JASPER KIMBER SPEAKS
That day the adjournment of the House of Commons was moved "To call attention
to an urgent matter of public importance"—the position of Claridge Pasha in the
Soudan. Flushed with the success of last night's performance, stung by the
attacks of the Opposition morning papers, confident in the big majority behind,
which had cheered him a few hours before, viciously resenting the letter he had
received from David that morning, Eglington returned such replies to the
questions put to him that a fire of angry mutterings came from the forces
against him. He might have softened the growing resentment by a change of
manner, but his intellectual arrogance had control of him for the moment; and he
said to himself that he had mastered the House before, and he would do so now.
Apart from his deadly antipathy to his half-brother, and the gain to himself—to
his credit, the latter weighed with him not so much, so set was he on a stubborn
course—if David disappeared for ever, there was at bottom a spirit of
anti-expansion, of reaction against England's world-wide responsibilities. He
had no largeness of heart or view concerning humanity. He had no inherent
greatness, no breadth of policy. With less responsibility taken, there would be
less trouble, national and international—that was his point of view; that had
been his view long ago at the meeting at Heddington; and his weak chief had
taken it, knowing nothing of the personal elements behind.
The disconcerting factor in the present bitter questioning in the House was,
that it originated on his own side. It was Jasper Kimber who had launched the
questions, who moved the motion for adjournment. Jasper had had a letter from
Kate Heaver that morning early, which sent him to her, and he had gone to the
House to do what he thought to be his duty. He did it boldly, to the joy of the
Opposition, and with a somewhat sullen support from many on his own side. Now
appeared Jasper's own inner disdain of the man who had turned his coat for
office. It gave a lead to a latent feeling among members of the ministerial
party, of distrust, and of suspicion that they were the dupes of a mind of
abnormal cleverness which, at bottom, despised them.
With flashing eyes and set lips, vigilant and resourceful, Eglington listened
to Jasper Kimber's opening remarks.
By unremitting industry Jasper had made a place for himself in the House. The
humour and vitality of his speeches, and his convincing advocacy of the cause of
the "factory folk," had gained him a hearing. Thickset, under middle size, with
an arm like a giant and a throat like a bull, he had strong common sense, and he
gave the impression that he would wear his heart out for a good friend or a
great cause, but that if he chose to be an enemy he would be narrow,
unrelenting, and persistent. For some time the House had been aware that he had
more than a gift for criticism of the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
His speech began almost stumblingly, his h's ran loose, and his grammar
became involved, but it was seen that he meant business, that he had that to say
which would give anxiety to the Government, that he had a case wherein were the
elements of popular interest and appeal, and that he was thinking and speaking
as thousands outside the House would think and speak.
He had waited for this hour. Indirectly he owed to Claridge Pasha all that he
had become. The day in which David knocked him down saw the depths of his
degradation reached, and, when he got up, it was to start on a new life
uncertainly, vaguely at first, but a new life for all that. He knew, from a true
source, of Eglington's personal hatred of Claridge Pasha, though he did not
guess their relationship; and all his interest was enlisted for the man who had,
as he knew, urged Kate Heaver to marry himself—and Kate was his great ambition
now. Above and beyond these personal considerations was a real sense of
England's duty to the man who was weaving the destiny of a new land.
"It isn't England's business?" he retorted, in answer to an interjection from
a faithful soul behind the ministerial Front Bench. "Well, it wasn't the
business of the Good Samaritan to help the man that had been robbed and left for
dead by the wayside; but he did it. As to David Claridge's work, some have said
that—I've no doubt it's been said in the Cabinet, and it is the thing the
Under-Secretary would say as naturally as he would flick a fly from his
boots—that it's a generation too soon. Who knows that? I suppose there was those
that thought John the Baptist was baptising too soon, that Luther preached too
soon, and Savonarola was in too great a hurry, all because he met his death and
his enemies triumphed—and Galileo and Hampden and Cromwell and John Howard were
all too soon. Who's to be judge of that? God Almighty puts it into some men's
minds to work for a thing that's a great, and maybe an impossible, thing, so far
as the success of the moment is concerned. Well, for a thing that has got to be
done some time, the seed has to be sown, and it's always sown by men like
Claridge Pasha, who has shown millions of people—barbarians and half-civilised
alike—what a true lover of the world can do. God knows, I think he might have
stayed and found a cause in England, but he elected to go to the ravaging
Soudan, and he is England there, the best of it. And I know Claridge Pasha—from
his youth up I have seen him, and I stand here to bear witness of what the
working men of England will say to-morrow. Right well the noble lord yonder
knows that what I say is true. He has known it for years. Claridge Pasha would
never have been in his present position, if the noble lord had not listened to
the enemies of Claridge Pasha and of this country, in preference to those who
know and hold the truth as I tell it here to-day. I don't know whether the noble
lord has repented or not; but I do say that his Government will rue it, if his
answer is not the one word 'Intervention!' Mistaken, rash or not, dreamer if you
like, Claridge Pasha should be relieved now, and his policy discussed
afterwards. I don't envy the man who holds a contrary opinion; he'll be ashamed
of it some day. But"—he pointed towards Eglington—"but there sits the minister
in whose hands his fate has been. Let us hope that this speech of mine needn't
have been made, and that I've done injustice to his patriotism and to the policy
he will announce."
"A set-back, a sharp set-back," said Lord Windlehurst, in the Peers' Gallery,
as the cheers of the Opposition and of a good number of ministerialists sounded
through the Chamber. There were those on the Treasury Bench who saw danger
ahead. There was an attempt at a conference, but Kimber's seconder only said a
half-dozen words, and sat down, and Eglington had to rise before any definite
confidences could be exchanged. One word only he heard behind him as he got up.
It was the word, "Temporise," and it came from the Prime Minister.
Eglington was in no mood for temporising. Attack only nerved him. He was a
good and ruthless fighter; and last night's intoxication of success was still in
his brain. He did not temporise. He did not leave a way of retreat open for the
Prime Minister, who would probably wind up the debate. He fought with skill, but
he fought without gloves, and the House needed gentle handling. He had the gift
of effective speech to a rare degree, and when he liked he could be insinuating
and witty, but he had not genuine humour or good feeling, and the House knew it.
In debate he was biting, resourceful, and unscrupulous. He made the fatal
mistake of thinking that intellect and gifts of fence, followed by a brilliant
peroration, in which he treated the commonplaces of experienced minds as though
they were new discoveries and he was their Columbus, could accomplish anything.
He had never had a political crisis, but one had come now.
In his reply he first resorted to arguments of high politics, historical,
informative, and, in a sense, commanding; indeed, the House became restless
under what seemed a piece of intellectual dragooning. Signs of impatience
appeared on his own side, and, when he ventured on a solemn warning about
hampering ministers who alone knew the difficulties of diplomacy and the danger
of wounding the susceptibilities of foreign and friendly countries, the silence
was broken by a voice that said sneeringly, "The kid-glove Government!"
Then he began to lose place with the Chamber. He was conscious of it, and
shifted his ground, pointing out the dangers of doing what the other nations
interested in Egypt were not prepared to do.
"Have you asked them? Have you pressed them?" was shouted across the House.
Eglington ignored the interjections. "Answer! Answer!" was called out angrily,
but he shrugged a shoulder and continued his argument. If a man insisted on
using a flying-machine before the principle was fully mastered and applied—if it
could be mastered and applied—it must not be surprising if he was killed.
Amateurs sometimes took preposterous risks without the advice of the experts. If
Claridge Pasha had asked the advice of the English Government, or of any of the
Chancellories of Europe, as to his incursions into the Soudan and his premature
attempts at reform, he would have received expert advice that civilisation had
not advanced to that stage in this portion of the world which would warrant his
experiments. It was all very well for one man to run vast risks and attempt
quixotic enterprises, but neither he nor his 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
"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,
"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
"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.
He stood with the letter in his hand, dumfounded. "Good God!" he said, and
sank into a chair.