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- The Project Gutenberg Complete Works of Gilbert Parker - 1/1200 -


NOTE

Except where references to characters well-known to all the world occur in these pages, this book does not present a picture of public or private individuals living or dead. It is not in any sense a historical novel. It is in conception and portraiture a work of the imagination.

"Strangers come to the outer wall-- (Why do the sleepers stir?) Strangers enter the Judgment House-- (Why do the sleepers sigh?) Slow they rise in their judgment seats, Sieve and measure the naked souls, Then with a blessing return to sleep. (Quiet the Judgment House.) Lone and sick are the vagrant souls-- (When shall the world come home?)"

"Let them fight it out, friend! things have gone too far, God must judge the couple: leave them as they are-- Whichever one's the guiltless, to his glory, And whichever one the guilt's with, to my story!

"Once more. Will the wronger, at this last of all, Dare to say, 'I did wrong,' rising in his fall? No? Let go, then! Both the fighters to their places! While I count three, step you back as many paces!"

"And the Sibyl, you know. I saw her with my own eyes at Cumae, hanging in a jar; and when the boys asked her, 'What would you, Sibyl?' she answered, 'I would die.'"

"So is Pheidippides happy for ever,--the noble strong man Who would race like a God, bear the face of a God, whom a God loved so well: He saw the land saved he had helped to save, and was suffered to tell Such tidings, yet never decline, but, gloriously as he began So to end gloriously--once to shout, thereafter to be mute: 'Athens is saved!' Pheidippides dies in the shout for his meed."

"Oh, never star Was lost here, but it rose afar."

THE JUDGMENT HOUSE

BOOK I

CHAPTER I

THE JASMINE FLOWER

The music throbbed in a voice of singular and delicate power; the air was resonant with melody, love and pain. The meanest Italian in the gallery far up beneath the ceiling, the most exalted of the land in the boxes and the stalls, leaned indulgently forward, to be swept by this sweet storm of song. They yielded themselves utterly to the power of the triumphant debutante who was making "Manassa" the musical feast of the year, renewing to Covent Garden a reputation which recent lack of enterprise had somewhat forfeited.

Yet, apparently, not all the vast audience were hypnotized by the unknown and unheralded singer, whose stage name was Al'mah. At the moment of the opera's supreme appeal the eyes of three people at least were not in the thraldom of the singer. Seated at the end of the first row of the stalls was a fair, slim, graciously attired man of about thirty, who, turning in his seat so that nearly the whole house was in his circle of vision, stroked his golden moustache, and ran his eyes over the thousands of faces with a smile of pride and satisfaction which in a less handsome man would have been almost a leer. His name was Adrian Fellowes.

Either the opera and the singer had no charms for Adrian Fellowes, or else he had heard both so often that, without doing violence to his musical sense, he could afford to study the effect of this wonderful effort upon the mob of London, mastered by the radiant being on the stage. Very sleek, handsome, and material he looked; of happy colour, and, apparently, with a mind and soul in which no conflicts ever raged--to the advantage of his attractive exterior. Only at the summit of the applause did he turn to the stage again. Then it was with the gloating look of the gambler who swings from the roulette-table with the winnings of a great coup, cynical joy in his eyes that he has beaten the Bank, conquered the dark spirit which has tricked him so often. Now the cold-blue eyes caught, for a second, the dark-brown eyes of the Celtic singer, which laughed at him gaily, victoriously, eagerly, and then again drank in the light and the joy of the myriad faces before her.

In a box opposite the royal box were two people, a man and a very young woman, who also in the crise of the opera were not looking at the stage. The eyes of the man, sitting well back--purposely, so that he might see her without marked observation--were fixed upon the rose-tinted, delicate features of the girl in a joyous blue silk gown, which was so perfect a contrast to the golden hair and wonderful colour of her face. Her eyes were fixed upon her lap, the lids half closed, as though in reverie, yet with that perspicuous and reflective look which showed her conscious of all that was passing round her--even the effect of her own pose. Her name was Jasmine Grenfel.

She was not oblivious of the music. Her heart beat faster because of it; and a temperament adjustable to every mood and turn of human feeling was answering to the poignancy of the opera; yet her youth, child-likeness, and natural spontaneity were controlled by an elate consciousness. She was responsive to the passionate harmony; but she was also acutely sensitive to the bold yet deferential appeal to her emotions of the dark, distinguished, bearded man at her side, with the brown eyes and the Grecian profile, whose years spent in the Foreign Office and at embassies on the Continent had given him a tact and an insinuating address peculiarly alluring to her sex. She was well aware of Ian Stafford's ambitions, and had come to the point where she delighted in them, and had thought of sharing in them, "for weal or for woe"; but she would probably have resented the suggestion that his comparative poverty was weighed against her natural inclinations and his real and honest passion. For she had her ambitions, too; and when she had scanned the royal box that night, she had felt that something only little less than a diadem would really satisfy her.

Then it was that she had turned meditatively towards another occupant of her box, who sat beside her pretty stepmother--a big, bronzed, clean-shaven, strong-faced man of about the same age as Ian Stafford of the Foreign Office, who had brought him that night at her request. Ian had called him, "my South African nabob," in tribute to the millions he had made with Cecil Rhodes and others at Kimberley and on the Rand. At first sight of the forceful and rather ungainly form she had inwardly contrasted it with the figure of Ian Stafford and that other spring-time figure of a man at the end of the first row in the stalls, towards which the prima donna had flashed one trusting, happy glance, and with which she herself had been familiar since her childhood. The contrast had not been wholly to the advantage of the nabob; though, to be sure, he was simply arrayed--as if, indeed, he were not worth a thousand a year. Certainly he had about him a sense of power, but his occasional laugh was too vigorous for one whose own great sense of humour was conveyed by an infectious, rippling murmur delightful to hear.

Rudyard Byng was worth three millions of pounds, and that she interested him was evident by the sudden arrest of his look and his movements when introduced to her. Ian Stafford had noted this look; but he had seen many another man look at Jasmine Grenfel with just as much natural and unbidden interest, and he shrugged the shoulders of his mind; for the millions alone would not influence her, that was sure. Had she not a comfortable fortune of her own? Besides, Byng was not the kind of man to capture Jasmine's fastidious sense and nature. So much had happened between Jasmine and himself, so deep an understanding had grown up between them, that it only remained to bring her to the last court of inquiry and get reply to a vital question--already put in a thousand ways and answered to his perfect satisfaction. Indeed, there was between Jasmine and himself the equivalent of a betrothal. He had asked her to marry him, and she had not said no; but she had bargained for time to "prepare"; that she should have another year in which to be gay in a gay world and, in her own words, "walk the primrose path of pleasure untrammelled and alone, save for my dear friend Mrs. Grundy."

Since that moment he had been quite sure that all was well. And now the year was nearly up, and she had not changed; had, indeed, grown more confiding and delicately dependent in manner towards him, though seeing him but seldom alone.

As Ian Stafford looked at her now, he kept saying to himself, "So exquisite and so clever, what will she not be at thirty! So well poised, and yet so sweetly child-like dear dresden-china Jasmine."

That was what she looked like--a lovely thing of the time of Boucher in dresden china.

At last, as though conscious of what was going on in his mind, she slowly turned her drooping eyes towards him, and, over her shoulder, as he quickly leaned forward, she said in a low voice which the others could not hear:

"I am too young, and not clever enough to understand all the music means--is that what you are thinking?"

He shook his head in negation, and his dark-brown eyes commanded hers, but still deferentially, as he said: "You know of what I was thinking. You will be forever young, but yours was always--will always be--the wisdom of the wise. I'd like to have been as clever at twenty-two."

"How trying that you should know my age so exactly--it darkens the future," she rejoined with a soft little laugh; then, suddenly, a cloud passed over her face. It weighed down her eyelids, and she gazed before her into space with a strange, perplexed, and timorous anxiety. What did she see? Nothing that was light and joyous, for her


The Project Gutenberg Complete Works of Gilbert Parker - 1/1200

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