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- The Weavers, Volume 6. - 10/11 -

high rock above the river, the fires on the shore, the masts of the dahabiehs twinkling with lights, and the barbarous songs floating across the water, gave the feeling of past centuries to the scene. From the splendid boat which Kaid had placed at his disposal David looked out upon it all, with emotions not yet wholly mastered by the true estimate of what this day had brought to him. With a mind unsettled he listened to the natives in the forepart of the boat and on the shore, beating the darabukkeh and playing the kemengeh. Yet it was moving in a mist and on a flood of greater happiness than he had ever known.

He did not know as yet that Eglington was gone for ever. He did not know that the winds of time had already swept away all traces of the house of ambition which Eglington had sought to build; and that his nimble tongue and untrustworthy mind would never more delude and charm, and wanton with truth. He did not know, but within the past hour Hylda knew; and now out of the night Soolsby came to tell him.

He was roused from his reverie by Soolsby's voice saying: "Hast nowt to say to me, Egyptian?"

It startled him, sounded ghostly in the moonlight; for why should he hear Soolsby's voice on the confines of Egypt? But Soolsby came nearer, and stood where the moonlight fell upon him, hat in hand, a rustic modern figure in this Oriental world.

David sprang to his feet and grasped the old man by the shoulders. "Soolsby, Soolsby," he said, with a strange plaintive-note in his voice, yet gladly, too. "Soolsby, thee is come here to welcome me! But has she not come--Miss Claridge, Soolsby?"

He longed for that true heart which had never failed him, the simple soul whose life had been filled by thought and care of him, and whose every act had for its background the love of sister for brother--for that was their relation in every usual meaning--who, too frail and broken to come to him now, waited for him by the old hearthstone. And so Soolsby, in his own way, made him understand; for who knew them both better than this old man, who had shared in David's destiny since the fatal day when Lord Eglington had married Mercy Claridge in secret, had set in motion a long line of tragic happenings?

"Ay, she would have come, she would have come," Soolsby answered, "but she was not fit for the journey, and there was little time, my lord."

"Why did thee come, Soolsby? Only to welcome me back?"

"I come to bring you back to England, to your duty there, my lord."

The first time Soolsby had used the words "my lord," David had scarcely noticed it, but its repetition struck him strangely.

"Here, sometimes they call me Pasha and Saadat, but I am not 'my lord,'" he said.

"Ay, but you are my lord, Egyptian, as sure as I've kept my word to you that I'd drink no more, ay, on my sacred honour. So you are my lord; you are Lord Eglington, my lord."

David stood rigid and almost unblinking as Soolsby told his tale, beginning with the story of Eglington's death, and going back all the years to the day of Mercy Claridge's marriage.

"And him that never was Lord Eglington, your own father's son, is dead and gone, my lord; and you are come into your rights at last." This was the end of the tale.

For a long time David stood looking into the sparkling night before him, speechless and unmoving, his hands clasped behind him, his head bent forward, as though in a dream.

How, all in an instant, had life changed for him! How had Soolsby's tale of Eglington's death filled him with a pity deeper than he had ever felt- the futile, bitter, unaccomplished life, the audacious, brilliant genius quenched, a genius got from the same source as his own resistless energy and imagination, from the same wild spring. Gone--all gone, with only pity to cover him, unloved, unloving, unbemoaned, save by the Quaker girl whose true spirit he had hurt, save by the wife whom he had cruelly wronged and tortured; and pity was the thing that moved them both, unfathomable and almost maternal, in that sense of motherhood which, in spite of love or passion, is behind both, behind all, in every true woman's life.

At last David spoke.

"Who knows of all this--of who I am, Soolsby?"

"Lady Eglington and myself, my lord."

"Only she and you?"

"Only us two, Egyptian."

"Then let it be so--for ever."

Soolsby was startled, dumfounded.

"But you will take your title and estates, my lord; you will take the place which is your own."

"And prove my grandfather wrong? Had he not enough sorrow? And change my life, all to please thee, Soolsby?"

He took the old man's shoulders in his hands again. "Thee has done thy duty as few in this world, Soolsby, and given friendship such as few give. But thee must be content. I am David Claridge, and so shall remain ever."

"Then, since he has no male kin, the title dies, and all that's his will go to her ladyship," Soolsby rejoined sourly.

"Does thee grudge her ladyship what was his?"

"I grudge her what is yours, my lord--"

Suddenly Soolsby paused, as though a new thought had come to him, and he nodded to himself in satisfaction. "Well, since you will have it so, it will be so, Egyptian; but it is a queer fuddle, all of it; and where's the way out, tell me that, my lord?"

David spoke impatiently. "Call me 'my lord' no more. . . . But I will go back to England to her that's waiting at the Red Mansion, and you will remember, Soolsby--"

Slowly the great flotilla of dahabiehs floated with the strong current down towards Cairo, the great sails swelling to the breeze that blew from the Libyan Hills. Along the bank of the Nile thousands of Arabs and fellaheen crowded to welcome "the Saadat," bringing gifts of dates and eggs and fowls and dourha and sweetmeats, and linen cloth; and even in the darkness and in the trouble that was on her, and the harrowing regret that she had not been with Eglington in his last hour--she little knew what Eglington had said to Faith in that last hour--Hylda's heart was soothed by the long, loud tribute paid to David.

As she sat in the evening light, David and Lacey came, and were received by the Duchess of Snowdon, who could only say to David, as she held his hand, "Windlehurst sent his regards to you, his loving regards. He was sure you would come home--come home. He wished he were in power for your sake."

So, for a few moments she talked vaguely, and said at last: "But Lady Eglington, she will be glad to see you, such old friends as you are, though not so old as Windlehurst and me--thirty years, over thirty la, la!"

They turned to go to Hylda, and came face to face with Kate Heaver.

Kate looked at David as one would look who saw a lost friend return from the dead. His eyes lighted, he held out his hand to her.

"It is good to see thee here," he said gently. "And 'tis the cross-roads once again, sir," she rejoined.

"Thee means thee will marry Jasper?"

"Ay, I will marry Jasper now," she answered. "It has been a long waiting."

"It could not be till now," she responded.

David looked at her reflectively, and said: "By devious ways the human heart comes home. One can only stand in the door and wait. He has been patient."

"I have been patient, too," she answered.

As the Duchess disappeared with David, a swift change came over Lacey. He spun round on one toe, and, like a boy of ten, careered around the deck to the tune of a negro song.

"Say, things are all right in there with them two, and it's my turn now," he said. "Cute as she can be, and knows the game! Twice a widow, and knows the game! Waiting, she is down in Cairo, where the orange blossom blows. I'm in it; we're all in it--every one of us. Cousin Hylda's free now, and I've got no past worth speaking of; and, anyhow, she'll understand, down there in Cairo. Cute as she can be--"

Suddenly he swung himself down to the deck below. "The desert's the place for me to-night," he said. Stepping ashore, he turned to where the Duchess stood on the deck, gazing out into the night. "Well, give my love to the girls," he called, waving a hand upwards, as it were to the wide world, and disappeared into the alluring whiteness.

"I've got to get a key-thought," he muttered to himself, as he walked swiftly on, till only faint sounds came to him from the riverside. In the letter he had written to Hylda, which was the turning-point of all for her, he had spoken of these "key-thoughts." With all the childishness he showed at times, he had wisely felt his way into spheres where life had depth and meaning. The desert had justified him to himself and before the spirits of departed peoples, who wandered over the sands, until at last they became sand also, and were blown hither and thither, to make beds for thousands of desert wayfarers, or paths for camels' feet, or a blinding storm to overwhelm the traveller and the caravan; Life giving and taking, and absorbing and destroying, and destroying and absorbing, till the circle of human existence wheel to the full, and the task of Time be accomplished.

On the gorse-grown common above Hamley, David and Faith, and David's mother Mercy, had felt the same soul of things stirring--in the green things of green England, in the arid wastes of the Libyan desert, on the bosom of the Nile, where Mahommed Hassan now lay in a nugger singing a song of passion, Nature, with burning voice, murmuring down the unquiet

The Weavers, Volume 6. - 10/11

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