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- The Judgment House - 6/85 -
range, hope alive in the morning and dead at night. He had faced the devilish storms which swept the high veld with lightning and the thunderstone, striking men dead as they fled for shelter to the boulders of some barren, mocking kopje; and he had had the occasional wild nights of carousal, when the miseries and robberies of life and time and the ceaseless weariness and hope deferred, were forgotten.
It was all there in his face--the pioneer endeavour, the reckless effort, the gambler's anxiety, the self-indulgence, the crude passions, with a far-off, vague idealism, the selfish outlook, and yet great breadth of feeling, with narrowness of individual purpose. The rough life, the sordid struggle, had left their mark, and this easy, coaxing, comfortable life of London had not covered it up--not yet. He still belonged to other--and higher--spheres.
There was a great contrast between him and Ian Stafford. Ian was handsome, exquisitely refined, lean and graceful of figure, with a mind which saw the end of your sentences from the first word, with a skill of speech like a Damascus blade, with knowledge of a half-dozen languages. Ian had an allusiveness of conversation which made human intercourse a perpetual entertainment, and Jasmine's intercourse with him a delight which lingered after his going until his coming again. The contrast was prodigious--and perplexing, for Rudyard Byng had qualities which compelled her interest. She sighed as she reflected.
"I suppose you can't get three millions all to yourself with your own hands without missing a good deal and getting a good deal you could do without," she said to herself, as he wonderingly interjected the exclamation:
"Now, what do you know of the Limpopo? I'll venture there isn't another woman in England who even knows the name."
"I always had a thirst for travel, and I've read endless books of travel and adventure," she replied. "I'd have been an explorer, or a Cecil Rhodes, if I had been a man."
"Can you ride?" he asked, looking wonderingly at her tiny hand, her slight figure, her delicate face with its almost impossible pink and white.
"Oh, man of little faith!" she rejoined. "I can't remember when I didn't ride. First a Shetland pony, and now at last I've reached Zambesi--such a wicked dear."
"Zambesi--why Zambesi? One would think you were South African."
She enjoyed his mystification. Then she grew serious and her eyes softened. "I had a friend--a girl, older than I. She married. Well, he's an earl now, the Earl of Tynemouth, but he was the elder son then, and wild for sport. They went on their honeymoon to shoot in Africa, and they visited the falls of the Zambesi. She, my friend, was standing on the edge of the chasm--perhaps you know it--not far from Livingstone's tree, between the streams. It was October, and the river was low. She put up her big parasol. A gust of wind suddenly caught it, and instead of letting the thing fly, she hung on, and was nearly swept into the chasm. A man with them pulled her back in time--but she hung on to that red parasol. Only when it was all over did she realize what had really happened. Well, when she came back to England, as a kind of thank-offering she gave me her father's best hunter. That was like her, too; she could always make other people generous. He is a beautiful Satan, and I rechristened him Zambesi. I wanted the red parasol, too, but Alice Tynemouth wouldn't give it to me."
"So she gave it to the man who pulled her back. Why not?"
"How do you know she did that?"
"Well, it hangs in an honoured place in Stafford's chambers. I conjecture right, do I?"
Her eyes darkened slowly, and a swift-passing shadow covered her faintly smiling lips; but she only said, "You see he was entitled to it, wasn't he?" To herself, however, she whispered, "Neither of them--neither ever told me that."
At that moment the door opened, and a footman came forward to Rudyard Byng. "If you please, sir, your servant says, will you see him. There is news from South Africa."
Byng rose, but Jasmine intervened. "No, tell him to come here," she said to the footman. "Mayn't he?" she asked.
Byng nodded, and remained standing. He seemed suddenly lost to her presence, and with head dropped forward looked into space, engrossed, intense.
Jasmine studied him as an artist would study a picture, and decided that he had elements of the unusual, and was a distinct personality. Though rugged, he was not uncouth, and there was nothing of the nouveau riche about him. He did not wear a ring or scarf-pin, his watch-chain was simple and inconspicuous enough for a school-boy--and he was worth three million pounds, with a palace building in Park Lane and a feudal castle in Wales leased for a period of years. There was nothing greatly striking in his carriage; indeed, he did not make enough of his height and bulk; but his eye was strong and clear, his head was powerful, and his quick smile was very winning. Yet--yet, he was not the type of man who, to her mind should have made three millions at thirty-three. It did not seem to her that he was really representative of the great fortune-builders--she had her grandfather and others closely in mind. She had seen many captains of industry and finance in her grandfather's house, men mostly silent, deliberate and taciturn, and showing in their manner and persons the accumulated habits of patience, force, ceaseless aggression and domination.
Was it only luck which had given Rudyard Byng those three millions? It could not be just that alone. She remembered her grandfather used to say that luck was a powerful ingredient in the successful career of every man, but that the man was on the spot to take the luck, knew when to take it, and how to use it. "The lucky man is the man that sits up watching for the windfall while other men are sleeping"--that was the way he had put it. So Rudyard Byng, if lucky, had also been of those who had grown haggard with watching, working and waiting; but not a hair of his head had whitened, and if he looked older than he was, still he was young enough to marry the youngest debutante in England and the prettiest and best-born. He certainly had inherent breeding. His family had a long pedigree, and every man could not be as distinguished-looking as Ian Stafford--as Ian Stafford, who, however, had not three millions of pounds; who had not yet made his name and might never do so.
She flushed with anger at herself that she should be so disloyal to Ian, for whom she had pictured a brilliant future--ambassador at Paris or Berlin, or, if he chose, Foreign Minister in Whitehall--Ian, gracious, diligent, wonderfully trained, waiting, watching for his luck and ready to take it; and to carry success, when it came, like a prince of princelier days. Ian gratified every sense in her, met every demand of an exacting nature, satisfied her unusually critical instinct, and was, in effect, her affianced husband. Yet it was so hard to wait for luck, for place, for power, for the environment where she could do great things, could fill that radiant place which her cynical and melodramatic but powerful and sympathetic grandfather had prefigured for her. She had been the apple of that old man's eye, and he had filled her brain--purposely--with ambitious ideas. He had done it when she was very young, because he had not long to stay; and he had overcoloured the pictures in order that the impression should be vivid and indelible when he was gone. He had meant to bless, for, to his mind, to shine, to do big things, to achieve notoriety, to attain power, "to make the band play when you come," was the true philosophy of life. And as this philosophy, successful in his case, was accompanied by habits of life which would bear the closest inspection by the dean and chapter, it was a difficult one to meet by argument or admonition. He had taught his grandchild as successfully as he had built the structure of his success. He had made material things the basis of life's philosophy and purpose; and if she was not wholly materialistic, it was because she had drunk deep, for one so young, at the fountains of art, poetry, sculpture and history. For the last she had a passion which was represented by books of biography without number, and all the standard historians were to be found in her bedroom and her boudoir. Yet, too, when she had opportunity--when Lady Tynemouth brought them to her--she read the newest and most daring productions of a school of French novelists and dramatists who saw the world with eyes morally astigmatic and out of focus. Once she had remarked to Alice Tynemouth:
"You say I dress well, yet it isn't I. It's my dressmaker. I choose the over-coloured thing three times out of five--it used to be more than that. Instinctively I want to blaze. It is the same in everything. I need to be kept down, but, alas! I have my own way in everything. I wish I hadn't, for my own good. Yet I can't brook being ruled."
To this Alice had replied: "A really selfish husband--not a difficult thing to find--would soon keep you down sufficiently. Then you'd choose the over-coloured thing not more than two times, perhaps one time, out of five. Your orientalism is only undisciplined self-will. A little cruelty would give you a better sense of proportion in colour--and everything else. You have orientalism, but little or no orientation."
Here, now, standing before the fire, was that possible husband who, no doubt, was selfish, and had capacities for cruelty which would give her greater proportion--and sense of colour. In Byng's palace, with three millions behind her--she herself had only the tenth of one million--she could settle down into an exquisitely ordered, beautiful, perfect life where the world would come as to a court, and--
Suddenly she shuddered, for these thoughts were sordid, humiliating, and degrading. They were unbidden, but still they came. They came from some dark fountain within herself. She really wanted--her idealistic self wanted--to be all that she knew she looked, a flower in life and thought. But, oh, it was hard, hard for her to be what she wished! Why should it be so hard for her?
She was roused by a voice. "Cronje!" it said in a deep, slow, ragged note.
Byng's half-caste valet, Krool, sombre of face, small, lean, ominous, was standing in the doorway.
"Cronje! . . . Well?" rejoined Byng, quietly, yet with a kind of smother in the tone.
Krool stretched out a long, skinny, open hand, and slowly closed the fingers up tight with a gesture suggestive of a trap closing upon a crushed captive.
"Where?" Byng asked, huskily.
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