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   Chapter 19 THE JOURNEY’S END

The Hermit of Far End By Margaret Pedler Characters: 11915

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Sara stirred a little and opened her eyes. Deep within herself she was ashamed of those brief moments of assumed unconsciousness-those moments which had shown her a strong man's soul stripped naked of all pride and subterfuge-his heart and soul as he alone knew them.

But, none the less, she felt gloriously happy. Nothing could ever hurt her badly again. Garth loved her!

Since, for some reason, he himself would never have drawn aside the veil and let her know the truth, she was glad-glad that she had peered unbidden through the rent which the stress of the moment had torn in his iron self-command and reticence. Just as she had revealed herself to him on the island, in a moment of equal strain, so he had now revealed himself to her, and they were quits.

"I'm all right," she announced, struggling into a sitting position. "I'm not hurt."

"Sit still a minute, while I fetch you some brandy from the car." Garth spoke in a curiously controlled voice.

He was back again in a moment, and the raw spirit made her catch her breath as it trickled down her throat.

"Thank God we had only just begun to move," he said. "Otherwise you must have been half-killed."

"What happened?" she asked curiously. "How did I fall out?"

"The door came open. That damned fool, Judson, didn't shut it properly. Are you sure you're not hurt?"

"Quite sure. My head aches rather."

"That's very probable. You were stunned for a minute or two."

Suddenly the recollection of their errand returned to her.

"Molly! Good Heavens, how much time have we wasted? How long has this silly business taken?" she demanded, in a frenzy of apprehension.

Garth surveyed her oddly in the glow of one of the car's side-lights, which he had carried back with him when he fetched the brandy.

"Five minutes, I should think," he said, adding under his breath: "Or half eternity!"

"Five minutes! Is that all? Then do let's hurry on."

She took a few steps in the direction of the car, then stopped and wavered. She felt curiously shaky, and her legs seemed as though they did not belong to her.

In a moment Garth was at her side, and had lifted her up in his arms. He carried her swiftly across the few yards that intervened between them and the car, and settled her gently into her seat.

"Do you feel fit to go on?" he asked.

"Of course I do. We must-bring Molly back." Even her voice refused to obey the dictates of her brain, and quavered weakly.

"Well, try to rest a little. Don't talk, and perhaps you'll go to sleep."

He restarted the car, and, taking his seat once more at the wheel, drove on at a smooth and easy pace.

Sara leaned back in silence at his side, conscious of a feeling of utter lassitude. In spite of her anxiety about Molly, a curious contentment had stolen over her. The long strain of the past weeks had ended-ended in the knowledge that Garth loved her, and nothing else seemed to matter very much. Moreover, she was physically exhausted. Her fall had shaken her badly, and she wanted nothing better than to lie back quietly against the padded cushions of the car, lulled by the rhythmic throb of the engine, and glide on through the night indefinitely, knowing that Garth was there, close to her, all the time.

Presently her quiet, even breathing told that she slept, and Garth, stooping over her to make sure, accelerated the speed, and soon the car shot forward through the darkness at a pace which none but a driver very certain of his skill would have dared to attempt.

When, an hour later, Sara awoke, she felt amazingly refreshed. Only a slight headache remained to remind her of her recent accident.

"Where are we?" she asked eagerly. "How long have I been asleep?"

"Feeling better?" queried Garth, reassured by the stronger note in her voice.

"Quite all right, thanks. But tell me where we are?"

"Nearly at our journey's end, I take it," he replied grimly, suddenly slackening speed. "There's a stationary car ahead there on the left, do you see? That will be our friends, I expect, held up by petrol shortage, thanks to Jim Brady."

Sara peered ahead, and on the edge of the broad ribbon of light that stretched in front of them she could discern a big car, drawn up to one side of the road, its headlights shut off, its side-lights glimmering warningly against its dark bulk.

Exactly as they drew level with it, Garth pulled up to a standstill. Then a muttered curse escaped him, and simultaneously Sara gave vent to an exclamation of dismay. The car was empty.

Garth sprang out and flashed a lamp over the derelict.

"Yes," he said, "that's Kent's car right enough."

Sara's heart sank.

"What can have become of them?" she exclaimed. She glanced round her as though she half suspected that Kent and Molly might be hiding by the roadside.

Meanwhile Garth had peered into the tank and was examining the petrol cans stowed away in the back of the deserted car.

"Run dry!" he announced, coming back to his own car. "That's what has happened."

"And what can we do now?" asked Sara despondently.

He laughed a little.

"Faint heart!" he chided. "What can we do now? Why, ask ourselves what Kent would naturally have done when he found himself landed high and dry?"

"I don't know what he could do-in the middle of nowhere?" she answered doubtfully.

"Only we don't happen to be in the middle of nowhere! We're just about a couple of miles from a market town where abides a nice little inn whence petrol can be obtained. Kent and Miss Molly have doubtless trudged there on foot, and wakened up mine host, and they'll hire a trap and drive back with a fresh supply of oil. By Jove!"-with a grim laugh-"How Kent must have cursed when he discovered the trick Brady played on him!"

Ten minutes later, leaving their car outside, Garth and Sara walked boldly up to the inn of which he had spoken. The door stood open, and a light was burning in the coffee-roo

m. Evidently some one had just arrived.

Garth glanced into the room, then, standing back, he motioned Sara to enter.

Sara stepped quickly over the threshold and then paused, swept by an infinite compassion and tenderness almost maternal in its solicitude.

Molly was sitting hunched up in a chair, her face half hidden against her arm, every drooping line of her slight young figure bespeaking weariness. She had taken off her hat and tossed it on to the table, and now she had dropped into a brief, uneasy slumber born of sheer fatigue and excitement.

"Molly!"

At the sound of Sara's voice she opened big, startled eyes and stared incredulously.

Sara moved swiftly to her.

"Molly dear," she said, "I've come to take you home."

At that Molly started up, broad awake in an instant.

"You? How did you come here?" she stammered. Then, realization waking in her eyes: "But I'm not coming back with you. We've only stopped for petrol. Lester's outside, somewhere, seeing about it now. We're driving back to the car."

"Yes, I know. But you're not going on with Mr. Kent"-very gently-"you're coming home with us."

Molly drew herself up, flaring passionate young defiance, talking glibly of love, and marriage, and living her own life-all the beautiful, romantic nonsense that comes so readily to the soft lips of youth, the beckoning rose and gold of sunrise-and of mirage-which is all youth's untrained eyes can see.

Sara was getting desperate. The time was flying. At any moment Kent might return. Garth signaled to her from the doorway.

"You must tell her," he said gruffly. "If Kent returns before we go, we shall have a scene. Get her away quick."

Sara nodded. Then she came back to Molly's side.

"My dear," she said pitifully. "You can never marry Lester Kent, because-because he has a wife already."

"I don't believe it!" The swift denial leaped from Molly's lips.

But she did believe it, nevertheless. No one who knew Sara could have looked into her eyes at that moment and doubted that she was speaking not only what she believed to be, but what she knew to be, the ugly truth.

Suddenly Molly crumpled up. As, between them, Garth and Sara hurried her away to the car, there was no longer anything of the regal young goddess about her. She was just a child-a tired, frightened child whose eyes had been suddenly opened to the quicksands whereon her feet were set, and, like a child, she turned instinctively and clung to the dear, familiar people from home, who were mercifully at hand to shield her when her whole world had suddenly grown new and strange and very terrible. . . .

On, on through the night roared the big car, with Garth bending low over the wheel in front, while, in the back-seat Molly huddled forlornly into the curve of Sara's arm.

A few questions had elicited the whole foolish story of Lester Kent's infatuation, and of the steps he had taken to enmesh poor simple-hearted Molly in the toils-first, by lending her money, then, when he found that the loan had scared her, by buying her pictures and surrounding her with an atmosphere of adulation which momentarily blinded her from forming any genuine estimate either of the value of his criticism or of the sincerity of his desire to purchase.

Once the head resting against Sara's shoulder was lifted, and a wistfully incredulous voice asked, very low-

"You are sure he is married, Sara,-quite sure?"

"Quite sure, Molly," came the answer.

And later, as they were nearing home, Molly's hardly-bought philosophy of life revealed itself in the brief comment: "It's very easy to make a fool of oneself."

"Probably Mr. Kent has found that out-by this time," replied Sara with a grim flash of humour.

A faint, involuntary chuckle in response premised that ultimately Molly might be able to take a less despondent view of the night's proceedings.

It was between two and three in the morning when at length the travelers climbed stiffly out of the car at the gateway of Sunnyside and made their way up the little tiled path that led to the front door. The latter opened noiselessly at their approach and Jane, who had evidently been watching for them, stood on the threshold.

Her small, beady eyes were red-rimmed with sleeplessness-and with the slow, difficult tears that now and again had overflowed as hour after hour crawled by, bringing no sign of the wanderers' return-and the shadows of fatigue that had hollowed her weather-beaten cheeks wrung a sympathetic pang from Sara's heart as she realized what those long, inactive hours of helpless anxiety must have meant to the faithful soul.

Jane's glance flew to the drooping, willowy figure clinging to Garth's arm.

"My lamb! . . . Oh! Miss Molly dear, they've brought 'ee back!" Impulsively she caught hold of Garth's coat-sleeve. "Thank God you've brought them back, sir, and now there's none as need ever know aught but that they've been in their beds all the blessed night!" Her lips were shaking, drawn down at the corners like those of a distressed child, but her harsh old voice quivered triumphantly.

A very kindly gleam showed itself in Garth's dark face as he patted the rough, red hand that clutched his coat-sleeve.

"Yes, I've brought them back safely," he said. "Put them to bed, Jane. Miss Sara's fallen out of the car and Miss Molly has tumbled out of heaven, so they're both feeling pretty sore."

But Sara's soreness was far the easier to bear, since it was purely physical. As she lay in bed, at last, utterly weary and exhausted, the recollection of all the horror and anxiety that had followed upon the discovery of Molly's flight fell away from her, and she was only conscious that had it not been for that wild night-ride which Molly's danger had compelled, she would never have known that Garth loved her.

So, out of evil, had come good; out of black darkness had been born the exquisite clear shining of the dawn.

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