The Weavers


The chair-maker's hut lay upon the north hillside about half-way between the Meeting-house at one end of the village and the common at the other end. It commanded the valley, had no house near it, and was sheltered from the north wind by the hill-top which rose up behind it a hundred feet or more. No road led to it—only a path up from the green of the village, winding past a gulley and the deep cuts of old rivulets now over grown by grass or bracken. It got the sun abundantly, and it was protected from the full sweep of any storm. It had but two rooms, the floor was of sanded earth, but it had windows on three sides, east, west, and south, and the door looked south. Its furniture was a plank bed, a few shelves, a bench, two chairs, some utensils, a fireplace of stone, a picture of the Virgin and Child, and of a cardinal of the Church of Rome with a red hat—for the chair-maker had been a Roman Catholic, the only one of that communion in Hamley. Had he been a Protestant his vices would have made him anathema, but, being what he was, his fellow-villagers had treated him with kindness.

After the half-day in which he was permitted to make due preparations, lay in store of provisions, and purchase a few sheep and hens, hither came David Claridge. Here, too, came Faith, who was permitted one hour with him before he began his life of willing isolation. Little was said as they made the journey up the hill, driving the sheep before them, four strong lads following with necessities—flour, rice, potatoes, and suchlike.

Arrived, the goods were deposited inside the hut, the lads were dismissed, and David and Faith were left alone. David looked at his watch. They had still a handful of minutes before the parting. These flew fast, and yet, seated inside the door, and looking down at the village which the sun was bathing in the last glowing of evening, they remained silent. Each knew that a great change had come in their hitherto unchanging life, and it was difficult to separate premonition from substantial fact. The present fact did not represent all they felt, though it represented all on which they might speak together now.

Looking round the room, at last Faith said: "Thee has all thee needs, David? Thee is sure?"

He nodded. "I know not yet how little man may need. I have lived in plenty."

At that moment her eyes rested on the Cloistered House.

"The Earl of Eglington would not call it plenty." A shade passed over David's face. "I know not how he would measure. Is his own field so wide?"

"The spread of a peacock's feather."

"What does thee know of him?" David asked the question absently.

"I have eyes to see, Davy." The shadows from that seeing were in her eyes as she spoke, but he did not observe them.

"Thee sees but with half an eye," she continued. "With both mine I have seen horses and carriages, and tall footmen, and wine and silver, and gilded furniture, and fine pictures, and rolls of new carpet—of Uncle Benn's best carpets, Davy—and a billiard-table, and much else."

A cloud slowly gathered over David's face, and he turned to her with an almost troubled surprise. "Thee has seen these things—and how?"

"One day—thee was in Devon—one of the women was taken ill. They sent for me because the woman asked it. She was a Papist; but she begged that I should go with her to the hospital, as there was no time to send to Heddington for a nurse. She had seen me once in the house of the toll-gate keeper. Ill as she was, I could have laughed, for, as we went in the Earl's carriage to the hospital-thirty miles it was—she said she felt at home with me, my dress being so like a nun's. It was then I saw the Cloistered House within and learned what was afoot."

"In the Earl's carriage indeed—and the Earl?"

"He was in Ireland, burrowing among those tarnished baubles, his titles, and stripping the Irish Peter to clothe the English Paul."

"He means to make Hamley his home? From Ireland these furnishings come?"

"So it seems. Henceforth the Cloistered House will have its doors flung wide. London and all the folk of Parliament will flutter along the dunes of Hamley."

"Then the bailiff will sit yonder within a year, for he is but a starved Irish peer."

"He lives to-day as though he would be rich tomorrow. He bids for fame and fortune, Davy."

"'Tis as though a shirtless man should wear a broadcloth coat over a cotton vest."

"The world sees only the broadcloth coat. For the rest—"

"For the rest, Faith?"

"They see the man's face, and—"

His eyes were embarrassed. A thought had flashed into his mind which he considered unworthy, for this girl beside him was little likely to dwell upon the face of a renegade peer, whose living among them was a constant reminder of his father's apostasy. She was too fine, dwelt in such high spheres, that he could not think of her being touched by the glittering adventures of this daring young member of Parliament, whose book of travels had been published, only to herald his understood determination to have office in the Government, not in due time, but in his own time. What could there be in common between the sophisticated Eglington and this sweet, primitively wholesome Quaker girl?

Faith read what was passing in his mind. She flushed—slowly flushed until her face—and eyes were one soft glow, then she laid a hand upon his arm and said: "Davy, I feel the truth about him—no more. Nothing of him is for thee or me. His ways are not our ways." She paused, and then said solemnly: "He hath a devil. That I feel. But he hath also a mind, and a cruel will. He will hew a path, or make others hew it for him. He will make or break. Nothing will stand in his way, neither man nor thing, those he loves nor those he hates. He will go on—and to go on, all means, so they be not criminal, will be his. Men will prophesy great things for him—they do so now. But nothing they prophesy, Davy, keeps pace with his resolve."

"How does thee know these things?"

His question was one of wonder and surprise. He had never before seen in her this sharp discernment and criticism.

"How know I, Davy? I know him by studying thee. What thee is not he is. What he is thee is not." The last beams of the sun sent a sudden glint of yellow to the green at their feet from the western hills, rising far over and above the lower hills of the village, making a wide ocean of light, at the bottom of which lay the Meeting-house and the Cloistered House, and the Red Mansion with the fruited wall, and all the others, like dwellings at the bottom of a golden sea. David's eyes were on the distance, and the far-seeing look was in his face which had so deeply impressed Faith in the Meeting-house, by which she had read his future.

"And shall I not also go on?" he asked.

"How far, who can tell?"

There was a plaintive note in her voice—the unavailing and sad protest of the maternal spirit, of the keeper of the nest, who sees the brood fly safely away, looking not back.

"What does thee see for me afar, Faith?" His look was eager.

"The will of God, which shall be done," she said with a sudden resolution, and stood up. Her hands were lightly clasped before her like those of Titian's Mater Dolorosa among the Rubens and Tintorettos of the Prado, a lonely figure, whose lot it was to spend her life for others. Even as she already had done; for thrice she had refused marriages suitable and possible to her. In each case she had steeled her heart against loving, that she might be all in all to her sister's child and to her father. There is no habit so powerful as the habit of care of others. In Faith it came as near being a passion as passion could have a place in her even-flowing blood, under that cool flesh, governed by a heart as fair as the apricot blossoms on the wall in her father's garden. She had been bitterly hurt in the Meeting-house; as bitterly as is many a woman when her lover has deceived her. David had acknowledged before them all that he had played the flute secretly for years! That he should have played it was nothing; that she should not have shared his secret, and so shared his culpability before them all, was a wound which would take long to heal.

She laid her hand upon his shoulder suddenly with a nervous little motion.

"And the will of God thee shall do to His honour, though thee is outcast to-day.... But, Davy, the music-thee kept it from me."

He looked up at her steadily; he read what was in her mind.

"I hid it so, because I would not have thy conscience troubled. Thee would go far to smother it for me; and I was not so ungrateful to thee. I did it for good to thee."

A smile passed across her lips. Never was woman so grateful, never wound so quickly healed. She shook her head sadly at him, and stilling the proud throbbing of her heart, she said:

"But thee played so well, Davy!"

He got up and turned his head away, lest he should laugh outright. Her reasoning—though he was not worldly enough to call it feminine, and though it scarce tallied with her argument—seemed to him quite her own.

"How long have we?" he said over his shoulder. "The sun is yet five minutes up, or more," she said, a little breathlessly, for she saw his hand inside his coat, and guessed his purpose.

"But thee will not dare to play—thee will not dare," she said, but more as an invitation than a rebuke. "Speech was denied me here, but not my music. I find no sin in it."

She eagerly watched him adjust the flute. Suddenly she drew to him the chair from the doorway, and beckoned him to sit down. She sat where she could see the sunset.

The music floated through the room and down the hillside, a searching sweetness.

She kept her face ever on the far hills. It went on and on. At last it stopped. David roused himself, as from a dream. "But it is dark!" he said, startled. "It is past the time thee should be with me. My banishment began at sunset."

"Are all the sins to be thine?" she asked calmly. She had purposely let him play beyond the time set for their being together.

"Good-night, Davy." She kissed him on the cheek. "I will keep the music for the sin's remembrance," she added, and went out into the night.

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