Roy Glashan's Library
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The Queenslander, Brisbane, Australia, 18 Sep 1920

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Version Date: 2021-11-28

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THE east wind swirling over the great open wolds caught Peggy Orde as she stepped outside the little station of Harles End and made her gasp and stagger.

The tall young officer who was escort flung his arm around her to steady her.

"Does it always blow like this up here, Dick?" she asked breathlessly, as he helped her into the waiting car.

"Not quite, dearest," he answered with a smile which lit up his rather grave face. "But please remember that it is still March, and there is not much to break the wind between this and Jutland."

He tucked her up snugly in the rugs, and she nestled back cosily. The keen air had brought an unusual colour to her clear cheeks and her grey eyes shone like stars. She was full of interest and excitement. What girl would not be paying her first visit to home of the man whom she had promised to marry?

Dick Ayling was content to sit still and watch her. Peggy Orde was worth watching, and young Ayling had every reason to consider himself an uncommonly lucky man.

It was just one of those matches which match-makers dream of. He, heir to a big estate and an ancient name, and she with youth, beauty, and a fortune of forty thousand pounds. And yet it was not the work of any match-maker. The two had met by pure chance, tumbled into love with one another at first sight, and were to be married in a month's time, or sooner—if Dick, who had been rather badly wounded in France, was passed fit by his next board.

"It's very bleak, Dick," said Peggy, presently, with a little shiver.

"I warned you of that, dear. All this east country is bare. But wait till summer. You are seeing it at the very worst time of year."

"You are fond of it, Dick?" said Peggy, a little wistfully.

"I love it, darling. Still I shall be quite content to leave it whenever you like. We will go south in winter or to London in the spring. I shan't tie my town mouse down here, you may be sure of that."

"You're a dear, Dick!" was all that Peggy said, but she slipped her small hand into his, and it nestled there contentedly for the rest of the journey.

THE car whirled them rapidly across the Wolds, and turning through a pair of huge old-fashioned iron gates, ran up a drive bordered by ancient but wind-stunted timber.

Dick leaned out.

"Here we are, Peggy!" he said eagerly.

The trees broke away, and they were suddenly in front of a grey, weather beaten house which seemed almost to overhang the sea. Indeed, there was nothing between its east wing and the edge of the cliffs but a few yards of bare turf and a low wall.

"Oh, Dick!" exclaimed Peggy, and the dismay in her voice startled him.

"What is it, dearest?"

"I—I—it is so near the sea!" she said vaguely.

"You needn't be afraid Peggy," he laughed. "The house has stood three hundred years. It will last a bit longer."

There was no chance to say more, for the front door was open, and a tall, elderly man stood at the head of the steps, and behind him a butler, grey and elderly as his master. Elmer Ayling, Dick's father, was as grey as his grey house and the grey sea beyond it. His face, rugged and deeply-lined, and his powerful, loosely-built frame exactly matched the bleak and desolate surroundings of his house. He looked hard and stern, Peggy thought, yet voice and manner were kind enough as he greeted her.

"Welcome to Glynch, my dear. I wish we could have had better weather for you, but that was beyond us. But do not think that our sea and sky are always so grey. Spring will be with us soon."

As he talked he led her in through a lofty hall into the drawing-room. It was high-ceilinged and spacious but cumbered with old-fashioned furniture. The great glowing coal fire, however, gave it an air of comfort and the tea which was waiting was of a splendidly substantial character.

Seated in a comfortable chair by the fire, with a cup of hot tea and a well-buttered scone on a stool beside her, Peggy began to recover from her first dismay and to look around her with interest.

Old Mr. Ayling was watching her.

"It's a man's house, my dear," he said. "You must not be too critical."

"I was thinking what a nice, big room it was," declared Peggy, not altogether veraciously.

"It's a big house altogether," Mr Ayling told her. "Too big for our diminished acres. The sea you know, has robbed us of nearly a square mile during the past century. When this house was built it stood nearly a quarter of a mile from the edge of the cliffs."

"You're scaring Peggy, father," put in Dick hastily. "She'll be expecting the whole place to topple over into the waves if you talk like that."

"You needn't be afraid, Peggy," he continued. "Since the big storm in 1894, father has had groynes built on the beach below. The sea hasn't gained a yard since then."

"It sounds as if it was trying hard to do so," said Peggy rather uncomfortably, as a particularly vicious gust came roaring off the sea, rattling the windows, and shrieking among the chimneys.

"Ah, the wind's getting up again," said Mr. Ayling philosophically. "The glass has dropped rather badly. I hope the gale won't keep you awake, Peggy."

"You've got a room at the back of the house," said Dick. "You won't hear it much there. As for us, we get accustomed to it."

PEGGY was secretly glad to hear that her windows did not face that vast expanse of gloomy, wind-swept water. Even so, as she dressed for dinner, she shivered a little at the endless roar of the gale overhead. From a moan it rose to a shriek, to die down again, and then sweep up more fiercely than ever.

Dinner, a well-cooked meal excellently served by old Carr, the butler, revived her, but in the drawing-room afterwards the roar of the gale almost drowned their voices. The fire flared like a furnace in the draught.

After a while Mr. Ayling said good-night, and prowled off, leaving the young folk together.

"I do hope it will turn fine tomorrow, Peggy," said Dick. "I'm looking forward no end to showing you over the place."

"I'm afraid it doesn't sound much like it, Dick," answered Peggy as the house shook under the onslaught of the fierce gale, and the thick curtains quivered in the draught.

"It's perfectly beastly that you should have this sort of thing your first evening, Peggy," said Dick with feeling. "I haven't heard it blow like this for years. Come into the billiard-room. We shan't hear it so much there. Anyhow, it can't last."

HE was wrong. The gale not only lasted, but increased, and later, when Peggy went up and peered through a slit in her bedroom curtains, she saw that the air was full of flying snow. It was the night of the 27th of March, 1916, one that will long be remembered all over England, as the date of as wicked a storm as ever visited our islands.

Her bed was comfortable, the warm firelight glimmered cosily, yet it was a long time before Peggy could get to steep, and when she did, her dreams were not pleasant. She had a strongly developed imagination, and the stark loneliness of the house and its surroundings had impressed her deeply.

All of a sudden she found herself sitting bolt upright. What had roused her she hardly knew, but it was some sudden and violent sound. At first she thought it was the wind, but presently she realised that the gale had died down. Outside, the stillness was broken only by the dull, hoarse roar of the waves against the cliffs.

The fire was almost out, and the room very dark.

"I must have been dreaming," said Peggy half angrily, and was reaching out to find her match-box and light a candle, when she stopped, frozen into stillness by a most appalling sound.

It was a scream—more than a scream—a yell, yet prolonged and purposeful, with a horrible note of anger and menace. There followed a heavy crash. In the stillness that fell after, Peggy could hear her own heart beating.

For a few moments, she remained absolutely still, too terrified to move. Her skin prickled, she could almost feel her hair rising. Then with a spring she was out of bed. Her fingers trembled, so that she could hardly strike a match, but at last she managed to light her candle, and huddling into dressing gown and slippers, ran out into the corridor.

The house was perfectly quiet. Although she strained her ears, all that she could hear was the low roar and thunder of the surf upon the cliff face. Hardly knowing what she did, she hurried away down the passage. All she knew was that she going in the direction from which the terrible sounds had come.

The passage seemed endless, the air was bitterly cold. She came to the head of a flight of steps, paused a moment, then hurried down them.

At the bottom she came upon a door—a heavy door covered with red baize, which barred her passage. It had no handle, and when she put her weight upon it, she found that it was locked.

Before she could make up her mind what to do there came a quick step on the other side, the door swung inwards, and she was faced by Mr. Ayling, fully dressed, and carrying a small hand lamp.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded harshly. Peggy, glancing up in alarm, saw that his face was graver than ever, and set in stern lines.

"You, Peggy?2 Voice and expression changed with equal swiftness. "My dear, I'm afraid you were frightened."

"I was. I am," Peggy answered. "That dreadful screaming!"

"I don't wonder," replied Mr. Ayling soothingly. "It was one of the servants. The footman. He is very ill and delirious. We did not tell you for fear of alarming you. But he is better. You will not hear anything of the sort again."

As if in answer to his words, at that very instant the yelling broke out afresh, more fierce, more insistent than ever. And now, with the door wide open, and nothing to deaden the sound, the whole house rang with the horrible clamour. It was like a wild beast in the last stages of fury or despair.

"Father! Father!"

It was Dick's voice, sharp and urgent.

"Quickly! Quickly! I can't hold him."

In an instant Mr. Ayling had sprung back. The door slammed in Peggy's face, blowing out her candle and leaving her alone and in the dark.

Next moment the sound of a violent struggle came to her through the door. There was a cry as of pain, then these words.

"You devil, Elmer! But wait. I'll be even with you yet."

The voice was a vicious snarl which made the blood run cold in Peggy's veins. She turned and fled—to her room, where she locked the door, lit all the candles, and stirred the fire to a blaze.

NEARLY half an hour passed before she heard anything more. Then came a quick step outside, and a gentle tap at the door.

"Peggy! Peggy! It was Dick's voice. "Are you all right?"

By this time Peggy's first fright had passed, and given place to anger. Never in all her sheltered, petted life had she been treated so roughly.

"I am quite right, thank you," she answered coldly, but without moving.

She could hear Dick outside, and knew that he was hesitating, longing to talk to her, and hurt by her cold response. But a little demon of pride prevented her from speaking again, and presently he stole away.

It was a long time before Peggy went to bed again. Even then she slept badly, and came down to breakfast with a nasty nagging headache to find it blowing again as fiercely as ever and snowing hard.

Dick was waiting for her, but there was no sign of Mr. Ayling.

Dick was full of solicitude,

"I am so sorry about last night, Peggy, dear," he began at once. "Father told you what had happened."

"Yes, and slammed the door in my face," replied Peggy tartly.

"He begged me to apologise," said Dick gravely. "You see, I couldn't hold the—the patient."

Peggy turned quickly.

"Who is the patient?" she demanded.

"I—I—that is—father told you," Dick answered lamely.

"He told me it was a servant. Servants don't call their masters by their Christian names."

The colour rose to Dick's thin cheeks.

"Peggy," he said very earnestly, "please don't question me. I can't tell you any more than I have."

Peggy's face flamed.

"What—then your father was not telling me the truth!"

"Peggy—Peggy!" pleaded Dick.

But Peggy was in no mood to be pacified. Between her aching head, her sleepless night and the feeling that she was being kept in the dark, she was dangerously near the end of her temper.

"I won't be treated like a child! I have a right to know what is going on!" she declared angrily.

"The secret is not mine, dear. I cannot tell you until father allows me."

"Then I shall ask him at once when he comes down. I am not going to marry into a family where there are horrid mysteries like this."

If Dick had been wiser in the ways of women, he would have held his tongue. Instead—

"You must not dream of asking him, Peggy," he said sharply.

Peggy's temper went completely. She stamped her foot.

"Don't dare to dictate to me!" she cried passionately. "I'm not your wife yet."

Dick had a temper of his own. It was roused at last.

"Peggy!" he said sternly.

The tone was fatal. With a sudden movement Peggy swept off her engagement ring and dropped it on the table.

"I shall be glad if you will order the car to take me to the eleven train," she said in a freezing tone, and before Dick could recover from his amazement, she was out of the room.

Reaching her own room, Peggy began to pack. Her fingers shook so that she could hardly fold her things, but there was not a tear in her eyes. She was furious with Dick, with his father, and though she would not acknowledge it—with herself. The one idea which consumed her at present was to get away from Glynch as quickly as possible.

Her packing finished, she glanced at her watch, and saw that it was already nearly half-past ten. She rang for the maid, and ordered her to have her things taken down at once.

The maid, a quiet, elderly woman, showed no surprise, and Peggy herself went down to the hall, and waited there in hat and coat.

There was no sign of the car, and the time was growing short. Suddenly the library door opened, and Dick came out. His face frightened Peggy. It was so pale and stern.

"I am sorry," he said formally, "but the roads are impassible. I am afraid that you will not be able to leave to-day."

"I must! I will!" cried Peggy. "If you won't let me have the car, I will walk."

For answer Dick went to the front door and flung it open. In roared a blast so fierce that the very pictures swayed on the walls, and the air was filled with stinging snow dust. Outside all was white. A great drift rose curling over the parapet of the steps while the mist of snow hid everything beyond the radius of a few yards.

Even Peggy could see that it was hopeless. She dropped into a chair, and covered her face with her hands.

Now was Dick's chance, if he had taken it. But he was using all his strength to reclose and fasten the door. By the time he had accomplished this task, Peggy had flitted away, and was back in her own room.

HARD to say which of the two spent the more miserable day—Peggy sitting alone in her room, a self-made prisoner, or Dick, roaming about the house like a restless ghost.

And always the storm increased, until by afternoon it was blowing a hurricane, and the drifts were half-way up the windows along the front of the house.

The noise was appalling, for added to the piercing yell of the wind, was the terrific voice of the North Sea lashed to unprecedented fury. By three o'clock the spray was leaping clear over the cliff top and clattering like flung gravel on the panes.

Peggy tried to read. She could not fix her attention on her book. She tried to eat the dainty meals brought up to her, but was almost equally unsuccessful. And still the storm roared, and the prospect of another day like this filled her with such dismay as she had never known.

NIGHT at last, but Peggy was too nervous to go to bed. Solid as it was, the old house literally rocked under the fearful impact of the storm. Slipping on a dressing-gown, she made up the fire once more, and sat in front of it in a deep cushioned chair, staring into its glowing heart.

Her small face was paler then usual, and there were unaccustomed shadows around her eyes. Peggy, if quick-tempered, was warm-hearted and affectionate. She had been missing Dick horribly all this long lonely day, and though she tried again and again to harden her heart, she was forced to acknowledge that she had not treated him fairly.

Well, it was too late now! She knew Dick's pride, and felt that he would never forgive her. She covered her face with her hands, and the tears began to trickle through her fingers. Never in all her life had she felt so utterly lonely and deserted.

It was the storm which roused her from her trance of misery. A gust even more tremendous than any yet seized the house, and shook it like an earthquake. Peggy sprang from her chair and stood, breathless.

The blast flew shrieking inland, but the house continued to quiver. And now there was a new sound. A roar like thunder followed by a series of sharp snapping crashes.

"Oh, it's falling down! The house is falling down!" cried Peggy in horror, and fled for the door.

OUTSIDE, the passage was a funnel of raving, furious wind. To the left, in the direction of the baize door, a hideous gap yawned. Peggy's knees gave under her, she staggered and nearly fell, but with a frantic effort pulled herself together, and stumbled towards the stairs.

Behind her, she heard a fresh crash

Some one came flying up the stairs towards her.

"Dick!" she cried. "Dick!" and flung herself into her arms.

The arms closed around her, and swung her off her feet.

"Thank God, you're safe, dear," she heard him say in a tone of heartfelt relief, and turning he ran for the hall.

"But what—what has happened," she gasped as he set her down.

"The east wing. It is gone. It has fallen into the sea. I must go and see."

She caught at him.

"Let me come, too."

"Impossible, darling! It is not safe. I'll be back as soon as ever I can."

Before she could speak again he had freed himself gently, and was gone.

Peggy waited in fear and trembling.

THE crashing sounds had ceased, but the mighty gale still roared with deafening fury. Peggy longed desperately to follow Dick. She pictured him out in the full rush of the storm on the crumbling edge of the cliff, and found herself praying desperately for his safety. Never had he seemed so dear to her.

Ten minutes dragged by. The suspense was becoming intolerable, when at last the door leading from the back regions opened, and Dick appeared again. He was white with snow, and breathing hard.

She flew to him.

"Oh, Dick! Thank God you are safe!"

Dick led her gently back to the fire.

"They are both gone, Peggy," he said in a low, strained voice. "Both gone!"

"Both—what do you mean, Dick?"

"My father and Uncle Ambrose."

"Yes, dearest," he went on, "we have been keeping you in the dark, but father wished it, and I was bound in honour not to speak." He paused a moment, and Peggy noticed how white his face was. "Uncle Ambrose was my father's elder brother," he resumed. "He was always wild, and worse. In fact, he was utterly vicious and bad. He and my grandfather quarrelled bitterly. At last he went off to America, and as nothing was heard of him for years it was supposed that he was dead. My grandfather died, and my father succeeded to the place.

"Then, when I was about six, Uncle Ambrose suddenly turned up and made a fearful scene—vowed the place was his and that he would turn us all out of doors."

Dick paused again. Peggy was listening with breathless interest.

"What was father to do?" asked Dick passionately, "see the old place flung to the dogs, and himself and all of us ruined? Rightly or wrongly, he decided that he would not. He took the law into his own hands. He and Carr, between them, made my uncle a prisoner, and shut him up in the east wing."

Again Dick stopped a moment and glanced at Peggy.

"I think he was quite right," she declared fervently.

"There he has been ever since," Dick continued. "There is very little doubt that he was mad when he first came here. Anyhow, he has been a dangerous lunatic for years past, and you may imagine the awful strain it has been for father. He and Carr have looked after my uncle all these years, and father has never slept a night out of the house.

"And now—now, Peggy," his voice shook—"they have both gone to their death together! Poor dad! Poor dad!"

"My poor Dick! My dear Dick!" said Peggy softly, and flung her arms round his neck. "But you must not grieve too much. His life could hardly have been worth living."

"But he made mine worth while, Peggy."

"I know he did, and I am grateful to him, dear. And now I shall try my best to go on making it worth while Dick, if we get out of this alive, we will build a new house not quite so near the sea, and Glynch shall go on just as your father would have had it go on."

Dick stooped, and kissed her passionately.

And so the two sat together through long hours until at last the storm ceased its raving, and the chill light of the March dawn broke, and found them safe.

"Would you love me just as much if I were a poor girl?"

"Every bit as much," he said, congratulating himself that she didn't ask him if he would still want to marry her.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.