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- The Weavers, Volume 3. - 6/27 -
"There's no credit in not doing what you don't want to do. There's no virtue in not falling, when you're not tempted. Neighbour's wife! He hasn't enough feeling to face it. Oh no, he'll not break the heart of his neighbour's wife. That's melodrama, and he's a cold-blooded artist. He will torture that sweet child over there until she poisons him, or runs away."
"Isn't he too clever for that? She has a million!"
"He'll not realise it till it's all over. He's too selfish to see--how I hate him!"
Lord Windlehurst smiled indulgently at her. "Ah, you never hated any one--not even the Duke."
"I will not have you take away my character. Of course I've hated, or I wouldn't be worth a button. I'm not the silly thing you've always thought me."
His face became gentler. "I've always thought you one of the wisest women of this world--adventurous, but wise. If it weren't too late, if my day weren't over, I'd ask the one great favour, Betty, and--"
She tapped his arm sharply with her fan. "What a humbug you are--the Great Pretender! But tell me, am I not right about Eglington?"
Windlehurst became grave. "Yes, you are right--but I admire him, too. He is determined to test himself to the full. His ambition is boundless and ruthless, but his mind has a scientific turn--the obligation of energy to apply itself, of intelligence to engage itself to the farthest limit. But service to humanity--"
"Service to humanity!" she sniffed.
"Of course he would think it 'flap-doodle'--except in a speech; but I repeat, I admire him. Think of it all. He was a poor Irish peer, with no wide circle of acquaintance, come of a family none too popular. He strikes out a course for himself--a course which had its dangers, because it was original. He determines to become celebrated--by becoming notorious first. He uses his title as a weapon for advancement as though he were a butter merchant. He plans carefully and adroitly. He writes a book of travel. It is impudent, and it traverses the observations of authorities, and the scientific geographers prance with rage. That was what he wished. He writes a novel. It sets London laughing at me, his political chief. He knew me well enough to be sure I would not resent it. He would have lampooned his grandmother, if he was sure she would not, or could not, hurt him. Then he becomes more audacious. He publishes a monograph on the painters of Spain, artificial, confident, rhetorical, acute: as fascinating as a hide-and-seek drawing-room play-- he is so cleverly escaping from his ignorance and indiscretions all the while. Connoisseurs laugh, students of art shriek a little, and Ruskin writes a scathing letter, which was what he had played for. He had got something for nothing cheaply. The few who knew and despised him did not matter, for they were able and learned and obscure, and, in the world where he moves, most people are superficial, mediocre, and 'tuppence coloured.' It was all very brilliant. He pursued his notoriety, and got it."
"But, yes, he is industrious. It is all business. It was an enormous risk, rebelling against his party, and leaving me, and going over; but his temerity justified itself, and it didn't matter to him that people said he went over to get office as we were going out. He got the office- and people forget so soon. Then, what does he do--"
"He brings out another book, and marries a wife, and abuses his old friends--and you."
"Abuse? With his tongue in his cheek, hoping that I should reply. Dev'lishly ingenious! But on that book of Electricity and Disease he scored. In most other things he's a barber-shop philosopher, but in science he has got a flare, a real talent. So he moves modestly in this thing, for which he had a fine natural gift and more knowledge than he ever had before in any department, whose boundaries his impertinent and ignorant mind had invaded. That book gave him a place. It wasn't full of new things, but it crystallised the discoveries, suggestions, and expectations of others; and, meanwhile, he had got a name at no cost. He is so various. Look at it dispassionately, and you will see much to admire in his skill. He pleases, he amuses, he startles, he baffles, he mystifies."
The Duchess made an impatient exclamation. "The silly newspapers call him a 'remarkable man, a personality.' Now, believe me, Windlehurst, he will overreach himself one of these days, and he'll come down like a stick."
"There you are on solid ground. He thinks that Fate is with him, and that, in taking risks, he is infallible. But the best system breaks at political roulette sooner or later. You have got to work for something outside yourself, something that is bigger than the game, or the end is sickening."
"Eglington hasn't far to go, if that's the truth."
"Well, well, when it comes, we must help him--we must help him up again."
The Duchess nervously adjusted her wig, with ludicrously tiny fingers for one so ample, and said petulantly: "You are incomprehensible. He has been a traitor to you and to your party, he has thrown mud at you, he has played with principles as my terrier plays with his rubber ball, and yet you'll run and pick him up when he falls, and--"
"'And kiss the spot to make it well,'" he laughed softly, then added with a sigh: "Able men in public life are few; 'far too few, for half our tasks; we can spare not one.' Besides, my dear Betty, there is his pretty lass o' London."
The Duchess was mollified at once. "I wish she had been my girl," she said, in a voice a little tremulous. "She never needed looking after. Look at the position she has made for herself. Her father wouldn't go into society, her mother knew a mere handful of people, and--"
"She knew you, Betty."
"Well, suppose I did help her a little--I was only a kind of reference. She did the rest. She's set a half-dozen fashions herself--pure genius. She was born to lead. Her turnouts were always a little smarter, her horses travelled a little faster, than other people's. She took risks, too, but she didn't play a game; she only wanted to do things well. We all gasped when she brought Adelaide to recite from 'Romeo and Juliet' at an evening party, but all London did the same the week after."
"She discovered, and the Duchess of Snowdon applied the science. Ah, Betty, don't think I don't agree. She has the gift. She has temperament. No woman should have temperament. She hasn't scope enough to wear it out in some passion for a cause. Men are saved in spite of themselves by the law of work. Forty comes to a man of temperament, and then a passion for a cause seizes him, and he is safe. A woman of temperament at forty is apt to cut across the bows of iron-clad convention and go down. She has temperament, has my lady yonder, and I don't like the look of her eyes sometimes. There's dark fire smouldering in them. She should have a cause; but a cause to a woman now-a-days means 'too little of pleasure, too much of pain,' for others."
"What was your real cause, Windlehurst? You had one, I suppose, for you've never had a fall."
"My cause? You ask that? Behold the barren figtree! A lifetime in my country's service, and you who have driven me home from the House in your own brougham, and told me that you understood--oh, Betty!"
She laughed. "You'll say something funny as you're dying, Windlehurst."
"Perhaps. But it will be funny to know that presently I'll have a secret that none of you know, who watch me 'launch my pinnace into the dark.' But causes? There are hundreds, and all worth while. I've come here to-night for a cause--no, don't start, it's not you, Betty, though you are worth any sacrifice. I've come here to-night to see a modern Paladin, a real crusader:
"'Then felt I like some watcher of the skies, When a new planet swims into his ken.'"
"Yes, that's poetry, Windlehurst, and you know I love it-I've always kept yours. But who's the man--the planet?"
"Ah, he is in England?"
"He will be here to-night; you shall see him."
"Really! What is his origin?"
He told her briefly, adding: "I've watched the rise of Claridge Pasha. I've watched his cause grow, and now I shall see the man--ah, but here comes our lass o' London!"
The eyes of both brightened, and a whimsical pleasure came to the mask- like face of Lord Windlehurst. There was an eager and delighted look in Hylda's face also as she quickly came to them, her cavaliers following.
The five years that had passed since that tragic night in Cairo had been more than kind to her. She was lissome, radiant, and dignified, her face was alive with expression, and a delicate grace was in every movement. The dark lashes seemed to have grown longer, the brown hair fuller, the smile softer and more alluring.
"She is an invaluable asset to the Government," Lord Windlehurst murmured as she came. "No wonder the party helped the marriage on. London conspired for it, her feet got tangled in the web--and he gave her no time to think. Thinking had saved her till he came."
By instinct Lord Windlehurst knew. During the first year after the catastrophe at Kaid's Palace Hylda could scarcely endure the advances made by her many admirers, the greatly eligible and the eager ineligible, all with as real an appreciation of her wealth as of her personal attributes. But she took her place in London life with more than the old will to make for herself, with the help of her aunt Conyngham, an individual position.
The second year after her visit to Egypt she was less haunted by the dark episode of the Palace, memory tortured her less; she came to think of David and the part he had played with less agitation. At first the thought of him had moved her alternately to sympathy and to revolt. His chivalry had filled her with admiration, with a sense of confidence, of dependence, of touching and vital obligation; but there was, too, another overmastering feeling. He had seen her life naked, as it were,
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