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- Philistia - 60/74 -


'Good-bye, now. I must be going. Good-bye, and thank you. Thank you. Thank you.' There was a tear quivering even in Selah Briggs's eye, as she held his hand lingeringly a moment in hers before releasing it. He was a very good fellow, really, and he had been so very kind, too, in interesting himself about her future.

'What a marvellous thread of sameness,' Ronald thought to himself, as he walked back rapidly to his solitary lodgings, 'runs through the warp and woof of a single family, after all! What an underlying unity of texture there must be throughout, in all its members, however outwardly dissimilar they may seem to be from one another! One would say at first sight there was very little, if anything, in common between me and Herbert. And yet this girl interests me wonderfully. Of course I'm not in love with her--the notion of MY falling in love with anybody is clearly too ridiculous. But I'm attracted by her, drawn towards her, fascinated as it were; I feel a sort of curious spell upon me whenever I look into her deep big eyes, flashing out upon one with their strange luminousness. It isn't merely that the Hand has thrown her in my way: that counts for something, no doubt, but not for everything. Besides, the Hand doesn't act blindly--nay, rather, acts with supreme wisdom, surpassing the powers or the comprehension of man. When it threw Selah Briggs in my way, depend upon it, it was because the Infinite saw in me something that was specially adapted to her, and in her something that was specially adapted to me. The instrument is duly shaped by inscrutable Wisdom for its own proper work. Now, whatever interests ME in her, must have also interested Herbert in her equally and for the same reason. We're drawn towards her, clearly; she exercises over both of us some curious electric power that she doesn't exercise, presumably, over other people. For Herbert must have been really in love with her--not that I'm in love with her, of course; but still, the phenomena are analogous, even if on a slightly different plane--Herbert must have been really in love with her, I'm sure, or such a prudent man as he is would never have let himself get into what he would consider such a dangerous and difficult entanglement. Yes, clearly, there's something in Selah Briggs that seems to possess a singular polarity, as Ernest would call it, for the Le Breton character and individuality!

'And then, it cuts both ways, too, for Selah was once desperately in love with Herbert: of that I'm certain. She must have been, to judge from the mere strength of the final revulsion. She's a girl of intensely deep passions--I like people to have some depth to their character, even if it's only in the way of passion--and she'd never have loved him at all without loving him fervently and almost wildly: hers is a fervent, wild, indomitable nature. Yes, she was certainly in love with Herbert; and now, though of course I don't mean to say she's in love with me (I hope it isn't wrong to think in this way about an unmarried girl), still I can't help seeing that I have a certain influence over her in return--that she pays much attention to what I say and think, considers me a person worth considering, which she doesn't do, I'm sure, with most other people. Ah, well, there's a vast deal of truth, no doubt, in these new hereditary doctrines of Darwin's and Galton's that Herbert and Ernest talk about so much; a family's a family, that's certain, not a mere stray collection of casual acquaintances. How the likeness runs through the very inmost structure of our hearts and natures! I see in Selah very much what Herbert saw in Selah: Selah sees in me very much what she saw in Herbert. Extraordinary insight into human nature men like Darwin and Galton have, to be sure? And David, too, what a marvellous thinker he was, really! What unfathomed depths of meaning lie unexpected in that simple sentence of his, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." Fearfully and wonderfully, indeed, when one remembers that from one father and mother Herbert and I have both been compounded, so unlike in some things that we scarcely seem to be comparable with one another (look at Herbert's splendid intellect beside mine!), so like in others that Selah Briggs--goodness gracious, what am I thinking of? I was just going to say that Selah Briggs falls in love first with one of us and then with the other. I do hope and trust it isn't wrong of me to fill my poor distracted head so much with these odd thoughts about that unfortunate girl, Selah!'

CHAPTER XXX.

THE ENVIRONMENT FINALLY TRIUMPHS.

Winter had come, and on a bitter cold winter's night, Ernest Le Breton once more received an unexpected telegram asking him to hurry down without a moment's delay on important business to the 'Morning Intelligence' office. The telegram didn't state at all what the business was; it merely said it was urgent and immediate without in any way specifying its nature. Ernest sallied forth in some perturbation, for his memories of the last occasion when the 'Morning Intelligence' required his aid on important business were far from pleasant ones; but for Edie's sake he felt he must go, and so he went without a murmur.

'Sit down, Le Breton,' Mr. Lancaster said slowly when Ernest entered. 'The matter I want to see you about's a very peculiar one. I understand from some of my friends that you're a son of Sir Owen Le Breton, the Indian general.'

'Yes, I am,' Ernest answered, wondering within himself to what end this curious preamble could possibly be leading up. If there's any one profession, he thought, which is absolutely free from the slightest genealogical interest in the persons of its professors, surely that particular calling ought to be the profession of journalism.

'Well, so I hear, Le Breton. Now, I believe I'm right in saying, am I not, that it was your father who first subdued and organised a certain refractory hill-tribe on the Tibetan frontier, known as the Bodahls, wasn't it?'

'Quite right,' Ernest replied, with a glimmering idea slowly rising in his mind as to what Mr. Lancaster was now driving at.

'Ah, that's good, very good indeed, certainly. Well, tell me, Le Breton, do you yourself happen to know anything on earth about these precious insignificant people?'

'I know all about them,' Ernest answered quickly. 'I've read all my father's papers and despatches, and seen his maps and plans and reports in our house at home from my boyhood upward. I know as much about the Bodahls, in fact, as I know about Bayswater, or Holborn, or Fleet Street.'

'Capital, capital,' the editor said, fondling his big hands softly; 'that'll exactly suit us. And could you get at these plans and papers now, this very evening, just to refresh the gaps in your memory?'

'I could have them all down here,' Ernest answered, 'at an hour's notice.'

'Good,' the editor said again. 'I'll send a boy for them with a cab. Meanwhile, you'd better be perpending this telegram from our Simla correspondent, just received. It's going to be the question of the moment, and we should very much like you to give us a leader of a full column about the matter.'

Ernest took the telegram and read it over carefully. It ran in the usual very abbreviated newspaper fashion: 'Russian agents revolted Bodahls Tibetan frontier. Advices Peshawur state Russian army marching on Merv. Bodahls attacked Commissioner, declared independence British raj.'

'Will you write us a leader?' the editor asked, simply.

Ernest drew a long breath. Three guineas! Edie, Dot, an empty exchequer! If he could only have five minutes to make his mind up! But he couldn't. After all, what did it matter what he said about these poor unknown Bodahls? If HE didn't write the leader, somebody else who knew far less about the subject than he did would be sure to do it. He wasn't responsible for that impalpable entity 'the policy of the paper.' Beside the great social power of the 'Morning Intelligence,' of the united English people, what was he, Ernest Le Breton, but a miserable solitary misplaced unit? One way or the other, he could do very little indeed, for good or for evil. After half a minute's internal struggle, he answered back the editor faintly, 'Yes, I will.' 'For Edie,' he muttered half audibly to himself; 'I must do it for dear Edie.'

'And you'll allow me to make whatever alterations I think necessary in the article to suit the policy of the paper?' the editor asked once more, looking through him with his sleepy keen grey eyes. 'You see, Le Breton, I don't want to annoy you, and I know your own principles are rather peculiar; but of course all we want you for is just to give us the correct statement of facts about these outlandish people. All that concerns our own attitude towards them as a nation falls naturally under the head of editorial matter. You must see yourself that it's quite impossible for us to let any one single contributor dictate from his own standpoint the policy of the paper.'

Ernest bent his head slowly. 'You're very kind to argue out the matter with me so, Mr. Lancaster,' he said, trembling with excitement. 'Yes, I suppose I must bury my scruples. I'll write a leader about these Bodahls, and let you deal with it afterwards as you think proper.'

They showed him into the bare little back room, and sent a boy up with a hastily written note to Ronald for the maps and papers. There Ernest sat for an hour or two, writing away for very life, and putting on paper everything that he knew about the poor Bodahls. By two o'clock, the proofs had all come up to him, and he took his hat in a shamefaced manner to sally out into the cold street, where he hoped to hide his rising remorse and agony under cover of the solitary night. He knew too well what 'the policy of the paper' would be, to venture upon asking any questions about it. As he left the office, a boy brought him down a sealed envelope from Mr. Lancaster. With his usual kindly thoughtfulness the editor had sent him at once the customary cheque for three guineas. Ernest folded it up with quivering fingers, and felt the blood burn in his cheeks as he put it away in his waistcoat pocket. That accursed money! For it he had that night sold his dearest principles! And yet, not for it, not for it, not for it--oh, no, not for it, but for Dot and Edie!

The boy had a duplicate proof in his other hand, and Ernest saw at once that it was his own leader, as altered and corrected by Mr. Lancaster. He asked the boy whether he might see it; and the boy, knowing it was Ernest's own writing, handed it to him at once without further question. Ernest did not dare to look at it then and there for fear he should break down utterly before the boy; he put it for the moment into his inner pocket, and buttoned his thin overcoat tightly around him. It was colder still in the frosty air


Philistia - 60/74

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