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The Hermit of Far End   By: (-1948)

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By Margaret Pedler

First Published 1920.


It was very quiet within the little room perched high up under the roof of Wallater's Buildings. Even the glowing logs in the grate burned tranquilly, without any of those brisk cracklings and sputterings which make such cheerful company of a fire, while the distant roar of London's traffic came murmuringly, dulled to a gentle monotone by the honeycomb of narrow side streets that intervened between the gaunt, red brick Buildings and the bustling highways of the city.

It seemed almost as though the little room were waiting for something some one, just as the woman seated in the low chair at the hearthside was waiting.

She sat very still, looking towards the door, her folded hands lying quietly on her knees in an attitude of patient expectancy. It was as if, although she found the waiting long and wearisome, she were yet quite sure she would not have to wait in vain.

Once she bent forward and touched the little finger of her left hand, which bore, at its base, a slight circular depression such as comes from the constant wearing of a ring. She rubbed it softly with the forefinger of the other hand.

"He will come," she muttered. "He promised he would come if ever I sent the little pearl ring."

Then she leaned back once more, resuming her former attitude of patient waiting, and the insistent silence, momentarily broken by her movement, settled down again upon the room.

Presently the long rays of the westering sun crept round the edge of some projecting eaves and, slanting in suddenly through the window, rested upon the quiet figure in the chair.

Even in their clear, revealing light it would have been difficult to decide the woman's age, so worn and lined was the mask like face outlined against the shabby cushion. She looked forty, yet there was something still girlish in the pose of her black clad figure which seemed to suggest a shorter tale of years. Raven dark hair, lustreless and dull, framed a pale, emaciated face from which ill health had stripped almost all that had once been beautiful. Only the immense dark eyes, feverishly bright beneath the sunken temples, and the still lovely line from jaw to pointed chin, remained unmarred, their beauty mocked by the pinched nostrils and drawn mouth, and by the scraggy, almost fleshless throat.

It might have been the face of a dead woman, so still, so waxen was it, were it not for the eager brilliance of the eyes. In them, fixed watchfully upon the closed door, was concentrated the whole vitality of the failing body.

Beyond that door, flight upon flight of some steps dropped seemingly endlessly one below the other, leading at last to a cement floored vestibule, cheerless and uninviting, which opened on to the street.

Perhaps there was no particular reason why the vestibule should have been other than it was, seeing that Wallater's Buildings had not been designed for the habitual loiterer. For such as he there remains always the "luxurious entrance hall" of hotel advertisement.

As far as the inhabitants of "Wallater's" were concerned, they clattered over the cement flooring of the vestibule in the mornings, on their way to work, without pausing to cast an eye of criticism upon its general aspect of uncomeliness, and dragged tired feet across it in an evening with no other thought but that of how many weary steps there were to climb before the room which served as "home" should be attained.

But to the well dressed, middle aged man who now paused, half in doubt, on the threshold of the Buildings, the sordid looking vestibule, with its bare floor and drab coloured walls, presented an epitome of desolation.

His keen blue eyes, in one of which was stuck a monocle attached to a broad black ribbon, rested appraisingly upon the ascending spiral of the stone stairway that vanished into the gloomy upper reaches of the Building.

Against this chill background there suddenly took shape in his mind the picture of a spacious room, fragrant with the scent of roses a room full of mellow tints of brown and gold, athwart which the afternoon sunlight lingered tenderly, picking out here the limpid blue of a bit of old Chinese "blue and white," there the warm gleam of polished copper, or here again the bizarre, gem encrusted image of an Eastern god... Continue reading book >>

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