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- The Weavers, Volume 3. - 5/27 -


Ignorance had been her only peril in the past, as it had been the cause of her unhappy connection with Jasper Kimber. The atmosphere in which she was raised had been unmoral; it had not been consciously immoral. Her temper and her indignation against her man for drinking had been the means of driving them apart. He would have married her in those days, if she had given the word, for her will was stronger than his own; but she had broken from him in an agony of rage and regret and despised love.

She was now, again, as she had been in those first days before she went with Jasper Kimber; when she was the rose-red angel of the quarters; when children were lured by the touch of her large, shapely hands; when she had been counted a great nurse among her neighbours. The old simple untutored sympathy was in her face.

They sat for a long time in silence, and at length Faith said: "Thee is happy now with her who is to marry Lord Eglington?"

Kate nodded, smiling. "Who could help but be happy with her! Yet a temper, too--so quick, and then all over in a second. Ah, she is one that'd break her heart if she was treated bad; but I'd be sorry for him that did it. For the like of her goes mad with hurting, and the mad cut with a big scythe."

"Has thee seen Lord Eglington?"

"Once before I left these parts and often in London." Her voice was constrained; she seemed not to wish to speak of him.

"Is it true that Jasper Kimber is to stand against him for Parliament?"

"I do not know. They say my lord has to do with foreign lands now. If he helps Mr. Claridge there, then it would be a foolish thing for Jasper to fight him; and so I've told him. You've got to stand by those that stand by you. Lord Eglington has his own way of doing things. There's not a servant in my lady's house that he hasn't made his friend. He's one that's bound to have his will. I heard my lady say he talks better than any one in England, and there's none she doesn't know from duchesses down."

"She is beautiful?" asked Faith, with hesitation.

"Taller than you, but not so beautiful."

Faith sighed, and was silent for a moment, then she laid a hand upon the other's shoulder. "Thee has never said what happened when thee first got to London. Does thee care to say?"

"It seems so long ago," was the reply. . . . "No need to tell of the journey to London. When I got there it frightened me at first. My head went round. But somehow it came to me what I should do. I asked my way to a hospital. I'd helped a many that was hurt at Heddington and thereabouts, and doctors said I was as good as them that was trained. I found a hospital at last, and asked for work, but they laughed at me-- it was the porter at the door. I was not to be put down, and asked to see some one that had rights to say yes or no. So he opened the door and told me to go. I said he was no man to treat a woman so, and I would not go. Then a fine white-haired gentleman came forward. He had heard all we had said, standing in a little room at one side. He spoke a kind word or two, and asked me to go into the little room. Before I had time to think, he came to me with the matron, and left me with her. I told her the whole truth, and she looked at first as if she'd turn me out. But the end of it was I stayed there for the night, and in the morning the old gentleman came again, and with him his lady, as kind and sharp of tongue as himself, and as big as three. Some things she said made my tongue ache to speak back to her; but I choked it down. I went to her to be a sort of nurse and maid. She taught me how to do a hundred things, and by-and-by I couldn't be too thankful she had taken me in. I was with her till she died. Then, six months ago I went to Miss Maryon, who knew about me long before from her that died. With her I've been ever since-- and so that's all."

"Surely God has been kind to thee."

"I'd have gone down--down--down, if it hadn't been for Mr. Claridge at the cross-roads."

"Does thee think I shall like her that will live yonder?" She nodded towards the Cloistered House. "There's none but likes her. She will want a friend, I'm thinking. She'll be lonely by-and-by. Surely, she will be lonely."

Faith looked at her closely, and at last leaned over, and again laid a soft hand on her shoulder. "Thee thinks that--why?"

"He cares only what matters to himself. She will be naught to him but one that belongs. He'll never try to do her good. Doing good to any but himself never comes to his mind."

"How does thee know him, to speak so surely?"

"When, at the first, he gave me a letter for her one day, and slipped a sovereign into my hand, and nodded, and smiled at me, I knew him right enough. He never could be true to aught."

"Did thee keep the sovereign?" Faith asked anxiously.

"Ay, that I did. If he was for giving his money away, I'd take it fast enough. The gold gave father boots for a year. Why should I mind?"

Faith's face suffused. How low was Eglington's estimate of humanity!

In the silence that followed the door of her room opened, and her father entered. He held in one hand a paper, in the other a candle. His face was passive, but his eyes were burning.

"David--David is coming," he cried, in a voice that rang. "Does thee hear, Faith? Davy is coming home!" A woman laughed exultantly. It was not Faith. But still two years passed before David came.

CHAPTER XVIII

TIME, THE IDOL-BREAKER

Lord Windlehurst looked meditatively round the crowded and brilliant salon. His host, the Foreign Minister, had gathered in the vast golden chamber the most notable people of a most notable season, and in as critical a period of the world's politics as had been known for a quarter of a century. After a moment's survey, the ex-Prime-Minister turned to answer the frank and caustic words addressed to him by the Duchess of Snowdon concerning the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Presently he said:

"But there is method in his haste, dear lady. He is good at his dangerous game. He plays high, he plunges; but, somehow, he makes it do. I've been in Parliament a generation or so, and I've never known an amateur more daring and skilful. I should have given him office had I remained in power. Look at him, and tell me if he wouldn't have been worth the backing."

As Lord Windlehurst uttered the last word with an arid smile, he looked quizzically at the central figure of a group of people gaily talking.

The Duchess impatiently tapped her knee with a fan. "Be thankful you haven't got him on your conscience," she rejoined. "I call Eglington unscrupulous and unreliable. He has but one god--getting on; and he has got on, with a vengeance. Whenever I look at that dear thing he's married, I feel there's no trusting Providence, who seems to make the deserving a footstool for the undeserving. I've known Hylda since she was ten, and I've known him since the minute he came into the world, and I've got the measure of both. She is the finest essence the middle class can distil, and he, oh, he's paraffin-vin ordinaire, if you like it better, a selfish, calculating adventurer!"

Lord Windlehurst chuckled mordantly. "Adventurer! That's what they called me--with more reason. I spotted him as soon as he spoke in the House. There was devilry in him, and unscrupulousness, as you say; but, I confess, I thought it would give way to the more profitable habit of integrity, and that some cause would seize him, make him sincere and mistaken, and give him a few falls. But in that he was more original than I thought. He is superior to convictions. You don't think he married yonder Queen of Hearts from conviction, do you?"

He nodded towards a corner where Hylda, under a great palm, and backed by a bank of flowers, stood surrounded by a group of people palpably amused and interested; for she had a reputation for wit--a wit that never hurt, and irony that was only whimsical.

"No, there you are wrong," the Duchess answered. "He married from conviction, if ever a man did. Look at her beauty, look at her fortune, listen to her tongue. Don't you think conviction was easy?"

Lord Windlehurst looked at Hylda approvingly. She has the real gift-- little information, but much knowledge, the primary gift of public life. Information is full of traps; knowledge avoids them, it reads men; and politics is men--and foreign affairs, perhaps! She is remarkable. I've made some hay in the political world, not so much as the babblers think, but I hadn't her ability at twenty-five."

"Why didn't she see through Eglington?"

"My dear Betty, he didn't give her time. He carried her off her feet. You know how he can talk."

"That's the trouble. She was clever, and liked a clever man, and he--!"

"Quite so. He'd disprove his own honest parentage, if it would help him on--as you say."

"I didn't say it. Now don't repeat that as from me. I'm not clever enough to think of such things. But that Eglington lot--I knew his father and his grandfather. Old Broadbrim they called his grandfather after he turned Quaker, and he didn't do that till he had had his fling, so my father used to say. And Old Broadbrim's father was called I-want- to-know. He was always poking his nose into things, and playing at being a chemist-like this one and the one before. They all fly off. This one's father used to disappear for two or three years at a time. This one will fly off, too. You'll see!

"He is too keen on Number One for that, I fancy. He calculates like a mathematician. As cool as a cracksman of fame and fancy."

The Duchess dropped the fan in her lap. "My dear, I've said nothing as bad as that about him. And there he is at the Foreign Office!"

"Yet, what has he done, Betty, after all? He has never cheated at cards, or forged a cheque, or run away with his neighbour's wife."


The Weavers, Volume 3. - 5/27

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