The Weavers by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XXI. "There is Nothing Hidden Which Shall not be Revealed"
A fortnight had passed since they had come to Hamley--David, Eglington, and Hylda--and they had all travelled a long distance in mutual understanding during that time, too far, thought Luke Claridge, who remained neutral and silent. He would not let Faith go to the Cloistered House, though he made no protest against David going; because he recognised in these visits the duty of diplomacy and the business of the nation--more particularly David's business, which, in his eyes, swallowed all. Three times David had gone to the Cloistered House; once Hylda and he had met in the road leading to the old mill, and once at Soolsby's hut. Twice, also, in the garden of his old home he had seen her, when she came to visit Faith, who had captured her heart at once. Eglington and Faith had not met, however. He was either busy in his laboratory, or with his books, or riding over the common and through the woods, and their courses lay apart.
But there came an afternoon when Hylda and David were a long hour together at the Cloistered House. They talked freely of his work in Egypt. At last she said: "And Nahoum Pasha?"
"He has kept faith."
"He is in high place again?"
"He is a good administrator."
"You put him there!"
"Thee remembers what I said to him, that night in Cairo?"
Hylda closed her eyes and drew in a long breath. Had there been a word spoken that night when she and David and Nahoum met which had not bitten into her soul! That David had done so much in Egypt without ruin or death was a tribute to his power. Nevertheless, though Nahoum had not struck yet, she was certain he would one day. All that David now told her of the vicissitudes of his plans, and Nahoum's sympathy and help, only deepened this conviction. She could well believe that Nahoum gave David money from his own pocket, which he replaced by extortion from other sources, while gaining credit with David for co-operation. Armenian Christian Nahoum might be, but he was ranged with the East against the West, with the reactionary and corrupt against advance, against civilisation and freedom and equality. Nahoum's Christianity was permeated with Orientalism, the Christian belief obscured by the theism of the Muslim. David was in a deadlier struggle than he knew. Yet it could serve no good end to attempt to warn him now. He had outlived peril so far; might it not be that, after all, he would win?
So far she had avoided Nahoum's name in talks with David. She could scarcely tell why she did, save that it opened a door better closed, as it were; but the restraint had given way at last.
"Thee remembers what I said that night?" David repeated slowly.
"I remember--I understand. You devise your course and you never change. It is like building on a rock. That is why nothing happens to you as bad as might happen."
"Nothing bad ever happens to me."
"The philosophy of the desert," she commented smiling. "You are living in the desert even when you are here. This is a dream; the desert and Egypt only are real.
"That is true, I think. I seem sometimes like a sojourner here, like a spirit 'revisiting the scenes of life and time.'" He laughed boyishly.
"Yet you are happy here. I understand now why and how you are what you are. Even I that have been here so short a time feel the influence upon me. I breathe an air that, somehow, seems a native air. The spirit of my Quaker grandmother revives in me. Sometimes I sit hours thinking, scarcely stirring; and I believe I know now how people might speak to each other without words. Your Uncle Benn and you--it was so with you, was it not? You heard his voice speaking to you sometimes; you understood what he meant to say to you? You told me so long ago."
David inclined his head. "I heard him speak as one might speak through a closed door. Sometimes, too, in the desert I have heard Faith speak to me."
"And your grandfather?"
"Never my grandfather--never. It would seem as though, in my thoughts, I could never reach him; as though masses of opaque things lay between. Yet he and I--there is love between us. I don't know why I never hear him."
"Tell me of your childhood, of your mother. I have seen her grave under the ash by the Meeting-house, but I want to know of her from you."
"Has not Faith told you?"
"We have only talked of the present. I could not ask her; but I can ask you. I want to know of your mother and you together."
"We were never together. When I opened my eyes she closed hers. It was so little to get for the life she gave. See, was it not a good face?" He drew from his pocket a little locket which Faith had given him years ago, and opened it before her.
Hylda looked long. "She was exquisite," she said, "exquisite."
"My father I never knew either. He was a captain of a merchant ship. He married her secretly while she was staying with an aunt at Portsmouth. He sailed away, my mother told my grandfather all, and he brought her home here. The marriage was regular, of course, but my grandfather, after announcing it, and bringing it before the Elders, declared that she should never see her husband again. She never did, for she died a few months after, when I came, and my father died very soon, also. I never saw him, and I do not know if he ever tried to see me. I never had any feeling about it. My grandfather was the only father I ever knew, and Faith, who was born a year before me, became like a sister to me, though she soon made other pretensions!" He laughed again, almost happily. "To gain an end she exercised authority as my aunt!"
"What was your father's name?"
"Fetherdon--James Fetherdon !" Involuntarily Hylda repeated the name after him. Where had she heard the name before--or where had she seen it? It kept flashing before her eyes. Where had she seen it? For days she had been rummaging among old papers in the library of the Cloistered House, and in an old box full of correspondence and papers of the late countess, who had died suddenly. Was it among them that she had seen the name? She could not tell. It was all vague, but that she had seen it or heard it she was sure.
"Your father's people, you never knew them?"
He shook his head. "Nor of them. Here was my home--I had no desire to discover them. We draw in upon ourselves here."
"There is great force in such a life and such a people," she answered. "If the same concentration of mind could be carried into the wide life of the world, we might revolutionise civilisation; or vitalise and advance it, I mean--as you are doing in Egypt."
"I have done nothing in Egypt. I have sounded the bugle--I have not had my fight."
"That is true in a sense," she replied. "Your real struggle is before you. I do not know why I say it, but I do say it; I feel it. Something here"--she pressed her hand to her heart--"something here tells me that your day of battle is yet to come." Her eyes were brimming and full of excitement. "We must all help you." She gained courage with each word. "You must not fight alone. You work for civilisation; you must have civilisation behind you." Her hands clasped nervously; there was a catch in her throat. "You remember then, that I said I would call to you one day, as your Uncle Benn did, and you should hear and answer me. It shall not be that I will call. You--you will call, and I will help you if I can. I will help, no matter what may seem to prevent, if there is anything I can do. I, surely I, of all the world owe it to you to do what I can, always.
"I owe so much--you did so much. Oh, how it haunts me! Sometimes in the night I wake with a start and see it all--all!"
The flood which had been dyked back these years past had broken loose in her heart.
Out of the stir and sweep of social life and duty, of official and political ambition-heart-hungry, for she had no child; heart-lonely, though she had scarce recognised it in the duties and excitements round her--she had floated suddenly into this backwater of a motionless life in Hamley. Its quiet had settled upon her, the shackles of her spirit had been loosed, and dropped from her; she had suddenly bathed her heart and soul in a freer atmosphere than they had ever known before. And David and Hamley had come together. The old impulses, dominated by a divine altruism, were swinging her out upon a course leading she knew not, reeked not, whither--for the moment reeked not. This man's career, the work he was set to do, the ideal before him, the vision of a land redeemed, captured her, carried her panting into a resolve which, however she might modify her speech or action, must be an influence in her life hereafter. Must the penance and the redemption be his only? This life he lived had come from what had happened to her and to him in Egypt. In a deep sense her life was linked with his.
In a flash David now felt the deep significance of their relations. A curtain seemed suddenly to have been drawn aside. He was blinded for a moment. Her sympathy, her desire to help, gave him a new sense of hope and confidence, but--but there was no room in his crusade for any woman; the dear egotism of a life-dream was masterful in him, possessed him.
Yet, if ever his heart might have dwelt upon a woman with thought of the future, this being before him--he drew himself up with a start! . . . He was going to Egypt again in a few days; they might probably never meet again--would not, no doubt--should not. He had pressed her husband to go to Egypt, but now he would not encourage it; he must "finish his journey alone."
He looked again in her eyes, and their light and beauty held him. His own eyes swam. The exaltation of a great idea was upon them, was a bond of fate between them. It was a moment of peril not fully realised by either. David did realise, however, that she was beautiful beyond all women he had ever seen--or was he now for the first time really aware of the beauty of woman? She had an expression, a light of eye and face, finely alluring beyond mere outline of feature. Yet the features were there, too, regular and fine; and her brown hair waving away from her broad, white forehead over eyes a greyish violet in colour gave her a classic distinction. In the quietness of the face there was that strain of the Quaker, descending to her through three generations, yet enlivened by a mind of impulse and genius.
They stood looking at each other for a moment, in which both had taken a long step forward in life's experience. But presently his eyes looked beyond her, as though at something that fascinated them.
"Of what are you thinking? What do you see?" she asked.
"You, leaving the garden of my house in Cairo, I standing by the fire," he answered, closing his eyes for an instant.
"It is what I saw also," she said breathlessly. "It is what I saw and was thinking of that instant." When, as though she must break away from the cords of feeling drawing her nearer and nearer to him, she said, with a little laugh, "Tell me again of my Chicago cousin? I have not had a letter for a year."
"Lacey, he is with me always. I should have done little had it not been for him. He has remarkable resource; he is never cast down. He has but one fault."
"What is that?"
"He is no respecter of persons. His humour cuts deep. He has a wide heart for your sex. When leaving the court of the King of Abyssinia he said to his Majesty: 'Well, good-bye, King. Give my love to the girls.'"
She laughed again. "How absurd and childish he is! But he is true and able. And how glad you should be that you are able to make true friends, without an effort. Yesterday I met neighbour Fairley, and another little old Elder who keeps his chin in his collar and his eyes on the sky. They did little else but sing your praises. One might have thought that you had invented the world-or Hamley."
"Yet they would chafe if I were to appear among them without these." He glanced down at the Quaker clothes he wore, and made a gesture towards the broadbrimmed hat reposing on a footstool near by.
"It is good to see that you are not changed, not spoiled at all," she remarked, smiling. "Though, indeed, how could you be, who always work for others and never for yourself? All I envy you is your friends. You make them and keep them so."
She sighed, and a shadow came into her eyes suddenly. She was thinking of Eglington. Did he make friends--true friends? In London--was there one she knew who would cleave to him for love of him? In England--had she ever seen one? In Hamley, where his people had been for so many generations, had she found one?
Herself? Yes, she was his true friend. She would do what would she not do to help him, to serve his interests? What had she not done since she married Her fortune, it was his; her every waking hour had been filled with something devised to help him on his way. Had he ever said to her: "Hylda, you are a help to me"? He had admired her--but was he singular in that? Before she married there were many--since, there had been many --who had shown, some with tact and carefulness, others with a crudeness making her shudder, that they admired her; and, if they might, would have given their admiration another name with other manifestations. Had she repelled it all? She had been too sure of herself to draw her skirts about her; she was too proud to let any man put her at any disadvantage. She had been safe, because her heart had been untouched. The Duchess of Snowdon, once beautiful, but now with a face like a mask, enamelled and rouged and lifeless, had said to her once: "My dear, I ought to have died at thirty. When I was twenty-three I wanted to squeeze the orange dry in a handful of years, and then go out suddenly, and let the dust of forgetfulness cover my bones. I had one child, a boy, and would have no more; and I squeezed the orange! But I didn't go at thirty, and yet the orange was dry. My boy died; and you see what I am--a fright, I know it; and I dress like a child of twenty; and I can't help it."
There had been moments, once, when Hylda, too, had wished to squeeze the orange dry, but something behind, calling to her, had held her back. She had dropped her anchor in perilous seas, but it had never dragged.
"Tell me how to make friends--and keep them," she added gaily.
"If it be true I make friends, thee taught me how," he answered, "for thee made me a friend, and I forget not the lesson."
She smiled. "Thee has learnt another lesson too well," she answered brightly. "Thee must not flatter. It is not that which makes thee keep friends. Thee sees I also am speaking as they do in Hamley--am I not bold? I love the grammarless speech."
"Then use it freely to-day, for this is farewell," he answered, not looking at her.
"This--is--farewell," she said slowly, vaguely. Why should it startle her so? "You are going so soon--where?"
"To-morrow to London, next week to Egypt."
She laid a hand upon herself, for her heart was beating violently. "Thee is not fair to give no warning--there is so much to say," she said, in so low a tone that he could scarcely hear her. "There is the future, your work, what we are to do here to help. What I am to do.
"Thee will always be a friend to Egypt, I know," he answered. "She needs friends. Thee has a place where thee can help."
"Will not right be done without my voice?" she asked, her eyes half closing. "There is the Foreign Office, and English policy, and the ministers, and--and Eglington. What need of me?"
He saw the thought had flashed into her mind that he did not trust her husband. "Thee knows and cares for Egypt, and knowing and caring make policy easier to frame," he rejoined.
Suddenly a wave of feeling went over her. He whose life had been flung into this field of labour by an act of her own, who should help him but herself?
But it all baffled her, hurt her, shook her. She was not free to help as she wished. Her life belonged to another; and he exacted the payment of tribute to the uttermost farthing. She was blinded by the thought. Yet she must speak. "I will come to Egypt--we will come to Egypt," she said quickly. "Eglington shall know, too; he shall understand. You shall have his help. You shall not work alone."
"Thee can work here," he said. "It may not be easy for Lord Eglington to come."
"You pressed it on him."
Their eyes met. She suddenly saw what was in his mind.
"You know best what will help you most," she added gently.
"You will not come?" he asked.
"I will not say I will not come--not ever," she answered firmly. "It may be I should have to come." Resolution was in her eyes. She was thinking of Nahoum. "I may have to come," she added after a pause, "to do right by you."
He read her meaning. "Thee will never come," he continued confidently. He held out his hand. "Perhaps I shall see you in town," she rejoined, as her hand rested in his, and she looked away. "When do you start for Egypt?"
"To-morrow week, I think," he answered. "There is much to do."
"Perhaps we shall meet in town," she repeated. But they both knew they would not.
"Farewell," he said, and picked up his hat.
As he turned again, the look in her eyes brought the blood to his face, then it became pale. A new force had come into his life.
"God be good to thee," he said, and turned away.
She watched him leave the room and pass through the garden.
"David! David!" she said softly after him.
At the other end of the room her husband, who had just entered, watched her. He heard her voice, but did not hear what she said.
"Come, Hylda, and have some music," he said brusquely.
She scrutinised him calmly. His face showed nothing. His look was enigmatical.
"Chopin is the thing for me," he said, and opened the piano.