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- The Judgment House - 5/85 -
dismay. "Isn't that what they are doing with Dr. Jameson, perhaps?"
His face clouded. Storm gathered slowly in his eyes, a grimness suddenly settled in his strong jaw. "Yes," he answered, presently, "that's what they will be doing; and if I'm not mistaken they'll catch Jameson just as you caught me just now. They'll catch him at Doornkop or thereabouts, if I know myself--and Oom Paul."
Her face flushed prettily with excitement. "I want to hear all about this empire-making, or losing, affair; but there are other things to be settled first. There's my opera-cloak and the breakfast in the prima donna's boudoir, and--"
"But, how did you know it was Al'mah?" he asked blankly.
"Why, where else would my cloak be?" she inquired with a little laugh. "Not at the costumier's or the cleaner's so soon. But, all this horrid flippancy aside, do you really think I should have talked like this, or been so exigent about the cloak, if I hadn't known everything; if I hadn't been to see Al'mah, and spent an hour with her and knew that she was recovering from that dreadful shock very quickly? But could you think me so inhuman and unwomanly as not to have asked about her?"
"I wouldn't be in a position to investigate much when you were talking--not critically," he replied, boldly. "I would only be thinking that everything you said was all right. It wouldn't occur to me to--"
She half closed her eyes, looking at him with languishing humour. "Now you must please remember that I am quite young, and may have my head turned, and--"
"It wouldn't alter my mind about you if you turned your head," he broke in, gallantly, with a desperate attempt to take advantage of an opportunity, and try his hand at a game entirely new to him.
There was an instant's pause, in which she looked at him with what was half-assumed, half-natural shyness. His attempt to play with words was so full of nature, and had behind it such apparent admiration, that the unspoiled part of her was suddenly made self-conscious, however agreeably so. Then she said to him: "I won't say you were brave last night--that doesn't touch the situation. It wasn't bravery, of course; it was splendid presence of mind which could only come to a man with great decision of character. I don't think the newspapers put it at all in the right way. It wasn't like saving a child from the top of a burning building, was it?"
"There was nothing in it at all where I was concerned," he replied. "I've been living a life for fifteen years where you had to move quick--by instinct, as it were. There's no virtue in it. I was just a little quicker than a thousand other men present, and I was nearer to the stage."
"Not nearer than my father or Mr. Stafford."
"They had a bigger shock than I had, I suppose. They got struck numb for a second. I'm a coarser kind. I have seen lots of sickening things; and I suppose they don't stun me. We get callous, I fancy, we veld-rangers and adventurers."
"You seem sensitive enough to fine emotions," she said, almost shyly." You were completely absorbed, carried away, by Al'mah's singing last night. There wasn't a throb of music that escaped you, I should think."
"Well, that's primary instinct. Music is for the most savage natures. The boor that couldn't appreciate the Taj Mahal, or the sculpture of Michael Angelo, might be swept off his feet by the music of a master, though he couldn't understand its story. Besides, I've carried a banjo and a cornet to the ends of the earth with me. I saved my life with the cornet once. A lion got inside my zareba in Rhodesia. I hadn't my gun within reach, but I'd been playing the cornet, and just as he was crouching I blew a blast from it--one of those jarring discords of Wagner in the "Gotterdammerung"--and he turned tail and got away into the bush with a howl. Hearing gets to be the most acute of all the senses with the pioneer. If you've ever been really dying of thirst, and have reached water again, its sounds become wonderful to you ever after that--the trickle of a creek, the wash of a wave on the shore, the drip on a tin roof, the drop over a fall, the swish of a rainstorm. It's the same with birds and trees. And trees all make different sounds--that's the shape of the leaves. It's all music, too."
Her breath came quickly with pleasure at the imagination and observation of his words. "So it wasn't strange that you should be ravished by Al'mah's singing last night was it?" She looked at him keenly. "Isn't it curious that such a marvellous gift should be given to a woman who in other respects--" she paused.
"Yes, I know what you mean. She's so untrained in lots of ways. That's what I was saying to Stafford a little while ago. They live in a world of their own, the stage people. There's always a kind of irresponsibility. The habit of letting themselves go in their art, I suppose, makes them, in real life, throw things down so hard when they don't like them. Living at high pressure is an art like music. It alters the whole equilibrium, I suppose. A woman like Al'mah would commit suicide, or kill a man, without realizing the true significance of it all."
"Were you thinking that when you breakfasted with her?"
"Yes, when she was laughing and jesting--and when she kissed me good-bye."
Jasmine drew back, then half-glanced towards her stepmother in the other room. She was only twenty-two, and though her emancipation had been accomplished in its way somewhat in advance of her generation, it had its origin in a very early period of her life, when she had been allowed to read books of verse--Shelley, Byron, Shakespeare, Verlaine, Rossetti, Swinburne, and many others--unchallenged and unguided. The understanding of things, reserved for "the wise and prudent," had been at first vaguely and then definitely conveyed to her by slow but subtle means--an apprehension from instinct, not from knowledge. There had never been a shock to her mind.
The knowledge of things had grown imperceptibly, and most of life's ugly meanings were known--at a great distance, to be sure, but still known. Yet there came a sudden half-angry feeling when she heard Rudyard Byng say, so loosely, that Al'Mah had kissed him. Was it possible, then, that a man, that any man, thought she might hear such things without resentment; that any man thought her to know so much of life that it did not matter what was said? Did her outward appearance, then, bear such false evidence?
He did not understand quite, yet he saw that she misunderstood, and he handled the situation with a tact which seemed hardly to belong to a man of his training and calibre.
"She thought no more of kissing me," he continued, presently, in a calm voice--"a man she had seen only once before, and was not likely to see again, than would a child of five. It meant nothing more to her than kissing Fanato on the stage. It was pure impulse. She forgot it as soon as it was done. It was her way of showing gratitude. Somewhat unconventional, wasn't it? But then, she is a little Irish, a little Spanish, and the rest Saxon; and she is all artist and bohemian."
Jasmine's face cleared, and her equilibrium was instantly restored. She was glad she had misunderstood. Yet Al'mah had not kissed her when she left, while expressing gratitude, too. There was a difference. She turned the subject, saying: "Of course, she insists on sending me a new cloak, and keeping the other as a memento. It was rather badly singed, wasn't it?"
"It did its work well, and it deserves an honoured home. Do you know that even as I flung the cloak round her, in the excitement of the moment I 'sensed,' as my young nephew says, the perfume you use."
He lifted his hand, conscious that his fingers still carried some of that delicate perfume which her fingers left there as they lay in his palm when she greeted him on his entrance. "It was like an incense from the cloak, as it blanketed the flames. Strange, wasn't it, that the undersense should be conscious of that little thing, while the over-sense was adding a sensational postscript to the opera?"
She smiled in a pleased way. "Do you like the perfume? I really use very little of it."
"It's like no other. It starts a kind of cloud of ideas floating. I don't know how to describe it. I imagine myself--"
She interrupted, laughing merrily. "My brother says it always makes him angry, and Ian Stafford calls it 'The Wild Tincture of Time'--frivolously and sillily says that it comes from a bank whereon the 'wild thyme' grows! But now, I want to ask you many questions. We have been mentally dancing, while down beyond the Limpopo--"
His demeanour instantly changed, and she noted the look cf power and purpose coming into the rather boyish and good-natured, the rash and yet determined, face. It was not quite handsome. The features were not regular, the forehead was perhaps a little too low, and the hair grew very thick, and would have been a vast mane if it had not been kept fairly close by his valet. This valet was Krool, a half-caste-- Hottentot and Boer--whom he had rescued from Lobengula in the Matabele war, and who had in his day been ship-steward, barber, cook, guide, and native recruiter. Krool had attached himself to Byng, and he would not be shaken off even when his master came home to England.
Looking at her visitor with a new sense of observation alive in her, Jasmine saw the inherent native drowsiness of the nature, the love of sleep and good living, the healthy primary desires, the striving, adventurous, yet, in one sense, unambitious soul. The very cleft in the chin, like the alluring dimple of a child's cheek, enlarged and hardened, was suggestive of animal beauty, with its parallel suggestion of indolence. Yet, somehow, too ample as he was both in fact and by suggestion to the imagination there was an apparent underlying force, a capacity to do huge things when once roused. He had been roused in his short day. The life into which he had been thrown with men of vaster ambition and much more selfish ends than his own, had stirred him to prodigies of activity in those strenuous, wonderful, electric days when gold and diamonds changed the hard-bitten, wearied prospector, who had doggedly delved till he had forced open the hand of the Spirit of the Earth and caught the treasure that flowed forth, into a millionaire, into a conqueror, with the world at his feet. He had been of those who, for many a night and many a year, eating food scarce fit for Kaffirs, had, in poverty and grim endeavour, seen the sun rise and fall over the Magaliesberg
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