THE DEBT AND THE ACCOUNTING
His forehead frowning, but his eyes full of friendliness, Soolsby watched
Faith go down the hillside and until she reached the main road. Here, instead of
going to the Red Mansion, she hesitated a moment, and then passed along a wooded
path leading to the Meetinghouse, and the graveyard. It was a perfect day of
early summer, the gorse was in full bloom, and the may and the hawthorn were
alive with colour. The path she had taken led through a narrow lane, overhung
with blossoms and greenery. By bearing away to the left into another path, and
making a detour, she could reach the Meeting-house through a narrow lane leading
past a now disused mill and a small, strong stream flowing from the hill above.
As she came down the hill, other eyes than Soolsby's watched her. From his
laboratory—the laboratory in which his father had worked, in which he had lost
his life—Eglington had seen the trim, graceful figure. He watched it till it
moved into the wooded path. Then he left his garden, and, moving across a field,
came into the path ahead of her. Walking swiftly, he reached the old mill, and
She came slowly, now and again stooping to pick a flower and place it in her
belt. Her bonnet was slung on her arm, her hair had broken a little loose and
made a sort of hood round the face, so still, so composed, into which the light
of steady, soft, apprehending eyes threw a gentle radiance. It was a face to
haunt a man when the storm of life was round him. It had, too, a courage which
might easily become a delicate stubbornness, a sense of duty which might become
sternness, if roused by a sense of wrong to herself or others.
She reached the mill and stood and listened towards the stream and the
waterfall. She came here often. The scene quieted her in moods of restlessness
which came from a feeling that her mission was interrupted, that half her life's
work had been suddenly taken from her. When David went, her life had seemed to
shrivel; for with him she had developed as he had developed; and when her busy
care of him was withdrawn, she had felt a sort of paralysis which, in a sense,
had never left her. Then suitors had come—the soldier from Shipley Wood, the
lord of Axwood Manor, and others, and, in a way, a new sense was born in her,
though she was alive to the fact that the fifteen thousand pounds inherited from
her Uncle Benn had served to warm the air about her into a wider circle. Yet it
was neither to soldier, nor squire, nor civil engineer, nor surgeon that the new
sense stirring in her was due. The spring was too far beneath to be found by
When, at last, she raised her head, Lord Eglington was in the path, looking
at her with a half-smile. She did not start, but her face turned white, and a
mist came before her eyes.
Quickly, however, as though fearful lest he should think he could trouble her
composure, she laid a hand upon herself.
He came near to her and held out his hand. "It has been a long six months
since we met here," he said.
She made no motion to take his hand. "I find days grow shorter as I grow
older," she rejoined steadily, and smoothed her hair with her hand, making ready
to put on her bonnet.
"Ah, do not put it on," he urged quickly, with a gesture. "It becomes you
so—on your arm."
She had regained her self-possession. Pride, the best weapon of a woman, the
best tonic, came to her resource. "Thee loves to please thee at any cost," she
replied. She fastened the grey strings beneath her chin.
"Would it be costly to keep the bonnet on your arm?"
"It is my pleasure to have it on my head, and my pleasure has some value to
"A moment ago," he rejoined laughing, "it was your pleasure to have it on
"Are all to be monotonous except Lord Eglington? Is he to have the only
patent of change?"
"Do I change?" He smiled at her with a sense of inquisition, with an air that
seemed to say, "I have lifted the veil of this woman's heart; I am the master of
She did not answer to the obvious meaning of his words, but said:
"Thee has done little else but change, so far as eye can see. Thee and thy
family were once of Quaker faith, but thee is a High Churchman now. Yet they
said a year ago thee was a sceptic or an infidel."
"There is force in what you say," he replied. "I have an inquiring mind; I am
ever open to reason. Confucius said: 'It is only the supremely wise or the
deeply ignorant who never alter.'"
"Thee has changed politics. Thee made a 'sensation, but that was not enough.
Thee that was a rebel became a deserter."
He laughed. "Ah, I was open to conviction! I took my life in my hands, defied
consequences." He laughed again.
"It brought office."
"I am Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs," he murmured complacently.
"Change is a policy with thee, I think. It has paid thee well, so it would
"Only a fair rate of interest for the capital invested and the risks I've
taken," he answered with an amused look.
"I do not think that interest will increase. Thee has climbed quickly, but
fast climbing is not always safe climbing."
His mood changed. His voice quickened, his face lowered. "You think I will
fail? You wish me to fail?"
"In so far as thee acts uprightly, I wish thee well. But if, out of office,
thee disregards justice and conscience and the rights of others, can thee be
just and faithful in office? Subtlety will not always avail. The strong man
takes the straight course. Subtlety is not intellect."
He flushed. She had gone to the weakest point in his defences. His vanity was
being hurt. She had an advantage now.
"You are wrong," he protested. "You do not understand public life, here in a
silly Quaker village."
"Does thee think that all that happens in 'public life' is of consequence?
That is not sensible. Thee is in the midst of a thousand immaterial things,
though they have importance for the moment. But the chief things that matter to
all, does thee not know that a 'silly Quaker village' may realise them to the
full—more fully because we see them apart from the thousand little things that
do not matter? I remember a thing in political life that mattered. It was at
Heddington after the massacre at Damascus. Does thee think that we did not know
thee spoke without principle then, and only to draw notice?"
"You would make me into a demagogue," he said irritably.
"Thee is a demagogue," she answered candidly.
"Why did you never say all this to me long ago? Years have passed since then,
and since then you and I have—have been friends. You have—"
He paused, for she made a protesting motion, and a fire sprang into her eyes.
Her voice got colder. "Thee made me believe—ah, how many times did we speak
together? Six times it was, not more. Thee made me believe that what I thought
or said helped thee to see things better. Thee said I saw things truly like a
child, with the wisdom of a woman. Thee remembers that?"
"It was so," he put in hastily.
"No, not for a moment so, though I was blinded to think for an instant that
it was. Thee subtly took the one way which could have made me listen to thee.
Thee wanted help, thee said; and if a word of mine could help thee now and then,
should I withhold it, so long as I thought thee honest?"
"Do you think I was not honest in wanting your friendship?"
"Nay, it was not friendship thee wanted, for friendship means a giving and a
getting. Thee was bent on getting what was, indeed, of but little value save to
the giver; but thee gave nothing; thee remembered nothing of what was given
"It is not so, it is not so," he urged eagerly, nervously. "I gave, and I
"In those old days, I did not understand," she went on, "what it was thee
wanted. I know now. It was to know the heart and mind of a woman—of a woman
older than thee. So that thee should have such sort of experience, though I was
but a foolish choice of the experiment. They say thee has a gift for chemistry
like thy father; but if thee experiments no more wisely in the laboratory than
with me, thee will not reach distinction."
"Your father hated my father and did not believe in him, I know not why, and
you are now hating and disbelieving me."
"I do not know why my father held the late Earl in abhorrence; I know he has
no faith in thee; and I did ill in listening to thee, in believing for one
moment there was truth in thee. But no, no, I think I never believed it. I think
that even when thee said most, at heart I believed least."
"You doubt that? You doubt all I said to you?" he urged softly, coming close
She drew aside slightly. She had steeled herself for this inevitable
interview, and there was no weakening of her defences; but a great sadness came
into her eyes, and spread over her face, and to this was added, after a moment,
a pity which showed the distance she was from him, the safety in which she
"I remember that the garden was beautiful, and that thee spoke as though thee
was part of the garden. Thee remembers that, at our meeting in the Cloistered
House, when the woman was ill, I had no faith in thee; but thee spoke with
grace, and turned common things round about, so that they seemed different to
the ear from any past hearing; and I listened. I did not know, and I do not know
now, why it is my duty to shun any of thy name, and above all thyself; but it
has been so commanded by my father all my life; and though what he says may be
in a little wrong, in much it must ever be right."
"And so, from a hatred handed down, your mind has been tuned to shun even
when your heart was learning to give me a home—Faith?"
She straightened herself. "Friend, thee will do me the courtesy to forget to
use my Christian name. I am not a child-indeed, I am well on in years"—he
smiled—"and thee has no friendship or kinship for warrant. If my mind was tuned
to shun thee, I gave proof that it was willing to take thee at thine own worth,
even against the will of my father, against the desire of David, who knew thee
better than I—he gauged thee at first glance."
"You have become a philosopher and a statesman," he said ironically. "Has
your nephew, the new Joseph in Egypt, been giving you instructions in high
politics? Has he been writing the Epistles of David to the Quakers?"
"Thee will leave his name apart," she answered with dignity. "I have studied
neither high politics nor statesmanship, though in the days when thee did
flatter me thee said I had a gift for such things. Thee did not speak the truth.
And now I will say that I do not respect thee. No matter how high thee may
climb, still I shall not respect thee; for thee will ever gain ends by flattery,
by subtlety, and by using every man and every woman for selfish ends. Thee
cannot be true-not even to that which by nature is greatest in thee.".
He withered under her words.
"And what is greatest in me?" he asked abruptly, his coolness and
self-possession striving to hold their own.
"That which will ruin thee in the end." Her eyes looked beyond his into the
distance, rapt and shining; she seemed scarcely aware of his presence. "That
which will bring thee down—thy hungry spirit of discovery. It will serve thee no
better than it served the late Earl. But thee it will lead into paths ending in
a gulf of darkness."
"Deborah!" he answered, with a rasping laugh. "Continuez! Forewarned is
"No, do not think I shall be glad," she answered, still like one in a dream.
"I shall lament it as I lament—as I lament now. All else fades away into the end
which I see for thee. Thee will live alone without a near and true friend, and
thee will die alone, never having had a true friend. Thee will never be a true
friend, thee will never love truly man or woman, and thee will never find man or
woman who will love thee truly, or will be with thee to aid thee in the dark and
"Then," he broke in sharply, querulously, "then, I will stand alone. I shall
never come whining that I have been ill-used, to fate or fortune, to men or to
"That I believe. Pride will build up in thee a strength which will be like
water in the end. Oh, my lord," she added, with a sudden change in her voice and
manner, "if thee could only be true—thee who never has been true to any one!"
"Why does a woman always judge a man after her own personal experience with
him, or what she thinks is her own personal experience?"
A robin hopped upon the path before her. She watched it for a moment
intently, then lifted her head as the sound of a bell came through the wood to
her. She looked up at the sun, which was slanting towards evening. She seemed
about to speak, but with second thought, moved on slowly past the mill and
towards the Meeting-house. He stepped on beside her. She kept her eyes fixed in
front of her, as though oblivious of his presence.
"You shall hear me speak. You shall listen to what I have to say, though it
is for the last time," he urged stubbornly. "You think ill of me. Are you sure
you are not pharisaical?"
"I am honest enough to say that which hurts me in the saying. I do not forget
that to believe thee what I think is to take all truth from what thee said to me
last year, and again this spring when the tulips first came and there was good
news from Egypt."
"I said," he rejoined boldly, "that I was happier with you than with any one
else alive. I said that what you thought of me meant more to me than what any
one else in the world thought; and that I say now, and will always say it."
The old look of pity came into her face. "I am older than thee by two years,"
she answered quaintly, "and I know more of real life, though I have lived always
here. I have made the most of the little I have seen; thee has made little of
the much that thee has seen. Thee does not know the truth concerning thee. Is it
not, in truth, vanity which would have me believe in thee? If thee was happier
with me than with any one alive, why then did thee make choice of a wife even in
the days thee was speaking to me as no man shall ever speak again? Nothing can
explain so base a fact. No, no, no, thee said to me what thee said to others,
and will say again without shame. But—but see, I will forgive; yes, I will
follow thee with good wishes, if thee will promise to help David, whom thee has
ever disliked, as, in the place held by thee, thee can do now. Will thee offer
this one proof, in spite of all else that disproves, that thee spoke any words
of truth to me in the Cloistered House, in the garden by my father's house, by
yonder mill, and hard by the Meeting-house yonder-near to my sister's grave by
the willow-tree? Will thee do that for me?"
He was about to reply, when there appeared in the path before them Luke
Claridge. His back was upon them, but he heard their footsteps and swung round.
As though turned to stone, he waited for them. As they approached, his lips, dry
and pale, essayed to speak, but no sound came. A fire was in his eyes which
boded no good. Amazement, horror, deadly anger, were all there, but, after a
moment, the will behind the tumult commanded it, the wild light died away, and
he stood calm and still awaiting them. Faith was as pale as when she had met
Eglington. As she came nearer, Luke Claridge said, in a low voice:
"How do I find thee in this company, Faith?" There was reproach unutterable
in his voice, in his face. He seemed humiliated and shamed, though all the while
a violent spirit in him was struggling for the mastery.
"As I came this way to visit my sister's grave I met my lord by the mill. He
spoke to me, and, as I wished a favour of him, I walked with him thither—but a
little way. I was going to visit my sister's grave."
"Thy sister's grave!" The fire flamed up again, but the masterful will
chilled it down, and he answered: "What secret business can thee have with any
of that name which I have cast out of knowledge or notice?"
Ignorant as he was of the old man's cause for quarrel or dislike, Eglington
felt himself aggrieved, and, therefore, with an advantage.
"You had differences with my father, sir," he said. "I do not know what they
were, but they lasted his lifetime, and all my life you have treated me with
aversion. I am not a pestilence. I have never wronged you. I have lived your
peaceful neighbour under great provocation, for your treatment would have done
me harm if my place were less secure. I think I have cause for complaint."
"I have never acted in haste concerning thee, or those who went before thee.
What business had thee with him, Faith?" he asked again. His voice was dry and
Her impulse was to tell the truth, and so for ever have her conscience clear,
for there would never be any more need for secrecy. The wheel of understanding
between Eglington and herself had come full circle, and there was an end. But to
tell the truth would be to wound her father, to vex him against Eglington even
as he had never yet been vexed. Besides, it was hard, while Eglington was there,
to tell what, after all, was the sole affair of her own life. In one literal
sense, Eglington was not guilty of deceit. Never in so many words had he said to
her: "I love you;" never had he made any promise to her or exacted one; he had
done no more than lure her to feel one thing, and then to call it another thing.
Also there was no direct and vital injury, for she had never loved him; though
how far she had travelled towards that land of light and trial she could never
now declare. These thoughts flashed through her mind as she stood looking at her
father. Her tongue seemed imprisoned, yet her soft and candid eyes conquered the
austerity in the old man's gaze.
Eglington spoke for her.
"Permit me to answer, neighbour," he said. "I wished to speak with your
daughter, because I am to be married soon, and my wife will, at intervals, come
here to live. I wished that she should not be shunned by you and yours as I have
been. She would not understand, as I do not. Yours is a constant call to war,
while all your religion is an appeal for peace. I wished to ask your daughter to
influence you to make it possible for me and mine to live in friendship among
you. My wife will have some claims upon you. Her mother was an American, of a
Quaker family from Derbyshire. She has done nothing to merit your aversion."
Faith listened astonished and baffled. Nothing of this had he said to her.
Had he meant to say it to her? Had it been in his mind? Or was it only a swift
adaptation to circumstances, an adroit means of working upon the sympathies of
her father, who, she could see, was in a quandary? Eglington had indeed touched
the old man as he had not been touched in thirty years and more by one of his
name. For a moment the insinuating quality of the appeal submerged the fixed
idea in a mind to which the name of Eglington was anathema.
Eglington saw his advantage. He had felt his way carefully, and he pursued it
quickly. "For the rest, your daughter asked what I was ready to offer—such help
as, in my new official position, I can give to Claridge Pasha in Egypt. As a
neighbour, as Minister in the Government, I will do what I can to aid him."
Silent and embarrassed, the old man tried to find his way. Presently he said
tentatively: "David Claridge has a title to the esteem of all civilised people."
Eglington was quick with his reply. "If he succeeds, his title will become a
concrete fact. There is no honour the Crown would not confer for such remarkable
The other's face darkened. "I did not speak, I did not think, of handles to
his name. I find no good in them, but only means for deceiving and deluding the
world. Such honours as might make him baronet, or duke, would add not a cubit to
his stature. If he had such a thing by right"—his voice hardened, his eyes grew
angry once again—"I would wish it sunk into the sea."
"You are hard on us, sir, who did not give ourselves our titles, but took
them with our birth as a matter of course. There was nothing inspiring in them.
We became at once distinguished and respectable by patent."
He laughed good-humouredly. Then suddenly he changed, and his eyes took on a
far-off look which Faith had seen so often in the eyes of David, but in David's
more intense and meaning, and so different. With what deftness and diplomacy had
he worked upon her father! He had crossed a stream which seemed impassable by
adroit, insincere diplomacy.
She saw that it was time to go, while yet Eglington's disparagement of rank
and aristocracy was ringing in the old man's ears; though she knew there was
nothing in Eglington's equipment he valued more than his title and the place it
gave him. Grateful, however, for his successful intervention, Faith now held out
"I must take my father away, or it will be sunset before we reach the
Meeting-house," she said. "Goodbye-friend," she added gently.
For an instant Luke Claridge stared at her, scarce comprehending that his
movements were being directed by any one save himself. Truth was, Faith had come
to her cross-roads in life. For the first time in her memory she had seen her
father speak to an Eglington without harshness; and, as he weakened for a
moment, she moved to take command of that weakness, though she meant it to seem
like leading. While loving her and David profoundly, her father had ever been
quietly imperious. If she could but gain ascendency even in a little, it might
lead to a more open book of life for them both.
Eglington held out his hand to the old man. "I have kept you too long, sir.
Good-bye—if you will."
The offered hand was not taken, but Faith slid hers into the old man's palm,
and pressed it, and he said quietly to Eglington:
"Good evening, friend."
"And when I bring my wife, sir?" Eglington added, with a smile.
"When thee brings the lady, there will be occasion to consider—there will be
Eglington raised his hat, and turned back upon the path he and Faith had
The old man stood watching him until he was out of view. Then he seemed more
himself. Still holding Faith's hand, he walked with her on the gorse-covered
hill towards the graveyard.
"Was it his heart spoke or his tongue—is there any truth in him?" he asked at
Faith pressed his hand. "If he help Davy, father—"
"If he help Davy; ay, if he help Davy! Nay, I cannot go to the graveyard,
Faith. Take me home," he said with emotion.
His hand remained in hers. She had conquered. She was set upon a new path of
influence. Her hand was upon the door of his heart.
"Thee is good to me, Faith," he said, as they entered the door of the Red
She glanced over towards the Cloistered House. Smoke was coming from the
little chimney of the laboratory.