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   Chapter 17 THEY WHO PURSUED

The Hermit of Far End By Margaret Pedler Characters: 12343

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

Selwyn's pony had rarely before found himself hustled along at the pace at which Sara drove him. She let him take his time up the hills, knowing, as every good horse-woman knows, that if you press your horse against the hill, he will only flag the sooner and that you will lose more than you gain. But down the hills and along the flat, Sara, with hands and whip, kept Toby going at an amazing pace. Perhaps something of her own urgency communicated itself to the good-hearted beast, for he certainly made a great effort and brought her to Far End in a shorter time than she had deemed possible.

Exactly as she pulled him to a standstill, the front door opened and Garth himself appeared. He had heard the unwonted sound of wheels on the drive, and now, as he recognized his late visitor, an expression of extreme surprise crossed his face.

"Miss Tennant!" he exclaimed in astonished tones.

"Yes. Can your man take my pony? And, please may I come in? I-I must see you alone for a few minutes."

Trent glanced at her searchingly as his ear caught the note of strain in her voice.

Summoning Judson to take charge of the pony and trap, he led the way into the comfortable, old fashioned hall and wheeled forward an armchair.

"Sit down," he said composedly. "Now"-as she obeyed-"tell me what is the matter."

His manner held a quiet friendliness. The chill indifference he had accorded her of late-even earlier that same day at Rose Cottage-had vanished, and his curiously bright eyes regarded her with sympathetic interest.

To the man as he appeared at the moment, it was no difficult matter for Sara to unburden her heart, and a few minutes later he was in possession of all the facts concerning Molly's flight.

"I don't know whether Mr. Kent is really a married man or not," she added in conclusion. "Brady declares that he is."

"He is," replied Trent curtly. "Very much married. His first wife divorced him, and, since then, he has married again."

"Oh--!" Sara half-rose from her seat, her face blanching. Not till that moment did she realize how much in her inmost heart she had been relying on the hope that Garth might be able to contradict Black Brady's statement.

"Don't worry." Garth laid his hands on her shoulders and pushed her gently back into her chair again. "Don't worry. Thanks to Brady's stroke of genius about the petrol-I've evidently underestimated the man's good points-I think I can promise you that you shall have Miss Molly safely back at Sunnyside in the course of a few hours. That is, if you are willing to trust me in the matter."

"Of course I will trust you," she answered simply. Somehow it seemed as though a great burden had been lifted from her shoulders since she had confided her trouble to Garth.

"Thank you," he said quietly. "Now, while Judson gets the car round, you must have a glass of wine."

"No-oh, no!"-hastily-"I don't want anything."

"Allow me to know better than you do in this case," he replied, smiling.

He left the room, presently returning with a bottle of champagne and a couple of glasses.

"Oh, please-I'd so much rather start at once," she protested. "I really don't want anything. Do let us hurry!"

"I'm sorry, but I've no intention of starting until you have drunk this"-filling and handing one of the glasses to her.

Rather than waste time in further argument, she accepted it, only to find that her hand was shaking uncontrollably, so that the edge of the glass chattered against her teeth.

"I-I can't!" she gasped helplessly. Now that she had shared her burden of responsibility, the demands of the last half-hour's anxiety and strain were making themselves felt.

With a swift movement Garth took the glass from her, and, supporting her with his other arm, held it to her lips.

"Drink it down," he said authoritatively. Then, as she paused: "All of it!"

In a few minutes the wine had brought the colour back to her face, and she felt more like herself again.

"I'm all right, now," she said. "I'm sorry I was such a fool. But-but this business about Molly has given me rather a shock, I suppose."

"Naturally. Now, if you're ready, we'll make a start."

She rose, and he surveyed her slight figure in its thin muslin gown with some amusement.

"Not quite a suitable costume for motoring by night," he remarked. He picked up one of the two big fur coats Mrs. Judson had brought into the room. "Here, put this on." Then, when he had fastened it round her and turned the collar up about her neck, he stood looking at her for a moment in silence.

The whole of her slender form was hidden beneath the voluminous folds of the big coat, which had been originally designed to fit Garth's own proportions, and against the high fur collar her delicate cameo face, with its white skin and scarlet lips and its sombre, night-black eyes, emerged like some vivid flower from its sheath.

Trent laughed shortly.

"Beauty-in the garment of the Beast," he commented. Then, briskly: "Come along. Judson will have the car ready by now."

Sara stepped into the car and he tucked the rugs carefully round her. Then, directing Judson to drive the Selwyn pony and trap back to Sunnyside, he took his place at the wheel and the car slid noiselessly away down the broad drive.

"The surprising discovery of the doctor's pony and trap at Far End to-morrow morning would require explanation," he observed grimly to Sara. She blessed his thoughtfulness.

"What about Judson?" she asked. "Is he reliable? Or do you think he will-talk?"

"Judson," replied Garth, "has been in my service long enough to know the meaning of the word 'discretion.'"

Trent drove the car steadily enough through town, but, as soon as they emerged on to the great London main road, he let her out and they swept rapidly along through the lingering summer twilight.

"Are you nervous?" he asked. "Do you mind forty or fifty miles an hour when we've a clear stretch ahead of us?"

"Eighty, if you like," she replied succinctly.

She felt the car leap forward like a living thing beneath them as it gathered speed.

"Do you think-is it possible that we can overtake t

hem?" she asked anxiously.

"It's got to be done," he answered, and she was conscious of the quiet driving-force that lay behind the speech-the stubborn resolution of the man which she had begun to recognize as his most dominant characteristic.

She wondered, as she had so often wondered before, whether any one had ever yet succeeded in turning Garth Trent aside from his set purpose, whatever it might chance to be. She could not imagine his yielding to either threats or persuasions. However much it might cost him, he would carry out his intention to the bitter end, even though its fulfillment might involve the shattering of the whole significance of life.

"Besides,"-his voice cut across the familiar tenor of her thoughts-"Kent will probably stop to dine at some hotel en route. We shan't. We'll feed as we go."

"Oh-h!" A gasp of horrified recollection escaped her. "I never thought of it! Of course you've had no dinner!"

He laughed. "Have you?" he asked amusedly.

"No, but that's different."

"Well, we'll even matters up by having some sandwiches together presently. Mrs. Judson has packed some in."

Sara was silent, inwardly dwelling on the fact that no least detail ever seemed to escape Garth's attention. Even in the hurry of their departure, and with the whole scheme of Molly's rescue to envisage, he had yet found time to order due provision for the journey.

An hour later they pulled up at the principal hotel of the first big town on the route, and Garth elicited the fact that a car answering to the description of Lester Kent's had stopped there, but only for a bare ten minutes which had enabled its occupants to snatch a hasty meal.

"They've been here and gone straight on," he reported to Sara. "Evidently Kent's taking no chances"-grimly. And a moment later they were on their way once more.

Dusk deepened into dark, and the car's great headlights cut out a blazing track of gold in front of them as they rushed along the pale ribbon of road that stretched ahead-mile after interminable mile.

On either side, dark woods merged into the deeper darkness of the encroaching night, seeming to slip past them like some ghostly marching army as the car tore its way between the ranks of shadowy trunks. Overhead, a few stars crept out, puncturing the expanse of darkening sky-pale, tremulous sparks of light in contrast with the steady, warmly golden glow that streamed from the lights of the car.

Presently Garth slackened speed.

"Why are you stopping?" Sara's voice, shrilling a little with anxiety, came to him out of the darkness.

"I'm not stopping. I'm only slowing down a bit, because I think it's quite feeding time. Do you mind opening those two leather attachments fixed in front of you? Such nectar and ambrosia as Mrs. Judson has provided is in there."

Sara leaned forward, and unbuckling the lid of a flattish leather case which, together with another containing a flask, was slung just opposite her, withdrew from within it a silver sandwich-box. She snapped open the lid and proffered the box to Garth.

"Help yourself. And-do you mind"-he spoke a little uncertainly and the darkness hid the expression of his face from her-"handing me my share-in pieces suitable for human consumption? This is a bad bit of road, and I want both hands for driving the car."

In silence Sara broke the sandwiches and fed him, piece by piece, while he bent over the wheel, driving steadily onward.

The little, intimate action sent a curious thrill through her. It seemed in some way to draw them together, effacing the memory of those weeks of bitter indifference which lay behind them. Such a thing would have been grotesquely impossible of performance in the atmosphere of studied formality supplied by their estrangement, and Sara smiled a little to herself under cover of the darkness.

"One more mouthful!" she announced as she halved the last sandwich.

An instant later she felt his lips brush her fingers in a sudden, burning kiss, and she withdrew her hand as though stung.

She was tingling from head to foot, every nerve of her a-thrill, and for a moment she felt as though she hated him. He had been so kind, so friendly, so essentially the good comrade in this crisis occasioned by Molly's flight, and now he had spoilt it all-playing the lover once more when he had shown her clearly that he meant nothing by it.

Apparently he sensed her attitude-the quick withdrawal of spirit which had accompanied the more physical retreat.

"Forgive me!" he said, rather low. "I won't offend again."

She made no answer, and presently she felt the car sliding slowly to a standstill. A sudden panic assailed her.

"What is it? What are you doing?" she asked, quick fear in her sharply spoken question.

He laughed shortly.

"You needn't be afraid-" he began.

"I'm not!" she interpolated hastily.

"Excuse me," he said drily, "but you are. You don't trust me in the slightest degree. Well"-she could guess, rather than see, the shrug which accompanied the words-"I can't blame you. It's my own fault, I suppose."

He braked the car, and she quivered to a dead stop, throbbing like a live thing in the darkness.

"You must forgive me for being so material," he went on composedly, "but I want a drink, and I'm not acrobat enough to manage that, even with your help, while we're doing thirty miles an hour."

He lifted out the flask, and, when they had both drunk, Sara meekly took it from him and proceeded to adjust the screw cap and fit the silver cup back into its place over the lower half of the flask.

Simultaneously she felt the car begin to move forward, and then, quite how it happened she never knew, but, fumbling in the darkness, she contrived to knock the cup sharply against the flask, and it flew out of her hand and over the side of the car. Impulsively she leaned out, trying to snatch it back as it fell, and, in the same instant, something seemed to give way, and she felt herself hurled forward into space. The earth rushed up to meet her, a sound as of many waters roared in her ears, and then the blank darkness of unconsciousness swallowed her up.

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