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   Chapter 23 A SUMMER IDYLL

The Hermit of Far End By Margaret Pedler Characters: 10460

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

The summer, of all seasons of the year, is very surely the perfect time for lovers, and to Sara the days that followed immediately upon her engagement to Garth Trent were days of unalloyed happiness.

These were wonderful hours which they passed together, strolling through the summer-foliaged woods, or lazing on the sun-baked sands, or, perhaps, roaming the range of undulating cliffs that stretched away to the west from the headland where Far End stood guard.

During those hours of intimate companionship, Sara began to learn the hidden deeps of Garth's nature, discovering the almost romantic delicacy of thought that underlay his harsh exterior.

"You're more than half a poet, my Garth!" she told him one day.

"A transcendental fool, in other words," he amended, smiling. "Well"-looking at her oddly-"perhaps you're right. But it's too late to improve me any. As the twig is bent, so the tree grows, you know."

"I don't want to improve you," Sara assured him promptly. "I shouldn't like you to be in the least bit different from what you are. It wouldn't be my Garth, then, at all."

So they would sit together and talk the foolish, charming nonsense that all lovers have talked since the days of Adam and Eve, whilst from above, the sun shone down and blessed them, and the waves, lapping peacefully on the shore, murmured an obbligato to their love-making.

Looking backward, in the bitter months that followed when her individual happiness had been caught away from her in a whirlwind of calamity, and when the whole world was reeling under the red storm of war, Sara could always remember the utter, satisfying peace of those golden days of early July-an innocent, unthinking peace that neither she nor the world would ever quite regain. Afterwards, memory would always have her scarred and bitter place at the back of things.

Sara found no hardship now in receiving the congratulations of her friends-and they fell about her like rain-while in the long, intimate talks she had with Garth the fact that he would never speak of the past weighed with her not at all. She guessed that long ago he had been guilty of some mad, boyish escapade which, with his exaggerated sense of honour and the delicate idealism that she had learned to know as an intrinsic part of his temperamental make-up, he had magnified into a cardinal sin. And she was content to leave it at that and to accept the present, gathering up with both hands the happiness it held.

She had written to Elisabeth, telling her of her engagement, and, to her surprise, had received the most charming and friendly letter in return.

"Of course," wrote Elisabeth in her impulsive, flowing hand with its heavy dashes and fly-away dots, "we cannot but wish that it had been otherwise-that you could have learned to care for Tim-but you know better than any one of us where your happiness lies, and you are right to take it. And never think, Sara, that this is going to make any difference to our friendship. I could read between the lines of your letter that you had some such foolish thought in your mind. So little do I mean this to make any break between us that-as I can quite realize it would be too much to ask that you should come to us at Barrow just now-I propose coming down to Monkshaven. I want to meet the lucky individual who has won my Sara. I have not been too well lately-the heat has tried me-and Geoffrey is anxious that I should go away to the sea for a little. So that all things seem to point to my coming to Monkshaven. Does your primitive little village boast a hotel? Or, if not, can you engage some decent rooms for me?"

The remainder of the letter dealt with the practical details concerning the proposed visit, and Sara, in a little flurry of joyous excitement, had hurried off to the Cliff Hotel and booked the best suite of rooms it contained for Elisabeth.

On her way home she encountered Garth in the High Street, and forthwith proceeded to acquaint him with her news.

"I've just been fixing up rooms at the 'Cliff' for a friend of mine who is coming down here," she said, as he turned and fell into step beside her. "A woman friend," she added hastily, seeing his brows knit darkly.

"So much the better! But I could have done without the importation of any friends of yours-male or female-just now. They're entirely superfluous"-smiling.

"Well, I'm glad Mrs. Durward is coming, because-"

"Who did you say?" broke in Garth, pausing in his stride.

"Mrs. Durward-Tim's mother, you know," she explained. She had confided to him the history of her brief engagement to Tim.

Trent resumed his walk, but more slowly; the buoyancy seemed suddenly gone out of his step.

"Don't you think," he said, speaking in curiously measured tones, "that, in the circumstances, it will be a little awkward Mrs. Durward's coming here just now?"

Sara disclaimed the idea, pointing out that it was the very completeness of Elisabeth's conception of friendship which was bringing her to Monkshaven.

"When does she come?" asked Trent.

"On Thursday. I'm very anxious for you to meet her, Garth. She is so thoroughly charming. I think it is splendid of her not to let my broken engagement with Tim m

ake any difference between us. Most mothers would have borne a grudge for that!"

"And you think Mrs. Durward has overlooked it?"-with a curious smile.

Sara enthusiastically assured him that this was the case.

"I wonder!" he said meditatively. "It would be very unlike Elis-unlike any woman"-he corrected himself hastily-"to give up a fixed idea so easily."

"Well"-Sara laughed gaily. "Nowadays you can't compel a person to marry the man she doesn't want-nor prevent her from marrying the man she does."

"I don't know. A determined woman can do a good deal."

"But Elisabeth isn't a bit the determined type of female you're evidently imagining," protested Sara, amused. "She is very beautiful and essentially feminine-rather a wonderful kind of person, I think. Wait till you see her!"

"I'm afraid," said Trent slowly, "that I shall not see your charming friend. I have to run up to Town next week on-on business."

"Oh!" Sara's disappointment showed itself in her voice. "Can't you put it off?"

He halted outside a tobacconist's shop. "Do you mind waiting a moment while I go in here and get some baccy?"

He disappeared into the shop, and Sara stood gazing idly across the street, watching a jolly little fox-terrier enjoying a small but meaty bone he had filched from the floor of a neighbouring butcher's shop.

His placid enjoyment of the stolen feast was short-lived. A minute later a lean and truculent Irish terrier came swaggering round the corner, spotted the succulent morsel, and, making one leap, landed fairly on top of the smaller dog. In an instant pandemonium arose, and the quiet street re-echoed to the noise of canine combat.

The little fox-terrier put up a plucky fight in defence of his prior claim to the bone of contention, but soon superior weight began to tell, and it was evident that the Irishman was getting the better of the fray. The fox-terrier's owner, very elegantly dressed, watched the battle from a safe distance, wringing her hands and calling upon all and sundry of the small crowd which had speedily collected to save her darling from the lions.

No one, however, seemed disposed to relieve her of this office-for the Irishman was an ugly-looking customer-when suddenly, like a streak of light, a slim figure flashed across the road, and flung itself into the melee, whist a vibrating voice broke across the uproar with an imperative: "Let go, you brute!"

It was all over in a moment. Somehow Sara's small, strong hands had separated the twisting, growling, biting heap of dog into its component parts of fox and Irish, and she was standing with the little fox-terrier, panting and bleeding profusely, in her arms, while one or two of the bystanders-now that all danger was past-drove off the Irishman.

"Oh! But how brave of you!" The owner of the fox-terrier rustled forward. "I can't ever thank you sufficiently."

Sara turned to her, her black eyes blazing.

"Is this your dog?" she asked.

"Yes. And I'm sure"-volubly-"he would have been torn to pieces by that great hulking brute if you hadn't separated them. I should never have dared!"

Garth, coming out of the tobacconist's shop across the way, joined the little knot of people just in time to hear Sara answer cuttingly, as she put the terrier into its owner's arms-

"You've no business to have a dog if you've not got the pluck to look after him!"

As she and Trent bent their steps homeward, Sara regaled him with the full, true, and particular account of the dog-fight, winding up indignantly-

"Foul women like that ought not to be allowed to take out a dog licence. I hate people who shirk their responsibilities."

"You despise cowards?" he asked.

"More than anything on earth," she answered heartily.

He was silent a moment. Then he said reflectively-

"And yet, I suppose, a certain amount of allowance must be made for-nerves."

"It seems to me it depends on what your duty demands of you at the moment," she rejoined. "Nerves are a luxury. You can afford them when it makes no difference to other people whether you're afraid or not-but not when it does."

"And from what deeps did you draw such profound wisdom?" he asked quizzically.

Sara laughed a little.

"I had it well rubbed into me by my Uncle Patrick," she replied. "It was his Credo."

"And yet, I can understand any one's nerves cracking suddenly-after a prolonged strain."

"I don't think yours would," responded Sara contentedly, with a vivid recollection of their expedition to the island and its aftermath.

"Possibly not. But I suppose no man can be dead sure of himself-always."

"Will you come in?" asked Sara as they paused at Sunnyside gate.

"Not to-day, I think. I had better begin to accustom myself to doing without you, as I am going away so soon"-smiling.

"I wish you were not going," she rejoined discontentedly. "I so wanted you and Elisabeth to meet. Must you go?"

"I'm afraid I must. And it's better that I should go, on the whole. I should only be raging up and down like an untied devil because Mrs. Durward was taking up so much of your time! Let her have you to herself for a few days-and then, when I come back, I shall have you to myself again."

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