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- The Weavers, Volume 5. - 1/8 -
By Gilbert Parker
XXXV. THE FLIGHT OF THE WOUNDED XXXVI. "IS IT ALWAYS SO-IN LIFE?" XXXVII. THE FLYING SHUTTLE XXXVIII. JASPER KIMBER SPEAKS XXXIX. FAITH JOURNEYS TO LONDON
THE FLIGHT OF THE WOUNDED
"And Mario can soothe with a tenor note The souls in purgatory."
"Non ti scordar di mi!" The voice rang out with passionate stealthy sweetness, finding its way into far recesses of human feeling. Women of perfect poise and with the confident look of luxury and social fame dropped their eyes abstractedly on the opera-glasses lying in their laps, or the programmes they mechanically fingered, and recalled, they knew not why--for what had it to do with this musical narration of a tragic Italian tale!--the days when, in the first flush of their wedded life, they had set a seal of devotion and loyalty and love upon their arms, which, long ago, had gone to the limbo of lost jewels, with the chaste, fresh desires of worshipping hearts. Young egotists, supremely happy and defiant in the pride of the fact that they loved each other, and that it mattered little what the rest of the world enjoyed, suffered, and endured--these were suddenly arrested in their buoyant and solitary flight, and stirred restlessly in their seats. Old men whose days of work were over; who no longer marshalled their legions, or moved at a nod great ships upon the waters in masterful manoeuvres; whose voices were heard no more in chambers of legislation, lashing partisan feeling to a height of cruelty or lulling a storm among rebellious followers; whose intellects no longer devised vast schemes of finance, or applied secrets of science to transform industry--these heard the enthralling cry of a soul with the darkness of eternal loss gathering upon it, and drew back within themselves; for they too had cried like this one time or another in their lives. Stricken, they had cried out, and ambition had fled away, leaving behind only the habit of living, and of work and duty.
As Hylda, in the Duchess of Snowdon's box, listened with a face which showed nothing of what she felt, and looking straight at the stage before her, the words of a poem she had learned but yesterday came to her mind, and wove themselves into the music thrilling from the voice in the stage prison:
"And what is our failure here but a triumph's evidence For the fulness of the days? Have we withered or agonised? Why else was the pause prolonged but that singing might issue thence? Why rushed the discords in, but that harmony should be prized?"
"And what is our failure here but a triumph's evidence? Was it then so? The long weeks which had passed since that night at Hamley, when she had told Eglington the truth about so many things, had brought no peace, no understanding, no good news from anywhere. The morning after she had spoken with heart laid bare. Eglington had essayed to have a reconciliation; but he had come as the martyr, as one injured. His egotism at such a time, joined to his attempt to make light of things, of treating what had happened as a mere "moment of exasperation," as "one of those episodes inseparable from the lives of the high-spirited," only made her heart sink and grow cold, almost as insensible as the flesh under a spray of ether. He had been neither wise nor patient. She had not slept after that bitter, terrible scene, and the morning had found her like one battered by winter seas, every nerve desperately alert to pain, yet tears swimming at her heart and ready to spring to her eyes at a touch of the real thing, the true note--and she knew so well what the true thing was! Their great moment had passed, had left her withdrawn into herself, firmly, yet without heart, performing the daily duties of life, gay before the world, the delightful hostess, the necessary and graceful figure at so many functions.
Even as Soolsby had done, who went no further than to tell Eglington his dark tale, and told no one else, withholding it from "Our Man"; as Sybil Lady Eglington had shrunk when she had been faced by her obvious duty, so Hylda hesitated, but from better reason than either. To do right in the matter was to strike her husband--it must be a blow now, since her voice had failed. To do right was to put in the ancient home and house of Eglington one whom he--with anger and without any apparent desire to have her altogether for himself, all the riches of her life and love--had dared to say commanded her sympathy and interest, not because he was a man dispossessed of his rights, but because he was a man possessed of that to which he had no right. The insult had stung her, had driven her back into a reserve, out of which she seemed unable to emerge. How could she compel Eglington to do right in this thing--do right by his own father's son?
Meanwhile, that father's son was once more imperilling his life, once more putting England's prestige in the balance in the Soudan, from which he had already been delivered twice as though by miracles. Since he had gone, months before, there had been little news; but there had been much public anxiety; and she knew only too well that there had been 'pourparlers' with foreign ministers, from which no action came safe- guarding David.
Many a human being has realised the apathy, the partial paralysis of the will, succeeding a great struggle, which has exhausted the vital forces. Many a general who has fought a desperate and victorious fight after a long campaign, and amid all the anxieties and miseries of war, has failed to follow up his advantage, from a sudden lesion of the power for action in him. He has stepped from the iron routine of daily effort into a sudden freedom, and his faculties have failed him, the iron of his will has vanished. So it was with Hylda. She waited for she knew not what. Was it some dim hope that Eglington might see the right as she saw it? That he might realise how unreal was this life they were living, outwardly peaceful and understanding, deluding the world, but inwardly a place of tears. How she dreaded the night and its recurrent tears, and the hours when she could not sleep, and waited for the joyless morning, as one lost on the moor, blanched with cold, waits for the sun-rise! Night after night at a certain hour--the hour when she went to bed at last after that poignant revelation to Eglington--she wept, as she had wept then, heart-broken tears of disappointment, disillusion, loneliness; tears for the bitter pity of it all; for the wasting and wasted opportunities; for the common aim never understood or planned together; for the precious hours lived in an air of artificial happiness and social excitement; for a perfect understanding missed; for the touch which no longer thrilled.
But the end of it all must come. She was looking frail and delicate, and her beauty, newly refined, and with a fresh charm, as of mystery or pain, was touched by feverishness. An old impatience once hers was vanished, and Kate Heaver would have given a month's wages for one of those flashes of petulance of other days ever followed by a smile. Now the smile was all too often there, the patient smile which comes to those who have suffered. Hardness she felt at times, where Eglington was concerned, for he seemed to need her now not at all, to be self-contained, self- dependent--almost arrogantly so; but she did not show it, and she was outwardly patient.
In his heart of hearts Eglington believed that she loved him, that her interest in David was only part of her idealistic temperament--the admiration of a woman for a man of altruistic aims; but his hatred of David, of what David was, and of his irrefutable claims, reacted on her. Perverseness and his unhealthy belief that he would master her in the end, that she would one day break down and come to him, willing to take his view in all things, and to be his slave--all this drove him farther and farther on a fatal, ever-broadening path.
Success had spoiled him. He applied his gifts in politics, daringly unscrupulous, superficially persuasive, intellectually insinuating, to his wife; and she, who had been captured once by all these things, was not to be captured again. She knew what alone could capture her; and, as she sat and watched the singers on the stage now, the divine notes of that searching melody still lingering in her heart, there came a sudden wonder whether Eglington's heart could not be wakened. She knew that it never had been, that he had never known love, the transfiguring and reclaiming passion. No, no, surely it could not be too late--her marriage with him had only come too soon! He had ridden over her without mercy; he had robbed her of her rightful share of the beautiful and the good; he had never loved her; but if love came to him, if he could but once realise how much there was of what he had missed! If he did not save himself--and her--what would be the end? She felt the cords drawing her elsewhere; the lure of a voice she had heard in an Egyptian garden was in her ears. One night at Hamley, in an abandonment of grief-life hurt her so--she had remembered the prophecy she had once made that she would speak to David, and that he would hear; and she had risen from her seat, impelled by a strange new feeling, and had cried: "Speak! speak to me!" As plainly as she had ever heard anything in her life, she had heard his voice speak to her a message that sank into the innermost recesses of her being, and she had been more patient afterwards. She had no doubt whatever; she had spoken to him, and he had answered; but the answer was one which all the world might have heard.
Down deep in her nature was an inalienable loyalty, was a simple, old-fashioned feeling that "they two," she and Eglington, should cleave unto each other till death should part. He had done much to shatter that feeling; but now, as she listened to Mario's voice, centuries of predisposition worked in her, and a great pity awoke in her heart. Could she not save him, win him, wake him, cure him of the disease of Self?
The thought brought a light to her eyes which had not been there for many a day. Out of the deeps of her soul this mist of a pure selflessness rose, the spirit of that idealism which was the real chord of sympathy between her and Egypt.
Yes, she would, this once again, try to win the heart of this man; and so reach what was deeper than heart, and so also give him that without which his life must be a failure in the end, as Sybil Eglington had said. How often had those bitter anguished words of his mother rung in her ears-- "So brilliant and unscrupulous, like yourself; but, oh, so sure of winning a great place in the world . . . so calculating and determined and ambitious !" They came to her now, flashed between the eager solicitous eyes of her mind and the scene of a perfect and everlasting reconciliation which it conjured up--flashed and were gone; for her will rose up and blurred them into mist; and other words of that true palimpsest of Sybil Eglington's broken life came instead: "And though he loves me little, as he loves you little too, yet he is my son, and for what he is we are both responsible one way or another." As the mother,
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