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- The World For Sale, Volume 3. - 1/14 -


By Gilbert Parker





"It's a fine day."

"Yes, it's beautiful."

Fleda wanted to ask how he knew, but hesitated from feelings of delicacy. Ingolby seemed to understand. A faint reflection of the old whimsical smile touched his lips, and his hands swept over the coverlet as though smoothing out a wrinkled map.

"The blind man gets new senses," he said dreamily. "I feel things where I used to see them. How did I know it was a fine day? Simple enough. When the door opened there was only the lightest breath of wind, and the air was fresh and crisp, and I could smell the sun. One sense less, more degree of power to the other senses. The sun warms the air, gives it a flavour, and between it and the light frost, which showed that it was dry outside, I got the smell of a fine Fall day. Also, I heard the cry of the wild fowl going South, and they wouldn't have made a sound if it hadn't been a fine day. And also, and likewise, and besides, and howsomever, I heard Jim singing, and that nigger never sings in bad weather. Jim's a fair-weather raven, and this morning he was singing like a 'lav'rock in the glen.'"

Being blind, he could not see that, suddenly, a storm of emotion swept over her face.

His cheerfulness, his boylike simplicity, his indomitable spirit, which had survived so much, and must still face so much, his almost childlike ways, and the naive description of a blind man's perception, waked in her an almost intolerable yearning. It was not the yearning of a maid for a man. It was the uncontrollable woman in her, the mother-thing, belonging to the first woman that ever was-protection of the weak, hovering love for the suffering, the ministering spirit.

Since Ingolby had been brought to the house in the pines, Madame Bulteel and herself, with Jim, had nursed him through the Valley of the Shadow. They had nursed him through brain-fever, through agonies which could not have been borne with consciousness. The tempest of the mind and the pains of misfortune went on from hour to hour, from day to day, almost without ceasing, until at last, a shadow of his former self, but with a wonderful light on his face which came from something within, he waited patiently for returning strength, propped up with pillows in the bed which had been Fleda's own, in the room outside which Jethro Fawe had sung his heathen serenade.

It was the room of the house which, catching the morning sun, was best suited for an invalid. So she had given it to him with an eagerness behind which was the feeling that somehow it made him more of the inner circle of her own life; for apart from every other feeling she had, there was in her a deep spirit of comradeship belonging to far-off times when her life was that of the open road, the hillside and the vale. In those days no man was a stranger; all belonged.

To meet, and greet, and pass was the hourly event, but the meeting and the greeting had in it the familiarity of a common wandering, the sympathy of the homeless. Had Ingolby been less to her than he was, there would still have been the comradeship which made her the great creature she was fast becoming. It was odd that, as Ingolby became thinner and thinner, and ever more wan, she, in spite of her ceaseless nursing, appeared to thrive physically. She had even slightly increased the fulness of her figure. The velvet of her cheeks had grown richer, and her eyes deeper with warm fire. It was as though she flourished on giving: as though a hundred nerves of being and feeling had opened up within her and had expanded her life like some fine flower.

Gazing at Ingolby now there was a great hungering desire in her heart. She looked at the sightless eyes, and a passionate protest sprang to her lips which, in spite of herself, broke forth in a sort of moan.

"What is it?" Ingolby asked, with startled face.

"Nothing," she answered, "nothing. I pricked my finger badly, that's all."

And, indeed, she had done so, but that would not have brought the moan to her lips.

"Well, it didn't sound like a pricked finger complaint," he remarked. "It was the kind of groan I'd give if I had a bad pain inside."

"Ah, but you're a man!" she remarked lightly, though two tears fell down her cheeks.

With an effort she recovered herself. "It's time for your tonic," she added, and she busied herself with giving it to him. "As soon as you have taken it, I'm going for a walk, so you must make up your mind to have some sleep."

"Am I to be left alone?" he asked, with an assumed grievance in his voice.

"Madame Bulteel will stay with you," she replied.

"Do you need a walk so very badly?" he asked presently.

"I don't suppose I need it, but I want it," she answered. "My feet and the earth are very friendly."

"Where do you walk?" he asked.

"Just anywhere," was her reply. "Sometimes up the river, sometimes down, sometimes miles away in the woods."

"Do you never take a gun with you?"

"Of course," she answered, nodding, as though he could see. "I get wild pigeons and sometimes a wild duck or a prairie-hen."

"That's right," he remarked; "that's right."

"I don't believe in walking just for the sake of walking," she continued. "It doesn't do you any good, but if you go for something and get it, that's what puts the mind and the body right."

Suddenly his face grew grave. "Yes, that's it," he remarked.

"To go for something you want, a long way off. You don't feel the fag when you're thinking of the thing at the end; but you've got to have the thing at the end, to keep making for it, or there's no good going--none at all. That's life; that's how it is. It's no good only walking-- you've got to walk somewhere. It's no good simply going--you've got to go somewhere. You've got to fight for something. That's why, when they take the something you fight for away--when they break you and cripple you, and you can't go anywhere for what you want badly, life isn't worth living."

An anxious look came into her face. This was the first time, since recovering consciousness, that he had referred, even indirectly, to all that had happened. She understood him well--ah, terribly well! It was the tragedy of the man stopped in his course because of one mistake, though he had done ten thousand wise things. The power taken from his hands, the interrupted life, the dark future, the beginning again, if ever his sight came back: it was sickening, heartbreaking.

She saw it all in his face, but as if some inward voice had spoken to him, his face cleared, the swift-moving hands clasped in front of him, and he said quietly: "But because it's life, there it is. You have to take it as it comes."

He stopped a moment, and in the pause she reached out her hand with a sudden passionate gesture, to touch his shoulder, but she restrained herself in time.

He seemed to feel what she was doing, and turned his face towards her, a slight flush coming to his cheeks. He smiled, and then he said: "How wonderful you are! You look--"

He checked himself, then added with a quizzical smile:

"You are looking very well to-day, Miss Fleda Druse, very well indeed. I like that dark-red dress you're wearing."

An almost frightened look came into her eyes. It was as though he could see, for she was wearing a dark-red dress--"wine-coloured," her father called it, "maroon," Madame Bulteel called it. Could he then see, after all?

"How did you know it was dark-red?" she asked, her voice shaking.

"Guessed it! Guessed it!" he answered almost gleefully. "Was I right? Is it dark-red?"

"Yes, dark-red," she answered. "Was it really a guess?"

"Ah, but the guessiest kind of a guess," he replied. "But who can tell? I couldn't see it, but is there any reason why the mind shouldn't see when the eyes are no longer working? Come now," he added, "I've a feeling that I can tell things with my mind just as if I saw them. I do see. I'll guess the time now--with my mind's eye."

Concentration came into his face. "It's three minutes to twelve o'clock," he said decisively.

She took up the watch which lay on the table beside the bed.

The World For Sale, Volume 3. - 1/14

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