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
"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
"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."
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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, stripped of all independence, with the knowledge of
a dangerous indiscretion which, to say the least, was a deformity; and she
inwardly resented it, as one would resent the exposure of a long-hidden physical
deformity, even by the surgeon who saved one's life. It was not a very lofty
attitude of mind, but it was human—and feminine.
These moods had been always dissipated, however, when she recalled, as she
did so often, David as he stood before Nahoum Pasha, his soul fighting in him to
make of his enemy—of the man whose brother he had killed—a fellow-worker in the
path of altruism he had mapped out for himself. David's name had been
continually mentioned in telegraphic reports and journalistic correspondence
from Egypt; and from this source she had learned that Nahoum Pasha was again
high in the service of Prince Kaid. When the news of David's southern expedition
to the revolting slave-dealing tribes began to appear, she was deeply roused.
Her agitation was the more intense because she never permitted herself to talk
of him to others, even when his name was discussed at dinner-tables, accompanied
by strange legends of his origin and stranger romances regarding his call to
power by Kaid.
She had surrounded him with romance; he seemed more a hero of history than of
her own real and living world, a being apart. Even when there came rumblings of
disaster, dark dangers to be conquered by the Quaker crusader, it all was still
as of another life. True it was, that when his safe return to Cairo was
announced she had cried with joy and relief; but there was nothing emotional or
passionate in her feeling; it was the love of the lower for the higher, the
hero-worship of an idealist in passionate gratitude.
And, amid it all, her mind scarcely realised that they would surely meet
again. At the end of the second year the thought had receded into an almost
indefinite past. She was beginning to feel that she had lived two lives, and
that this life had no direct or vital bearing upon her previous existence, in
which David had moved. Yet now and then the perfume of the Egyptian garden,
through which she had fled to escape from tragedy, swept over her senses,
clouded her eyes in the daytime, made them burn at night.
At last she had come to meet and know Eglington. From the first moment they
met he had directed his course towards marriage. He was the man of the moment.
His ambition seemed but patriotism, his ardent and overwhelming courtship the
impulse of a powerful nature. As Lord Windlehurst had said, he carried her off
her feet, and, on a wave of devotion and popular encouragement, he had swept her
to the altar.
The Duchess held both her hands for a moment, admiring her, and, presently,
with a playful remark upon her unselfishness, left her alone with Lord
As they talked, his mask-like face became lighted from the brilliant fire in
the inquisitorial eyes, his lips played with topics of the moment in a mordant
fashion, which drew from her flashing replies. Looking at her, he was conscious
of the mingled qualities of three races in her—English, Welsh, and
American-Dutch of the Knickerbocker strain; and he contrasted her keen
perception and her exquisite sensitiveness with the purebred Englishwomen round
him, stately, kindly, handsome, and monotonously intelligent.
"Now I often wonder," he said, conscious of, but indifferent to, the
knowledge that he and the brilliant person beside him were objects of general
attention—"I often wonder, when I look at a gathering like this, how many
undiscovered crimes there are playing about among us. They never do tell—or
shall I say, we never do tell?"
All day, she knew not why, Hylda had been nervous and excited. Without reason
his words startled her. Now there flashed before her eyes a room in a Palace at
Cairo, and a man lying dead before her. The light slowly faded out of her eyes,
leaving them almost lustreless, but her face was calm, and the smile on her lips
stayed. She fanned herself slowly, and answered nonchalantly: "Crime is a word
of many meanings. I read in the papers of political crimes—it is a common
phrase; yet the criminals appear to go unpunished."
"There you are wrong," he answered cynically. "The punishment is, that
political virtue goes unrewarded, and in due course crime is the only refuge to
most. Yet in politics the temptation to be virtuous is great."
She laughed now with a sense of relief. The intellectual stimulant had
brought back the light to her face. "How is it, then, with you—inveterate habit
or the strain of the ages? For they say you have not had your due reward."
He smiled grimly. "Ah, no, with me virtue is the act of an inquiring mind—to
discover where it will lead me. I began with political crime—I was understood! I
practise political virtue: it embarrasses the world, it fogs them, it seems
original, because so unnecessary. Mine is the scientific life. Experiment in old
substances gives new—well, say, new precipitations. But you are scientific, too.
You have a laboratory, and have much to do—with retorts."
"No, you are thinking of my husband. The laboratory is his."
"But the retorts are yours."
"The precipitations are his."
"Ah, well, at least you help him to fuse the constituents!... But now, be
quite confidential to an old man who has experimented too. Is your husband
really an amateur scientist, or is he a scientific amateur? Is it a pose or a
taste? I fiddled once—and wrote sonnets; one was a pose, the other a taste."
It was mere persiflage, but it was a jest which made an unintended wound.
Hylda became conscious of a sudden sharp inquiry going on in her mind. There
flashed into it the question, Does Eglington's heart ever really throb for love
of any object or any cause? Even in moments of greatest intimacy, soon after
marriage, when he was most demonstrative towards her, he had seemed preoccupied,
except when speaking about himself and what he meant to do. Then he made her
heart throb in response to his confident, ardent words—concerning himself. But
his own heart, did it throb? Or was it only his brain that throbbed?
Suddenly, with an exclamation, she involuntarily laid a hand upon
Windlehurst's arm. She was looking down the room straight before her to a group
of people towards which other groups were now converging, attracted by one who
seemed to be a centre of interest.
Presently the eager onlookers drew aside, and Lord Windlehurst observed
moving up the room a figure he had never seen before. The new-comer was dressed
in a grey and blue official dress, unrelieved save by silver braid at the collar
and at the wrists. There was no decoration, but on the head was a red fez, which
gave prominence to the white, broad forehead, with the dark hair waving away
behind the ears. Lord Windlehurst held his eye-glass to his eye in interested
scrutiny. "H'm," he said, with lips pursed out, "a most notable figure, a most
remarkable face! My dear, there's a fortune in that face. It's a national
He saw the flush, the dumb amazement, the poignant look in Lady Eglington's
face, and registered it in his mind. "Poor thing," he said to himself, "I wonder
what it is all about—I wonder. I thought she had no unregulated moments. She
gave promise of better things." The Foreign Minister was bringing his guest
towards them. The new-comer did not look at them till within a few steps of
where they stood. Then his eyes met those of Lady Eglington. For an instant his
steps were arrested. A swift light came into his face, softening its quiet
austerity and strength.
It was David.