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- The Judgment House - 60/85 -
She almost ran into Lady Tynemouth's arms as the door opened. With a swift apology she sped away, after closing the door upon the visitor.
Jasmine rose and embraced her friend, and Lady Tynemouth subsided into a chair with a sigh.
"My dear Jasmine, you look so frail," she said. "A short time ago I feared you were going to blossom into too ripe fruit, now you look almost a little pinched. But it quite becomes you, mignonne--quite. You have dark lines under your eyes, and that transparency of skin-- it is quite too fetching. Are you glad to see me?"
"I would have seen no one to-day, no one, except you or Rudyard."
"Love and duty," said Lady Tynemouth, laughing, yet acutely alive to the something so terribly wrong, of which she had spoken to Ian Stafford.
"Why is it my duty to see you, Alice?" asked Jasmine, with the dry glint in her tone which had made her conversation so pleasing to men.
"You clever girl, how you turn the tables on me," her friend replied, and then, seeing the sjambok on the table, took it up. "What is this formidable instrument? Are you flagellating the saints?"
"Not the saints, Alice."
"You don't mean to say you are going to scourge yourself?"
Then they both smiled--and both immediately sighed. Lady Tynemouth's sympathy was deeply roused for Jasmine, and she meant to try and win her confidence and to help her in her trouble, if she could; but she was full of something else at this particular moment, and she was not completely conscious of the agony before her.
"Have you been using this sjambok on Mennaval?" she asked with an attempt at lightness. "I saw him leaving as I came in. He looked rather dejected--or stormy, I don't quite know which."
"Does it matter which? I didn't see Mennaval today."
"Then no wonder he looked dejected and stormy. But what is the history of this instrument of torture?" she asked, holding up the sjambok again.
"Krool! Jasmine, you surely don't mean to say that you--"
"Not I--it was Rudyard. Krool was insolent--a half-caste, you know."
"Krool--why, yes, it was he I saw being helped into a cab by a policeman just down there in Piccadilly. You don't mean that Rudyard--"
She pushed the sjambok away from her.
"Then I suppose the insolence was terrible enough to justify it."
"Quite, I think." Jasmine's voice was calm.
"But of course it is not usual--in these parts."
"Rudyard is not usual in these parts, or Krool either. It was a touch of the Vaal."
Lady Tynemouth gave a little shudder. "I hope it won't become fashionable. We are altogether too sensational nowadays. But, seriously, Jasmine, you are not well. You must do something. You must have a change."
"I am going to do something--to have a change."
"That's good. Where are you going, dear?"
"South.... And how are you getting on with your hospital-ship?"
Lady Tynemouth threw up her hands. "Jasmine, I'm in despair. I had set my heart upon it. I thought I could do it easily, and I haven't done it, after trying as hard as can be. Everything has gone wrong, and now Tynie cables I mustn't go to South Africa. Fancy a husband forbidding a wife to come to him."
"Well, perhaps it's better than a husband forbidding his wife to leave him."
"Jasmine, I believe you would joke if you were dying."
"I am dying."
There was that in the tone of Jasmine's voice which gave her friend a start. She eyed her suddenly with a great anxiety.
"And I'm not jesting," Jasmine added, with a forced smile. "But tell me what has gone wrong with all your plans. You don't mind what Tynemouth says. Of course you will do as you like."
"Of course; but still Tynie has never 'issued instructions' before, and if there was any time I ought to humour him it is now. He's so intense about the war! But I can't explain everything on paper to him, so I've written to say I'm going to South Africa to explain, and that I'll come back by the next boat, if my reasons are not convincing."
In other circumstances Jasmine would have laughed. "He will find you convincing," she said, meaningly.
"I said if he found my reasons convincing."
"You will be the only reason to him."
"My dear Jasmine, you are really becoming sentimental. Tynie would blush to discover himself being silly over me. We get on so well because we left our emotions behind us when we married."
"Yours, I know, you left on the Zambesi," said Jasmine, deliberately.
A dull fire came into Lady Tynemouth's eyes, and for an instant there was danger of Jasmine losing a friend she much needed; but Lady Tynemouth had a big heart, and she knew that her friend was in a mood when anything was possible, or everything impossible.
So she only smiled, and said, easily: "Dearest Jasmine, that umbrella episode which made me love Ian Stafford for ever and ever without even amen came after I was married, and so your pin doesn't prick, not a weeny bit. No, it isn't Tynie that makes me sad. It's the Climbers who won't pay."
"The Climbers? You want money for--"
"Yes, the hospital-ship; and I thought they'd jump at it; but they've all been jumping in other directions. I asked the Steuvenfeldts, the Boulters, the Felix Fowles, the Brutons, the Sheltons, and that fellow Mackerel, who has so much money he doesn't know what to do with it and twenty others; and Mackerel was the only one who would give me anything at all large. He gave me ten thousand pounds. But I want fifty--fifty, my beloved. I'm simply broken-hearted. It would do so much good, and I could manage the thing so well, and I could get other splendid people to help me to manage it--there's Effie Lyndhall and Mary Meacham. The Mackerel wanted to come along, too, but I told him he could come out and fetch us back--that there mustn't be any scandal while the war was on. I laugh, my dear, but I could cry my eyes out. I want something to do--I've always wanted something to do. I've always been sick of an idle life, but I wouldn't do a hundred things I might have done. This thing I can do, however, and, if I did it, some of my debt to the world would be paid. It seems to me that these last fifteen years in England have been awful. We are all restless; we all have been going, going--nowhere; we have all been doing, doing--nothing; we have all been thinking, thinking, thinking--of ourselves. And I've been a playbody like the rest; I've gone with the Climbers because they could do things for me; I've wanted more and more of everything--more gadding, more pleasure, more excitement. It's been like a brass-band playing all the time, my life this past ten years. I'm sick of it. It's only some big thing that can take me out of it. I've got to make some great plunge, or in a few years more I'll be a middle-aged peeress with nothing left but a double chin, a tongue for gossip, and a string of pearls. There must be a bouleversement of things as they are, or good-bye to everything except emptiness. Don't you see, Jasmine, dearest?"
"Yes yes, I see." Jasmine got up, went to her desk, opened a drawer, took out a book, and began to write hastily. "Go on," she said as she wrote; "I can hear what you are saying."
"But are you really interested?"
"Even Tynemouth would find you interesting and convincing. Go on."
"I haven't anything more to say, except that nothing lies between me and flagellation and the sack cloth,"--she toyed with the sjambok--"except the Climbers; and they have failed me. They won't play--or pay."
Jasmine rose from the desk and came forward with a paper in her hand. "No, they have not failed you, Alice," she said, gently. "The Climbers seldom really disappoint you. The thing is, you must know how to talk to them, to say the right thing, the flattering, the tactful, and the nice sentimental thing,--they mostly have middle-class sentimentality--and then you get what you want. As you do now. There...."
She placed in her friend's hand a long, narrow slip of paper. Lady Tynemouth looked astonished, gazed hard at the paper, then sprang to her feet, pale and agitated.
"Jasmine--you--this--sixty thousand pounds!" she cried. "A cheque for sixty thousand pounds--Jasmine!"
There was a strange brilliance in Jasmine's eyes, a hectic flush on her cheek.
"It must not be cashed for forty-eight hours; but after that the money will be there."
Lady Tynemouth caught Jasmine's shoulders in her trembling yet strong fingers, and looked into the wild eyes with searching inquiry and solicitude.
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