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- The Judgment House - 10/85 -
walls; a piano, a banjo, and a cornet; and, in the corner, a little roulette-table. It was a strange medley, in keeping, perhaps, with the incongruously furnished mind of the master of it all; it was expressive of tastes and habits not yet settled and consistent.
Al'mah's eyes had taken it all in rather wistfully, while she had waited for Krool's return from his master; but the wistfulness was due to personal trouble, for her eyes were clouded and her motions languid. But when she saw the banjo, the cornet, and the roulette-table, a deep little laugh rose to her full red lips.
"How like a subaltern, or a colonial civil servant!" she said to herself.
She reflected a moment, then pursued the thought further: "But there must be bigness in him, as well as presence of mind and depth of heart--yes, I'm sure his nature is deep."
She remembered the quick, protecting hands which had wrapped her round with Jasmine Grenfel's cloak, and the great arms in which she had rested, the danger over.
"There can't be much wrong with a nature like his, though Adrian hates him so. But, of course, Adrian would. Besides, Adrian will never get over the drop in the mining-stock which ruined him--Rudyard Byng's mine.... It's natural for Adrian to hate him, I suppose," she added with a heavy sigh.
Mentally she took to comparing this room with Adrian Fellowes' sitting-room overlooking the Thames Embankment, where everything was in perfect taste and order, where all was modulated, harmonious, soigne and artistic. Yet, somehow, the handsome chambers which hung over the muddy river with its wonderful lights and shades, its mists and radiance, its ghostly softness and greyness, lacked in something that roused imagination, that stirred her senses here--the vital being in her.
It was power, force, experience, adventure. They were all here. She knew the signs: the varied interests, the primary emotions, music, art, hunting, prospecting, fighting, gambling. They were mixed with the solid achievement of talent and force in the business of life. Here was a model of a new mining-drill, with a picture of the stamps working in the Work-and-Wonder mine, together with a model of the Kaffir compound at Kimberley, with the busy, teeming life behind the wire boundaries.
Thus near was Byng to the ways of a child, she thought, thus near to the everlasting intelligence and the busy soul of a constructive and creative Deity--if there was a Deity. Despite the frequent laughter on her tongue and in her eyes, she doubted bitterly at times that there was a Deity. For how should happen the awful tragedies which encompassed men and peoples, if there was a Deity. No benign Deity could allow His own created humanity to be crushed in bleeding masses, like the grapes trampled in the vats of a vineyard. Whole cities swallowed up by earthquake; islands swept of their people by a tidal wave; a vast ship pierced by an iceberg and going down with its thousand souls; provinces spread with the vile elements of a plague which carpeted the land with dead; mines flooded by water or devastated by fire; the little new-born babe left without the rightful breast to feed it; the mother and her large family suddenly deprived of the breadwinner; old men who had lived like saints, giving their all to their own and to the world, driven to the degradation of the poorhouse in the end--ah, if one did not smile, one would die of weeping, she thought.
Al'mah had smiled her way through the world; with a quick word of sympathy for any who were hurt by the blows of life or time; with an open hand for the poor and miserable,--now that she could afford it--and hiding her own troubles behind mirth and bonhommie; for her humour, as her voice, was deep and strong like that of a man. It was sometimes too pronounced, however, Adrian Fellowes had said; and Adrian was an acute observer, who took great pride in her. Was it not to Adrian she had looked first for approval the night of her triumph at Covent Garden--why, that was only a few days ago, and it seemed a hundred days, so much had happened since. It was Adrian's handsome face which had told her then of the completeness of her triumph.
The half-caste valet entered again. "Here come, madame," he said with something very near a smile; for he liked this woman, and his dark, sensual soul would have approved of his master liking her.
"Soon the Baas, madame," he said as he placed a chair for her, and with the gliding footstep of a native left the room.
"Sunny creature!" she remarked aloud, with a little laugh, and looked round. Instantly her face lighted with interest. Here was nothing of that admired disorder, that medley of incongruous things which marked the room she had just left; but perfect order, precision, and balance of arrangement, the most peaceful equipoise. There was a great carved oak-table near to sun-lit windows, and on it were little regiments of things, carefully arranged--baskets with papers in elastic bands; classified and inscribed reference-books, scales, clips, pencils; and in one clear space, with a bunch of violets before it, the photograph of a woman in a splendid silver frame--a woman of seventy or so, obviously Rudyard Byng's mother.
Al'mah's eyes softened. Here was insight into a nature of which the world knew so little. She looked further. Everywhere were signs of disciplined hours and careful hands--cabinets with initialed drawers, shelves filled with books. There is no more impressive and revealing moment with man or woman than when you stand in a room empty of their actual presence, but having, in every inch of it, the pervasive influences of the absent personality. A strange, almost solemn quietness stole over Al'mah's senses. She had been admitted to the inner court, not of the man's house, but of his life. Her eyes travelled on with the gratified reflection that she had been admitted here. Above the books were rows of sketches--rows of sketches!
Suddenly, as her eyes rested on them, she turned pale and got to her feet. They were all sketches of the veld, high and low; of natives; of bits of Dutch architecture; of the stoep with its Boer farmer and his vrouw; of a kopje with a dozen horses or a herd of cattle grazing; of a spruit, or a Kaffir's kraal; of oxen leaning against the disselboom of a cape-wagon; of a herd of steinboks, or a little colony of meerkats in the karoo.
Her hand went to her heart with a gesture of pain, and a little cry of misery escaped her lips.
Now there was a quick footstep, and Byng entered with a cordial smile and an outstretched hand.
"Well, this is a friendly way to begin the New Year," he said, cheerily, taking her hand. "You certainly are none the worse for our little unrehearsed drama the other night. I see by the papers that you have been repeating your triumph. Please sit down. Do you mind my having a little toast while we talk? I always have my petit dejeuner here; and I'm late this morning."
"You look very tired," she said as she sat down.
Krool here entered with a tray, placing it on a small table by the big desk. He was about to pour out the tea, but Byng waved him away.
"Send this note at once by hand," he said, handing him an envelope. It was addressed to Jasmine Grenfel.
"Yes, I'm tired--rather," he added to his guest with a sudden weariness of manner. "I've had no sleep for three nights--working all the time, every hour; and in this air of London, which doesn't feed you, one needs plenty of sleep. You can't play with yourself here as you can on the high veld, where an hour or two of sleep a day will do. On-saddle and off-saddle, in-span and outspan, plenty to eat and a little sleep; and the air does the rest. It has been a worrying time."
"The Jameson Raid--and all the rest?"
"Particularly all the rest. I feel easier in my mind about Dr. Jim and the others. England will demand--so I understand," he added with a careful look at her, as though he had said too much--"the right to try Jameson and his filibusters from Matabeleland here in England; but it's different with the Jo'burgers. They will be arrested--"
"They have been arrested," she intervened.
"Oh, is it announced?" he asked without surprise.
"It was placarded an hour ago," she replied, heavily.
"Well, I fancied it would be," he remarked. "They'll have a close squeak. The sympathy of the world is with Kruger--so far."
"That is what I have come about," she said, with an involuntary and shrinking glance at the sketches on the walls.
"What you have come about?" he said, putting down his cup of tea and looking at her intently." How are you concerned? Where do you come in?"
"There is a man--he has been arrested with the others; with Farrar, Phillips, Hammond, and the rest--"
"Oh, that's bad! A relative, or--"
"Not a relative, exactly," she replied in a tone of irony. Rising, she went over to the wall and touched one of the water-colour sketches.
"How did you come by these?" she asked.
"Blantyre's sketches? Well, it's all I ever got for all Blantyre owed me, and they're not bad. They're lifted out of the life. That's why I bought them. Also because I liked to think I got something out of Blantyre; and that he would wish I hadn't. He could paint a bit-- don't you think so?"
"He could paint a bit--always," she replied.
A silence followed. Her back was turned to him, her face was towards the pictures.
Presently he spoke, with a little deferential anxiety in the tone. "Are you interested in Blantyre?" he asked, cautiously. Getting up, he came over to her.
"He has been arrested--as I said--with the others."
"No, you did not say so. So they let Blantyre into the game, did they?" he asked almost musingly; then, as if recalling what she had said, he added: "Do you mind telling me exactly what is your interest in Blantyre?"
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