MoboReader> Literature > The Hermit of Far End

   Chapter 26 A MIDNIGHT VISITOR

The Hermit of Far End By Margaret Pedler Characters: 18977

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Judson crossed the hall at Far End and, opening the front door, peered anxiously out into the moonlit night for the third time that evening.

Neither he nor his wife could surmise what had become of their master. He had gone away, as they knew, with the intention of joining a picnic party in Haven Woods, but he had given no instructions that he wished the dinner-hour postponed, and now the beautiful little dinner which Mrs. Judson had prepared and cooked for her somewhat exigent employer had been entirely robbed of its pristine delicacy of flavour, since it had been "keeping hot" in the oven for at least two hours.

"Coming yet?" queried Mrs. Judson, as her husband returned to the kitchen.

The latter shook his head.

"Not a sign of 'im," he replied briefly.

Ten minutes later, the house door opened and closed with a bang, and Judson hastened upstairs to ascertain his master's wishes. When he again rejoined the wife of his bosom, his face wore a look of genuine concern.

"Something's happened," he announced solemnly. "Ten years have I been in Mr. Trent's service, and never, Maria, never have I seen him look as he do now."

"What's he looking like, then?" demanded Mrs. Judson, pausing with a saucepan in her hand.

"Like a man what's been in hell," replied her husband dramatically. "He's as white as that piece of paper"-pointing to the sheet of cooking paper with which Mrs. Judson had been conscientiously removing the grease from the chipped potatoes. "And his eyes look wild. He's been walking, too-must have walked twenty miles or thereabouts, I should think, for he seems dead beat and his boots are just a mask of mud. His coat's torn and splashed, as well-as if he'd pushed his way through bushes and all, without ever stopping to see where he was going."

"Then he'll be wanting his dinner," observed Mrs. Judson practically. "I'll dish it up-'tisn't what you might call actually spoiled as yet."

"He won't have any. 'Judson,' he says to me, 'bring me a whisky-and-soda and some sandwiches. I don't want nothing else. And then you can lock up and go to bed.'"

"Well, then, bless the man, look alive and get the whisky-and-soda and a tray ready whiles I cut the sandwiches," exclaimed the excellent Mrs. Judson promptly, giving her bemused spouse a push in the direction of the pantry and herself bustling away to fetch a loaf of bread.

"Right you are. But I was so took aback at the master's appearance, Maria, you could have knocked me down with a feather. I wonder if his young lady's given him his congy?" he added reflectively.

Mrs. Judson did not stay to discuss the question, but set about preparing the sandwiches, and a few minutes later Judson carried into Trent's own particular snuggery an attractive-looking little tray and placed it on a table at his master's elbow.

The man had not been far out in his reckoning when he opined that his master had walked "twenty miles or thereabouts." When he had quitted Haven Woods, Garth had started off, heedless of the direction he took, and, since then, he had been tramping, almost blindly, up hill and down dale, over hedges, through woods, along the shore, stumbling across the rocks, anywhere, anywhere in the world to get away from the maddening, devil-ridden thoughts which had pursued him since the brief meeting with a woman whose hyacinth eyes recalled the immeasurable anguish of years ago and threatened the joy which the future seemed to promise.

His face was haggard. Heavy lines had graved themselves about his mouth, and beneath drawn brows his eyes glowed like sombre fires.

Judson paused irresolutely beside him.

"Shall I pour you out a whisky, sir?" he inquired.

Trent started. He had been oblivious of the man's entrance.

"No. I'll do it myself-presently. Lock up and go to bed," he answered brusquely.

But Judson still hesitated. There was an expression of affectionate solicitude on his usually wooden face.

"Better have one at once, sir," he said persuasively. "And I think you'll find the chicken sandwiches very good, sir, if you'll excuse my mentioning it."

For a moment a faint, kindly smile chased away the look of intense weariness in Garth's eyes.

"You transparent old fool, Judson!" he said indulgently. "You're like an old hen clucking round. Very well, make me a whisky, if you will, and give me one of those superlative sandwiches."

Judson waited on him contentedly.

"Anything more to-night, sir? Shall I close the window?" with a gesture towards the wide-open window near which his master sat.

Garth shook his head, and, when at last the manservant had reluctantly taken his departure, he remained for a long time sitting very still, staring out across the moon-washed garden.

Presently he stirred restlessly. Glancing round the room, his eyes fell on his violin, lying upon the table with the bow beside it just as he had laid it down that morning after he had been improvising, in a fit of mad spirits, some variations on the theme of Mendelssohn's Wedding March.

He took up the instrument and struck a few desultory chords. Then, tucking it more closely beneath his chin, he began to play-a broken, fitful melody of haunting sadness, tormented by despairing chords, swept hither and thither by rushing minor cadences-the very spirit of pain itself, wandering, ghost-like, in desert places.

Upstairs Judson turned heavily in his bed.

"Just hark to 'im, Maria," he muttered uneasily. "He fair makes my flesh creep with that doggoned fiddle of his. 'Tis like a child crying in the dark. I wish he'd stop."

But the sad strains still went on, rising and falling, while Garth paced back and forth the length of the room and the candles flickered palely in the moonlight that poured in through the open window.

Suddenly, across the lawn a figure flitted, noiseless as a shadow. It paused once, as though listening, then glided forward again, slowly drawing nearer and nearer until at last it halted on the threshold of the room.

Garth, for the moment standing with his back towards the window, continued playing, oblivious of the quiet listener. Then, all at once, the feeling that he was no longer alone, that some one was sharing with him the solitude of the night, invaded his consciousness. He turned swiftly, and as his glance fell upon the silent figure standing at the open window, he slowly drew his violin from beneath his chin and remained staring at the apparition as though transfixed.

It was a woman who had thus intruded on his privacy. A scarf of black lace was twisted, hood-like, about her head, and beneath its fragile drapery was revealed the beautiful face and haunting, mysterious eyes of Elisabeth Durward. She had flung a long black cloak over her evening gown, and where it had fallen a little open at the throat her neck gleamed privet-white against its shadowy darkness.

The mystical, transfiguring touch of the moon's soft light had eliminated all signs of maturity, investing her with an amazing look of youth, so that for an instant it seemed to Trent as though the years had rolled back and Elisabeth Eden, in all the incomparable beauty of her girlhood, stood before him.

He gazed at her in utter silence, and the brooding eyes returned his gaze unflinchingly.

"Good God!"

The words burst from him at last in a low, tense whisper, and, as if the sound broke some spell that had been holding both the man and woman motionless, Elisabeth stepped across the threshold and came towards him.

Trent made a swift gesture-almost, it seemed, a gesture of aversion.

"Why have you come here?" he demanded hoarsely.

She drew a little nearer, then paused, her hand resting on the table, and looked at him with a strange, questioning expression in her eyes.

"This is a poor welcome, Maurice," she observed at last.

He winced sharply at the sound of the name by which she had addressed him, then, recovering himself, faced her with apparent composure.

"I have no welcome for you," he said in measured tones. "Why should I have? All that was between us two . . . ended . . . half a life-time ago."

"No!" she cried out. "No! Not all! There is still my son's happiness to be reckoned."

"Your son's happiness?" He stared at her amazedly. "What has your son's happiness to do with me?"

"Everything!" she answered. "Everything! Sara Tennant is the woman he loves."

"And have you come here to blame me for the fact that she does not return his love?"-with an accent of ironical amusement.

"No, I don't blame you. But if it had not been for you she would have married him. They were engaged, and then"-her voice shook a little-"you came! You came-and robbed Tim of his happiness."

Trent smiled sarcastically.

"An instance of the grinding of the mills of God," he said lightly. "You robbed me-you'll agree?-of something I valued. And now-inadvertently-I have robbed you in return of your son's happiness. It appears"-consideringly-"an unusually just dispensation of Providence. And the sins of the parents are visited on the child, as is the usual inscrutable custom of such dispensations."

Elisabeth seemed to disregard the bitter gibe his speech contained. She looked at him with steady eyes.

"I want you-out of the way," she said deliberately.

"Indeed?" The indifferent, drawling tone was contradicted by the sudden dangerous light that gleamed in the hazel eyes. "You mean you want me-to pay-once more?"

She lo

oked away uneasily, flushing a little.

"I'm afraid it does amount to that," she admitted.

"And how would you suggest it should be done?" he inquired composedly.

Her eyes came back to his face. There was an eager light in them, and when she spoke the words hurried from her lips in imperative demand.

"Oh, it would be so easy, Maurice! You have only to convince Sara that you are not fit to marry her-or any woman, for that matter! Tell her what your reputation is-tell her why you can never show yourself amongst your fellow men, why you live here under an assumed name. She won't want to marry you when she knows these things, and Tim would have his chance to win her back again."

"You mean-let me quite understand you, Elisabeth"-Trent spoke with curious precision-"that I am to blacken myself in Sara's eyes, so that, discovering what a wolf in sheep's clothing I am, she will break off our engagement. That, I take it, is your suggestion?"

Beneath his searching glance she faltered a moment. Then-

"Yes," she answered boldly. "That is it."

"It's a charming programme," he commented. "But it doesn't seem to me that you have considered Sara at all in the matter. It will hardly add to her happiness to find that she has given her heart to-what shall we say?"-smiling disagreeably-"to the wrong kind of man?"

"Of, of course, she will be upset, disillusionnee, for a time. She will suffer. But then we all have our share of suffering. Sara cannot hope to be exempt. And afterwards-afterwards"-her eyes shining-"she will be happy. She and Tim will be happy together."

"And so you are prepared to cause all this suffering, Sara's and mine-though I suppose"-with a bitter inflection-"that last hardly counts with you!-in order to secure Tim's happiness?"

"Yes," significantly, "I am prepared-to do anything to secure that."

Trent stared at her in blank amazement.

"Have you no conscience?" he asked at last. "Have you never had any?"

She looked at him a little piteously.

"You don't understand," she muttered. "You don't understand. I'm his mother. And I want him to be happy."

He shrugged his shoulders.

"I am sorry," he said, "that I cannot help you. But I'm afraid Tim's happiness isn't going to be purchased at my expense. I haven't the least intention of blackening myself in the eyes of the woman I love for the sake of Tim-or of twenty Tims. Please understand that, once and for all."

He gestured as though to indicated that she should precede him to the window by which she had entered. But she made no movement to go. Instead she flung back her cloak as though it were stifling her, and caught him impetuously by the arm.

"Maurice! Maurice! For God's sake, listen to me!" Her voice was suddenly shaken with passionate entreaty. "Use some other method, then! Break with her some other way! If you only knew how I hate to ask you this-I who have already brought only sorrow and trouble into your life! But Tim-my son-he must come first!" She pressed a little closer to him, lifting her face imploringly. "Maurice, you loved me once-for the sake of that love, grant me my boy's happiness!"

Quietly, inexorably, he disengaged himself from the eager clasp of her hand. Her beautiful, agonized face, the vehement supplication of her voice, moved him not a jot.

"You are making a poor argument," he said coldly. "You are making your request in the name of a love that died three-and-twenty years ago."

"Do you mean"-she stared at him-"that you have not cared-at all-since?" She spoke incredulously. Then, suddenly, she laughed. "And I-what a fool I was!-I used to grieve-often-thinking how you must be suffering!"

He smiled wryly as at some bitter memory.

"Perhaps I did," he responded shortly. "Death has its pains-even the death of first love. My love for you died hard, Elisabeth-but it died. You killed it."

"And you will not do what I ask for the sake of the love you-once-gave me?" There was a desperate appeal in her low voice.

He shook his head. "No," he said, "I will not."

She made a gesture of despair.

"Then you drive me into doing what I hate to do!" she exclaimed fiercely. She was silent for a moment, standing with bowed head, her mouth working painfully. Then, drawing herself up, she faced him again. There was something in the lithe, swift movement that recalled a panther gathering itself together for its spring.

"Listen!" she said. "If you will not find some means of breaking off your engagement with Sara, then I shall tell her the whole story-tell her what manner of man it is she proposes to make her husband!"

There was a supreme challenge in her tones, and she waited for his answer defiantly-her head flung back, her whole body braced, as it were, to resistance.

In the silence that followed, Trent drew away from her-slowly, repugnantly, as though from something monstrous and unclean.

"You wouldn't-you couldn't do such a thing!" he exclaimed in low, appalled tones of unbelief.

"I could!" she asserted, though her face whitened and her eyes flinched beneath his contemptuous gaze.

"But it would be a vile thing to do," he pursued, still with that accent of incredulous abhorrence. "Doubly vile for you to do this thing."

"Do you think I don't know that-don't realize it?" she answered desperately. "You can say nothing that could make me think it worse than I do already. It would be the basest action of which any woman could be guilty. I recognize that. And yet"-she thrust her face, pinched and strained-looking, into his-"and yet I shall do it. I'd take that sin-or any other-on my conscience for the sake of Tim."

Trent turned away from her with a gesture of defeat, and for a moment or two he paced silently backwards and forwards, while she watched him with burning eyes.

"Do you realize what it means?" she went on urgently. "You have no way out. You can't deny the truth of what I have to tell."

"No," he acknowledged harshly. "As you say, I cannot deny it. No one knows that better than yourself."

Suddenly he turned to her, and his face was that of a man in uttermost anguish of soul. Beads of moisture rimmed his drawn mouth, and when he spoke his voice was husky and uneven.

"Haven't I suffered enough-paid enough?" he burst out passionately. "You've had your pound of flesh. For God's sake, be satisfied with that! Leave-Garth Trent-to build up what is left of his life in peace!"

The roughened, tortured tones seemed to unnerve her. For a moment she hid her face in her hands, shuddering, and when she raised it again the tears were running down her cheeks.

"I can't-I can't!" she whispered brokenly. "I wish I could . . . you were good to me once. Oh! Maurice, I'm not a bad woman, not a wicked woman . . . but I've my son to think of . . . his happiness." She paused, mastering, with an effort, the emotion that threatened to engulf her. "Nothing else counts-nothing! If you go to the wall, Tim wins."

"So I'm to pay-first for your happiness, and now, more than twenty years later, for your son's. You don't ask-very much-of a man, Elisabeth."

He had himself in hand now. The momentary weakness which had wrenched that brief, anguished appeal from his lips was past, and the dry scorn of his voice cut like a lash, stinging her into hostility once more.

"I have given you the chance to break with Sara yourself-on any pretext you choose to invent," she said hardly. "You've refused-" She hesitated. "You do-still refuse, Maurice?" Again the note of pleading, of appeal in her voice. It was as though she begged of him to spare them both the consequences of that refusal.

He bowed. "Absolutely."

She sighed impatiently.

"Then I must take the only other way that remains. You know what that will be."

He stooped, and, picking up her cloak which had fallen to the floor, held it for her to put on. He had completely regained his customary indifference of manner.

"I think we need not prolong this interview, then," he said composedly.

Elisabeth drew the cloak around her and moved slowly towards the window. Outside, the tranquil moonlight still flooded the garden, the peaceful quiet of the night remained all undisturbed by the fierce conflict of human wills and passions that had spent itself so uselessly.

"One thing more"-she paused on the threshold as Trent spoke again-"You will not blacken the name of-"

"No!" It was as though she had struck the unuttered word from his lips. "Did you think I should? Those who bear it have suffered enough. There's no need to drag it through the mire a second time."

With a quick movement she drew her cloak more closely about her, and stepped out into the garden. For a moment Garth watched her crossing the lawns, a slender, upright, swiftly moving shadow. Then a clump of bushes, thrusting its wall of darkness into the silver sea of moonlight, hid her from his sight, and he turned back into the room. Stumblingly he made his way to the chimney-piece, and, resting his arms upon it, hid his face.

For a long time he remained thus, motionless, while the grandfather clock in the corner ticked away indifferently, and one by one the candles guttered down and went out in little pools of grease.

When at last he raised his face, it looked almost ghastly in the moonlight, so lined and haggard was it, and its sternly set expression was that of a man who had schooled himself to endure the supreme ill that destiny may hold in store.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares