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- The Weavers, Volume 3. - 3/27 -
"I do not think that interest will increase. Thee has climbed quickly, but fast climbing is not always safe climbing."
His mood changed. His voice quickened, his face lowered. "You think I will fail? You wish me to fail?"
"In so far as thee acts uprightly, I wish thee well. But if, out of office, thee disregards justice and conscience and the rights of others, can thee be just and faithful in office? Subtlety will not always avail. The strong man takes the straight course. Subtlety is not intellect."
He flushed. She had gone to the weakest point in his defences. His vanity was being hurt. She had an advantage now.
"You are wrong," he protested. "You do not understand public life, here in a silly Quaker village."
"Does thee think that all that happens in 'public life' is of consequence? That is not sensible. Thee is in the midst of a thousand immaterial things, though they have importance for the moment. But the chief things that matter to all, does thee not know that a 'silly Quaker village' may realise them to the full--more fully because we see them apart from the thousand little things that do not matter? I remember a thing in political life that mattered. It was at Heddington after the massacre at Damascus. Does thee think that we did not know thee spoke without principle then, and only to draw notice?"
"You would make me into a demagogue," he said irritably.
"Thee is a demagogue," she answered candidly.
"Why did you never say all this to me long ago? Years have passed since then, and since then you and I have--have been friends. You have--"
He paused, for she made a protesting motion, and a fire sprang into her eyes. Her voice got colder. "Thee made me believe--ah, how many times did we speak together? Six times it was, not more. Thee made me believe that what I thought or said helped thee to see things better. Thee said I saw things truly like a child, with the wisdom of a woman. Thee remembers that?"
"It was so," he put in hastily.
"No, not for a moment so, though I was blinded to think for an instant that it was. Thee subtly took the one way which could have made me listen to thee. Thee wanted help, thee said; and if a word of mine could help thee now and then, should I withhold it, so long as I thought thee honest?"
"Do you think I was not honest in wanting your friendship?"
"Nay, it was not friendship thee wanted, for friendship means a giving and a getting. Thee was bent on getting what was, indeed, of but little value save to the giver; but thee gave nothing; thee remembered nothing of what was given thee."
"It is not so, it is not so," he urged eagerly, nervously. "I gave, and I still give."
"In those old days, I did not understand," she went on, "what it was thee wanted. I know now. It was to know the heart and mind of a woman--of a woman older than thee. So that thee should have such sort of experience, though I was but a foolish choice of the experiment. They say thee has a gift for chemistry like thy father; but if thee experiments no more wisely in the laboratory than with me, thee will not reach distinction."
"Your father hated my father and did not believe in him, I know not why, and you are now hating and disbelieving me."
"I do not know why my father held the late Earl in abhorrence; I know he has no faith in thee; and I did ill in listening to thee, in believing for one moment there was truth in thee. But no, no, I think I never believed it. I think that even when thee said most, at heart I believed least."
"You doubt that? You doubt all I said to you?" he urged softly, coming close to her.
She drew aside slightly. She had steeled herself for this inevitable interview, and there was no weakening of her defences; but a great sadness came into her eyes, and spread over her face, and to this was added, after a moment, a pity which showed the distance she was from him, the safety in which she stood.
"I remember that the garden was beautiful, and that thee spoke as though thee was part of the garden. Thee remembers that, at our meeting in the Cloistered House, when the woman was ill, I had no faith in thee; but thee spoke with grace, and turned common things round about, so that they seemed different to the ear from any past hearing; and I listened. I did not know, and I do not know now, why it is my duty to shun any of thy name, and above all thyself; but it has been so commanded by my father all my life; and though what he says may be in a little wrong, in much it must ever be right."
"And so, from a hatred handed down, your mind has been tuned to shun even when your heart was learning to give me a home--Faith?"
She straightened herself. "Friend, thee will do me the courtesy to forget to use my Christian name. I am not a child-indeed, I am well on in years"--he smiled--"and thee has no friendship or kinship for warrant. If my mind was tuned to shun thee, I gave proof that it was willing to take thee at thine own worth, even against the will of my father, against the desire of David, who knew thee better than I--he gauged thee at first glance."
"You have become a philosopher and a statesman," he said ironically. "Has your nephew, the new Joseph in Egypt, been giving you instructions in high politics? Has he been writing the Epistles of David to the Quakers?"
"Thee will leave his name apart," she answered with dignity. "I have studied neither high politics nor statesmanship, though in the days when thee did flatter me thee said I had a gift for such things. Thee did not speak the truth. And now I will say that I do not respect thee. No matter how high thee may climb, still I shall not respect thee; for thee will ever gain ends by flattery, by subtlety, and by using every man and every woman for selfish ends. Thee cannot be true-not even to that which by nature is greatest in thee.".
He withered under her words.
"And what is greatest in me?" he asked abruptly, his coolness and self- possession striving to hold their own.
"That which will ruin thee in the end." Her eyes looked beyond his into the distance, rapt and shining; she seemed scarcely aware of his presence. "That which will bring thee down--thy hungry spirit of discovery. It will serve thee no better than it served the late Earl. But thee it will lead into paths ending in a gulf of darkness."
"Deborah!" he answered, with a rasping laugh. "Continuez! Forewarned is forearmed."
"No, do not think I shall be glad," she answered, still like one in a dream. "I shall lament it as I lament--as I lament now. All else fades away into the end which I see for thee. Thee will live alone without a near and true friend, and thee will die alone, never having had a true friend. Thee will never be a true friend, thee will never love truly man or woman, and thee will never find man or woman who will love thee truly, or will be with thee to aid thee in the dark and falling days."
"Then," he broke in sharply, querulously, "then, I will stand alone. I shall never come whining that I have been ill-used, to fate or fortune, to men or to the Almighty."
"That I believe. Pride will build up in thee a strength which will be like water in the end. Oh, my lord," she added, with a sudden change in her voice and manner, "if thee could only be true--thee who never has been true to any one!"
"Why does a woman always judge a man after her own personal experience with him, or what she thinks is her own personal experience?"
A robin hopped upon the path before her. She watched it for a moment intently, then lifted her head as the sound of a bell came through the wood to her. She looked up at the sun, which was slanting towards evening. She seemed about to speak, but with second thought, moved on slowly past the mill and towards the Meeting-house. He stepped on beside her. She kept her eyes fixed in front of her, as though oblivious of his presence.
"You shall hear me speak. You shall listen to what I have to say, though it is for the last time," he urged stubbornly. "You think ill of me. Are you sure you are not pharisaical?"
"I am honest enough to say that which hurts me in the saying. I do not forget that to believe thee what I think is to take all truth from what thee said to me last year, and again this spring when the tulips first came and there was good news from Egypt."
"I said," he rejoined boldly, "that I was happier with you than with any one else alive. I said that what you thought of me meant more to me than what any one else in the world thought; and that I say now, and will always say it."
The old look of pity came into her face. "I am older than thee by two years," she answered quaintly, "and I know more of real life, though I have lived always here. I have made the most of the little I have seen; thee has made little of the much that thee has seen. Thee does not know the truth concerning thee. Is it not, in truth, vanity which would have me believe in thee? If thee was happier with me than with any one alive, why then did thee make choice of a wife even in the days thee was speaking to me as no man shall ever speak again? Nothing can explain so base a fact. No, no, no, thee said to me what thee said to others, and will say again without shame. But--but see, I will forgive; yes, I will follow thee with good wishes, if thee will promise to help David, whom thee has ever disliked, as, in the place held by thee, thee can do now. Will thee offer this one proof, in spite of all else that disproves, that thee spoke any words of truth to me in the Cloistered House, in the garden by my father's house, by yonder mill, and hard by the Meeting-house yonder-near to my sister's grave by the willow-tree? Will thee do that for me?"
He was about to reply, when there appeared in the path before them Luke Claridge. His back was upon them, but he heard their footsteps and swung round. As though turned to stone, he waited for them. As they approached, his lips, dry and pale, essayed to speak, but no sound came. A fire was in his eyes which boded no good. Amazement, horror, deadly anger, were all there, but, after a moment, the will behind the tumult commanded it, the wild light died away, and he stood calm and still
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