“If I had not gone till noon,” he said aloud, in a nerveless voice—“if I had not gone till noon . . . Fellowes—did she—or was it Byng?”
He was so occupied with his thoughts that he was not at first conscious that some one was knocking.
“Come in,” he called out at last.
The door opened and Rudyard Byng entered.
“I am going to South Africa, Stafford,” he said, heavily. “I hear that you are going, too; and I have come to see whether we cannot go out together.”
“A message from Mr. Byng to say that he may be a little late, but he says will you go on without him? He will come as soon as possible.”
The footman, having delivered himself, turned to withdraw, but Barry Whalen called him back, saying, “Is Mr. Krool in the house?”
The footman replied in the affirmative. “Did you wish to see him, sir?” he asked.
“Not at present. A little later perhaps,” answered Barry, with a glance round the group, who eyed him curiously.
At a word the footman withdrew. As the door closed, little black, oily Sobieski dit Melville said with an attempt at a joke, “Is ‘Mr.’ Krool to be called into consultation?”
“Don’t be so damned funny, Melville,” answered Barry. “I didn’t ask the question for nothing.”
“These aren’t days when anybody guesses much,” remarked Fleming. “And I’d like to know from Mr. Kruger, who knows a lot of things, and doesn’t gas, whether he means the mines to be safe.”
They all looked inquiringly at Wallstein, who in the storms which rocked them all kept his nerve and his countenance with a power almost benign. His large, limpid eye looked little like that belonging to an eagle of finance, as he had been called.
“It looked for a while as though they’d be left alone,” said Wallstein, leaning heavily on the table,” but I’m not so sure now.” He glanced at Barry Whalen significantly, and the latter surveyed the group enigmatically.
“There’s something evidently waiting to be said,” remarked Wolff, the silent Partner in more senses than one. “What’s the use of waiting?”
Two or three of those present looked at Ian Stafford, who, standing by the window, seemed oblivious of them all. Byng had requested him to be present, with a view to asking his advice concerning some international aspect of the situation, and especially in regard to Holland and Germany. The group had welcomed the suggestion eagerly, for on this side of the question they were not so well equipped as on others. But when it came to the discussion of inner local policy there seemed hesitation in speaking freely before him. Wallstein, however, gave a reassuring nod and said, meaningly:
“We took up careful strategical positions, but our camp has been overlooked from a kopje higher than ours.”