Then, with her hand in his, she whispered chokingly, “I feel as if—as if—I had failed him—just when he needed me most. He was in prison, and—I left him there.”
Crowther’s steady eyes looked into hers with kindness that was full of sustaining comfort. “He has broken out of his prison,” he said. “Don’t fret—don’t fret!”
Her lips were quivering painfully. She turned her face aside. “He will scarcely need me now,” she said.
“Write and ask him!” said Crowther gently.
She made a piteous gesture of hopelessness. “I have got to find my own place of repentance first,” she said.
“It shouldn’t wait,” said Crowther. “Write tonight!”
And so for half the night Avery sat writing a letter to her husband which he was destined never to receive.
THE RELEASE OF THE PRISONER
How long was it since the fight round the chateau? Piers had no idea. The damp chill of the autumn night was upon him and he was cold to the bone.
It had been a desperate fight in which quarter had been neither asked nor given, hand to hand and face to face, with wild oaths and dreadful laughter. He had not noticed the tumult at the time, but the echoes of it still rang in his ears. A desperate fight against overwhelming odds! For the chateau had been strongly held, and the struggle for it had seemed Titanic, albeit only a detail of a rearguard action. There had been guns there that had harried them all the previous day. It had become a matter of necessity to silence those guns. So the effort had been made, a glorious effort crowned with success. They had mastered the garrison, they had silenced the guns; and then, within an hour of their victory, disaster had come upon them. Great numbers of the enemy had swept suddenly upon them, had surrounded them and swallowed them up.
It was all over now. The tide of battle had swept on. The place was silent as the grave. He was the only man left, flung as it were upon a dust-heap in a corner of the world that had ceased to matter to anyone.
He had lain for hours unconscious till those awful chills had awakened him. Doubtless he had been left for dead among his dead comrades. He wondered why he was not dead. He had a distinct recollection of being shot through the heart. And the bullet had gone out at his back. He vividly remembered that also—the red-hot anguish as it had torn its way through him, the awful emptiness of death that had followed.
How had he escaped—if he had escaped? How had he returned from that great silence? Why had the dread Door shut against him only, imprisoning him here when all the rest had passed through? There seemed to be some mystery about it. He tried to follow it out. Death was no difficult matter. He was convinced of that. Yet somehow Death had eluded him. He was as a man who had lost his way in a fog. Doubtless he would find it again. He did not want to wander alone in this valley of dry bones. He wanted to get free. He was sure that sooner or later that searing, red-hot bullet would do its work.