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- The World For Sale, Volume 2. - 20/28 -


His eyes blazed. There was something almost real in the man after all.

"The English can kill us, they can grind us to the dust," he rejoined in French, "but we will not leave the land which has always been ours. We settled it; our fathers gave their lives for it in a thousand places. The Indians killed them, the rivers and the storms, the plague and the fire, the sickness and the cold wiped them out. They were burned alive at the stake, they were flayed; their bones were broken to pieces by stones--but they blazed trails with their blood in the wilderness from New Orleans to Hudson's Bay. They paid for the land with their lives. Then the English came and took it, and since that time--one hundred and fifty years--we have been slaves."

"You do not look like a slave," she answered, "and you have not acted like a slave. If you were to do the things in France that you've done here, you wouldn't be free as you are to-day."

"What have I done?" he asked darkly.

"You were the cause of what happened at Barbazon's last night,"--he smiled evilly--"you are egging on the roughs to break up the Orange funeral to-day; and there is all the rest you know so well."

"What is the rest I know so well?" He looked closely at her, his long, mongrel eyes half-closing with covert scrutiny.

"Whatever it is, it is all bad and it is all yours."

"Not all," he retorted coolly. "You forget your Gipsy friend. He did his part last night, and he's still free."

They had entered the last little stretch of wood in which her home lay, and she slackened her footsteps slightly. She felt that she had been unwise in challenging him; that she ought to try persistently to win him over. It was repugnant to her, still it must be done even yet. She mastered herself for Ingolby's sake and changed her tactics.

"As you glory in what you have done, you won't mind being responsible for all that's happened," she replied in a more friendly tone.

She made an impulsive gesture towards him.

"You have shown what power you have--isn't that enough?" she asked. "You have made the crowd shout, 'Vive Marchand !' You can make everything as peaceful as it is now upset. If you don't do so, there will be much misery. If peace must be got by force, then the force of government will get it in the end. You have the gift of getting hold of the worst men here, and you have done it; but won't you now master them again in the other way? You have money and brains; why not use them to become a leader of those who will win at last, no matter what the game may be?"

He came close to her. She shrank inwardly, but she did not move. His greenish eyes were wide open in the fulness of eloquence and desire.

"You have a tongue like none I ever heard," he said impulsively. "You've got a mind that thinks, you've got dash and can take risks. You took risks that day on the Carillon Rapids. It was only the day before that I'd met you by the old ford of the Sagalac, and made up to you. You choked me off as though I was a wolf or a devil on the loose. The next day when I saw Ingolby hand you out to the crowd from his arms, I got nasty--I have fits like that sometimes, when I've had a little too much liquor. I felt it more because you're the only kind of woman that could ever get a real hold on me. It was you made me get the boys rampaging and set the toughs moving. As you say, I can get hold of a crowd. It's not hard--with money and drink. You can buy human nature cheap. Every man has his price they say--and every woman too--bien sur! The thing is to find out what is the price, and then how to buy. You can't buy everyone in the same way, even if you use a different price. You've got to find out how they want the price--whether it's to be handed over the counter, so to speak, or to be kept on the window-sill, or left in a pocket, or dropped in a path, or dug up like a potato, with a funny make- believe that fools nobody, but just plays to the hypocrite in everyone everywhere. I'm saying this to you because you've seen more of the world, I bet, than one in a million, even though you're so young. I don't see why we can't come together. I'm to be bought. I don't say that my price isn't high. You've got your price, too. You wouldn't fuss yourself about things here in Manitou and Lebanon, if there wasn't something you wanted to get. Tout ca! Well, isn't it worth while making the bargain? You've got such gift of speech that I'm just as if I'd been drugged, and all round, face, figure, eyes, hair, foot, and girdle, you're worth giving up a lot for. I've seen plenty of your sex, and I've heard crowds of them talk, but they never had anything for me beyond the minute. You've got the real thing. You're my fancy. You've been thinking and dreaming of Ingolby. He's done. He's a back number. There's nothing he's done that isn't on the tumble since last night. The financial gang that he downed are out already against him. They'll have his economic blood. He made a splash while he was at it, but the alligator's got him. It's 'Exit Ingolby,' now."

She made a passionate gesture, and seemed about to speak, but he went on: "No, don't say anything. I know how you feel. You've had your face turned his way, and you can't look elsewhere all at once. But Time cures quick, if you're a good healthy human being. Ingolby was the kind likely to draw a girl. He's a six-footer and over; he spangled a lot, and he smiled pretty--comme le printemps, and was sharp enough to keep clear of women that could hurt him. That was his strongest point after all, for a little, sly sprat of a woman that's made eyes at you and led you on, till you sent her a note in a hurry some time with some loose hot words in it, and she got what she'd wanted, will make you pay a hundred times for the goods you get. Ingolby was sharp enough to walk shy, until you came his way, and then he lost his underpinning. But last night got him in the vitals--hit him between the eyes; and his stock's not worth ten cents in the dollar to-day. But though the pumas are out, and he's done, and'll never see his way out of the hole he's in"--he laughed at his grisly joke"--it's natural to let him down easy. You've looked his way; he did you a good turn at the Carillon Rapids, and you'd do one for him if you could. I'm the only one can stop the worst from happening. You want to pay your debt to him. Good. I can help you do it. I can stop the strikes on the railways and in the mills. I can stop the row at the Orange funeral. I can stop the run on his bank and the drop in his stock. I can fight the gang that's against him--I know how. I'm the man that can bring things to pass."

He paused with a sly, mean smile of self-approval and conceit, and his tongue licked the corners of his mouth in a way that drunkards have in the early morning when the effect of last night's drinking has worn off. He spread out his hands with the air of a man who had unpacked his soul, but the chief characteristic of his manner was egregious belief in himself.

At first, in her desire to find a way to meet the needs of Ingolby, Fleda had listened to him with fortitude and even without revolt. But as he began to speak of women, and to refer to herself with a look of gloating which men of his breed cannot hide, her angry pulses beat hard. She did not quite know where he was leading, but she was sure he meant to say something which would vex her beyond bearing. At one moment she meant to cut short his narrative, but he prevented her, and when at last he ended, she was almost choking with agitation. It had been borne in upon her as his monologue proceeded, that she would rather die than accept anything from this man--anything of any kind. To fight him was the only thing. Nothing else could prevail in the end. His was the service of the unpenitent thief.

"And what is it you want to buy from me?" she asked evenly.

He did not notice, and he could not realize that ominous thing in her voice and face. "I want to be friends with you. I want to see you here in the woods, to meet you as you met Ingolby. I want to talk with you, to hear you talk; to learn things from you I never learned before; to--"

She interrupted him with a swift gesture. "And then--after that? What do you want at the end of it all? One cannot spend one's time talking and wandering in the woods and teaching and learning. After that, what?"

"I have a house in Montreal," he said evasively. "I don't want to live there alone." He laughed. "It's big enough for two, and at the end it might be us two, if--"

With sharp anger, yet with coolness and dignity, she broke in on his words. "Might be us two!" she exclaimed. "I have never thought of making my home in a sewer. Do you think--but, no, it isn't any use talking! You don't know how to deal with man or woman. You are perverted."

"I did not mean what you mean; I meant that I should want to marry you," he protested. "You think the worst of me. Someone has poisoned your mind against me."

"Everyone has poisoned my mind against you," she returned, "and yourself most of all. I know you will try to injure Mr. Ingolby; and I know that you will try to injure me; but you will not succeed."

She turned and moved away from him quickly, taking the path towards her own front door. He called something after her, but she did not or would not hear.

As she entered the open space in front of the house, she heard footsteps behind her and turned quickly, not without apprehension. A woman came hurrying towards her. She was pale, agitated, haggard with fatigue.

"May I speak with you?" she asked in French. "Surely," replied Fleda.

CHAPTER XV

THE WOMAN FROM WIND RIVER

"What is it?" asked Fleda, opening the door of the house.

"I want to speak to you about m'sieu'," replied the sad-faced woman. She made a motion of her head backwards towards the wood. "About M'sieu' Marchand."

Fleda's face hardened; she had had more than enough of "M'sieu' Marchand." She was bitterly ashamed that she had, even for a moment, thought of using diplomacy with him. But this woman's face was so forlorn, apart, and lonely, that the old spirit of the Open Road worked its will. In far-off days she had never seen a human being turned away from a Romany tent, or driven from a Romany camp. She opened the door and stood aside to admit the wayfarer.

A few moments later, the woman, tidied and freshened, sat at the ample breakfast which was characteristic of Romany home-life. The woman's plate was bountifully supplied by Fleda, and her cup filled more than once by Madame Bulteel, while old Gabriel Druse bulked friendly over all. His face now showed none of the passion and sternness which had been present when he passed the Sentence of the Patrin upon Jethro Fawe; nothing of the gloom filling his eyes as he left Ingolby's house. The


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