This etext was produced by Juli Rew (firstname.lastname@example.org).
THE JUDGMENT HOUSE
by Gilbert Parker
Except where references to characters well-known to all the world occur in these pages, this book does not present a picture of public or private individuals living or dead. It is not in any sense a historical novel. It is in conception and portraiture a work of the imagination.
“Strangers come to the outer wall–
(Why do the sleepers stir?)
Strangers enter the Judgment House– (Why do the sleepers sigh?)
Slow they rise in their judgment seats, Sieve and measure the naked souls,
Then with a blessing return to sleep. (Quiet the Judgment House.)
Lone and sick are the vagrant souls– (When shall the world come home?)”
“Let them fight it out, friend! things have gone too far, God must judge the couple: leave them as they are– Whichever one’s the guiltless, to his glory, And whichever one the guilt’s with, to my story!
“Once more. Will the wronger, at this last of all, Dare to say, ‘I did wrong,’ rising in his fall? No? Let go, then! Both the fighters to their places! While I count three, step you back as many paces!”
“And the Sibyl, you know. I saw her with my own eyes at Cumae, hanging in a jar; and when the boys asked her, ‘What would you, Sibyl?’ she answered, ‘I would die.'”
“So is Pheidippides happy for ever,–the noble strong man Who would race like a God, bear the face of a God, whom a God loved so well:
He saw the land saved he had helped to save, and was suffered to tell Such tidings, yet never decline, but, gloriously as he began So to end gloriously–once to shout, thereafter to be mute: ‘Athens is saved!’ Pheidippides dies in the shout for his meed.”
“Oh, never star
Was lost here, but it rose afar.”
THE JUDGMENT HOUSE
THE JASMINE FLOWER
The music throbbed in a voice of singular and delicate power; the air was resonant with melody, love and pain. The meanest Italian in the gallery far up beneath the ceiling, the most exalted of the land in the boxes and the stalls, leaned indulgently forward, to be swept by this sweet storm of song. They yielded themselves utterly to the power of the triumphant debutante who was making “Manassa” the musical feast of the year, renewing to Covent Garden a reputation which recent lack of enterprise had somewhat forfeited.
Yet, apparently, not all the vast audience were hypnotized by the unknown and unheralded singer, whose stage name was Al’mah. At the moment of the opera’s supreme appeal the eyes of three people at least were not in the thraldom of the singer. Seated at the end of the first row of the stalls was a fair, slim, graciously attired man of about thirty, who, turning in his seat so that nearly the whole house was in his circle of vision, stroked his golden moustache, and ran his eyes over the thousands of faces with a smile of pride and satisfaction which in a less handsome man would have been almost a leer. His name was Adrian Fellowes.
Either the opera and the singer had no charms for Adrian Fellowes, or else he had heard both so often that, without doing violence to his musical sense, he could afford to study the effect of this wonderful effort upon the mob of London, mastered by the radiant being on the stage. Very sleek, handsome, and material he looked; of happy colour, and, apparently, with a mind and soul in which no conflicts ever raged–to the advantage of his attractive exterior. Only at the summit of the applause did he turn to the stage again. Then it was with the gloating look of the gambler who swings from the roulette-table with the winnings of a great coup, cynical joy in his eyes that he has beaten the Bank, conquered the dark spirit which has tricked him so often. Now the cold-blue eyes caught, for a second, the dark-brown eyes of the Celtic singer, which laughed at him gaily, victoriously, eagerly, and then again drank in the light and the joy of the myriad faces before her.
In a box opposite the royal box were two people, a man and a very young woman, who also in the crise of the opera were not looking at the stage. The eyes of the man, sitting well back–purposely, so that he might see her without marked observation–were fixed upon the rose-tinted, delicate features of the girl in a joyous blue silk gown, which was so perfect a contrast to the golden hair and wonderful colour of her face. Her eyes were fixed upon her lap, the lids half closed, as though in reverie, yet with that perspicuous and reflective look which showed her conscious of all that was passing round her–even the effect of her own pose. Her name was Jasmine Grenfel.
She was not oblivious of the music. Her heart beat faster because of it; and a temperament adjustable to every mood and turn of human feeling was answering to the poignancy of the opera; yet her youth, child-likeness, and natural spontaneity were controlled by an elate consciousness. She was responsive to the passionate harmony; but she was also acutely sensitive to the bold yet deferential appeal to her emotions of the dark, distinguished, bearded man at her side, with the brown eyes and the Grecian profile, whose years spent in the Foreign Office and at embassies on the Continent had given him a tact and an insinuating address peculiarly alluring to her sex. She was well aware of Ian Stafford’s ambitions, and had come to the point where she delighted in them, and had thought of sharing in them, “for weal or for woe”; but she would probably have resented the suggestion that his comparative poverty was weighed against her natural inclinations and his real and honest passion. For she had her ambitions, too; and when she had scanned the royal box that night, she had felt that something only little less than a diadem would really satisfy her.
Then it was that she had turned meditatively towards another occupant of her box, who sat beside her pretty stepmother–a big, bronzed, clean-shaven, strong-faced man of about the same age as Ian Stafford of the Foreign Office, who had brought him that night at her request. Ian had called him, “my South African nabob,” in tribute to the millions he had made with Cecil Rhodes and others at Kimberley and on the Rand. At first sight of the forceful and rather ungainly form she had inwardly contrasted it with the figure of Ian Stafford and that other spring-time figure of a man at the end of the first row in the stalls, towards which the prima donna had flashed one trusting, happy glance, and with which she herself had been familiar since her childhood. The contrast had not been wholly to the advantage of the nabob; though, to be sure, he was simply arrayed–as if, indeed, he were not worth a thousand a year. Certainly he had about him a sense of power, but his occasional laugh was too vigorous for one whose own great sense of humour was conveyed by an infectious, rippling murmur delightful to hear.
Rudyard Byng was worth three millions of pounds, and that she interested him was evident by the sudden arrest of his look and his movements when introduced to her. Ian Stafford had noted this look; but he had seen many another man look at Jasmine Grenfel with just as much natural and unbidden interest, and he shrugged the shoulders of his mind; for the millions alone would not influence her, that was sure. Had she not a comfortable fortune of her own? Besides, Byng was not the kind of man to capture Jasmine’s fastidious sense and nature. So much had happened between Jasmine and himself, so deep an understanding had grown up between them, that it only remained to bring her to the last court of inquiry and get reply to a vital question–already put in a thousand ways and answered to his perfect satisfaction. Indeed, there was between Jasmine and himself the equivalent of a betrothal. He had asked her to marry him, and she had not said no; but she had bargained for time to “prepare”; that she should have another year in which to be gay in a gay world and, in her own words, “walk the primrose path of pleasure untrammelled and alone, save for my dear friend Mrs. Grundy.”
Since that moment he had been quite sure that all was well. And now the year was nearly up, and she had not changed; had, indeed, grown more confiding and delicately dependent in manner towards him, though seeing him but seldom alone.
As Ian Stafford looked at her now, he kept saying to himself, “So exquisite and so clever, what will she not be at thirty! So well poised, and yet so sweetly child-like dear dresden-china Jasmine.”
That was what she looked like–a lovely thing of the time of Boucher in dresden china.
At last, as though conscious of what was going on in his mind, she slowly turned her drooping eyes towards him, and, over her shoulder, as he quickly leaned forward, she said in a low voice which the others could not hear:
“I am too young, and not clever enough to understand all the music means–is that what you are thinking?”
He shook his head in negation, and his dark-brown eyes commanded hers, but still deferentially, as he said: “You know of what I was thinking. You will be forever young, but yours was always–will always be–the wisdom of the wise. I’d like to have been as clever at twenty-two.”
“How trying that you should know my age so exactly–it darkens the future,” she rejoined with a soft little laugh; then, suddenly, a cloud passed over her face. It weighed down her eyelids, and she gazed before her into space with a strange, perplexed, and timorous anxiety. What did she see? Nothing that was light and joyous, for her small sensuous lips drew closer, and the fan she held in her lap slipped from her fingers to the floor.
This aroused her, and Stafford, as he returned the fan to her, said into a face again alive to the present: “You look as though you were trying to summon the sable spirits of a sombre future.”
Her fine pink-white shoulders lifted a little and, once more quite self-possessed, she rejoined, lightly, “I have a chameleon mind; it chimes with every mood and circumstance.”
Suddenly her eyes rested on Rudyard Byng, and something in the rough power of the head arrested her attention, and the thought flashed through her mind: “How wonderful to have got so much at thirty-three! Three millions at thirty-three–and millions beget millions!”
. . . Power–millions meant power; millions made ready the stage for the display and use of every gift, gave the opportunity for the full occupation of all personal qualities, made a setting for the jewel of life and beauty, which reflected, intensified every ray of merit. Power–that was it. Her own grandfather had had power. He had made his fortune, a great one too, by patents which exploited the vanity of mankind, and, as though to prove his cynical contempt for his fellow-creatures, had then invented a quick-firing gun which nearly every nation in the world adopted. First, he had got power by a fortune which represented the shallowness and gullibility of human nature, then had exploited the serious gift which had always been his, the native genius which had devised the gun when he was yet a boy. He had died at last with the smile on his lips which had followed his remark, quoted in every great newspaper of two continents, that: “The world wants to be fooled, so I fooled it; it wants to be stunned, so I stunned it. My fooling will last as long as my gun; and both have paid me well. But they all love being fooled best.”
Old Draygon Grenfel’s fortune had been divided among his three sons and herself, for she had been her grandfather’s favourite, and she was the only grandchild to whom he had left more than a small reminder of his existence. As a child her intelligence was so keen, her perception so acute, she realized him so well, that he had said she was the only one of his blood who had anything of himself in character or personality, and he predicted–too often in her presence–that she “would give the world a start or two when she had the chance.” His intellectual contempt for his eldest son, her father, was reproduced in her with no prompting on his part; and, without her own mother from the age of three, Jasmine had grown up self-willed and imperious, yet with too much intelligence to carry her will and power too far. Infinite adaptability had been the result of a desire to please and charm; behind which lay an unlimited determination to get her own way and bend other wills to hers.
The two wills she had not yet bent as she pleased were those of her stepmother and of Ian Stafford–one, because she was jealous and obstinate, and the other because he had an adequate self-respect and an ambition of his own to have his way in a world which would not give save at the point of the sword. Come of as good family as there was in England, and the grandson of a duke, he still was eager for power, determined to get on, ingenious in searching for that opportunity which even the most distinguished talent must have, if it is to soar high above the capable average. That chance, the predestined alluring opening had not yet come; but his eyes were wide open, and he was ready for the spring–nerved the more to do so by the thought that Jasmine would appreciate his success above all others, even from the standpoint of intellectual appreciation, all emotions excluded. How did it come that Jasmine was so worldly wise, and yet so marvellously the insouciant child?
He followed her slow, reflective glance at Byng, and the impression of force and natural power of the millionaire struck him now, as it had often done. As though summoned by them both, Byng turned his face and, catching Jasmine’s eyes, smiled and leaned forward.
“I haven’t got over that great outburst of singing yet,” he said, with a little jerk of the head towards the stage, where, for the moment, minor characters were in possession, preparing the path for the last rush of song by which Al’mah, the new prima donna, would bring her first night to a complete triumph.
With face turned full towards her, something of the power of his head seemed to evaporate swiftly. It was honest, alert, and almost brutally simple–the face of a pioneer. The forehead was broad and strong, and the chin was square and determined; but the full, dark-blue eyes had in them shadows of rashness and recklessness, the mouth was somewhat self-indulgent and indolent; though the hands clasping both knees were combined of strength, activity, and also a little of grace.
“I never had much chance to hear great singers before I went to South Africa,” he added, reflectively, “and this swallows me like a storm on the high veld–all lightning and thunder and flood. I’ve missed a lot in my time.”
With a look which made his pulses gallop, Jasmine leaned over and whispered–for the prima donna was beginning to sing again:
“There’s nothing you have missed in your race that you cannot ride back and collect. It is those who haven’t run a race who cannot ride back. You have won; and it is all waiting for you.”
Again her eyes beamed upon him, and a new sensation came to him–the kind of thing he felt once when he was sixteen, and the vicar’s daughter had suddenly held him up for quite a week, while all his natural occupations were neglected, and the spirit of sport was humiliated and abashed. Also he had caroused in his time–who was there in those first days at Kimberley and on the Rand who did not carouse, when life was so hard, luck so uncertain, and food so bad; when men got so dead beat, with no homes anywhere–only shake-downs and the Tents of Shem? Once he had had a native woman summoned to be his slave, to keep his home; but that was a business which had revolted him, and he had never repeated the experiment. Then, there had been an adventuress, a wandering, foreign princess who had fooled him and half a dozen of his friends to the top of their bent; but a thousand times he had preferred other sorts of pleasures–cards, horses, and the bright outlook which came with the clinking glass after the strenuous day.
Jasmine seemed to divine it all as she looked at him–his primitive, almost Edenic sincerity; his natural indolence and native force: a nature that would not stir until greatly roused, but then, with an unyielding persistence and concentrated force, would range on to its goal, making up for a slow-moving intellect by sheer will, vision and a gallant heart.
Al’mah was singing again, and Byng leaned forward eagerly. There was a rustle in the audience, a movement to a listening position, then a tense waiting and attention.
As Jasmine composed herself she said in a low voice to Ian Stafford, whose well-proportioned character, personality, and refinement of culture were in such marked contrast to the personality of the other: “They live hard lives in those new lands. He has wasted much of himself.”
“Three millions at thirty-three means spending a deal of one thing to get another,” Ian answered a little grimly.
“Hush! Oh, Ian, listen!” she added in a whisper.
Once more Al’mah rose to mastery over the audience. The bold and generous orchestration, the exceptional chorus, the fine and brilliant tenor, had made a broad path for her last and supreme effort. The audience had long since given up their critical sense, they were ready to be carried into captivity again, and the surrender was instant and complete. Now, not an eye was turned away from the singer. Even the Corinthian gallant at the end of the first row of stalls gave himself up to feasting on her and her success, and the characters in the opera were as electrified as the audience.
For a whole seven minutes this voice seemed to be the only thing in the world, transposing all thoughts, emotions, all elements of life into terms of melody. Then, at last, with a crash of sweetness, the voice broke over them all in crystals of sound and floated away into a world of bright dreams.
An instant’s silence which followed was broken by a tempest of applause. Again, again, and again it was renewed. The subordinate singers were quickly disposed of before the curtain, then Al’mah received her memorable tribute. How many times she came and went she never knew; but at last the curtain, rising, showed her well up the stage beside a table where two huge candles flared. The storm of applause breaking forth once more, the grateful singer raised her arms and spread them out impulsively in gratitude and dramatic abandon.
As she did so, the loose, flowing sleeve of her robe caught the flame of a candle, and in an instant she was in a cloud of fire. The wild applause turned suddenly to notes of terror as, with a sharp cry, she stumbled forward to the middle of the stage.
For one stark moment no one stirred, then suddenly a man with an opera-cloak on his arm was seen to spring across a space of many feet between a box on the level of the stage and the stage itself. He crashed into the footlights, but recovered himself and ran forward. In an instant he had enveloped the agonized figure of the singer and had crushed out the flames with swift, strong movements.
Then lifting the now unconscious artist in his great arms, he strode off with her behind the scenes.
“Well done, Byng! Well done, Ruddy Byng!” cried a strong voice from the audience; and a cheer went up.
In a moment Byng returned and came down the stage. “She is not seriously hurt,” he said simply to the audience. “We were just in time.”
Presently, as he entered the Grenfel box again, deafening applause broke forth.
“We were just in time,” said Ian Stafford, with an admiring, teasing laugh, as he gripped Byng’s arm.
“‘We’–well, it was a royal business,” said Jasmine, standing close to him and looking up into his eyes with that ingratiating softness which had deluded many another man; “but do you realize that it was my cloak you took?” she added, whimsically.
“Well, I’m glad it was,” Byng answered, boyishly. “You’ll have to wear my overcoat home.”
“I certainly will,” she answered. “Come–the giant’s robe.”
People were crowding upon their box.
“Let’s get out of this,” Byng said, as he took his coat from the hook on the wall.
As they left the box the girl’s white-haired, prematurely aged father whispered in the pretty stepmother’s ear: “Jasmine’ll marry that nabob–you’ll see.”
The stepmother shrugged a shoulder. “Jasmine is in love with Ian Stafford,” she said, decisively.
“But she’ll marry Rudyard Byng,” was the stubborn reply.
THE UNDERGROUND WORLD
“What’s that you say–Jameson–what?”
Rudyard Byng paused with the lighted match at the end of his cigar, and stared at a man who was reading from a tape-machine, which gave the club the world’s news from minute to minute.
“Dr. Jameson’s riding on Johannesburg with eight hundred men. He started from Pitsani two days ago. And Cronje with his burghers are out after him.”
The flaming match burned Byng’s fingers. He threw it into the fireplace, and stood transfixed for a moment, his face hot with feeling, then he burst out:
“But–God! they’re not ready at Johannesburg. The burghers’ll catch him at Doornkop or somewhere, and–” He paused, overcome. His eyes suffused. His hands went out in a gesture of despair.
“Jameson’s jumped too soon,” he muttered. “He’s lost the game for them.”
The other eyed him quizzically. “Perhaps he’ll get in yet. He surely planned the thing with due regard for every chance. Johannesburg–“
“Johannesburg isn’t ready, Stafford. I know. That Jameson and the Rand should coincide was the only chance. And they’ll not coincide now. It might have been–it was to have been–a revolution at Johannesburg, with Dr. Jim to step in at the right minute. It’s only a filibustering business now, and Oom Paul will catch the filibuster, as sure as guns. ‘Gad, it makes me sick!”
“Europe will like it–much,” remarked Ian Stafford, cynically, offering Byng a lighted match.
Byng grumbled out an oath, then fixed his clear, strong look on Stafford. “It’s almost enough to make Germany and France forget 1870 and fall into each other’s arms,” he answered. “But that’s your business, you Foreign Office people’s business. It’s the fellows out there, friends of mine, so many of them, I’m thinking of. It’s the British kids that can’t be taught in their mother-tongue, and the men who pay all the taxes and can’t become citizens. It’s the justice you can only buy; it’s the foot of Kruger on the necks of the subjects of his suzerain; it’s eating dirt as Englishmen have never had to eat it anywhere in the range of the Seven Seas. And when they catch Dr. Jim, it’ll be ten times worse. Yes, it’ll be at Doornkop, unless– But, no, they’ll track him, trap him, get him now. Johannesburg wasn’t ready. Only yesterday I had a cable that–” he stopped short . . . “but they weren’t ready. They hadn’t guns enough, or something; and Englishmen aren’t good conspirators, not by a damned sight! Now it’ll be the old Majuba game all over again. You’ll see.”
“It certainly will set things back. Your last state will be worse than your first,” remarked Stafford.
Rudyard Byng drained off a glass of brandy and water at a gulp almost, as Stafford watched him with inward adverse comment, for he never touched wine or spirits save at meal-time, and the between-meal swizzle revolted his Eesthetic sense. Byng put down the glass very slowly, gazing straight before him for a moment without speaking. Then he looked round. There was no one very near, though curious faces were turned in his direction, as the grim news of the Raid was passed from mouth to mouth. He came up close to Stafford and touched his chest with a firm forefinger.
“Every egg in the basket is broken, Stafford. I’m sure of that. Dr. Jim’ll never get in now; and there’ll be no oeufs a la coque for breakfast. But there’s an omelette to be got out of the mess, if the chef doesn’t turn up his nose too high. After all, what has brought things to this pass? Why, mean, low tyranny and injustice. Why, just a narrow, jealous race-hatred which makes helots of British men. Simple farmers, the sentimental newspapers call them–simple Machiavellis in veldschoen!” *
Stafford nodded assent. “But England is a very conventional chef,” he replied. “She likes the eggs for her omelette broken in the orthodox way.”
“She’s not so particular where the eggs come from, is she?”
Stafford smiled as he answered: “There’ll be a good many people in England who won’t sleep to-night some because they want Jameson to get in; some because they don’t; but most because they’re thinking of the millions of British money locked up in the Rand, with Kruger standing over it with a sjambak, which he’ll use. Last night at the opera we had a fine example of presence of mind, when a lady burst into flames on the stage. That spirited South African prima donna, the Transvaal, is in flames. I wonder if she really will be saved, and who will save her, and–“
A light, like the sun, broke over the gloomy and rather haggard face of Rudyard Byng, and humour shot up into his eyes. He gave a low, generous laugh, as he said with a twinkle: “And whether he does it at some expense to himself–with his own overcoat, or with some one else’s cloak. Is that what you want to say?”
All at once the personal element, so powerful in most of us–even in moments when interests are in existence so great that they should obliterate all others–came to the surface. For a moment it almost made Byng forget the crisis which had come to a land where he had done all that was worth doing, so far in his life; which had burned itself into his very soul; which drew him, sleeping or waking, into its arms of memory and longing.
He had read only one paper that morning, and it–the latest attempt at sensational journalism–had so made him blush at the flattering references to himself in relation to the incident at the opera, that he had opened no other. He had left his chambers to avoid the telegrams and notes of congratulation which were arriving in great numbers. He had gone for his morning ride in Battersea Park instead of the Row to escape observation; had afterwards spent two hours at the house he was building in Park Lane; had then come to the club, where he had encountered Ian Stafford and had heard the news which overwhelmed him.
“Well, an opera cloak did the work better than an overcoat would have done,” Stafford answered, laughing. “It was a flash of real genius to think of it. You did think it all out in the second, didn’t you?”
Stafford looked at him curiously, for he wondered if the choice of a soft cloak which could more easily be wrapped round the burning woman than an overcoat was accidental, or whether it was the product of a mind of unusual decision.
Byng puffed out a great cloud of smoke and laughed again quietly as he replied:
“Well, I’ve had a good deal of lion and rhinoceros shooting in my time, and I’ve had to make up my mind pretty quick now and then; so I suppose it gets to be a habit. You don’t stop to think when the trouble’s on you; you think as you go. If I’d stopped to think, I’d have funked the whole thing, I suppose–jumping from that box onto the stage, and grabbing a lady in my arms, all in the open, as it were. But that wouldn’t have been the natural man. The natural man that’s in most of us, even when we’re not very clever, does things right. It’s when the conventional man comes in and says, Let us consider, that we go wrong. By Jingo, Al’mah was as near having her beauty spoiled as any woman ever was; but she’s only got a few nasty burns on the arm and has singed her hair a little.”
“You’ve seen her to-day, then?”
Stafford looked at him with some curiosity, for the event was one likely to rouse a man’s interest in a woman. Al’mah was unmarried, so far as the world knew, and a man of Byng’s kind, if not generally inflammable, was very likely to be swept off his feet by some unusual woman in some unusual circumstance. Stafford had never seen Rudyard Byng talk to any woman but Jasmine for more than five minutes at a time, though hundreds of eager and avaricious eyes had singled him out for attention; and, as it seemed absurd that any one should build a palace in Park Lane to live in by himself, the glances sent in his direction from many quarters had not been without hopefulness. And there need not have been, and there was not, any loss of dignity on the part of match-making mothers in angling for him, for his family was quite good enough; his origin was not obscure, and his upbringing was adequate. His external ruggedness was partly natural; but it was also got from the bitter rough life he had lived for so many years in South Africa before he had fallen on his feet at Kimberley and Johannesburg.
As for “strange women,” during the time that had passed since his retum to England there had never been any sign of loose living. So, to Stafford’s mind, Byng was the more likely to be swept away on a sudden flood that would bear him out to the sea of matrimony. He had put his question out of curiosity, and he had not to wait for a reply. It came frankly and instantly:
“Why, I was at Al’mah’s house in Bruton Street at eight o’clock this morning–with the milkman and the newsboy; and you wouldn’t believe it, but I saw her, too. She’d been up since six o’clock, she said. Couldn’t sleep for excitement and pain, but looking like a pansy blossom all the same, rigged out as pretty as could be in her boudoir, and a nurse doing the needful. It’s an odd dark kind of beauty she has, with those full lips and the heavy eyebrows. Well, it was a bull in a china-shop, as you might judge–and thank you kindly, Mr. Byng, with such a jolly laugh, and ever and ever and ever so grateful and so wonderfully–thoughtful, I think, was the word, as though one had planned it all. And wouldn’t I stay to breakfast? And not a bit stagey or actressy, and rather what you call an uncut diamond–a gem in her way, but not fine beur, not exactly. A touch of the karoo, or the prairie, or the salt-bush plains in her, but a good chap altogether; and I’m glad I was in it last night with her. I laughed a lot at breakfast–why yes, I stayed to breakfast. Laugh before breakfast and cry before supper, that’s the proverb, isn’t it? And I’m crying, all right, and there’s weeping down on the Rand too.”
As he spoke Stafford made inward comment on the story being told to him, so patently true and honest in every particular. It was rather contradictory and unreasonable, however, to hear this big, shy, rugged fellow taking exception, however delicately and by inference only, to the lack of high refinement, to the want of fine fleur, in Al’mah’s personality. It did not occur to him that Byng was the kind of man who would be comparing Jasmine’s quite wonderful delicacy, perfumed grace, and exquisite adaptability with the somewhat coarser beauty and genius of the singer. It seemed natural that Byng should turn to a personality more in keeping with his own, more likely to make him perfectly at ease mentally and physically.
Stafford judged Jasmine by his own conversations with her, when he was so acutely alive to the fact that she was the most naturally brilliant woman he had ever known or met; and had capacities for culture and attainment, as she had gifts of discernment and skill in thought, in marked contrast to the best of the ladies of their world. To him she had naturally shown only the one side of her nature–she adapted herself to him as she did to every one else; she had put him always at an advantage, and, in doing so, herself as well.
Full of dangerous coquetry he knew her to be–she had been so from a child; and though this was culpable in a way, he and most others had made more than due allowance, because mother-care and loving surveillance had been withdrawn so soon. For years she had been the spoiled darling of her father and brothers until her father married again; and then it had been too late to control her. The wonder was that she had turned out so well, that she had been so studious, so determined, so capable. Was it because she had unusual brain and insight into human nature, and had been wise and practical enough to see that there was a point where restraint must be applied, and so had kept herself free from blame or deserved opprobrium, if not entirely from criticism? In the day when girls were not in the present sense emancipated, she had the savoir faire and the poise of a married woman of thirty. Yet she was delicate, fresh, and flower-like, and very amusing, in a way which delighted men; and she did not antagonize women.
Stafford had ruled Byng out of consideration where she was concerned. He had not heard her father’s remark of the night before, “Jasmine will marry that nabob–you’ll see.”
He was, however, recalled to the strange possibilities of life by a note which was handed to Byng as they stood before the club-room fire. He could not help but see–he knew the envelope, and no other handwriting was like Jasmine’s, that long, graceful, sliding hand. Byng turned it over before opening it.
“Hello,” he said, “I’m caught. It’s a woman’s hand. I wonder how she knew I was here.”
Mentally Stafford shrugged his shoulders as he said to himself: “If Jasmine wanted to know where he was, she’d find out. I wonder–I wonder.”
He watched Byng, over whose face passed a pleased smile.
“Why,” Byng said, almost eagerly, “it’s from Miss Grenfel–wants me to go and tell her about Jameson and the Raid.”
He paused for an instant, and his face clouded again. “The first thing I must do is to send cables to Johannesburg. Perhaps there are some waiting for me at my rooms. I’ll go and see. I don’t know why I didn’t get news sooner. I generally get word before the Government. There’s something wrong somewhere. Somebody has had me.”
“If I were you I’d go to our friend first. When I’m told to go at once, I go. She wouldn’t like cablegrams and other things coming between you and her command–even when Dr. Jim’s riding out of Matabeleland on the Rand for to free the slaves.”
Stafford’s words were playful, but there was, almost unknown to himself, a strange little note of discontent and irony behind.
Byng laughed. “But I’ll be able to tell her more, perhaps, if I go to my rooms first.”
“You are going to see her, then?”
“Certainly. There’s nothing to do till we get news of Jameson at bay in a conga or balled up at a kopje.” Thrusting the delicately perfumed letter in his pocket, he nodded, and was gone.
“I was going to see her myself,” thought Stafford, “but that settles it. It will be easier to go where duty calls instead, since Byng takes my place. Why, she told me to come to-day at this very hour,” he added, suddenly, and paused in his walk towards the door.
“But I want no triangular tea-parties,” he continued to reflect…. “Well, there’ll be work to do at the Foreign Office, that’s sure. France, Austria, Russia can spit out their venom now and look to their mobilization. And won’t Kaiser William throw up his cap if Dr. Jim gets caught! What a mess it will be! Well–well–well!”
He sighed, and went on his way brooding darkly; for he knew that this was the beginning of a great trial for England and all British people.
A DAUGHTER OF TYRE
Jasmine looked at him again, as she had done the night before at the opera, standing quite confidentially close to him, her hand resting in his big palm like a pad of rose-leaves; while a delicate perfume greeted his senses. Byng beamed down on her, mystified and eager, yet by no means impatient, since the situation was one wholly agreeable to him, and he had been called robber in his time with greater violence and with a different voice. Now he merely shook his head in humorous protest, and gave her an indulgent look of inquiry. Somehow he felt quite at home with her; while yet he was abashed by so much delicacy and beauty and bloom.
“Why, what else are you but a robber?” she added, withdrawing her hand rather quickly from the too frank friendliness of his grasp. “You ran off with my opera-cloak last night, and a very pretty and expensive one it was.”
“Expensive isn’t the word,” he rejoined; “it was unpurchasable.”
She preened herself a little at the phrase. “I returned your overcoat this morning–before breakfast; and I didn’t even receive a note of thanks for it. I might properly have kept it till my opera cloak came back.”
“It’s never coming back,” he answered; “and as for my overcoat, I didn’t know it had been returned. I was out all the morning.”
“In the Row?” she asked, with an undertone of meaning.
“Well, not exactly. I was out looking for your cloak.”
“Without breakfast?” she urged with a whimsical glance.
“Well, I got breakfast while I was looking.”
“And while you were indulging material tastes, the cloak hid itself–or went out and hanged itself?”
He settled himself comfortably in the huge chair which seemed made especially for him. With a rare sense for details she had had this very chair brought from the library beyond, where her stepmother, in full view, was writing letters. He laughed at her words–a deep, round chuckle it was.
“It didn’t exactly hang itself; it lay over the back of a Chesterfield where I could see it and breakfast too.”
“A Chesterfield in a breakfast-room! That’s more like the furniture of a boudoir.”
“Well, it was a boudoir.” He blushed a little in spite of himself.
“Ah!… Al’mah’s? Well, she owed you a breakfast, at least, didn’t she?”
“Not so good a breakfast as I got.”
“That is putting rather a low price on her life,” she rejoined; and a little smile of triumph gathered at her pink lips; lips a little like those Nelson loved not wisely yet not too well, if love is worth while at all.
“T didn’t see where you were leading me,” he gasped, helplessly. “I give up. I can’t talk in your way.”
“What is my way?” she pleaded with a little wave of laughter in her eyes.
“Why, no frontal attacks–only flank movements, and getting round the kopjes, with an ambush in a drift here and there.”
“That sounds like Paul Kruger or General Joubert,” she cried in mock dismay. “Isn’t that what they are doing with Dr. Jameson, perhaps?”
His face clouded. Storm gathered slowly in his eyes, a grimness suddenly settled in his strong jaw. “Yes,” he answered, presently, “that’s what they will be doing; and if I’m not mistaken they’ll catch Jameson just as you caught me just now. They’ll catch him at Doornkop or thereabouts, if I know myself–and Oom Paul.”
Her face flushed prettily with excitement. “I want to hear all about this empire-making, or losing, affair; but there are other things to be settled first. There’s my opera-cloak and the breakfast in the prima donna’s boudoir, and–“
“But, how did you know it was Al’mah?” he asked blankly.
“Why, where else would my cloak be?” she inquired with a little laugh. “Not at the costumier’s or the cleaner’s so soon. But, all this horrid flippancy aside, do you really think I should have talked like this, or been so exigent about the cloak, if I hadn’t known everything; if I hadn’t been to see Al’mah, and spent an hour with her and knew that she was recovering from that dreadful shock very quickly? But could you think me so inhuman and unwomanly as not to have asked about her?”
“I wouldn’t be in a position to investigate much when you were talking–not critically,” he replied, boldly. “I would only be thinking that everything you said was all right. It wouldn’t occur to me to–“
She half closed her eyes, looking at him with languishing humour. “Now you must please remember that I am quite young, and may have my head turned, and–“
“It wouldn’t alter my mind about you if you turned your head,” he broke in, gallantly, with a desperate attempt to take advantage of an opportunity, and try his hand at a game entirely new to him.
There was an instant’s pause, in which she looked at him with what was half-assumed, half-natural shyness. His attempt to play with words was so full of nature, and had behind it such apparent admiration, that the unspoiled part of her was suddenly made self-conscious, however agreeably so. Then she said to him: “I won’t say you were brave last night–that doesn’t touch the situation. It wasn’t bravery, of course; it was splendid presence of mind which could only come to a man with great decision of character. I don’t think the newspapers put it at all in the right way. It wasn’t like saving a child from the top of a burning building, was it?”
“There was nothing in it at all where I was concerned,” he replied. “I’ve been living a life for fifteen years where you had to move quick–by instinct, as it were. There’s no virtue in it. I was just a little quicker than a thousand other men present, and I was nearer to the stage.”
“Not nearer than my father or Mr. Stafford.”
“They had a bigger shock than I had, I suppose. They got struck numb for a second. I’m a coarser kind. I have seen lots of sickening things; and I suppose they don’t stun me. We get callous, I fancy, we veld-rangers and adventurers.”
“You seem sensitive enough to fine emotions,” she said, almost shyly.” You were completely absorbed, carried away, by Al’mah’s singing last night. There wasn’t a throb of music that escaped you, I should think.”
“Well, that’s primary instinct. Music is for the most savage natures. The boor that couldn’t appreciate the Taj Mahal, or the sculpture of Michael Angelo, might be swept off his feet by the music of a master, though he couldn’t understand its story. Besides, I’ve carried a banjo and a cornet to the ends of the earth with me. I saved my life with the cornet once. A lion got inside my zareba in Rhodesia. I hadn’t my gun within reach, but I’d been playing the cornet, and just as he was crouching I blew a blast from it–one of those jarring discords of Wagner in the “Gotterdammerung”–and he turned tail and got away into the bush with a howl. Hearing gets to be the most acute of all the senses with the pioneer. If you’ve ever been really dying of thirst, and have reached water again, its sounds become wonderful to you ever after that–the trickle of a creek, the wash of a wave on the shore, the drip on a tin roof, the drop over a fall, the swish of a rainstorm. It’s the same with birds and trees. And trees all make different sounds–that’s the shape of the leaves. It’s all music, too.”
Her breath came quickly with pleasure at the imagination and observation of his words. “So it wasn’t strange that you should be ravished by Al’mah’s singing last night was it?” She looked at him keenly. “Isn’t it curious that such a marvellous gift should be given to a woman who in other respects–” she paused.
“Yes, I know what you mean. She’s so untrained in lots of ways. That’s what I was saying to Stafford a little while ago. They live in a world of their own, the stage people. There’s always a kind of irresponsibility. The habit of letting themselves go in their art, I suppose, makes them, in real life, throw things down so hard when they don’t like them. Living at high pressure is an art like music. It alters the whole equilibrium, I suppose. A woman like Al’mah would commit suicide, or kill a man, without realizing the true significance of it all.”
“Were you thinking that when you breakfasted with her?”
“Yes, when she was laughing and jesting–and when she kissed me good-bye.”
Jasmine drew back, then half-glanced towards her stepmother in the other room. She was only twenty-two, and though her emancipation had been accomplished in its way somewhat in advance of her generation, it had its origin in a very early period of her life, when she had been allowed to read books of verse–Shelley, Byron, Shakespeare, Verlaine, Rossetti, Swinburne, and many others–unchallenged and unguided. The understanding of things, reserved for “the wise and prudent,” had been at first vaguely and then definitely conveyed to her by slow but subtle means–an apprehension from instinct, not from knowledge. There had never been a shock to her mind.
The knowledge of things had grown imperceptibly, and most of life’s ugly meanings were known–at a great distance, to be sure, but still known. Yet there came a sudden half-angry feeling when she heard Rudyard Byng say, so loosely, that Al’Mah had kissed him. Was it possible, then, that a man, that any man, thought she might hear such things without resentment; that any man thought her to know so much of life that it did not matter what was said? Did her outward appearance, then, bear such false evidence?
He did not understand quite, yet he saw that she misunderstood, and he handled the situation with a tact which seemed hardly to belong to a man of his training and calibre.
“She thought no more of kissing me,” he continued, presently, in a calm voice–“a man she had seen only once before, and was not likely to see again, than would a child of five. It meant nothing more to her than kissing Fanato on the stage. It was pure impulse. She forgot it as soon as it was done. It was her way of showing gratitude. Somewhat unconventional, wasn’t it? But then, she is a little Irish, a little Spanish, and the rest Saxon; and she is all artist and bohemian.”
Jasmine’s face cleared, and her equilibrium was instantly restored. She was glad she had misunderstood. Yet Al’mah had not kissed her when she left, while expressing gratitude, too. There was a difference. She turned the subject, saying: “Of course, she insists on sending me a new cloak, and keeping the other as a memento. It was rather badly singed, wasn’t it?”
“It did its work well, and it deserves an honoured home. Do you know that even as I flung the cloak round her, in the excitement of the moment I ‘sensed,’ as my young nephew says, the perfume you use.”
He lifted his hand, conscious that his fingers still carried some of that delicate perfume which her fingers left there as they lay in his palm when she greeted him on his entrance. “It was like an incense from the cloak, as it blanketed the flames. Strange, wasn’t it, that the undersense should be conscious of that little thing, while the over-sense was adding a sensational postscript to the opera?”
She smiled in a pleased way. “Do you like the perfume? I really use very little of it.”
“It’s like no other. It starts a kind of cloud of ideas floating. I don’t know how to describe it. I imagine myself–“
She interrupted, laughing merrily. “My brother says it always makes him angry, and Ian Stafford calls it ‘The Wild Tincture of Time’–frivolously and sillily says that it comes from a bank whereon the ‘wild thyme’ grows! But now, I want to ask you many questions. We have been mentally dancing, while down beyond the Limpopo–“
His demeanour instantly changed, and she noted the look cf power and purpose coming into the rather boyish and good-natured, the rash and yet determined, face. It was not quite handsome. The features were not regular, the forehead was perhaps a little too low, and the hair grew very thick, and would have been a vast mane if it had not been kept fairly close by his valet. This valet was Krool, a half-caste– Hottentot and Boer–whom he had rescued from Lobengula in the Matabele war, and who had in his day been ship-steward, barber, cook, guide, and native recruiter. Krool had attached himself to Byng, and he would not be shaken off even when his master came home to England.
Looking at her visitor with a new sense of observation alive in her, Jasmine saw the inherent native drowsiness of the nature, the love of sleep and good living, the healthy primary desires, the striving, adventurous, yet, in one sense, unambitious soul. The very cleft in the chin, like the alluring dimple of a child’s cheek, enlarged and hardened, was suggestive of animal beauty, with its parallel suggestion of indolence. Yet, somehow, too ample as he was both in fact and by suggestion to the imagination there was an apparent underlying force, a capacity to do huge things when once roused. He had been roused in his short day. The life into which he had been thrown with men of vaster ambition and much more selfish ends than his own, had stirred him to prodigies of activity in those strenuous, wonderful, electric days when gold and diamonds changed the hard-bitten, wearied prospector, who had doggedly delved till he had forced open the hand of the Spirit of the Earth and caught the treasure that flowed forth, into a millionaire, into a conqueror, with the world at his feet. He had been of those who, for many a night and many a year, eating food scarce fit for Kaffirs, had, in poverty and grim endeavour, seen the sun rise and fall over the Magaliesberg range, hope alive in the morning and dead at night. He had faced the devilish storms which swept the high veld with lightning and the thunderstone, striking men dead as they fled for shelter to the boulders of some barren, mocking kopje; and he had had the occasional wild nights of carousal, when the miseries and robberies of life and time and the ceaseless weariness and hope deferred, were forgotten.
It was all there in his face–the pioneer endeavour, the reckless effort, the gambler’s anxiety, the self-indulgence, the crude passions, with a far-off, vague idealism, the selfish outlook, and yet great breadth of feeling, with narrowness of individual purpose. The rough life, the sordid struggle, had left their mark, and this easy, coaxing, comfortable life of London had not covered it up–not yet. He still belonged to other–and higher–spheres.
There was a great contrast between him and Ian Stafford. Ian was handsome, exquisitely refined, lean and graceful of figure, with a mind which saw the end of your sentences from the first word, with a skill of speech like a Damascus blade, with knowledge of a half-dozen languages. Ian had an allusiveness of conversation which made human intercourse a perpetual entertainment, and Jasmine’s intercourse with him a delight which lingered after his going until his coming again. The contrast was prodigious–and perplexing, for Rudyard Byng had qualities which compelled her interest. She sighed as she reflected.
“I suppose you can’t get three millions all to yourself with your own hands without missing a good deal and getting a good deal you could do without,” she said to herself, as he wonderingly interjected the exclamation:
“Now, what do you know of the Limpopo? I’ll venture there isn’t another woman in England who even knows the name.”
“I always had a thirst for travel, and I’ve read endless books of travel and adventure,” she replied. “I’d have been an explorer, or a Cecil Rhodes, if I had been a man.”
“Can you ride?” he asked, looking wonderingly at her tiny hand, her slight figure, her delicate face with its almost impossible pink and white.
“Oh, man of little faith!” she rejoined. “I can’t remember when I didn’t ride. First a Shetland pony, and now at last I’ve reached Zambesi–such a wicked dear.”
“Zambesi–why Zambesi? One would think you were South African.”
She enjoyed his mystification. Then she grew serious and her eyes softened. “I had a friend–a girl, older than I. She married. Well, he’s an earl now, the Earl of Tynemouth, but he was the elder son then, and wild for sport. They went on their honeymoon to shoot in Africa, and they visited the falls of the Zambesi. She, my friend, was standing on the edge of the chasm–perhaps you know it–not far from Livingstone’s tree, between the streams. It was October, and the river was low. She put up her big parasol. A gust of wind suddenly caught it, and instead of letting the thing fly, she hung on, and was nearly swept into the chasm. A man with them pulled her back in time–but she hung on to that red parasol. Only when it was all over did she realize what had really happened. Well, when she came back to England, as a kind of thank-offering she gave me her father’s best hunter. That was like her, too; she could always make other people generous. He is a beautiful Satan, and I rechristened him Zambesi. I wanted the red parasol, too, but Alice Tynemouth wouldn’t give it to me.”
“So she gave it to the man who pulled her back. Why not?”
“How do you know she did that?”
“Well, it hangs in an honoured place in Stafford’s chambers. I conjecture right, do I?”
Her eyes darkened slowly, and a swift-passing shadow covered her faintly smiling lips; but she only said, “You see he was entitled to it, wasn’t he?” To herself, however, she whispered, “Neither of them–neither ever told me that.”
At that moment the door opened, and a footman came forward to Rudyard Byng. “If you please, sir, your servant says, will you see him. There is news from South Africa.”
Byng rose, but Jasmine intervened. “No, tell him to come here,” she said to the footman. “Mayn’t he?” she asked.
Byng nodded, and remained standing. He seemed suddenly lost to her presence, and with head dropped forward looked into space, engrossed, intense.
Jasmine studied him as an artist would study a picture, and decided that he had elements of the unusual, and was a distinct personality. Though rugged, he was not uncouth, and there was nothing of the nouveau riche about him. He did not wear a ring or scarf-pin, his watch-chain was simple and inconspicuous enough for a school-boy–and he was worth three million pounds, with a palace building in Park Lane and a feudal castle in Wales leased for a period of years. There was nothing greatly striking in his carriage; indeed, he did not make enough of his height and bulk; but his eye was strong and clear, his head was powerful, and his quick smile was very winning. Yet–yet, he was not the type of man who, to her mind should have made three millions at thirty-three. It did not seem to her that he was really representative of the great fortune-builders–she had her grandfather and others closely in mind. She had seen many captains of industry and finance in her grandfather’s house, men mostly silent, deliberate and taciturn, and showing in their manner and persons the accumulated habits of patience, force, ceaseless aggression and domination.
Was it only luck which had given Rudyard Byng those three millions? It could not be just that alone. She remembered her grandfather used to say that luck was a powerful ingredient in the successful career of every man, but that the man was on the spot to take the luck, knew when to take it, and how to use it. “The lucky man is the man that sits up watching for the windfall while other men are sleeping”–that was the way he had put it. So Rudyard Byng, if lucky, had also been of those who had grown haggard with watching, working and waiting; but not a hair of his head had whitened, and if he looked older than he was, still he was young enough to marry the youngest debutante in England and the prettiest and best-born. He certainly had inherent breeding. His family had a long pedigree, and every man could not be as distinguished-looking as Ian Stafford–as Ian Stafford, who, however, had not three millions of pounds; who had not yet made his name and might never do so.
She flushed with anger at herself that she should be so disloyal to Ian, for whom she had pictured a brilliant future–ambassador at Paris or Berlin, or, if he chose, Foreign Minister in Whitehall–Ian, gracious, diligent, wonderfully trained, waiting, watching for his luck and ready to take it; and to carry success, when it came, like a prince of princelier days. Ian gratified every sense in her, met every demand of an exacting nature, satisfied her unusually critical instinct, and was, in effect, her affianced husband. Yet it was so hard to wait for luck, for place, for power, for the environment where she could do great things, could fill that radiant place which her cynical and melodramatic but powerful and sympathetic grandfather had prefigured for her. She had been the apple of that old man’s eye, and he had filled her brain–purposely–with ambitious ideas. He had done it when she was very young, because he had not long to stay; and he had overcoloured the pictures in order that the impression should be vivid and indelible when he was gone. He had meant to bless, for, to his mind, to shine, to do big things, to achieve notoriety, to attain power, “to make the band play when you come,” was the true philosophy of life. And as this philosophy, successful in his case, was accompanied by habits of life which would bear the closest inspection by the dean and chapter, it was a difficult one to meet by argument or admonition. He had taught his grandchild as successfully as he had built the structure of his success. He had made material things the basis of life’s philosophy and purpose; and if she was not wholly materialistic, it was because she had drunk deep, for one so young, at the fountains of art, poetry, sculpture and history. For the last she had a passion which was represented by books of biography without number, and all the standard historians were to be found in her bedroom and her boudoir. Yet, too, when she had opportunity–when Lady Tynemouth brought them to her–she read the newest and most daring productions of a school of French novelists and dramatists who saw the world with eyes morally astigmatic and out of focus. Once she had remarked to Alice Tynemouth:
“You say I dress well, yet it isn’t I. It’s my dressmaker. I choose the over-coloured thing three times out of five–it used to be more than that. Instinctively I want to blaze. It is the same in everything. I need to be kept down, but, alas! I have my own way in everything. I wish I hadn’t, for my own good. Yet I can’t brook being ruled.”
To this Alice had replied: “A really selfish husband–not a difficult thing to find–would soon keep you down sufficiently. Then you’d choose the over-coloured thing not more than two times, perhaps one time, out of five. Your orientalism is only undisciplined self-will. A little cruelty would give you a better sense of proportion in colour–and everything else. You have orientalism, but little or no orientation.”
Here, now, standing before the fire, was that possible husband who, no doubt, was selfish, and had capacities for cruelty which would give her greater proportion–and sense of colour. In Byng’s palace, with three millions behind her–she herself had only the tenth of one million–she could settle down into an exquisitely ordered, beautiful, perfect life where the world would come as to a court, and–
Suddenly she shuddered, for these thoughts were sordid, humiliating, and degrading. They were unbidden, but still they came. They came from some dark fountain within herself. She really wanted–her idealistic self wanted–to be all that she knew she looked, a flower in life and thought. But, oh, it was hard, hard for her to be what she wished! Why should it be so hard for her?
She was roused by a voice. “Cronje!” it said in a deep, slow, ragged note.
Byng’s half-caste valet, Krool, sombre of face, small, lean, ominous, was standing in the doorway.
“Cronje! . . . Well?” rejoined Byng, quietly, yet with a kind of smother in the tone.
Krool stretched out a long, skinny, open hand, and slowly closed the fingers up tight with a gesture suggestive of a trap closing upon a crushed captive.
“Where?” Byng asked, huskily.
“Doornkop,” was the reply; and Jasmine, watching closely, fascinated by Krool’s taciturnity, revolted by his immobile face, thought she saw in his eyes a glint of malicious and furtive joy. A dark premonition suddenly flashed into her mind that this creature would one day, somehow, do her harm; that he was her foe, her primal foe, without present or past cause for which she was responsible; but still a foe–one of those antipathies foreordained, one of those evil influences which exist somewhere in the universe against every individual life.
“Doornkop–what did I say!” Byng exclaimed to Jasmine. “I knew they’d put the double-and-twist on him at Doornkop, or some such place; and they’ve done it–Kruger and Joubert. Englishmen aren’t slim enough to be conspirators. Dr. Jim was going it blind, trusting to good luck, gambling with the Almighty. It’s bury me deep now. It’s Paul Kruger licking his chops over the savoury mess. ‘Oh, isn’t it a pretty dish to set before the king!’ What else, Krool?”
“Nothing more in the cables?”
“That will do, Krool. Wait. Go to Mr. Whalen. Say I want him to bring a stenographer and all the Partners–he’ll understand–to me at ten to-night.”
Krool bowed slowly. As he raised his head his eyes caught those of Jasmine. For an instant they regarded each other steadily, then the man’s eyes dropped, and a faint flush passed over his face. The look had its revelation which neither ever forgot. A quiver of fear passed through Jasmine, and was followed by a sense of self-protection and a hardening of her will, as against some possible danger.
As Krool left the room he said to himself: “The Baas speaks her for his vrouw. But the Baas will go back quick to the Vaal–p’r’aps.”
Then an evil smile passed over his face, as he thought of the fall of the Rooinek–of Dr. Jim in Oom Paul’s clutches. He opened and shut his fingers again with a malignant cruelty.
Standing before the fire, Byng said to Jasmine meditatively, with that old ironic humour which was always part of him: “‘Fee, fo, fi, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.'”
Her face contracted with pain. “They will take Dr. Jim’s life?” she asked, solemnly.
“It’s hard to tell. It isn’t him alone. There’s lots of others that we both know.”
“Yes, yes, of course. It’s terrible, terrible,” she whispered.
“It’s more terrible than it looks, even now. It’s a black day for England. She doesn’t know yet how black it is. I see it, though; I see it. It’s as plain as an open book. Well, there’s work to do, and I must be about it. I’m off to the Colonial Office. No time to lose. It’s a job that has no eight-hours shift.”
Now the real man was alive. He was transformed. The face was set and quiet. He looked concentrated will and power as he stood with his hands clasped behind him, his shoulders thrown back, his eyes alight with fire and determination. To herself Jasmine seemed to be moving in the centre of great events, having her fingers upon the levers which work behind the scenes of the world’s vast schemes, standing by the secret machinery of government.
“How I wish I could help you,” she said, softly, coming nearer to him, a warm light in her liquid blue eyes, her exquisite face flushing with excitement, her hands clasped in front of her.
As Byng looked at her, it seemed to him that sweet honesty and high-heartedness had never had so fine a setting; that never had there been in the world such an epitome of talent, beauty and sincerity. He had suddenly capitulated, he who had ridden unscathed so long. If he had dared he would have taken her in his arms there and then; but he had known her only for a day. He had been always told that a woman must be wooed and won, and to woo took time. It was not a task he understood, but suddenly it came to him that he was prepared to do it; that he must be patient and watch and serve, and, as he used to do, perhaps, be elate in the morning and depressed at night, till the day of triumph came and his luck was made manifest.
“But you can help me, yes, you can help me as no one else can,” he said almost hoarsely, and his hands moved a little towards her.
“You must show me how,” she said, scarce above a whisper, and she drew back slightly, for this look in his eyes told its own story.
“When may I come again?” he asked.
“I want so much to hear everything about South Africa. Won’t you come to-morrow at six?” she asked.
“Certainly, to-morrow at six,” he answered, eagerly, “and thank you.”
His honest look of admiration enveloped her as her hand was again lost in his strong, generous palm, and lay there for a moment thrilling him…. He turned at the door and looked back, and the smile she gave seemed the most delightful thing he had ever seen.
“She is a flower, a jasmine-flower,” he said, happily, as he made his way into the street.
When he had gone she fled to her bedroom. Standing before the mirror, she looked at herself long, laughing feverishly. Then suddenly she turned and threw herself upon the bed, bursting into a passion of tears. Sobs shook her.
“Oh, Ian,” she said, raisig her head at last, “oh, Ian, Ian, I hate myself!”
Down in the library her stepmother was saying to her father, “You are right, Jasmine will marry the nabob.”
“I am sorry for Ian Stafford,” was the response.
“Men get over such things,” came the quietly cynical reply.
“Jasmine takes a lot of getting over,” answered Jasmine’s father. “She has got the brains of all the family, the beauty her family never had–the genius of my father, and the wilfulness, and–“
He paused, for, after all, he was not talking to the mother of his child.
“Yes, all of it, dear child,” was the enigmatical reply.
“I wish–Nelly, I do wish that–“
“Yes, I know what you wish, Cuthbert, but it’s no good. I’m not of any use to her. She will work out her own destiny alone–as her grandfather did.”
“God knows I hope not! A man can carry it off, but a woman–“
Slow and almost stupid as he was, he knew that her inheritance from her grandfather’s nature was a perilous gift.
THE PARTNERS MEET
England was more stunned than shocked. The dark significance, the evil consequences destined to flow from the Jameson Raid had not yet reached the general mind. There was something gallant and romantic in this wild invasion: a few hundred men, with no commissariat and insufficient clothing, with enough ammunition and guns for only the merest flurry of battle, doing this unbelievable gamble with Fate–challenging a republic of fighting men with well-stocked arsenals and capable artillery, with ample sources of supply, with command of railways and communications. It was certainly magnificent; but it was magnificent folly.
It did not take England long to decide that point; and not even the Laureate’s paean in the organ of the aristocracy and upper middle class could evoke any outburst of feeling. There was plenty of admiration for the pluck and boldness, for the careless indifference with which the raiders risked their lives; for the romantic side of the dash from Pitsani to the Rand; but the thing was so palpably impossible, as it was carried out, that there was not a knowing mind in the Islands which would not have echoed Rhodes’ words, “Jameson has upset the apple-cart.”
Rudyard Byng did not visit Jasmine the next evening at six o’clock. His world was all in chaos, and he had not closed his eyes to sleep since he had left her. At ten o’clock at night, as he had arranged, “The Partners” and himself met at his chambers, around which had gathered a crowd of reporters and curious idlers; and from that time till the grey dawn he and they had sat in conference. He had spent two hours at the Colonial Office after he left Jasmine, and now all night he kneaded the dough of a new policy with his companions in finance and misfortune.
There was Wallstein, the fairest, ablest, and richest financier of them all, with a marvellous head for figures and invaluable and commanding at the council-board, by virtue of his clear brain and his power to co-ordinate all the elements of the most confusing financial problems. Others had by luck and persistence made money–the basis of their fortunes; but Wallstein had showed them how to save those fortunes and make them grow; had enabled them to compete successfully with the games of other great financiers in the world’s stock-markets. Wallstein was short and stout, with a big blue eye and an unwrinkled forehead; prematurely aged from lack of exercise and the exciting air of the high veld; from planning and scheming while others slept; from an inherent physical weakness due to the fact that he was one of twin sons, to his brother being given great physical strength, to himself a powerful brain for finance and a frail if ample body. Wallstein knew little and cared less about politics; yet he saw the use of politics in finance, and he did not stick his head into the sand as some of his colleagues did when political activities hampered their operations. In Johannesburg he had kept aloof from the struggle with Oom Paul, not from lack of will, but because he had no stomach for daily intrigue and guerrilla warfare and subterranean workings; and he was convinced that only a great and bloody struggle would end the contest for progress and equal rights for all white men on the Rand. His inquiries had been bent towards so disposing the financial operations, so bulwarking the mining industry by sagacious designs, that, when the worst came, they all would be able to weather the storm. He had done his work better than his colleagues knew, or indeed even himself knew.
Probably only Fleming the Scotsman–another of the Partners–with a somewhat dour exterior, an indomitable will, and a caution which compelled him to make good every step of the way before him, and so cultivate a long sight financially and politically, understood how extraordinary Wallstein’s work had been–only Fleming, and Rudyard Byng, who knew better than any and all.
There was also De Lancy Scovel, who had become a biggish figure in the Rand world because he had been a kind of financial valet to Wallstein and Byng, and, it was said, had been a real unofficial valet to Rhodes, being an authority on cooking, and on brewing a punch, and a master of commissariat in the long marches which Rhodes made in the days when he trekked into Rhodesia. It was indeed said that he had made his first ten thousand pounds out of two trips which Rhodes made en route to Lobengula, and had added to this amount on the principle of compound multiplication when the Matabele war came; for here again he had a collateral interest in the commissariat.
Rhodes, with a supreme carelessness in regard to money, with an indifference to details which left his mind free for the working of a few main ideas, had no idea how many cheques he gave on the spur of the moment to De Lancy Scovel in this month or in that, in this year or in that, for this thing or for that–cheques written very often on the backs of envelopes, on the white margin of a newspaper, on the fly-leaf of a book or a blank telegraph form. The Master Man was so stirred by half-contemptuous humour at the sycophancy and snobbery of his vain slave, who could make a salad out of anything edible, that, caring little what men were, so long as they did his work for him, he once wrote a cheque for two thousand pounds on the starched cuff of his henchman’s “biled shirt” at a dinner prepared for his birthday.
So it was that, with the marrow-bones thrown to him, De Lancy Scovel came to a point where he could follow Wallstein’s and Rhodes’ lead financially, being privy to their plans, through eavesdropping on the conferences of his chiefs. It came as a surprise to his superiors that one day’s chance discovery showed De Lancy Scovel to be worth fifty thousand pounds; and from that time on they used him for many a purpose in which it was expedient their own hands should not appear. They felt confident that a man who could so carefully and secretly build up his own fortune had a gift which could be used to advantage. A man who could be so subterranean in his own affairs would no doubt be equally secluded in their business. Selfishness would make him silent. And so it was that “the dude” of the camp and the kraal, the factotum, who in his time had brushed Rhodes’ clothes when he brushed his own, after the Kaffir servant had messed them about, came to be a millionaire and one of the Partners. For him South Africa had no charms. He was happy in London, or at his country-seat in Leicestershire, where he followed the hounds with a temerity which was at base vanity; where he gave the county the best food to be got outside St. Petersburg or Paris; where his so-called bachelor establishment was cared for by a coarse, gray-haired housekeeper who, the initiated said, was De Lancy’s South African wife, with a rooted objection to being a lady or “moving in social circles”; whose pleasure lay in managing this big household under De Lancy’s guidance. There were those who said they had seen her brush a speck of dust from De Lancy’s coat-collar, as she emerged from her morning interview with him; and others who said they had seen her hidden in the shrubbery listening to the rather flaccid conversation of her splendid poodle of a master.
There were others who had climbed to success in their own way, some by happy accident, some by a force which disregarded anything in their way, and some by sheer honest rough merit, through which the soul of the true pioneer shone.
There was also Barry Whalen, who had been educated as a doctor, and, with a rare Irish sense of adaptability and amazing Celtic cleverness, had also become a mining engineer, in the days when the Transvaal was emerging from its pioneer obscurity into the golden light of mining prosperity. Abrupt, obstinately honest, and sincere; always protesting against this and against that, always the critic of authority, whether the authority was friend or foe; always smothering his own views in the moment when the test of loyalty came; always with a voice like a young bull and a heart which would have suited a Goliath, there was no one but trusted Barry, none that had not hurried to him in a difficulty; not because he was so wise, but because he was so true. He would never have made money, in spite of the fact that his prescience, his mining sense, his diagnosis of the case of a mine, as Byng called it, had been a great source of wealth to others, had it not been for Wallstein and Byng.
Wallstein had in him a curious gentleness and human sympathy, little in keeping with the view held of him by that section of the British press which would willingly have seen England at the mercy of Paul Kruger–for England’s good, for her soul’s welfare as it were, for her needed chastisement. He was spoken of as a cruel, tyrannical, greedy German Jew, whose soul was in his own pocket and his hand in the pockets of the world. In truth he was none of these things, save that he was of German birth, and of as good and honest German origin as George of Hanover and his descendants, if not so distinguished. Wallstein’s eye was an eye of kindness, save in the vision of business; then it saw without emotion to the advantage of the country where he had made his money, and to the perpetual advantage of England, to whom he gave an honourable and philanthropic citizenship. His charities were not of the spectacular kind; but many a poor and worthy, and often unworthy, unfortunate was sheltered through bad days and heavy weather of life by the immediate personal care of “the Jew Mining Magnate, who didn’t care a damn what happened to England so long as his own nest was well lined!”
It was Wallstein who took heed of the fact that, as he became rich, Barry Whalen remained poor; and it was he who took note that Barry had a daughter who might any day be left penniless with frail health and no protector; and taking heed and note, it was he made all the Partners unite in taking some financial risks and responsibilities for Barry, when two new mines were opened–to Barry’s large profit. It was characteristic of Barry, however, that, if they had not disguised their action by financial devices, and by making him a Partner, because he was needed professionally and intellectually and for other business reasons, nicely phrased to please his Celtic vanity, he would have rejected the means to the fortune which came to him. It was a far smaller fortune than any of the others had; but it was sufficient for him and for his child. So it was that Barry became one of the Partners, and said things that every one else would hesitate to say, but were glad to hear said.
Others of the group were of varying degrees of ability and interest and importance. One or two were poltroons in body and mind, with only a real instinct for money-making and a capacity for constructive individualism. Of them the most conspicuous was Clifford Melville, whose name was originally Joseph Sobieski, with habitat Poland, whose small part in this veracious tale belongs elsewhere.
Each had his place, and all were influenced by the great schemes of Rhodes and their reflection in the purposes and actions of Wallstein. Wallstein was inspired by the dreams and daring purposes of Empire which had driven Rhodes from Table Mountain to the kraal of Lobengula and far beyond; until, at last, the flag he had learned to love had been triumphantly trailed from the Cape to Cairo.
Now in the great crisis, Wallstein, of them all, was the most self-possessed, save Rudyard Byng. Some of the others were paralyzed. They could only whine out execrations on the man who had dared something; who, if he had succeeded, would have been hailed as the great leader of a Revolution, not the scorned and humiliated captain of a filibustering expedition. A triumphant rebellion or raid is always a revolution in the archives of a nation. These men were of a class who run for cover before a battle begins, and can never be kept in the fighting-line except with the bayonet in the small of their backs. Others were irritable and strenuous, bitter in their denunciations of the Johannesburg conspirators, who had bungled their side of the business and who had certainly shown no rashness. At any rate, whatever the merits of their case, no one in England accused the Johannesburgers of foolhardy courage or impassioned daring. They were so busy in trying to induce Jameson to go back that they had no time to go forward themselves. It was not that they lost their heads, their hearts were the disappearing factors.
At this gloomy meeting in his house, Byng did not join either of the two sections who represented the more extreme views and the unpolitical minds. There was a small section, of which he was one, who were not cleverer financially than their friends, but who had political sense and intuition; and these, to their credit, were more concerned, at this dark moment, for the political and national consequences of the Raid, than for the certain set-back to the mining and financial enterprises of the Rand. A few of the richest of them were the most hopeless politically–ever ready to sacrifice principle for an extra dividend of a quarter per cent.; and, in their inmost souls, ready to bow the knee to Oom Paul and his unwholesome, undemocratic, and corrupt government, if only the dividends moved on and up.
Byng was not a great genius, and he had never given his natural political talent its full chance; but his soul was bigger than his pocket. He had a passionate love for the land–for England–which had given him birth; and he had a decent pride in her honour and good name. So it was that he had almost savagely challenged some of the sordid deliberations of this stern conference. In a full-blooded and manly appeal he begged them “to get on higher ground.” If he could but have heard it, it would have cheered the heart of the broken and discredited pioneer of Empire at Capetown, who had received his death-warrant, to take effect within five years, in the little cottage at Muizenberg by the sea; as great a soul in posse as ever came from the womb of the English mother; who said as he sat and watched the tide flow in and out, and his own tide of life ebbed, “Life is a three days’ trip to the sea-shore: one day in going, one day in settling down, and one day in packing up again.”
Byng had one or two colleagues who, under his inspiration, also took the larger view, and who looked ahead to the consequences yet to flow from the fiasco at Doornkop, which became a tragedy. What would happen to the conspirators of Johannesburg? What would happen to Jameson and Willoughby and Bobby White and Raleigh Grey? Who was to go to South Africa to help in holding things together, and to prevent the worst happening, if possible? At this point they had arrived when they saw–
. . . The dull dank morn stare in,
Like a dim drowned face with oozy eyes.
A more miserable morning seldom had broken, even in England.
“I will go. I must go,” remarked Byng at last, though there was a strange sinking of the heart as he said it. Even yet the perfume of Jasmine’s cloak stole to his senses to intoxicate them. But it was his duty to offer to go; and he felt that he could do good by going, and that he was needed at Johannesburg. He, more than all of them, had been in open conflict with Oom Paul in the the past, had fought him the most vigorously, and yet for him the old veldschoen Boer had some regard and much respect, in so far as he could respect a Rooinek at all.
“I will go,” Byng repeated, and looked round the table at haggard faces, at ashen faces, at the faces of men who had smoked to quiet their nerves, or drunk hard all night to keep up their courage. How many times they had done the same in olden days, when the millions were not yet arrived, and their only luxury was companionship and champagne–or something less expensive.
As Byng spoke, Krool entered the room with a great coffee-pot and a dozen small white bowls. He heard Byng’s words, and for a moment his dark eyes glowed with a look of evil satisfaction. But his immobile face showed nothing, and he moved like a spirit among them his lean hand putting a bowl before each person, like a servitor of Death passing the hemlock-brew.
At his entrance there was instant silence, for, secret as their conference must be, this half-caste, this Hottentot-Boer, must hear nothing and know nothing. Not one of them but resented his being Byng’s servant. Not one but felt him a danger at any time, and particularly now. Once Barry Whalen, the most outwardly brusque and apparently frank of them all, had urged Byng to give Krool up, but without avail; and now Barry eyed the half-caste with a resentful determination. He knew that Krool had heard Byng’s words, for he was sitting opposite the double doors, and had seen the malicious eyes light up. Instantly, however, that light vanished. They all might have been wooden men, and Krool but a wooden servitor, so mechanical and concentrated were his actions. He seemed to look at nobody; but some of them shrank a little as he leaned over and poured the brown, steaming liquid and the hot milk into the bowls. Only once did the factotum look at anybody directly, and that was at Byng just as he was about to leave the room. Then Barry Whalen saw him glance searchingly at his master’s face in a mirror, and again that baleful light leaped up in his eyes.
When he had left the room, Barry Whalen said, impulsively: “Byng, it’s all damn foolery your keeping that fellow about you. It’s dangerous, ‘specially now.”
“Coffee’s good, isn’t it? Think there’s poison in it?” Byug asked with a contemptuous little laugh. “Sugar–what?” He pushed the great bowl of sugar over the polished table towards Barry.
“Oh, he makes you comfortable enough, but–“
“But he makes you uncomfortable, Barry? Well, we’re bound to get on one another’s nerves one way or another in this world when the east wind blows; and if it isn’t the east wind, it’s some other wind. We’re living on a planet which has to take the swipes of the universe, because it has permitted that corrupt, quarrelsome, and pernicious beast, man, to populate the hemispheres. Krool is staying on with me, Barry.”
“We’re in heavy seas, and we don’t want any wreckers on the shore,” was the moody and nervously indignant reply.
“Well, Krool’s in the heavy seas, all right, too–with me.”
Barry Whalen persisted. “We’re in for complications, Byng. England has to take a hand in the game now with a vengeance. We don’t want any spies. He’s more Boer than native.”
“There’ll be nothing Krool can get worth spying for. If we keep our mouths shut to the outside world, we’ll not need fear any spies. I’m not afraid of Krool. We’ll not be sold by him. Though some one inside will sell us perhaps–as the Johannesburg game was sold by some one inside.”
There was a painful silence, and more than one man looked at his fellows furtively.
“We will do nothing that will not bear the light of day, and then we need not fear any spying,” continued Byng.
“If we have secret meetings and intentions which we don’t make public, it is only what governments themselves have; and we keep them quiet to prevent any one taking advantage of us; but our actions are justfiable. I’m going to do nothing I’m ashamed of; and when it’s necessary, or when and if it seems right to do so, I’ll put all my cards on the table. But when I do, I’ll see that it’s a full hand–if I can.”
There was a silence for a moment after he had ended, then some one said:
“You think it’s best that you should go? You want to go to Johannesburg?”
“I didn’t say anything about wanting to go. I said I’d go because one of us–or two of us–ought to go. There’s plenty to do here; but if I can be any more use out there, why, Wallstein can stay here, and–“
He got no further, for Wallstein, to whom he had just referred, and who had been sitting strangely impassive, with his eyes approvingly fixed on Byng, half rose from his chair and fell forward, his thick, white hands sprawling on the mahogany table, his fat, pale face striking the polished wood with a thud. In an instant they were all on their feet and at his side.
Barry Whalen lifted up his head and drew him back into the chair, then three of them lifted him upon a sofa. Barry’s hand felt the breast of the prostrate figure, and Byng’s fingers sought his wrist. For a moment there was a dreadful silence, and then Byng and Whalen looked at each other and nodded.
“Brandy!” said Byng, peremptorily.
“He’s not dead?” whispered some one.
“Brandy–quick,” urged Byng, and, lifting up the head a little, he presently caught the glass from Whalen’s hand and poured some brandy slowly between the bluish lips. “Some one ring for Krool,” he added.
A moment later Krool entered. “The doctor–my doctor and his own–and a couple of nurses,” Byng said, sharply, and Krool nodded and vanished. “Perhaps it’s only a slight heart-attack, but it’s best to be on the safe side.”
“Anyhow, it shows that Wallstein needs to let up for a while,” whispered Fleming.
“It means that some one must do Wallstein’s work here,” said Barry Whalen. “It means that Byng stays in London,” he added, as Krool entered the room again with a rug to cover Wallstein.
Barry saw Krool’s eyes droop before his words, and he was sure that the servant had reasons for wishing his master to go to South Africa. The others present, however, only saw a silent, magically adept figure stooping over the sick man, adjusting the body to greater ease, arranging skilfully the cushion under the head, loosening and removing the collar and the boots, and taking possession of the room, as though he himself were the doctor; while Byng looked on with satisfaction.
“Useful person, eh?” he said, meaningly, in an undertone to Barry Whalen.
“I don’t think he’s at home in England,” rejoined Barry, as meaningly and very stubbornly: “He won’t like your not going to South Africa.”
“Am I not going to South Africa?” Byng asked, mechanically, and looking reflectively at Krool.
“Wallstein’s a sick man, Byng. You can’t leave London. You’re the only real politician among us. Some one else must go to Johannesburg.”
“You know I can’t, Byng–there’s my girl. Besides, I don’t carry enough weight, anyhow, and you know that too.”
Byng remembered Whalen’s girl–stricken down with consumption a few months before. He caught Whalen’s arm in a grip of friendship. “All right, dear old man,” he said, kindly. “Fleming shall go, and I’ll stay. Yes, I’ll stay here, and do Wallstein’s work.”
He was still mechanically watching Krool attend to the sick man, and he was suddenly conscious of an arrest of all motion in the half-caste’s lithe frame. Then Krool turned, and their eyes met. Had he drawn Krool’s eyes to his–the master-mind influencing the subservient intelligence?
“Krool wants to go to South Africa,” he said to himself with a strange, new sensation which he did not understand, though it was not quite a doubt. He reassured himself. “Well, it’s natural he should. It’s his home…. But Fleming must go to Johannesburg. I’m needed most here.”
There was gratitude in his heart that Fate had decreed it so. He was conscious of the perfume from Jasmine’s cloak searching his senses, even in this hour when these things that mattered–the things of Fate–were so enormously awry.
A WOMAN TELLS HER STORY
“Soon he will speak you. Wait here, madame.”
Krool passed almost stealthily out.
Al’mah looked round the rather formal sitting-room, with its somewhat incongruous furnishing–leopard-skins from Bechuanaland; lion-skins from Matabeleland; silver-mounted tusks of elephants from Eastern Cape Colony and Portuguese East Africa; statues and statuettes of classical subjects; two or three Holbeins, a Rembrandt, and an El Greco on the walls; a piano, a banjo, and a cornet; and, in the corner, a little roulette-table. It was a strange medley, in keeping, perhaps, with the incongruously furnished mind of the master of it all; it was expressive of tastes and habits not yet settled and consistent.
Al’mah’s eyes had taken it all in rather wistfully, while she had waited for Krool’s return from his master; but the wistfulness was due to personal trouble, for her eyes were clouded and her motions languid. But when she saw the banjo, the cornet, and the roulette-table, a deep little laugh rose to her full red lips.
“How like a subaltern, or a colonial civil servant!” she said to herself.
She reflected a moment, then pursued the thought further: “But there must be bigness in him, as well as presence of mind and depth of heart–yes, I’m sure his nature is deep.”
She remembered the quick, protecting hands which had wrapped her round with Jasmine Grenfel’s cloak, and the great arms in which she had rested, the danger over.
“There can’t be much wrong with a nature like his, though Adrian hates him so. But, of course, Adrian would. Besides, Adrian will never get over the drop in the mining-stock which ruined him–Rudyard Byng’s mine…. It’s natural for Adrian to hate him, I suppose,” she added with a heavy sigh.
Mentally she took to comparing this room with Adrian Fellowes’ sitting-room overlooking the Thames Embankment, where everything was in perfect taste and order, where all was modulated, harmonious, soigne and artistic. Yet, somehow, the handsome chambers which hung over the muddy river with its wonderful lights and shades, its mists and radiance, its ghostly softness and greyness, lacked in something that roused imagination, that stirred her senses here–the vital being in her.
It was power, force, experience, adventure. They were all here. She knew the signs: the varied interests, the primary emotions, music, art, hunting, prospecting, fighting, gambling. They were mixed with the solid achievement of talent and force in the business of life. Here was a model of a new mining-drill, with a picture of the stamps working in the Work-and-Wonder mine, together with a model of the Kaffir compound at Kimberley, with the busy, teeming life behind the wire boundaries.
Thus near was Byng to the ways of a child, she thought, thus near to the everlasting intelligence and the busy soul of a constructive and creative Deity–if there was a Deity. Despite the frequent laughter on her tongue and in her eyes, she doubted bitterly at times that there was a Deity. For how should happen the awful tragedies which encompassed men and peoples, if there was a Deity. No benign Deity could allow His own created humanity to be crushed in bleeding masses, like the grapes trampled in the vats of a vineyard. Whole cities swallowed up by earthquake; islands swept of their people by a tidal wave; a vast ship pierced by an iceberg and going down with its thousand souls; provinces spread with the vile elements of a plague which carpeted the land with dead; mines flooded by water or devastated by fire; the little new-born babe left without the rightful breast to feed it; the mother and her large family suddenly deprived of the breadwinner; old men who had lived like saints, giving their all to their own and to the world, driven to the degradation of the poorhouse in the end–ah, if one did not smile, one would die of weeping, she thought.
Al’mah had smiled her way through the world; with a quick word of sympathy for any who were hurt by the blows of life or time; with an open hand for the poor and miserable,–now that she could afford it–and hiding her own troubles behind mirth and bonhommie; for her humour, as her voice, was deep and strong like that of a man. It was sometimes too pronounced, however, Adrian Fellowes had said; and Adrian was an acute observer, who took great pride in her. Was it not to Adrian she had looked first for approval the night of her triumph at Covent Garden–why, that was only a few days ago, and it seemed a hundred days, so much had happened since. It was Adrian’s handsome face which had told her then of the completeness of her triumph.
The half-caste valet entered again. “Here come, madame,” he said with something very near a smile; for he liked this woman, and his dark, sensual soul would have approved of his master liking her.
“Soon the Baas, madame,” he said as he placed a chair for her, and with the gliding footstep of a native left the room.
“Sunny creature!” she remarked aloud, with a little laugh, and looked round. Instantly her face lighted with interest. Here was nothing of that admired disorder, that medley of incongruous things which marked the room she had just left; but perfect order, precision, and balance of arrangement, the most peaceful equipoise. There was a great carved oak-table near to sun-lit windows, and on it were little regiments of things, carefully arranged–baskets with papers in elastic bands; classified and inscribed reference-books, scales, clips, pencils; and in one clear space, with a bunch of violets before it, the photograph of a woman in a splendid silver frame–a woman of seventy or so, obviously Rudyard Byng’s mother.
Al’mah’s eyes softened. Here was insight into a nature of which the world knew so little. She looked further. Everywhere were signs of disciplined hours and careful hands–cabinets with initialed drawers, shelves filled with books. There is no more impressive and revealing moment with man or woman than when you stand in a room empty of their actual presence, but having, in every inch of it, the pervasive influences of the absent personality. A strange, almost solemn quietness stole over Al’mah’s senses. She had been admitted to the inner court, not of the man’s house, but of his life. Her eyes travelled on with the gratified reflection that she had been admitted here. Above the books were rows of sketches–rows of sketches!
Suddenly, as her eyes rested on them, she turned pale and got to her feet. They were all sketches of the veld, high and low; of natives; of bits of Dutch architecture; of the stoep with its Boer farmer and his vrouw; of a kopje with a dozen horses or a herd of cattle grazing; of a spruit, or a Kaffir’s kraal; of oxen leaning against the disselboom of a cape-wagon; of a herd of steinboks, or a little colony of meerkats in the karoo.
Her hand went to her heart with a gesture of pain, and a little cry of misery escaped her lips.
Now there was a quick footstep, and Byng entered with a cordial smile and an outstretched hand.
“Well, this is a friendly way to begin the New Year,” he said, cheerily, taking her hand. “You certainly are none the worse for our little unrehearsed drama the other night. I see by the papers that you have been repeating your triumph. Please sit down. Do you mind my having a little toast while we talk? I always have my petit dejeuner here; and I’m late this morning.”
“You look very tired,” she said as she sat down.
Krool here entered with a tray, placing it on a small table by the big desk. He was about to pour out the tea, but Byng waved him away.
“Send this note at once by hand,” he said, handing him an envelope. It was addressed to Jasmine Grenfel.
“Yes, I’m tired–rather,” he added to his guest with a sudden weariness of manner. “I’ve had no sleep for three nights–working all the time, every hour; and in this air of London, which doesn’t feed you, one needs plenty of sleep. You can’t play with yourself here as you can on the high veld, where an hour or two of sleep a day will do. On-saddle and off-saddle, in-span and outspan, plenty to eat and a little sleep; and the air does the rest. It has been a worrying time.”
“The Jameson Raid–and all the rest?”
“Particularly all the rest. I feel easier in my mind about Dr. Jim and the others. England will demand–so I understand,” he added with a careful look at her, as though he had said too much–“the right to try Jameson and his filibusters from Matabeleland here in England; but it’s different with the Jo’burgers. They will be arrested–“
“They have been arrested,” she intervened.
“Oh, is it announced?” he asked without surprise.
“It was placarded an hour ago,” she replied, heavily.
“Well, I fancied it would be,” he remarked. “They’ll have a close squeak. The sympathy of the world is with Kruger–so far.”
“That is what I have come about,” she said, with an involuntary and shrinking glance at the sketches on the walls.
“What you have come about?” he said, putting down his cup of tea and looking at her intently.” How are you concerned? Where do you come in?”
“There is a man–he has been arrested with the others; with Farrar, Phillips, Hammond, and the rest–“
“Oh, that’s bad! A relative, or–“
“Not a relative, exactly,” she replied in a tone of irony. Rising, she went over to the wall and touched one of the water-colour sketches.
“How did you come by these?” she asked.
“Blantyre’s sketches? Well, it’s all I ever got for all Blantyre owed me, and they’re not bad. They’re lifted out of the life. That’s why I bought them. Also because I liked to think I got something out of Blantyre; and that he would wish I hadn’t. He could paint a bit– don’t you think so?”
“He could paint a bit–always,” she replied.
A silence followed. Her back was turned to him, her face was towards the pictures.
Presently he spoke, with a little deferential anxiety in the tone. “Are you interested in Blantyre?” he asked, cautiously. Getting up, he came over to her.
“He has been arrested–as I said–with the others.”
“No, you did not say so. So they let Blantyre into the game, did they?” he asked almost musingly; then, as if recalling what she had said, he added: “Do you mind telling me exactly what is your interest in Blantyre?”