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- The World For Sale, Volume 3. - 4/14 -


life. I hate it in my heart of hearts, yet there's something about it that belongs to me, that's behind me, if that tells you anything. It's as though there was some other self in me which reached far, far back into centuries, that wills me to do this and wills me to do that. It sounds mad to you of course, but there have been times when I have had a wild longing to go back to it all, to what some Gorgio writers call the pariah world--the Ishmaelites."

More than once Ingolby's heart throbbed heavily against his breast as he felt the passion of her nature, its extraordinary truthfulness, making it clear to him by indirect phrases that even Jethro Fawe, whom she despised, still had a hateful fascination for her. It was all at variance to her present self, but it summoned her through the long avenues of ancestry, predisposition; through the secret communion of those who, being dead, yet speak.

"It's a great story told in a great way," he said, when she had finished. "It's the most honest thing I ever heard, but it's not the most truthful thing I ever heard. I don't think we can tell the exact truth about ourselves. We try to be honest; we are savagely in earnest about it, and so we exaggerate the bad things we do, and we often show distrust of the good things we do. That's not a fair picture. I believe you've told me the truth as you see it and feel it, but I don't think it's the real truth. In my mind I sometimes see an oriel window in the college where I spent three years. I used to work and think for hours in that oriel window, and in the fights I've been having lately I've looked back and thought I wanted it again; wanted to be there in the peace of it all, with the books, and the lectures, and the drone of history, and the drudgery of examinations; but if I did go back to it, three days'd sicken me, and if you went back to the Gipsy life three days'd sicken you."

"Yes, I know. Three hours would sicken me. But what might not happen in those three hours! Can't you understand?"

Suddenly she got to her feet with a passionate exclamation, her clenched hands went to her temples in an agony of emotion. "Can't you understand?" she repeated. "It's the going back at all for three days, for three hours, for three minutes that counts. It might spoil everything; it might kill my life."

His face flushed, crimsoned, then became pale; his hands ceased moving; the knitting lay still on his knee. "Maybe, but you aren't going back for three minutes, any more than I'm going back to the oriel window for three seconds," he said. "We dreamers have a lot of agony in thinking about the things we're never going to do--just as much agony as in thinking about the things we've done. Every one of us dreamers ought to be insulated. We ought to wear emotional lightning-rods to carry off the brain-waves into the ground.

"I've never heard such a wonderful story," he added, after an instant, with an intense longing to hold out his arms to her, and a still more intense will to do no such wrong. A blind man had no right or title to be a slave-owner, for that was what marriage to him would be. A wife would be a victim. He saw himself, felt himself being gradually devitalized, with only the placid brain left, considering only the problem of hourly comfort, and trying to neutralize the penalties of blindness. She must not be sacrificed to that, for apart from all else she had greatness of a kind in her. He knew far better than he had said of the storm of emotion in her, and he knew that she had not exaggerated the temptation which sang in her ears. Jethro Fawe--the thought of the man revolted him; and yet there was something about the fellow, a temperamental power, the glamour and garishness of Nature's gifts, prostituted though they were, finding expression in a striking personality, in a body of athletic grace--a man-beauty.

"Have you seen Jethro Fawe lately?" he asked. "Not since"--she was going to say not since the morning her father had passed the sentence of the patrin upon him; but she paused in time. "Not since everything happened to you," she added presently.

"He knows the game is up," Ingolby remarked with forced cheerfulness. "He won't be asking for any more."

"It's time for your milk and brandy," she said suddenly, emotion subsiding and a look of purpose coming into her face. She poured out the liquid, and gave the glass into his hand. His fingers touched hers.

"Your hands are cold," she said to him. "Cold hands, warm heart," he chattered.

A curious, wilful, rebellious look came into her eyes. "I shouldn't have thought it in your case," she said, and with sudden resolve turned towards the door. "I'll send Madame Bulteel," she added. "I'm going for a walk."

She had betrayed herself so much, had shown so recklessly what she felt, and yet, yet why did he not--she did not know what she wanted him to do. It was all a great confusion. Vaguely she realized what had been working in him, but yet the knowledge was dim indeed. She was a woman. In her heart of hearts she knew that he did care for her, and yet in her heart of hearts she denied that he cared.

She was suddenly angry with herself, angry with him, the poor blind man, back from the Valley of the Shadow. She had not reached the door, however, when Madame Bulteel entered the room.

"The doctor from New York has come," she said, holding out a note from Dr. Rockwell. "He will be here in a couple of hours."

Fleda turned back towards the bed.

"Good luck!" she said. "You'll see, it will be all right."

"Certainly I'll see if it's all right," he said cheerfully. "Am I tidy? Have I used Pears' soap?" He would have his joke at his own funeral if possible.

"There are two hours to get you fit to be seen," she rejoined with raillery, infected by his cheerfulness in spite of herself. "Madame Bulteel is very brave. Nothing is too hard for her!"

An instant later she was gone, with her heart telling her to go back to him, not to leave him, but yet with a longing stronger still driving her to the open world, to which she could breathe her trouble in great gasps, as she sped onward through the woods and by the river. To love a blind man was sheer madness, but in her was a superstitious belief that he would see again. It prevailed against the doubts and terrors. It made her resent his own sense of fatality, his own belief that he would be in darkness all his days.

In the room where he awaited the verdict of the expert, he kept saying to himself:

"She would have made everything else look cheap--if it could have been."

CHAPTER XXI

THE SNARE OF THE FOWLER

The last rays of the setting sun touched the gorgeous Autumn woods with a loving, bright glow, and the day stole pensively away into a purple bed beyond the sight of the eyes. From a lonely spot by the river, Fleda watched the westering gleam until it vanished, her soul alive to the melancholy beauty of it all. Not a human being seemed to be within the restricted circle of her vision. There were only to be seen the deep woods, in myriad tints of bronze and red and saffron, and the swift- flowing river. Overhead was the Northern sky, so clear, so thrilling, and the stars were beginning to sparkle in the incredibly swift twilight which links daytime and nighttime in that Upper Land. Lonely and delicately sad it all looked, but there was no feeling of loneliness among those who lived the life of the Sagalac. Many a man has stood on a wide plain of snow, white to the uttermost horizon, or in the yellow- brown grass of the Summer prairie, empty of all human life so far as eye could see, and yet has felt no solitude. It is as though the air itself is inhabited by a throng of happy comrades whispering in the communion of the invisible world.

As a child Fleda had often gazed upon just such scenes, lonely and luminous, but she was only conscious then of a vague and pleasant awe, a kindly confusion, which, like the din of innumerable bees, lulled wonder to sleep. Even as a child, however, something of what it meant had pierced her awe and wonder. Once as she crossed a broken, bare mountain of Roumania she had seen a wild ass perched upon a high summit gazing, as it were, over the wide valley, where beneath, among the rocks, other wild asses wandered. There was something so statue-like in this immovable wild creature that Fleda had watched it till it was hid from her view by a jutting rock. But the thing which made a lasting impression, drawing her nearer to nature-life than all that had chanced since she was born, was the fact that on returning, hours after, the wild ass was still standing upon the summit of the hill, still gazing across the valley. Or was it gazing across the valley? Was there some other vision commanding its sight?

So a young wife not yet a mother loses herself for hours together in a vista of unexplored experience. Fleda had passed on, out of sight of the wild ass on the hills, but for ever after the memory of it remained with her and the picture of it sprang to her eye innumerable times. The hypnotized wild thing--hypnotized by its own vague instincts, or by something outside itself-became to her as the Sphinx to the Egyptian, the everlasting question of existence.

Now, as she watched the day fleeing, and night with swift stealthiness coming on, that unforgettable picture of the Roumanian hills came to her again. The instinct of those far-off days which had been little removed from the finest animal intelligence had now developed into thought. Brain and soul strove to grasp what it all meant, and what the revelation was between Nature and herself. Nature was so vast; she was so insignificant; changes in its motionless inorganic life were imperceptible save through the telescopes of years; but she, like the wind, the water, and the clouds, was variable, inconstant. Was there any real relation between the vast, imperturbable earth, its seas, its forests, its mountains and its plains, its life of tree and plant and flower and the men and women dotted on its surface? Did they belong to each other, or were mankind only, as it were, vermin infesting the desirable world? Did they belong to each other? It meant so much if they did belong, and she loved to think they did. Many a time she kissed the smooth bole of a maple or whispered to it; or laid her cheek against a mossy rock and murmured a greeting in the spirit of a companionship as old as the making of the world.

On the evening of this day of her destiny--carrying the story of her own fate within its twenty-four hours--she was in a mood of detachment from life's routine. As at a great opera, a sensitive spirit loses itself in visions alien to the music and yet born of it, so she, lost in this primeval scene before her, saw visions of things to be.

If Ingolby's sight came back! In her abstraction she saw him with sight


The World For Sale, Volume 3. - 4/14

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