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   Chapter 2 THE WHISPER FROM BEYOND

The World For Sale, Volume 1. By Gilbert Parker Characters: 12767

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Ingolby had a will of his own, but it had never been really tried against a woman's will. It was, however, tried sorely when Fleda came to consciousness again in his arms and realized that a man's face was nearer to hers than any man's had ever been except that of her own father. Her eyes opened slowly, and for the instant she did not understand, but when she did, the blood stole swiftly back to her neck and face and forehead, and she started in dismay.

"Put me down," she whispered faintly.

"I'm taking you to my buggy," he replied. "I'll drive you back to Lebanon." He spoke as calmly as he could, for there was a strange fluttering of his nerves, and the crowd was pressing him.

"Put me down at once," she said peremptorily. She trembled on her feet, and swayed, and would have fallen but that Ingolby and a woman in black, who had pushed her way through the crowd with white, anxious face, caught her.

"Give her air, and stand back!" called the sharp voice of the constable of Carillon, and he heaved the people back with his powerful shoulders.

A space was cleared round the place where Fleda sat with her head against the shoulder of the stately woman in black who had come to her assistance. A dipper of water was brought, and when she had drunk it she raised her head slowly and her eyes sought those of Ingolby.

"One cannot pay for such things," she said to him, meeting his look firmly and steeling herself to thank him. Though deeply grateful, it was a trial beyond telling to be obliged to owe the debt of a life to any one, and in particular to a man of the sort to whom material gifts could not be given.

"Such things are paid for just by accepting them," he answered quickly, trying to feel that he had never held her in his arms, as she evidently desired him to feel. He had intuition, if not enough of it, for the regions where the mind of Fleda Druse dwelt.

"I couldn't very well decline, could I?" she rejoined, quick humour shooting into her eyes. "I was helpless. I never fainted before in my life."

"I am sure you will never faint again," he remarked. "We only do such things when we are very young."

She was about to reply, but paused reflectively. Her half-opened lips did not frame the words she had been impelled to speak.

Admiration was alive in his eyes. He had never seen this type of womanhood before-such energy and grace, so amply yet so lithely framed; such darkness and fairness in one living composition; such individuality, yet such intimate simplicity. Her hair was a very light brown, sweeping over a broad, low forehead, and lying, as though with a sense of modesty, on the tips of the ears, veiling them slightly. The forehead was classic in its intellectual fulness; but the skin was so fresh, even when pale as now, and with such an underglow of vitality, that the woman in her, sex and the possibilities of sex, cast a glamour over the intellect and temperament showing in every line of her contour. In contrast to the light brown of the hair was the very dark brown of the eyes and the still darker brown of the eyelashes. The face shone, the eyes burned, and the piquancy of the contrast between the soft illuminating whiteness of the skin and the flame in the eyes had fascinated many more than Ingolby.

Her figure was straight yet supple, somewhat fuller than is modern beauty, with hints of Juno-like stateliness to come; and the curves of her bust, the long lines of her limbs, were not obscured by her absolutely plain gown of soft, light-brown linen. She was tall, but not too commanding, and, as her hand was raised to fasten back a wisp of hair, there was the motion of as small a wrist and as tapering a bare arm as ever made prisoner of a man's neck.

Impulse was written in every feature, in the passionate eagerness of her body; yet the line from the forehead to the chin, and the firm shapeliness of the chin itself, gave promise of great strength of will. From the glory of the crown of hair to the curve of the high instep of a slim foot it was altogether a personality which hinted at history-at tragedy, maybe.

"She'll have a history," Madame Bulteel, who now stood beside the girl, herself a figure out of a picture by Velasquez, had said of her sadly; for she saw in Fleda's rare qualities, in her strange beauty, happenings which had nothing to do with the life she was living. So this duenna of Gabriel Druse's household, this aristocratic, silent woman was ever on the watch for some sudden revelation of a being which had not found itself, and which must find itself through perils and convulsions.

That was why, to-day, she had hesitated to leave Fleda alone and come to Carillon, to be at the bedside of a dying, friendless woman whom by chance she had come to know. In the street she had heard of what was happening on the river, and had come in time to receive Fleda from the arms of her rescuer.

"How did you get here?" Fleda asked her.

"How am I always with you when I am needed, truant?" said the other with a reproachful look. "Did you fly? You are so light, so thin, you could breathe yourself here," rejoined the girl, with a gentle, quizzical smile. "But, no," she added, "I remember, you were to be here at Carillon."

"Are you able to walk now?" asked Madame Bulteel.

"To Manitou-but of course," Fleda answered almost sharply.

After the first few minutes the crowd had fallen back. They watched her with respectful admiration from a decent distance. They had the chivalry towards woman so characteristic of the West. There was no vulgarity in their curiosity, though most of them had never seen her before. All, however, had heard of her and her father, the giant greybeard who moved and lived in an air of mystery, and apparently secret wealth, for more than once he had given large sums-large in the eyes of folks of moderate means, when charity was needed; as in the case of the floods the year before, and in the prairie-fire the year before that, when so many people were made homeless, and also when fifty men had been injured in one railway accident. On these occasions he gave disproportionately to his mode of life.

Now, when they saw that Fleda was about to move away, they drew just a little nearer, and presently one of the crowd could contain his admiration no longer. He raised a cheer.

"Three cheers for Her," he shouted

, and loud hurrahs followed.

"Three cheers for Ingolby," another cried, and the noise was boisterous but not so general.

"Who shot Carillon Rapids?" another called in the formula of the West.

"She shot the Rapids," was the choral reply. "Who is she?" came the antiphon.

"Druse is her name," was the gay response. "What did she do?"

"She shot Carillon Rapids-shot 'em dead. Hooray!"

In the middle of the cheering, Osterhaut and Jowett arrived in a wagon which they had commandeered, and, about the same time, from across the bridge, came running Tekewani and his braves.

"She done it like a kingfisher," cried Osterhaut. "Manitou's got the belt."

Fleda Druse's friendly eyes were given only for one instant to Osterhaut and his friend. Her gaze became fixed on Tekewani who, silent, and with immobile face, stole towards her. In spite of the civilization which controlled him, he wore Indian moccasins and deerskin breeches, though his coat was rather like a shortened workman's blouse. He did not belong to the life about him; he was a being apart, the spirit of vanished and vanishing days.

"Tekewani-ah, Tekewani, you have come," the girl said, and her eyes smiled at him as they had not smiled at Ingolby or even at the woman in black beside her.

"How!" the chief replied, and looked at her with searching, worshipping eyes.

"Don't look at me that way, Tekewani," she said, coming close to him.

"I had to do it, and I did it."

"The teeth of rock everywhere!" he rejoined reproachfully, with a gesture of awe.

"I remembered all-all. You were my master, Tekewani."

"But only once with me it was, Summer Song," he persisted. Summer Song was his name for her.

"I saw it-saw it, every foot of the way," she insisted. "I thought hard, oh, hard as the soul thinks. And I saw it all." There was something singularly akin in the nature of the girl and the Indian. She spoke to him as she never spoke to any other.

"Too much seeing, it is death," he answered. "Men die with too much seeing. I have seen them die. To look hard through deerskin curtains, to see through the rock, to behold the water beneath the earth, and the rocks beneath the black waters, it is for man to see if he has a soul, but the seeing-behold, so those die who should live!"

"I live, Tekewani, though I saw the teeth of rocks beneath the black water," she urged gently.

"Yet the half-death came-"

"I fainted, but I was not to die-it was not my time."

He shook his head gloomily. "Once it may be, but the evil spirits tempt us to death. It matters not what comes to Tekewani; he is as the leaf that falls from the stem; but for Summer Song that has far to go, it is the madness from beyond the Hills of Life."

She took his hand. "I will not do it again, Tekewani."

"How!" he said, with hand upraised, as one who greets the great in this world.

"I don't know why I did it," she added meaningly. "It was selfish. I feel that now."

The woman in black pressed her hand timidly.

"It is so for ever with the great," Tekewani answered. "It comes, also, from beyond the Hills-the will to do it. It is the spirit that whispers over the earth out of the Other Earth. No one hears it but the great. The whisper only is for this one here and that one there who is of the Few. It whispers, and the whisper must be obeyed. So it was from the beginning."

"Yes, you understand, Tekewani," she answered softly. "I did it because something whispered from the Other Earth to me."

Her head drooped a little, her eyes had a sudden shadow.

"He will understand," answered the Indian; "your father will understand," as though reading her thoughts. He had clearly read her thought, this dispossessed, illiterate Indian chieftain. Yet, was he so illiterate? Had he not read in books which so few have learned to read? His life had been broken on the rock of civilization, but his simple soul had learned some elemental truths-not many, but the essential ones, without which there is no philosophy, no understanding. He knew Fleda Druse was thinking of her father, wondering if he would understand, half-fearing, hardly hoping, dreading the moment when she must meet him face to face. She knew she had been selfish, but would Gabriel Druse understand? She raised her eyes in gratitude to the Blackfeet chief.

"I must go home," she said.

She turned to go, but as she did so, a man came swaggering down the street, broke through the crowd, and made towards her with an arm raised, a hand waving, and a leer on his face. He was a thin, rather handsome, dissolute-looking fellow of middle height and about forty, in dandified dress. His glossy black hair fell carelessly over his smooth forehead from under a soft, wide-awake hat.

"Manitou for ever!" he cried, with a flourish of his hand. "I salute the brave. I escort the brave to the gates of Manitou. I escort the brave. I escort the brave. Salut! Salut! Salut! Well done, Beauty Beauty-Beauty-Beauty, well done again!"

He held out his hand to Fleda, but she drew back with disgust. Felix Marchand, the son of old Hector Marchand, money-lender and capitalist of Manitou, had pressed his attentions upon her during the last year since he had returned from the East, bringing dissoluteness and vulgar pride with him. Women had spoiled him, money had corrupted and degraded him.

"Come, beautiful brave, it's Salut! Salut! Salut!" he said, bending towards her familiarly.

Her face flushed with anger.

"Let me pass, monsieur," she said sharply.

"Pride of Manitou-" he apostrophized, but got no farther.

Ingolby caught him by the shoulders, wheeled him round, and then flung him at the feet of Tekewani and his braves.

At this moment Tekewani's eyes had such a fire as might burn in Wotan's smithy. He was ready enough to defy the penalty of the law for assaulting a white man, but Felix Marchand was in the dust, and that would do for the moment.

With grim face Ingolby stood over the begrimed figure. "There's the river if you want more," he said. "Tekewani knows where the water's deepest." Then he turned and followed Fleda and the woman in black. Felix Marchand's face was twisted with hate as he got slowly to his feet.

"You'll eat dust before I'm done," he called after Ingolby. Then, amid the jeers of the crowd, he went back to the tavern where he had been carousing.

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