The Judgment House by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XXII. In Which Fellowes Goes a Journey
Kruger's ultimatum, expected though it was, shook England as nothing had done since the Indian mutiny, but the tremour of national excitement presently gave way to a quiet, deep determination.
An almost Oriental luxury had gone far to weaken the fibre of that strong and opulent middle-class who had been the backbone of England, the entrenched Philistines. The value of birth as a moral asset which had a national duty and a national influence, and the value of money which had a social responsibility and a communal use, were unrealized by the many nouveaux riches who frequented the fashionable purlieus; who gave vast parties where display and extravagance were the principal feature; who ostentatiously offered large sums to public objects. Men who had made their money where copper or gold or oil or wool or silver or cattle or railways made commercial kings, supported schemes for the public welfare brought them by fine ladies, largely because the ladies were fine; and they gave substantial sums--upon occasion--for these fine ladies' fine causes. Rich men, or reputed rich men, whose wives never appeared, who were kept in secluded quarters in Bloomsbury or Maida Vale, gave dinners at the Savoy or the Carlton which the scrapings of the aristocracy attended; but these gave no dinners in return.
To get money to do things, no matter how,--or little matter how; to be in the swim, and that swim all too rapidly washing out the real people--that was the almost universal ambition. But still the real people, however few or many, in the time of trouble came quietly into the necessary and appointed places with the automatic precision of the disciplined friend of the state and of humanity; and behind them were folk of the humbler sort, the lower middle- class, the labouring-man. Of these were the landpoor peer, with his sense of responsibility cultivated by daily life and duty in his county, on the one hand; the professional man of all professions, the little merchant, the sailor, the clerk and artisan, the digger and delver, on the other; and, in between, those people in the shires who had not yet come to be material and gross, who had old-fashioned ideas of the duty of the citizen and the Christian. In the day of darkness these came and laid what they had at the foot of the altar of sacrifice.
This at least the war did: it served as a sieve to sift the people, and it served as the solvent of many a life-problem.
Ian Stafford was among the first to whom it offered "the way out," who went to it for the solution of their own set problem. Suddenly, as he stood with Jasmine in the little room where so many lives were tossed into the crucible of Fate that morning, the newsboy's voice shouting, "War declared!" had told him the path he must tread.
He had astonished the War Office by his request to be sent to the Front with his old arm, the artillery, and he was himself astonished by the instant assent that was given. And now on this October day he was on his way to do two things--to see whether Adrian Fellowes was keeping his promise, and to visit Jigger and his sister.
There had not been a week since the days at Glencader when he had not gone to the sordid quarters in the Mile End Road to see Jigger, and to hear from him how his sister was doing at the opera, until two days before, when he had learned from Lou herself what she had suffered at the hands of Adrian Fellowes. That problem would now be settled forever; but there remained the question of Jigger, and that must be settled, whatever the other grave problems facing him. Jigger must be cared for, must be placed in a position where he could have his start in life. Somehow Jigger was associated with all the movements of his life now, and was taken as part of the problem. What to do? He thought of it as he went eastward, and it did not seem easy to settle it. Jigger himself, however, cut the Gordian knot.
When he was told that Stafford was going to South Africa, and that it was a question as to what he--Jigger--should now do, in what sphere of life his abnormally "cute" mind must run, he answered, instantly.
"I'm goin' wiv y'r gryce," he said. "That's it--stryght. I'm goin' out there wiv you."
Ian shook his head and smiled sadly. "I'm afraid that's not for you, Jigger. No, think again."
"Ain't there work in Souf Afriker--maybe not in the army itself, y'r gryce? Couldn't I have me chanct out there? Lou's all right now, I bet; an' I could go as easy as can be."
"Yes, Lou will be all right now," remarked Stafford, with a reflective irony.
"I ain't got no stiddy job here, and there's work in Souf Afriker, ain't they? Couldn't I get a job holdin' horses, or carryin' a flag, or cleanin' the guns, or nippin' letters about--couldn't I, y'r gryce? I'm only askin' to go wiv you, to work, same as ever I did before I was run over. Ain't I goin' wiv you, y'r gryce?"
With a sudden resolve Stafford laid a hand on his shoulder. "Yes, you are going 'wiv' me, Jigger. You just are, horse, foot, and artillery. There'll be a job somewhere. I'll get you something to do, or--"
"Or bust, y'r gryce?"
So the problem lessened, and Ian's face cleared a little. If all the difficulties perplexing his life would only clear like that! The babe and the suckling had found the way so simple, so natural; and it was a comforting way, for he had a deep and tender regard for this quaint, clever waif who had drifted across his path.
To-morrow he would come and fetch Jigger: and Jigger's face followed him into the coming dusk, radiant and hopeful and full of life--of life that mattered. Jigger would go out to "Souf Afriker" with all his life before him, but he, Ian Stafford, would go with all his life behind him, all mile-stones passed except one.
So, brooding, he walked till he came to an underground station, and there took a train to Charing Cross. Here he was only a little distance away from the Embankment, where was to be found Adrian Fellowes; and with bent head he made his way among the motley crowd in front of the station, scarcely noticing any one, yet resenting the jostle and the crush. Suddenly in the crowd in front of him he saw Krool stealing along with a wide-awake hat well down over his eyes. Presently the sinister figure was lost in the confusion. It did not occur to him that perhaps Krool might be making for the same destination as himself; but the sight of the man threw his mind into an eddy of torturing thoughts.
The flare of light, white and ghastly, at Charing Cross was shining on a moving mass of people, so many of whom were ghastly also--derelicts of humanity, ruins of womanhood, casuals, adventurers, scavengers of life, prowlers who lived upon chance, upon cards, upon theft, upon women, upon libertines who waited in these precincts for some foolish and innocent woman whom they could entrap. Among them moved also the thousand other good citizens bent upon catching trains or wending their way home from work; but in the garish, cruel light, all, even the good, looked evil in a way, and furtive and unstable. To-night, the crowd were far more restless than usual, far more irritating in their purposeless movements. People sauntered, jerked themselves forward, moved in and out, as it were, intent on going everywhere and nowhere; and the excitement possessing them, the agitation in the air, made them seem still more exasperating, and bewildering. Newsboys with shrill voices rasped the air with invitations to buy, and everywhere eager, nervous hands held out their half-pennies for the flimsy sensational rags.
Presently a girl jostled Stafford, then apologized with an endearing word which brought a sick sensation to his brain; but he only shook his head gravely at her. After all, she had a hard trade and it led nowhere--nowhere.
"Coming home with me, darling?" she added in response to his meditative look. Anything that was not actual rebuff was invitation to her blunted sense. "Coming home with me--?"
Home! A wave of black cynicism, of sardonic mirth passed through Stafford's brain. Home--where the business of this poor wayfarer's existence was carried on, where the shopkeeper sold her wares in the inner sanctuary! Home.... He shook the girl's hand from his elbow and hastened on.
Yet why should he be angered with her, he said to himself. It was not moral elevation which had made him rough with her, but only that word Home she used.... The dire mockery of it burned his mind like a corrosive acid. He had had no home since his father died years ago,--his mother had died when he was very young--and his eldest brother had taken possession of the family mansions, placing them in the control of his foreign wife, who sat in his mother's chair and in her place at table.
He had wished so often in the past for a home of his own, where he could gather round him young faces and lose himself in promoting the interests of those for whom he had become forever responsible. He had longed for the Englishman's castle, for his own little realm of interest where he could be supreme; and now it was never to be.
The idea gained in sacred importance as it receded forever from all possibility. In far-off days it had been associated with a vision in blue, with a face like a dresden-china shepherdess and hair like Aphrodite's. Laughter and wit and raillery had been part of the picture; and long evenings in the winter-time, when they two would read the books they both loved, and maybe talk awhile of world events in which his work had place; in which his gifts were found, shaping, influencing, producing. The garden, the orchard--he loved orchards--the hedges of flowering ivy and lilacs; and the fine grey and chestnut horses driven by his hand or hers through country lanes; the smell of the fallen leaves in the autumn evenings; or the sting of the bracing January wind across the moors or where the woodcock awaited its spoiler. All these had been in the vision. It was all over now. He had seen an image, it had vanished, and he was in the desert alone.
A band was playing "The Banks o' Garry Owen," and the tramp of marching men came to his ears. The crowd surged round him, pushed him, forced him forward, carried him on, till the marching men came near, were alongside of him--a battalion of Volunteers, going to the war to see "Kruger's farmers bite the dust!"--a six months' excursion, as they thought. Then the crowd, as it cheered jostled him against the wall of the shops, and presently he found himself forced down Buckingham Street. It was where he wished to go in order to reach Adrian Fellowes' apartments. He did not notice, as he was practically thrown into the street, that Krool was almost beside him.
The street was not well lighted, and he looked neither to right nor left. He was thinking hard of what he would say to Adrian Fellowes, if, and when, he saw him.
But not far behind him was a figure that stole along in the darker shadows of the houses, keeping at some distance. The same figure followed him furtively till he came into that part of the Embankment where Adrian Fellowes' chambers were; then it fell behind a little, for here the lights were brighter. It hung in the shadow of a door-way and watched him as he approached the door of the big building where Adrian Fellowes lived.
Presently, as he came nearer, Stafford saw a hansom standing before the door. Something made him pause for a moment, and when, in the pause, the figure of a woman emerged from the entrance and hastily got into the hansom, he drew back into the darkness of a doorway, as the man did who was now shadowing him; and he waited till it turned round and rolled swiftly away. Then he moved forward again. When not far from the entrance, however, another cab--a four-wheeler--discharged its occupant at a point nearer to the building than where he waited. It was a woman. She paid the cabman, who touched his hat with quick and grateful emphasis, and, wheeling his old crock round, clattered away. The woman glanced along the empty street swiftly, and then hurried to the doorway which opened to Adrian Fellowes' chambers.
Instantly Stafford recognized her. It was Jasmine, dressed in black and heavily veiled. He could not mistake the figure--there was none other like it; or the turn of her head--there was only one such head in all England. She entered the building quickly.
There was nothing to do but wait until she came out again. No passion stirred in him, no jealousy, no anger. It was all dead. He knew why she had come; or he thought he knew. She would tell the man who had said no word in defense of her, done nothing to protect her, who let the worst be believed, without one protest of her innocence, what she thought of him. She was foolish to go to him, but women do mad things, and they must not be expected to do the obviously sensible thing when the crisis of their lives has come. Stafford understood it all.
One thing he was certain Jasmine did not know--the intimacy between Fellowes and Al'mah. He himself had been tempted to speak of it in their terrible interview that morning; but he had refrained. The ignominy, the shame, the humiliation of that would have been beyond her endurance. He understood; but he shrank at the thought of the nature of the interview which she must have, at the thought of the meeting at all.
He would have some time to wait, no doubt, and he made himself easy in the doorway, where his glance could command the entrance she had used. He mechanically took out a cigar-case, but after looking at the cigars for a moment put them away again with a sigh. Smoking would not soothe him. He had passed beyond the artificial.
His waiting suddenly ended. It seemed hardly three minutes after Jasmine's entrance when she appeared in the doorway again, and, after a hasty glance up and down the street, sped away as swiftly as she could, and, at the corner, turned up sharply towards the Strand. Her movements had been agitated, and, as she hurried on, she thrust her head down into her muff as a woman would who faced a blinding rain.
The interview had been indeed short. Perhaps Fellowes had already gone abroad. He would soon find out.
He mounted the deserted staircase quickly and knocked at Fellowes' door. There was no reply. There was a light, however, and he knocked again. Still there was no answer. He tried the handle of the door. It turned, the door gave, and he entered. There was no sound. He knocked at an inner door. There was no reply, yet a light showed in the room. He turned the handle. Entering the room, he stood still and looked round. It seemed empty, but there were signs of packing, of things gathered together hastily.
Then, with a strange sudden sense of a presence in the room, he looked round again. There in a far corner of the large room was a couch, and on it lay a figure--Adrian Fellowes, straight and still--and sleeping.
Stafford went over. "Fellowes," he said, sharply.
There was no reply. He leaned over and touched a shoulder. "Fellowes!" he exclaimed again, but something in the touch made him look closely at the face half turned to the wall. Then he knew.
Adrian Fellowes was dead.
Horror came upon Stafford, but no cry escaped him. He stooped once more and closely looked at the body, but without touching it. There was no sign of violence, no blood, no disfigurement, no distortion, only a look of sleep--a pale, motionless sleep.
But the body was warm yet. He realized that as his hand had touched the shoulder. The man could only have been dead a little while.
Only a little while: and in that little while Jasmine had left the house with agitated footsteps.
"He did not die by his own hand," Stafford said aloud.
He rang the bell loudly. No one answered. He rang and rang again, and then a lazy porter came.