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- The Weavers, Volume 3. - 4/27 -


awaiting them. Faith was as pale as when she had met Eglington. As she came nearer, Luke Claridge said, in a low voice:

"How do I find thee in this company, Faith?" There was reproach unutterable in his voice, in his face. He seemed humiliated and shamed, though all the while a violent spirit in him was struggling for the mastery.

"As I came this way to visit my sister's grave I met my lord by the mill. He spoke to me, and, as I wished a favour of him, I walked with him thither--but a little way. I was going to visit my sister's grave."

"Thy sister's grave!" The fire flamed up again, but the masterful will chilled it down, and he answered: "What secret business can thee have with any of that name which I have cast out of knowledge or notice?"

Ignorant as he was of the old man's cause for quarrel or dislike, Eglington felt himself aggrieved, and, therefore, with an advantage.

"You had differences with my father, sir," he said. "I do not know what they were, but they lasted his lifetime, and all my life you have treated me with aversion. I am not a pestilence. I have never wronged you. I have lived your peaceful neighbour under great provocation, for your treatment would have done me harm if my place were less secure. I think I have cause for complaint."

"I have never acted in haste concerning thee, or those who went before thee. What business had thee with him, Faith?" he asked again. His voice was dry and hard.

Her impulse was to tell the truth, and so for ever have her conscience clear, for there would never be any more need for secrecy. The wheel of understanding between Eglington and herself had come full circle, and there was an end. But to tell the truth would be to wound her father, to vex him against Eglington even as he had never yet been vexed. Besides, it was hard, while Eglington was there, to tell what, after all, was the sole affair of her own life. In one literal sense, Eglington was not guilty of deceit. Never in so many words had he said to her: "I love you;" never had he made any promise to her or exacted one; he had done no more than lure her to feel one thing, and then to call it another thing. Also there was no direct and vital injury, for she had never loved him; though how far she had travelled towards that land of light and trial she could never now declare. These thoughts flashed through her mind as she stood looking at her father. Her tongue seemed imprisoned, yet her soft and candid eyes conquered the austerity in the old man's gaze.

Eglington spoke for her.

"Permit me to answer, neighbour," he said. "I wished to speak with your daughter, because I am to be married soon, and my wife will, at intervals, come here to live. I wished that she should not be shunned by you and yours as I have been. She would not understand, as I do not. Yours is a constant call to war, while all your religion is an appeal for peace. I wished to ask your daughter to influence you to make it possible for me and mine to live in friendship among you. My wife will have some claims upon you. Her mother was an American, of a Quaker family from Derbyshire. She has done nothing to merit your aversion."

Faith listened astonished and baffled. Nothing of this had he said to her. Had he meant to say it to her? Had it been in his mind? Or was it only a swift adaptation to circumstances, an adroit means of working upon the sympathies of her father, who, she could see, was in a quandary? Eglington had indeed touched the old man as he had not been touched in thirty years and more by one of his name. For a moment the insinuating quality of the appeal submerged the fixed idea in a mind to which the name of Eglington was anathema.

Eglington saw his advantage. He had felt his way carefully, and he pursued it quickly. "For the rest, your daughter asked what I was ready to offer--such help as, in my new official position, I can give to Claridge Pasha in Egypt. As a neighbour, as Minister in the Government, I will do what I can to aid him."

Silent and embarrassed, the old man tried to find his way. Presently he said tentatively: "David Claridge has a title to the esteem of all civilised people." Eglington was quick with his reply. "If he succeeds, his title will become a concrete fact. There is no honour the Crown would not confer for such remarkable service."

The other's face darkened. "I did not speak, I did not think, of handles to his name. I find no good in them, but only means for deceiving and deluding the world. Such honours as might make him baronet, or duke, would add not a cubit to his stature. If he had such a thing by right" --his voice hardened, his eyes grew angry once again--"I would wish it sunk into the sea."

"You are hard on us, sir, who did not give ourselves our titles, but took them with our birth as a matter of course. There was nothing inspiring in them. We became at once distinguished and respectable by patent."

He laughed good-humouredly. Then suddenly he changed, and his eyes took on a far-off look which Faith had seen so often in the eyes of David, but in David's more intense and meaning, and so different. With what deftness and diplomacy had he worked upon her father! He had crossed a stream which seemed impassable by adroit, insincere diplomacy.

She saw that it was time to go, while yet Eglington's disparagement of rank and aristocracy was ringing in the old man's ears; though she knew there was nothing in Eglington's equipment he valued more than his title and the place it gave him. Grateful, however, for his successful intervention, Faith now held out her hand.

"I must take my father away, or it will be sunset before we reach the Meeting-house," she said. "Goodbye-friend," she added gently.

For an instant Luke Claridge stared at her, scarce comprehending that his movements were being directed by any one save himself. Truth was, Faith had come to her cross-roads in life. For the first time in her memory she had seen her father speak to an Eglington without harshness; and, as he weakened for a moment, she moved to take command of that weakness, though she meant it to seem like leading. While loving her and David profoundly, her father had ever been quietly imperious. If she could but gain ascendency even in a little, it might lead to a more open book of life for them both.

Eglington held out his hand to the old man. "I have kept you too long, sir. Good-bye--if you will."

The offered hand was not taken, but Faith slid hers into the old man's palm, and pressed it, and he said quietly to Eglington:

"Good evening, friend."

"And when I bring my wife, sir?" Eglington added, with a smile.

"When thee brings the lady, there will be occasion to consider--there will be occasion then."

Eglington raised his hat, and turned back upon the path he and Faith had travelled.

The old man stood watching him until he was out of view. Then he seemed more himself. Still holding Faith's hand, he walked with her on the gorse-covered hill towards the graveyard.

"Was it his heart spoke or his tongue--is there any truth in him?" he asked at last.

Faith pressed his hand. "If he help Davy, father--"

"If he help Davy; ay, if he help Davy! Nay, I cannot go to the graveyard, Faith. Take me home," he said with emotion.

His hand remained in hers. She had conquered. She was set upon a new path of influence. Her hand was upon the door of his heart.

"Thee is good to me, Faith," he said, as they entered the door of the Red Mansion.

She glanced over towards the Cloistered House. Smoke was coming from the little chimney of the laboratory.

CHAPTER XVII

THE WOMAN OF THE CROSS-ROADS

The night came down slowly. There was no moon, the stars were few, but a mellow warmth was in the air. At the window of her little sitting-room up-stairs Faith sat looking out into the stillness. Beneath was the garden with its profusion of flowers and fruit; away to the left was the common; and beyond-far beyond--was a glow in the sky, a suffused light, of a delicate orange, merging away into a grey-blueness, deepening into a darker blue; and then a purple depth, palpable and heavy with a comforting silence.

There was something alluring and suggestive in the soft, smothered radiance. It had all the glamour of some distant place of pleasure and quiet joy, of happiness and ethereal being. It was, in fact, the far-off mirror of the flaming furnace of the great Heddington factories. The light of the sky above was a soft radiance, as of a happy Arcadian land; the fire of the toil beneath was the output of human striving, an intricate interweaving of vital forces which, like some Titanic machine, wrought out in pain--a vast destiny.

As Faith looked, she thought of the thousands beneath struggling and striving, none with all desires satisfied, some in an agony of want and penury, all straining for the elusive Enough; like Sisyphus ever rolling the rock of labour up a hill too steep for them.

Her mind flew to the man Kimber and his task of organising labour for its own advance. What a life-work for a man! Here might David have spent his days, here among his own countrymen, instead of in that far-off land where all the forces of centuries were fighting against him. Here the forces would have been fighting for him; the trend was towards the elevation of the standards of living and the wider rights of labour, to the amelioration of hard conditions of life among the poor. David's mind, with its equity, its balance, and its fire--what might it not have accomplished in shepherding such a cause, guiding its activity?

The gate of the garden clicked. Kate Heaver had arrived. Faith got to her feet and left the room.

A few minutes later the woman of the cross-roads was seated opposite Faith at the window. She had changed greatly since the day David had sent her on her way to London and into the unknown. Then there had been recklessness, something of coarseness, in the fine face. Now it was strong and quiet, marked by purpose and self-reliance.


The Weavers, Volume 3. - 4/27

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