Part 2 out of 9
She looked at him straight in the eyes. For a face naturally so full
of humour, hers was strangely dark with stormy feeling now.
"Yes, I will tell you as much as I can--enough for you to understand,"
He drew up a chair to the fire, and she sat down. He nodded at her
encouragingly. Presently she spoke.
"Well, at twenty-one I was studying hard, and he was painting--"
She inclined her head. "He was full of dreams--beautiful, I thought
them; and he was ambitious. Also he could talk quite marvellously."
"Yes, Blantyre could talk--once," Byng intervened, gently.
"We were married secretly."
Byng made a gesture of amazement, and his face became shocked and
grave. "Married! Married! You were married to Blantyre?"
"At a registry office in Chelsea. One month, only one month it was,
and then he went away to Madeira to paint--'a big commission,' he
said; and he would send for me as soon as he could get money in
hand--certainly in a couple of months. He had taken most of my
half-year's income--I had been left four hundred a year by my mother."
Byng muttered a malediction under his breath and leaned towards her
With an effort she continued. "From Madeira he wrote to tell me he was
going on to South Africa, and would not be home for a year. From South
Africa he wrote saying he was not coming back; that I could divorce
him if I liked. The proof, he said, would be easy; or I needn't
divorce him unless I liked, since no one knew we were married."
For an instant there was absolute silence, and she sat with her
fingers pressed tight to her eyes. At last she went on, her face
turned away from the great kindly blue eyes bent upon her, from the
face flushed with honourable human sympathy.
"I went into the country, where I stayed for nearly three years,
till--till I could bear it no longer; and then I began to study and
"What were you doing in the country?" he asked in a low voice.
"There was my baby," she replied, her hands clasping and unclasping in
pain. "There was my little Nydia."
"A child--she is living?" he asked gently.
"No, she died two years ago," was the answer in a voice which tried to
"Does Blantyre know?"
"He knew she was born, nothing more."
"We were married secretly."
"And after all he has done, and left undone, you want to try and save
He was thinking that she still loved the man. "That offscouring!" he
said to himself. "Well, women beat all! He treats her like a
Patagonian; leaves her to drift with his child not yet born; rakes the
hutches of the towns and the kraals of the veld for women--always
women, black or white, it didn't matter; and yet, by gad, she wants
She seemed to understand what was passing in his mind. Rising, with a
bitter laugh which he long remembered, she looked at him for a moment
in silence, then she spoke, her voice shaking with scorn:
"You think it is love for him that prompts me now?" Her eyes blazed,
but there was a contemptuous laugh at her lips, and she nervously
pulled at the tails of her sable muff. "You are wrong--absolutely. I
would rather bury myself in the mud of the Thames than let him touch
me. Oh, I know what his life must have been--the life of him that you
know! With him it would either be the sewer or the sycamore-tree of
Zaccheus; either the little upper chamber among the saints or eating
husks with the swine. I realize him now. He was easily susceptible to
good and evil, to the clean and the unclean; and he might have been
kept in order by some one who would give a life to building up his
character; but his nature was rickety, and he has gone down and not
"Then why try to save him? Let Oom Paul have him. He'll do no more
"Wait a minute," she urged. "You are a great man"--she came close to
him--"and you ought to understand what I mean, without my saying it. I
want to save him for his own sake, not for mine--to give him a
chance. While there's life there's hope. To go as he is, with the mud
up to his lips--ah, can't you see! He is the father of my dead
child. I like to feel that he may make some thing of his life and of
himself yet. That's why I haven't tried to divorce him, and--"
"If you ever want to do so--" he interrupted, meaningly.
"Yes, I know. I have always been sure that nothing could be quite so
easy; but I waited, on the chance of something getting hold of him
which would lift him out of himself, give him something to think of so
much greater than himself, some cause, perhaps--"
"He had you and your unborn child," he intervened.
"Me--!" She laughed bitterly. "I don't think men would ever be better
because of me. I've never seen that. I've seen them show the worst of
human nature because of me--and it wasn't inspiring. I've not met many
men who weren't on the low levels."
"He hasn't stood his trial for the Johannesburg conspiracy yet. How do
you propose to help him? He is in real danger of his life."
She laughed coldly, and looked at him with keen, searching eyes. "You
ask that, you who know that in the armory of life there's one
He nodded his head whimsically. "Money? Well, whatever other weapons
you have, you must have that, I admit. And in the Transvaal--"
"Then here," she said, handing him an envelope--"here is what may
He took it hesitatingly. "I warn you," he remarked, "that if money is
to be used at all, it must be a great deal. Kruger will put up the
price to the full capacity of the victim."
"I suppose this victim has nothing," she ventured, quietly.
"Nothing but what the others give him, I should think. It may be a
very costly business, even if it is possible, and you--"
"I have twenty thousand pounds," she said.
"Earned by your voice?" he asked, kindly.
"Every penny of it."
"Well, I wouldn't waste it on Blantyre, if I were you. No, by Heaven,
you shall not do it, even if it can be done! It is too horrible."
"I owe it to myself to do it. After all, he is still my husband. I
have let it be so; and while it is so, and while"--her eyes looked
away, her face suffused slightly, her lips tightened--"while things
are as they are, I am bound--bound by something, I don't know what,
but it is not love, and it is not friendship--to come to his
rescue. There will be legal expenses--"
Byng frowned. "Yes, but the others wouldn't see him in a hole--yet I'm
not sure, either, Blantyre being Blantyre. In any case, I'm ready to
do anything you wish."
She smiled gratefully. "Did you ever know any one to do a favor who
wasn't asked to repeat it--paying one debt by contracting another,
finding a creditor who will trust, and trading on his trust? Yet I'd
rather owe you two debts than most men one." She held out her hand to
him. "Well, it doesn't do to mope--'The merry heart goes all the day,
the sad one tires in a mile-a.' And I am out for all day. Please wish
me a happy new year."
He took her hand in both of his. "I wish you to go through this year
as you ended the last--in a blaze of glory."
"Yes, really a blaze if not of glory," she said, with bright tears,
yet laughing, too, a big warm humour shining in her strong face with
the dark brown eyes and the thick, heavy eyebrows under a low, broad
forehead like his own. They were indeed strangely alike in many ways
both of mind and body.
"They say we end the year as we begin it," he said, cheerily. "You
proved to Destiny that you were entitled to all she could give in the
old year, and you shall have the best that's to be had in 1897. You
are a woman in a million, and--"
"May I come and breakfast with you some morning?" she asked, gaily.
"Well, if ever I'm thought worthy of that honour, don't hesitate. As
the Spanish say, It is all yours." He waved a hand to the
"No, it is all yours," she said, reflectively, her eyes slowly roaming
about her. "It is all you. I'm glad to have been here, to be as near
as this to your real life. Real life is so comforting after the mock
kind so many of us live; which singers and actors live anyhow."
She looked round the room again. "I feel--I don't know why it is, but
I feel that when I'm in trouble I shall always want to come to this
room. Yes, and I will surely come; for I know there's much trouble in
store for me. You must let me come. You are the only man I would go to
like this, and you can't think what it means to me--to feel that I'm
not misunderstood, and that it seems absolutely right to come. That's
because any woman could trust you--as I do. Good-bye."
In another moment she had gone, and he stood beside the table with the
envelope she had left with him. Presently he opened it, and unfolded
the cheque which was in it. Then he gave an exclamation of
"Seven thousand pounds!" he exclaimed. "That's a better estimate of
Krugerism than I thought she had. It'll take much more than that,
though, if it's done at all; but she certainly has sense. It's seven
thousand times too much for Blantyre," he added, with an exclamation
of disgust. "Blantyre--that outsider!" Then he fell to thinking of all
she had told him. "Poor girl--poor girl!" he said aloud. "But she must
not come here, just the same. She doesn't see that it's not the thing,
just because she thinks I'm a Sir Galahad--me!" He glanced at the
picture of his mother, and nodded toward it tenderly. "So did she
always. I might have turned Kurd and robbed caravans, or become a Turk
and kept concubines, and she'd never have seen that it was so. But
Al'mah mustn't come here any more, for her own sake.... I'd find it
hard to explain if ever, by any chance--"
He fell to thinking of Jasmine, and looked at the clock. It was only
ten, and he would not see Jasmine till six; but if he had gone to
South Africa he would not have seen her at all! Fate and Wallstein had
Presently, as he went to the hall to put on his coat and hat to go
out, he met Barry Whalen. Barry looked at him curiously; then, as
though satisfied, he said: "Early morning visitor, eh? I just met her
coming away. Card of thanks for kind services au theatre, eh?"
"Well, it isn't any business of yours what it is, Barry," came the
reply in tones which congealed.
"No, perhaps not," answered his visitor, testily, for he had had a
night of much excitement, and, after all, this was no way to speak to
a friend, to a partner who had followed his lead always. Friendship
should be allowed some latitude, and he had said hundreds of things
less carefully to Byng in the past. The past--he was suddenly
conscious that Byng had changed within the past few days, and that he
seemed to have put restraint on himself. Well, he would get back at
him just the same for the snub.
"It's none of my business," he retorted, "but it's a good deal of
Adrian Fellowes' business--"
"What is a good deal of Adrian Fellowes' business?"
"Al'mah coming to your rooms. Fellowes is her man. Going to marry her,
I suppose," he added, cynically.
Byng's jaw set and his eyes became cold. "Still, I'd suggest your
minding your own business, Barry. Your tongue will get you into
trouble some day.... You've seen Wallstein this morning--and Fleming?"
Barry replied sullenly, and the day's pressing work began, with the
wires busy under the seas.
WITHIN THE POWER-HOUSE
At a few moments before six o'clock Byng was shown into Jasmine's
sitting-room. As he entered, the man who sat at the end of the front
row of stalls the first night of "Manassa" rose to his feet. It was
Adrian Fellowes, slim, well groomed, with the colour of an apple in
his cheeks, and his gold-brown hair waving harmoniously over his
"But, Adrian, you are the most selfish man I've ever known," Jasmine
was saying as Byng entered.
Either Jasmine did not hear the servant announce Byng, or she
pretended not to do so, and the words were said so distinctly that
Byng heard them as he came forward.
"Well, he is selfish," she added to Byng, as she shook hands. "I've
known him since I was a child, and he has always had the best of
everything and given nothing for it." Turning again to Fellowes, she
continued: "Yes, it's true. The golden apples just fall into your
"Well, I wish I had the apples, since you give me the reputation,"
Fellowes replied, and, shaking hands with Byng, who gave him an
enveloping look and a friendly greeting, he left the room.
"Such a boy--Adrian," Jasmine said, as they sat down.
"Boy--he looks thirty or more!" remarked Byng in a dry tone.
"He is just thirty. I call him a boy because he is so young
in most things that matter to people. He is the most sumptuous
person--entirely a luxury. Did you ever see such colouring--like a
woman's! But selfish, as I said, and useful, too, is Adrian. Yes, he
really is very useful. He would be a private secretary beyond price to
any one who needed such an article. He has tact--as you saw--and would
make a wonderful master of ceremonies, a splendid comptroller of the
household and equerry and lord-chamberlain in one. There, if ever you
want such a person, or if--"
She paused. As she did so she was sharply conscious of the contrast
between her visitor and Ian Stafford in outward appearance. Byng's
clothes were made by good hands, but they were made by tailors who
knew their man was not particular, and that he would not "try on." The
result was a looseness and carelessness of good things--giving him, in
a way, the look of shambling power. Yet in spite of the tie a little
crooked, and the trousers a little too large and too short, he had
touches of that distinction which power gives. His large hands with
the square-pointed fingers had obtrusive veins, but they were not
"Certainly," he intervened, smiling indulgently; "if ever I want a
comptroller, or an equerry, or a lord-chamberlain, I'll remember
'Adrian.' In these days one can never tell. There's the Sahara. It
hasn't been exploited yet. It has no emperor."
"I like you in this mood," she said, eagerly. "You seem on the surface
so tremendously practical and sensible. You frighten me a little, and
I like to hear you touch things off with raillery. But, seriously, if
you can ever put anything in that boy's way, please do so. He has had
bad luck--in your own Rand mine. He lost nearly everything in that,
Byng's face grew serious again. "But he shouldn't have speculated; he
should have invested. It wants brains, good fortune, daring and wealth
to speculate. But I will remember him, if you say so. I don't like to
think that he has been hurt in any enterprise of mine. I'll keep him
in mind. Make him one of my secretaries perhaps."
Then Barry Whalen's gossip suddenly came to his mind, and he added:
"Fellowes will want to get married some day. That face and manner will
lead him into ways from which there's only one outlet."
"Matrimony?" She laughed. "Oh dear, no, Adrian is much too selfish to
"I thought that selfishness was one of the elements of successful
marriages. I've been told so."
A curious look stole into her eyes. All at once she wondered if his
words had any hidden meaning, and she felt angrily self-conscious; but
she instantly put the reflection away, for if ever any man travelled
by the straight Roman road of speech and thought, it was he. He had
only been dealing in somewhat obvious worldly wisdom.
"You ought not to give encouragement to such ideas by repeating them,"
she rejoined with raillery. "This is an age of telepathy and
suggestion, and the more silent we are the safer we are. Now, please,
tell me everything--of the inside, I mean--about Cecil Rhodes and the
Raiders. Is Rhodes overwhelmed? And Mr. Chamberlain--you have seen
him? The papers say you have spent many hours at the Colonial
Office. I suppose you were with him at six o'clock last evening,
instead of being here with me, as you promised."
He shook his head. "Rhodes? The bigger a man is the greater the crash
when he falls; and no big man falls alone."
She nodded. "There's the sense of power, too, which made everything
vibrate with energy, which gave a sense of great empty places
filled--of that power withdrawn and collapsed. Even the bad great man
gone leaves a sense of desolation behind. Power--power, that is the
thing of all," she said, her eyes shining and her small fingers
interlacing with eager vitality: "power to set waves of influence in
motion which stir the waters on distant shores. That seems to me the
most wonderful thing."
Her vitality, her own sense of power, seemed almost incongruous. She
was so delicately made, so much the dresden-china shepherdess, that
intensity seemed out of relation to her nature. Yet the tiny hands
playing before her with natural gestures like those of a child had,
too, a decision and a firmness in keeping with the perfectly modelled
head and the courageous poise of the body. There was something regnant
in her, while, too, there was something sumptuous and sensuous and
physically thrilling to the senses. To-day she was dressed in an
exquisite blue gown, devoid of all decoration save a little chinchilla
fur, which only added to its softness and richness. She wore no
jewelry whatever except a sapphire brooch, and her hair shone and
waved like gossamer in the sun.
"Well, I don't know," he rejoined, admiration unbounded in his eyes
for the picture she was of maidenly charm and womanly beauty, "I
should say that goodness was a more wonderful thing. But power is the
most common ambition, and only a handful of the hundreds of millions
get it in any large way. I used to feel it tremendously when I first
heard the stamps pounding the quartz in the mills on the Rand. You
never heard that sound? In the clear height of that plateau the air
reverberates greatly; and there's nothing on earth which so much gives
a sense of power--power that crushes--as the stamps of a great mine
pounding away night and day. There they go, thundering on, till it
seems to you that some unearthly power is hammering the world into
shape. You get up and go to the window and look out into the
night. There's the deep blue sky--blue like nothing you ever saw in
any other sky, and the stars so bright and big, and so near, that you
feel you could reach up and pluck one with your hand; and just over
the little hill are the lights of the stamp-mills, the smoke and the
mad red flare, the roar of great hammers as they crush, crush, crush;
while the vibration of the earth makes you feel that you are living in
a world of Titans."
"And when it all stops?" she asked, almost breathlessly. "When the
stamps pound no more, and the power is withdrawn? It is empty and
"It is anything you like. If all the mills all at once, with the
thousands of stamps on the Rand reef, were to stop suddenly, and the
smoke and the red flare were to die, it would be frightening in more
ways than one. But I see what you mean. There might be a sense of
peace, but the minds and bodies which had been vibrating with the stir
of power would feel that the soul had gone out of things, and they
would dwindle too."
"If Rhodes should fall, if the stamps on the Rand should cease--?"
He got to his feet. "Either is possible, maybe probable; and I don't
want to think of it. As you say, there'd be a ghastly sense of
emptiness and a deadly kind of peace." He smiled bitterly.
She rose now also, and fingering some flowers in a vase, arranging
them afresh, said: "Well, this Jameson Raid, if it is proved that
Cecil Rhodes is mixed up in it, will it injure you greatly--I mean
your practical interests?"
He stood musing for a moment. "It's difficult to say at this
distance. One must be on the spot to make a proper estimate. Anything
She was evidently anxious to ask him a question, but hesitated. At
last she ventured, and her breath came a little shorter as she spoke.
"I suppose you wish you were in South Africa now. You could do so much
to straighten things out, to prevent the worst. The papers say you
have a political mind--the statesman's intelligence, the Times
said. That letter you wrote, that speech you made at the Chamber of
She watched him, dreading what his answer might be. There was silence
for a moment, then he answered: "Fleming is going to South Africa, not
myself. I stay here to do Wallstein's work. I was going, but Wallstein
was taken ill suddenly. So I stay--I stay."
She sank down in her chair, going a little pale from excitement. The
whiteness of her skin gave a delicate beauty to the faint rose of her
cheeks--that rose-pink which never was to fade entirely from her face
while life was left to her.
"If it had been necessary, when would you have gone?" she asked.
"At once. Fleming goes to-morrow," he added.
She looked slowly up at him. "Wallstein is a new name for a special
Providence," she murmured, and the colour came back to her face. "We
need you here. We--"
Suddenly a thought flashed into his mind and suffused his face. He was
conscious of that perfume which clung to whatever she touched. It
stole to his senses and intoxicated them. He looked at her with
enamoured eyes. He had the heart of a boy, the impulsiveness of a
nature which had been unschooled in women's ways. Weaknesses in other
directions had taught him much, but experiences with her sex had been
few. The designs of other women had been patent to him, and he had
been invincible to all attack; but here was a girl who, with her
friendly little fortune and her beauty, could marry with no
difficulty; who, he had heard, could pick and choose, and had so far
rejected all comers; and who, if she had shown preference at all, had
shown it for a poor man like Ian Stafford. She had courage and
simplicity and a downright mind; that was clear. And she was
capable. She had a love for big things, for the things that
mattered. Every word she had ever said to him had understanding, not
of the world alone, and of life, but of himself, Rudyard Byng. She
grasped exactly what he would say, and made him say things he would
never have thought of saying to any one else. She drew him out, made
the most of him, made him think. Other women only tried to make him
feel. If he had had a girl like this beside him during the last ten
years, how many wasted hours would have been saved, how many bottles
of champagne would not have been opened, how many wild nights would
have been spent differently!
Too good, too fine for him--yes, a hundred times, but he would try to
make it up to her, if such a girl as this could endure him. He was not
handsome, he was not clever, so he said to himself, but he had a
little power. That he had to some degree rough power, of course, but
power; and she loved power, force. Had she not said so, shown it, but
a moment before? Was it possible that she was really interested in
him, perhaps because he was different from the average Englishman and
not of a general pattern? She was a woman of brains, of great
individuality, and his own individuality might influence her. It was
too good to be true; but there had ever been something of the gambler
in him, and he had always plunged. If he ever had a conviction he
acted on it instantly, staked everything, when that conviction got
into his inner being. It was not, perhaps, a good way, and it had
failed often enough; but it was his way, and he had done according to
the light and the impulse that were in him. He had no diplomacy, he
had only purpose.
He came over to her. "If I had gone to South Africa would you have
remembered my name for a month?" he asked with determination and
"My friends never suffer lunar eclipse," she answered, gaily. "Dear
sir, I am called Hold-Fast. My friends are century-flowers and are
"You count me among your friends?"
"I hope so. You will let me make all England envious of me, won't you?
I never did you any harm, and I do want to have a hero in my tiny
"A hero--you mean me? Well, I begin to think I have some courage when
I ask you to let me inside your 'tiny' circle. I suppose most people
would think it audacity, not courage."
"You seem not to be aware what an important person you are--how almost
sensationally important. Why, I am only a pebble on a shore like
yours, a little unknown slip of a girl who babbles, and babbles in
She got to her feet now. "Oh, but believe me, believe me," she said,
with sweet and sudden earnestness, "I am prouder than I can say that
you will let me be a friend of yours! I like men who have done things,
who do things. My grandfather did big, world-wide things, and--"
"Yes, I know; I met your grandfather once. He was a big man, big as
can be. He had the world by the ear always."
"He spoiled me for the commonplace," she replied. "If I had lived in
Pizarro's time, I'd have gone to Peru with him, the splendid robber."
He answered with the eager frankness and humour of a boy. "If you mean
to be a friend of mine, there are those who will think that in one way
you have fulfilled your ambition, for they say I've spoiled the
"I like you when you say things like that," she murmured. "If you said
She looked at him archly, and her eyes brimmed with amusement and
Suddenly he caught both her hands in his and his eyes burned. "Will
He paused. His courage forsook him. Boldness had its limit. He feared
a repulse which could never be overcome. "Will you, and all of you
here, come down to my place in Wales next week?" he blundered out.
She was glad he had faltered. It was too bewildering. She dared not
yet face the question she had seen he was about to ask. Power--yes, he
could give her that; but power was the craving of an ambitious
soul. There were other things. There was the desire of the heart, the
longing which came with music and the whispering trees and the bright
stars, the girlish dreams of ardent love and the garlands of youth and
joy--and Ian Stafford.
Suddenly she drew herself together. She was conscious that the servant
was entering the room with a letter.
"The messenger is waiting," the servant said.
With an apology she opened the note slowly as Byng turned to the
fire. She read the page with a strange, tense look, closing her eyes
at last with a slight sense of dizziness. Then she said to the
"Tell the messenger to wait. I will write an answer."
"I am sure we shall be glad to go to you in Wales next week," she
added, turning to Byng again. "But won't you be far away from the
centre of things in Wales?"
"I've had the telegraph and a private telephone wire to London put
in. I shall be as near the centre as though I lived in Grosvenor
Square; and there are always special trains."
"Special trains--oh, but it's wonderful to have power to do things
like that! When do you go down?" she asked.
She smiled radiantly. She saw that he was angry with himself for his
cowardice just now, and she tried to restore him. "Please, will you
telephone me when you arrive at your castle? I should like the
experience of telephoning by private wire to Wales."
He brightened. "Certainly, if you really wish it. I shall arrive at
ten to-morrow night, and I'll telephone you at eleven."
"Splendid--splendid! I'll be alone in my room then. I've got a
telephone instrument there, and so we could say good-night."
"So we can say good-night," he repeated in a low voice, and he held
out his hand in good-bye. When he had gone, with a new, great hope in
his heart, she sat down and tremblingly re-opened the note she had
received a moment before.
"I am going abroad" it read--"to Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and
St. Petersburg. I think I've got my chance at last. I want to see you
before I go--this evening, Jasmine. May I?"
It was signed "Ian."
"Fate is stronger than we are," she murmured; "and Fate is not kind to
you, Ian," she added, wearily, a wan look coming into her face.
"Mio destino," she said at last--"mio destino!" But who was her
destiny--which of the two who loved her?
THREE YEARS LATER
"Extra speshul--extra speshul--all about Kruger an' his guns!"
The shrill, acrid cry rang down St. James's Street, and a newsboy with
a bunch of pink papers under his arm shot hither and thither on the
pavement, offering his sensational wares to all he met.
"Extra speshul--extra speshul--all about the war wot's comin'--all
about Kruger's guns!"
From an open window on the second floor of a building in the street a
man's head was thrust out, listening.
"The war wot's comin'!" he repeated, with a bitter sort of smile. "And
all about Kruger's guns. So it is coming, is it, Johnny Bull; and you
do know all about his guns, do you? If it is, and you do know, then a
shattering big thing is coming, and you know quite a lot, Johnny
He hummed to himself an impromptu refrain to an impromptu tune:
"Then you know quite a lot, Johnny Bull, Johnny Bull,
Then you know quite a lot, Johnny Bull!"
Stepping out of the French window upon a balcony now, he looked down
the street. The newsboy was almost below. He whistled, and the lad
looked up. In response to a beckoning finger the gutter-snipe took the
doorway and the staircase at a bound. Like all his kind, he was a good
judge of character, and one glance had assured him that he was
speeding upon a visit of profit. Half a postman's knock--a sharp,
insistent stroke--and he entered, his thin weasel-like face thrust
forward, his eyes glittering. The fire in such eyes is always cold,
for hunger is poor fuel to the native flame of life.
"Extra speshul, m'lord--all about Kruger's guns."
He held out the paper to the figure that darkened the window, and he
pronounced the g in Kruger soft, as in Scrooge.
The hand that took the paper deftly slipped a shilling into the cold,
skinny palm. At its first touch the face of the paper-vender fell, for
it was the same size as a halfpenny; but even before the swift fingers
had had a chance to feel the coin, or the glance went down, the face
regained its confidence, for the eyes looking at him were generous. He
had looked at so many faces in his brief day that he was an expert
"Thank y' kindly," he said; then, as the fingers made assurance of the
fortune which had come to him, "Ow, thank ye werry much, y'r gryce,"
Something alert and determined in the face of the boy struck the giver
of the coin as he opened the paper to glance at its contents, and he
paused to scan him more closely. He saw the hunger in the lad's eyes
as they swept over the breakfast-table, still heavy with uneaten
breakfast--bacon, nearly the whole of an omelette, and rolls, toast,
marmalade and honey.
"Wait a second," he said, as the boy turned toward the door.
"Yes, y'r gryce."
"Had your breakfast?"
"I has me brekfist w'en I sells me pypers." The lad hugged the
remaining papers closer under his arms, and kept his face turned
resolutely away from the inviting table. His host correctly
interpreted the action.
"Poor little devil--grit, pure grit!" he said under his breath. "How
many papers have you got left?" he asked.
The lad counted like lightning. "Ten," he answered. "I'll soon get 'em
off now. Luck's wiv me dis mornin'." The ghost of a smile lighted his
"I'll take them all," the other said, handing over a second shilling.
The lad fumbled for change and the fumbling was due to honest
agitation. He was not used to this kind of treatment.
"No, that's all right," the other interposed.
"But they're only a h'ypenny," urged the lad, for his natural cupidity
had given way to a certain fine faculty not too common in any grade of
"Well, I'm buying them at a penny this morning. I've got some friends
who'll be glad to give a penny to know all about Kruger's guns." He
too softened the g in Kruger in consideration of his visitor's
"You won't be mykin' anythink on them, y'r gryce," said the lad with a
humour which opened the doors of Ian Stafford's heart wide; for to him
heaven itself would be insupportable if it had no humorists.
"I'll get at them in other ways," Stafford rejoined. "I'll get my
profit, never fear. Now what about breakfast? You've sold all your
papers, you know."
"I'm fair ready for it, y'r gryce," was the reply, and now the lad's
glance went eagerly towards the door, for the tension of labour was
relaxed, and hunger was scraping hard at his vitals.
"Well, sit down--this breakfast isn't cold yet.... But, no, you'd
better have a wash-up first, if you can wait," Stafford added, and
rang a bell.
"Wot, 'ere--brekfist wiv y'r gryce 'ere?"
"Well, I've had mine"--Stafford made a slight grimace--" and there's
plenty left for you, if you don't mind eating after me."
"I dusted me clothes dis mornin'," said the boy, with an attempt to
justify his decision to eat this noble breakfast. "An' I washed me
'ends--but pypers is muck," he added.
A moment later he was in the fingers of Gleg the valet in the
bath-room, and Stafford set to work to make the breakfast piping hot
again. It was an easy task, as heaters were inseparable from his
bachelor meals, and, though this was only the second breakfast he had
eaten since his return to England after three years' absence,
everything was in order.
For Gleg was still more the child of habit--and decorous habit--than
himself. It was not the first time that Gleg had had to deal with his
master's philanthropic activities. Much as he disapproved of them, he
could discriminate; and there was that about the newsboy which somehow
disarmed him. He went so far as to heap the plate of the lad, and
would have poured the coffee too, but that his master took the pot
from his hand and with a nod and a smile dismissed him; and his
master's smile was worth a good deal to Gleg. It was an exacting if
well-paid service, for Ian Stafford was the most particular man in
Europe, and he had grown excessively so during the past three years,
which, as Gleg observed, had brought great, if quiet, changes in
him. He had grown more studious, more watchful, more exclusive in his
daily life, and ladies of all kinds he had banished from direct
personal share in his life. There were no more little tea-parties and
dejeuners chez lui, duly chaperoned by some gracious cousin or
aunt--for there was no embassy in Europe where he had not relatives.
"'Ipped--a bit 'ipped. 'E 'as found 'em out, the 'uzzies," Gleg had
observed; for he had decided that the general cause of the change in
his master was Woman, though he did not know the particular woman who
had 'ipped him.
As the lad ate his wonderful breakfast, in which nearly half a pot of
marmalade and enough butter for three ordinary people figured,
Stafford read the papers attentively, to give his guest a fair chance
at the food and to overcome his self-consciousness. He got an
occasional glance at the trencherman, however, as he changed the
sheets, stepped across the room to get a cigarette, or poked the small
fire--for, late September as it was, a sudden cold week of rain had
come and gone, leaving the air raw; and a fire was welcome.
At last, when he realized that the activities of the table were
decreasing, he put down his paper. "Is it all right?" he asked. "Is
the coffee hot?"
"I ain't never 'ad a meal like that, y'r gryce, not never any time,"
the boy answered, with a new sort of fire in his eyes.
"Was there enough?"
"I've left some," answered his guest, looking at the jar of marmalade
and half a slice of toast. "I likes the coffee hot--tykes y'r longer
to drink it," he added.
Ian Stafford chuckled. He was getting more than the worth of his
money. He had nibbled at his own breakfast, with the perturbations of
a crossing from Flushing still in his system, and its equilibrium not
fully restored; and yet, with the waste of his own meal and the
neglect of his own appetite, he had given a great and happy half-hour
to a waif of humanity.
As he looked at the boy he wondered how many thousands there were like
him within rifle-shot from where he sat, and he thought each of them
would thank whatever gods they knew for such a neglected meal. The
words from the scare-column of the paper he held smote his sight:
"War Inevitable--Transvaal Bristling with Guns and Loaded to the
Nozzle with War Stores--Milner and Kruger No Nearer a Settlement--
Sullen and Contemptuous Treatment of British Outlander."
. . . And so on.
And if war came, if England must do this ugly thing, fulfil her bitter
and terrible task, then what about such as this young outlander here,
this outcast from home and goodly toil and civilized conditions, this
sickly froth of the muddy and dolorous stream of lower England? So
much withdrawn from the sources of the possible relief, so much less
with which to deal with their miseries--perhaps hundreds of millions,
mopped up by the parched and unproductive soil of battle and disease
He glanced at the paper again. "Britons Hold Your Own," was the
heading of the chief article. "Yes, we must hold our own," he said,
aloud, with a sigh. "If it comes, we must see it through; but the
breakfasts will be fewer. It works down one way or another--it all
works down to this poor little devil and his kind."
"Now, what's your name?" he asked.
"Jigger," was the reply.
"Nothin', y'r gryce."
"It's the only nyme I got," was the reply.
"What's your father's or your mother's name?"
"I ain't got none. I only got a sister."
"What's her name?"
"Lou," he answered." That's her real name. But she got a fancy name
yistiddy. She was took on at the opera yistiddy, to sing with a
hunderd uvver girls on the styge. She's Lulu Luckingham now."
"Oh--Luckingham!" said Stafford, with a smile, for this was a name of
his own family, and of much account in circles he frequented. "And who
gave her that name? Who were her godfathers and godmothers?"
"I dunno, y'r gryce. There wasn't no religion in it. They said she'd
have to be called somefink, and so they called her that. Lou was
always plenty for 'er till she went there yistiddy."
"What did she do before yesterday?"
"Sold flowers w'en she could get 'em to sell. 'Twas when she couldn't
sell her flowers that she piped up sort of dead wild--for she 'adn't
'ad nothin' to eat, an' she was fair crusty. It was then a gentleman,
'e 'eard 'er singin' hot, an' he says, 'That's good enough for a
start,' 'e says, 'an' you come wiv me,' he says. 'Not much,' Lou says,
'not if I knows it. I seed your kind frequent.' But 'e stuck to it,
an' says, 'It's stryght, an' a lydy will come for you to-morrer, if
you'll be 'ere on this spot, or tell me w'ere you can be found.' An'
Lou says, says she, 'You buy my flowers, so's I kin git me
bread-baskit full, an' then I'll think it over.' An' he bought 'er
flowers, an' give 'er five bob. An' Lou paid rent for both of us wiv
that, an' 'ad brekfist; an' sure enough the lydy come next dy an' took
her off. She's in the opery now, an' she'll 'ave 'er brekfist
reg'lar. I seed the lydy meself. Her picture 's on the 'oardings--"
Suddenly he stopped. "W'y, that's 'er--that's 'er!" he said, pointing
to the mantel-piece.
Stafford followed the finger and the glance. It was Al'mah's portrait
in the costume she had worn over three years ago, the night when
Rudyard Byng had rescued her from the flames. He had bought it
then. It had been unpacked again by Gleg, and put in the place it had
occupied for a day or two before he had gone out of England to do his
country's work--and to face the bitterest disillusion of his life; to
meet the heaviest blow his pride and his heart had ever known.
"So that's the lady, is it?" he said, musingly, to the boy, who nodded
"Go and have a good look at it," urged Stafford.
The boy did so. "It's 'er--done up for the opery," he declared.
"Well, Lulu Luckingham is all right, then. That lady will be good to
"Right. As soon as I seed her, I whispers to Lou 'You keep close to
that there wall,' I sez. 'There's a chimbey in it, an' you'll never be
cold,' I says to Lou."
Stafford laughed softly at the illustration. Many a time the lad
snuggled up to a wall which had a warm chimney, and he had got his
figure of speech from real life.
"Well, what's to become of you?" Stafford asked.
"Me--I'll be level wiv me rent to-day," he answered, turning over the
two shillings and some coppers in his pocket; "an' Lou and me's got a
Stafford got up, came over, and laid a hand on the boy's
shoulder. "I'm going to give you a sovereign," he said--"twenty
shillings, for your fair start; and I want you to come to me here next
Sunday-week to breakfast, and tell me what you've done with it."
"Me--y'r gryce!" A look of fright almost came into the lad's
face. "Twenty bob--me!"
The sovereign was already in his hand, and now his face suffused. He
seemed anxious to get away, and looked round for his cap. He couldn't
do here what he wanted to do. He felt that he must burst.
"Now, off you go. And you be here at nine o'clock on Sunday-week with
the papers, and tell me what you've done."
"Gawd--my Gawd!" said the lad, huskily. The next minute he was out in
the hall, and the door was shut behind him. A moment later, hearing a
whoop, Stafford went to the window and, looking down, he saw his late
visitor turning a cart-wheel under the nose of a policeman, and then,
with another whoop, shooting down into the Mall, making Lambeth way.
With a smile he turned from the window. "Well, we shall see," he
said. "Perhaps it will be my one lucky speculation. Who knows--who
His eye caught the portrait of Al'mah on the mantelpiece. He went over
and stood looking at it musingly.
"You were a good girl," he said, aloud. "At any rate, you wouldn't
pretend. You'd gamble with your immortal soul, but you wouldn't sell
it--not for three millions, not for a hundred times three millions. Or
is it that you are all alike, you women? Isn't there one of you that
can be absolutely true? Isn't there one that won't smirch her soul and
kill the faith of those that love her for some moment's excitement,
for gold to gratify a vanity, or to have a wider sweep to her skirts?
Vain, vain, vain--and dishonourable, essentially dishonourable. There
might be tragedies, but there wouldn't be many intrigues if women
weren't so dishonourable--the secret orchard rather than the open
highway and robbery under arms.... Whew, what a world!"
He walked up and down the room for a moment, his eyes looking straight
before him; then he stopped short. "I suppose it's natural that,
coming back to England, I should begin to unpack a lot of old
memories, empty out the box-room, and come across some useless and
discarded things. I'll settle down presently; but it's a thoroughly
useless business turning over old stock. The wise man pitches it all
into the junk-shop, and cuts his losses."
He picked up the Morning Post and glanced down the middle page--the
social column first--with the half-amused reflection that he hadn't
done it for years, and that here were the same old names reappearing,
with the same brief chronicles. Here, too, were new names, some of
them, if not most of them, of a foreign turn to their syllables--New
York, Melbourne, Buenos Ayres, Johannesburg. His lip curled a little
with almost playful scorn. At St. Petersburg, Vienna, and elsewhere he
had been vaguely conscious of these social changes; but they did not
come within the ambit of his daily life, and so it had not
mattered. And there was no reason why it should matter now. His
England was a land the original elements of which would not change,
had not changed; for the old small inner circle had not been invaded,
was still impervious to the wash of wealth and snobbery and push. That
refuge had its sequestered glades, if perchance it was unilluminating
and rather heavily decorous; so that he could let the climbers, the
toadies, the gold-spillers, and the bribers have the middle of the
It did not matter so much that London was changing fast. The old clock
on the tower of St. James's would still give the time to his step as
he went to and from the Foreign Office, and there were quiet places
like Kensington Gardens where the bounding person would never think to
stray. Indeed, they never strayed; they only rushed and pushed where
their spreading tails could be seen by the multitude. They never got
farther west than Rotten Row, which was in possession of three classes
of people--those who sat in Parliament, those who had seats on the
Stock Exchange, and those who could not sit their horses. Three years
had not done it all, but it had done a good deal; and he was more
keenly alive to the changes and developments which had begun long
before he left and had increased vastly since. Wealth was more and
more the master of England--new-made wealth; and some of it was too
ostentatious and too pretentious to condone, much less indulge.
All at once his eye, roaming down the columns, came upon the following
"Mr. and Mrs. Rudyard Byng have returned to town from Scotland for a
few days, before proceeding to Wales, where they are presently to
receive at Glencader Castle the Duke and Duchess of Sheffield, the
Prince and Princess of Cleaves, M. Santon, the French Foreign
Minister, the Slavonian Ambassador, the Earl and Countess of
Tynemouth, and Mr. Tudor Tempest."
"'And Mr. Tudor Tempest,'" Ian repeated to himself. "Well, she
would. She would pay that much tribute to her own genius. Four-fifths
to the claims of the body and the social nervous system, and one-fifth
to the desire of the soul. Tempest is a literary genius by what he has
done, and she is a genius by nature, and with so much left undone. The
Slavonian Ambassador--him, and the French Foreign Minister! That looks
like a useful combination at this moment--at this moment. She has a
gift for combinations, a wonderful skill, a still more wonderful
perception--and a remarkable unscrupulousness. She's the naturally
ablest woman I have ever known; but she wants to take short-cuts to a
worldly Elysium, and it can't be done, not even with three times three
millions--and three millions was her price."
Suddenly he got up and went over to a table where were several
dispatch-boxes. Opening one, he drew forth from the bottom, where he
had placed it nearly three years ago, a letter. He looked at the long,
sliding handwriting, so graceful and fine, he caught the perfume which
had intoxicated Rudyard Byng, and, stooping down, he sniffed the
dispatch-box. He nodded.
"She's pervasive in everything," he murmured. He turned over several
other packets of letters in the box. "I apologize," he said,
ironically, to these letters. "I ought to have banished her long ago,
but, to tell you the truth, I didn't realize how much she'd influence
everything--even in a box." He laughed cynically, and slowly opened
the one letter which had meant so much to him.
There was no show of agitation. His eye was calm; only his mouth
showed any feeling or made any comment. It was a little supercilious
and scornful. Sitting down by the table, he spread the letter out, and
read it with great deliberation. It was the first time he had looked
at it since he received it in Vienna and had placed it in the
"Dear Ian," it ran, "our year of probation--that is the word isn't
it?--is up; and I have decided that our ways must lie apart. I am
going to marry Rudyard Byng next month. He is very kind and very
strong, and not too ragingly clever. You know I should chafe at being
reminded daily of my own stupidity by a very clever man. You and I
have had so many good hours together, there has been such confidence
between us, that no other friendship can ever be the same; and I shall
always want to go to you, and ask your advice, and learn to be
wise. You will not turn a cold shoulder on me, will you? I think you
yourself realized that my wish to wait a year before giving a final
answer was proof that I really had not that in my heart which would
justify me in saying what you wished me to say. Oh yes, you knew; and
the last day when you bade me good-bye you almost said as much! I was
so young, so unschooled, when you first asked me, and I did not know my
own mind; but I know it now, and so I go to Rudyard Byng for better or
He suddently stopped reading, sat back in his char, and laughed
"For richer, for poorer'--now to have launched out on the first
phrase, and to have jibbed at the second was distinctly stupid. The
quotation could only have been carried off with audacity of the ripest
kind. 'For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and
in health, till death us do part, amen--' That was the way to have
done it, if it was to be done at all. Her cleverness forsook her when
she wrote that letter. 'Our year of probation'--she called it
that. Dear, dear, what a poor prevaricator the best prevaricator is!
She was sworn to me, bound to me, wanted a year in which to have her
fling before she settled down, and she threw me over--like that."
He did not read the rest of the letter, but got up, went over to the
fire, threw it in, and watched it burn.
"I ought to have done so when I received it," he said, almost kindly
now. "A thing like that ought never to be kept a minute. It's a
terrible confession, damning evidence, a self-made exposure, and to
keep it is too brutal, too hard on the woman. If anything had
happened to me and it had been read, 'Not all the King's horses nor
all the King's men could put Humpty Dumpty together again.'"
Then he recalled the brief letter he had written her in reply. Unlike
him, she had not kept his answer, when it came into her hands, but,
tearing it up into fifty fragments, had thrown it into the waste-
basket, and paced her room in shame, anger and humiliation. Finally,
she had taken the waste-basket and emptied it into the flames. She had
watched the tiny fragments burn in a fire not hotter than that in her
own eyes, which presently were washed by a flood of bitter tears and
passionate and unavailing protest. For hours she had sobbed, and when
she went out into the world the next day, it was with his every word
ringing in her ears, as they had rung ever since: the sceptic comment
at every feast, the ironical laughter behind every door, the whispered
detraction in every loud accent of praise.
"Dear Jasmine," his letter had run, "it is kind of you to tell me of
your intended marriage before it occurs, for in these distant lands
news either travels slowly or does not reach one at all. I am
fortunate in having my information from the very fountain of first
knowledge. You have seen and done much in the past year; and the end
of it all is more fitting than the most meticulous artist could desire
or conceive. You will adorn the new sphere into which you enter. You
are of those who do not need training or experience: you are a genius,
whose chief characteristic is adaptability. Some people, to whom
nature and Providence have not been generous live up to things; to you
it is given to live down to them; and no one can do it so well. We
have had good times together--happy conversations and some cheerful
and entertaining dreams and purposes. We have made the most of
opportunity, each in his and her own way. But, my dear Jasmine, don't
ever think that you will need to come to me for advice and to learn to
be wise. I know of no one from whom I could learn, from whom I have
learned, so I much. I am deeply your debtor for revelations which
never could have come to me without your help. There is a wonderful
future before you, whose variety let Time, not me, attempt to
reveal. I shall watch your going on"--(he did not say goings
on)--"your Alpine course, with clear memories of things and hours
dearer to me than all the world, and with which I would not have
parted for the mines of the Rand. I lose them now for nothing--and
less than nothing. I shall be abroad for some years, and, meanwhile, a
new planet will swim into the universe of matrimony. I shall see the
light shining, but its heavenly orbit will not be within my
calculations. Other astronomers will watch, and some no doubt will
pray, and I shall read in the annals the bright story of the flower
that was turned into a star!
"Always yours sincerely,
From the filmy ashes of her letter to him Stafford now turned away
to his writing-table. There he sat for a while and answered several
notes, among them one to Alice Mayhew, now the Countess of Tynemouth,
whose red parasol still hung above the mantel-piece, a relic of the
Zambesi--and of other things.
Periodically Lady Tynemouth's letters had come to him while he was
abroad, and from her, in much detail, he had been informed of the rise
of Mrs. Byng, of her great future, her "delicious" toilettes, her
great entertainments for charity, her successful attempts to gather
round her the great figures in the political and diplomatic world; and
her partial rejection of Byng's old mining and financial confreres and
their belongings. It had all culminated in a visit of royalty to their
place in Suffolk, from which she had emerged radiantly and delicately
aggressive, and sweeping a wider circle with her social scythe.
Ian had read it all unperturbed. It was just what he knew she could
and would do; and he foresaw for Byng, if he wanted it, a peerage in
the not distant future. Alice Tynemouth was no gossip, and she was not
malicious. She had a good, if wayward, heart, was full of sentiment,
and was a constant and helpful friend. He, therefore, accepted her
invitation now to spend the next week-end with her and her husband;
and then, with letters to two young nephews in his pocket, he prepared
to sally forth to buy them presents, and to get some sweets for the
children of a poor invalid cousin to whom for years he had been a
generous friend. For children he had a profound love, and if he had
married, he would not have been content with a childless home--with a
childless home like that of Rudyard Byng. That news also had come to
him from Alice Tynemouth, who honestly lamented that Jasmine Byng had
no "balance-wheel," which was the safety and the anchor of women "like
her and me," Lady Tynemouth's letter had said.
Three millions then--and how much more now?--and big houses, and no
children. It was an empty business, or so it seemed to him, who had
come of a large and agreeably quarrelsome and clever family, with whom
life had been checkered but never dull.
He took up his hat and stick, and went towards the door. His eyes
caught Al'mah's photograph as he passed.
"It was all done that night at the opera," he said. "Jasmine made up
her mind then to marry him, . . . I wonder what the end will
be.... Sad little, bad little girl.... The mess of pottage at the
last? Quien sabe!"
"HE SHALL NOT TREAT ME SO"
The air of the late September morning smote Stafford's cheeks
pleasantly, and his spirits rose as he walked up St. James's
Street. His step quickened imperceptibly to himself, and he nodded to
or shook hands with half a dozen people before he reached
Piccadilly. Here he completed the purchases for his school-boy
nephews, and then he went to a sweet-shop in Regent Street to get
chocolates for his young relatives. As he entered the place he was
suddenly brought to a standstill, for not two dozen yards away at a
counter was Jasmine Byng.
She did not see him enter, and he had time to note what matrimony, and
the three years and the three million pounds, had done to her. She was
radiant and exquisite, a little paler, a little more complete, but
increasingly graceful and perfectly appointed. Her dress was of dark
green, of a most delicate shade, and with the clinging softness and
texture of velvet. She wore a jacket of the same material, and a
single brilliant ornament at her throat relieved the simplicity. In
the hat, too, one big solitary emerald shone against the lighter
She was talking now with animation and amusement to the shop-girl who
was supplying her with sweets, and every attendant was watching her
with interest and pleasure. Stafford reflected that this was always
her way: wherever she went she attracted attention, drew interest,
magnetized the onlooker. Nothing had changed in her. nothing of charm
and beauty and eloquence,--how eloquent she had always been!--of
esprit, had gone from her; nothing. Presently she turned her face full
toward him, still not seeing him, half hidden as he was behind some
piled-up tables in the centre of the shop.
Nothing changed? Yes, instantly he was aware of a change, in the eyes,
at the mouth. An elusive, vague, distant kind of disturbance--he could
not say trouble--had stolen into her eyes, had taken possession of the
corners of the mouth; and he was conscious of something exotic,
self-indulgent, and "emancipated." She had always been self-indulgent
and selfish, and, in a wilful, innocent way, emancipated, in the old
days; but here was a different, a fuller, a more daring expression of
these qualities.... Ah, he had it now! That elusive something was a
lurking recklessness, which, perhaps, was not bold enough yet to leap
into full exercise, or even to recognize itself.
So this was she to whom he had given the best of which he had been
capable--not a very noble or priceless best, he was willing to
acknowledge, but a kind of guarantee of the future, the nucleus of
fuller things. As he looked at her now his heart did not beat faster,
his pulses did not quicken, his eye did not soften, he did not even
wish himself away. Love was as dead as last year's leaves--so dead
that no spirit of resentment, or humiliation, or pain of heart was in
his breast at this sight of her again. On the contrary, he was
conscious of a perfect mastery of himself, of being easily superior to
Love was dead; youth was dead; the desire that beats in the veins of
the young was dead; his disillusion and disappointment and contempt
for one woman had not driven him, as it so often does, to other
women--to that wild waste which leaves behind it a barren and
ill-natured soil exhausted of its power, of its generous and native
health. There was a strange apathy in his senses, an emotional
stillness, as it were, the atrophy of all the passionate elements of
his nature. But because of this he was the better poised, the more
evenly balanced, the more perceptive. His eyes were not blurred or
dimmed by any stress of emotion, his mind worked in a cool quiet, and
his forward tread had leisurely decision and grace. He had sunk one
part of himself far below the level of activity or sensation, while
new resolves, new powers of mind, new designs were set in motion to
make his career a real and striking success. He had the most friendly
ear and the full confidence of the Prime Minister, who was also
Foreign Secretary--he had got that far; and now, if one of his great
international schemes could but be completed, an ambassadorship would
be his reward, and one of first-class importance. The three years had
done much for him in a worldly way, wonderfully much.
As he looked at the woman who had shaken his life to the centre--not
by her rejection of him, but by the fashion of it, the utter
selfishness and cold-blooded calculation of it, he knew that love's
fires were out, and that he could meet her without the agitation of a
single nerve. He despised her, but he could make allowance for her. He
knew the strain that was in her, got from her brilliant and rather
plangent grandfather. He knew the temptation of a vast fortune, the
power that it would bring--and the notoriety, too, again an
inheritance from her grandfather. He was not without magnanimity, and
he could the more easily exercise it because his pulses of emotion
She was by nature the most brilliantly endowed woman he had ever met,
the most naturally perceptive and artistic, albeit there was a touch
of gorgeousness to the inherent artistry which time, training and
experience would have chastened. Would have chastened? Was it not,
then, chastened? Looking at her now, he knew that it was not. It was
still there, he felt; but how much else was also there--of charm, of
elusiveness, of wit, of mental adroitness, of joyous eagerness to
discover a new thought or a new thing! She was a creature of rare
splendour, variety and vanity.
Why should he deny himself the pleasure of her society? His
intellectual side would always be stimulated by her, she would always
"incite him to mental riot," as she had often said. Time had flown,
love had flown, and passion was dead; but friendship stayed. Yes,
friendship stayed--in spite of all. Her conduct had made him blush for
her, had covered him with shame, but she was a woman, and therefore
weak--he had come to that now. She was on a lower plateau of honour,
and therefore she must be--not forgiven--that was too banal; but she
must be accepted as she was. And, after all, there could be no more
deception; for opportunity and occasion no longer existed. He would go
and speak to her now.
At that moment he was aware that she had caught sight of him, and that
she was startled. She had not known of his return to England, and she
was suddenly overwhelmed by confusion. The words of the letter he had
written her when she had thrown him over rushed through her brain now,
and hurt her as much as they did the first day they had been
received. She became a little pale, and turned as though to find some
other egress from the shop. There being none, there was but one
course, and that was to go out as though she had not seen him. He had
not even been moved at all at seeing her; but with her it was
different. She was disturbed--in her vanity? In her peace? In her
pride? In her senses? In her heart? In any, or each, or all? But she
was disturbed: her equilibrium was shaken. He had scorched her soul by
that letter to her, so gently cold, so incisive, so subtly cruel, so
deadly in its irony, so final--so final.
She was ashamed, and no one else in the world but Ian Stafford could
so have shamed her. Power had been given to her, the power of great
riches--the three millions had been really four--and everything and
everybody, almost, was deferential towards her. Had it brought her
happiness, or content, or joy? It had brought her excitement--much of
that--and elation, and opportunity to do a thousand things, and to
fatigue herself in a thousand ways; but had it brought happiness?
If it had, the face of this man who was once so much to her, and whom
she had flung into outer darkness, was sufficient to cast a cloud over
it. She felt herself grow suddenly weak, but she determined to go out
of the place without appearing to see him.
He was conscious of it all, saw it out of a corner of his eye, and as
she started forward, he turned, deliberately walked towards her, and,
with a cheerful smile, held out his hand.
"Now, what good fortune!" he said, spiritedly. "Life plays no tricks,
practices no deception this time. In a book she'd have made us meet on
a grand staircase or at a court ball."
As he said this, he shook her hand warmly, and again and again, as
would be fitting with old friends. He had determined to be master of
the situation, and to turn the moment to the credit of his
account--not hers; and it was easy to do it, for love was dead, and
the memory of love atrophied.
Colour came back to her face. Confusion was dispelled, a quick and
grateful animation took possession of her, to be replaced an instant
after by the disconcerting reflection that there was in his face or
manner not the faintest sign of emotion or embarrassment. From his
attitude they might have been good friends who had not met for some
time; nothing more.
"Yes, what a place to meet!" she said. "It really ought to have been
at a green-grocer's, and the apotheosis of the commonplace would have
been celebrated. But when did you return? How long do you remain in
Ah, the sense of relief to feel that he was not reproaching her for
anything, not impeaching her by an injured tone and manner, which so
many other men had assumed with infinitely less right or cause than
"I came back thirty-six hours ago, and I stay at the will of the
master-mind," he answered.
The old whimsical look came into her face, the old sudden flash which
always lighted her eyes when a daring phrase was born in her mind, and
she instantly retorted:
"The master-mind--how self-centred you are!"
Whatever had happened, certainly the old touch of intellectual
diablerie was still hers, and he laughed good-humoredly. Yes, she
might be this or that, she might be false or true, she might be one
who had sold herself for mammon, and had not paid tribute to the one
great natural principle of being, to give life to the world, man and
woman perpetuating man and woman; but she was stimulating and
delightful without effort.
"And what are you doing these days?" he asked. "One never hears of you
This was cruel, but she knew that he was "inciting her to riot," and
she replied: "That's because you are so secluded--in your kindergarten
for misfit statesmen. Abandon knowledge, all ye who enter there!"
It was the old flint and steel, but the sparks were not bright enough
to light the tinder of emotion. She knew it, for he was cool and
buoyant and really unconcerned, and she was feverish--and determined.
"You still make life worth living," he answered, gaily.
"It is not an occupation I would choose," she replied. "It is sure to
make one a host of enemies."
"So many of us make our careers by accident," he rejoined.
"Certainly I made mine not by design," she replied instantly; and
there was an undercurrent of meaning in it which he was not slow to
notice; but he disregarded her first attempt to justify, however
vaguely, her murderous treatment of him.
"But your career is not yet begun," he remarked.
Her eyes flashed--was it anger, or pique, or hurt, or merely the fire
of intellectual combat?
"I am married," she said, defiantly, in direct retort.
"That is not a career--it is casual exploration in a dark continent,"
"Come and say that to my husband," she replied, boldly. Suddenly a
thought lighted her eyes. "Are you by any chance free to-morrow night
to dine with us--quite, quite en famille' Rudyard will be glad to see
you--and hear you," she added, teasingly.
He was amused. He felt how much he had really piqued her and provoked
her by showing her so plainly that she had lost every vestige of the
ancient power over him; and he saw no reason why he should not spend
an evening where she sparkled.
"I am free, and will come with pleasure," he replied.
"That is delightful," she rejoined, "and please bring a box of bons
mots with you. But you will come, then--?" She was going to add,
"Ian," but she paused.
"Yes, I'll come--Jasmine," he answered, coolly, having read her
She flushed, was embarrassed and piqued, but with a smile and a nod
she left him.
In her carriage, however, her breath came quick and fast, her tiny
hand clenched, her face flushed, and there was a devastating fire in
"He shall not treat me so. He shall show some feeling. He shall--he
shall--he shall!" she gasped, angrily.
THE APPIAN WAY
"Cape to Cairo be damned!"
The words were almost spat out. The man to whom they were addressed
slowly drew himself up from a half-recumbent position in his
desk-chair, from which he had been dreamily talking into the ceiling,
as it were, while his visitor leaned against a row of bookshelves and
beat the floor impatiently with his foot.
At the rude exclamation, Byng straightened himself, and looked fixedly
at his visitor. He had been dreaming out loud again the dream which
Rhodes had chanted in the ears of all those who shared with him the
pioneer enterprises of South Africa. The outburst which had broken in
on his monologue was so unexpected that for a moment he could scarcely
realize the situation. It was not often, in these strenuous and
perilous days--and for himself less often than ever before, so had
London and London life worked upon him--that he, or those who shared
with him the vast financial responsibilities of the Rand, indulged in
dreams or prophecies; and he resented the contemptuous phrase just
uttered, and the tone of the speaker even more.
Byng's blank amazement served only to incense his visitor
further. "Yes, be damned to it, Byng!" he continued. "I'm sick of the
British Empire and the All Red, and the 'immense future.' What I want
is the present. It's about big enough for you and me and the rest of
us. I want to hold our own in Johannesburg. I want to pull thirty-five
millions a year out of the eighty miles of reef, and get enough native
labour to do it. I want to run the Rand like a business concern, with
Kruger gone to Holland; and Leyds gone to blazes. That's what I want
to see, Mr. Invincible Rudyard Byng."
The reply to this tirade was deliberate and murderously
bitter. "That's what you want to see, is it, Mr. Blasphemous Barry
Whalen? Well, you can want it with a little less blither and a little
A hard and ugly look was now come into the big clean-shaven face which
had become sleeker with good living, and yet had indefinably coarsened
in the three years gone since the Jameson raid; and a gloomy anger
looked out of the deep-blue eyes as he slowly went on:
"It doesn't matter what you want--not a great deal, if the others
agree generally on what ought to be done; and I don't know that it
matters much in any case. What have you come to see me about?"
"I know I'm not welcome here, Byng. It isn't the same as it used to
be. It isn't--"
Byng jerked quickly to his feet and lunged forward as though he would
do his visitor violence; but he got hold of himself in time, and, with
a sudden and whimsical toss of the head, characteristic of him, he
burst into a laugh.
"Well, I've been stung by a good many kinds of flies in my time, and I
oughtn't to mind, I suppose," he growled.... "Oh, well, there," he
broke off; "you say you're not welcome here? If you really feel that,
you'd better try to see me at my chambers--or at the office in London
Wall. It can't be pleasant inhaling air that chills or stifles
you. You take my advice, Barry, and save yourself annoyance. But let
me say in passing that you are as welcome here as anywhere, neither
more nor less. You are as welcome as you were in the days when we
trekked from the Veal to Pietersburg and on into Bechuanaland, and
both slept in the cape-wagon under one blanket. I don't think any more
of you than I did then, and I don't think any less, and I don't want
to see you any more or any fewer. But, Barry"--his voice changed, grew
warmer, kinder--" circumstances are circumstances. The daily lives of
all of us are shaped differently--yours as well as mine--here in this
pudding-faced civilization and in the iron conventions of London town;
and we must adapt ourselves accordingly. We used to flop down on our
Louis Quinze furniture on the Vaal with our muddy boots on--in our
front drawing-room. We don't do it in Thamesfontein, my noble
buccaneer--not even in Barry Whalen's mansion in Ladbroke Square,
where Barry Whalen, Esq., puts his silk hat on the hall table, and--
and, 'If you please, sir, your bath is ready'! . . . Don't be an
idiot-child, Barry, and don't spoil my best sentences when I let
myself go. I don't do it often these days--not since Jameson spilt the
milk and the can went trundling down the area. It's little time we get
for dreaming, these sodden days, but it's only dreams that do the
world's work and our own work in the end. It's dreams that do it,
Barry; it's dreams that drive us on, that make us see beyond the
present and the stupefying, deadening grind of the day. So it'll be
Cape to Cairo in good time, dear lad, and no damnation, if you
please.... Why, what's got into you? And again, what have you come to
see me about, anyhow? You knew we were to meet at dinner at
Wallstein's to-night. Is there anything that's skulking at our heels
to hurt us?"
The scowl on Barry Whalen's dissipated face cleared a little. He came
over, rested both hands on the table and leaned forward as he spoke,
Byng resuming his seat meanwhile.
Barry's voice was a little thick with excitement, but he weighed his
words too. "Byng, I wanted you to know beforehand what Fleming intends
to bring up to-night--a nice kind of reunion, isn't it, with war ahead
as sure as guns, and the danger of everything going to smash, in spite
of Milner and Jo?"
A set look came into Byng's face. He caught the lapels of his big,
loose, double-breasted jacket, and spread his feet a little, till he
looked as though squaring himself to resist attack.
"Go on with your story," he interposed. "What is Fleming going to
say--or bring up, you call it?"
"He's going to say that some one is betraying us--all we do that's of
any importance and most we say that counts--to Kruger and Leyds. He's
going to say that the traitor is some one inside our circle."
Byng started, and his hands clutched at the chairback, then he became
quiet and watchful. "And whom does Fleming--or you--suspect?" he
asked, with lowering eyelids and a slumbering malice in his eyes.
Barry straightened himself and looked Byng rather hesitatingly in the
face; then he said, slowly:
"I don't know much about Fleming's suspicions. Mine, though, are at
least three years old, and you know them.
"What would be Krool's object in betraying us, even if he knew all we
say and do?"
"Blood is thicker than water, Byng, and double pay to a poor man is a
"Krool would do nothing that injured me, Barry. I know men. What sort
of thing has been given away to Brother Boer?"
Barry took from his pocket a paper and passed it over. Byng scanned it
very carefully and slowly, and his face darkened as he read; for there
were certain things set down of which only he and Wallstein and one or
two others knew; which only he and one high in authority in England
knew, besides Wallstein. His face slowly reddened with anger. London
life, and its excitements multiplied by his wife and not avoided by
himself, had worn on him, had affected his once sunny and even temper,
had given him greater bulk, with a touch of flabbiness under the chin
and at the neck, and had slackened the firmness of the muscles.
Presently he got up, went over to a table, and helped himself to brandy
and soda, motioning to Barry to do the same. There were two or three
minutes' silence, and then he said:
"There's something wrong, certainly, but it isn't Krool. No, it isn't
"Nevertheless, if you're wise you'll ship him back beyond the Vaal, my
"It isn't Krool. I'll stake my life on that. He's as true to me as I
am to myself; and, anyhow, there are things in this Krool couldn't
know." He tossed the paper into the fire and watched it burn.
He had talked over many, if not all, of these things with Jasmine, and
with no one else; but Jasmine would not gossip. He had never known her
to do so. Indeed, she had counselled extreme caution so often to
himself that she would, in any case, be innocent of having
babbled. But certainly there had been leakage--there had been leakage
regarding most critical affairs. They were momentous enough to cause
him to say reflectively now, as he watched the paper burn:
"You might as well carry dynamite in your pocket as that."
"You don't mind my coming to see you?" Barry asked, in an anxious
He could not afford to antagonize Byng; in any case, his heart was
against doing so; though, like an Irishman, he had risked everything
by his maladroit and ill-mannered attack a little while ago.
"I wanted to warn you, so's you could be ready when Fleming jumped
in," Barry continued.
"No; I'm much obliged, Barry," was Byng's reply, in a voice where
trouble was well marked, however. "Wait a minute," he continued, as
his visitor prepared to leave. "Go into the other room"--he
pointed. "Glue your ear to the door first, then to the wall, and tell
me if you can hear anything--any word I say."
Barry did as he was bidden. Presently Byng spoke in a tone rather
louder than in ordinary conversation to an imaginary interlocutor for
some minutes. Then Barry Whalen came back into the room.
"Well?" Byng asked. "Heard anything?"
"Not a word--scarcely a murmur."
"Quite so. The walls are thick, and those big mahogany doors fit like
a glove. Nothing could leak through. Let's try the other door, leading
into the hall." They went over to it. "You see, here's an inside
baize-door as well. There's not room for a person to stand between the
two. I'll go out now, and you stay. Talk fairly loud."
The test produced the same result.
"Maybe I talk in my sleep," remarked Byng, with a troubled, ironical
Suddenly there shot into Barry Whalen's mind a thought which startled
him, which brought the colour to his face with a rush. For years he
had suspected Krool, had considered him a danger. For years he had
regarded Byng as culpable, for keeping as his servant one whom the
Partners all believed to be a spy; but now another, a terrible thought
came to him, too terrible to put into words--even in his own mind.
There were two other people besides Krool who were very close to
Byng. There was Mrs. Byng for one; there was also Adrian Fellowes, who
had been for a long time a kind of handy-man of the great house, doing
the hundred things which only a private secretary, who was also a kind
of master-of-ceremonies and lord-in-waiting, as it were, could
do. Yes, there was Adrian Fellowes, the private secretary; and there
was Mrs. Byng, who knew so much of what her husband knew! And the
private secretary and the wife necessarily saw much of each
other. What came to Barry's mind now stunned him, and he mumbled out
some words of good-bye with an almost hang-dog look to his face; for
he had a chivalrous heart and mind, and he was not prone to be
"We'll meet at eight, then?" said Byng, taking out his watch. "It's a
quarter past seven now. Don't fuss, Barry. We'll nose out the spy,
whoever he is, or wherever to be found. But we won't find him here, I
think--not here, my friend."
Suddenly Barry Whalen turned at the door. "Oh, let's go back to the
veld and the Rand!" he burst out, passionately. "This is no place for
us, Byng--not for either of us. You are getting flabby, and I'm
spoiling my temper and my manners. Let's get out of this infernal
jack-pot. Let's go where we'll be in the thick of the broiling when it
comes. You've got a political head, and you've done more than any one
else could do to put things right and keep them right; but it's no
good. Nothing'll be got except where the red runs. And the red will
run, in spite of all Jo or Milner or you can do. And when it comes,
you and I will be sick if we're not there--yes, even you with your
With moist eyes Byng grasped the hand of the rough-hewn comrade of the
veld, and shook it warmly.
"England has got on your nerves, Barry," he said, gently." But we're
all right in London. The key-board of the big instrument is here."
"But the organ is out there, Byng, and it's the organ that makes the
music, not the keys. We're all going to pieces here, every one of
us. I see it. Herr Gott, I see it plain enough! We're in the wrong
shop. We're not buying or selling; we're being sold. Baas--big Baas,
let's go where there's room to sling a stone; where we can see what's
going on round us; where there's the long sight and the strong sight;
where you can sell or get sold in the open, not in the alleyways;
where you can have a run for your money."
Byng smiled benevolently. Yet something was stirring his senses
strangely. The smell of the karoo was in his nostrils. "You're not
ending up as you began, Barry," he replied. "You started off like an
Israelite on the make, and you're winding up like Moody and Sankey."
"Well, I'm right now in the wind-up. I'm no better, I'm no worse, than
the rest of our fellows, but I'm Irish--I can see. The Celt can
always see, even if he can't act. And I see dark days coming for this
old land. England is wallowing. It's all guzzle and feed and finery,
and nobody cares a copper about anything that matters--"
"About Cape to Cairo, eh?"
"Byng, that was one of my idiocies. But you think over what I say,
just the same. I'm right. We're rotten cotton stuff now in these
isles. We've got fatty degeneration of the heart, and in all the rest
of the organs too."
Again Byng shook him by the hand warmly. "Well, Wallstein will give us
a fat dinner to-night, and you can moralize with lime-light effects
after the foie gras, Barry."
Closing the door slowly behind his friend, whom he had passed into the
hands of the dark-browed Krool, Byng turned again to his desk. As he
did so he caught sight of his face in the mirror over the
mantel-piece. A shadow swept over it; his lips tightened.
"Barry was right," he murmured, scrutinizing himself. "I've
degenerated. We've all degenerated. What's the matter, anyhow? What is
the matter? I've got everything--everything--everything."
Hearing the door open behind him, he turned to see Jasmine in evening
dress smiling at him. She held up a pink finger in reproof.
"Naughty boy," she said. "What's this I hear--that you have thrown me
over--me--to go and dine with the Wallstein! It's nonsense! You can't
go. Ian Stafford is coming to dine, as I told you."
His eyes beamed protectingly, affectionately, and yet, somehow, a
little anxiously, on her "But I must go, Jasmine. It's the first time
we've all been together since the Raid, and it's good we should be in
the full circle once again. There's work to do--more than ever there
was. There's a storm coming up on the veld, a real jagged lightning
business, and men will get hurt, hosts beyond recovery. We must
commune together, all of us. If there's the communion of saints,
there's also the communion of sinners. Fleming is back, and Wolff is
back, and Melville and Reuter and Hungerford are back, but only for a
few days, and we all must meet and map things out. I forgot about the
dinner. As soon as I remembered it I left a note on your
With sudden emotion he drew her to him, and buried his face in her
soft golden hair. "My darling, my little jasmine-flower," he
whispered, softly, "I hate leaving you, but--"
"But it's impossible, Ruddy, my man. How can I send Ian Stafford away?
It's too late to put him off."
"There's no need to put him off or to send him away--such old friends
as you are. Why shouldn't he dine with you a deux? I'm the only person
that's got anything to say about that."
She expressed no surprise, she really felt none. He had forgotten
that, coming up from Scotland, he had told her of this dinner with his
friends, and at the moment she asked Ian Stafford to dine she had
forgotten it also; but she remembered it immediately afterwards, and
she had said nothing, done nothing.
As Byng spoke, however, a curious expression emerged from the far
depths of her eyes--emerged, and was instantly gone again to the
obscurity whence it came. She had foreseen that he would insist on
Stafford dining with her; but, while showing no surprise--and no
perplexity--there was a touch of demureness in her expression as she
"I don't want to seem too conventional, but--"
"There should be a little latitude in all social rules," he
rejoined. "What nonsense! You are prudish, Jasmine. Allow yourself
"Latitude, not license," she returned. Having deftly laid on him the
responsibility for this evening's episode, this excursion into the
dangerous fields of past memory and sentiment and perjured faith, she
closed the book of her own debit and credit with a smile of
"Let me look at you," he said, standing her off from him.
Holding her hand, he turned her round like a child to be
inspected. "Well, you're a dream," he added, as she released herself
and swept into a curtsey, coquetting with her eyes as she did
so. "You're wonderful in blue--a flower in the azure," he added. "I
seem to remember that gown before--years ago--"
She uttered an exclamation of horror. "Good gracious, you wild and
ruthless ruffian! A gown--this gown--years ago! My bonny boy, do you
think I wear my gowns for years?"
"I wear my suits for years. Some I've had seven years. I've got a
frock-coat I bought for my brother Jim's wedding, ten years ago, and
it looks all right--a little small now, but otherwise 'most as good as
"What a lamb, what a babe, you are, Ruddy! Like none that ever
lived. Why, no woman wears her gowns two seasons, and some of them
rather hate wearing them two times."
"Then what do they do with them--after the two times?"
"Well, for a while, perhaps, they keep them to look at and gloat over,
if they like them; then, perhaps, they give them away to their poor
cousins or their particular friends--"
"Their particular friends--?"
"Why, every woman has some friends poorer than herself who love her
very much, and she is good to them. Or there's the Mart--"
"Wait. What's 'the Mart'?"
"The place where ladies can get rid of fine clothes at a wicked
"And what becomes of them then?"
"They are bought by ladies less fortunate."
"Ladies who wear them?"
"Why, what else would they do? Wear them--of course, dear child."
Byng made a gesture of disgust. "Well, I call it sickening. To me
there's something so personal and intimate about clothes. I think I
could kill any woman that I saw wearing clothes of yours--of yours."
She laughed mockingly. "My beloved, you've seen them often enough, but
you haven't known they were mine; that's all."
"I didn't recognize them, because no one could wear your clothes like
you. It would be a caricature. That's a fact, Jasmine."
She reached up and swept his cheek with a kiss. "What a darling you
are, little big man! Yet you never make very definite remarks about my
He put his hands on his hips and looked her up and down
approvingly. "Because I only see a general effect, but I always
remember colour. Tell me, have you ever sold your clothes to the Mart,
or whatever the miserable coffin-shop is called?"
"Well, not directly."
"What do you mean by 'not directly'?"
"Well, I didn't sell them, but they were sold for me." She hesitated,
then went on hurriedly. "Adrian Fellowes knew of a very sad case--a
girl in the opera who had had misfortune, illness, and bad luck; and
he suggested it. He said he didn't like to ask for a cheque, because
we were always giving, but selling my old wardrobe would be a sort of
lucky find--that's what he called it."
Byng nodded, with a half-frown, however. "That was ingenious of
Fellowes, and thoughtful, too. Now, what does a gown cost, one like
that you have on?"
"This--let me see. Why, fifty pounds, perhaps. It's not a ball gown,
He laughed mockingly. "Why, 'of course,' And what does a ball gown
cost--perhaps?" There was a cynical kind of humour in his eye.
"Anything from fifty to a hundred and fifty--maybe," she replied, with
a little burst of merriment.
"And how much did you get for the garments you had worn twice, and
then seen them suddenly grow aged in their extreme youth?"
"Ruddy, do not be nasty--or scornful. I've always worn my gowns more
than twice--some of them a great many times, except when I detested
them. And anyhow, the premature death of a gown is very, very good for
trade. That influences many ladies, of course."
He burst out laughing, but there was a satirical note in the gaiety,
or something still harsher.
"'We deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,'" he
answered. "It's all such a hollow make-believe."
She gazed at him inquiringly, for this mood was new to her. She was
vaguely conscious of some sort of change in him--not exactly toward
her, but a change, nevertheless.
"The life we rich people lead is a hollow make-believe, Jasmine," he
said, with sudden earnestness. "I don't know what's the matter, but
we're not getting out of life all we ought to get; and we're not
putting into it all we ought to put in. There's a sense of
emptiness--of famine somewhere."
He caught the reflection of his face in the glass again, and his brow
contracted. "We get sordid and sodden, and we lose the proportions of
life. I wanted Dick Wilberforce to do something with me the other day,
and he declined. 'Why, my dear fellow,' I said, 'you know you want to
do it?' 'Of course I do,' he answered, 'but I can't afford that kind
of thing, and you know it.' Well, I did know it, but I had
forgotten. I was only thinking of what I myself could afford to do. I
was setting up my own financial standard, and was forgetting the other
fellows who hadn't my standard. What's the result? We drift apart,
Wilberforce and I--well, I mean Wilberforce as a type. We drift into
sets of people who can afford to do certain things, and we leave such
a lot of people behind that we ought to have clung to, and that we
would have clung to, if we hadn't been so much thinking of ourselves,
or been so soddenly selfish."
A rippling laugh rang through the room. "Boanerges--oh, Boanerges
Byng! 'Owever can you be so heloquent!"
Jasmine put both hands on his shoulders and looked up at him with that
look which had fascinated him--and so many others--in their day. The
perfume which had intoxicated him in the first days of his love of
her, and steeped his senses in the sap of youth and Eden, smote them
again, here on the verge of the desert before him. He suddenly caught
her in his arms and pressed her to him almost roughly.
"You exquisite siren--you siren of all time," he said, with a note of
joy in which there was, too, a stark cry of the soul. He held her face
back from him.... "If you had lived a thousand years ago you would
have had a thousand lovers, Jasmine. Perhaps you did--who knows! And
now you come down through the centuries purified by Time, to be my
His lip trembled a little. There was a strange melancholy in his eyes,
belying the passion and rapture of his words.
In all their days together she had never seen him in this mood. She
had heard him storm about things at times, had watched his big
impulses working; had drawn the thunder from his clouds; but there was
something moving in him now which she had never seen before. Perhaps
it was only a passing phase, even a moment's mood, but it made a
strange impression on her. It was remembered by them both long after,
when life had scattered its vicissitudes before their stumbling feet
and they had passed through flood and fire.
She drew back and looked at him steadily, reflectively, and with an
element of surprise in her searching look. She had never thought him
gifted with perception or insight, though he had eloquence and an eye
for broad effects. She had thought him curiously ignorant of human
nature, born to be deceived, full of child-like illusions, never
understanding the real facts of life, save in the way of business--and
politics. Women he never seemed by a single phrase or word to
understand, and yet now he startled her with a sudden revelation and
insight of which she had not thought him capable.
"If you had lived a thousand years ago you would have had a thousand
lovers. Perhaps you did--who knows! . . . And now you come down
through the centuries purified by Time--"
The words slowly repeated themselves in her brain. Many and many a
time she had imagined herself as having lived centuries ago, and again
and again in her sleep these imaginings had reflected themselves in
wild dreams of her far past--once as a priestess of Isis, once as a
Slavonian queen, once as a peasant in Syria, and many times as a
courtezan of Alexandria or Athens--many times as that: one of the
gifted, beautiful, wonderful women whose houses were the centres of
culture, influence, and power. She had imagined herself, against her
will, as one of these women, such as Cleopatra, for whom the world
were well lost; and who, at last, having squeezed the orange dry, but
while yet the sun was coming towards noon, in scorn of Life and Time
had left the precincts of the cheerful day without a lingering
look.... Often and often such dreams, to her anger and confusion, had
haunted her, even before she was married; and she had been alternately
humiliated and fascinated by them. Years ago she had told Ian Stafford
of one of the dreams of a past life--that she was a slave in Athens
who saved her people by singing to the Tyrant; and Ian had made her
sing to him, in a voice quite in keeping with her personality,
delicate and fine and wonderfully high in its range, bird-like in its
quality, with trills like a lark--a little meretricious but
captivating. He had also written for her two verses which were as
sharp and clear in her mind as the letter he wrote when she had thrown
him over so dishonourably:
"Your voice I knew, its cadences and trill;
It stilled the tumult and the overthrow
When Athens trembled to the people's will;
I knew it--'twas a thousand years ago.
"I see the fountains, and the gardens where
You sang the fury from the Satrap's brow;
I feel the quiver of the raptured air
I heard you in the Athenian grove--I hear you now."
As the words flashed into her mind now she looked at her husband
steadfastly. Were there, then, some unexplored regions in his nature,
where things dwelt, of which she had no glimmering of knowledge? Did
he understand more of women than she thought? Could she then really
talk to him of a thousand things of the mind which she had ever ruled
out of any commerce between them, one half of her being never opened
up to his sight? Not that he was deficient in intellect, but, to her
thought, his was a purely objective mind; or was it objective because
it had not been trained or developed subjectively? Had she ever really
tried to find a region in his big nature where the fine allusiveness
and subjectivity of the human mind could have free life and
untrammelled exercise, could gambol in green fields of imagination and
adventure upon strange seas of discovery? A shiver of pain, of
remorse, went through her frame now, as he held her at arm's length
and looked at her.... Had she started right? Had she ever given their
natures a chance to discover each other? Warmth and passion and youth
and excitement and variety--oh, infinite variety there had been!--but
had the start been a fair one, had she, with a whole mind and a full
soul of desire, gone to him first and last? What had been the
governing influence in their marriage where she was concerned?
Three years of constant motion, and never an hour's peace; three years
of agitated waters, and never in all that time three days alone
together. What was there to show for the three years? That for which
he had longed with a great longing had been denied him; for he had
come of a large family, and had the simple primitive mind and
heart. Even in his faults he had ever been primitively simple and
obvious. She had been energetic, helping great charities, aiding in
philanthropic enterprises, with more than a little shrewdness
preventing him from being robbed right and left by adventurers of all
descriptions; and yet--and yet it was all so general, so soulless, her
activity in good causes. Was there a single afflicted person, one
forlorn soul whom she had directly and personally helped, or sheltered
from the storm for a moment, one bereaved being whose eyes she had
dried by her own direct personal sympathy?