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- The Weavers, Volume 1. - 5/8 -
regions he had never seen, where his uncle traded, and explored. Suddenly, the call he had heard in his sleep now came to him in this waking reverie. His eyes withdrew from the tree at the window, as if startled, and he almost called aloud in reply; but he realised where he was. At last, raising the flute to his lips, as the eyes of Luke Claridge closed with very trouble, he began to play.
Out in the woods of Beedon he had attuned his flute to the stir of leaves, the murmur of streams, the song of birds, the boom and burden of storm; and it was soft and deep as the throat of the bell-bird of Australian wilds. Now it was mastered by the dreams he had dreamed of the East: the desert skies, high and clear and burning, the desert sunsets, plaintive and peaceful and unvaried--one lovely diffusion, in which day dies without splendour and in a glow of pain. The long velvety tread of the camel, the song of the camel-driver, the monotonous chant of the river-man, with fingers mechanically falling on his little drum, the cry of the eagle of the Libyan Hills, the lap of the heavy waters of the Dead Sea down by Jericho, the battle-call of the Druses beyond Damascus, the lonely gigantic figures at the mouth of the temple of Abou Simbel, looking out with the eternal question to the unanswering desert, the delicate ruins of moonlit Baalbec, with the snow mountains hovering above, the green oases, and the deep wells where the caravans lay down in peace--all these were pouring their influences on his mind in the little Quaker village of Hamley where life was so bare, so grave.
The music he played was all his own, was instinctively translated from all other influences into that which they who listened to him could understand. Yet that sensuous beauty which the Quaker Society was so concerned to banish from any part in their life was playing upon them now, making the hearts of the women beat fast, thrilling them, turning meditation into dreams, and giving the sight of the eyes far visions of pleasure. So powerful was this influence that the shrill Elder twice essayed to speak in protest, but was prevented by the wizened Elder Meacham. When it seemed as if the aching, throbbing sweetness must surely bring denunciation, David changed the music to a slow mourning cadence. It was a wail of sorrow, a march to the grave, a benediction, a soft sound of farewell, floating through the room and dying away into the mid-day sun.
There came a long silence after, and David sat with unmoving look upon the distant prospect through the window. A woman's sob broke the air. Faith's handkerchief was at her eyes. Only one quick sob, but it had been wrung from her by the premonition suddenly come that the brother-- he was brother more than nephew--over whom her heart had yearned had, indeed, come to the cross-roads, and that their ways would henceforth divide. The punishment or banishment now to be meted out to him was as nothing. It meant a few weeks of disgrace, of ban, of what, in effect, was self-immolation, of that commanding justice of the Society which no one yet save the late Earl of Eglington had defied. David could refuse to bear punishment, but such a possibility had never occurred to her or to any one present. She saw him taking his punishment as surely as though the law of the land had him in its grasp. It was not that which she was fearing. But she saw him moving out of her life. To her this music was the prelude of her tragedy.
A moment afterwards Luke Claridge arose and spoke to David in austere tones: "It is our will that thee begone to the chair-maker's but upon the hill till three months be passed, and that none have speech with thee after sunset to-morrow even."
"Amen," said all the Elders.
"Amen," said David, and put his flute into his pocket, and rose to go.
The chair-maker's hut lay upon the north hillside about half-way between the Meeting-house at one end of the village and the common at the other end. It commanded the valley, had no house near it, and was sheltered from the north wind by the hill-top which rose up behind it a hundred feet or more. No road led to it--only a path up from the green of the village, winding past a gulley and the deep cuts of old rivulets now over grown by grass or bracken. It got the sun abundantly, and it was protected from the full sweep of any storm. It had but two rooms, the floor was of sanded earth, but it had windows on three sides, east, west, and south, and the door looked south. Its furniture was a plank bed, a few shelves, a bench, two chairs, some utensils, a fireplace of stone, a picture of the Virgin and Child, and of a cardinal of the Church of Rome with a red hat--for the chair-maker had been a Roman Catholic, the only one of that communion in Hamley. Had he been a Protestant his vices would have made him anathema, but, being what he was, his fellow- villagers had treated him with kindness.
After the half-day in which he was permitted to make due preparations, lay in store of provisions, and purchase a few sheep and hens, hither came David Claridge. Here, too, came Faith, who was permitted one hour with him before he began his life of willing isolation. Little was said as they made the journey up the hill, driving the sheep before them, four strong lads following with necessities--flour, rice, potatoes, and suchlike.
Arrived, the goods were deposited inside the hut, the lads were dismissed, and David and Faith were left alone. David looked at his watch. They had still a handful of minutes before the parting. These flew fast, and yet, seated inside the door, and looking down at the village which the sun was bathing in the last glowing of evening, they remained silent. Each knew that a great change had come in their hitherto unchanging life, and it was difficult to separate premonition from substantial fact. The present fact did not represent all they felt, though it represented all on which they might speak together now.
Looking round the room, at last Faith said: "Thee has all thee needs, David? Thee is sure?"
He nodded. "I know not yet how little man may need. I have lived in plenty."
At that moment her eyes rested on the Cloistered House.
"The Earl of Eglington would not call it plenty." A shade passed over David's face. "I know not how he would measure. Is his own field so wide?"
"The spread of a peacock's feather."
"What does thee know of him?" David asked the question absently.
"I have eyes to see, Davy." The shadows from that seeing were in her eyes as she spoke, but he did not observe them.
"Thee sees but with half an eye," she continued. "With both mine I have seen horses and carriages, and tall footmen, and wine and silver, and gilded furniture, and fine pictures, and rolls of new carpet--of Uncle Benn's best carpets, Davy--and a billiard-table, and much else."
A cloud slowly gathered over David's face, and he turned to her with an almost troubled surprise. "Thee has seen these things--and how?"
"One day--thee was in Devon--one of the women was taken ill. They sent for me because the woman asked it. She was a Papist; but she begged that I should go with her to the hospital, as there was no time to send to Heddington for a nurse. She had seen me once in the house of the toll- gate keeper. Ill as she was, I could have laughed, for, as we went in the Earl's carriage to the hospital-thirty miles it was--she said she felt at home with me, my dress being so like a nun's. It was then I saw the Cloistered House within and learned what was afoot."
"In the Earl's carriage indeed--and the Earl?"
"He was in Ireland, burrowing among those tarnished baubles, his titles, and stripping the Irish Peter to clothe the English Paul."
"He means to make Hamley his home? From Ireland these furnishings come?"
"So it seems. Henceforth the Cloistered House will have its doors flung wide. London and all the folk of Parliament will flutter along the dunes of Hamley."
"Then the bailiff will sit yonder within a year, for he is but a starved Irish peer."
"He lives to-day as though he would be rich tomorrow. He bids for fame and fortune, Davy."
"'Tis as though a shirtless man should wear a broadcloth coat over a cotton vest."
"The world sees only the broadcloth coat. For the rest--"
"For the rest, Faith?"
"They see the man's face, and--"
His eyes were embarrassed. A thought had flashed into his mind which he considered unworthy, for this girl beside him was little likely to dwell upon the face of a renegade peer, whose living among them was a constant reminder of his father's apostasy. She was too fine, dwelt in such high spheres, that he could not think of her being touched by the glittering adventures of this daring young member of Parliament, whose book of travels had been published, only to herald his understood determination to have office in the Government, not in due time, but in his own time. What could there be in common between the sophisticated Eglington and this sweet, primitively wholesome Quaker girl?
Faith read what was passing in his mind. She flushed--slowly flushed until her face--and eyes were one soft glow, then she laid a hand upon his arm and said: "Davy, I feel the truth about him--no more. Nothing of him is for thee or me. His ways are not our ways." She paused, and then said solemnly: "He hath a devil. That I feel. But he hath also a mind, and a cruel will. He will hew a path, or make others hew it for him. He will make or break. Nothing will stand in his way, neither man nor thing, those he loves nor those he hates. He will go on--and to go on, all means, so they be not criminal, will be his. Men will prophesy great things for him--they do so now. But nothing they prophesy, Davy, keeps pace with his resolve."
"How does thee know these things?"
His question was one of wonder and surprise. He had never before seen in her this sharp discernment and criticism.
"How know I, Davy? I know him by studying thee. What thee is not he is. What he is thee is not." The last beams of the sun sent a sudden glint of yellow to the green at their feet from the western hills, rising far over and above the lower hills of the village, making a wide ocean of
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