Periodically Lady Tynemouth’s letters had come to him while he was abroad, and from her, in much detail, he had been informed of the rise of Mrs. Byng, of her great future, her “delicious” toilettes, her great entertainments for charity, her successful attempts to gather round her the great figures in the political and diplomatic world; and her partial rejection of Byng’s old mining and financial confreres and their belongings. It had all culminated in a visit of royalty to their place in Suffolk, from which she had emerged radiantly and delicately aggressive, and sweeping a wider circle with her social scythe.
Ian had read it all unperturbed. It was just what he knew she could and would do; and he foresaw for Byng, if he wanted it, a peerage in the not distant future. Alice Tynemouth was no gossip, and she was not malicious. She had a good, if wayward, heart, was full of sentiment, and was a constant and helpful friend. He, therefore, accepted her invitation now to spend the next week-end with her and her husband; and then, with letters to two young nephews in his pocket, he prepared to sally forth to buy them presents, and to get some sweets for the children of a poor invalid cousin to whom for years he had been a generous friend. For children he had a profound love, and if he had married, he would not have been content with a childless home—with a childless home like that of Rudyard Byng. That news also had come to him from Alice Tynemouth, who honestly lamented that Jasmine Byng had no “balance-wheel,” which was the safety and the anchor of women “like her and me,” Lady Tynemouth’s letter had said.
Three millions then—and how much more now?—and big houses, and no children. It was an empty business, or so it seemed to him, who had come of a large and agreeably quarrelsome and clever family, with whom life had been checkered but never dull.
He took up his hat and stick, and went towards the door. His eyes caught Al’mah’s photograph as he passed.
“It was all done that night at the opera,” he said. “Jasmine made up her mind then to marry him, . . . I wonder what the end will be.... Sad little, bad little girl.... The mess of pottage at the last? Quien sabe!”
“He shall not treat me so”
The air of the late September morning smote Stafford’s cheeks pleasantly, and his spirits rose as he walked up St. James’s Street. His step quickened imperceptibly to himself, and he nodded to or shook hands with half a dozen people before he reached Piccadilly. Here he completed the purchases for his school-boy nephews, and then he went to a sweet-shop in Regent Street to get chocolates for his young relatives. As he entered the place he was suddenly brought to a standstill, for not two dozen yards away at a counter was Jasmine Byng.