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- The World For Sale, Volume 3. - 3/14 -
"Haven't we done our part?"
"I was talking of men," he answered. "One knows what women do. They may leave you in the bright days, not in the dark days. On the majority of them you couldn't rely in prosperity, but in misfortune you couldn't do anything else. They are there with you. They're made that way. The best life can give you in misfortune is a woman. It's the great beginning-of-the-world thing in them. Men can't stand prosperity, but women can stand misfortune. Why, if Jim and Osterhaut and Jowett and all the men of Lebanon and Manitou had deserted me, I shouldn't have been surprised; but I'd have had to recast my philosophy if Fleda Druse had turned her bonny brown head away."
It was evident he was making an effort to conquer emotions which were rising in him; that he was playing on the surface to prevent his deep feelings from breaking forth. "Instead of which," he added jubilantly, "here I am, in the nicest room in the world, in a fine bed with springs like an antelope's heels."
He laughed, and hunched his back into the mattress. It was the laugh of the mocker, but he was mocking himself. She did not misunderstand. It was a nice room, as he said. He had never seen it with his eyes, but if he had seen it he would have realized how like herself it was--adorably fresh, happily coloured, sumptuous and fine. It had simple curtains, white sheets, and a warm carpet on the floor; and yet with something, too, that struck the note of a life outside. A pennant of many colours hung where two soft pink curtains joined, and at the window and over the door was an ancient cross in bronze and gold. It was not the simple Christian cross of the modern world, but an ancient one which had become a symbol of the Romanys, a sign to mark the highways, the guide of the wayfarers. The pennant had been on the pole of the Ry's tent in far-off days in the Roumelian country. In the girl herself there was that which corresponded to the gorgeous pennant and the bronze cross. It was not in dress or in manner, for there was no sign of garishness, of the unusual anywhere--in manner she was as well controlled as any woman of fashion, in dress singularly reserved--but in the depths of the eyes there was some restless, unsettled thing, some flicker of strange banners akin to the pennant at the joining of the pink curtains. There had been something of the same look in Ingolby's eyes in the past, only with him it was the sense of great adventure, intrepid enterprise, a touch of vision and the beckoning thing. That look was not in his eyes now. Nothing was there; no life, no soul; only darkness. But did that look still inhabit the eyes of the soul?
He answered the question himself. "I'd start again in a different way if I could," he said musingly, his face towards the girl. "It's easy to say that, but I would. It isn't only the things you get, it's how you use them. It isn't only the things you do, it's why you do them. But I'll never have a chance now; I'll never have a chance to try the new way. I'm done."
Something almost savage leaped into her eyes--a wild, bitter protest, for it was her tragedy, too, if he was not to regain his sight. The great impulse of a nature which had been disciplined into reserve broke forth.
"It isn't so," she said with a tremor in her voice. All that he--and she--was in danger of losing came home to her. "It isn't so. You shall get well again. Your sight will come back. To-morrow; perhaps to-day, Hindlip, the great oculist comes from New York. Mr. Warbeck, the Montreal man, holds out hopes. If the New York man says the same, why despair? Perhaps in another month you will be on your feet again, out in the world, fighting, working, mastering, just as you used to do."
A sudden stillness seemed to take possession of him. His lips parted; his head was thrust forwards slightly as though he saw something in the distance. He spoke scarcely above a whisper.
"I didn't know the New York man was coming. I didn't know there was any hope at all," he said with awe in his tones.
"We told you there was," she answered.
"Yes, I know. But I thought you were all only trying to make it easier for me, and I heard Warbeck say to Rockwell, when they thought I was asleep, 'It's ten to one against him.'"
"Did you hear that?" she said sorrowfully. "I'm so sorry; but Mr. Warbeck said afterwards--only a week ago--that the chances were even. That's the truth. On my soul and honour it's the truth. He said the chances were even. It was he suggested Mr. Hindlip, and Hindlip is coming now. He's on the way. He may be here to-day. Oh, be sure, be sure, be sure, it isn't all over. You said your life was broken. It isn't. You said my life had been broken. It wasn't. It was only the wrench of a great change. Well, it's only the wrench of a great change in your life. You said I gained everything in the great change of my life. I did; and the great change in your life won't be lost, it will be gain, too. I know it; in my heart I know it."
With sudden impulse she caught his hand in both of hers, and then with another impulse, which she could not control, she caught his head to her bosom. For one instant her arms wrapped him round, and she murmured something in a language he did not understand--the language of the Roumelian country. It was only one swift instant, and then with shocked exclamation she broke away from him, dropped into a chair, and buried her face in her hands.
He blindly reached out his hand towards her as if to touch her. "Mother- girl, dear mother-girl--that's what you are," he said huskily. "What a great, kind heart you've got!"
She did not reply, but sat with face hidden in her hands, rocking backwards and forwards. He understood; he tried to help her. There was a great joy in his heart, but he dared not give it utterance.
"Please tell me about your life--about that great change in it," he said at last in a low voice. "Perhaps it would help me. Anyhow, I'd like to know, if you feel you can tell me."
For a moment she was silent. Then she said to him with an anxious note in her voice: "What do you know about my life-about the 'great change,' as you call it?"
He reached out over the coverlet, felt for a sock which he had been learning to knit and, slowly plying the needles, replied: "I only know what Jethro Fawe told me, and he was a promiscuous liar."
"I don't think he lied about me," she answered quietly. "He told you I was a Gipsy; he told you that I was married to him. That was true. I was a Gipsy. I was married to him in the Romany way, when I was a child of three, and I never saw him again until here, the other day, on the Sagalac."
"You were married to him as much as I am," he interjected scornfully. "That was a farce. It was only a promise to pay on the part of your father. There was nothing in that. Jethro Fawe could not claim on that."
"He has tried to do so," she answered, "and if I were still a Gipsy he would have the right to do so from his standpoint."
"That sounds silly to me," Ingolby remarked, his fingers moving now more quickly with the needles. "No, it isn't silly," she said, her voice almost as softly monotonous as his had been when he told her of his life a little while before. It was as though she was looking into her own mind and heart and speaking to herself. "It isn't silly," she repeated. "I don't think you understand. Just because a race like the Gipsies have no country and no home, so they must have things that bind them which other people don't need in the same way. Being the vagrants of the earth, so they must have things that hold them tighter than any written laws made by King or Parliament. Unless the Gipsies kept their laws sacred they couldn't hold together at all. They're iron and steel, the Gipsy laws. They can't be stretched, and they can't be twisted. They can only be broken, and then there's no argument about it. When they are broken, there's the penalty, and it has to be met."
Ingolby stopped knitting for a moment. "You don't mean that a penalty could touch you?" he asked incredulously.
"Not for breaking a law," she answered. "I'm not a Gipsy any more. I gave my word about that, and so did my father; and I'll keep it."
"Please tell me about it," he urged. "Tell me, so that I can understand everything."
There was a long pause in which Ingolby inspected carefully with his fingers the work which he was doing, but at last Fleda's voice came to him, as it seemed out of a great distance, while she began to tell of her first memories: of her life by the Danube and the Black Sea, and drew for him a picture, so far as she could recall it, of her marriage with Jethro, and of the years that followed. Now and again as she told of some sordid things, of the challenge of the law in different countries, of the coarse vagabondage of the Gipsy people in this place or in that, and some indignity put upon her father, or some humiliating incident, her voice became low and pained. It seemed as if she meant that he should see all she had been in that past, which still must be part of the present and have its place in the future, however far away all that belonged to it would be. She appeared to search her mind to find that which would prejudice him against her. While speaking with slow scorn of the life which she had lived as a Gipsy, yet she tried to make him understand, too, that, in the days when she belonged to it, it all seemed natural to her, and that its sordidness, its vagabondage did not produce repugnance in her mind when she was part of it. Unwittingly she over- coloured the picture, and he knew she did.
In spite of herself, however, some aspects of the old life called forth pictures of happy Nature, of busy animal life of wood and glen and stream and footpath which was exquisite in its way. She was in spirit at one with the multitudinous world of nature among which so many men and women lived, without seeing or knowing. It was all undesignedly a part of herself, and she was one of a population in a universal nation whose devout citizen she was. Sometimes, in response to an interjection from Ingolby, deftly made, she told of some incident which revealed as great a poetic as dramatic instinct. As she talked, Ingolby in his imagination pictured her as a girl of ten or twelve, in a dark-red dress, brown curls falling in profusion on her shoulders, with a clear, honest, beautiful eye, and a face that only spoke of a joy of living, in which the small things were the small things and the great things were the great: the perfect proportion of sane life in a sane world.
Now and again, carried away by the history of things remembered, she visualized scenes for him with the ardour of an artist and a lover of created things. He realized how powerful a hold the old life still had upon her. She understood it, too, for when at last she told of the great event in England which changed her life, and made her a deserter from Gipsy life; when she came to the giving of the pledge to a dying woman, and how she had kept that pledge, and how her father had kept it, sternly, faithfully, in spite of all it involved, she said to him:
"It may seem strange to you, living as I live now in one spot, with everything to make life easy, that I should long sometimes for that old
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