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   Chapter 5 BY THE RIVER STARZKE . . . IT WAS SO DONE

The World For Sale, Volume 1. By Gilbert Parker Characters: 16846

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


There was absolute silence for a moment. The two men fixed their gaze upon the girl. The fear which had first come to her face passed suddenly, and a will, new-born and fearless, possessed it. Yesterday this will had been only a trembling, undisciplined force, but since then she had been passed through the tests which her own soul, or Destiny, had set for her, and she had emerged a woman, confident and understanding, if tremulous. In days gone by her adventurous, lonely spirit had driven her to the prairies, savagely riding her Indian pony through the streets of Manitou and out on the North Trail, or south through coulees, or westward into the great woods, looking for what: she never found.

Her spirit was no longer the vague thing driving here and there with pleasant torture. It had found freedom and light; what the Romany folk call its own 'tan', its home, though it be but home of each day's trek. That wild spirit was now a force which understood itself in a new if uncompleted way. It was a sword free from its scabbard.

The adventure of the Carillon Rapids had been a kind of deliverance of an unborn thing which, desiring the overworld, had found it. A few hours ago the face of Ingolby, as she waked to consciousness in his arms, had taught her something suddenly; and the face of Felix Marchand had taught her even more. Something new and strange had happened to her, and her father's uncouth but piercing mind saw the change in her. Her quick, fluttering moods, her careless, undirected energy, her wistful waywardness, had of late troubled and vexed him, called on capacities in him which he did not possess; but now he was suddenly aware that she had emerged from passionate inconsistencies and in some good sense had found herself.

Like a wind she had swept out of childhood into a woman's world where the eyes saw things unseen before, a world how many thousand leagues in the future; and here in a flash, also, she was swept like a wind back again to a time before there was even conscious childhood-a dim, distant time when she lived and ate and slept for ever in the field or the vale, in the quarry, beside the hedge, or on the edge of harvest-fields; when she was carried in strong arms, or sat in the shelter of a man's breast as a horse cantered down a glade, under an ardent sky, amid blooms never seen since then. She was whisked back into that distant, unreal world by the figure of a young Romany standing beside a spruce-tree, and by her father's voice which uttered the startling words: "He says he is your husband!"

Indignation and a bitter pride looked out of her eyes, as she heard the preposterous claim-as though she were some wild dweller of the jungle being called by her savage mate back to the lair she had forsaken.

"Since when were you my husband?" she asked Jethro Fawe composedly.

Her quiet scorn brought a quiver to his spirit; for he was of a people to whom anger and passion were part of every relationship of life, its stimulus and its recreation, its expression of the individual.

His eyelids trembled, but he drew himself together. "Seventeen years ago by the River Starzke in the Roumelian country, it was so done," he replied stubbornly. "You were sealed to me, as my Ry here knows, and as you will remember, if you fix your mind upon it. It was beyond the city of Starzke three leagues, under the brown scarp of the Dragbad Hills. It was in the morning when the sun was by a quarter of its course. It happened before my father's tent, the tent of Lemuel Fawe. There you and I were sealed before our Romany folk. For three thousand pounds which my father gave to your father, you-"

With a swift gesture she stopped him. Walking close up to him, she looked him full in the eyes. There was a contemptuous pride in her face which forced him to lower his eyelids sulkily.

He would have understood a torrent of words-to him that would have regulated the true value of the situation; but this disdainful composure embarrassed him. He had come prepared for trouble and difficulty, but he had rather more determination than most of his class and people, and his spirit of adventure was high. Now that he had seen the girl who was his own according to Romany law, he felt he had been a hundred times justified in demanding her from her father, according to the pledge and bond of so many years ago. He had nothing to lose but his life, and he had risked that before. This old man, the head of the Romany folk, had the bulk of the fortune which had been his own father's and he had the logic of lucre which is the most convincing of all logic. Yet with the girl holding his eyes commandingly, he was conscious that he was asking more than a Romany lass to share his 'tan', to go wandering from Romany people to Romany people, king and queen of them all when Gabriel Druse had passed away. Fleda Druse would be a queen of queens, but there was that queenliness in her now which was not Romany-something which was Gorgio, which was caste, which made a shivering distance between them.

As he had spoken, she saw it all as he described it. Vaguely, cloudily, the scene passed before her. Now and again in the passing years had filmy impressions floated before her mind of a swift-flowing river and high crags, and wooded hills and tents and horsemen and shouting, and a lad that held her hand, and banners waved over their heads, and galloping and shouting, and then a sudden quiet, and many men and women gathered about a tent, and a wailing thereafter. After which, in her faint remembrance, there seemed to fall a mist, and a space of blankness, and then a starting up from a bed, and looking out of the doors of a tent, where many people gathered about a great fire, whose flames licked the heavens, and seemed to devour a Romany tent standing alone with a Romany wagon full of its household things.

As Jethro Fawe had spoken, the misty, elusive visions had become living memories, and she knew that he had spoken the truth, and that these fleeting things were pictures of her sealing to Jethro Fawe and the death of Lemuel Fawe, and the burning of all that belonged to him in that last ritual of Romany farewell to the dead.

She knew now that she had been bargained for like any slave-for three thousand pounds. How far away it all seemed, how barbaric and revolting! Yet here it all was rolling up like a flood to her feet, to bear her away into a past with its sordidness and vagabondage, however gilded and graded above the lowest vagabondage.

Here at Manitou she had tasted a free life which was not vagabondage, the passion of the open road which was not an elaborate and furtive evasion of the law and a defiance of social ostracism. Here she and her father moved in an atmosphere of esteem touched by mystery, but not by suspicion; here civilization in its most elastic organization and flexible conventions, had laid its hold upon her, had done in this expansive, loosely knitted social system what could never have been accomplished in a great city-in London, Vienna, Rome, or New York. She had had here the old free life of the road, so full of the scent of deep woods-the song of rivers, the carol of birds, the murmuring of trees, the mysterious and devout whisperings of the night, the happy communings of stray peoples meeting and passing, the gaiety and gossip of the market-place, the sound of church bells across a valley, the storms and wild lightnings and rushing torrents, the cries of frightened beasts, the wash and rush of rain, the sharp pain of frost, and the agonies of some lost traveller rescued from the wide inclemency, the soft starlight after, the balm of the purged air, and "rosy-fingered morn" blinking blithely at the world. The old life of the open road she had had here without anything of its shame, its stigma, and its separateness, its discordance with the stationary forces of law and organized community.

Wild moments there had been of late years when she longed for the faces of Romany folk gathered about the fire, while some Romany 'pral' drew all hearts with the violin or the dulcimer. When Ambrose or Gilderoy or Christo responded to the pleadings of some sentimental lass, and sang to the harpist's strings:

"Cold blows the wind over my true love,

Cold blow the drops of rain;

I never, never had but one sweetheart;

In the green wood he was slain,"

and to cries of "

Again! 'Ay bor'! again!" the blackeyed lover, hypnotizing himself into an ecstasy, poured out race and passion and war with the law, in the true Gipsy rant which is sung from Transylvania to Yetholm or Carnarvon or Vancouver:

"Time was I went to my true love,

Time was she came to me-"

The sharp passion which moved her now as she stood before Jethro Fawe would not have been so acute yesterday; but to-day-she had lain in a Gorgio's arms to-day; and though he was nothing to her, he was still a Gorgio of Gorgios; and this man before her-her husband-was at best but a man of the hedges and the byre and the clay-pit, the quarry and the wood; a nomad with no home, nothing that belonged to what she was now a part of-organized, collective existence, the life of the house-dweller, not the life of the 'tan', the 'koppa', and the 'vellgouris'-the tent, the blanket, and the fair.

"I was never bought, and I was never sold," she said to Jethro Fawe at last "not for three thousand pounds, not in three thousand years. Look at me well, and see whether you think it was so, or ever could be so. Look at me well, Jethro Fawe."

"You are mine-it was so done seventeen years ago," he answered, defiantly and tenaciously.

"I was three years old, seventeen years ago," she returned quietly, but her eyes forced his to look at her, when they turned away as though their light hurt him.

"It is no matter," he rejoined. "It is the way of our people. It has been so, and it will be so while there is a Romany tent standing or moving on."

In his rage Gabriel Druse could keep silence no longer.

"Rogue, what have you to say of such things?" he growled. "I am the head of all. I pass the word, and things are so and so. By long and by last, if I pass the word that you shall sleep the sleep, it will be so, my Romany 'chal'."

His daughter stretched out her hand to stop further speech from her father-"Hush!" she said maliciously, "he has come a long way for naught. It will be longer going back. Let him have his say. It is his capital. He has only breath and beauty."

Jethro shrank from the sharp irony of her tongue as he would not have shrunk before her father's violence. Biting rejection was in her tones. He knew dimly that the thing he shrank from belonged to nothing Romany in her, but to that scornful pride of the Gorgios which had kept the Romany outside the social pale.

"Only breath and beauty!" she had said, and that she could laugh at his handsomeness was certain proof that it was not wilfulness which rejected his claims. Now there was rage in his heart greater than had been in that of Gabriel Druse.

"I have come a long way for a good thing," he said with head thrown back, "and if 'breath and beauty' is all I bring, yet that is because what my father had in his purse has made my 'Ry' rich"-he flung a hand out towards Gabriel Druse-"and because I keep to the open road as my father did, true to my Romany blood. The wind and the sun and the fatness of the field have made me what I am, and never in my life had I an ache or a pain. You have the breath and the beauty, too, but you have the gold also; and what you are and what you have is mine by the Romany law, and it will come to me, by long and by last."

Fleda turned quietly to her father. "If it is true concerning the three thousand pounds, give it to him and let him go. It will buy him what he would never get by what he is."

The old man flashed a look of anger upon her. "He came empty, he shall go empty. Against my commands, his insolence has brought him here. And let him keep his eyes skinned, or he shall have no breath with which to return. I am Gabriel Druse, lord over all the Romany people in all the world from Teheran to San Diego, and across the seas and back again; and my will shall be done."

He paused, reflecting for a moment, though his fingers opened and shut in anger. "This much I will do," he added. "When I return to my people I will deal with this matter in the place where Lemuel Fawe died. By the place called Starzke, I will come to reckoning, and then and then only."

"When?" asked the young man eagerly.

Gabriel Druse's eyes flashed. "When I return as I will to return." Then suddenly he added: "This much I will say, it shall be before-"

The girl stopped him. "It shall be when it shall be. Am I a chattel to be bartered by any will except my own? I will have naught to do with any Romany law. Not by Starzke shall the matter be dealt with, but here by the River Sagalac. This Romany has no claim upon me. My will is my own; I myself and no other shall choose my husband, and he will never be a Romany."

The young man's eyes suddenly took on a dreaming, subtle look, submerging the sulkiness which had filled him. Twice he essayed to speak, but faltered. At last, with an air, he said:

"For seventeen years I have kept the faith. I was sealed to you, and I hold by the sealing. Wherever you went, it was known to me. In my thoughts I followed. I read the Gorgio books; I made ready for this day. I saw you as you were that day by Starzke, like the young bird in the nest; and the thought of it was with me always. I knew that when I saw you again the brown eyes would be browner, the words at the lips would be sweeter-and so it is. All is as I dreamed for these long years. I was ever faithful. By night and day I saw you as you were when Romany law made you mine for ever. I looked forward to the day when I would take you to my 'tan', and there we two would-"

A flush sprang suddenly to Fleda Druse's face, then slowly faded, leaving it pale and indignant. Sharply she interrupted him.

"They should have called you Ananias," she said scornfully. "My father has called you a rogue, and now I know you are one. I have not heard, but I know-I know that you have had a hundred loves, and been true to none. The red scarfs you have given to the Romany and the Gorgio fly- aways would make a tent for all the Fawes in all the world."

At first he flung up his head in astonishment at her words, then, as she proceeded, a flush swept across his face and his eyes filled up again with sullenness. She had read the real truth concerning him. He had gone too far. He had been convincing while he had said what was true, but her instinct had suddenly told her what he was. Her perception had pierced to the core of his life-a vagabondage, a little more gilded than was common among his fellows, made possible by his position as the successor to her father, and by the money of Lemuel Fawe which he had dissipated.

He had come when all his gold was gone to do the one bold thing which might at once restore his fortunes. He had brains, and he knew now that his adventure was in grave peril.

He laughed in his anger. "Is only the Gorgio to embrace the Romany lass? One fondled mine to-day in his arms down there at Carillon. That's the way it goes! The old song tells the end of it:

"'But the Gorgio lies 'neath the beech-wood tree;

He'll broach my tan no more;

And my love she sleeps afar from me,

But near to the churchyard door.

'Time was I went to my true love,

Time was she came to me-'"

He got no farther. Gabriel Druse was on him, gripping his arms so tight to his body that his swift motion to draw a weapon was frustrated. The old man put out all his strength, a strength which in his younger days was greater than any two men in any Romany camp, and the "breath and beauty" of Jethro Fawe grew less and less. His face became purple and distorted, his body convulsed, then limp, and presently he lay on the ground with a knee on his chest and fierce, bony hands at his throat.

"Don't kill him-father, don't!" cried the girl, laying restraining hands on the old man's shoulders. He withdrew his hands and released the body from his knee. Jethro Fawe lay still.

"Is he dead?" she whispered, awestricken. "Dead?" The old man felt the breast of the unconscious man. He smiled grimly. "He is lucky not to be dead."

"What shall we do?" the girl asked again with a white face.

The old man stooped and lifted the unconscious form in his arms as though it was that of a child. "Where are you going?" she asked anxiously, as he moved away.

"To the hut in the juniper wood," he answered. She watched till he had disappeared with his limp burden into the depths of the trees. Then she turned and went slowly towards the house.

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