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   Chapter 37 THE RECKONING

The Hermit of Far End By Margaret Pedler Characters: 4383

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

Elisabeth came slowly out of the room where her son was lying.

She had reached Greenacres-in response to Sara's letter, posted on the eve of the raid-late in the afternoon of the following day, and Audrey had at once taken her upstairs to see Tim and left them together. And now, as she closed the door of his room behind her, she leaned helplessly against the wall and her lips moved in a whispered cry of poignant misery.

"Maurice! . . . Maurice saved him! . . . Oh, my God!"

Her eyes-the beautiful, hyacinth eyes-stared strickenly in front of her, wide and horrified like the eyes of a hunted thing, and her hands were twisted and wrung beneath the stress of the overwhelming knowledge which Tim had so joyously prattled out to her. She could hear him now, boyishly enthusiastic, extolling Garth with the eager, unstinted hero-worship of youth, and every word he said had pierced her like the stab of a knife.

"If ever a chap deserved the V.C., Trent does, by Jove! It was the bravest thing I've ever known, mother mine, for he told me afterwards, he never expected that the top story would hold out till he got me away. He'd seen it from the outside first, you know! And there was I, held up with this confounded ankle, and with a whole heap of plaster and a brick or two sitting on my chest I thought I'd gone west that time, for a certainty!"

And Tim chuckled delightedly, blissfully unconscious that with each word he spoke he was binding upon his mother's shoulders an insuperable burden of remorse.

It was Garth Trent who had saved her son-Garth Trent, to whom she owed all the garnered happiness of her married life, yet whose own life's fabric she had pulled down about his ears! And now, to the already overwhelming magnitude of her debt to him, he had added this-this final act of sacrifice.

With an almost superhuman effort, Elisabeth had forced herself to listen quietly to Tim's account of his rescue from the shattered upper story of the Selwyn's house-to listen precisely as though Garth's share in the matter held no particular significance for her beyond the splendid one it must inevitably hold for any mother.

But now, safe from the clear-sighted

glance of Tim's blue eyes, she let the mask slip from her and crouched against his door in uncontrollable agony of spirit.

The sin which she had sinned in secret-which, sometimes, she had almost come to believe was not a sin, so beautiful had been its fruit-revealed itself to her now in all its naked ugliness.

Looking backward, down the vista of years, the whole structure of her happiness appeared in its true perspective, reared upon a lie-upon that same lie which had blasted Garth Trent's career and sent him out, dishonoured, from the company of his fellows.

And this man from whom she had taken faith, and hope, and good repute-everything, in fact, that makes a man's life worth having-had given her the life of her son!

She dropped her face between her hands with a low moan. It was horrible-horrible.

Then, afraid that Tim might hear her, she passed stumblingly into her own room at the end of the corridor, and there, in solitude and darkness, she fought out the battle between her desire still to preserve the secret she had guarded three-and-twenty years, and the impulse toward atonement which was struggling into life within her.

Like a scourge the knowledge of her debt to Garth drove her before it, beating her into the very depths of self-abasement, but, even so, her pride of name, and the mother-love which yearned to shield her son from all that it must involve if she should now confess the sin of her youth, urged her to let the present still keep the secrets of the past.

The habit of years, the very purpose for which she had worked, and lied, and fought, must be renounced if she were to make atonement. A tale that was unbelievably shameful must be revealed-and Tim would have to know all that there was to be known.

To Elisabeth, this was the most bitter thing she had to face-the fact that Tim, for whose sake she had so strenuously guarded her secret, must learn, not only what was written on that turned-down page of life, but also what kind of woman his mother had proved herself-how totally unlike the beautiful conception which his ardent boyish faith in her had formed.

Would he understand? Would he ever understand-and forgive?

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