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- The Weavers, Volume 3. - 2/27 -
together--beautiful long, tapering fingers, like those in Romney's pictures. When he stopped, her eyes opened slowly, and she gazed before her down towards that garden by the Red Mansion where her lifetime had been spent.
"Thee says hard words, Soolsby," she rejoined gently. "But maybe thee is right." Then a flash of humour passed over her face. "Suppose we ask Martha Higham if the Earl has 'blandished' her. If the Earl has blandished Martha, he is the very captain of deceit. Why, he has himself but twenty-eight years. Will a man speak so to one older than himself, save in mockery? So, if thee is right in this, then--then if he speak well to deceive and to serve his turn, he will also speak ill; and he will do ill when it may serve his turn; and so he may do our Davy ill, as thee says, Soolsby."
She rose to her feet and made as if to go, but she kept her face from him. Presently, however, she turned and looked at him. "If he does ill to Davy, there will be those like thee, Soolsby, who will not spare him."
His fingers opened and shut maliciously, he nodded dour assent. After an instant, while he watched her, she added: "Thee has not heard my lord is to marry?"
"Marry--who is the blind lass?"
"Her name is Maryon, Miss Hylda Maryon: and she has a great fortune. But within a month it is to be."
"Thee remembers the woman of the cross-roads, her that our Davy--"
"Her the Egyptian kissed, and put his watch in her belt--ay, Kate Heaver!"
"She is now maid to her Lord Eglington will wed. She is to spend to-night with us."
"Where is her lad that was, that the Egyptian rolled like dough in a trough?"
"Jasper Kimber? He is at Sheffield. He has been up and down, now sober for a year, now drunken for a month, now in, now out of a place, until this past year. But for this whole year he has been sober, and he may keep his pledge. He is working in the trades-unions. Among his fellow- workers he is called a politician--if loud speaking and boasting can make one. Yet if these doings give him stimulant instead of drink, who shall complain?"
Soolsby's head was down. He was looking out over the far hills, while the strips of cane were idle in his hands. "Ay, 'tis true--'tis true," he nodded. "Give a man an idee which keeps him cogitating, makes him think he's greater than he is, and sets his pulses beating, why, that's the cure to drink. Drink is friendship and good company and big thoughts while it lasts; and it's lonely without it, if you've been used to it. Ay, but Kimber's way is best. Get an idee in your noddle, to do a thing that's more to you than work or food or bed, and 'twill be more than drink, too."
He nodded to himself, then began weaving the strips of cane furiously. Presently he stopped again, and threw his head back with a chuckle. "Now, wouldn't it be a joke, a reg'lar first-class joke, if Kimber and me both had the same idee, if we was both workin' for the same thing-- an' didn't know it? I reckon it might be so."
"What end is thee working for, friend? If the public prints speak true, Kimber is working to stand for Parliament against Lord Eglington."
Soolsby grunted and laughed in his throat. "Now, is that the game of Mister Kimber? Against my Lord Eglington! Hey, but that's a joke, my lord!"
"And what is thee working for, Soolsby?"
"What do I be working for? To get the Egyptian back to England--what else?"
"That is no joke."
"Ay, but 'tis a joke." The old man chuckled. "'Tis the best joke in the boilin'." He shook his head and moved his body backwards and forwards with glee. "Me and Kimber! Me and Kimber!" he roared, "and neither of us drunk for a year--not drunk for a whole year. Me and Kimber--and him!"
Faith put her hand on his shoulder. "Indeed, I see no joke, but only that which makes my heart thankful, Soolsby."
"Ay, you will be thankful, you will be thankful, by-and-by," he said, still chuckling, and stood up respectfully to show her out.
THE DEBT AND THE ACCOUNTING
His forehead frowning, but his eyes full of friendliness, Soolsby watched Faith go down the hillside and until she reached the main road. Here, instead of going to the Red Mansion, she hesitated a moment, and then passed along a wooded path leading to the Meetinghouse, and the graveyard. It was a perfect day of early summer, the gorse was in full bloom, and the may and the hawthorn were alive with colour. The path she had taken led through a narrow lane, overhung with blossoms and greenery. By bearing away to the left into another path, and making a detour, she could reach the Meeting-house through a narrow lane leading past a now disused mill and a small, strong stream flowing from the hill above.
As she came down the hill, other eyes than Soolsby's watched her. From his laboratory--the laboratory in which his father had worked, in which he had lost his life--Eglington had seen the trim, graceful figure. He watched it till it moved into the wooded path. Then he left his garden, and, moving across a field, came into the path ahead of her. Walking swiftly, he reached the old mill, and waited.
She came slowly, now and again stooping to pick a flower and place it in her belt. Her bonnet was slung on her arm, her hair had broken a little loose and made a sort of hood round the face, so still, so composed, into which the light of steady, soft, apprehending eyes threw a gentle radiance. It was a face to haunt a man when the storm of life was round him. It had, too, a courage which might easily become a delicate stubbornness, a sense of duty which might become sternness, if roused by a sense of wrong to herself or others.
She reached the mill and stood and listened towards the stream and the waterfall. She came here often. The scene quieted her in moods of restlessness which came from a feeling that her mission was interrupted, that half her life's work had been suddenly taken from her. When David went, her life had seemed to shrivel; for with him she had developed as he had developed; and when her busy care of him was withdrawn, she had felt a sort of paralysis which, in a sense, had never left her. Then suitors had come--the soldier from Shipley Wood, the lord of Axwood Manor, and others, and, in a way, a new sense was born in her, though she was alive to the fact that the fifteen thousand pounds inherited from her Uncle Benn had served to warm the air about her into a wider circle. Yet it was neither to soldier, nor squire, nor civil engineer, nor surgeon that the new sense stirring in her was due. The spring was too far beneath to be found by them.
When, at last, she raised her head, Lord Eglington was in the path, looking at her with a half-smile. She did not start, but her face turned white, and a mist came before her eyes.
Quickly, however, as though fearful lest he should think he could trouble her composure, she laid a hand upon herself.
He came near to her and held out his hand. "It has been a long six months since we met here," he said.
She made no motion to take his hand. "I find days grow shorter as I grow older," she rejoined steadily, and smoothed her hair with her hand, making ready to put on her bonnet.
"Ah, do not put it on," he urged quickly, with a gesture. "It becomes you so--on your arm."
She had regained her self-possession. Pride, the best weapon of a woman, the best tonic, came to her resource. "Thee loves to please thee at any cost," she replied. She fastened the grey strings beneath her chin.
"Would it be costly to keep the bonnet on your arm?"
"It is my pleasure to have it on my head, and my pleasure has some value to myself."
"A moment ago," he rejoined laughing, "it was your pleasure to have it on your arm."
"Are all to be monotonous except Lord Eglington? Is he to have the only patent of change?"
"Do I change?" He smiled at her with a sense of inquisition, with an air that seemed to say, "I have lifted the veil of this woman's heart; I am the master of the situation."
She did not answer to the obvious meaning of his words, but said:
"Thee has done little else but change, so far as eye can see. Thee and thy family were once of Quaker faith, but thee is a High Churchman now. Yet they said a year ago thee was a sceptic or an infidel."
"There is force in what you say," he replied. "I have an inquiring mind; I am ever open to reason. Confucius said: 'It is only the supremely wise or the deeply ignorant who never alter.'"
"Thee has changed politics. Thee made a 'sensation, but that was not enough. Thee that was a rebel became a deserter."
He laughed. "Ah, I was open to conviction! I took my life in my hands, defied consequences." He laughed again.
"It brought office."
"I am Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs," he murmured complacently.
"Change is a policy with thee, I think. It has paid thee well, so it would seem."
"Only a fair rate of interest for the capital invested and the risks I've taken," he answered with an amused look.
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