A Daughter of Israel - Fred M. White - ebook

A Daughter of Israel ebook

Fred M White

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Opis

A Crime on Canvas is a story about a rich Blantyres family, which is one of the richest families in England. A few years later, the influence of Blantyres does not disappear. They are just as influential in their environment. The eldest of the Blantyres family decided to rent out their mansion. However, many bad rumors go about him.

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Liczba stron: 274

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Contents

I

II

III

IV

V. The Sweet Republican

VI. Well Met

VII. The Smoother Side

VIII. A Pleasant Surprise

IX. Light And Darkness

X. Overheard

XI. 2,458,160

XII. Turning The Screw

XIII.Magic

XIV. The First Fruits Of Sacrifice

XV. A Place Of Refuge

XVI. Revenge

XVII. Struck Down

XVIII. He Is The Man

XIX. Into That Silent Sea

XX. Confirmation Strong

XXI. Speedwell Goes

XXII. The Prompter’s Bell

I

All through the beauteous summer, with its sunshine and ruddy glow of warmth, there had been misery and despairing want among the countless toilers, the thousands of human bees in the smoky hive called Westport; but in the country there was peace and restfulness, a smell of innumerable flowers in the fields fragrant with blossoming, for the hay harvest had been gathered and the grain was shot with gold in the sloping cornlands above the ruby sea. In Westport the same silence lay; but it was the cascade of starvation, for the men were ‘out,’ and all the clang of countless hammers and whirr of machinery was still. At the street corners there stood sullen, moody crowds staring hunger in the face, and murmuring below their breath as the soldiery, with long step and jingling spurs, went by. The steam cranes no longer slid their heavy burdens into the deep holds of ships, for the docks were quiet as the streets, while in the tidal canal, with waters now pure as crystal, vessels lay waiting for the sea, with their tapering masts faint as gray needles in the ambient air. Now there was no hurry and bustle there, but only three children waving their feet in the lapping waters.

There were other children in the distance playing, yet with no zest in their recreations; but these three seemed to be apart from the others, for they were better clad and had no hollowness of eye or pinched natures as the others. There were two boys and a girl, the eldest boy perhaps sixteen, the others apparently his juniors by the brief span of two years. They did not look like English lads, for their faces were bolder cut and their eyes darker–the aquiline group of countenance which denotes the chosen people. The senior of the little group would have been handsome had it not been for a certain greedy, crafty look on his thin colourless lips, and the deformity between the shoulders. Abishai Abraham, conscious of his ugliness, conscious also of his crooked mind, cared but little for that, and took a pride in his own misfortune from his earliest years–for child he had never been–his hand had been against all men’s, and as against his. For the body has a tendency to warp the mind.

The other two–Hazael and Miriam–had the flashing eyes and inherent boldness of their ancestors; but no such curse spoilt the suppleness of their perfect limbs. In their mild gipsy beauty they would have made a study for an artist as they sat there bathing their feet; Hazael, with head thrown back, and long black hair sweeping from his forehead. But the girl sat upright, swinging her white feet backwards and forwards, with no shield from the fierce sun but her luxuriant ebon locks but looking straight before her with fearless, flashing eyes–a child in years, perhaps, but with a face and figure almost womanly, and from her low forehead to her scarlet mouth giving promise of a coming loveliness, such as Anthony fell down and worshipped, and for love of whom a kingdom fell.

Yet she had no consciousness of this, seated there playing in the crystal brine and looking down into the resplendent liquid; saw no beauty there or future triumph–nothing but the smiling, treacherous water.

“Miriam is admiring herself,” said Abishai, parting his lips in a faint sneer.

“Well, what then?” Hazael retorted, eager to defend his twin sister. “You don’t expect her to admire you, I hope. Miriam is going to be the most beautiful woman in Westport, and then you can walk out together for people to see the contrast.”

“And what is beauty, after all?” asked the cripple, usually unmoved, as he stirred the water with his crutch. “You can’t live on it; you can’t sell it.”

Miriam brought down her glowing eyes from the contemplation of a lofty mast pinnacle, where they upshot like a forest in the sky, and regarded the speaker with a look of infinite disdain.

“You would buy and sell everything,” she said. “And would imprison the sunshine and barter it over a matter. Why?”

“Because everything is valueless besides money. Where should we have been now, the seed of Abraham, if it had not been for our wealth; if we had not held together and helped one another? What chance would the chosen people have had beside the Gentiles but for their money. Why do they flatter us, and fawn upon us, when their extravagance has left them penniless?”

“And hate us because we take advantage of their misfortunes,” Hazael exclaimed. “That is the ban upon our race.”

“They are not all so bad,” said Miriam, softly. “I sometimes think the blame is not entirely with them. If it had not been for Mr. Lockwood we should not be so happy and contented now.”

“And if it had not been for his friend, Sir Percival Decie, we should have no felon’s taint hanging over us either. We could have looked the whole world in the face and not been ashamed of our father.”

Miriam was silent for a moment; for there was a deeper shade on the clear olive skin, and a flush of pink painted on her cheek, as a blush rose deepens in the sun. Her recollection seemed to have gone back years to the time when she had yet another parent.

“I do not see how we can blame him,” she said, with a sense of justice so rare in woman. “Sir Percival was hard, perhaps, yet it seems to me that since father has gone we are happier.”

She said this hesitatingly, as one fears to utter praise. Hazael made a great splashing with his feet to show his approbation of this sentiment. But Abishai shut his thin lips the closer, and there came into his eyes a look merciless and vindictive, and strangely out of place for one so young.

“You think so because your memory is not so long or conscious as mine. But I remember, though I was only ten. Father never forgave an injury, and he will not forget this one. You wait and see.” And then the speaker sank his voice to the softest whisper. “A time will come when Sir Percival Decie shall regret his cruelty to the last day of his life.”

“You were always father’s favourite,” Hazael observed–“so Mother says.”

“He liked me best,” Abishai replied, with unconscious pride. “He knew I should grow up like him. He taught me to always save a penny where I could; how to deal and bargain, and how to tell precious stones. And I have profited by his teaching. None of you can show anything like this.”

Abishai, after some painful writhings, produced a little leathern bag from the recesses of a secret pocket, and, opening it, laid three stones upon the palm of his dusky hand. They glittered and sparkled in the sun like dew upon the hedgerows, but their shine was no brighter than the shimmer in the owner’s eyes. Hazael drew his breath with a sudden gasp of admiration, such as his race always have for diamonds; but Miriam drew no closer than she was impelled by a woman’s curiosity.

“Where did you get them?” Hazael faltered, in fascinated wonderment. “They are not your own, surely?”

“They are mine,” Abisahi replied. “When will you have anything so precious? Never. Look how they glitter in the sun; there is no falseness or deception there. That is what my father taught me. I bought these from a sailor: ay, so cheap, too. Only two pounds they cost me, but I would have had them if it had been ten times the money. Look at that white stone: how it gleams! I would not take fifty pounds for them now.”

“What are you going to do with them?” Hazael asked, still lost in admiration.

“They are the first step to fortune. I shall change them into money, and lend it out in small sums; I shall treble it in a year, and treble that in another year, until––”

Abishai’s eyes had commenced to glow as he conjured up this alluring prospect. In imagination he saw himself rich and powerful. This was his darling ambition. Then something splashed in the water, sending a wreath of silver spray over the earnest group; and, looking up, they saw a crowd had gathered round them. By them there stood two girls: one pale and frightened, the other with a cut upon her forehead and a thin purple streak on her face. Miriam turned to them with haughty disdain. The newcomers were of the same consanguinuity, but between them existed a deadly feud, not so tragic, but as lasting and bitter, as the feud of the Capulets and Montagus.

“Ruth and Aurora Meyer,” Miriam cried, “how could you come near us?”

“Do you think I wanted to come,” cried the wounded one, wiping her stained face. “I came to warn you. Look there!”

The crowd gathered round were mostly children, with the hard marks of hunger in their faces, but cruel and desperate as if they had been a besieging army. They came closer, throwing stones and dirt at those hated Jews; hated the more now that there was so painful a contrast between them. The gaunt hollow eyes and paled faces looked mischief, for they were desperate and cared not for gaol, for that at least meant food. Presently, one bolder than the rest threw a stone, striking Hazael upon the temple.

And the hot blood in his veins fired up at this stinging blow, for the hatred between the rival factions was normal. With a cry he sprang forward, and rushed briskly upon the opposing force.

The fray became general; for there was no pluck wasted on either side. Hazael, with every nerve in his body thrilling, and supported by Abishai, who used his crutch with disastrous effect, fought bravely on. Even the girls sank their enmity in face of this common danger and returned blow for blow.

But the opposing army had too genuine a contempt for the rules of war or difference of sex to disdain force in return, and by very stress of numbers were bearing down the little knot of dark-hued Hebrews. It was, classically speaking, horrid war between hunger and plenty, Jew and Gentile, Demos and Order, and the tribe of Abraham were getting the worst of it.

At this fateful moment, startled by the din of combat from the dim shade where he had been sleeping, a lad appeared and, taking in the situation at a glance, bore down upon the fray. His limbs were lithe, and spoke of power, though upon his pale, clear-cut features there was no trace of sympathy or passion.

With quick resolution he decided to throw his influence into the weaker scale, not from any love of fair play, but rather that instinct which impels most of us to reside with the more respectable cause. Unseen, he approached the group, and with a few dexterous twists slipped through the crowd and stood by Hazael’s side.

The effect of this unexpected aid was speedily felt. The stranger wasted little time in unnecessary diplomacy, but singling out the plebeian leader, attacked him with such force and fury that he was fain to lie down and cry for mercy. Abishai marked the weight of their ally’s blows, delivered not so much in honest fight, but struck with a nervous weight which delighted the hunchback’s vindictive soul.

He whirled the crutch round his head with renewed vigour; gradually the crowd fell back, and then, with a parting jeer and a volley of stones, melted away. For a time the victors regarded their preserver in breathless silence. It was Miriam who came forward at length, holding out her hand as a queen might extend her fingers for a favourite courtier to kiss.

“We thank you,” she said. “This is very good of you.”

“I have done nothing,” the youth replied. “Anything is better than lying down yonder almost asleep and starving.”

He was leaning a granite block listlessly, with his left hand hanging inertly by his side. His face they saw was paler than its wont, as if he was undergoing some acute pain, which served to intensify the refinement of his features. His head was held with a certain easy carriage; the eyes were fearless, the lips were thin and cruel, and spoilt an otherwise pleasant countenance.

And yet in his tattered garments he looked almost a gentleman. Abishai propped the crutch under his chin, and regarded the stranger earnestly from under his deep-set eyebrows.

“You fight well,” he croaked, with a pleased recollection of the ringleader’s discomfiture. “I am strong, but I cannot strike like that.”

“I am used to it,” the stranger replied, carelessly. “One does get used to it in knocking about the country. I used to travel the fairs with a company of pugilists. I was the infant wonder, you mind. Sometimes I got badly hurt; but I learnt something, too.”

He raised his hands in an attitude of self-defence, but dropped them again in a sudden spasm of pain. Miriam, with a woman’s quick intuition, saw that he was hurt, and, coming to his side, took his hand in hers.

“You have broken your wrist,” she said. “Why did you not say so before?” She turned to the other two girls, who were still standing in the background. “Ruth and Aurora Meyer, how dare you stay here? Go! Boy, what is your name?”

“My name?” he laughed, slowly. “I have no name yet. But you may call me Speedwell–Philip Speedwell, for want of a better.”

“Then, Philip Speedwell, you must come with me.”

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