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White Fire By John Oxenham Characters: 5731

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The night that followed that meeting at Queen's Hall was the most tempestuous time Jean Arnot ever passed through.

The dramatic events of the meeting had shaken her hidden soul out of its sanctuary. She was thankful to get home intact-so far, at all events, as outward appearances went.

She went at once to her own room. She locked herself in, and paced the floor till she could pace no more.

She could order her steps, but not her thoughts, and her thoughts took wings and climbed lofty heavens of white-piled clouds, and the white-piled clouds were all rosy-tipped, because the thoughts that scaled them came straight from her heart and were tinged with the rosy gold of her heart's desire.

Oh, wonderful! wonderful! The great big soul of him! Was there a nobler man on earth?

How easy to have let it pass! to have kept it between God and himself only! to have worked out his redemption in secret! But he could not, because he was a true man-the truest man ever born, and the bravest. Oh the great, big, noble soul of him!

To and fro she paced, and, no matter where she looked, his white, set face and blazing eyes looked out at her in that agonised strenuity of appeal which had stirred her so in the hall, stirred her to the depths till she had had difficulty in sitting still. It had seemed to her as though he lost sight of all those straining thousands and spoke only to her-as though they were all nothing, and she the whole world. Had he recognised her, she wondered, or had he perceived, in spite of the disguisement of her steady face, the intensity of her sympathy, and had clung to it as to a one and only hope?

And as she paced, and sank down into her chair, which had lost all its ordinary sense of comfort, and started up and paced again, there sprang up in her heart a great golden-glowing purpose-a purpose that trapped her breath and set her gasping when first it peeped out, but which grew like an escaped genie, and filled the world of her thoughts before she knew, and was never to be confined within bounds again.

An unheard-of thing! An incredible thing! A shameless thing!

Nay, not that-and yet-yes! yes! Shameless indeed, for shameless meant without sense of shame, and no sense of shame had she-glory rather.

An unmaidenly thing, then! That without doubt, but not without precedent, and circumstances make laws unto themselves.

But, whatever it was or was not, it grew and grew, stronger and stronger, and ever brighter in its glowing, golden rose.

As she paced to and fro it seemed to her that her path in life had suddenly flashed out before her on the darkness of the night. It was limned in lines and letters of fire, and they cried to her to follow, follow, follow.

And now, as she thought it all out, with tightened lips, and crumpled brow, and eyes that shone, it came home to her, like a reve

lation, that all her life had been working up to this starry point.

She thought long and deeply, and then turned up the light and sat down to her writing-table with a purposeful face. It was done in a moment-a couple of lines. But a single word has changed the destiny of a nation before this. Weighty things, words, at times! Live shells are playthings to them.

She folded and addressed her letter, and then pondered the best way over a difficulty. She wrote two more lines and enclosed them with her original letter in a larger envelope, and addressed it, and then she laid her white forehead on the packet for a moment as it lay on the table. And then, like one whose ships are burned, or whose golden bridge is built, she altered the indicator outside her door, so that her maid would call her at seven, and went to bed. Once, before she got to sleep, she smiled to herself and almost laughed out, as she suddenly remembered that it was Leap Year. Then she cooled her burning cheek on the other pillow and went to sleep, and slept soundly, for she had been living at high pressure these last few hours, and the morrow would need all her strength.

When the maid brought up her cup of tea in the morning, she handed her the letter which had stood on the table by her bedside all night, with these precise directions: "Tell William"-the groom-"to ride into the city and deliver that letter. The answer he will take to whatever address may be given him."

She got up and dressed, and went out for a quick walk in Kensington Gardens. At breakfast Aunt Jannet Harvey commented on her appearance.

"Why, child, what a colour you've got! What took you out so early?"

"I've been bathing in dew and early sunbeams, auntie."

"I couldn't sleep all night for thinking of that young man and his savages. It appears to me that that is a very great man, Jean. If he lives he will do very noble work. It needed a big soul to face that crowd and tell that story as he did it."

"Yes," said Jean. She had never discussed Kenneth Blair with Aunt Jannet Harvey, not to the extent of one single word.

After breakfast she found it difficult to settle down to any of her usual avocations. She could neither read nor play, and she declined to go out. Aunt Jannet Harvey expressed the opinion that such early rising did not suit her, and Jean confirmed her views by going upstairs to her room and wandering about there at a loose end and doing nothing-nothing but think, think, think.

Her maid brought her word that William had returned, having executed his mission in full; and please would Miss Arnot ride in the afternoon?

Miss Arnot would neither ride nor drive that afternoon, nor would she require the brougham in the evening. Mary would please ask Mrs. Harvey if she wished to drive in the afternoon. If not, the men's services would not be required.

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