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- The Judgment House - 3/85 -
Presently, as he entered the Grenfel box again, deafening applause broke forth.
"We were just in time," said Ian Stafford, with an admiring, teasing laugh, as he gripped Byng's arm.
"'We'--well, it was a royal business," said Jasmine, standing close to him and looking up into his eyes with that ingratiating softness which had deluded many another man; "but do you realize that it was my cloak you took?" she added, whimsically.
"Well, I'm glad it was," Byng answered, boyishly. "You'll have to wear my overcoat home."
"I certainly will," she answered. "Come--the giant's robe."
People were crowding upon their box.
"Let's get out of this," Byng said, as he took his coat from the hook on the wall.
As they left the box the girl's white-haired, prematurely aged father whispered in the pretty stepmother's ear: "Jasmine'll marry that nabob--you'll see."
The stepmother shrugged a shoulder. "Jasmine is in love with Ian Stafford," she said, decisively.
"But she'll marry Rudyard Byng," was the stubborn reply.
THE UNDERGROUND WORLD
"What's that you say--Jameson--what?"
Rudyard Byng paused with the lighted match at the end of his cigar, and stared at a man who was reading from a tape-machine, which gave the club the world's news from minute to minute.
"Dr. Jameson's riding on Johannesburg with eight hundred men. He started from Pitsani two days ago. And Cronje with his burghers are out after him."
The flaming match burned Byng's fingers. He threw it into the fireplace, and stood transfixed for a moment, his face hot with feeling, then he burst out:
"But--God! they're not ready at Johannesburg. The burghers'll catch him at Doornkop or somewhere, and--" He paused, overcome. His eyes suffused. His hands went out in a gesture of despair.
"Jameson's jumped too soon," he muttered. "He's lost the game for them."
The other eyed him quizzically. "Perhaps he'll get in yet. He surely planned the thing with due regard for every chance. Johannesburg--"
"Johannesburg isn't ready, Stafford. I know. That Jameson and the Rand should coincide was the only chance. And they'll not coincide now. It might have been--it was to have been--a revolution at Johannesburg, with Dr. Jim to step in at the right minute. It's only a filibustering business now, and Oom Paul will catch the filibuster, as sure as guns. 'Gad, it makes me sick!"
"Europe will like it--much," remarked Ian Stafford, cynically, offering Byng a lighted match.
Byng grumbled out an oath, then fixed his clear, strong look on Stafford. "It's almost enough to make Germany and France forget 1870 and fall into each other's arms," he answered. "But that's your business, you Foreign Office people's business. It's the fellows out there, friends of mine, so many of them, I'm thinking of. It's the British kids that can't be taught in their mother-tongue, and the men who pay all the taxes and can't become citizens. It's the justice you can only buy; it's the foot of Kruger on the necks of the subjects of his suzerain; it's eating dirt as Englishmen have never had to eat it anywhere in the range of the Seven Seas. And when they catch Dr. Jim, it'll be ten times worse. Yes, it'll be at Doornkop, unless-- But, no, they'll track him, trap him, get him now. Johannesburg wasn't ready. Only yesterday I had a cable that--" he stopped short . . . "but they weren't ready. They hadn't guns enough, or something; and Englishmen aren't good conspirators, not by a damned sight! Now it'll be the old Majuba game all over again. You'll see."
"It certainly will set things back. Your last state will be worse than your first," remarked Stafford.
Rudyard Byng drained off a glass of brandy and water at a gulp almost, as Stafford watched him with inward adverse comment, for he never touched wine or spirits save at meal-time, and the between-meal swizzle revolted his Eesthetic sense. Byng put down the glass very slowly, gazing straight before him for a moment without speaking. Then he looked round. There was no one very near, though curious faces were turned in his direction, as the grim news of the Raid was passed from mouth to mouth. He came up close to Stafford and touched his chest with a firm forefinger.
"Every egg in the basket is broken, Stafford. I'm sure of that. Dr. Jim'll never get in now; and there'll be no oeufs a la coque for breakfast. But there's an omelette to be got out of the mess, if the chef doesn't turn up his nose too high. After all, what has brought things to this pass? Why, mean, low tyranny and injustice. Why, just a narrow, jealous race-hatred which makes helots of British men. Simple farmers, the sentimental newspapers call them--simple Machiavellis in veldschoen!" *
Stafford nodded assent. "But England is a very conventional chef," he replied. "She likes the eggs for her omelette broken in the orthodox way."
"She's not so particular where the eggs come from, is she?"
Stafford smiled as he answered: "There'll be a good many people in England who won't sleep to-night some because they want Jameson to get in; some because they don't; but most because they're thinking of the millions of British money locked up in the Rand, with Kruger standing over it with a sjambak, which he'll use. Last night at the opera we had a fine example of presence of mind, when a lady burst into flames on the stage. That spirited South African prima donna, the Transvaal, is in flames. I wonder if she really will be saved, and who will save her, and--"
A light, like the sun, broke over the gloomy and rather haggard face of Rudyard Byng, and humour shot up into his eyes. He gave a low, generous laugh, as he said with a twinkle: "And whether he does it at some expense to himself--with his own overcoat, or with some one else's cloak. Is that what you want to say?"
All at once the personal element, so powerful in most of us--even in moments when interests are in existence so great that they should obliterate all others--came to the surface. For a moment it almost made Byng forget the crisis which had come to a land where he had done all that was worth doing, so far in his life; which had burned itself into his very soul; which drew him, sleeping or waking, into its arms of memory and longing.
He had read only one paper that morning, and it--the latest attempt at sensational journalism--had so made him blush at the flattering references to himself in relation to the incident at the opera, that he had opened no other. He had left his chambers to avoid the telegrams and notes of congratulation which were arriving in great numbers. He had gone for his morning ride in Battersea Park instead of the Row to escape observation; had afterwards spent two hours at the house he was building in Park Lane; had then come to the club, where he had encountered Ian Stafford and had heard the news which overwhelmed him.
"Well, an opera cloak did the work better than an overcoat would have done," Stafford answered, laughing. "It was a flash of real genius to think of it. You did think it all out in the second, didn't you?"
Stafford looked at him curiously, for he wondered if the choice of a soft cloak which could more easily be wrapped round the burning woman than an overcoat was accidental, or whether it was the product of a mind of unusual decision.
Byng puffed out a great cloud of smoke and laughed again quietly as he replied:
"Well, I've had a good deal of lion and rhinoceros shooting in my time, and I've had to make up my mind pretty quick now and then; so I suppose it gets to be a habit. You don't stop to think when the trouble's on you; you think as you go. If I'd stopped to think, I'd have funked the whole thing, I suppose--jumping from that box onto the stage, and grabbing a lady in my arms, all in the open, as it were. But that wouldn't have been the natural man. The natural man that's in most of us, even when we're not very clever, does things right. It's when the conventional man comes in and says, Let us consider, that we go wrong. By Jingo, Al'mah was as near having her beauty spoiled as any woman ever was; but she's only got a few nasty burns on the arm and has singed her hair a little."
"You've seen her to-day, then?"
Stafford looked at him with some curiosity, for the event was one likely to rouse a man's interest in a woman. Al'mah was unmarried, so far as the world knew, and a man of Byng's kind, if not generally inflammable, was very likely to be swept off his feet by some unusual woman in some unusual circumstance. Stafford had never seen Rudyard Byng talk to any woman but Jasmine for more than five minutes at a time, though hundreds of eager and avaricious eyes had singled him out for attention; and, as it seemed absurd that any one should build a palace in Park Lane to live in by himself, the glances sent in his direction from many quarters had not been without hopefulness. And there need not have been, and there was not, any loss of dignity on the part of match-making mothers in angling for him, for his family was quite good enough; his origin was not obscure, and his upbringing was adequate. His external ruggedness was partly natural; but it was also got from the bitter rough life he had lived for so many years in South Africa before he had fallen on his feet at Kimberley and Johannesburg.
As for "strange women," during the time that had passed since his retum to England there had never been any sign of loose living. So, to Stafford's mind, Byng was the more likely to be swept away on a sudden
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