MoboReader > Literature > The World For Sale, Volume 1.

   Chapter 6 THE UNGUARDED FIRES

The World For Sale, Volume 1. By Gilbert Parker Characters: 35849

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The public knew well that Ingolby had solved his biggest business problem, because three offices of three railways-one big and two small- suddenly became merged under his control. At which there was rejoicing at Lebanon, followed by dismay and indignation at Manitou, for one of the smaller merged railways had its offices there, and it was now removed to Lebanon; while several of the staff, having proved cantankerous, were promptly retired. As they were French Canadians, their retirement became a public matter in Manitou and begot fresh quarrel between the rival towns.

Ingolby had made a tactical mistake in at once removing the office of the merged railway from Manitou, and he saw it quickly. It was not possible to put the matter right at once, however.

There had already been collision between his own railway-men and the rivermen from Manitou, whom Felix Marchand had bribed to cause trouble: two Manitou men had been seriously hurt, and feeling ran high. Ingolby's eyes opened wide when he saw Marchand's ugly game. He loathed the dissolute fellow, but he realized now that his foe was a factor to be reckoned with, for Marchand had plenty of money as well as a bad nature. He saw he was in for a big fight with Manitou, and he had to think it out.

So this time he went pigeon-shooting.

He got his pigeons, and the slaughter did him good. As though in keeping with the situation, he shot on both sides of the Sagalac with great good luck, and in the late afternoon sent his Indian lad on ahead to Lebanon with the day's spoil, while he loitered through the woods, a gun slung in the hollow of his arm. He had walked many miles, but there was still a spring to his step and he hummed an air with his shoulders thrown back and his hat on the back of his head. He had had his shooting, he had done his thinking, and he was pleased with himself. He had shaped his homeward course so that it would bring him near to Gabriel Druse's house.

He had seen Fleda only twice since the episode at Carillon, and met her only once, and that was but for a moment at a Fete for the hospital at Manitou, and with other people present-people who lay in wait for crumbs of gossip.

Since the running of the Rapids, Fleda had filled a larger place in the eyes of Manitou and Lebanon. She had appealed to the Western mind: she had done a brave physical thing. Wherever she went she was made conscious of a new attitude towards herself, a more understanding feeling. At the Fete when she and Ingolby met face to face, people had immediately drawn round them curious and excited. These could not understand why the two talked so little, and had such an every-day manner with each other. Only old Mother Thibadeau, who had a heart that sees, caught a look in Fleda's eyes, a warm deepening of colour, a sudden embarrassment, which she knew how to interpret.

"See now, monseigneur," she said to Monseigneur Lourde, nodding towards

Fleda and Ingolby, "there would be work here soon for you or Father

Bidette if they were not two heretics."

"Is she a heretic, then, madame?" asked the old white-headed priest, his eyes quizzically following Fleda.

She is not a Catholic, and she must be a heretic, that's certain," was the reply.

"I'm not so sure," mused the priest. Smiling, he raised his hat as he caught Fleda's eyes. He made as if to go towards her, but something in her look held him back. He realized that Fleda did not wish to speak with him, and that she was even hurrying away from her father, who lumbered through the crowd as though unconscious of them all.

Presently Monseigneur Lourde saw Fleda leave the Fete and take the road towards home. There was a sense of excitement in her motions, and he also had seen that tremulous, embarrassed look in her eyes. It puzzled him. He did not connect it wholly with Ingolby as Madame Thibadeau had done. He had lived so long among primitive people that he was more accustomed to study faces than find the truth from words, and he had always been conscious that this girl, educated and even intellectual, was at heart as primitive as the wildest daughter of the tepees of the North. There was also in her something of that mystery which belongs to the universal itinerary-that cosmopolitan something which is the native human.

"She has far to go," the priest said to himself as he turned to greet

Ingolby with a smile, bright and shy, but gravely reproachful, too.

This happened on the day before the collision between the railway-men and the river-drivers, and the old priest already knew what trouble was afoot.

There was little Felix Marchand did which was hidden from him. He made his way to Ingolby to warn him.

As Ingolby now walked in the woods towards Gabriel Druse's house, he recalled one striking phrase used by the aged priest in reference to the closing of the railway offices.

"When you strike your camp, put out the fires," was the aphorism.

Ingolby stopped humming to himself as the words came to his memory again.

Bending his head in thought for a moment, he stood still, cogitating.

"The dear old fellow was right," he said presently aloud with uplifted head. "I struck camp, but I didn't put out the fires. There's a lot of that in life."

That is what had happened also to Gabriel Druse and his daughter. They had struck camp, but had not put out the camp-fires. That which had been done by the River Starzke came again in its appointed time. The untended, unguarded fire may spread devastation and ruin, following with angry freedom the marching feet of those who builded it.

"Yes, you've got to put out your fires when you quit the bivouac," continued Ingolby aloud, as he gazed ahead of him through the opening greenery, beyond which lay Gabriel Druse's home. Where he was the woods were thick, and here and there on either side it was almost impenetrable. Few people ever came through this wood. It belonged in greater part to Gabriel Druse, and in lesser part to the Hudson's Bay Company and the Government; and as the land was not valuable till it was cleared, and there was plenty of prairie land to be had, from which neither stick nor stump must be removed, these woods were very lonely. Occasionally a trapper or a sportsman wandered through them, but just here where Ingolby was none ever loitered. It was too thick for game, there was no roadway leading anywhere, but only an overgrown path, used in the old days by Indians. It was this path which Ingolby trod with eager steps.

Presently, as he stood still at sight of a ground-hog making for its hiding-place, he saw a shadow fall across the light breaking through the trees some distance in front of him. It was Fleda. She had not seen him, and she came hurrying towards where he was with head bent, a brightly-ribboned hat swinging in her fingers. She seemed part of the woods, its wild simplicity, its depth, its colour-already Autumn was crimsoning the leaves, touching them with amber tints, making the woodland warm and kind. She wore a dress of golden brown which matched her hair, and at her throat was a black velvet ribbon with a brooch of antique paste which flashed the light like diamonds, but more softly.

Suddenly, as she came on, she stopped and raised her head in a listening attitude, her eyes opening wide as if listening, too-it was as though she heard with them as well; alive to catch sounds which evaded capture. She was like some creature of an ancient wood with its own secret and immemorial history which the world could never know. There was that in her face which did not belong to civilization or to that fighting world of which Ingolby was so eager a factor. All the generations of the wood and road, the combe and the river, the quarry and the secluded boscage were in her look. There was that about her which was at once elusive and primevally real.

She was not of those who would be lost in the dust of futility. Whatever she was, she was an independent atom in the mass of the world's breeding. Perhaps it was consciousness of the dynamic quality in the girl, her nearness to naked nature, which made Madame Bulteel say that she would "have a history."

If she got twisted as she came wayfaring, if her mind became possessed of a false passion or purpose which she thought a true one, then tragedy would await her. Yet in this quiet wood so near to the centuries that were before Adam was, she looked like a spirit of comedy listening till the Spirit of the Wood should break the silence.

Ingolby felt his blood beat faster. He had a feeling that he was looking at a wood-nymph who might flash out of his vision as a mere fantasy of the mind. There shot through him the strangest feeling that if she were his, he would be linked with something alien to the world of which he was.

Yet, recalling the day at Carillon when her cheek lay on his shoulder and her warm breast was pressed unresistingly against him, as he lifted her from his boat, he knew that he would have to make the hardest fight of his life if he meant not to have more of her than this brief acquaintance, so touched by sensation and romance. He was, maybe, somewhat sensational; his career had, even in its present restricted compass, been spectacular; but romance, with its reveries and its moonshinings, its impulses and its blind adventures, had not been any part of his existence.

Hers were not the first red lips which, voluntarily or involuntarily, had invited him; nor hers the first eyes which had sparkled to his glances; and this triumphant Titian head of hers was not the only one he had seen.

When he had taken her hand at the Hospital Fete, her fingers, long and warm and fine, had folded round his own with a singular confidence, an involuntary enclosing friendliness; and now as he watched her listening -did she hear something?-he saw her hand stretch out as though commanding silence, the "hush!" of an alluring gesture.

This assuredly was not the girl who had run the Carillon Rapids, for that adventuress was full of a vital force like a man's, and this girl had the evanishing charm of a dryad.

Suddenly a change passed over her. She was as one who had listened and had caught the note of song for which she waited; but her face clouded, and the rapt look gave way to an immediate distress. The fantasy of the wood-nymph underwent translation in Ingolby's mind; she was now like a mortal, who, having been transformed, at immortal dictate was returning to mortal state again.

To heighten the illusion, he thought he heard faint singing in the depths of the wood. He put his hands to his ears for a moment, and took them away again to make sure that it was really singing and not his imagination; and when he saw Fleda's face again, there was fresh evidence that his senses had not deceived him. After all, it was not strange that some one should be singing in that deepest wood beyond.

Now Fleda moved forward towards where he stood, quickening her footsteps as though remembering something she must do. He stepped out into the path and came to meet her. She heard his footsteps, saw him, and stood still abruptly.

She did not make a sound, but a hand went to her bosom quickly, as though to quiet her heart or to steady herself. He had broken suddenly upon her intent thoughts, he had startled her as she had been seldom startled, for all her childhood training had been towards self-possession before surprise and danger.

"This is not your side of the Sagalac," she said with a half-smile, regaining composure.

"That is in dispute," he answered gaily. "I want to belong to both sides of the Sagalac, I want both sides to belong to each other so that either side shall not be my side or your side, or-"

"Or Monsieur Felix Marchand's side," she interrupted meaningly.

"Oh, he's on the outside!" snapped the fighter, with a hardening mouth.

She did not reply at once, but put her hat on, and tied the ribbons loosely under her chin, looking thoughtfully into the distance.

"Is that the Western slang for saying he belongs nowhere?" she asked.

"Nowhere here," he answered with a grim twist to the corner of his mouth, his eyes half-closing with sulky meaning. "Won't you sit down?" he added quickly, in a more sprightly tone, for he saw she was about to move on. He motioned towards a log lying beside the path and kicked some branches out of the way.

After slight hesitation she sat down, burying her shoes in the fallen leaves.

"You don't like Felix Marchand?" she remarked presently.

"No. Do you?"

She met his eyes squarely-so squarely that his own rather lost their courage, and he blinked more quickly than is needed with a healthy eye. He had been audacious, but he had not surprised the garrison.

"I have no deep reason for liking or disliking him, and you have," she answered firmly; yet her colour rose slightly, and he thought he had never seen skin that looked so like velvet-creamy, pink velvet.

"You seemed to think differently at Carillon not long ago," he returned.

"That was an accident," she answered calmly. "He was drunk, and that is for forgetting-always."

"Always! Have you seen many men drunk?" he asked quickly. He did not mean to be quizzical, but his voice sounded so, and she detected it.

"Yes, many," she answered with a little ring of defiance in her tone- "many, often."

"Where?" he queried recklessly.

"In Lebanon," she retorted. "In Lebanon-your side."

How different she seemed from a few moments ago when she stood listening like a nymph for the song of the Spirit of the Wood! Now she was gay, buoyant, with a chamois-like alertness and a beaming vigour.

"Now I know what 'blind drunk' means," he replied musingly. "In Manitou when men get drunk, the people get astigmatism and can't see the tangledfooted stagger."

"It means that the pines of Manitou are straighter than the cedars of

Lebanon," she remarked.

"And the pines of Manitou have needles," he rejoined, meaning to give her the victory.

"Is my tongue as sharp as that?" she asked, amusement in her eyes.

"So sharp I can feel the point when I can't see it," he retorted.

"I'm glad of that," she replied with an affectation of conceit. "Of course if you live in Lebanon you need surgery to make you feel a point."

"I give in-you have me," he remarked.

"You give in to Manitou?" she asked provokingly. "Certainly not-only to you. I said, 'You have me.'"

"Ah, you give in to that which won't hurt you-"

"Wouldn't you hurt me?" he asked in a softening tone.

"You only play with words," she answered with sudden gravity. "Hurt you? I owe you what I can not pay back. I owe you my life; but as nothing can be given in exchange for a life, I cannot pay you."

"But like may be given for like," he rejoined in a tone suddenly full of meaning.

"Again you are playing with words-and with me," she answered brusquely, and a little light of anger dawned in her eyes. Did he think that he could say a thing of that sort to her-when he pleased? Did he think that because he had done her a great service, he could say casually what belonged only to the sacred moments of existence? She looked at him with rising indignation, but there suddenly came to her the conviction that he had not spoken with affronting gallantry, but that for him the moment had a gravity not to be marred by the place or the circumstance.

"I beg your pardon if I spoke hastily," he answered presently. "Yet there's many a true word spoken in jest."

There was a moment's silence. She realized that he was drawn to her, and that the attraction was not alone due to his having saved her at Carillon; that he was not taking advantage of the thing which must ever be a bond between them, whatever came of life. When she had seen him at the Hospital Fete, a feeling had rushed over her that he had got nearer to her than any man had ever done. Then-even then, she felt the thing which all lovers, actual, or in the making, feel-that they must do something for the being who to them is more than all else and all others. She was not in love with Ingolby. How could she be in love with this man she had seen but a few times-this Gorgio. Why was it that even as they talked together now, she felt the real, true distance between them-of race, of origin, of history, of life, of circumstance? The hut in the wood where Gabriel Druse had carried Jethro Fawe was not three hundred yards away.

She sighed, stirred, and a wild look came in her eyes-a look of rebellion or of protest. Presently she recovered herself. She was a creature of sudden moods.

"What is it you want to do with Manitou and Lebanon?" she asked after a pause in which the thoughts of both had travelled far.

"You really wish to know-you don't know?" he asked with sudden intensity.

She regarded him frankly, smiled, then she laughed outright, showing her teeth very white and regular and handsome. The boyish eagerness of his look, the whimsical twist of his mouth, which always showed when he was keenly roused-as though everything that really meant anything was part of a comet-like comedy-had caused her merriment. All the hidden things in his face seemed to open out into a swift shrewdness and dry candour when he was in his mood of "laying all the cards upon the table."

"I don't know," she answered quietly. "I have heard things, but I should like to learn the truth from you. What are your plans?"

Her eyes were burning with inquiry. She was suddenly brought to the gateways of a new world. Plans-what had she or her people to do with plans! What Romany ever constructed anything? What did the building of a city or a country mean to a Romany 'chal' or a Romany 'chi', they who lived from field to field, from common to moor, from barn to city wall. A Romany tent or a Romany camp, with its families, was the whole territory of their en

terprise, designs and patriotism. They saw the thousand places where cities could be made, and built their fires on the sites of them, and camped a day, and were gone, leaving them waiting and barren as before. They travelled through the new lands in America from the fringe of the Arctic to Patagonia, but they raised no roof-tree; they tilled no acre, opened no market, set up no tabernacle: they had neither home nor country.

Fleda was the heir of all this, the product of generations of such vagabondage. Had the last few years given her the civic sense, the home sense? From the influence of the Englishwoman, who had made her forsake the Romany life, had there come habits of mind in tune with the women of the Sagalac, who were helping to build so much more than their homes? Since the incident of the Carillon Rapids she had changed, but what the change meant was yet in her unopened Book of Revelations. Yet something stirred in her which she had never felt before. She had come of a race of wayfarers, but the spirit of the builders touched her now.

"What are my plans?" Ingolby drew along breath of satisfaction. "Well, just here where we are will be seen a great thing. There's the Yukon and all its gold; there's the Peace River country and all its unploughed wheat-fields; there's the whole valley of the Sagalac, which alone can maintain twenty millions of people; there's the East and the British people overseas who must have bread; there's China and Japan going to give up rice, and eat the wheaten loaf; there's the U. S. A. with its hundred millions of people-it'll be that in a few years-and its exhausted wheat-fields; and here, right here, is the bread-basket for all the hungry peoples; and Manitou and Lebanon are the centre of it. They will be the distributing centre. I want to see the base laid right. I'm not going to stay here till it all happens, but I want to plan it all so that it will happen, then I'll go on and do a bigger thing somewhere else. These two towns have got to come together; they must play one big game. I want to lay the wires for it. That's why I've got capitalists to start paper-works, engineering works, a foundry, and a sash-door-and- blind factory-just the beginning. That's why I've put two factories on one side of the river and two on the other."

"Was it really you who started those factories?" she asked incredulously.

"Of course! It was part of my plans. I wasn't foolish enough to build and run them myself. I looked for the right people that had the money and the brains, and I let them sweat-let them sweat it out. I'm not a manufacturer; I'm an inventor and a builder. I built the bridge over the river; and-"

She nodded. "Yes, the bridge is good; but they say you are a schemer," she added suggestively.

"Certainly. But if I have schemes which'll do good, I ought to be supported. I don't mind what they call me, so long as they don't call me too late for dinner."

They both laughed. It was seldom he talked like this, and never had he talked to such a listener before. "The merging of the three railways was a good scheme, and I was the schemer," he continued. "It might mean monopoly, but it won't work out that way. It will simply concentrate energy and: save elbow-grease. It will set free capital and capacity for other things."

"They say there will be fewer men at work, not only in the offices but on the whole railway system, and they don't like that in Manitou-ah, no, they don't!" she urged.

"They're right in a sense," he answered. "But the men will be employed

at other things, which won't represent waste and capital overlapping.

Overlapping capital hits everybody in the end. But who says all that?

Who raises the cry of 'wolf' in Manitou?"

"A good many people say it now," she answered, "but I think Felix

Marchand said it first. He is against you, and he is dangerous."

He shrugged a shoulder. "Oh, if any fool said it, it would be the same!" he answered. "That's a fire easily lighted; though it sometimes burns long and hard." He frowned, and a fighting look came into his face.

"Then you know all that is working against you in Manitou-working harder than ever before?"

"I think I do, but I probably don't know all. Have you any special news about it?"

"Felix Marchand is spending money among the men. They are going on strike on your railways and in the mills."

"What mills-in Manitou?" he asked abruptly. "In both towns."

He laughed harshly. "That's a tall order," he said sharply. "Both towns-I don't think so, not yet."

"A sympathetic strike is what he calls it," she rejoined.

"Yes, a row over some imagined grievance on the railway, and all the men in all the factories to strike-that's the new game of the modern labour agitator! Marchand has been travelling in France," he added disdainfully, "but he has brought his goods to the wrong shop. What do the priests-what does Monseigneur Lourde say to it all?"

"I am not a Catholic," she replied gravely. "I've heard, though, that

Monseigneur is trying to stop the trouble. But-" She paused.

"Yes-but?" he asked. "What were you going to say?"

"But there are many roughs in Manitou, and Felix Marchand makes friends with them. I don't think the priests will be able to help much in the end, and if it is to be Manitou against Lebanon, you can't expect a great deal."

"I never expect more than I get-generally less," he answered grimly; and he moved the gun about on his knees restlessly, fingering the lock and the trigger softly.

"I am sure Felix Marchand means you harm," she persisted.

"Personal harm?"

"Yes."

He laughed sarcastically again. "We are not in Bulgaria or Sicily," he rejoined, his jaw hardening; "and I can take care of myself. What makes you say he means personal harm? Have you heard anything?"

"No, nothing, but I feel it is so. That day at the Hospital Fete he looked at you in a way that told me. I think such instincts are given to some people and some races. You read books-I read people. I wanted to warn you, and I do so. This has been lucky in a way, this meeting. Please don't treat what I've said lightly. Your plans are in danger and you also." Was the psychic and fortune-telling instinct of the Romany alive in her and working involuntarily, doing that faithfully which her people did so faithlessly? The darkness which comes from intense feeling had gathered underneath her eyes, and gave them a look of pensiveness not in keeping with the glow of her perfect health, the velvet of her cheek.

"Would you mind telling me where you got your information?" he asked presently.

"My father heard here and there, and I, also, and some I got from old Madame Thibadeau, who is a friend of mine. I talk with her more than with any one else in Manitou. First she taught me how to crochet, but she teaches me many other things, too."

"I know the old girl by sight. She is a character. She would know a lot, that woman."

He paused, seemed about to speak, hesitated, then after a moment hastily said: "A minute ago you spoke of having the instinct of your race, or something like that. What is your race? Is it Irish, or-do you mind my asking? Your English is perfect, but there is something-something-"

She turned away her head, a flush spreading over her face. She was unprepared for the question. No one had ever asked it directly of her since they had come to Manitou. Whatever speculation there had been, she had never been obliged to tell any one of what race she was. She spoke English with no perceptible accent, as she spoke Spanish, Italian, French, Hungarian and Greek; and there was nothing in her speech marking her as different from the ordinary Western woman. Certainly she would have been considered pure English among the polyglot population of Manitou.

What must she say? What was it her duty to say? She was living the life of a British woman, she was as much a Gorgio in her daily existence as this man be side her. Manitou was as much home-nay, it was a thousand times more home-than the shifting habitat of the days when they wandered from the Caspians to John o' Groat's.

For years all traces of the past had been removed as completely as though the tide had washed over them; for years it had been so, until the fateful day when she ran the Carillon Rapids. That day saw her whole horizon alter; that day saw this man beside her enter on the stage of her life. And on that very day, also, came Jethro Fawe out of the Past and demanded her return.

That had been a day of Destiny. The old, panting, unrealized, tempestuous longing was gone. She was as one who saw danger and faced it, who had a fight to make and would make it.

What would happen if she told this man that she was a Gipsy-the daughter of a Gipsy ruler, which was no more than being head of a clan of the world's transients, the leader of the world's nomads. Money-her father had that, at least-much money; got in ways that could not bear the light at times, yet, as the world counts things, not dishonestly; for more than one great minister in a notable country in Europe had commissioned him, more than one ruler and crowned head had used him when "there was trouble in the Balkans," or the "sick man of Europe" was worse, or the Russian Bear came prowling. His service had ever been secret service, when he lived the life of the caravan and the open highway. He had no stable place among the men of all nations, and yet secret rites and mysteries and a language which was known from Bokhara to Wandsworth, and from Waikiki to Valparaiso, gave him dignity of a kind, clothed him with importance.

Yet she wanted to tell this man beside her the whole truth, and see what he would do. Would he turn his face away in disgust? What had she a right to tell? She knew well that her father would wish her to keep to that secrecy which so far had sheltered them-at least until Jethro Fawe's coming.

At last she turned and looked him in the eyes, the flush gone from her face.

"I'm not Irish-do I look Irish?" she asked quietly, though her heart was beating unevenly.

"You look more Irish than anything else, except, maybe, Slav or

Hungarian-or Gipsy," he said admiringly and unwittingly.

"I have Gipsy blood in me," she answered slowly, "but no Irish or

Hungarian blood."

"Gipsy-is that so?" he said spontaneously, as she watched him so intently that the pulses throbbed at her temples.

A short time ago Fleda might have announced her origin defiantly, now her courage failed her. She did not wish him to be prejudiced against her.

"Well, well," he added, "I only just guessed at it, because there's something unusual and strong in you, not because your eyes are so dark and your hair so brown."

"Not because of my 'wild beauty'-I thought you were going to say that," she added ironically and a little defiantly. "I got some verses by post the other day from one of your friends in Lebanon-a stock-rider I think he was, and they said I had a 'wild beauty' and a 'savage sweetness.'"

He laughed, yet he suddenly saw her sensitive vigilance, and by instinct he felt that she was watching for some sign of shock or disdain on his part; yet in truth he cared no more whether she had Gipsy blood in her than he would have done if she had said she was a daughter of the Czar.

"Men do write that kind of thing," he added cheerfully, "but it's quite harmless. There was a disease at college we called adjectivitis. Your poet friend had it. He could have left out the 'wild' and 'savage' and he'd have been pleasant, and truthful too-no, I apologize."

He had seen her face darken under the compliment, and he hastened to put it right.

"I loved a Gipsy once," he added whimsically to divert attention from his mistake, and with so genuine a sympathy in his voice that she was disarmed. "I was ten and she was fifty at least. Oh, a wonderful woman! I had a boy friend, a fat, happy, little joker he was; his name was Charley Long. Well, this woman was his aunt. When she moved through the town people looked twice. She was tall and splendidly made, and her manner-oh, as if she owned the place. She did own a lot-she had more money than any one else thereabouts, anyhow. It was the tallest kind of a holiday when Charley and I walked out to the big white house-golly, but it was white-to visit her! We didn't eat much the day before we went to see her; and we didn't eat much the day after, either. She used to feed us-I wish I could eat like that now! I can see her brown eyes following us about, full of fire, but soft and kind, too. She had a great temper, they said, but everybody liked her, and some loved her. She'd had one girl, but she died of consumption, got camping out in bad weather. Aunt Cynthy-that was what we called her, her name being Cynthia-never got over her girl's death. She blamed herself for it. She had had those fits of going back to the open-for weeks at a time. The girl oughtn't to have been taken to camp out. She was never strong, and it was the wrong place and the wrong time of year-all right in August and all wrong in October.

"Well, always after her girl's death Aunt Cynthy was as I knew her, being good to us youngsters as no one else ever was, or could be. Her tea-table was a sight; and the rest of the meals were banquets. The first time I ever ate hedgehog was at her place. A little while ago, just before you came, I thought of her. A hedgehog crossed the path here, and it brought those days back to me-Charley Long and Aunt Cynthy and all. Yes, the first time I ever ate hedgehog; was in Aunt Cynthy's house. Hi-yi, as old Tekewani says, but it was good!"

"What is the Romany word for hedgehog?" Fleda asked in a low tone.

"Hotchewitchi," he replied instantly. "That's right, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is right," she answered, and her eyes had a far-away look, but there was a kind of trouble at her mouth.

"Do you speak Romany?" she added a little breathlessly.

"No, no. I only picked up words I heard Aunt Cynthy use now and then when she was in the mood."

"What was the history of Aunt Cynthy?"

"I only know what Charley Long told me. Aunt Cynthy was the daughter of a Gipsy-they say the only Gipsy in that part of the country at the time-who used to buy and sell horses, and travel in a big van as comfortable as a house. The old man suddenly died on the farm of Charley's uncle. In a month the uncle married the girl. She brought him thirty thousand dollars."

Fleda knew that this man who had fired her spirit for the first time had told his childhood story to show her the view he took of her origin; but she did not like him less for that, though she seemed to feel a chasm between them still. The new things moving in her were like breezes that stir the trees, not like the wind turning the windmill which grinds the corn. She had scarcely yet begun to grind the corn of life.

She did not know where she was going, what she would find, or where the new trail would lead her. The Past dogged her footsteps, hung round her like the folds of a garment. Even as she rejected it, it asserted its power, troubled her, angered her, humiliated her, called to her.

She was glad of this meeting with Ingolby. It had helped her. She had set out to do a thing she dreaded, and it was easier now than it would have been if they had not met. She had been on her way to the Hut in the Wood, and now the dread of the visit to Jethro Fawe had diminished. The last voice she would hear before she entered Jethro Fawe's prison was that of the man who represented to her, however vaguely, the life which must be her future-the settled life, the life of Society and not of the Saracen.

After he had told his boyhood story they sat in silence for a moment or two, then she rose, and, turning to him, was about to speak. At that instant there came distinctly through the wood a faint, trilling sound. Her face paled a little, and the words died upon her lips. Ingolby, having turned his head as though to listen, did not see the change in her face, and she quickly regained her self-control.

"I heard that sound before," he said, "and I thought from your look you heard it, too. It's funny. It is singing, isn't it?"

"Yes, it's singing," she answered.

"Who is it-some of the heathen from the Reservation?"

"Yes, some of the heathen," she answered.

"Has Tekewani got a lodge about here?"

"He had one here in the old days."

"And his people go to it still-was that where you were going when I broke in on you?"

"Yes, I was going there. I am a heathen, also, you know."

"Well, I'll be a heathen, too, if you'll show me how; if you think I'd pass for one. I've done a lot of heathen things in my time."

She gave him her hand to say good-bye. "Mayn't I go with you?" he asked.

"'I must finish my journey alone,'" she answered slowly, repeating a line from the first English book she had ever read.

"That's English enough," he responded with a laugh. "Well, if I mustn't go with you I mustn't, but my respects to Robinson Crusoe." He slung the gun into the hollow of his arm. "I'd like much to go with you," he urged.

"Not to-day," she answered firmly.

Again the voice came through the woods, a little louder now.

"It sounds like a call," he remarked.

"It is a call," she answered-"the call of the heathen."

An instant after she had gone on, with a look half-smiling, half- forbidding, thrown over her shoulder at him.

"I've a notion to follow her," he said eagerly, and he took a step in her direction.

Suddenly she turned and came back to him. "Your plans are in danger- don't forget Felix Marchand," she said, and then turned from him again.

"Oh, I'll not forget," he answered, and waved his cap after her. "No, I'll not forget monsieur," he added sharply, and he stepped out with a light of battle in his eyes.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares