Read CHAPTER X of Amabel Channice , free online book, by Anne Douglas Sedgwick, on

It was past five when Augustine came into the empty drawing-room. Tea was standing waiting, and had been there, he saw, for some time. He rang and asked the maid to tell Lady Channice. Lady Channice, he heard, was lying down and wanted no tea. Lady Elliston had gone half an hour before. After a moment or two of deliberation, Augustine sat down and made tea for himself. That was soon over. He ate nothing, looking with a vague gaze of repudiation at the plate of bread and butter and the cooling scones.

When tea had been taken away he walked up and down the room quickly, pausing now and then for further deliberation. But he decided that he would not go up to his mother. He went on walking for a long time. Then he took a book and read until the dressing-bell for dinner rang.

When he went upstairs to dress he paused outside his mother’s door, as she had paused outside his, and listened. He heard no sound. He stood still there for some moments before lightly rapping on the door. “Who is it?” came his mother’s voice. “I; Augustine. How are you? You are coming down?”

“Not tonight,” she answered; “I have a very bad headache.”

“But let me have something sent up.” After a moment his mother’s voice said very sweetly; “Of course, dear.” And she added “I shall be all right tomorrow.”

The voice sounded natural yet not quite natural; too natural, perhaps, Augustine reflected. Its tone remained with him as something disturbing and prolonged itself in memory like a familiar note strung to a queer, forced pitch, that vibrated on and on until it hurt.

After his solitary meal he took up his book again in the drawing-room. He read with effort and concentration, his brows knotted; his young face, thus controlled to stern attention, was at once vigilant for outer impressions and absorbed in the inner interest. Once or twice he looked up, as a coal fell with a soft crash from the fire, as a thin creeper tapped sharply on the window pane. His mother’s room was above the drawing-room and while he read he was listening; but he heard no footsteps.

Suddenly, dim, yet clear, came another sound, a sound familiar, though so rare; wheels grinding on the gravel drive at the other side of the house. Then, loud and startling at that unaccustomed hour, the old hall bell clanged through the house.

Augustine found himself leaning forward, breathing quickly, his book half-closed. At first he did not know what he was listening for or why his body should be tingling with excitement and anger. He knew a moment later. There was a step in the hall, a voice. All his life Augustine had known them, had waited for them, had hated them. Sir Hugh was back again.

Of course he was back again, soon, as he had promised in the tone of mastery. But his mother had told him not to come; she had told him not to come, and in a tone that meant more than his. Did he not know? Did he not understand?

“No, dear Hugh, not soon. I will write.” Augustine sprang to his feet as he entered the room.

Sir Hugh had been told that he would not find his wife. His face wore its usual look of good-temper, but it wore more than its usual look of indifference for his wife’s son. “Ah, tell Lady Channice, will you,” he said over his shoulder to the maid. “How d’ye do, Augustine:” and, as usual, he strolled up to the fire.

Augustine watched him as he crossed the room and said nothing. The maid had closed the door. From his wonted place Sir Hugh surveyed the young man and Augustine surveyed him.

“You know, my dear fellow,” said Sir Hugh presently, lifting the sole of his boot to the fire, “you’ve got devilish bad manners. You are devilishly impertinent, I may tell you.”

Augustine received the reproof without comment.

“You seem to imagine,” Sir Hugh went on, “that you have some particular right to bad manners and impertinence here, in this house; but you’re mistaken; I belong here as well as you do; and you’ll have to accept the fact.”

A convulsive trembling, like his mother’s, passed over the young man’s face; but whereas only Amabel’s hands and body trembled, it was the muscles of Augustine’s lips, nostrils and brows that were affected, and to see the strength of his face so shaken was disconcerting, painful.

“You don’t belong here while I’m here,” he said, jerking the words out suddenly. “This is my mother’s home and mine; but as soon as you make it insufferable for us we can leave it.”

You can; that’s quite true,” Sir Hugh nodded.

Augustine stood clenching his hands on his book. Now, unconscious of what he did, he grasped the leaves and wrenched them back and forth as he stood silent, helpless, desperate, before the other’s intimation. Sir Hugh watched the unconscious violence with interest.

“Yes,” he went on presently, and still with good temper; “if you make yourself insufferable to your mother and me you can go. Not that I want to turn you out. It rests with you. Only, you must see that you behave. I won’t have you making her wretched.”

Augustine glanced dangerously at him.

“Your mother and I have come to an understanding after a great many years of misunderstanding,” said Sir Hugh, putting up the other sole. “I’m very fond of your mother, and she is, very fond of me.”

“She doesn’t know you,” said Augustine, who had become livid while the other made his gracefully hesitant statement.

“Doesn’t know me?” Sir Hugh lifted his brows in amused inquiry; “My dear boy, what do you know about that, pray? You are not in all your mother’s secrets.”

Augustine was again silent for a moment, and he strove for self-mastery. “If I am not in my mother’s secrets,” he said, “she is not in yours. She does not know you. She doesn’t know what sort of a man you are. You have deceived her. You have made her think that you are reformed and that the things in your life that made her leave you won’t come again. But whether you are reformed or not a man like you has no right to come near a woman like my mother. I know that you are an evil man,” said Augustine, his face trembling more and more uncontrollably; “And my mother is a saint.”

Sir Hugh stared at him. Then he burst into a shout of laughter. “You young fool!” he said.

Augustine’s eyes were lightnings in a storm-swept sky.

“You young fool,” Sir Hugh repeated, not laughing, a heavier stress weighting each repeated word.

“Can you deny,” said Augustine, “that you have always led a dissolute life? If you do deny it it won’t help you. I know it: and I’ve not needed the echoes to tell me. I’ve always felt it in you. I’ve always known you were evil.”

“What if I don’t deny it?” Sir Hugh inquired.

Augustine was silent, biting his quivering lips.

“What if I don’t deny it?” Sir Hugh repeated. His assumption of good-humour was gone. He, too, was scowling now. “What have you to say then?”

“By heaven, I say that you shall not come near my mother.”

“And what if it was not because of my dissolute life she left me? What if you’ve built up a cock-and-bull romance that has no relation to reality in your empty young head? What then? Ask your mother if she left me because of my dissolute life,” said Sir Hugh.

The book in Augustine’s wrenching hands had come apart with a crack and crash. He looked down at it stupidly.

“You really should learn to control yourself in every direction, my dear boy,” Sir Hugh remarked. “Now, unless you would like to wreak your temper on the furniture, I think you had better sit down and be still. I should advise you to think over the fact that saints have been known before now to forgive sinners. And sinners may not be so bad as your innocence imagines. Goodbye. I am going up to see your mother. I am going to spend the night here.”

Augustine stood holding the shattered book. He gazed as stupidly at Sir Hugh as he had gazed at it. He gazed while Sir Hugh, who kept a rather wary eye fixed on him, left the fire and proceeded with a leisurely pace to cross the room: the door was reached and the handle turned, before the stupor broke. Sir Hugh, his eyes still fixed on his antagonist, saw the blanched fury, the start, as if the dazed body were awakening to some insufferable torture, saw the gathering together, the leap: “You fool you young fool!” he ground between his teeth as, with a clash of the half-opened door, Augustine pinned him upon it. “Let me go. Do you hear. Let me go.” His voice was the voice of the lion-tamer, hushed before danger to a quelling depth of quiet.

And like the young lion, drawing long breaths through dilated-nostrils, Augustine growled back: “I will not I will not. You shall not go to her. I would rather kill you.”

“Kill me?” Sir Hugh smiled. “It would be a fight first, you know.”

“Then let it be a fight. You shall not go to her.”

“And what if she wants me to go to her. Will you kill her first, too “ The words broke. Augustine’s hand was on his throat. Sir Hugh seized him. They writhed together against the door. “You mad-man! You damned mad-man! Your mother is in love with me. I’ll put you out of her life “ Sir Hugh grated forth from the strangling clutch.

Suddenly, as they writhed, panting, glaring their hatred at each other, the door they leaned on pushed against them. Someone outside was turning the handle, was forcing it open. And, as if through the shocks and flashes of a blinding, deafening tempest, Augustine heard his mother’s voice, very still, saying: “Let me come in.”