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- The Weavers, Volume 1. - 6/8 -
light, at the bottom of which lay the Meeting-house and the Cloistered House, and the Red Mansion with the fruited wall, and all the others, like dwellings at the bottom of a golden sea. David's eyes were on the distance, and the far-seeing look was in his face which had so deeply impressed Faith in the Meeting-house, by which she had read his future.
"And shall I not also go on?" he asked.
"How far, who can tell?"
There was a plaintive note in her voice--the unavailing and sad protest of the maternal spirit, of the keeper of the nest, who sees the brood fly safely away, looking not back.
"What does thee see for me afar, Faith?" His look was eager.
"The will of God, which shall be done," she said with a sudden resolution, and stood up. Her hands were lightly clasped before her like those of Titian's Mater Dolorosa among the Rubens and Tintorettos of the Prado, a lonely figure, whose lot it was to spend her life for others. Even as she already had done; for thrice she had refused marriages suitable and possible to her. In each case she had steeled her heart against loving, that she might be all in all to her sister's child and to her father. There is no habit so powerful as the habit of care of others. In Faith it came as near being a passion as passion could have a place in her even-flowing blood, under that cool flesh, governed by a heart as fair as the apricot blossoms on the wall in her father's garden. She had been bitterly hurt in the Meeting-house; as bitterly as is many a woman when her lover has deceived her. David had acknowledged before them all that he had played the flute secretly for years! That he should have played it was nothing; that she should not have shared his secret, and so shared his culpability before them all, was a wound which would take long to heal.
She laid her hand upon his shoulder suddenly with a nervous little motion.
"And the will of God thee shall do to His honour, though thee is outcast to-day. . . . But, Davy, the music-thee kept it from me."
He looked up at her steadily; he read what was in her mind.
"I hid it so, because I would not have thy conscience troubled. Thee would go far to smother it for me; and I was not so ungrateful to thee. I did it for good to thee."
A smile passed across her lips. Never was woman so grateful, never wound so quickly healed. She shook her head sadly at him, and stilling the proud throbbing of her heart, she said:
"But thee played so well, Davy!"
He got up and turned his head away, lest he should laugh outright. Her reasoning--though he was not worldly enough to call it feminine, and though it scarce tallied with her argument--seemed to him quite her own.
"How long have we?" he said over his shoulder. "The sun is yet five minutes up, or more," she said, a little breathlessly, for she saw his hand inside his coat, and guessed his purpose.
"But thee will not dare to play--thee will not dare," she said, but more as an invitation than a rebuke. "Speech was denied me here, but not my music. I find no sin in it."
She eagerly watched him adjust the flute. Suddenly she drew to him the chair from the doorway, and beckoned him to sit down. She sat where she could see the sunset.
The music floated through the room and down the hillside, a searching sweetness.
She kept her face ever on the far hills. It went on and on. At last it stopped. David roused himself, as from a dream. "But it is dark!" he said, startled. "It is past the time thee should be with me. My banishment began at sunset."
"Are all the sins to be thine?" she asked calmly. She had purposely let him play beyond the time set for their being together.
"Good-night, Davy." She kissed him on the cheek. "I will keep the music for the sin's remembrance," she added, and went out into the night.
"England is in one of those passions so creditable to her moral sense, so illustrative of her unregulated virtues. We are living in the first excitement and horror of the news of the massacre of Christians at Damascus. We are full of righteous and passionate indignation. 'Punish --restore the honour of the Christian nations' is the proud appeal of prelate, prig, and philanthropist, because some hundreds of Christians who knew their danger, yet chose to take up their abode in a fanatical Muslim city of the East, have suffered death."
The meeting had been called in answer to an appeal from Exeter Hall. Lord Eglington had been asked to speak, and these were among his closing words.
He had seen, as he thought, an opportunity for sensation. Politicians of both sides, the press on all hands, were thundering denunciations upon the city of Damascus, sitting insolent and satiated in its exquisite bloom of pear and nectarine, and the deed itself was fading into that blank past of Eastern life where there "are no birds in last year's nest." If he voyaged with the crowd, his pennant would be lost in the clustering sails! So he would move against the tide, and would startle, even if he did not convince.
"Let us not translate an inflamed religious emotion into a war," he continued. "To what good? Would it restore one single life in Damascus? Would it bind one broken heart? Would it give light to one darkened home? Let us have care lest we be called a nation of hypocrites. I will neither support nor oppose the resolution presented; I will content myself with pointing the way to a greater national self-respect."
Mechanically, a few people who had scarcely apprehended the full force of his remarks began to applaud; but there came cries of "'Sh! 'Sh!" and the clapping of hands suddenly stopped. For a moment there was absolute silence, in which the chairman adjusted his glasses and fumbled with the agenda paper in his confusion, scarcely knowing what to do. The speaker had been expected to second the resolution, and had not done so. There was an awkward silence. Then, in a loud whisper, some one said:
"David, David, do thee speak."
It was the voice of Faith Claridge. Perturbed and anxious, she had come to the meeting with her father. They had not slept for nights, for the last news they had had of Benn Claridge was from the city of Damascus, and they were full of painful apprehensions.
It was the eve of the first day of winter, and David's banishment was over. Faith had seen David often at a distance--how often had she stood in her window and looked up over the apricot-wall to the chair-maker's hut on the hill! According to his penalty David had never come to Hamley village, but had lived alone, speaking to no one, avoided by all, working out his punishment. Only the day before the meeting he had read of the massacre at Damascus from a newspaper which had been left on his doorstep overnight. Elder Fairley had so far broken the covenant of ostracism and boycott, knowing David's love for his Uncle Benn.
All that night David paced the hillside in anxiety and agitation, and saw the sun rise upon a new world--a world of freedom, of home-returning, yet a world which, during the past four months, had changed so greatly that it would never seem the same again.
The sun was scarce two hours high when Faith and her father mounted the hill to bring him home again. He had, however, gone to Heddington to learn further news of the massacre. He was thinking of his Uncle Benn- all else could wait. His anxiety was infinitely greater than that of Luke Claridge, for his mind had been disturbed by frequent premonitions; and those sudden calls in his sleep-his uncle's voice--ever seemed to be waking him at night. He had not meant to speak at the meeting, but the last words of the speaker decided him; he was in a flame of indignation. He heard the voice of Faith whisper over the heads of the people. "David, David, do thee speak." Turning, he met her eyes, then rose to his feet, came steadily to the platform, and raised a finger towards the chairman.
A great whispering ran through the audience. Very many recognised him, and all had heard of him--the history of his late banishment and self- approving punishment were familiar to them. He climbed the steps of the platform alertly, and the chairman welcomed him with nervous pleasure. Any word from a Quaker, friendly to the feeling of national indignation, would give the meeting the new direction which all desired.
Something in the face of the young man, grown thin and very pale during the period of long thought and little food in the lonely and meditative life he had led; something human and mysterious in the strange tale of his one day's mad doings, fascinated them. They had heard of the liquor he had drunk, of the woman he had kissed at the cross-roads, of the man he had fought, of his discipline and sentence. His clean, shapely figure, and the soft austerity of the neat grey suit he wore, his broad- brimmed hat pushed a little back, showing well a square white forehead-- all conspired to send a wave of feeling through the audience, which presently broke into cheering.
Beginning with the usual formality, he said: "I am obliged to differ from nearly every sentiment expressed by the Earl of Eglington, the member for Levizes, who has just taken his seat."
There was an instant's pause, the audience cheered, and cries of delight came from all parts of the house. "All good counsel has its sting," he continued, "but the good counsel of him who has just spoken is a sting in a wound deeper than the skin. The noble Earl has bidden us to be consistent and reasonable. I have risen here to speak for that to which mere consistency and reason may do cruel violence. I am a man of peace, I am the enemy of war--it is my faith and creed; yet I repudiate the principle put forward by the Earl of Eglington, that you shall not clinch your hand for the cause which is your heart's cause, because, if you smite, the smiting must be paid for."
He was interrupted by cheers and laughter, for the late event in his own life came to them to point his argument.
"The nation that declines war may be refusing to inflict that just punishment which alone can set the wrong-doers on the better course. It is not the faith of that Society to which I belong to decline correction
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