The Judgment House by Gilbert Parker
Chapter IV. The Partners Meet
England was more stunned than shocked. The dark significance, the evil consequences destined to flow from the Jameson Raid had not yet reached the general mind. There was something gallant and romantic in this wild invasion: a few hundred men, with no commissariat and insufficient clothing, with enough ammunition and guns for only the merest flurry of battle, doing this unbelievable gamble with Fate--challenging a republic of fighting men with well-stocked arsenals and capable artillery, with ample sources of supply, with command of railways and communications. It was certainly magnificent; but it was magnificent folly.
It did not take England long to decide that point; and not even the Laureate's paean in the organ of the aristocracy and upper middle class could evoke any outburst of feeling. There was plenty of admiration for the pluck and boldness, for the careless indifference with which the raiders risked their lives; for the romantic side of the dash from Pitsani to the Rand; but the thing was so palpably impossible, as it was carried out, that there was not a knowing mind in the Islands which would not have echoed Rhodes' words, "Jameson has upset the apple-cart."
Rudyard Byng did not visit Jasmine the next evening at six o'clock. His world was all in chaos, and he had not closed his eyes to sleep since he had left her. At ten o'clock at night, as he had arranged, "The Partners" and himself met at his chambers, around which had gathered a crowd of reporters and curious idlers; and from that time till the grey dawn he and they had sat in conference. He had spent two hours at the Colonial Office after he left Jasmine, and now all night he kneaded the dough of a new policy with his companions in finance and misfortune.
There was Wallstein, the fairest, ablest, and richest financier of them all, with a marvellous head for figures and invaluable and commanding at the council-board, by virtue of his clear brain and his power to co-ordinate all the elements of the most confusing financial problems. Others had by luck and persistence made money--the basis of their fortunes; but Wallstein had showed them how to save those fortunes and make them grow; had enabled them to compete successfully with the games of other great financiers in the world's stock-markets. Wallstein was short and stout, with a big blue eye and an unwrinkled forehead; prematurely aged from lack of exercise and the exciting air of the high veld; from planning and scheming while others slept; from an inherent physical weakness due to the fact that he was one of twin sons, to his brother being given great physical strength, to himself a powerful brain for finance and a frail if ample body. Wallstein knew little and cared less about politics; yet he saw the use of politics in finance, and he did not stick his head into the sand as some of his colleagues did when political activities hampered their operations. In Johannesburg he had kept aloof from the struggle with Oom Paul, not from lack of will, but because he had no stomach for daily intrigue and guerrilla warfare and subterranean workings; and he was convinced that only a great and bloody struggle would end the contest for progress and equal rights for all white men on the Rand. His inquiries had been bent towards so disposing the financial operations, so bulwarking the mining industry by sagacious designs, that, when the worst came, they all would be able to weather the storm. He had done his work better than his colleagues knew, or indeed even himself knew.
Probably only Fleming the Scotsman--another of the Partners--with a somewhat dour exterior, an indomitable will, and a caution which compelled him to make good every step of the way before him, and so cultivate a long sight financially and politically, understood how extraordinary Wallstein's work had been--only Fleming, and Rudyard Byng, who knew better than any and all.
There was also De Lancy Scovel, who had become a biggish figure in the Rand world because he had been a kind of financial valet to Wallstein and Byng, and, it was said, had been a real unofficial valet to Rhodes, being an authority on cooking, and on brewing a punch, and a master of commissariat in the long marches which Rhodes made in the days when he trekked into Rhodesia. It was indeed said that he had made his first ten thousand pounds out of two trips which Rhodes made en route to Lobengula, and had added to this amount on the principle of compound multiplication when the Matabele war came; for here again he had a collateral interest in the commissariat.
Rhodes, with a supreme carelessness in regard to money, with an indifference to details which left his mind free for the working of a few main ideas, had no idea how many cheques he gave on the spur of the moment to De Lancy Scovel in this month or in that, in this year or in that, for this thing or for that--cheques written very often on the backs of envelopes, on the white margin of a newspaper, on the fly-leaf of a book or a blank telegraph form. The Master Man was so stirred by half-contemptuous humour at the sycophancy and snobbery of his vain slave, who could make a salad out of anything edible, that, caring little what men were, so long as they did his work for him, he once wrote a cheque for two thousand pounds on the starched cuff of his henchman's "biled shirt" at a dinner prepared for his birthday.
So it was that, with the marrow-bones thrown to him, De Lancy Scovel came to a point where he could follow Wallstein's and Rhodes' lead financially, being privy to their plans, through eavesdropping on the conferences of his chiefs. It came as a surprise to his superiors that one day's chance discovery showed De Lancy Scovel to be worth fifty thousand pounds; and from that time on they used him for many a purpose in which it was expedient their own hands should not appear. They felt confident that a man who could so carefully and secretly build up his own fortune had a gift which could be used to advantage. A man who could be so subterranean in his own affairs would no doubt be equally secluded in their business. Selfishness would make him silent. And so it was that "the dude" of the camp and the kraal, the factotum, who in his time had brushed Rhodes' clothes when he brushed his own, after the Kaffir servant had messed them about, came to be a millionaire and one of the Partners. For him South Africa had no charms. He was happy in London, or at his country-seat in Leicestershire, where he followed the hounds with a temerity which was at base vanity; where he gave the county the best food to be got outside St. Petersburg or Paris; where his so-called bachelor establishment was cared for by a coarse, gray-haired housekeeper who, the initiated said, was De Lancy's South African wife, with a rooted objection to being a lady or "moving in social circles"; whose pleasure lay in managing this big household under De Lancy's guidance. There were those who said they had seen her brush a speck of dust from De Lancy's coat-collar, as she emerged from her morning interview with him; and others who said they had seen her hidden in the shrubbery listening to the rather flaccid conversation of her splendid poodle of a master.
There were others who had climbed to success in their own way, some by happy accident, some by a force which disregarded anything in their way, and some by sheer honest rough merit, through which the soul of the true pioneer shone.
There was also Barry Whalen, who had been educated as a doctor, and, with a rare Irish sense of adaptability and amazing Celtic cleverness, had also become a mining engineer, in the days when the Transvaal was emerging from its pioneer obscurity into the golden light of mining prosperity. Abrupt, obstinately honest, and sincere; always protesting against this and against that, always the critic of authority, whether the authority was friend or foe; always smothering his own views in the moment when the test of loyalty came; always with a voice like a young bull and a heart which would have suited a Goliath, there was no one but trusted Barry, none that had not hurried to him in a difficulty; not because he was so wise, but because he was so true. He would never have made money, in spite of the fact that his prescience, his mining sense, his diagnosis of the case of a mine, as Byng called it, had been a great source of wealth to others, had it not been for Wallstein and Byng.
Wallstein had in him a curious gentleness and human sympathy, little in keeping with the view held of him by that section of the British press which would willingly have seen England at the mercy of Paul Kruger--for England's good, for her soul's welfare as it were, for her needed chastisement. He was spoken of as a cruel, tyrannical, greedy German Jew, whose soul was in his own pocket and his hand in the pockets of the world. In truth he was none of these things, save that he was of German birth, and of as good and honest German origin as George of Hanover and his descendants, if not so distinguished. Wallstein's eye was an eye of kindness, save in the vision of business; then it saw without emotion to the advantage of the country where he had made his money, and to the perpetual advantage of England, to whom he gave an honourable and philanthropic citizenship. His charities were not of the spectacular kind; but many a poor and worthy, and often unworthy, unfortunate was sheltered through bad days and heavy weather of life by the immediate personal care of "the Jew Mining Magnate, who didn't care a damn what happened to England so long as his own nest was well lined!"
It was Wallstein who took heed of the fact that, as he became rich, Barry Whalen remained poor; and it was he who took note that Barry had a daughter who might any day be left penniless with frail health and no protector; and taking heed and note, it was he made all the Partners unite in taking some financial risks and responsibilities for Barry, when two new mines were opened--to Barry's large profit. It was characteristic of Barry, however, that, if they had not disguised their action by financial devices, and by making him a Partner, because he was needed professionally and intellectually and for other business reasons, nicely phrased to please his Celtic vanity, he would have rejected the means to the fortune which came to him. It was a far smaller fortune than any of the others had; but it was sufficient for him and for his child. So it was that Barry became one of the Partners, and said things that every one else would hesitate to say, but were glad to hear said.
Others of the group were of varying degrees of ability and interest and importance. One or two were poltroons in body and mind, with only a real instinct for money-making and a capacity for constructive individualism. Of them the most conspicuous was Clifford Melville, whose name was originally Joseph Sobieski, with habitat Poland, whose small part in this veracious tale belongs elsewhere.
Each had his place, and all were influenced by the great schemes of Rhodes and their reflection in the purposes and actions of Wallstein. Wallstein was inspired by the dreams and daring purposes of Empire which had driven Rhodes from Table Mountain to the kraal of Lobengula and far beyond; until, at last, the flag he had learned to love had been triumphantly trailed from the Cape to Cairo.
Now in the great crisis, Wallstein, of them all, was the most self-possessed, save Rudyard Byng. Some of the others were paralyzed. They could only whine out execrations on the man who had dared something; who, if he had succeeded, would have been hailed as the great leader of a Revolution, not the scorned and humiliated captain of a filibustering expedition. A triumphant rebellion or raid is always a revolution in the archives of a nation. These men were of a class who run for cover before a battle begins, and can never be kept in the fighting-line except with the bayonet in the small of their backs. Others were irritable and strenuous, bitter in their denunciations of the Johannesburg conspirators, who had bungled their side of the business and who had certainly shown no rashness. At any rate, whatever the merits of their case, no one in England accused the Johannesburgers of foolhardy courage or impassioned daring. They were so busy in trying to induce Jameson to go back that they had no time to go forward themselves. It was not that they lost their heads, their hearts were the disappearing factors.
At this gloomy meeting in his house, Byng did not join either of the two sections who represented the more extreme views and the unpolitical minds. There was a small section, of which he was one, who were not cleverer financially than their friends, but who had political sense and intuition; and these, to their credit, were more concerned, at this dark moment, for the political and national consequences of the Raid, than for the certain set-back to the mining and financial enterprises of the Rand. A few of the richest of them were the most hopeless politically--ever ready to sacrifice principle for an extra dividend of a quarter per cent.; and, in their inmost souls, ready to bow the knee to Oom Paul and his unwholesome, undemocratic, and corrupt government, if only the dividends moved on and up.
Byng was not a great genius, and he had never given his natural political talent its full chance; but his soul was bigger than his pocket. He had a passionate love for the land--for England--which had given him birth; and he had a decent pride in her honour and good name. So it was that he had almost savagely challenged some of the sordid deliberations of this stern conference. In a full-blooded and manly appeal he begged them "to get on higher ground." If he could but have heard it, it would have cheered the heart of the broken and discredited pioneer of Empire at Capetown, who had received his death-warrant, to take effect within five years, in the little cottage at Muizenberg by the sea; as great a soul in posse as ever came from the womb of the English mother; who said as he sat and watched the tide flow in and out, and his own tide of life ebbed, "Life is a three days' trip to the sea-shore: one day in going, one day in settling down, and one day in packing up again."
Byng had one or two colleagues who, under his inspiration, also took the larger view, and who looked ahead to the consequences yet to flow from the fiasco at Doornkop, which became a tragedy. What would happen to the conspirators of Johannesburg? What would happen to Jameson and Willoughby and Bobby White and Raleigh Grey? Who was to go to South Africa to help in holding things together, and to prevent the worst happening, if possible? At this point they had arrived when they saw--
. . . The dull dank morn stare in, Like a dim drowned face with oozy eyes.
A more miserable morning seldom had broken, even in England.
"I will go. I must go," remarked Byng at last, though there was a strange sinking of the heart as he said it. Even yet the perfume of Jasmine's cloak stole to his senses to intoxicate them. But it was his duty to offer to go; and he felt that he could do good by going, and that he was needed at Johannesburg. He, more than all of them, had been in open conflict with Oom Paul in the the past, had fought him the most vigorously, and yet for him the old veldschoen Boer had some regard and much respect, in so far as he could respect a Rooinek at all.
"I will go," Byng repeated, and looked round the table at haggard faces, at ashen faces, at the faces of men who had smoked to quiet their nerves, or drunk hard all night to keep up their courage. How many times they had done the same in olden days, when the millions were not yet arrived, and their only luxury was companionship and champagne--or something less expensive.
As Byng spoke, Krool entered the room with a great coffee-pot and a dozen small white bowls. He heard Byng's words, and for a moment his dark eyes glowed with a look of evil satisfaction. But his immobile face showed nothing, and he moved like a spirit among them his lean hand putting a bowl before each person, like a servitor of Death passing the hemlock-brew.
At his entrance there was instant silence, for, secret as their conference must be, this half-caste, this Hottentot-Boer, must hear nothing and know nothing. Not one of them but resented his being Byng's servant. Not one but felt him a danger at any time, and particularly now. Once Barry Whalen, the most outwardly brusque and apparently frank of them all, had urged Byng to give Krool up, but without avail; and now Barry eyed the half-caste with a resentful determination. He knew that Krool had heard Byng's words, for he was sitting opposite the double doors, and had seen the malicious eyes light up. Instantly, however, that light vanished. They all might have been wooden men, and Krool but a wooden servitor, so mechanical and concentrated were his actions. He seemed to look at nobody; but some of them shrank a little as he leaned over and poured the brown, steaming liquid and the hot milk into the bowls. Only once did the factotum look at anybody directly, and that was at Byng just as he was about to leave the room. Then Barry Whalen saw him glance searchingly at his master's face in a mirror, and again that baleful light leaped up in his eyes.
When he had left the room, Barry Whalen said, impulsively: "Byng, it's all damn foolery your keeping that fellow about you. It's dangerous, 'specially now."
"Coffee's good, isn't it? Think there's poison in it?" Byug asked with a contemptuous little laugh. "Sugar--what?" He pushed the great bowl of sugar over the polished table towards Barry.
"Oh, he makes you comfortable enough, but--"
"But he makes you uncomfortable, Barry? Well, we're bound to get on one another's nerves one way or another in this world when the east wind blows; and if it isn't the east wind, it's some other wind. We're living on a planet which has to take the swipes of the universe, because it has permitted that corrupt, quarrelsome, and pernicious beast, man, to populate the hemispheres. Krool is staying on with me, Barry."
"We're in heavy seas, and we don't want any wreckers on the shore," was the moody and nervously indignant reply.
"Well, Krool's in the heavy seas, all right, too--with me."
Barry Whalen persisted. "We're in for complications, Byng. England has to take a hand in the game now with a vengeance. We don't want any spies. He's more Boer than native."
"There'll be nothing Krool can get worth spying for. If we keep our mouths shut to the outside world, we'll not need fear any spies. I'm not afraid of Krool. We'll not be sold by him. Though some one inside will sell us perhaps--as the Johannesburg game was sold by some one inside."
There was a painful silence, and more than one man looked at his fellows furtively.
"We will do nothing that will not bear the light of day, and then we need not fear any spying," continued Byng.
"If we have secret meetings and intentions which we don't make public, it is only what governments themselves have; and we keep them quiet to prevent any one taking advantage of us; but our actions are justfiable. I'm going to do nothing I'm ashamed of; and when it's necessary, or when and if it seems right to do so, I'll put all my cards on the table. But when I do, I'll see that it's a full hand--if I can."
There was a silence for a moment after he had ended, then some one said:
"You think it's best that you should go? You want to go to Johannesburg?"
"I didn't say anything about wanting to go. I said I'd go because one of us--or two of us--ought to go. There's plenty to do here; but if I can be any more use out there, why, Wallstein can stay here, and--"
He got no further, for Wallstein, to whom he had just referred, and who had been sitting strangely impassive, with his eyes approvingly fixed on Byng, half rose from his chair and fell forward, his thick, white hands sprawling on the mahogany table, his fat, pale face striking the polished wood with a thud. In an instant they were all on their feet and at his side.
Barry Whalen lifted up his head and drew him back into the chair, then three of them lifted him upon a sofa. Barry's hand felt the breast of the prostrate figure, and Byng's fingers sought his wrist. For a moment there was a dreadful silence, and then Byng and Whalen looked at each other and nodded.
"Brandy!" said Byng, peremptorily.
"He's not dead?" whispered some one.
"Brandy--quick," urged Byng, and, lifting up the head a little, he presently caught the glass from Whalen's hand and poured some brandy slowly between the bluish lips. "Some one ring for Krool," he added.
A moment later Krool entered. "The doctor--my doctor and his own--and a couple of nurses," Byng said, sharply, and Krool nodded and vanished. "Perhaps it's only a slight heart-attack, but it's best to be on the safe side."
"Anyhow, it shows that Wallstein needs to let up for a while," whispered Fleming.
"It means that some one must do Wallstein's work here," said Barry Whalen. "It means that Byng stays in London," he added, as Krool entered the room again with a rug to cover Wallstein.
Barry saw Krool's eyes droop before his words, and he was sure that the servant had reasons for wishing his master to go to South Africa. The others present, however, only saw a silent, magically adept figure stooping over the sick man, adjusting the body to greater ease, arranging skilfully the cushion under the head, loosening and removing the collar and the boots, and taking possession of the room, as though he himself were the doctor; while Byng looked on with satisfaction.
"Useful person, eh?" he said, meaningly, in an undertone to Barry Whalen.
"I don't think he's at home in England," rejoined Barry, as meaningly and very stubbornly: "He won't like your not going to South Africa."
"Am I not going to South Africa?" Byng asked, mechanically, and looking reflectively at Krool.
"Wallstein's a sick man, Byng. You can't leave London. You're the only real politician among us. Some one else must go to Johannesburg."
"You know I can't, Byng--there's my girl. Besides, I don't carry enough weight, anyhow, and you know that too."
Byng remembered Whalen's girl--stricken down with consumption a few months before. He caught Whalen's arm in a grip of friendship. "All right, dear old man," he said, kindly. "Fleming shall go, and I'll stay. Yes, I'll stay here, and do Wallstein's work."
He was still mechanically watching Krool attend to the sick man, and he was suddenly conscious of an arrest of all motion in the half-caste's lithe frame. Then Krool turned, and their eyes met. Had he drawn Krool's eyes to his--the master-mind influencing the subservient intelligence?
"Krool wants to go to South Africa," he said to himself with a strange, new sensation which he did not understand, though it was not quite a doubt. He reassured himself. "Well, it's natural he should. It's his home.... But Fleming must go to Johannesburg. I'm needed most here."
There was gratitude in his heart that Fate had decreed it so. He was conscious of the perfume from Jasmine's cloak searching his senses, even in this hour when these things that mattered--the things of Fate--were so enormously awry.