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Chapter LIII

DURING the time that intervened between this and the week before they left Berlin for London, Stella remained undecided as to her future movements. Letters came from Adelaide and Lullaboolagana full of tender anxiety regarding her health. Ted had written faithfully, week by week, while she was unable to do so. He had always put the best face on the matter; and when finally out of danger, he had cabled the news. Now letters came in answer to the first short notes she had written, about the middle of February. There was so much rejoicing over her recovery —such loving, thankful congratulations. They were so secure in their confidence that return to health meant love and happiness and safety from all evil. The entire ignorance as to her real life of all who were dear to her in her home and native land separated Stella from them far more than the long weeks of sailing which lay between. Is there anything in human experience more strange, more piercing, than the isolation that surrounds most of us during the darker storms that rend the soul?

‘How unaccountable, how incredible, how strange beyond all reckoning!’ we say, when some event wholly unanticipated happens in the history of others. We so often forget that the inner lives of even those who are most closely linked to ours are implacably veiled from our gaze. It is with individual as with national life. Outwardly, things may be going on in the old smooth, apparently prosperous fashion. We do not see the inner cone, in which a little speck has appeared that slowly spreads and spreads. We do not hear the tread on the loom where the shuttle at every throw is weaving the inscrutable web of circumstance. At last the catastrophe falls heavily, brutally, without comment or warning; and then, being powerless to do any good, we draw a moral. Its ineptitude, as a rule, is equalled only by our ignorance of the real forces that have been at work.

But lost, undecided, and unhappy as Stella had again become, the old vacant apathy did not return. She worked daily; and those daily hours in which so much of her own

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personality was lost in thoughts for others, and in matters apart from the groove of her own life, saved her. The day on which she had corrected the last of Langdale's manuscript she met him in Mrs. Farningham's sitting-room in the pension. They talked chiefly of Socialism, which was then a prominent topic among those who were inimical or favourable to the movement. Mrs. Farningham was gradually becoming a zealous convert.

‘After all,’ she said, at the close of a spirited, half-jesting controversy between herself and Langdale, ‘justice is never done to the poor until those who are in power begin to be terrified. These bungling attempts at State Socialism are valuable as a tribute to the power that lies behind our kinsman Schiedlich and men like him.’

‘Dear old Gottfried, I wish he had not joined the extreme party,’ returned Langdale. ‘It seems to me he was doing such good work when he was writing calmly and dispassionately.’

‘Anselm, you are too provokingly amenable to reason,’ said his sister, interrupting him. ‘Still, you can persuade Gottfried when no one else can move him. I wish you would take him with you to the East when he is released. You know mother is never so happy as when there is an invalid to care for. And he must be rather broken down, by what you say of him.’

‘That is a happy thought,’ returned Langdale. ‘I shall see if I cannot get him away. He will be at large in a few days hence.’

This was the first time Stella heard of Langdale's intention to go to the East; and as she listened, her face was suddenly suffused with colour.

The rest of the afternoon passed as if enveloped in a mist. Mrs. Farningham made Stella lie down, and placed a screen round the couch, trusting she might fall asleep. But she could not rest. She went into her bedroom. Dustiefoot followed her and tried to win her attention. But she did not notice him. She stood before a wide, full-length mirror that was in the room, and looked at her own face in it steadily, till she caught a frightened, cowering look in the eyes which made her shrink and draw back. The unsteady, fiery light in them made her turn deathly pale. … She threw herself into an arm-chair and covered her face with

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her hands. Then the silence became intolerable to her, and she said something aloud—she hardly knew what. The tone must have been strange, for the dog shrank away, looking at her timidly.

‘Oh, Dustiefoot, Dustiefoot!—do not be afraid!. … O my God! why is he afraid of me?. … I must go to Anselm—I must see him. … he will know what I should do—he will speak to me. …’

Then she broke into bitter weeping—leaning her head on a table near her—with low long sobs like a child who is too spent to weep aloud.

On this Dustiefoot came up and put his head on her lap; then he licked her hands; and this somehow comforted her a little.

‘Good dog, good dog!’ she said, patting him on the head.

The tears relieved her. After a little she returned to her friends.

‘Have you two decided how long you are to be in England?’ asked Farningham, after some desultory chitchat.

‘I fear Mrs. Ritchie has not yet made up her mind to come with me,’ answered Mrs. Farningham.

‘You had better go, Stella,’ said Ted.

‘Yes; I shall go,’ she answered, her face suddenly flushing.

This decision was greeted by the rest with warm approval.