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- The Judgment House - 4/85 -
flood that would bear him out to the sea of matrimony. He had put his question out of curiosity, and he had not to wait for a reply. It came frankly and instantly:
"Why, I was at Al'mah's house in Bruton Street at eight o'clock this morning--with the milkman and the newsboy; and you wouldn't believe it, but I saw her, too. She'd been up since six o'clock, she said. Couldn't sleep for excitement and pain, but looking like a pansy blossom all the same, rigged out as pretty as could be in her boudoir, and a nurse doing the needful. It's an odd dark kind of beauty she has, with those full lips and the heavy eyebrows. Well, it was a bull in a china-shop, as you might judge--and thank you kindly, Mr. Byng, with such a jolly laugh, and ever and ever and ever so grateful and so wonderfully--thoughtful, I think, was the word, as though one had planned it all. And wouldn't I stay to breakfast? And not a bit stagey or actressy, and rather what you call an uncut diamond--a gem in her way, but not fine beur, not exactly. A touch of the karoo, or the prairie, or the salt-bush plains in her, but a good chap altogether; and I'm glad I was in it last night with her. I laughed a lot at breakfast--why yes, I stayed to breakfast. Laugh before breakfast and cry before supper, that's the proverb, isn't it? And I'm crying, all right, and there's weeping down on the Rand too."
As he spoke Stafford made inward comment on the story being told to him, so patently true and honest in every particular. It was rather contradictory and unreasonable, however, to hear this big, shy, rugged fellow taking exception, however delicately and by inference only, to the lack of high refinement, to the want of fine fleur, in Al'mah's personality. It did not occur to him that Byng was the kind of man who would be comparing Jasmine's quite wonderful delicacy, perfumed grace, and exquisite adaptability with the somewhat coarser beauty and genius of the singer. It seemed natural that Byng should turn to a personality more in keeping with his own, more likely to make him perfectly at ease mentally and physically.
Stafford judged Jasmine by his own conversations with her, when he was so acutely alive to the fact that she was the most naturally brilliant woman he had ever known or met; and had capacities for culture and attainment, as she had gifts of discernment and skill in thought, in marked contrast to the best of the ladies of their world. To him she had naturally shown only the one side of her nature--she adapted herself to him as she did to every one else; she had put him always at an advantage, and, in doing so, herself as well.
Full of dangerous coquetry he knew her to be--she had been so from a child; and though this was culpable in a way, he and most others had made more than due allowance, because mother-care and loving surveillance had been withdrawn so soon. For years she had been the spoiled darling of her father and brothers until her father married again; and then it had been too late to control her. The wonder was that she had turned out so well, that she had been so studious, so determined, so capable. Was it because she had unusual brain and insight into human nature, and had been wise and practical enough to see that there was a point where restraint must be applied, and so had kept herself free from blame or deserved opprobrium, if not entirely from criticism? In the day when girls were not in the present sense emancipated, she had the savoir faire and the poise of a married woman of thirty. Yet she was delicate, fresh, and flower-like, and very amusing, in a way which delighted men; and she did not antagonize women.
Stafford had ruled Byng out of consideration where she was concerned. He had not heard her father's remark of the night before, "Jasmine will marry that nabob--you'll see."
He was, however, recalled to the strange possibilities of life by a note which was handed to Byng as they stood before the club-room fire. He could not help but see--he knew the envelope, and no other handwriting was like Jasmine's, that long, graceful, sliding hand. Byng turned it over before opening it.
"Hello," he said, "I'm caught. It's a woman's hand. I wonder how she knew I was here."
Mentally Stafford shrugged his shoulders as he said to himself: "If Jasmine wanted to know where he was, she'd find out. I wonder--I wonder."
He watched Byng, over whose face passed a pleased smile.
"Why," Byng said, almost eagerly, "it's from Miss Grenfel--wants me to go and tell her about Jameson and the Raid."
He paused for an instant, and his face clouded again. "The first thing I must do is to send cables to Johannesburg. Perhaps there are some waiting for me at my rooms. I'll go and see. I don't know why I didn't get news sooner. I generally get word before the Government. There's something wrong somewhere. Somebody has had me."
"If I were you I'd go to our friend first. When I'm told to go at once, I go. She wouldn't like cablegrams and other things coming between you and her command--even when Dr. Jim's riding out of Matabeleland on the Rand for to free the slaves."
Stafford's words were playful, but there was, almost unknown to himself, a strange little note of discontent and irony behind.
Byng laughed. "But I'll be able to tell her more, perhaps, if I go to my rooms first."
"You are going to see her, then?"
"Certainly. There's nothing to do till we get news of Jameson at bay in a conga or balled up at a kopje." Thrusting the delicately perfumed letter in his pocket, he nodded, and was gone.
"I was going to see her myself," thought Stafford, "but that settles it. It will be easier to go where duty calls instead, since Byng takes my place. Why, she told me to come to-day at this very hour," he added, suddenly, and paused in his walk towards the door.
"But I want no triangular tea-parties," he continued to reflect.... "Well, there'll be work to do at the Foreign Office, that's sure. France, Austria, Russia can spit out their venom now and look to their mobilization. And won't Kaiser William throw up his cap if Dr. Jim gets caught! What a mess it will be! Well--well--well!"
He sighed, and went on his way brooding darkly; for he knew that this was the beginning of a great trial for England and all British people.
A DAUGHTER OF TYRE
Jasmine looked at him again, as she had done the night before at the opera, standing quite confidentially close to him, her hand resting in his big palm like a pad of rose-leaves; while a delicate perfume greeted his senses. Byng beamed down on her, mystified and eager, yet by no means impatient, since the situation was one wholly agreeable to him, and he had been called robber in his time with greater violence and with a different voice. Now he merely shook his head in humorous protest, and gave her an indulgent look of inquiry. Somehow he felt quite at home with her; while yet he was abashed by so much delicacy and beauty and bloom.
"Why, what else are you but a robber?" she added, withdrawing her hand rather quickly from the too frank friendliness of his grasp. "You ran off with my opera-cloak last night, and a very pretty and expensive one it was."
"Expensive isn't the word," he rejoined; "it was unpurchasable."
She preened herself a little at the phrase. "I returned your overcoat this morning--before breakfast; and I didn't even receive a note of thanks for it. I might properly have kept it till my opera cloak came back."
"It's never coming back," he answered; "and as for my overcoat, I didn't know it had been returned. I was out all the morning."
"In the Row?" she asked, with an undertone of meaning.
"Well, not exactly. I was out looking for your cloak."
"Without breakfast?" she urged with a whimsical glance.
"Well, I got breakfast while I was looking."
"And while you were indulging material tastes, the cloak hid itself--or went out and hanged itself?"
He settled himself comfortably in the huge chair which seemed made especially for him. With a rare sense for details she had had this very chair brought from the library beyond, where her stepmother, in full view, was writing letters. He laughed at her words--a deep, round chuckle it was.
"It didn't exactly hang itself; it lay over the back of a Chesterfield where I could see it and breakfast too."
"A Chesterfield in a breakfast-room! That's more like the furniture of a boudoir."
"Well, it was a boudoir." He blushed a little in spite of himself.
"Ah!... Al'mah's? Well, she owed you a breakfast, at least, didn't she?"
"Not so good a breakfast as I got."
"That is putting rather a low price on her life," she rejoined; and a little smile of triumph gathered at her pink lips; lips a little like those Nelson loved not wisely yet not too well, if love is worth while at all.
"T didn't see where you were leading me," he gasped, helplessly. "I give up. I can't talk in your way."
"What is my way?" she pleaded with a little wave of laughter in her eyes.
"Why, no frontal attacks--only flank movements, and getting round the kopjes, with an ambush in a drift here and there."
"That sounds like Paul Kruger or General Joubert," she cried in mock
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