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   Chapter 7 IN WHICH THE PRISONER GOES FREE

The World For Sale, Volume 1. By Gilbert Parker Characters: 26096

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


As Fleda wound her way through the deeper wood, remembering the things which had just been said between herself and Ingolby, the colour came and went in her face. To no man had she ever talked so long and intimately, not even in the far-off days when she lived the Romany life.

Then, as daughter of the head of all the Romanys, she had her place apart; and the Romany lads had been few who had talked with her even as a child. Her father had jealously guarded her until the time when she fell under the spell and influence of Lady Barrowdale. Here, by the Sagalac, she had moved among this polyglot people with an assurance of her own separateness which was the position of every girl in the West, but developed in her own case to the nth degree.

Never before had she come so near-not to a man, but to what concerned a man; and never had a man come so near to her or what concerned her inmost life. It was not a question of opportunity or temptation-these always attend the footsteps of those who would adventure; but for long she had fenced herself round with restrictions of her own making; and the secrecy and strangeness of her father's course had made this not only possible, but in a sense imperative.

The end to that had come. Gaiety, daring, passion, elation, depression, were alive in her now, and in a sense had found an outlet in a handful of days-indeed since the day when Jethro Fawe and Max Ingolby had come into her life, each in his own way, for good or for evil. If Ingolby came for good, then Jethro Fawe came for evil. She would have revolted at the suggestion that Jethro Fawe came for good.

Yet, during the last few days, she had been drawn again and again towards the hut in the wood. It was as though a power stronger than herself had ordered her not to wander far from where the Romany claimant of herself awaited his fate. As though Jethro knew she was drawn towards him, he had sung the Gipsy songs which she and Ingolby had heard in the distance. He might have shouted for relief in the hope of attracting the attention of some passer-by, and so found release and brought confusion and perhaps punishment to Gabriel Druse; but that was not possible to him. First and last he was a Romany, good or bad; and it was his duty to obey his Ry of Rys, the only rule which the Romany acknowledged. "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him," he would have said, if he had ever heard the phrase; but in his stubborn way he made the meaning of the phrase the pivot of his own action. If he could but see Fleda face to face, he made no doubt that something would accrue to his advantage. He would not give up the hunt without a struggle.

Twice a day Gabriel Druse had placed food and water inside the door of the hut and locked him fast again, but had not spoken to him save once, and then but to say that his fate had not yet been determined. Jethro's reply had been that he was in no haste, that he could wait for what he came to get; that it was his own-'ay bor'! it was his own, and God or devil could not prevent the thing meant to be from the beginning of the world.

He did not hear Fleda approach the hut; he was singing to himself a song he had learned in Montenegro. There the Romany was held in high regard, because of the help his own father had given to the Montenegrin people, fighting for their independence, by admirable weapons of Gipsy workmanship, setting all the Gipsies in that part of the Balkans at work to supply them.

This was the song he sang

"He gave his soul for a thousand days,

The sun was his in the sky,

His feet were on the neck of the world

He loved his Romany chi.

"He sold his soul for a thousand days,

By her side to walk, in her arms to lie;

His soul might burn, but her lips were his,

And the heart of his Romany chi."

He repeated the last two lines into a rising note of exultation:

"His soul might burn, but her lips were his,

And the heart of his Romany chi."

The key suddenly turned in the lock, the door opened on the last words of the refrain, and, without hesitation, Fleda stepped inside, closing the door behind her.

"'Mi Duvel', but who would think-ah, did you hear me call then?" he asked, rising from the plank couch where he had been sitting. He showed his teeth in a smile which was meant to be a welcome, but it had an involuntary malice.

"I heard you singing," she answered composedly, "but I do not come here because I'm called."

"But I do," he rejoined. "You called me from over the seas, and I came. I was in the Balkans; there was trouble-Servia, Montenegro, and Austria were rattling the fire-irons again, and there was I as my father was before me. But I heard you calling, and I came."

"You never heard me call, Jethro Fawe," she returned quietly. "My calling of you is as silent as the singing of the stars, where you are concerned. And the stars do not sing."

"But the stars do sing, and you call just the same," he responded with a twist to his moustache, and posing against the wall. "I've heard the stars sing. What's the noise they make in the heart, if it's not singing? You don't hear with the ears only. The heart hears. It's only a manner of speaking, this talk about the senses. One sense can do the same as all can do and a Romany ought to know how to use one or all. When your heart called I heard it, and across the seas I came. And by long and by last, but I was right in coming."

His impudence at once irritated her and provoked her admiration. She knew by instinct how false he was, and how a lie was as common with him as the truth; but his submission to her father, his indifference to his imprisonment, forced her interest, even as she was humiliated by the fact that he was sib to her, bound by ties of clan and blood apart from his monstrous claim of marriage. He was indeed such a man as a brainless or sensual woman could yield to with ease. He had an insinuating animal grace, that physical handsomeness which marks so many of the Tziganies who fill the red coats of a Gipsy musical sextette! He was not distinguished, yet there was an intelligence in his face, a daring at his lips and chin, which, in the discipline and conventions of organized society, would have made him superior. Now, with all his sleek handsomeness, he looked a cross between a splendid peasant and a chevalier of industry.

She compared him instinctively with Ingolby the Gorgio, as she looked at him. What was it made the difference between the two? It was the world in a man-personality, knowledge of life, the culture of the thousand things which make up civilization: it was personality got from life and power in contest with the ordered world.

Yet was this so after all? Tekewani was only an Indian brave who lived on the bounty of a government, and yet he had presence and an air of command. Tekewani had been a nomad; he had not been bound to one place, settled in one city, held subservient to one flag. But, no, she was wrong: Tekewani had been the servant and child of a system which was as fixed and historical as that of Russia or Spain. He belonged to a people who had traditions and laws of their own; organized communities moving here and there, but carrying with them their system, their laws and their national feeling.

There was the difference. This Romany was the child of irresponsibility, the being that fed upon life, that did not feed life; that left one place in the world to escape into another; that squeezed one day dry, threw it away, and then went seeking another day to bleed; for ever fleeing from yesterday, and using to-day only as a camping-ground. Suddenly, however, she came to a stop in her reflections. Her father, Gabriel Druse, was of the same race as this man, the same unorganized, irresponsible, useless race, with no weight of civic or social duty upon its shoulders-where did he stand? Was he no better than such as Jethro Fawe? Was he inferior to such as Ingolby, or even Tekewani?

She realized that in her father's face there was the look of one who had no place in the ambitious designs of men, who was not a builder, but a wayfarer. She had seen the look often of late, and had never read it until now, when Jethro Fawe stared at her with the boldness of possession, with the insolence of a soul of lust which had had its victories.

She read his look, and while one part of her shrank from him as from some noisome thing, another part of her-to her dismay and anger-understood him, and did not resent him. It was the Past dragging at her life. It was inherited predisposition, the unregulated passions of her forebears, the mating of the fields, the generated dominance of the body, which was not to be commanded into obscurity, but must taunt and tempt her while her soul sickened. She put a hand on herself. She must make this man realize once and for all that they were as far apart as Adam and Cagliostro. "I never called to you," she said at last. "I did not know of your existence, and, if I had, then I certainly shouldn't have called."

"The Gorgios have taken away your mind, or you'd understand," he replied coolly. "Your soul calls and those that understand come. It isn't that you know who hears or who is coming-till he comes."

"A call to all creation!" she answered disdainfully. "Do you think you can impress me by saying things like that?"

"Why not? It's true. Wherever you went in all these years the memory of you kept calling me, my little 'rinkne rakli'-my pretty little girl, made mine by the River Starzke over in the Roumelian country."

"You heard what my father said-"

"I heard what the Duke Gabriel said-'Mi Duvel', I heard enough what he said, and I felt enough what he did!"

He laughed, and began to roll a cigarette mechanically, keeping his eyes fixed on her, however.

"You heard what my father said and what I said, and you will learn that it is true, if you live long enough," she added meaningly.

A look of startled perception flashed into his eyes. If I live long enough, I'll turn you, my mad wife, into my Romany queen and the blessing of my 'tan'."

"Don't mistake what I mean," she urged. "I shall never be ruler of the

Romanys. I shall never hear-"

"You'll hear the bosh played-fiddle, they call it in these heathen places-at your second wedding with Jethro Fawe," he rejoined insolently, lighting his cigarette. "Home you'll come with me soon-'ay bor'!"

"Listen to me," she answered with anger tingling in every nerve and fibre. "I come of your race, I was what you are, a child of the hedge and the wood and the road; but that is all done. Home, you say! Home- in a tent by the roadside or-"

"As your mother lived-where you were bornwell, well, but here's a Romany lass that's forgot her cradle!"

"I have forgotten nothing. I have only moved on. I have only seen that there is a better road to walk than that where people, always looking behind lest they be followed, and always looking in front to find refuge, drop the patrin in the dust or the grass or the bushes for others to follow after-always going on and on because they dare not go back."

Suddenly he threw his cigarette on the ground, and put his heel upon it in fury real or assumed. "Great Heaven and Hell," he exclaimed, "here's a Romany has sold her blood to the devil! And this is the daughter of Gabriel Druse, King and Duke of all the Romanys, him with ancestor King Panuel, Duke of Little Egypt, who had Sigismund, and Charles the Great, and all the kings for friends. By long and by last, but this is a tale to tell to the Romanys of the world!" For reply she went to the door and opened it wide. "Then go and tell it, Jethro Fawe, to all the world. Tell them I am the renegade daughter of Gabriel Druse, ruler of them all. Tell them there is no fault in him, and that he will return to his own people in his own time, but that I, Fleda Druse, will never return- never! Now, get you gone from here."

The sunlight broke through the trees, and fell in a narrow path of light upon the doorway. A little grey bird fluttered into the radiance and came tripping across the threshold; a whippoorwill called in the ashtrees; and the sweet smell of the thick woodland, of the bracken and fern, crept into the room. The balm of a perfect evening of Summer was upon the face of nature. The world seemed untroubled and serene; but in this hidden but two stormy spirits broke the peace to which the place and the time were all entitled.

After Fleda's scornful words of release and dismissal, Jethro stood for a moment confounded and dismayed. He had not reckoned with this. During their talk it had come to him how simple it would be to overpower any check to his exit, how devilishly easy to put the girl at a disadvantage; but he drove the thought from him. In the first place, he was by no means sure that escape was what he wanted-not yet, at any rate; in the second place, if Gabriel Druse passed the word along the subterranean wires of the Romany world that Jethro Fawe should van

ish, he would not long cumber the ground.

Yet it was not cowardice or fear of consequences which had held him back; it was a staggering admiration for this girl who had been given to him in marriage so many years ago. He had fared far and wide in his adventures and amours when he had gold in plenty; and he had swung more than one Gorgio woman in the wild dance of sentiment, dazzling them by the splendour of his passion. The fire gleaming in his dark eyes lighted a face which would have made memorable a picture by Guido. He had fared far and wide, but he had never seen a woman who had seized his imagination as this girl was doing; who roused in him, not the old hot desire, but the hungry will to have a 'tan' of his own, and go travelling down the world with one who alone could satisfy him for all his days.

As he sat in this improvised woodland prison he had had visions of a hundred glades and valleys through which he had passed in days gone by- in England, in Spain, in Italy, in Roumania, in Austria, in Australia, in India-where his camp-fires had burned. In his visions he had seen her-Fleda Fawe, not Fleda Druse-laying the cloth and bringing out the silver cups, or stretching the Turkey rugs upon the ground to make a couch for two bright-eyed lovers to whom the night was as the day, radiant and full of joy. He had shut his eyes and beheld hillsides where abandoned castles stood, and the fox and the squirrel and the hawk gave shade and welcome to the dusty pilgrims of the road; or, when the wild winds blew in winter, gave shelter and wood for the fire, and a sense of homeliness among the companionable trees.

He had seen himself and this beautiful Romany 'chi' at some village fair, while the lesser Romany folk told fortunes, or bought and sold horses, and the lesser still tinkered or worked in gold or brass; he had seen them both in a great wagon with bright furnishings and brass-girt harness on their horses, lording it over all, rich, dominant and admired. In his visions he had even seen a Romany babe carried in his arms to a Christian church and there baptized in grandeur as became the child of the head of the people. His imagination had also seen his own tombstone in some Christian churchyard near to the church porch, where he would not be lonely when he was dead, but could hear the gossip of the people as they went in and out of church; and on the tombstone some such inscription as he had seen once at Pforzheim-"To the high-born Lord Johann, Earl of Little Egypt, to whose soul God be gracious and merciful."

To be sure, it was a strange thing for a Romany to be buried in a Gorgio churchyard; but it was what had chanced to many great men of the Romanys, such as the high-born Lord Panuel at Steinbrock, and Peter of Kleinschild at Mantua-all of whom had great emblazoned monuments in Christian churches, just to show that in all-levelling death they condescended from high estate to mingle their ashes with the dust of the Gorgio.

He had sought out his chieftain here in the new world in a spirit of adventure, cupidity and desire. He had come like one who betrays, but he acknowledged to a higher force than his own and to superior rights when Gabriel Druse's strong arm brought him low; and, waking to life and consciousness again, he was aware that another force also had levelled him to the earth. That force was this woman's spirit which now gave him his freedom so scornfully; who bade him begone and tell their people everywhere that she was no longer a Romany, while she would go, no doubt -a thousand times without doubt unless he prevented it-to the swaggering Gorgio who had saved her on the Sagalac.

She stood waiting for him to go, as though he could not refuse his freedom. As a bone is tossed to a dog, she gave it to him.

"You have no right to set me free," he said coolly now. "I am not your prisoner. You tell me to take that word to the Romany people-that you leave them for ever. I will not do it. You are a Romany, and a Romany you must stay. You belong nowhere else. If you married a Gorgio, you would still sigh for the camp beneath the stars, for the tambourine and the dance-"

"And the fortune-telling," she interjected sharply, "and the snail-soup, and the dirty blanket under the hedge, and the constable on the road behind, always just behind, watching, waiting, and-"

"The hedge is as clean as the dirty houses where the low-class Gorgios sleep. In faith, you are a long way from the River Starzke!" he added. "But you are my mad wife, and I must wait till you've got sense again."

He sat down on the plank couch, and began to roll a cigarette once more.

"You come fitted out like a Gorgio lass now, and you look like a Gorgio countess, and you have the manners of an Archduchess; but that's nothing; it will peel off like a blister when it's pricked. Underneath is the Romany. It's there, and it will show red and angry when we've stripped off the Gorgio. It's the way with a woman, always acting, always imagining herself something else than what she is-if she's a beggar fancying herself a princess; if she's a princess fancying herself a flower-girl. 'Mi Duvel', but I know you all!"

Every word he said went home. She knew that there was truth in what he said, and that beneath all was the Romany blood; but she meant to conquer it. She had made her vow to one in England that she loved, and she would not change. Whatever happened, she had finished with Romany life, and to go back would only mean black tragedy in the end. A month ago it was a vow and an inner desire which made her determined; to-day it was the vow and a man-a Gorgio whom she had but now left in the woods, gazing after her with the look which a woman so well interprets.

"You mean you won't go free from here? Because I was a Romany, and wish you no harm, I have come here to-day to let you go where you will-to go back to the place where the patrins show where your people travel. I set you free, and you say what you think will hurt and shame me. You have a cruel soul. You would torture any woman till she died. You shall not torture me. You are as far from me as the River Starzke. I could have let you stay here for my father to deal with, but I have set you free. I open the door for you, though you are nothing to me, and I am no more to you than one of the women you have fooled and left to eat the vile bread of the forsaken. You have been, you are a wolf-a wolf."

He got to his feet again, and the blood rushed to his face, so that it seemed almost black. A torrent of mad words gathered in his throat, but they choked him, and in the pause his will asserted itself. He became cool and deliberate.

"You are right, my girl, I have sucked the orange and thrown the skin away, and I've picked flowers and cast them by, but that was before the first day I saw you as you now are. You were standing by the Sagalac looking out to the west where the pack-trains were travelling into the sun over the mountains, and you had your hand on the neck of your pony. I was not ten feet away from you, behind a juniper-bush. I looked at you, and I wished that I had never seen a woman before and could look at the world as you did then-it was like water from a spring, that look. You are right in what you say. By long and by last I had a hard hand, and when I left what I'd struck down I never looked back. But I saw you, and I wished I had never seen a woman before. You have been here alone with me with that door shut. Have I said or done anything that a Gorgio duke wouldn't do? Ah, God's love, but you were bold to come! I married you by the River Starzke; I looked upon you as my wife; and here you were alone with me! I had my rights, and I had been trampled underfoot by your father-"

"By your Chief."

"'Ay bor', by my Chief! I had my wrongs, and I had my rights, and you were mine by Romany law. It was for me here to claim you-here where a Romany and his wife were alone together!"

His eyes were fixed searchingly on hers, as though he would read the effect of his words before he replied, and his voice had a curious, rough note, as though with difficulty he quelled the tempest within him. "I have my rights, and you had spat upon me," he said with ferocious softness.

She did not blench, but looked him steadily in the eyes.

"I knew what would be in your mind," she answered, "but that did not keep me from coming. You would not bite the hand that set you free."

"You called me a wolf a minute ago."

"But a wolf would not bite the hand that freed it from the trap. Yet if such shame could be, I still would have had no fear, for I should have shot you as wolves are shot that come too near the fold."

He looked at her piercingly, and the pupils of his eyes narrowed to a pin-point. "You would have shot me-you are armed?" he questioned.

"Am I the only woman that has armed herself against you and such as you?

Do you not see?"

"Mi Duvel, but I do see now with a thousand eyes!" he said hoarsely.

His senses were reeling. Down beneath everything had been the thought that, as he had prevailed with other women, he could prevail with her; that she would come to him in the end. He had felt, but he had declined to see, the significance of her bearing, of her dress, of her speech, of her present mode of life, of its comparative luxury, its social distinction of a kind which lifted her above even the Gorgios by whom she was surrounded. A fatuous belief in himself and in his personal powers had deluded him. He had told the truth when he said that no woman had ever appealed to him as she did; that she had blotted out all other women from the book of his adventurous and dissolute life; and he had dreamed a dream of conquest of her when Fortune should hand out to him the key of the situation. Did not the beautiful Russian countess on the Volga flee from her liege lord and share his 'tan'? When he played his fiddle to the Austrian princess, did she not give him a key to the garden where she walked of an evening? And this was a Romany lass, daughter of his Chieftain, as he was son of a great Romany chief; and what marvel could there be that she who had been made his child wife, should be conquered as others had been!

"'Mi Duvel', but I see!" he repeated in a husky fierceness. "I am your husband, but you would have killed me if I had taken a kiss from your lips, sealed to me by all our tribes and by your father and mine."

"My lips are my own, my life is my own, and when I marry, I shall marry a man of my own choosing, and he will not be a Romany," she replied with a look of resolution which her beating heart belied. "I'm not a pedlar's basket."

"'Kek! Kek'! That's plain," he retorted. "But the 'wolf' is no lamb either! I said I would not go till your father set me free, since you had no right to do so, but a wife should save her husband, and her husband should set himself free for his wife's sake"-his voice rose in fierce irony-"and so I will now go free. But I will not take the word to the Romany people that you are no more of them. I am a true Romany. I disobeyed my 'Ry' in coming here because my wife was here, and I wanted her. I am a true Romany husband who will not betray his wife to her people; but I will have my way, and no Gorgio shall take her to his home. She belongs to my tent, and I will take her there."

Her gesture of contempt, anger and negation infuriated him. "If I do not take you to my 'tan', it will be because I'm dead," he said, and his white teeth showed fiercely.

"I have set you free. You had better go," she rejoined quietly.

Suddenly he turned at the doorway. A look of passion burned in his eyes.

His voice became soft and persuasive. "I would put the past behind me,

and be true to you, my girl," he said. "I shall be chief over all the

Romany people when Duke Gabriel dies. We are sib; give me what is mine.

I am yours-and I hold to my troth. Come, beloved, let us go together."

A sigh broke from her lips, for she saw that, bad as he was, there was a moment's truth in his words. "Go while you can," she said. "You are nothing to me."

For an instant he hesitated, then, with a muttered oath, sprang out into the bracken, and was presently lost among the trees.

For a long time she sat in the doorway, and again and again her eyes filled with tears. She felt a cloud of trouble closing in upon her. At last there was the sound of footsteps, and a moment later Gabriel Druse came through the trees towards her. His eyes were sullen and brooding.

"You have set him free?" he asked.

She nodded. "It was madness keeping him here," she said.

"It is madness letting him go," he answered morosely. "He will do harm. 'Ay bor', he will! I might have known-women are chicken-hearted. I ought to have put him out of the way, but I have no heart any more-no heart; I have the soul of a rabbit."

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