounds!"

"Twenty pounds!" This was certainly a large sum for Molly-whose annual dress allowance totaled very little more-to be in debt. "What on earth have you been up to? Buying a new trousseau? Where do you owe it-Carr & Bishop's?"-mentioning the principal draper's shop in Oldhampton.

"No. I-don't owe it to a shop at all. It's-it's a bridge debt!" The confession came out rather hurriedly.

Sara's face grew grave.

"But, Molly, you little fool, you've no business to be playing bridge. Where have you been playing?"

"Oh, we play sometimes at the studios-when the light's too bad to go on painting, you know"-airily.

"You mean," said Sara, "the artists' club people play?"


Sara frowned. She knew that Molly was one of the youngest members of this club of rather irresponsible and happy-go-lucky folk, and privately considered that Selwyn had made a great mistake in ever allowing her to join it. It embodied, as she had discovered by inquiry, some of the most rapid elements of Oldhampton's society, and was, moreover, open to receive as temporary members artists who come from other parts of the country to paint in the neighbourhood. More than one well-known name had figured in the temporary membership list, and, in addition, the name of certain dilettanti to whom the freedom from convention of the artistic life signified far more that art itself.

"I don't understand," said Sara slowly, "how they let you go on playing until you owed twenty pounds. Don't you square up at the end of the afternoon's play?"

"Yes. But I'd-I'd been losing badly, and-and some one lent me the money."

Molly flushed a bewitching rose-colour and appealed with big, pathetic eyes. It was difficult to be righteously wroth with her, but Sara steeled her heart.

"You'd no right to borrow," she said shortly.

"No. I know I hadn't. But, don't you see, I thought I should be sure to win it all back? I couldn't ask Dad for it. Every penny he can spare goes on something that mother can't possibly do without," added the girl with unwonted bitterness.

The latter fact was incontrovertible, and Sara remained silent. In her own mind she regarded Mrs. Selwyn as a species of vampire, sucking out all that was good, and sweet, and wholesome from the lives of those about her-even that of her own daughter. Did the woman realize, she wondered, that instead of being the help all mothers were sent into the world to be, she was nothing but a hindrance and a stumbling-block?

"I don't know what to do, I simply don't." Molly's humble, dejected tones broke through the current of Sara's thoughts. "You see, the worst of it is"-she blushed even more bewitchingly than before-"that I owe it to a man. It's detestable owing money to a man!"-with suppressed irritation.

Two fine lines drew themselves between Sara's level brows. This was worse than she had imagined.

"Who is it?" she asked, at last, quietly.

"Lester Kent."

"And who-or what-is Lester Kent?"

"He's-he's an artist-by choice. I mean," stumbled Molly, "that he's quite well off-he only paints for pleasure. He often runs down from town for a month or two at a time and takes out a temporary membership for our club."

"And he has lent you this money?"

"Yes"-rather shamefacedly.

"Well, he must be paid back at once. At once, do you understand? I will give you the twenty pounds-you're not to bother your father about it."

"Oh, Sara! You are a blessed duck!"

In an instant Molly's cares had slipped from her shoulders, and she beamed across at her deliverer with the most disarming gratitude.

"Wait a moment," continued Sara firmly. "You must never borrow from Mr. Kent-or any one else-again."

"Oh, I won't! Indeed, I won't!" Molly was fervent in her assurances. "I've been wretched over this. Although"-brightening-"Lester Kent was really most awfully nice about it. He said it didn't matter one bit."

"Did he indeed?" Sara spoke rather grimly. "And how old is this Lester Kent?"

"How old? Oh"-vaguely-"thirty-five-forty, perhaps. I really don't know. Somehow he's not the sort of person whose age one thinks about."

"Anyway, he's old enough to know better than to be lending you money to play bridge with," commented Sara. "I wish you'd give up playing, Molly."

"Oh, I couldn't!" coaxingly. "We play for very small stakes-as a rule. But it is amusing, Sara. And, you know this place is as dull as ditchwater unless one does something. But I won't get into debt again-I really won't."

Molly had all the caressing charm of a nice kitten, and now that the pressing matter of her indebtedness to Lester Kent was settled, she relapsed into her usual tranquil, happy-go-lucky self. She rubbed her cheek confidingly against Sara's.

"You are a pet angel, Sara, my own," she said. "I'm so glad you adopted us. Now I can go to the Herricks' tea-party this afternoon without having that twenty pounds nagging at the back of my mind all the time. I suppose"-glancing at the clock-"it's time we put on our glad rags. The Lavender Lady said she expected us at four."

Half-an-hour later, Molly reappeared, looking quite impossibly lovely in a frock of the cheapest kind of material, "run up" by the local dressmaker, and very evidently with no other thought "at the back of her mind" than of the afternoon's entertainment.

The tea-party was a small one, commensurate with the size of the rooms at Rose Cottage, and included only Sara and Molly, Mrs. Maynard, and, to Sara's surprise, Garth Trent.

As she entered the room, he turned quietly from the window where he had been standing looking out at the Herricks' charming garden.

"Mr. Trent"-Miss Lavinia fluttered forward-"let me introduce you to Miss Tennant."

The Lavender Lady's pretty, faded blue eyes beamed benevolently on him. She was so very glad that "that poor, lonely fellow at Far End" had at last been induced to desert the solitary fastnesses of Monk's Cliff, but as she was simply terrified at the prospect of entertaining him herself-and Audrey Maynard seemed already fully occupied, chatting with Miles-she was only too thankful to turn him across to Sara's competent hands.

"We've met before, Miss Lavinia," said Trent, and over her head his hazel eyes met Sara's with a gamin amusement dancing in them. "Miss Tennant kindly called on me at Far End."

"Oh, I didn't know." Little Miss Lavinia gazed in a puzzled fashion from one to the other of her guests. "Sara, my dear, you never told me that you and Dr. Selwyn had called on Mr. Trent."

Sara laughed outright.

"Dear Lavender Lady-we didn't. Neither of us would have dared to insult Mr. Trent by doing anything so conventional." The black eyes flashed back defiance at the hazel ones. "I got caught in a storm on the Monk's Cliff, and Mr. Trent-much against his will, I'm certain"-maliciously-"offered me shelter."

"Now that was kind of him. I'm sure Sara must have been most grateful to you." And the kind

old face smiled up into Trent's dark, bitter one so simply and sincerely that it seemed as though, for the moment, some of the bitterness melted away. Not even so confirmed a misanthrope as the hermit of Far End could have entirely resisted the Lavender Lady, with her serene aroma of an old-world courtesy and grace long since departed from these hurrying twentieth-century days.

She moved away to the tea-table, leaving Trent and Sara standing together in the bay of the window.

"So you are overcoming your distaste for visiting," said Sara a little nervously. "I didn't expect to meet you here."

His glance held hers.

"You wished it," he answered gravely.

A sudden colour flamed up into the warm pallor of her skin.

"Are you suggesting I invited you to meet me here?" she responded, willfully misinterpreting him. She shook her read regretfully. "You must have misunderstood me. I should never have imposed such a strain on your politeness."

His eyes glinted.

"Do you know," he said quietly, "that I should very much like to shake you?"

"I'm glad," she answered heartily. "It's a devastating feeling! You made me feel just the same the day I travelled with you. So now we're quits."

"Won't you-please-try to forget that day in the train?" he said quickly. "I behaved like a bore. I'm afraid I've no real excuse to offer, except that I'd been reminded of something that happened long ago-and I wanted to be alone."

"To enjoy the memory in solitude?" hazarded Sara flippantly. She was still nervous and talking rather at random, scarcely heeding what she said.

A look of bitter irony crossed his face.

"Hardly that," he said shortly, and Sara knew that somehow she had again inadvertently laid her hand upon an old hurt. She spoke with a sudden change of voice.

"Then, as the train doesn't hold pleasant memories for either of us, let's forget it," she suggested gently.

"Do you know what that implies?" he asked. "It implies that you are willing to be friends. Do you mean that?"-incisively.

She nodded silently, not trusting herself to speak.

"Thank you," he said curtly, and then Audrey Maynard's gay voice broke across the tension of the moment.

"Mr. Trent, I simply cannot allow Sara to monopolize you any longer. Now that we have succeeded in dragging the hermit out of his shell, we all want a share of his society, please."

Trent turned instantly, and Sara slipped across the room and took the place Audrey had vacated by Miles's couch. He greeted her coming with a smile, but there were shadows of fatigue beneath his eyes, and his lips were rather white and drawn-looking.

"This is a lazy way to receive visitors, isn't it?" he said apologetically. "But my game leg's given out to-day, so you must forgive me."

Sara's glance swept his face with quick sympathy.

"You oughtn't to be at the 'party' at all," she said. "You look far too tired to be bothered with a parcel of chattering women."

He smiled.

"Do you know," he whispered humorously, "that, although you're quite the four nicest women I know, the shameful truth is that I'm really here on behalf of the one man! I met him yesterday in the town and booked him for this afternoon, and, having at last dislodged him from his lone pinnacle, I hadn't the heart to leave him unsupported."

"No. I'm glad you dug him out, Miles. It was clever of you."

"It will give Monkshaven something to talk about, anyway"-whimsically.

"I suppose"-the toe of Sara's narrow foot was busily tracing a pattern on the carpet-"I suppose you don't know why he shuts himself up like that at Far End?"

"No, I don't," he answered. "But I'd wager it's for some better reason than people give him credit for. Or it may be merely a preference for his own society. Anyway, it is no business of ours." Then, swiftly softening the suggestion of reproof contained in his last sentence, he added: "Don't encourage me to gossip, Sara. When a man's tied by the leg, as I am, it's all he can do to curb a tendency towards tattling village scandal like some garrulous old woman."

It was evident that the presence of visitors was inflicting a considerable strain on Herrick's endurance, and, as though by common consent, the little party broke up shortly after tea.

Molly expressed her intention of accompanying Mrs. Maynard back to Greenacres-the beautiful house which the latter had had built to her own design, overlooking the bay-in order to inspect the pretty widow's recent purchase of a new motor-car.

Trent turned to Sara with a smile.

"Then it devolves on me to see you safely home, Miss Tennant, may I?"

She nodded permission, and they set off through the high-hedged lane, Sara hurrying along at top speed.

For a few minutes Trent strode beside her in silence. Then:

"Are you catching a train?" he inquired mildly. "Or is it only that you want to be rid of my company in the shortest possible time?"

She coloured, moderating her pace with an effort. Once again the odd nervousness engendered by his presence had descended on her. It was as though something in the man's dominating personality strung all her nerves to a high tension of consciousness, and she felt herself overwhelmingly sensible of his proximity.

He smiled down at her.

"Then-if you're not in any hurry to get home-will you let me take you round by Crabtree Moor? It's part of a small farm of mine, and I want a word with my tenant."

Sara acquiesced, and, Trent, having speedily transacted the little matter of business with his tenant, they made their way across a stretch of wild moorland which intersected the cultivated fields lying on either hand.

In the dusk of the evening, with the wan light of the early moon deepening the shadows and transforming the clumps of furze into strange, unrecognizable shapes of darkness, it was an eerie enough place. Sara shivered a little, instinctively moving closer to her companion. And then, as they rounded a furze-crowned hummock, out of the hazy twilight, loping along on swift, padding feet, emerged the figure of a man.

With a muttered curse he swerved aside, but Trent's arm shot out, and, catching him by the shoulder, he swung him round so that he faced them.

"Leggo!" he muttered, twisting in Trent's iron grasp. "Leggo, can't you?"

"I can, but I'm not going to," said Trent coolly. "At least, not till you've explained your presence here. This is private property. What are you doing on it?"

"I'm doing no harm," growled the man sullenly.

"No?" Trent passed his free hand swiftly down the fellow's body, feeling the bulge of his coat. "Then what's the meaning of those rabbits sticking out under your coat? Now, look here, my man, I know you. You're Jim Brady, and it's not the first, nor the second, time I've caught you poaching on my land. But it's the last. Understand that? This time the Bench shall deal with you."

The man was silent for a moment. Then suddenly he burst out:

"Look here, sir, pass it over this time. My missus is ill. She's mortal bad, God's truth she is, and haven't eaten nothing this three days past. An' I thought mebbe a bit o' stewed rabbit 'ud tempt 'er."

"Pshaw!" Trent was beginning contemptuously, when Sara leaned forward, peering into the poacher's face.

"Why," she exclaimed. "It's Brady-Black Brady from Fallowdene."

Ne'er-do-well as he was, the mere fact that he came from Fallowdene warmed her heart towards him.

"Yes, miss, that's so," he answered readily. "And you're the young lady what used to live at Barrow Court."

"Do you know this man?" Trent asked her.

"'Bout as well as you do, sir," volunteered Brady with an impudent grin. "Catched me poachin' one morning. Fired me gun at 'er, too, I did, to frighten 'er," he continued reminiscently. "And she never blinked. You're a good-plucked 'un, miss,"-with frank admiration.

Sara looked at the man doubtfully.

"I didn't know you lived here," she said.

"It's my native village, miss, Monks'aven is. But I didn't think 'twas too 'healthy for me down here, back along"-grinning-"so I shifted to Fallowdene, where me grandmother lives. I came back here to marry Bessie Windrake' she've stuck to me like a straight 'un. But I didn't mean to get collared poachin' again. Me and Bess was goin' to live respectable. 'Twas her bein' ill and me out of work w'at did it."

"Let him go," said Sara, appealing to Trent. But he shook his head.

"I can't do that," he answered with decision.

"Not 'im, miss, 'e won't," broke in Brady. "'E's not the soft-'earted kind, isn't Mr. Trent."

Trent's brows drew together ominously.

"You won't mend matters by impudence, Brady," he said sharply. "Get along now"-releasing his hold of the man's arm-"but you'll hear of this again."

Brady shot away into the darkness like an arrow, probably chortling to himself that his captor had omitted to relieve him of the brace of rabbits he had poached; and Sara, turning again to Trent, renewed her plea for clemency.

But Trent remained adamant.

"Why shouldn't he stand his punishment like any other man?" he said.

"Well, if it's true that his wife is ill, and that he has been out of work-"

"Are you offering those facts as an excuse for dishonesty?" asked Trent drily.

Sara smiled.

"Yes, I believe I am," she acknowledged.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Like nine-tenths of your sex, you are fiercely Tory in theory and a rank socialist in practice," he grumbled.

"Well, I'm not sure that that isn't a very good working basis to go on," she retorted.

As they stood in the porch at Sunnyside, she made yet one more effort to smooth matters over for the evil-doer, but Trent's face still showed unrelenting in the light that streamed out through the open doorway.

"Ask me something else," he said. "I would do anything to please you, Sara, except"-with a sudden tense decision-"except interfere with the course of justice. Let every man pay the penalty for his own sin."

"That's a hard creed," objected Sara.

"Hard?" He shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps it is. But"-grimly-"it's the only creed I believe in. Good-night"-he held out his hand abruptly. "I'm sorry I can't do as you ask about Jim Brady."

Before Sara could reply, he was striding away down the path, and a minute later the darkness had hidden him from view.

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