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- The Weavers, Volume 5. - 6/8 -
countrymen had any right to expect Europe to embroil itself on his particular account.
At this point he was met by angry cries of dissent, which did not come from the Opposition alone. His lips set, he would not yield. The Government could not hold itself responsible for Claridge Pasha's relief, nor in any sense for his present position. However, from motives of humanity, it would make representations in the hope that the Egyptian Government would act; but it was not improbable, in view of past experiences of Claridge Pasha, that he would extricate himself from his present position, perhaps had done so already. Sympathy and sentiment were natural and proper manifestations of human society, but governments were, of necessity, ruled by sterner considerations. The House must realise that the Government could not act as though it were wholly a free agent, or as if its every move would not be matched by another move on the part of another Power or Powers.
Then followed a brilliant and effective appeal to his own party to trust the Government, to credit it with feeling and with a due regard for English prestige and the honour brought to it by Claridge Pasha's personal qualities, whatever might be thought of his crusading enterprises. The party must not fall into the trap of playing the game of the Opposition. Then, with some supercilious praise of the "worthy sentiments" of Jasper Kimber's speech and a curt depreciation of its reasoning, he declared that: "No Government can be ruled by clamour. The path to be trodden by this Government will be lighted by principles of progress and civilisation, humanity and peace, the urbane power of reason, and the persuasive influence of just consideration for the rights of others, rather than the thunder and the threat of the cannon and the sword!"
He sat down amid the cheers of a large portion of his party, for the end of his speech had been full of effective if meretricious appeal. But the debate that followed showed that the speech had been a failure. He had not uttered one warm or human word concerning Claridge Pasha, and it was felt and said, that no pledge had been given to insure the relief of the man who had caught the imagination of England.
The debate was fierce and prolonged. Eglington would not agree to any modification of his speech, to any temporising. Arrogant and insistent, he had his way, and, on a division, the Government was saved by a mere handful of votes--votes to save the party, not to indorse Eglington's speech or policy.
Exasperated and with jaw set, but with a defiant smile, Eglington drove straight home after the House rose. He found Hylda in the library with an evening paper in her hands. She had read and reread his speech, and had steeled herself for "the inevitable hour," to this talk which would decide for ever their fate and future.
Eglington entered the room smiling. He remembered the incident of the night before, when she came to his study and then hurriedly retreated. He had been defiant and proudly disdainful at the House and on the way home; but in his heart of hearts he was conscious of having failed to have his own way; and, like such men, he wanted assurance that he could not err, and he wanted sympathy. Almost any one could have given it to him, and he had a temptation to seek that society which was his the evening before; but he remembered that she was occupied where he could not reach her, and here was Hylda, from whom he had been estranged, but who must surely have seen by now that at Hamley she had been unreasonable, and that she must trust his judgment. So absorbed was he with self and the failure of his speech, that, for a moment, he forgot the subject of it, and what that subject meant to them both.
"What do you think of my speech, Hylda?" he asked, as he threw himself into a chair. "I see you have been reading it. Is it a full report?"
She handed the paper over. "Quite full," she answered evenly.
He glanced down the columns. "Sentimentalists!" he said as his eye caught an interjection. "Cant!" he added. Then he looked at Hylda, and remembered once again on whom and what his speech had been made. He saw that her face was very pale.
"What do you think of my speech?" he repeated stubbornly.
"If you think an answer necessary, I regard it as wicked and unpatriotic," she answered firmly.
"Yes, I suppose you would," he rejoined bitingly. She got to her feet slowly, a flush passing over her face. "If you think I would, did you not think that a great many other people would think so too, and for the same reason?" she asked, still evenly, but very slowly. "Not for the same reason," he rejoined in a low, savage voice.
"You do not treat me well," she said, with a voice that betrayed no hurt, no indignation. It seemed to state a fact deliberately; that was all.
"No, please," she added quickly, as she saw him rise to his feet with anger trembling at his lips. "Do not say what is on your tongue to say. Let us speak quietly to-night. It is better; and I am tired of strife, spoken and unspoken. I have got beyond that. But I want to speak of what you did to-day in Parliament."
"Well, you have said it was wicked and unpatriotic," he rejoined, sitting down again and lighting a cigar, in an attempt to be composed.
"What you said was that; but I am concerned with what you did. Did your speech mean that you would not press the Egyptian Government to relieve Claridge Pasha at once?"
"Is that the conclusion you draw from my words?" he asked.
"Yes; but I wish to know beyond doubt if that is what you mean the country to believe?"
"It is what I mean you to believe, my dear."
She shrank from the last two words, but still went on quietly, though her eyes burned and she shivered. "If you mean that you will do nothing, it will ruin you and your Government," she answered. "Kimber was right, and--"
"Kimber was inspired from here," he interjected sharply.
She put her hand upon herself. "Do you think I would intrigue against you? Do you think I would stoop to intrigue?" she asked, a hand clasping and unclasping a bracelet on her wrist, her eyes averted, for very shame that he should think the thought he had uttered.
"It came from this house--the influence," he rejoined.
"I cannot say. It is possible," she answered; "but you cannot think that I connive with my maid against you. I think Kimber has reasons of his own for acting as he did to-day. He speaks for many besides himself; and he spoke patriotically this afternoon. He did his duty."
"And I did not? Do you think I act alone?"
"You did not do your duty, and I think that you are not alone responsible. That is why I hope the Government will be influenced by public feeling." She came a step nearer to him. "I ask you to relieve Claridge Pasha at any cost. He is your father's son. If you do not, when all the truth is known, you will find no shelter from the storm that will break over you."
"You will tell--the truth?"
"I do not know yet what I shall do," she answered. "It will depend on you; but it is your duty to tell the truth, not mine. That does not concern me; but to save Claridge Pasha does concern me."
"So I have known."
Her heart panted for a moment with a wild indignation; but she quieted herself, and answered almost calmly: "If you refuse to do that which is honourable--and human, then I shall try to do it for you while yet I bear your name. If you will not care for your family honour, then I shall try to do so. If you will not do your duty, then I will try to do it for you." She looked him determinedly in the eyes. "Through you I have lost nearly all I cared to keep in the world. I should like to feel that in this one thing you acted honourably."
He sprang to his feet, bursting with anger, in spite of the inward admonition that much that he prized was in danger, that any breach with Hylda would be disastrous. But self-will and his native arrogance overruled the monitor within, and he said: "Don't preach to me, don't play the martyr. You will do this and you will do that! You will save my honour and the family name! You will relieve Claridge Pasha, you will do what Governments choose not to do; you will do what your husband chooses not to do--Well, I say that you will do what your husband chooses to do, or take the consequences."
"I think I will take the consequences," she answered. "I will save Claridge Pasha, if it is possible. It is no boast. I will do it, if it can be done at all, if it is God's will that it should be done; and in doing it I shall be conscious that you and I will do nothing together again--never! But that will not stop me; it will make me do it, the last right thing, before the end."
She was so quiet, so curiously quiet. Her words had a strange solemnity, a tragic apathy. What did it mean? He had gone too far, as he had done before. He had blundered viciously, as he had blundered before.
She spoke again before he could collect his thoughts and make reply.
"I did not ask for too much, I think, and I could have forgiven and forgotten all the hurts you have given me, if it were not for one thing. You have been unjust, hard, selfish, and suspicious. Suspicious--of me! No one else in all the world ever thought of me what you have thought. I have done all I could. I have honourably kept the faith. But you have spoiled it all. I have no memory that I care to keep. It is stained. My eyes can never bear to look upon the past again, the past with you-- never."
She turned to leave the room. He caught her arm. "You will wait till you hear what I have to say," he cried in anger. Her last words had stung him so, her manner was so pitilessly scornful. It was as though she looked down on him from a height. His old arrogance fought for mastery over his apprehension. What did she know? What did she mean? In any case he must face it out, be strong--and merciful and affectionate afterwards.
"Wait, Hylda," he said. "We must talk this out."
She freed her arm. "There is nothing to talk out," she answered. "So far as our relations are concerned, all reason for talk is gone." She drew the fatal letter from the sash at her waist. "You will think so too when you read this letter again." She laid it on the table beside him, and, as he opened and glanced at it, she left the room.
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