The Weavers


Faith withdrew her eyes from Hylda's face, and they wandered helplessly over the room. They saw, yet did not see; and even in her trouble there was some subconscious sense softly commenting on the exquisite refinement and gentle beauty which seemed to fill the room; but the only definite objects which the eyes registered at the moment were the flowers filling every corner. Hylda had been lightly adjusting a clump of roses when she entered; and she had vaguely noticed how pale was the face that bent over the flowers, how pale and yet how composed—as she had seen a Quaker face, after some sorrow had passed over it, and left it like a quiet sea in the sun, when wreck and ruin were done. It was only a swift impression, for she could think of but one thing, David and his safety. She had come to Hylda, she said, because of Lord Eglington's position, and she could not believe that the Government would see David's work undone and David killed by the slave-dealers of Africa.

Hylda's reply had given her no hope that Eglington would keep the promise he had made that evening long ago when her father had come upon them by the old mill, and because of which promise she had forgiven Eglington so much that was hard to forgive. Hylda had spoken with sorrowful decision, and then this pause had come, in which Faith tried to gain composure and strength. There was something strangely still in the two women. From the far past, through Quaker ancestors, there had come to Hylda now this grey mist of endurance and self-control and austere reserve. Yet behind it all, beneath it all, a wild heart was beating.

Presently, as they looked into each other's eyes, and Faith dimly apprehended something of Hylda's distress and its cause, Hylda leaned over and spasmodically pressed her hand.

"It is so, Faith," she said. "They will do nothing. International influences are too strong." She paused. "The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs will do nothing; but yet we must hope. Claridge Pasha has saved himself in the past; and he may do so now, even though it is all ten times worse. Then, there is another way. Nahoum Pasha can save him, if he can be saved. And I am going to Egypt—to Nahoum."

Faith's face blanched. Something of the stark truth swept into her brain. She herself had suffered—her own life had been maimed, it had had its secret bitterness. Her love for her sister's son was that of a mother, sister, friend combined, and he was all she had in life. That he lived, that she might cherish the thought of him living, was the one thing she had; and David must be saved, if that might be; but this girl—was she not a girl, ten years younger than herself?—to go to Egypt to do—what? She herself lived out of the world, but she knew the world! To go to Egypt, and—"Thee will not go to Egypt. What can thee do?" she pleaded, something very like a sob in her voice. "Thee is but a woman, and David would not be saved at such a price, and I would not have him saved so. Thee will not go. Say thee will not. He is all God has left to me in life; but thee to go—ah, no! It is a bitter world—and what could thee do?"

Hylda looked at her reflectively. Should she tell Faith all, and take her to Egypt? No, she could not take her without telling her all, and that was impossible now. There might come a time when this wise and tender soul might be taken into the innermost chambers, when all the truth might be known; but the secret of David's parentage was Eglington's concern most of all, and she would not speak now; and what was between Nahoum and David was David's concern; and she had kept his secret all these years. No, Faith might not know now, and might not come with her. On this mission she must go alone.

Hylda rose to her feet, still keeping hold of Faith's hand. "Go back to Hamley and wait there," she said, in a colourless voice. "You can do nothing; it may be I can do much. Whatever can be done I can do, since England will not act. Pray for his safety. It is all you can do. It is given to some to work, to others to pray. I must work now."

She led Faith towards the door; she could not endure more; she must hold herself firm for the journey and the struggle before her. If she broke down now she could not go forward; and Faith's presence roused in her an emotion almost beyond control.

At the door she took both of Faith's hands in hers, and kissed her cheek. "It is your place to stay; you will see that it is best. Good-bye," she added hurriedly, and her eyes were so blurred that she could scarcely see the graceful, demure figure pass into the sunlit street.

That afternoon Lord Windlehurst entered the Duchess of Snowdon's presence hurried and excited. She started on seeing his face.

"What has happened?" she asked breathlessly. "She is gone," he answered. "Our girl has gone to Egypt."

The Duchess almost staggered to her feet. "Windlehurst—gone!" she gasped.

"I called to see her. Her ladyship had gone into the country, the footman said. I saw the butler, a faithful soul, who would die—or clean the area steps—for her. He was discreet; but he knew what you and I are to her. It was he got the tickets—for Marseilles and Egypt."

The Duchess began to cry silently. Big tears ran down a face from which the glow of feeling had long fled, but her eyes were sad enough.

"Gone—gone! It is the end!" was all she could say. Lord Windlehurst frowned, though his eyes were moist. "We must act at once. You must go to Egypt, Betty. You must catch her at Marseilles. Her boat does not sail for three days. She thought it went sooner, as it was advertised to do. It is delayed—I've found that out. You can start to-night, and—and save the situation. You will do it, Betty?"

"I will do anything you say, as I have always done." She dried her eyes.

"She is a good girl. We must do all we can. I'll arrange everything for you myself. I've written this paragraph to go into the papers to-morrow morning: 'The Duchess of Snowdon, accompanied by Lady Eglington, left London last night for the Mediterranean via Calais, to be gone for two months or more.' That is simple and natural. I'll see Eglington. He must make no fuss. He thinks she has gone to Hamley, so the butler says. There, it's all clear. Your work is cut out, Betty, and I know you will do it as no one else can."

"Oh, Windlehurst," she answered, with a hand clutching at his arm, "if we fail, it will kill me."

"If she fails, it will kill her," he answered, "and she is very young. What is in her mind, who can tell? But she thinks she can help Claridge somehow. We must save her, Betty."

"I used to think you had no real feeling, Windlehurst. You didn't show it," she said in a low voice. "Ah, that was because you had too much," he answered. "I had to wait till you had less." He took out his watch.

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