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- JEREMY - 40/48 -

And that was more than Mary could hear. She realised, even as she followed him, that she was giving her whole case away, that she was now, as always, weak when she should be strong, soft when she should be hard, good when she should be wicked, wicked when she should be good. She could not help herself. With trembling limbs and a heart that seemed to be hammering her body into pieces she followed him out. She found him in the hall, tugging at his coat.

"Where are you going?" she said weakly.

"Going?" he answered fiercely. "Where do you think?" He glared at her. "Just like you." He broke off, suddenly appealing to her. "Mary, CAN'T you remember? It will be getting dark soon, and if we have to wait until to-morrow the dog-man will have got him. At any rate, he had his collar--"

Then Mary broke out. She burst into sobs, pushed her hand into her dress, and held out the collar to him.

"There it is! There it is!" she said hysterically.

"You've got it?" He stared at her, suspicion slowly coming to him. "But how--? What have you done?"

She looked up at him wild-eyed, the tears making dirty lines on her face, her hand out towards him.

"I took it off. I shut Hamlet into the barn at Mellot Farm. I wanted him to be lost. I didn't want you to have him. I hated him--always being with you, and me never."

Jeremy moved back, and at the sudden look in his eyes her sobbing ceased, she caught her breath and stared at him with a silly fixed stare as a rabbit quivers before a snake.

Jeremy said in his ordinary voice:

"You shut Hamlet up? You didn't want him to be found?"

She nodded her head several times as though now she must convince him quickly of this--

"Yes, yes, yes. I did. . . I know I shouldn't, but I couldn't help it--"

He clutched her arm, and then shook her with a sudden wave of fierce physical anger that was utterly unlike him, and, therefore, the more terrifying.

"You wicked, wicked--You beast, Mary!"

She could only sob, her head hanging down. He let her go.

"What barn was it?"

She described the place.

He gave her another look of contempt and then rushed off, running across the courtyard.

There was still no one in the hall; she could go up to her room without the fear of being disturbed. She found the room, all white and black now with the gathering dusk. Beyond the window the evening breeze was rustling in the dark trees of the garden and the boom of the sea could be heard faintly. Mary sat, where she always sat when she was unhappy, inside the wardrobe with her head amongst the clothes. They in some way comforted her; she was not so lonely with them, nor did she feel so strongly the empty distances of the long room, the white light of the window-frames, nor the mysterious secrecy of the high elms knocking their heads together in the garden outside.

She had a fit of hysterical crying, biting the hanging clothes between her teeth, feeling suddenly sick and tired and exhausted, with flaming eyes and a dry, parched throat. Why had she ever done such a thing, she loving Jeremy as she did? Would he ever forgive her? No, never; she saw that in his face. Perhaps he would--if he found Hamlet quickly and came back. Perhaps Hamlet never would be found. Then Jeremy's heart would be broken.

She slept from utter exhaustion, and was so found, when the room was quite dark and only shadows moved in it, by her mother.

"Why, Mary!" said Mrs. Cole. "What are you doing here? We couldn't think where you were. And where's Jeremy?"

"Jeremy!" She started up, remembering everything.

"Hasn't he come back? Oh, he's lost and he'll be killed, and it will be all my fault!" She burst into another fit of wild hysterical crying.

Her mother took her arm. "Mary, explain--What have you done?"

Mary explained, her teeth chattering, her head aching so that she could not see.

"And you shut him up like that? Whatever--Oh, Mary, you wicked girl! And Jeremy--He's been away two hours now--"

She turned off, leaving Mary alone in the black room.

Mary was left to every terror that can beset a lonely, hysterical child--terror of Jeremy's fate, terror of Hamlet's loss, terror of her own crimes, above all, terror of the lonely room, the waving elms and the gathering dark. She could not move; she could not even close the door of the wardrobe, into whose shelter she had again crept. She stared at the white sheet of the window, with its black bars like railings and its ghostly hinting of a moon that would soon be up above the trees. Every noise frightened her, the working of the "separator" in a distant part of the farm, the whistling of some farm-hand out in the yard, the voice of some boy, "coo-ee"-ing faintly, the lingering echo of the vanished day--all these seemed to accuse her, to point fingers at her, to warn her of some awful impending punishment. "Ah! you're the little girl," they seemed to say, "who lost Jeremy's dog and broke Jeremy's heart." She was sure that someone was beneath her bed. That old terror haunted her with an almost humorous persistency every night before she went to sleep, but to-night there was a ghastly certainty and imminence about it that froze her blood. She crouched up against the hanging skirts, gazing at the black line between the floor and the white sheets, expecting at every second to see a protruding black mask, bloodshot eyes, a coarse hand. The memory of the burglary that they had had in the spring came upon her with redoubled force. Ah! surely, surely someone was there! She heard a movement, a scraping of a boot upon the floor, the thick hurried breathing of some desperate villain. . .

Then these fears gave way to something worse than them all, the certainty that Jeremy was dead. Ridiculous pictures passed before her, of Jeremy hanging from a tree, Jeremy lying frozen in the wood, the faithful Hamlet dead at his side, Jeremy stung by an adder and succumbing to his horrible tortures, Jeremy surrounded by violent men, who snatched Hamlet from him, beat him on the head and left him for dead on the ground.

She passed what seemed to her hours of torture under these horrible imaginings, tired out, almost out of her mind with the hysteria of her loneliness, her imagination and her conscience; she passed into a kind of apathy of unhappiness, thinking now only of Jeremy, longing for him, beseeching him to come back, telling the empty moonlit room that she never meant it; that she would do everything he wanted if only he came back to her; that she was a wicked girl; that she would never be wicked again. . . . And she took her punishment alone.

After endless ages of darkness and terror and misery she heard voices--then HIS voice! She jumped out of the wardrobe and listened. Yes; it WAS his voice. She pushed back the door, crept down the passage, and came suddenly upon a little group, with Jeremy in its midst, crowded together at the top of the stairs. Jeremy was wrapped up in his father's heavy coat, and looked very small and impish as he peered from out of it. He was greatly excited, his eyes shining, his mouth smiling, his cheeks flushed.

His audience consisted of Helen, Mrs. Cole, Miss Jones, and Aunt Amy. He described to them how he had run along the road "for miles and miles and miles," how at last he had found the farm, had rung the bell, and inquired, and discovered Hamlet licking up sugary tea in the farm kitchen; there had then been a rapturous meeting, and he had boldly declared that he could find his way home again without aid. "They wanted me to be driven home in their trap, but I wasn't going to have that. They'd been at the fair all day, and didn't want to go out again. I could see that." So he and Hamlet started gaily on their walk home, and then, in some way or another, he took the wrong turn, and suddenly they were in Mellot Wood. "It was dark as anything, you know, although there was going to be a moon. We couldn't see a thing, and then I got loster and loster. At last we just sat under a tree. There was nothing more to do!" Then, apparently, Jeremy had slept, and had, finally, been found in the proper romantic manner by Jim and his father.

"Well, all's well that ends well," said Aunt Amy, with a sniff. In spite of that momentary softness over the defeat of the Dean's Ernest she liked her young nephew no better than of old. She had desired that he should be punished for this, but as she looked at the melting eyes of Mrs. Cole and Miss Jones she had very little hope.

Mary was forgotten; no one noticed her.

"Bed," said Mrs. Cole.

"Really, what a terrible affair," said Miss Jones. "And I can't help feeling that it was my fault."

"What Mary--" began Mrs. Cole. And then she stopped. She had perhaps some sense that Mary had already received sufficient punishment.

Mary waited, standing against the passage wall. Jeremy, who had not seen her, vanished into his room. She waited, then plucking up all her courage with the desperate suffocating sense of a prisoner laying himself beneath the guillotine, she knocked timidly on his door.

He said: "Come in," and entering, she saw him, in his braces, standing on a chair trying to put the picture entitled "Daddy's Christmas" straight upon its nail. The sight of this familiar task-- the picture would never hang straight, although every day Jeremy, who, strangely enough, had an eye to such matters, tried to correct

JEREMY - 40/48

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