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- In Kedar's Tents - 1/47 -


Transcribed from the 1909 Smith, Elder and Co. edition by Les Bowler, St. Ives, Dorset.

IN KEDAR'S TENTS by Henry Seton Merriman.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I. ONE SOWETH. II. ANOTHER REAPETH. III. LIKE SHIPS UPON THE SEA. IV. LE PREMIER PAS. V. CONTRABAND. VI. AT RONDA. VII. IN A MOORISH GARDEN. VIII. THE LOVE LETTER. IX. A WAR OF WIT. X. THE CITY OF DISCONTENT. XI. A TANGLED WEB. XII. ON THE TOLEDO ROAD. XIII. A WISE IGNORAMUS. XIV. A WEIGHT OF EVIDENCE. XV. AN ULTIMATUM. XVI. IN HONOUR. XVII. IN MADRID. XVIII. IN TOLEDO. XIX. CONCEPCION TAKES THE ROAD. XX. ON THE TALAVERA ROAD. XXI. A CROSS-EXAMINATION. XXII. REPARATION. XXIII. LARRALDE'S PRICE. XXIV. PRIESTCRAFT. XXV. SWORDCRAFT. XXVI. WOMANCRAFT. XXVII. A NIGHT JOURNEY. XXVIII. THE CITY OF STRIFE. XXIX. MIDNIGHT AND DAWN. XXX. THE DAWN OF PEACE.

CHAPTER I. ONE SOWETH.

'If it be a duty to respect other men's claims, so also is it a duty to maintain our own.'

It is in the staging of her comedies that fate shows herself superior to mere human invention. While we, with careful regard to scenery, place our conventional puppets on the stage and bid them play their old old parts in a manner as ancient, she rings up the curtain and starts a tragedy on a scene that has obviously been set by the carpenter for a farce. She deals out the parts with a fine inconsistency, and the jolly-faced little man is cast to play Romeo, while the poetic youth with lantern jaw and an impaired digestion finds no Juliet to match his love.

Fate, with that playfulness which some take too seriously or quite amiss, set her queer stage as long ago as 1838 for the comedy of certain lives, and rang up the curtain one dark evening on no fitter scene than the high road from Gateshead to Durham. It was raining hard, and a fresh breeze from the south-east swept a salt rime from the North Sea across a tract of land as bare and bleak as the waters of that grim ocean. A hard, cold land this, where the iron that has filled men's purses has also entered their souls.

There had been a great meeting at Chester-le-Street of those who were at this time beginning to be known as Chartists, and, the Act having been lately passed that torchlight meetings were illegal, this assembly had gathered by the light of a waning moon long since hidden by the clouds. Amid the storm of wind and rain, orators had expounded views as wild as the night itself, to which the hard- visaged sons of Northumbria had listened with grunts of approval or muttered words of discontent. A dangerous game to play--this stirring up of the people's heart, and one that may at any moment turn to the deepest earnest.

Few thought at this time that the movement awakening in the working centres of the North and Midlands was destined to spread with the strange rapidity of popular passion--to spread and live for a decade. Few of the Chartists expected to see the fulfilment of half of their desires. Yet, to-day, a moiety of the People's Charter has been granted. These voices crying in the night demanded an extended suffrage, vote by ballot, and freedom for rich and poor alike to sit in Parliament. Within the scope of one reign these demands have been granted.

The meeting at Chester-le-Street was no different from a hundred others held in England at the same time. It was illegal, and yet the authorities dared not to pronounce it so. It might prove dangerous to those taking part in it. Lawyers said that the leaders laid themselves open to the charge of high treason. In this assembly as in others there were wirepullers--men playing their own game, and from the safety of the rear pushing on those in front. With one of these we have to do. With his mistake Fate raised the curtain, and on the horizon of several lives arose a cloud no bigger than a man's hand.

Geoffrey Horner lived before his time, insomuch as he was a gentleman-Radical. He was clever, and the world heeded not. He was brilliant, well educated, capable of great achievements, and the world refused to be astonished. Here were the makings of a malcontent. A well-born Radical is one whom the world has refused to accept at his own valuation. A wise man is ready to strike a bargain with Fate. The wisest are those who ask much and then take half. It is the coward who asks too little, and the fool who imagines that he will receive without demanding.

Horner had thrown in his lot with the Chartists in that spirit of pique which makes a man marry the wrong woman because the right one will have none of him. At the Chester-le-Street meeting he had declared himself an upholder of moral persuasion, while in his heart he pandered to those who knew only of physical force and placed their reliance thereon. He had come from Durham with a contingent of malcontents, and was now returning thither on foot in company with the local leaders. These were intelligent mechanics seeking clumsily and blindly enough what they knew to be the good of their fellows. At their heels tramped the rank and file of the great movement. The assembly was a subtle foreshadowing of things to come--of Newport and the march of twenty thousand men, of violence and bloodshed, of strife between brethren, and of justice nonplussed and hesitating.

The toil-worn miners were mostly silent, their dimly enlightened intellects uneasily stirred by the words they had lately heard-- their stubborn hearts full of a great hope with a minute misgiving at the back of it. With this dangerous material Geoffrey Horner proposed to play his game.

Suddenly a voice was raised.

'Mates,' it cried, at the cross-roads, 'let's go and smash Pleydell's windows!'

And a muttered acquiescence to the proposal swept through the moving mass like a sullen breeze through reeds.

The desire for action rustled among these men of few words and mighty arms.

Horner hurriedly consulted his colleagues. Was it wise to attempt to exert an authority which was merely nominal? The principles of Chartism were at this time to keep within the limits of the law, and yet to hint, when such a course was safe, that stronger measures lay behind mere words. Their fatal habit was to strike softly.

In peace and war, at home and abroad, there is but one humane and safe rule: Hesitate to strike--strike hard.

Sir John Pleydell was a member of that Parliament which had treated the Charter with contempt. He was one of those who had voted with the majority against the measures it embodied.

In addition to these damnatory facts, he was a local Tory of some renown--an ambitious man, the neighbours said, who wished to leave his son a peerage.

To the minds of the rabble this magnate represented the tyranny against which their protest was raised. Geoffrey Horner looked on him as a political opponent and a dangerous member of the winning party. The blow was easy to strike. Horner hesitated--at the cross roads of other lives than his own--and held his tongue.

The suggestion of the unknown humorist in the crowd commended itself to the more energetic of the party, who immediately turned towards the by-road leading to Dene Hall. The others--the minority-- followed as minorities do, because they distrusted themselves. Some one struck up a song with words lately published in the 'Northern Liberator' and set to a well-known local air.

The shooting party assembled at Dene Hall was still at the dinner table when the malcontents entered the park, and the talk of coverts and guns ceased suddenly at the sound of their rough voices. Sir John Pleydell, an alert man still, despite his grey hair and drawn, careworn face, looked up sharply. He had been sitting silently fingering the stem of his wineglass--a habit of his when the ladies quitted the room--and, although he had shot as well as, perhaps better than, any present, had taken but little part in the conversation. He had, in fact, only half listened, and when a rare smile passed across his grey face it invariably owed its existence to some sally made by his son, Alfred Pleydell, gay, light-hearted, debonnaire, at the far end of the table. When Sir John's thoughtful eyes rested on his motherless son, a dull and suppressed light gleamed momentarily beneath his heavy lids. Superficial observers said that John Pleydell was an ambitious man; 'not for himself,' added the few who saw deeper.

When his quick mind now took in the import of the sound that broke


In Kedar's Tents - 1/47

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