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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe World For Sale - Book 3 - Chapter 20. Two Life Pieces
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The World For Sale - Book 3 - Chapter 20. Two Life Pieces Post by :mpruben Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :2480

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The World For Sale - Book 3 - Chapter 20. Two Life Pieces

BOOK III CHAPTER XX. TWO LIFE PIECES

"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.

"Yes, it's just three minutes to twelve," she declared in an awe-struck voice. "That's marvellous--how wonderful you are!"

"That's what I said of you a minute ago," he returned. Then, with a swift change of voice and manner, he added, "How long is it?"

"You mean, since you came here?" she asked, divining what was in his mind.

"Exactly. How long?"

"Six weeks," she answered. "Six weeks and three days."

"Why don't you add the hour, too," he urged half-plaintively, though he smiled.

"Well, it was three o'clock in the morning to the minute," she answered.

"Old Father Time ought to make you his chief of staff," he remarked gaily. "Now, I want to know," he added, with a visible effort of determination, "what has happened since three o'clock in the morning, six weeks and three days ago. I want you to tell me what has happened to my concerns--to the railways, and also to the towns. I don't want you to hide anything, because, if you do, I'll have Jim in, and Jim, under proper control, will tell me the whole truth, and perhaps more than the truth. That's the way with Jim. When he gets started he can't stop. Tell me exactly everything."

Anxiety drove the colour from her cheeks. She shrank back.

"You must tell me," he urged. "I'd rather hear it from you than from Dr. Rockwell, or Jim, or your father. Your telling wouldn't hurt as much as anybody else's, if there has to be any hurt. Don't you understand--but don't you understand?" he urged.

She nodded to herself in the mirror on the wall opposite. "I'll try to understand," she replied presently; "Tell me, then: have they put someone in my place?"

"I understand so," she replied.

He remained silent for a moment, his face very pale. "Who is running the show?" he asked.

She told him.

"Oh, him!" he exclaimed. "He's dead against my policy. He'll make a mess."

"They say he's doing that," she remarked.

He asked her a series of questions which she tried to answer frankly, and he came to know that the trouble between the two towns, which, after the Orange funeral and his own disaster had subsided, was up again; that the railways were in difficulties; that there had been several failures in the town; that one of the banks--the Regent-had closed its doors; that Felix Marchand, having recovered from the injury he had received from Gabriel Druse on the day of the Orange funeral, had gone East for a month and had returned; that the old trouble was reviving in the mills, and that Marchand had linked himself with the enemies of the group controlling the railways hitherto directed by himself.

For a moment after she had answered his questions, there was strong emotion in his face, and then it cleared.

He reached out a hand towards her. How eagerly she clasped it! It was cold, and hers was so warm and firm and kind.

"True friend o' mine!" he said with feeling. "How wonderful it is that somehow it all doesn't seem to matter so much. I wonder why? I wonder--Tell me about yourself, about your life," he added abruptly, as though it had been a question he had long wished to ask. In the tone was a quiet certainty suggesting that she would not hesitate to answer.

"We have both had big breaks in our lives," he went on. "I know that. I've lost everything, in a way, by the break in my life, and I've an idea that you gained everything when the break in yours came. I didn't believe the story Jethro Fawe told me, but still I knew there was some truth in it; something that he twisted to suit himself. I started life feeling I could conquer the world like another Alexander or Napoleon. I don't know that it was all conceit. It was the wish to do, to see how far this thing on my shoulders"--he touched his head--"and this great physical machine"--he touched his breast with a thin hand--"would carry me. I don't believe the main idea was vicious. It was wanting to work a human brain to its last volt of capacity, and to see what it could do. I suppose I became selfish as I forged on. I didn't mean to be, but concentration upon the things I had to do prevented me from being the thing I ought to be. I wanted, as they say, to get there. I had a lot of irons in the fire--too many--but they weren't put there deliberately. One thing led to another, and one thing, as it were, hung upon another, until they all got to be part of the scheme. Once they got there, I had to carry them all on, I couldn't drop any of them; they got to be my life. It didn't matter that it all grew bigger and bigger, and the risks got greater and greater. I thought I could weather it through, and so I could have done, if it hadn't been for a mistake and an accident; but the mistake was mine. That's where the thing nips--the mistake was mine. I took too big a risk. You see, I'd got so used to being lucky, it seemed as if I couldn't go wrong. Everything had come my way. Ever since I began in that Montreal railway office, after leaving college, I hadn't a single setback. I pulled things off. I made money, and I plumped it all into my railways and the Regent Bank; and as you said a minute ago, the Regent Bank has closed down. That cuts me clean out of the game. What was the matter with the bank? The manager?"

His voice was almost monotonous in its quietness. It was as though he told the story of something which had passed beyond chance or change. As it unfolded to her understanding, she had seated herself near to his bed. The door of the room was open, and in view outside on the landing sat Madame Bulteel reading. She was not, however, near enough to hear the conversation.

Ingolby's voice was low, but it sounded as loud as a waterfall in the ears of the girl, who, in a few weeks, had travelled great distances on the road called Experience, that other name for life.

"It was the manager?" he repeated.

"Yes, they say so," she answered. "He speculated with bank money."

"In what?"

"In your railways," she answered hesitatingly. "Curious--I dreamed that," Ingolby remarked quietly, and leaned down and stroked the dog lying at his feet. It had been with him through all his sickness. "It must have been part of my delirium, because, now that I've got my senses back, it's as though someone had told me about it. Speculated in my railways, eh? Chickens come home to roost, don't they? I suppose I ought to be excited over it all," he continued. "I suppose I ought. But the fact is, you only have just the one long, big moment of excitement when great trouble and tragedy come, or else it's all excitement, all the time, and then you go mad. That's the test, I think. When you're struck by Fate, as a hideous war-machine might strike you, and the whole terror of loss and ruin bears down on you, you're either swept away in an excitement that hasn't any end, or you brace yourself, and become master of the shattering thing."

"You are a master," she interposed. "You are the Master Man," she repeated admiringly.

He waved a hand deprecatingly. "Do you know, when we talked together in the woods soon after you ran the Rapids--you remember the day--if you had said that to me then, I'd have cocked my head and thought I was a jim-dandy, as they say. A Master Man was what I wanted to be. But it's a pretty barren thing to think, or to feel, that you're a Master Man; because, if you are--if you've had a 'scoop' all the way, as Jowett calls it, you can be as sure as anything that no one cares a rap farthing what happens to you. There are plenty who pretend they care, but it's only because they're sailing with the wind, and with your even keel. It's only the Master Man himself that doesn't know in the least he's that who gets anything out of it all."

"Aren't you getting anything out of it?" she asked softly. "Aren't you--Chief?"

At the familiar word--Jowett always called him Chief--a smile slowly stole across his face. "I really believe I am, thanks to you," he said nodding.

He was going to say, "Thanks to you, Fleda," but he restrained himself. He had no right to be familiar, to give an intimate turn to things. His game was over; his journey of ambition was done. He saw this girl with his mind's eye--how much he longed to see her with the eyes of the body--in all her strange beauty; and he knew that even if she cared for him, such a sacrifice as linking her life with his was impossible. Yet her very presence there was like a garden of bloom to him: a garden full of the odour of life, of vital things, of sweet energy and happy being. Somehow, he and she were strangely alike. He knew it. From the time he held her in his arms at Carillon, he knew it. The great adventurous spirit which was in him belonged also to her. That was as sure as light and darkness.

"No, there's no master man in me, but I think I know what one could be like," he remarked at last. He straightened himself against the pillows. The old look of power came to a face hardly strong enough to bear it. It was so fine and thin now, and the spirit in him was so prodigious.

"No one cares what happens to the man who always succeeds; no one loves him," he continued. "Do you know, in my trouble I've had more out of nigger Jim's affection than I've ever had in my life. Then there's Rockwell, Osterhaut and Jowett, and there's your father. It was worth while living to feel the real thing." His hands went out as though grasping something good and comforting. "I don't suppose every man needs to be struck as hard as I've been to learn what's what, but I've learned it. I give you my word of honour, I've learned it."

Her face flushed and her eyes kindled greatly. "Jim, Rockwell, Osterhaut, Jowett, and my father!" she exclaimed. "Of course trouble wouldn't do anything but make them come closer round you. Poor people live so near to misfortune all the time--I mean poor people like Jim, Osterhaut, and Jowett--that changes of fortune are just natural things to them. As for my father, he has had to stretch out his hands so often to those in trouble--"

"That he carried me home on his shoulders from the bridge six weeks and three days ago, at three o'clock in the morning," interjected Ingolby with a quizzical smile.

"Why did you omit Madame Bulteel and myself when you mentioned those who showed their--friendship?" she asked, hesitating at the last word. "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 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."

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