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   Chapter 12 A REVOKE

The Hermit of Far End By Margaret Pedler Characters: 12775

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

Sara lay long awake that night. Under Jane Crab's bluff and kindly ministrations, her feeling of utter bodily exhaustion had given place to an exquisite sense of mental and physical well-being, and, freed from the shackles of material discomfort, her thoughts flew backward over the events of the day.

All was well-gloriously, blessedly well! There could be no misunderstanding that brief, passionate moment when Garth had held her in his arms; and the blinding anguish of those hours which had followed, when she had not known whether he were alive or dead, had shown her her own heart.

Love had come to her-the love which Patrick Lovell had called the one altogether good and perfect gift-and with it came a tremulous unrest, a shy sweetness of desire that crept through all her veins like the burning of a swift flame.

She felt no fear or shame of love. Sara would never be afraid of life and its demands, and it seemed to her a matter of little moment that Garth had made no conventional avowal of his love. She did not, on that account, pretend, even to herself, as many women would have done, that her own heart was untouched, but recognized and accepted the fact that love had come to her with absolute simplicity.

Nor did she doubt or question Garth's feeling for her. She knew, in every fibre of her being, that he loved her, and she was ready to wait quite patiently and happily the few hours that must elapse before he could come to her and tell her so.

Yet she longed, with a woman's natural longing, to hear him say in actual words all that his whole attitude towards her had implied, craved for the moment when the beloved voice should ask for that surrender which in spirit she had already made.

She rose early, with a ridiculous feeling that it would bring the time a little nearer, and Jane Crab stared in amazement when she appeared downstairs while yet the preparations for breakfast were hardly in progress.

"You're no worse for your outing, then, Miss Tennant," she observed, adding shrewdly: "I'd as lief think you were the better for it."

Sara laughed, flushing a little. Somehow she did not mind the humorous suspicion of the truth that twinkled in Jane's small, boot-button eyes, but she sincerely hoped that the rest of the household would not prove equally discerning.

She need have had no fears on that score. Dr. Selwyn had barely time to swallow a cup of coffee and a slice of toast before rushing off in response to an urgent summons from a patient, whilst Molly seemed entirely preoccupied with the contents of a letter, in an unmistakably masculine handwriting, which had come for her by the morning's post. As for Mrs. Selwyn, she was always too much engrossed in analyzing the symptoms of some fresh ailment she believed she had acquired to be sensible of the emotional atmosphere of those around her. Her own sensations-whether she were too hot, or not quite hot enough, whether her new tabloids were suiting her or whether she had not slept as well as usual-occupied her entire horizon.

This morning she was distressed because the hairpins Sara had purchased for her the previous day differed slightly in shape from those she was in the habit of using.

Sara explained that they were the only ones obtainable.

"At Bloxham's, you mean, dear. Oh, well, of course, you couldn't get any others, then. Perhaps if you had tried another shop-" Mrs. Selwyn paused, to let this suggestion sink in, then added brightly: "But, naturally, I couldn't expect you to spend your whole morning going from shop to shop looking for my particular kind of hairpin, could I?"

Sara, who had expended a solid hour over that very occupation, was perfectly conscious of the reproach implied. She ignored it, however. Like every one else in close contact with Mrs. Selwyn, she had learned to accept the fact that the poor lady seriously believed that her whole life was spent in bearing with admirable patience the total absence of consideration accorded her.

When she descended from Mrs. Selwyn's room Sara was amazed to find that the hands of the clock only indicated half-past ten. Surely no morning had ever dragged itself away so slowly!

At two o'clock she and Molly were both due to lunch with Mrs. Maynard at Greenacres, and she was radiantly aware that Garth Trent would be included among the guests. Between them, Audrey, and the Herricks, and Sara had succeeded in enticing the hermit within the charmed circle of their friendship, and he could now be depended upon to join their little gatherings-"provided," as he had bluntly told Audrey, "that you can put up with my manners and morals."

Mrs. Maynard had only laughed.

"I'm not in the least likely to find fault with your manners," she said cheerfully. "They're really quite normal, and as for your morals, they are your own affair, my dear man. Anyway, there is at least one bond between us-Monkshaven heartily disapproves of both of us."

Greenacres was a delightful place, built rather on the lines of a French country house, with the sitting-rooms leading one into the other and each opening in its turn on to a broad wooden verandah. The latter ran round three sides of the house, and in summer the delicate pink of Dorothy Perkins fought for supremacy with the deeper red of the Crimson Rambler, converting it into a literal bower of roses.

Audrey was on the steps to greet the two girls when they arrived, looking, as usual, as though she had just quitted the hands of an expert French maid. It was in a great measure to the ultra-perfection of her toilette that she owed the critical attitude accorded her by the feminine half of Monkshaven. To the provincial mind, the fact that she dyed her hair, ordered her frocks from Paris, and kept a French chef to cook her food, were all so many indications of an altogether worldly and abandoned character-and of a wealth that was secretly to be envied-and the more venomous among Audrey's detractors lived in the perennial hope of some day unveiling the scandal which they were convinced lay hidden in her past.

Audrey was perfectly aware of the gossip of which she was the subject-and completely indifferent to it.

"It amuses them," she would say blithely, "and it doesn't hurt me in the least. If Mr. Trent and I both left the neighbourhood, Monkshaven would be at a loss for a topic of conversation-

unless they decided, as they probably would, that we had eloped together!"

She herself was quite above the petty meanness of envying another woman's looks or clothes, and she beamed frank admiration over Molly's appearance as she led the way into the house.

"Molly, you're too beautiful to be true," she declared, pausing in the hall to inspect the girl's young loveliness in its setting of shady hat and embroidered muslin frock. Big golden poppies on the hat, and a girdle at her waist of the same tawny hue, emphasized the rare colour of her eyes-in shadow, brown like an autumn leaf, gold like amber when the sunlight lay in them-and the whole effect was deliciously arresting.

"You've been spending your substance in riotous purple and fine linen," pursued Audrey relentlessly. "That frock was never evolved in Oldhampton, I'm positive."

Molly blushed-not the dull, unbecoming red most women achieve, but a delicate pink like the inside of a shell that made her look even more irresistibly distracting than before.

"No," she admitted reluctantly, "I sent for this from town."

Sara glanced at her with quick surprise. Entirely absorbed in her own thoughts, she had failed to observe the expensive charm of Molly's toilette and now regarded it attentively. Where had she obtained the money to pay for it? Only a very little while ago she had been in debt, and now here she was launching out into expenditure which common sense would suggest must be quite beyond her means.

Sara frowned a little, but, recognizing the impossibility of probing into the matter at the moment, she dismissed it from her mind, resolving to elucidate the mystery later on.

Meanwhile, it was impossible to do other than acknowledge the results obtained. Molly looked more like a stately young empress than an impecunious doctor's daughter as she floated into the room, to be embraced and complimented by the Lavender Lady and to receive a generous meed of admiration, seasoned with a little gentle banter, from Miles Herrick.

Sara experienced a sensation of relief on discovering Miss Lavinia and Herrick to be the only occupants of the room. Garth Trent had not yet come. Despite her longing to see him again, she was conscious of a certain diffidence, a reluctance at meeting him in the presence of others, and she wished fervently that their first meeting after the events of the previous day could have taken place anywhere rather than at this gay little lunch party of Audrey's.

As it fell out, however, she chanced to be entirely alone in the room when Trent was at length ushered in by a trim maidservant, the rest of the party having gradually drifted out on to the verandah, while she had lingered behind, glad of a moment's solitude in which to try and steady herself.

She had never conceived it possible that so commonplace an emotion as mere nervousness could find place beside the immensities of love itself, yet, during the interminable moment when Garth crossed the room to her side, she was supremely aware of an absurd desire to turn and flee, and it was only by a sheer effort of will that she held her ground.

The next moment he had shaken hands with her and was making some tranquil observation upon the lateness of his arrival. His manner was quite detached, every vestige of anything beyond mere conventional politeness banished from it.

The coolly neutral inflections of his voice struck upon Sara's keyed-up consciousness as an indifferent finger may twang the stretched strings of a violin, producing a shuddering violation of their harmony.

She hardly knew how she answered him. She only knew, with a sudden overwhelming certainty, that the Garth who stood beside her now was a different man, altered out of all kinship with the man who had held her in his arms on Devil's Hood Island. The lover was gone; only the acquaintance remained.

She stammered a few halting words by way of response, and-was she mistaken, or did a sudden look of understanding, almost, it seemed, of compunction, leap for a moment into his eyes, only to be replaced by the brooding, bitter indifference habitual to them?

The opportune return of Audrey and her other guests, heralded by a gust of cheerful laughter, tided over the difficult moment, and Garth turned away to make his apologies to his hostess, blaming some slight mishap to his car for the tardiness of his appearance.

Throughout lunch Sara conversed mechanically, responding like an automaton when any one put a penny in the slot by asking her a question. She felt utterly bewildered, stunned by Garth's behaviour.

Had their meeting been exchanged under the observant eyes of the rest of the party, it would have been intelligible to her, for he was the last man in the world to wear his heart upon his sleeve. But they had been quite alone for the moment, and yet he had permitted no acknowledgment of the new relations between them to appear either in word or look. He had greeted her precisely as though they were no more to each other than the merest acquaintances-as though the happenings of the previous day had been wiped out of his mind. It was incomprehensible!

Sara felt almost as if some one had dealt her a physical blow, and it required all her pluck and poise to enable her to take her share of the general conversation before wending their several ways homeward.

". . . And we'll picnic on Devil's Hood Island."

Audrey's high, clear voice, as she chattered to Molly, characteristically propounding half-a-dozen plans for the immediate future, floated across to Sara where she stood waiting on the lowest step, impatient to be gone. As though drawn by some invisible magnet, her eyes encountered Garth's, and the swift colour rushed into her cheeks, staining them scarlet.

His expression was enigmatical. The next moment he bent forward and spoke, in a low voice that reached her ear alone.

"Much maligned place-where I tasted my one little bit of heaven!" Then, after a pause, he added deliberately: "But a black sheep has no business with heaven. He'd be turned away from the doors-and quite rightly, too! That's why I shall never ask for admittance." He regarded her steadily for a moment, then quietly averted his eyes.

And Sara realized that in those few words he had revoked-repudiating all that he had claimed, all that he had given, the day before.

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