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"Cape to Cairo be damned!"
The words were almost spat out. The man to whom they were addressed slowly drew himself up from a half-recumbent position in his desk-chair, from which he had been dreamily talking into the ceiling, as it were, while his visitor leaned against a row of bookshelves and beat the floor impatiently with his foot.
At the rude exclamation, Byng straightened himself, and looked fixedly at his visitor. He had been dreaming out loud again the dream which Rhodes had chanted in the ears of all those who shared with him the pioneer enterprises of South Africa. The outburst which had broken in on his monologue was so unexpected that for a moment he could scarcely realize the situation. It was not often, in these strenuous and perilous days--and for himself less often than ever before, so had London and London life worked upon him--that he, or those who shared with him the vast financial responsibilities of the Rand, indulged in dreams or prophecies; and he resented the contemptuous phrase just uttered, and the tone of the speaker even more.
Byng's blank amazement served only to incense his visitor further. "Yes, be damned to it, Byng!" he continued. "I'm sick of the British Empire and the All Red, and the 'immense future.' What I want is the present. It's about big enough for you and me and the rest of us. I want to hold our own in Johannesburg. I want to pull thirty-five millions a year out of the eighty miles of reef, and get enough native labour to do it. I want to run the Rand like a business concern, with Kruger gone to Holland; and Leyds gone to blazes. That's what I want to see, Mr. Invincible Rudyard Byng."
The reply to this tirade was deliberate and murderously bitter. "That's what you want to see, is it, Mr. Blasphemous Barry Whalen? Well, you can want it with a little less blither and a little more manners."
A hard and ugly look was now come into the big clean-shaven face which had become sleeker with good living, and yet had indefinably coarsened in the three years gone since the Jameson raid; and a gloomy anger looked out of the deep-blue eyes as he slowly went on:
"It doesn't matter what you want--not a great deal, if the others agree generally on what ought to be done; and I don't know that it matters much in any case. What have you come to see me about?"
"I know I'm not welcome here, Byng. It isn't the same as it used to be. It isn't--"
Byng jerked quickly to his feet and lunged forward as though he would do his visitor violence; but he got hold of himself in time, and, with a sudden and whimsical toss of the head, characteristic of him, he burst into a laugh.
"Well, I've been stung by a good many kinds of flies in my time, and I oughtn't to mind, I suppose," he growled.... "Oh, well, there," he broke off; "you say you're not welcome here? If you really feel that, you'd better try to see me at my chambers--or at the office in London Wall. It can't be pleasant inhaling air that chills or stifles you. You take my advice, Barry, and save yourself annoyance. But let me say in passing that you are as welcome here as anywhere, neither more nor less. You are as welcome as you were in the days when we trekked from the Veal to Pietersburg and on into Bechuanaland, and both slept in the cape-wagon under one blanket. I don't think any more of you than I did then, and I don't think any less, and I don't want to see you any more or any fewer. But, Barry"--his voice changed, grew warmer, kinder--" circumstances are circumstances. The daily lives of all of us are shaped differently--yours as well as mine--here in this pudding-faced civilization and in the iron conventions of London town; and we must adapt ourselves accordingly. We used to flop down on our Louis Quinze furniture on the Vaal with our muddy boots on--in our front drawing-room. We don't do it in Thamesfontein, my noble buccaneer--not even in Barry Whalen's mansion in Ladbroke Square, where Barry Whalen, Esq., puts his silk hat on the hall table, and-- and, 'If you please, sir, your bath is ready'! . . . Don't be an idiot-child, Barry, and don't spoil my best sentences when I let myself go. I don't do it often these days--not since Jameson spilt the milk and the can went trundling down the area. It's little time we get for dreaming, these sodden days, but it's only dreams that do the world's work and our own work in the end. It's dreams that do it, Barry; it's dreams that drive us on, that make us see beyond the present and the stupefying, deadening grind of the day. So it'll be Cape to Cairo in good time, dear lad, and no damnation, if you please.... Why, what's got into you? And again, what have you come to see me about, anyhow? You knew we were to meet at dinner at Wallstein's to-night. Is there anything that's skulking at our heels to hurt us?"
The scowl on Barry Whalen's dissipated face cleared a little. He came over, rested both hands on the table and leaned forward as he spoke, Byng resuming his seat meanwhile.
Barry's voice was a little thick with excitement, but he weighed his words too. "Byng, I wanted you to know beforehand what Fleming intends to bring up to-night--a nice kind of reunion, isn't it, with war ahead as sure as guns, and the danger of everything going to smash, in spite of Milner and Jo?"
A set look came into Byng's face. He caught the lapels of his big, loose, double-breasted jacket, and spread his feet a little, till he looked as though squaring himself to resist attack.
"Go on with your story," he interposed. "What is Fleming going to say--or bring up, you call it?"
"He's going to say that some one is betraying us--all we do that's of any importance and most we say that counts--to Kruger and Leyds. He's going to say that the traitor is some one inside our circle."
Byng started, and his hands clutched at the chairback, then he became quiet and watchful. "And whom does Fleming--or you--suspect?" he asked, with lowering eyelids and a slumbering malice in his eyes.
Barry straightened himself and looked Byng rather hesitatingly in the face; then he said, slowly:
"I don't know much about Fleming's suspicions. Mine, though, are at least three years old, and you know them.
"What would be Krool's object in betraying us, even if he knew all we say and do?"
"Blood is thicker than water, Byng, and double pay to a poor man is a consideration."
"Krool would do nothing that injured me, Barry. I know men. What sort of thing has been given away to Brother Boer?"
Barry took from his pocket a paper and passed it over. Byng scanned it very carefully and slowly, and his face darkened as he read; for there were certain things set down of which only he and Wallstein and one or two others knew; which only he and one high in authority in England knew, besides Wallstein. His face slowly reddened with anger. London life, and its excitements multiplied by his wife and not avoided by himself, had worn on him, had affected his once sunny and even temper, had given him greater bulk, with a touch of flabbiness under the chin and at the neck, and had slackened the firmness of the muscles. Presently he got up, went over to a table, and helped himself to brandy and soda, motioning to Barry to do the same. There were two or three minutes' silence, and then he said:
"There's something wrong, certainly, but it isn't Krool. No, it isn't Krool."
"Nevertheless, if you're wise you'll ship him back beyond the Vaal, my friend."
"It isn't Krool. I'll stake my life on that. He's as true to me as I am to myself; and, anyhow, there are things in this Krool couldn't know." He tossed the paper into the fire and watched it burn.
He had talked over many, if not all, of these things with Jasmine, and with no one else; but Jasmine would not gossip. He had never known her to do so. Indeed, she had counselled extreme caution so often to himself that she would, in any case, be innocent of having babbled. But certainly there had been leakage--there had been leakage regarding most critical affairs. They were momentous enough to cause him to say reflectively now, as he watched the paper burn:
"You might as well carry dynamite in your pocket as that."
"You don't mind my coming to see you?" Barry asked, in an anxious tone.
He could not afford to antagonize Byng; in any case, his heart was against doing so; though, like an Irishman, he had risked everything by his maladroit and ill-mannered attack a little while ago.
"I wanted to warn you, so's you could be ready when Fleming jumped in," Barry continued.
"No; I'm much obliged, Barry," was Byng's reply, in a voice where trouble was well marked, however. "Wait a minute," he continued, as his visitor prepared to leave. "Go into the other room"--he pointed. "Glue your ear to the door first, then to the wall, and tell me if you can hear anything--any word I say."
Barry did as he was bidden. Presently Byng spoke in a tone rather louder than in ordinary conversation to an imaginary interlocutor for some minutes. Then Barry Whalen came back into the room.
"Well?" Byng asked. "Heard anything?"
"Not a word--scarcely a murmur."
"Quite so. The walls are thick, and those big mahogany doors fit like a glove. Nothing could leak through. Let's try the other door, leading into the hall." They went over to it. "You see, here's an inside baize-door as well. There's not room for a person to stand between the two. I'll go out now, and you stay. Talk fairly loud."
The test produced the same result.
"Maybe I talk in my sleep," remarked Byng, with a troubled, ironical laugh.
Suddenly there shot into Barry Whalen's mind a thought which startled him, which brought the colour to his face with a rush. For years he had suspected Krool, had considered him a danger. For years he had regarded Byng as culpable, for keeping as his servant one whom the Partners all believed to be a spy; but now another, a terrible thought came to him, too terrible to put into words--even in his own mind.
There were two other people besides Krool who were very close to Byng. There was Mrs. Byng for one; there was also Adrian Fellowes, who had been for a long time a kind of handy-man of the great house, doing the hundred things which only a private secretary, who was also a kind of master-of-ceremonies and lord-in-waiting, as it were, could do. Yes, there was Adrian Fellowes, the private secretary; and there was Mrs. Byng, who knew so much of what her husband knew! And the private secretary and the wife necessarily saw much of each other. What came to Barry's mind now stunned him, and he mumbled out some words of good-bye with an almost hang-dog look to his face; for he had a chivalrous heart and mind, and he was not prone to be malicious.
"We'll meet at eight, then?" said Byng, taking out his watch. "It's a quarter past seven now. Don't fuss, Barry. We'll nose out the spy, whoever he is, or wherever to be found. But we won't find him here, I think--not here, my friend."
Suddenly Barry Whalen turned at the door. "Oh, let's go back to the veld and the Rand!" he burst out, passionately. "This is no place for us, Byng--not for either of us. You are getting flabby, and I'm spoiling my temper and my manners. Let's get out of this infernal jack-pot. Let's go where we'll be in the thick of the broiling when it comes. You've got a political head, and you've done more than any one else could do to put things right and keep them right; but it's no good. Nothing'll be got except where the red runs. And the red will run, in spite of all Jo or Milner or you can do. And when it comes, you and I will be sick if we're not there--yes, even you with your millions, Byng."
With moist eyes Byng grasped the hand of the rough-hewn comrade of the veld, and shook it warmly.
"England has got on your nerves, Barry," he said, gently." But we're all right in London. The key-board of the big instrument is here."
"But the organ is out there, Byng, and it's the organ that makes the music, not the keys. We're all going to pieces here, every one of us. I see it. Herr Gott, I see it plain enough! We're in the wrong shop. We're not buying or selling; we're being sold. Baas--big Baas, let's go where there's room to sling a stone; where we can see what's going on round us; where there's the long sight and the strong sight; where you can sell or get sold in the open, not in the alleyways; where you can have a run for your money."
Byng smiled benevolently. Yet something was stirring his senses strangely. The smell of the karoo was in his nostrils. "You're not ending up as you began, Barry," he replied. "You started off like an Israelite on the make, and you're winding up like Moody and Sankey."
"Well, I'm right now in the wind-up. I'm no better, I'm no worse, than the rest of our fellows, but I'm Irish--I can see. The Celt can always see, even if he can't act. And I see dark days coming for this old land. England is wallowing. It's all guzzle and feed and finery, and nobody cares a copper about anything that matters--"
"About Cape to Cairo, eh?"
"Byng, that was one of my idiocies. But you think over what I say, just the same. I'm right. We're rotten cotton stuff now in these isles. We've got fatty degeneration of the heart, and in all the rest of the organs too."
Again Byng shook him by the hand warmly. "Well, Wallstein will give us a fat dinner to-night, and you can moralize with lime-light effects after the foie gras, Barry."
Closing the door slowly behind his friend, whom he had passed into the hands of the dark-browed Krool, Byng turned again to his desk. As he did so he caught sight of his face in the mirror over the mantel-piece. A shadow swept over it; his lips tightened.
"Barry was right," he murmured, scrutinizing himself. "I've degenerated. We've all degenerated. What's the matter, anyhow? What is the matter? I've got everything--everything--everything."
Hearing the door open behind him, he turned to see Jasmine in evening dress smiling at him. She held up a pink finger in reproof.
"Naughty boy," she said. "What's this I hear--that you have thrown me over--me--to go and dine with the Wallstein! It's nonsense! You can't go. Ian Stafford is coming to dine, as I told you."
His eyes beamed protectingly, affectionately, and yet, somehow, a little anxiously, on her "But I must go, Jasmine. It's the first time we've all been together since the Raid, and it's good we should be in the full circle once again. There's work to do--more than ever there was. There's a storm coming up on the veld, a real jagged lightning business, and men will get hurt, hosts beyond recovery. We must commune together, all of us. If there's the communion of saints, there's also the communion of sinners. Fleming is back, and Wolff is back, and Melville and Reuter and Hungerford are back, but only for a few days, and we all must meet and map things out. I forgot about the dinner. As soon as I remembered it I left a note on your dressing-table."
With sudden emotion he drew her to him, and buried his face in her soft golden hair. "My darling, my little jasmine-flower," he whispered, softly, "I hate leaving you, but--"
"But it's impossible, Ruddy, my man. How can I send Ian Stafford away? It's too late to put him off."
"There's no need to put him off or to send him away--such old friends as you are. Why shouldn't he dine with you a deux? I'm the only person that's got anything to say about that."
She expressed no surprise, she really felt none. He had forgotten that, coming up from Scotland, he had told her of this dinner with his friends, and at the moment she asked Ian Stafford to dine she had forgotten it also; but she remembered it immediately afterwards, and she had said nothing, done nothing.
As Byng spoke, however, a curious expression emerged from the far depths of her eyes--emerged, and was instantly gone again to the obscurity whence it came. She had foreseen that he would insist on Stafford dining with her; but, while showing no surprise--and no perplexity--there was a touch of demureness in her expression as she answered:
"I don't want to seem too conventional, but--"
"There should be a little latitude in all social rules," he rejoined. "What nonsense! You are prudish, Jasmine. Allow yourself some latitude."
"Latitude, not license," she returned. Having deftly laid on him the responsibility for this evening's episode, this excursion into the dangerous fields of past memory and sentiment and perjured faith, she closed the book of her own debit and credit with a smile of satisfaction.
"Let me look at you," he said, standing her off from him.
Holding her hand, he turned her round like a child to be inspected. "Well, you're a dream," he added, as she released herself and swept into a curtsey, coquetting with her eyes as she did so. "You're wonderful in blue--a flower in the azure," he added. "I seem to remember that gown before--years ago--"
She uttered an exclamation of horror. "Good gracious, you wild and ruthless ruffian! A gown--this gown--years ago! My bonny boy, do you think I wear my gowns for years?"
"I wear my suits for years. Some I've had seven years. I've got a frock-coat I bought for my brother Jim's wedding, ten years ago, and it looks all right--a little small now, but otherwise 'most as good as new."
"What a lamb, what a babe, you are, Ruddy! Like none that ever lived. Why, no woman wears her gowns two seasons, and some of them rather hate wearing them two times."
"Then what do they do with them--after the two times?"
"Well, for a while, perhaps, they keep them to look at and gloat over, if they like them; then, perhaps, they give them away to their poor cousins or their particular friends--"
"Their particular friends--?"
"Why, every woman has some friends poorer than herself who love her very much, and she is good to them. Or there's the Mart--"
"Wait. What's 'the Mart'?"
"The place where ladies can get rid of fine clothes at a wicked discount."
"And what becomes of them then?"
"They are bought by ladies less fortunate."
"Ladies who wear them?"
"Why, what else would they do? Wear them--of course, dear child."
Byng made a gesture of disgust. "Well, I call it sickening. To me there's something so personal and intimate about clothes. I think I could kill any woman that I saw wearing clothes of yours--of yours."
She laughed mockingly. "My beloved, you've seen them often enough, but you haven't known they were mine; that's all."
"I didn't recognize them, because no one could wear your clothes like you. It would be a caricature. That's a fact, Jasmine."
She reached up and swept his cheek with a kiss. "What a darling you are, little big man! Yet you never make very definite remarks about my clothes."
He put his hands on his hips and looked her up and down approvingly. "Because I only see a general effect, but I always remember colour. Tell me, have you ever sold your clothes to the Mart, or whatever the miserable coffin-shop is called?"
"Well, not directly."
"What do you mean by 'not directly'?"
"Well, I didn't sell them, but they were sold for me." She hesitated, then went on hurriedly. "Adrian Fellowes knew of a very sad case--a girl in the opera who had had misfortune, illness, and bad luck; and he suggested it. He said he didn't like to ask for a cheque, because we were always giving, but selling my old wardrobe would be a sort of lucky find--that's what he called it."
Byng nodded, with a half-frown, however. "That was ingenious of Fellowes, and thoughtful, too. Now, what does a gown cost, one like that you have on?"
"This--let me see. Why, fifty pounds, perhaps. It's not a ball gown, of course."
He laughed mockingly. "Why, 'of course,' And what does a ball gown cost--perhaps?" There was a cynical kind of humour in his eye.
"Anything from fifty to a hundred and fifty--maybe," she replied, with a little burst of merriment.
"And how much did you get for the garments you had worn twice, and then seen them suddenly grow aged in their extreme youth?"
"Ruddy, do not be nasty--or scornful. I've always worn my gowns more than twice--some of them a great many times, except when I detested them. And anyhow, the premature death of a gown is very, very good for trade. That influences many ladies, of course."
He burst out laughing, but there was a satirical note in the gaiety, or something still harsher.
"'We deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,'" he answered. "It's all such a hollow make-believe."
She gazed at him inquiringly, for this mood was new to her. She was vaguely conscious of some sort of change in him--not exactly toward her, but a change, nevertheless.
"The life we rich people lead is a hollow make-believe, Jasmine," he said, with sudden earnestness. "I don't know what's the matter, but we're not getting out of life all we ought to get; and we're not putting into it all we ought to put in. There's a sense of emptiness--of famine somewhere."
He caught the reflection of his face in the glass again, and his brow contracted. "We get sordid and sodden, and we lose the proportions of life. I wanted Dick Wilberforce to do something with me the other day, and he declined. 'Why, my dear fellow,' I said, 'you know you want to do it?' 'Of course I do,' he answered, 'but I can't afford that kind of thing, and you know it.' Well, I did know it, but I had forgotten. I was only thinking of what I myself could afford to do. I was setting up my own financial standard, and was forgetting the other fellows who hadn't my standard. What's the result? We drift apart, Wilberforce and I--well, I mean Wilberforce as a type. We drift into sets of people who can afford to do certain things, and we leave such a lot of people behind that we ought to have clung to, and that we would have clung to, if we hadn't been so much thinking of ourselves, or been so soddenly selfish."
A rippling laugh rang through the room. "Boanerges--oh, Boanerges Byng! 'Owever can you be so heloquent!"
Jasmine put both hands on his shoulders and looked up at him with that look which had fascinated him--and so many others--in their day. The perfume which had intoxicated him in the first days of his love of her, and steeped his senses in the sap of youth and Eden, smote them again, here on the verge of the desert before him. He suddenly caught her in his arms and pressed her to him almost roughly.
"You exquisite siren--you siren of all time," he said, with a note of joy in which there was, too, a stark cry of the soul. He held her face back from him.... "If you had lived a thousand years ago you would have had a thousand lovers, Jasmine. Perhaps you did--who knows! And now you come down through the centuries purified by Time, to be my jasmine-flower."
His lip trembled a little. There was a strange melancholy in his eyes, belying the passion and rapture of his words.
In all their days together she had never seen him in this mood. She had heard him storm about things at times, had watched his big impulses working; had drawn the thunder from his clouds; but there was something moving in him now which she had never seen before. Perhaps it was only a passing phase, even a moment's mood, but it made a strange impression on her. It was remembered by them both long after, when life had scattered its vicissitudes before their stumbling feet and they had passed through flood and fire.
She drew back and looked at him steadily, reflectively, and with an element of surprise in her searching look. She had never thought him gifted with perception or insight, though he had eloquence and an eye for broad effects. She had thought him curiously ignorant of human nature, born to be deceived, full of child-like illusions, never understanding the real facts of life, save in the way of business--and politics. Women he never seemed by a single phrase or word to understand, and yet now he startled her with a sudden revelation and insight of which she had not thought him capable.
"If you had lived a thousand years ago you would have had a thousand lovers. Perhaps you did--who knows! . . . And now you come down through the centuries purified by Time--"
The words slowly repeated themselves in her brain. Many and many a time she had imagined herself as having lived centuries ago, and again and again in her sleep these imaginings had reflected themselves in wild dreams of her far past--once as a priestess of Isis, once as a Slavonian queen, once as a peasant in Syria, and many times as a courtezan of Alexandria or Athens--many times as that: one of the gifted, beautiful, wonderful women whose houses were the centres of culture, influence, and power. She had imagined herself, against her will, as one of these women, such as Cleopatra, for whom the world were well lost; and who, at last, having squeezed the orange dry, but while yet the sun was coming towards noon, in scorn of Life and Time had left the precincts of the cheerful day without a lingering look.... Often and often such dreams, to her anger and confusion, had haunted her, even before she was married; and she had been alternately humiliated and fascinated by them. Years ago she had told Ian Stafford of one of the dreams of a past life--that she was a slave in Athens who saved her people by singing to the Tyrant; and Ian had made her sing to him, in a voice quite in keeping with her personality, delicate and fine and wonderfully high in its range, bird-like in its quality, with trills like a lark--a little meretricious but captivating. He had also written for her two verses which were as sharp and clear in her mind as the letter he wrote when she had thrown him over so dishonourably:
"Your voice I knew, its cadences and trill;
It stilled the tumult and the overthrow
When Athens trembled to the people's will;
I knew it--'twas a thousand years ago.
"I see the fountains, and the gardens where
You sang the fury from the Satrap's brow;
I feel the quiver of the raptured air
I heard you in the Athenian grove--I hear you now."
As the words flashed into her mind now she looked at her husband steadfastly. Were there, then, some unexplored regions in his nature, where things dwelt, of which she had no glimmering of knowledge? Did he understand more of women than she thought? Could she then really talk to him of a thousand things of the mind which she had ever ruled out of any commerce between them, one half of her being never opened up to his sight? Not that he was deficient in intellect, but, to her thought, his was a purely objective mind; or was it objective because it had not been trained or developed subjectively? Had she ever really tried to find a region in his big nature where the fine allusiveness and subjectivity of the human mind could have free life and untrammelled exercise, could gambol in green fields of imagination and adventure upon strange seas of discovery? A shiver of pain, of remorse, went through her frame now, as he held her at arm's length and looked at her.... Had she started right? Had she ever given their natures a chance to discover each other? Warmth and passion and youth and excitement and variety--oh, infinite variety there had been!--but had the start been a fair one, had she, with a whole mind and a full soul of desire, gone to him first and last? What had been the governing influence in their marriage where she was concerned?
Three years of constant motion, and never an hour's peace; three years of agitated waters, and never in all that time three days alone together. What was there to show for the three years? That for which he had longed with a great longing had been denied him; for he had come of a large family, and had the simple primitive mind and heart. Even in his faults he had ever been primitively simple and obvious. She had been energetic, helping great charities, aiding in philanthropic enterprises, with more than a little shrewdness preventing him from being robbed right and left by adventurers of all descriptions; and yet--and yet it was all so general, so soulless, her activity in good causes. Was there a single afflicted person, one forlorn soul whom she had directly and personally helped, or sheltered from the storm for a moment, one bereaved being whose eyes she had dried by her own direct personal sympathy?
Was it this which had been more or less vaguely working in his mind a little while before when she had noticed a change in him; or was it that he was disappointed that they were two and no more--always two, and no more? Was it that which was working in his mind, and making him say hard things about their own two commendable selves?
"If you had lived a thousand years ago you would have had a thousand lovers.... And now you come down through the centuries purlfied by Time, to be my jasmine-flower"--
She did not break the silence for some time, but at last she said: "And what were you a thousand years ago, my man?"
He drew a hot hand across a troubled brow. "I? I was the Satrap whose fury you soothed away, or I was the Antony you lured from fighting Caesar."
It was as though he had read those lines written by Ian Stafford long ago.
Again that perfume of hers caught his senses, and his look softened wonderfully. A certain unconscious but underlying discontent appeared to vanish from his eyes, and he said, abruptly: "I have it--I have it. This dress is like the one you wore the first night that we met. It's the same kind of stuff, it's just the same colour and the same style. Why, I see it all as plain as can be--there at the opera. And you wore blue the day I tried to propose to you and couldn't, and asked you down to Wales instead. Lord, how I funked it!" He laughed, happily almost. "Yes, you wore blue the first time we met--like this."
"It was the same skirt, and a different bodice, of course both those first times," she answered. Then she stepped back and daintily smoothed out the gown she was wearing, smiling at him as she did that day three years ago. She had put on this particular gown, remembering that Ian Stafford had said charming things about that other blue gown just before he bade her good-bye three years ago. That was why she wore blue this night--to recall to Ian what it appeared he had forgotten. And presently she would dine alone with Ian in her husband's house--and with her husband's blessing. Pique and pride were in her heart, and she meant Ian Stafford to remember. No man was adamantine; at least she had never met one--not one, neither bishop nor octogenarian.
"Come, Ruddy, you must dress, or you'll be late," she continued, lightly, touching his cheek with her fingers; "and you'll come down and apologize, and put me right with Ian Stafford, won't you?"
"Certainly. I won't be five minutes. I'll--"
There was a tap at the door and a footman, entering, announced that Mr. Stafford was in the drawing-room.
"Show him into my sitting-room," she said. "The drawing-room, indeed," she added to her husband--"it is so big, and I am so small. I feel sometimes as though I wanted to live in a tiny, tiny house."
Her words brought a strange light to his eyes. Suddenly he caught her arm.
"Jasmine," he said, hurriedly, "let us have a good talk over things--over everything. I want to see if we can't get more out of life than we do. There's something wrong. What is it? I don't know; but perhaps we could find out if we put our heads together--eh?" There was a strange, troubled longing in his look.
She nodded and smiled. "Certainly--to-night when you get back," she said. "We'll open the machine and find what's wrong with it." She laughed, and so did he.
As she went down the staircase she mused to herself and there was a shadow in her eyes and over her face.
"Poor Ruddy! Poor Ruddy!" she said.
Once again before she entered the sitting-room, as she turned and looked back, she said:
"Poor boy . . . Yet he knew about a thousand years ago!" she added with a nervous little laugh, and with an air of sprightly eagerness she entered to Ian Stafford.
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