Infomotions, Inc.The Judgment House / Parker, Gilbert, 1860-1932



Author: Parker, Gilbert, 1860-1932
Title: The Judgment House
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): byng; krool; stafford; jasmine; rudyard; ian; ian stafford; barry whalen; rudyard byng; baas; barry; lady tynemouth; adrian fellowes; oom paul
Contributor(s): Dickson, William P. (William Purdie), 1823-1901 [Translator]
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Title: The Judgment House

Author: Gilbert Parker

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THE JUDGMENT HOUSE

by Gilbert Parker




NOTE

Except where references to characters well-known to all the world
occur in these pages, this book does not present a picture of public
or private individuals living or dead. It is not in any sense a
historical novel. It is in conception and portraiture a work of the
imagination.


"Strangers come to the outer wall--
(Why do the sleepers stir?)
Strangers enter the Judgment House--
(Why do the sleepers sigh?)
Slow they rise in their judgment seats,
Sieve and measure the naked souls,
Then with a blessing return to sleep.
(Quiet the Judgment House.)
Lone and sick are the vagrant souls--
(When shall the world come home?)"


"Let them fight it out, friend! things have gone too far,
God must judge the couple: leave them as they are--
Whichever one's the guiltless, to his glory,
And whichever one the guilt's with, to my story!


"Once more. Will the wronger, at this last of all,
Dare to say, 'I did wrong,' rising in his fall?
No? Let go, then! Both the fighters to their places!
While I count three, step you back as many paces!"


"And the Sibyl, you know. I saw her with my own eyes at
Cumae, hanging in a jar; and when the boys asked her, 'What
would you, Sibyl?' she answered, 'I would die.'"


"So is Pheidippides happy for ever,--the noble strong man
Who would race like a God, bear the face of a God, whom a
God loved so well:
He saw the land saved he had helped to save, and was suffered to tell
Such tidings, yet never decline, but, gloriously as he began
So to end gloriously--once to shout, thereafter to be mute:
'Athens is saved!' Pheidippides dies in the shout for his meed."


"Oh, never star
Was lost here, but it rose afar."





THE JUDGMENT HOUSE



BOOK I



CHAPTER I

THE JASMINE FLOWER


The music throbbed in a voice of singular and delicate power; the air
was resonant with melody, love and pain. The meanest Italian in the
gallery far up beneath the ceiling, the most exalted of the land in
the boxes and the stalls, leaned indulgently forward, to be swept by
this sweet storm of song. They yielded themselves utterly to the power
of the triumphant debutante who was making "Manassa" the musical feast
of the year, renewing to Covent Garden a reputation which recent lack
of enterprise had somewhat forfeited.

Yet, apparently, not all the vast audience were hypnotized by the
unknown and unheralded singer, whose stage name was Al'mah. At the
moment of the opera's supreme appeal the eyes of three people at least
were not in the thraldom of the singer. Seated at the end of the first
row of the stalls was a fair, slim, graciously attired man of about
thirty, who, turning in his seat so that nearly the whole house was in
his circle of vision, stroked his golden moustache, and ran his eyes
over the thousands of faces with a smile of pride and satisfaction
which in a less handsome man would have been almost a leer. His name
was Adrian Fellowes.

Either the opera and the singer had no charms for Adrian Fellowes, or
else he had heard both so often that, without doing violence to his
musical sense, he could afford to study the effect of this wonderful
effort upon the mob of London, mastered by the radiant being on the
stage. Very sleek, handsome, and material he looked; of happy colour,
and, apparently, with a mind and soul in which no conflicts ever
raged--to the advantage of his attractive exterior. Only at the summit
of the applause did he turn to the stage again. Then it was with the
gloating look of the gambler who swings from the roulette-table with
the winnings of a great coup, cynical joy in his eyes that he has
beaten the Bank, conquered the dark spirit which has tricked him so
often. Now the cold-blue eyes caught, for a second, the dark-brown
eyes of the Celtic singer, which laughed at him gaily, victoriously,
eagerly, and then again drank in the light and the joy of the myriad
faces before her.

In a box opposite the royal box were two people, a man and a very
young woman, who also in the crise of the opera were not looking at
the stage. The eyes of the man, sitting well back--purposely, so that
he might see her without marked observation--were fixed upon the
rose-tinted, delicate features of the girl in a joyous blue silk gown,
which was so perfect a contrast to the golden hair and wonderful
colour of her face. Her eyes were fixed upon her lap, the lids half
closed, as though in reverie, yet with that perspicuous and reflective
look which showed her conscious of all that was passing round
her--even the effect of her own pose. Her name was Jasmine Grenfel.

She was not oblivious of the music. Her heart beat faster because of
it; and a temperament adjustable to every mood and turn of human
feeling was answering to the poignancy of the opera; yet her youth,
child-likeness, and natural spontaneity were controlled by an elate
consciousness. She was responsive to the passionate harmony; but she
was also acutely sensitive to the bold yet deferential appeal to her
emotions of the dark, distinguished, bearded man at her side, with the
brown eyes and the Grecian profile, whose years spent in the Foreign
Office and at embassies on the Continent had given him a tact and an
insinuating address peculiarly alluring to her sex. She was well aware
of Ian Stafford's ambitions, and had come to the point where she
delighted in them, and had thought of sharing in them, "for weal or
for woe"; but she would probably have resented the suggestion that his
comparative poverty was weighed against her natural inclinations and
his real and honest passion. For she had her ambitions, too; and when
she had scanned the royal box that night, she had felt that something
only little less than a diadem would really satisfy her.

Then it was that she had turned meditatively towards another occupant
of her box, who sat beside her pretty stepmother--a big, bronzed,
clean-shaven, strong-faced man of about the same age as Ian Stafford
of the Foreign Office, who had brought him that night at her
request. Ian had called him, "my South African nabob," in tribute to
the millions he had made with Cecil Rhodes and others at Kimberley and
on the Rand. At first sight of the forceful and rather ungainly form
she had inwardly contrasted it with the figure of Ian Stafford and
that other spring-time figure of a man at the end of the first row in
the stalls, towards which the prima donna had flashed one trusting,
happy glance, and with which she herself had been familiar since her
childhood. The contrast had not been wholly to the advantage of the
nabob; though, to be sure, he was simply arrayed--as if, indeed, he
were not worth a thousand a year. Certainly he had about him a sense
of power, but his occasional laugh was too vigorous for one whose own
great sense of humour was conveyed by an infectious, rippling murmur
delightful to hear.

Rudyard Byng was worth three millions of pounds, and that she
interested him was evident by the sudden arrest of his look and his
movements when introduced to her. Ian Stafford had noted this look;
but he had seen many another man look at Jasmine Grenfel with just as
much natural and unbidden interest, and he shrugged the shoulders of
his mind; for the millions alone would not influence her, that was
sure. Had she not a comfortable fortune of her own? Besides, Byng was
not the kind of man to capture Jasmine's fastidious sense and
nature. So much had happened between Jasmine and himself, so deep an
understanding had grown up between them, that it only remained to
bring her to the last court of inquiry and get reply to a vital
question--already put in a thousand ways and answered to his perfect
satisfaction. Indeed, there was between Jasmine and himself the
equivalent of a betrothal. He had asked her to marry him, and she had
not said no; but she had bargained for time to "prepare"; that she
should have another year in which to be gay in a gay world and, in her
own words, "walk the primrose path of pleasure untrammelled and alone,
save for my dear friend Mrs. Grundy."

Since that moment he had been quite sure that all was well. And now
the year was nearly up, and she had not changed; had, indeed, grown
more confiding and delicately dependent in manner towards him, though
seeing him but seldom alone.

As Ian Stafford looked at her now, he kept saying to himself, "So
exquisite and so clever, what will she not be at thirty! So well
poised, and yet so sweetly child-like dear dresden-china Jasmine."

That was what she looked like--a lovely thing of the time of Boucher
in dresden china.

At last, as though conscious of what was going on in his mind, she
slowly turned her drooping eyes towards him, and, over her shoulder,
as he quickly leaned forward, she said in a low voice which the others
could not hear:

"I am too young, and not clever enough to understand all the music
means--is that what you are thinking?"

He shook his head in negation, and his dark-brown eyes commanded hers,
but still deferentially, as he said: "You know of what I was
thinking. You will be forever young, but yours was always--will always
be--the wisdom of the wise. I'd like to have been as clever at
twenty-two."

"How trying that you should know my age so exactly--it darkens the
future," she rejoined with a soft little laugh; then, suddenly, a
cloud passed over her face. It weighed down her eyelids, and she gazed
before her into space with a strange, perplexed, and timorous
anxiety. What did she see? Nothing that was light and joyous, for her
small sensuous lips drew closer, and the fan she held in her lap
slipped from her fingers to the floor.

This aroused her, and Stafford, as he returned the fan to her, said
into a face again alive to the present: "You look as though you were
trying to summon the sable spirits of a sombre future."

Her fine pink-white shoulders lifted a little and, once more quite
self-possessed, she rejoined, lightly, "I have a chameleon mind; it
chimes with every mood and circumstance."

Suddenly her eyes rested on Rudyard Byng, and something in the rough
power of the head arrested her attention, and the thought flashed
through her mind: "How wonderful to have got so much at thirty-three!
Three millions at thirty-three--and millions beget millions!"

. . . Power--millions meant power; millions made ready the stage for
the display and use of every gift, gave the opportunity for the full
occupation of all personal qualities, made a setting for the jewel of
life and beauty, which reflected, intensified every ray of
merit. Power--that was it. Her own grandfather had had power. He had
made his fortune, a great one too, by patents which exploited the
vanity of mankind, and, as though to prove his cynical contempt for
his fellow-creatures, had then invented a quick-firing gun which
nearly every nation in the world adopted. First, he had got power by a
fortune which represented the shallowness and gullibility of human
nature, then had exploited the serious gift which had always been his,
the native genius which had devised the gun when he was yet a boy. He
had died at last with the smile on his lips which had followed his
remark, quoted in every great newspaper of two continents, that: "The
world wants to be fooled, so I fooled it; it wants to be stunned, so I
stunned it. My fooling will last as long as my gun; and both have paid
me well. But they all love being fooled best."

Old Draygon Grenfel's fortune had been divided among his three sons
and herself, for she had been her grandfather's favourite, and she was
the only grandchild to whom he had left more than a small reminder of
his existence. As a child her intelligence was so keen, her perception
so acute, she realized him so well, that he had said she was the only
one of his blood who had anything of himself in character or
personality, and he predicted--too often in her presence--that she
"would give the world a start or two when she had the chance." His
intellectual contempt for his eldest son, her father, was reproduced
in her with no prompting on his part; and, without her own mother from
the age of three, Jasmine had grown up self-willed and imperious, yet
with too much intelligence to carry her will and power too
far. Infinite adaptability had been the result of a desire to please
and charm; behind which lay an unlimited determination to get her own
way and bend other wills to hers.

The two wills she had not yet bent as she pleased were those of her
stepmother and of Ian Stafford--one, because she was jealous and
obstinate, and the other because he had an adequate self-respect and
an ambition of his own to have his way in a world which would not give
save at the point of the sword. Come of as good family as there was in
England, and the grandson of a duke, he still was eager for power,
determined to get on, ingenious in searching for that opportunity
which even the most distinguished talent must have, if it is to soar
high above the capable average. That chance, the predestined alluring
opening had not yet come; but his eyes were wide open, and he was
ready for the spring--nerved the more to do so by the thought that
Jasmine would appreciate his success above all others, even from the
standpoint of intellectual appreciation, all emotions excluded. How
did it come that Jasmine was so worldly wise, and yet so marvellously
the insouciant child?

He followed her slow, reflective glance at Byng, and the impression of
force and natural power of the millionaire struck him now, as it had
often done. As though summoned by them both, Byng turned his face and,
catching Jasmine's eyes, smiled and leaned forward.

"I haven't got over that great outburst of singing yet," he said, with
a little jerk of the head towards the stage, where, for the moment,
minor characters were in possession, preparing the path for the last
rush of song by which Al'mah, the new prima donna, would bring her
first night to a complete triumph.

With face turned full towards her, something of the power of his head
seemed to evaporate swiftly. It was honest, alert, and almost brutally
simple--the face of a pioneer. The forehead was broad and strong, and
the chin was square and determined; but the full, dark-blue eyes had
in them shadows of rashness and recklessness, the mouth was somewhat
self-indulgent and indolent; though the hands clasping both knees were
combined of strength, activity, and also a little of grace.

"I never had much chance to hear great singers before I went to South
Africa," he added, reflectively, "and this swallows me like a storm on
the high veld--all lightning and thunder and flood. I've missed a lot
in my time."

With a look which made his pulses gallop, Jasmine leaned over and
whispered--for the prima donna was beginning to sing again:

"There's nothing you have missed in your race that you cannot ride
back and collect. It is those who haven't run a race who cannot ride
back. You have won; and it is all waiting for you."

Again her eyes beamed upon him, and a new sensation came to him--the
kind of thing he felt once when he was sixteen, and the vicar's
daughter had suddenly held him up for quite a week, while all his
natural occupations were neglected, and the spirit of sport was
humiliated and abashed. Also he had caroused in his time--who was
there in those first days at Kimberley and on the Rand who did not
carouse, when life was so hard, luck so uncertain, and food so bad;
when men got so dead beat, with no homes anywhere--only shake-downs
and the Tents of Shem? Once he had had a native woman summoned to be
his slave, to keep his home; but that was a business which had
revolted him, and he had never repeated the experiment. Then, there
had been an adventuress, a wandering, foreign princess who had fooled
him and half a dozen of his friends to the top of their bent; but a
thousand times he had preferred other sorts of pleasures--cards,
horses, and the bright outlook which came with the clinking glass
after the strenuous day.

Jasmine seemed to divine it all as she looked at him--his primitive,
almost Edenic sincerity; his natural indolence and native force: a
nature that would not stir until greatly roused, but then, with an
unyielding persistence and concentrated force, would range on to its
goal, making up for a slow-moving intellect by sheer will, vision and
a gallant heart.

Al'mah was singing again, and Byng leaned forward eagerly. There was a
rustle in the audience, a movement to a listening position, then a
tense waiting and attention.

As Jasmine composed herself she said in a low voice to Ian Stafford,
whose well-proportioned character, personality, and refinement of
culture were in such marked contrast to the personality of the other:
"They live hard lives in those new lands. He has wasted much of
himself."

"Three millions at thirty-three means spending a deal of one thing to
get another," Ian answered a little grimly.

"Hush! Oh, Ian, listen!" she added in a whisper.

Once more Al'mah rose to mastery over the audience. The bold and
generous orchestration, the exceptional chorus, the fine and brilliant
tenor, had made a broad path for her last and supreme effort. The
audience had long since given up their critical sense, they were ready
to be carried into captivity again, and the surrender was instant and
complete. Now, not an eye was turned away from the singer. Even the
Corinthian gallant at the end of the first row of stalls gave himself
up to feasting on her and her success, and the characters in the opera
were as electrified as the audience.

For a whole seven minutes this voice seemed to be the only thing in
the world, transposing all thoughts, emotions, all elements of life
into terms of melody. Then, at last, with a crash of sweetness, the
voice broke over them all in crystals of sound and floated away into a
world of bright dreams.

An instant's silence which followed was broken by a tempest of
applause. Again, again, and again it was renewed. The subordinate
singers were quickly disposed of before the curtain, then Al'mah
received her memorable tribute. How many times she came and went she
never knew; but at last the curtain, rising, showed her well up the
stage beside a table where two huge candles flared. The storm of
applause breaking forth once more, the grateful singer raised her arms
and spread them out impulsively in gratitude and dramatic abandon.

As she did so, the loose, flowing sleeve of her robe caught the flame
of a candle, and in an instant she was in a cloud of fire. The wild
applause turned suddenly to notes of terror as, with a sharp cry, she
stumbled forward to the middle of the stage.

For one stark moment no one stirred, then suddenly a man with an
opera-cloak on his arm was seen to spring across a space of many feet
between a box on the level of the stage and the stage itself. He
crashed into the footlights, but recovered himself and ran forward. In
an instant he had enveloped the agonized figure of the singer and had
crushed out the flames with swift, strong movements.

Then lifting the now unconscious artist in his great arms, he strode
off with her behind the scenes.

"Well done, Byng! Well done, Ruddy Byng!" cried a strong voice from
the audience; and a cheer went up.

In a moment Byng returned and came down the stage. "She is not
seriously hurt," he said simply to the audience. "We were just in
time."

Presently, as he entered the Grenfel box again, deafening applause
broke forth.

"We were just in time," said Ian Stafford, with an admiring, teasing
laugh, as he gripped Byng's arm.

"'We'--well, it was a royal business," said Jasmine, standing close to
him and looking up into his eyes with that ingratiating softness which
had deluded many another man; "but do you realize that it was my cloak
you took?" she added, whimsically.

"Well, I'm glad it was," Byng answered, boyishly. "You'll have to wear
my overcoat home."

"I certainly will," she answered. "Come--the giant's robe."

People were crowding upon their box.

"Let's get out of this," Byng said, as he took his coat from the hook
on the wall.

As they left the box the girl's white-haired, prematurely aged father
whispered in the pretty stepmother's ear: "Jasmine'll marry that
nabob--you'll see."

The stepmother shrugged a shoulder. "Jasmine is in love with Ian
Stafford," she said, decisively.

"But she'll marry Rudyard Byng," was the stubborn reply.




CHAPTER II

THE UNDERGROUND WORLD


"What's that you say--Jameson--what?"

Rudyard Byng paused with the lighted match at the end of his cigar,
and stared at a man who was reading from a tape-machine, which gave
the club the world's news from minute to minute.

"Dr. Jameson's riding on Johannesburg with eight hundred men. He
started from Pitsani two days ago. And Cronje with his burghers are
out after him."

The flaming match burned Byng's fingers. He threw it into the
fireplace, and stood transfixed for a moment, his face hot with
feeling, then he burst out:

"But--God! they're not ready at Johannesburg. The burghers'll catch
him at Doornkop or somewhere, and--" He paused, overcome. His eyes
suffused. His hands went out in a gesture of despair.

"Jameson's jumped too soon," he muttered. "He's lost the game for
them."

The other eyed him quizzically. "Perhaps he'll get in yet. He surely
planned the thing with due regard for every chance. Johannesburg--"

"Johannesburg isn't ready, Stafford. I know. That Jameson and the Rand
should coincide was the only chance. And they'll not coincide now. It
might have been--it was to have been--a revolution at Johannesburg,
with Dr. Jim to step in at the right minute. It's only a filibustering
business now, and Oom Paul will catch the filibuster, as sure as
guns. 'Gad, it makes me sick!"

"Europe will like it--much," remarked Ian Stafford, cynically,
offering Byng a lighted match.

Byng grumbled out an oath, then fixed his clear, strong look on
Stafford. "It's almost enough to make Germany and France forget 1870
and fall into each other's arms," he answered. "But that's your
business, you Foreign Office people's business. It's the fellows out
there, friends of mine, so many of them, I'm thinking of. It's the
British kids that can't be taught in their mother-tongue, and the men
who pay all the taxes and can't become citizens. It's the justice you
can only buy; it's the foot of Kruger on the necks of the subjects of
his suzerain; it's eating dirt as Englishmen have never had to eat it
anywhere in the range of the Seven Seas. And when they catch Dr. Jim,
it'll be ten times worse. Yes, it'll be at Doornkop, unless-- But, no,
they'll track him, trap him, get him now. Johannesburg wasn't
ready. Only yesterday I had a cable that--" he stopped short
. . . "but they weren't ready. They hadn't guns enough, or something;
and Englishmen aren't good conspirators, not by a damned sight! Now
it'll be the old Majuba game all over again. You'll see."

"It certainly will set things back. Your last state will be worse than
your first," remarked Stafford.

Rudyard Byng drained off a glass of brandy and water at a gulp almost,
as Stafford watched him with inward adverse comment, for he never
touched wine or spirits save at meal-time, and the between-meal
swizzle revolted his Eesthetic sense. Byng put down the glass very
slowly, gazing straight before him for a moment without speaking. Then
he looked round. There was no one very near, though curious faces were
turned in his direction, as the grim news of the Raid was passed from
mouth to mouth. He came up close to Stafford and touched his chest
with a firm forefinger.

"Every egg in the basket is broken, Stafford. I'm sure of
that. Dr. Jim'll never get in now; and there'll be no oeufs a la coque
for breakfast. But there's an omelette to be got out of the mess, if
the chef doesn't turn up his nose too high. After all, what has
brought things to this pass? Why, mean, low tyranny and
injustice. Why, just a narrow, jealous race-hatred which makes helots
of British men. Simple farmers, the sentimental newspapers call
them--simple Machiavellis in veldschoen!" *

Stafford nodded assent. "But England is a very conventional chef," he
replied. "She likes the eggs for her omelette broken in the orthodox
way."

"She's not so particular where the eggs come from, is she?"

Stafford smiled as he answered: "There'll be a good many people in
England who won't sleep to-night some because they want Jameson to get
in; some because they don't; but most because they're thinking of the
millions of British money locked up in the Rand, with Kruger standing
over it with a sjambak, which he'll use. Last night at the opera we
had a fine example of presence of mind, when a lady burst into flames
on the stage. That spirited South African prima donna, the Transvaal,
is in flames. I wonder if she really will be saved, and who will save
her, and--"

A light, like the sun, broke over the gloomy and rather haggard face
of Rudyard Byng, and humour shot up into his eyes. He gave a low,
generous laugh, as he said with a twinkle: "And whether he does it at
some expense to himself--with his own overcoat, or with some one
else's cloak. Is that what you want to say?"

All at once the personal element, so powerful in most of us--even in
moments when interests are in existence so great that they should
obliterate all others--came to the surface. For a moment it almost
made Byng forget the crisis which had come to a land where he had done
all that was worth doing, so far in his life; which had burned itself
into his very soul; which drew him, sleeping or waking, into its arms
of memory and longing.

He had read only one paper that morning, and it--the latest attempt at
sensational journalism--had so made him blush at the flattering
references to himself in relation to the incident at the opera, that
he had opened no other. He had left his chambers to avoid the
telegrams and notes of congratulation which were arriving in great
numbers. He had gone for his morning ride in Battersea Park instead of
the Row to escape observation; had afterwards spent two hours at the
house he was building in Park Lane; had then come to the club, where
he had encountered Ian Stafford and had heard the news which
overwhelmed him.

"Well, an opera cloak did the work better than an overcoat would have
done," Stafford answered, laughing. "It was a flash of real genius to
think of it. You did think it all out in the second, didn't you?"

Stafford looked at him curiously, for he wondered if the choice of a
soft cloak which could more easily be wrapped round the burning woman
than an overcoat was accidental, or whether it was the product of a
mind of unusual decision.

Byng puffed out a great cloud of smoke and laughed again quietly as he
replied:

"Well, I've had a good deal of lion and rhinoceros shooting in my
time, and I've had to make up my mind pretty quick now and then; so I
suppose it gets to be a habit. You don't stop to think when the
trouble's on you; you think as you go. If I'd stopped to think, I'd
have funked the whole thing, I suppose--jumping from that box onto the
stage, and grabbing a lady in my arms, all in the open, as it
were. But that wouldn't have been the natural man. The natural man
that's in most of us, even when we're not very clever, does things
right. It's when the conventional man comes in and says, Let us
consider, that we go wrong. By Jingo, Al'mah was as near having her
beauty spoiled as any woman ever was; but she's only got a few nasty
burns on the arm and has singed her hair a little."

"You've seen her to-day, then?"

Stafford looked at him with some curiosity, for the event was one
likely to rouse a man's interest in a woman. Al'mah was unmarried, so
far as the world knew, and a man of Byng's kind, if not generally
inflammable, was very likely to be swept off his feet by some unusual
woman in some unusual circumstance. Stafford had never seen Rudyard
Byng talk to any woman but Jasmine for more than five minutes at a
time, though hundreds of eager and avaricious eyes had singled him out
for attention; and, as it seemed absurd that any one should build a
palace in Park Lane to live in by himself, the glances sent in his
direction from many quarters had not been without hopefulness. And
there need not have been, and there was not, any loss of dignity on
the part of match-making mothers in angling for him, for his family
was quite good enough; his origin was not obscure, and his upbringing
was adequate. His external ruggedness was partly natural; but it was
also got from the bitter rough life he had lived for so many years in
South Africa before he had fallen on his feet at Kimberley and
Johannesburg.

As for "strange women," during the time that had passed since his
retum to England there had never been any sign of loose living. So, to
Stafford's mind, Byng was the more likely to be swept away on a sudden
flood that would bear him out to the sea of matrimony. He had put his
question out of curiosity, and he had not to wait for a reply. It came
frankly and instantly:

"Why, I was at Al'mah's house in Bruton Street at eight o'clock this
morning--with the milkman and the newsboy; and you wouldn't believe
it, but I saw her, too. She'd been up since six o'clock, she
said. Couldn't sleep for excitement and pain, but looking like a pansy
blossom all the same, rigged out as pretty as could be in her boudoir,
and a nurse doing the needful. It's an odd dark kind of beauty she
has, with those full lips and the heavy eyebrows. Well, it was a bull
in a china-shop, as you might judge--and thank you kindly, Mr. Byng,
with such a jolly laugh, and ever and ever and ever so grateful and so
wonderfully--thoughtful, I think, was the word, as though one had
planned it all. And wouldn't I stay to breakfast? And not a bit stagey
or actressy, and rather what you call an uncut diamond--a gem in her
way, but not fine beur, not exactly. A touch of the karoo, or the
prairie, or the salt-bush plains in her, but a good chap altogether;
and I'm glad I was in it last night with her. I laughed a lot at
breakfast--why yes, I stayed to breakfast. Laugh before breakfast and
cry before supper, that's the proverb, isn't it? And I'm crying, all
right, and there's weeping down on the Rand too."

As he spoke Stafford made inward comment on the story being told to
him, so patently true and honest in every particular. It was rather
contradictory and unreasonable, however, to hear this big, shy, rugged
fellow taking exception, however delicately and by inference only, to
the lack of high refinement, to the want of fine fleur, in Al'mah's
personality. It did not occur to him that Byng was the kind of man who
would be comparing Jasmine's quite wonderful delicacy, perfumed grace,
and exquisite adaptability with the somewhat coarser beauty and genius
of the singer. It seemed natural that Byng should turn to a
personality more in keeping with his own, more likely to make him
perfectly at ease mentally and physically.

Stafford judged Jasmine by his own conversations with her, when he was
so acutely alive to the fact that she was the most naturally brilliant
woman he had ever known or met; and had capacities for culture and
attainment, as she had gifts of discernment and skill in thought, in
marked contrast to the best of the ladies of their world. To him she
had naturally shown only the one side of her nature--she adapted
herself to him as she did to every one else; she had put him always at
an advantage, and, in doing so, herself as well.

Full of dangerous coquetry he knew her to be--she had been so from a
child; and though this was culpable in a way, he and most others had
made more than due allowance, because mother-care and loving
surveillance had been withdrawn so soon. For years she had been the
spoiled darling of her father and brothers until her father married
again; and then it had been too late to control her. The wonder was
that she had turned out so well, that she had been so studious, so
determined, so capable. Was it because she had unusual brain and
insight into human nature, and had been wise and practical enough to
see that there was a point where restraint must be applied, and so had
kept herself free from blame or deserved opprobrium, if not entirely
from criticism? In the day when girls were not in the present sense
emancipated, she had the savoir faire and the poise of a married woman
of thirty. Yet she was delicate, fresh, and flower-like, and very
amusing, in a way which delighted men; and she did not antagonize
women.

Stafford had ruled Byng out of consideration where she was
concerned. He had not heard her father's remark of the night before,
"Jasmine will marry that nabob--you'll see."

He was, however, recalled to the strange possibilities of life by a
note which was handed to Byng as they stood before the club-room
fire. He could not help but see--he knew the envelope, and no other
handwriting was like Jasmine's, that long, graceful, sliding
hand. Byng turned it over before opening it.

"Hello," he said, "I'm caught. It's a woman's hand. I wonder how she
knew I was here."

Mentally Stafford shrugged his shoulders as he said to himself: "If
Jasmine wanted to know where he was, she'd find out. I wonder--I
wonder."

He watched Byng, over whose face passed a pleased smile.

"Why," Byng said, almost eagerly, "it's from Miss Grenfel--wants me to
go and tell her about Jameson and the Raid."

He paused for an instant, and his face clouded again. "The first thing
I must do is to send cables to Johannesburg. Perhaps there are some
waiting for me at my rooms. I'll go and see. I don't know why I didn't
get news sooner. I generally get word before the Government. There's
something wrong somewhere. Somebody has had me."

"If I were you I'd go to our friend first. When I'm told to go at
once, I go. She wouldn't like cablegrams and other things coming
between you and her command--even when Dr. Jim's riding out of
Matabeleland on the Rand for to free the slaves."

Stafford's words were playful, but there was, almost unknown to
himself, a strange little note of discontent and irony behind.

Byng laughed. "But I'll be able to tell her more, perhaps, if I go to
my rooms first."

"You are going to see her, then?"

"Certainly. There's nothing to do till we get news of Jameson at bay
in a conga or balled up at a kopje." Thrusting the delicately perfumed
letter in his pocket, he nodded, and was gone.

"I was going to see her myself," thought Stafford, "but that settles
it. It will be easier to go where duty calls instead, since Byng takes
my place. Why, she told me to come to-day at this very hour," he
added, suddenly, and paused in his walk towards the door.

"But I want no triangular tea-parties," he continued to
reflect.... "Well, there'll be work to do at the Foreign Office,
that's sure. France, Austria, Russia can spit out their venom now and
look to their mobilization. And won't Kaiser William throw up his cap
if Dr. Jim gets caught! What a mess it will be! Well--well--well!"

He sighed, and went on his way brooding darkly; for he knew that this
was the beginning of a great trial for England and all British people.



CHAPTER III

A DAUGHTER OF TYRE


"Monsieur voleur!"

Jasmine looked at him again, as she had done the night before at the
opera, standing quite confidentially close to him, her hand resting in
his big palm like a pad of rose-leaves; while a delicate perfume
greeted his senses. Byng beamed down on her, mystified and eager, yet
by no means impatient, since the situation was one wholly agreeable to
him, and he had been called robber in his time with greater violence
and with a different voice. Now he merely shook his head in humorous
protest, and gave her an indulgent look of inquiry. Somehow he felt
quite at home with her; while yet he was abashed by so much delicacy
and beauty and bloom.

"Why, what else are you but a robber?" she added, withdrawing her hand
rather quickly from the too frank friendliness of his grasp. "You ran
off with my opera-cloak last night, and a very pretty and expensive
one it was."

"Expensive isn't the word," he rejoined; "it was unpurchasable."

She preened herself a little at the phrase. "I returned your overcoat
this morning--before breakfast; and I didn't even receive a note of
thanks for it. I might properly have kept it till my opera cloak came
back."

"It's never coming back," he answered; "and as for my overcoat, I
didn't know it had been returned. I was out all the morning."

"In the Row?" she asked, with an undertone of meaning.

"Well, not exactly. I was out looking for your cloak."

"Without breakfast?" she urged with a whimsical glance.

"Well, I got breakfast while I was looking."

"And while you were indulging material tastes, the cloak hid
itself--or went out and hanged itself?"

He settled himself comfortably in the huge chair which seemed made
especially for him. With a rare sense for details she had had this
very chair brought from the library beyond, where her stepmother, in
full view, was writing letters. He laughed at her words--a deep, round
chuckle it was.

"It didn't exactly hang itself; it lay over the back of a Chesterfield
where I could see it and breakfast too."

"A Chesterfield in a breakfast-room! That's more like the furniture of
a boudoir."

"Well, it was a boudoir." He blushed a little in spite of himself.

"Ah!... Al'mah's? Well, she owed you a breakfast, at least, didn't
she?"

"Not so good a breakfast as I got."

"That is putting rather a low price on her life," she rejoined; and a
little smile of triumph gathered at her pink lips; lips a little like
those Nelson loved not wisely yet not too well, if love is worth while
at all.

"T didn't see where you were leading me," he gasped, helplessly. "I
give up. I can't talk in your way."

"What is my way?" she pleaded with a little wave of laughter in her
eyes.

"Why, no frontal attacks--only flank movements, and getting round the
kopjes, with an ambush in a drift here and there."

"That sounds like Paul Kruger or General Joubert," she cried in mock
dismay. "Isn't that what they are doing with Dr. Jameson, perhaps?"

His face clouded. Storm gathered slowly in his eyes, a grimness
suddenly settled in his strong jaw. "Yes," he answered, presently,
"that's what they will be doing; and if I'm not mistaken they'll catch
Jameson just as you caught me just now. They'll catch him at Doornkop
or thereabouts, if I know myself--and Oom Paul."

Her face flushed prettily with excitement. "I want to hear all about
this empire-making, or losing, affair; but there are other things to
be settled first. There's my opera-cloak and the breakfast in the
prima donna's boudoir, and--"

"But, how did you know it was Al'mah?" he asked blankly.

"Why, where else would my cloak be?" she inquired with a little
laugh. "Not at the costumier's or the cleaner's so soon. But, all this
horrid flippancy aside, do you really think I should have talked like
this, or been so exigent about the cloak, if I hadn't known
everything; if I hadn't been to see Al'mah, and spent an hour with her
and knew that she was recovering from that dreadful shock very
quickly? But could you think me so inhuman and unwomanly as not to
have asked about her?"

"I wouldn't be in a position to investigate much when you were
talking--not critically," he replied, boldly. "I would only be
thinking that everything you said was all right. It wouldn't occur to
me to--"

She half closed her eyes, looking at him with languishing humour. "Now
you must please remember that I am quite young, and may have my head
turned, and--"

"It wouldn't alter my mind about you if you turned your head," he
broke in, gallantly, with a desperate attempt to take advantage of an
opportunity, and try his hand at a game entirely new to him.

There was an instant's pause, in which she looked at him with what was
half-assumed, half-natural shyness. His attempt to play with words was
so full of nature, and had behind it such apparent admiration, that
the unspoiled part of her was suddenly made self-conscious, however
agreeably so. Then she said to him: "I won't say you were brave last
night--that doesn't touch the situation. It wasn't bravery, of course;
it was splendid presence of mind which could only come to a man with
great decision of character. I don't think the newspapers put it at
all in the right way. It wasn't like saving a child from the top of a
burning building, was it?"

"There was nothing in it at all where I was concerned," he
replied. "I've been living a life for fifteen years where you had to
move quick--by instinct, as it were. There's no virtue in it. I was
just a little quicker than a thousand other men present, and I was
nearer to the stage."

"Not nearer than my father or Mr. Stafford."

"They had a bigger shock than I had, I suppose. They got struck numb
for a second. I'm a coarser kind. I have seen lots of sickening
things; and I suppose they don't stun me. We get callous, I fancy, we
veld-rangers and adventurers."

"You seem sensitive enough to fine emotions," she said, almost shyly."
You were completely absorbed, carried away, by Al'mah's singing last
night. There wasn't a throb of music that escaped you, I should
think."

"Well, that's primary instinct. Music is for the most savage
natures. The boor that couldn't appreciate the Taj Mahal, or the
sculpture of Michael Angelo, might be swept off his feet by the music
of a master, though he couldn't understand its story. Besides, I've
carried a banjo and a cornet to the ends of the earth with me. I saved
my life with the cornet once. A lion got inside my zareba in
Rhodesia. I hadn't my gun within reach, but I'd been playing the
cornet, and just as he was crouching I blew a blast from it--one of
those jarring discords of Wagner in the "Gotterdammerung"--and he
turned tail and got away into the bush with a howl. Hearing gets to be
the most acute of all the senses with the pioneer. If you've ever
been really dying of thirst, and have reached water again, its sounds
become wonderful to you ever after that--the trickle of a creek, the
wash of a wave on the shore, the drip on a tin roof, the drop over a
fall, the swish of a rainstorm. It's the same with birds and
trees. And trees all make different sounds--that's the shape of the
leaves. It's all music, too."

Her breath came quickly with pleasure at the imagination and
observation of his words. "So it wasn't strange that you should be
ravished by Al'mah's singing last night was it?" She looked at him
keenly. "Isn't it curious that such a marvellous gift should be given
to a woman who in other respects--" she paused.

"Yes, I know what you mean. She's so untrained in lots of ways. That's
what I was saying to Stafford a little while ago. They live in a world
of their own, the stage people. There's always a kind of
irresponsibility. The habit of letting themselves go in their art, I
suppose, makes them, in real life, throw things down so hard when they
don't like them. Living at high pressure is an art like music. It
alters the whole equilibrium, I suppose. A woman like Al'mah would
commit suicide, or kill a man, without realizing the true significance
of it all."

"Were you thinking that when you breakfasted with her?"

"Yes, when she was laughing and jesting--and when she kissed me
good-bye."

"When--she--kissed you--good-bye?"

Jasmine drew back, then half-glanced towards her stepmother in the
other room. She was only twenty-two, and though her emancipation had
been accomplished in its way somewhat in advance of her generation, it
had its origin in a very early period of her life, when she had been
allowed to read books of verse--Shelley, Byron, Shakespeare, Verlaine,
Rossetti, Swinburne, and many others--unchallenged and unguided. The
understanding of things, reserved for "the wise and prudent," had been
at first vaguely and then definitely conveyed to her by slow but
subtle means--an apprehension from instinct, not from knowledge. There
had never been a shock to her mind.

The knowledge of things had grown imperceptibly, and most of life's
ugly meanings were known--at a great distance, to be sure, but still
known. Yet there came a sudden half-angry feeling when she heard
Rudyard Byng say, so loosely, that Al'Mah had kissed him. Was it
possible, then, that a man, that any man, thought she might hear such
things without resentment; that any man thought her to know so much of
life that it did not matter what was said? Did her outward appearance,
then, bear such false evidence?

He did not understand quite, yet he saw that she misunderstood, and he
handled the situation with a tact which seemed hardly to belong to a
man of his training and calibre.

"She thought no more of kissing me," he continued, presently, in a
calm voice--"a man she had seen only once before, and was not likely
to see again, than would a child of five. It meant nothing more to her
than kissing Fanato on the stage. It was pure impulse. She forgot it
as soon as it was done. It was her way of showing gratitude. Somewhat
unconventional, wasn't it? But then, she is a little Irish, a little
Spanish, and the rest Saxon; and she is all artist and bohemian."

Jasmine's face cleared, and her equilibrium was instantly
restored. She was glad she had misunderstood. Yet Al'mah had not
kissed her when she left, while expressing gratitude, too. There was a
difference. She turned the subject, saying: "Of course, she insists on
sending me a new cloak, and keeping the other as a memento. It was
rather badly singed, wasn't it?"

"It did its work well, and it deserves an honoured home. Do you know
that even as I flung the cloak round her, in the excitement of the
moment I 'sensed,' as my young nephew says, the perfume you use."

He lifted his hand, conscious that his fingers still carried some of
that delicate perfume which her fingers left there as they lay in his
palm when she greeted him on his entrance. "It was like an incense
from the cloak, as it blanketed the flames. Strange, wasn't it, that
the undersense should be conscious of that little thing, while the
over-sense was adding a sensational postscript to the opera?"

She smiled in a pleased way. "Do you like the perfume? I really use
very little of it."

"It's like no other. It starts a kind of cloud of ideas floating. I
don't know how to describe it. I imagine myself--"

She interrupted, laughing merrily. "My brother says it always makes
him angry, and Ian Stafford calls it 'The Wild Tincture of
Time'--frivolously and sillily says that it comes from a bank whereon
the 'wild thyme' grows! But now, I want to ask you many questions. We
have been mentally dancing, while down beyond the Limpopo--"

His demeanour instantly changed, and she noted the look cf power and
purpose coming into the rather boyish and good-natured, the rash and
yet determined, face. It was not quite handsome. The features were not
regular, the forehead was perhaps a little too low, and the hair grew
very thick, and would have been a vast mane if it had not been kept
fairly close by his valet. This valet was Krool, a half-caste--
Hottentot and Boer--whom he had rescued from Lobengula in the
Matabele war, and who had in his day been ship-steward, barber,
cook, guide, and native recruiter. Krool had attached himself to Byng,
and he would not be shaken off even when his master came home to
England.

Looking at her visitor with a new sense of observation alive in her,
Jasmine saw the inherent native drowsiness of the nature, the love of
sleep and good living, the healthy primary desires, the striving,
adventurous, yet, in one sense, unambitious soul. The very cleft in
the chin, like the alluring dimple of a child's cheek, enlarged and
hardened, was suggestive of animal beauty, with its parallel
suggestion of indolence. Yet, somehow, too ample as he was both in
fact and by suggestion to the imagination there was an apparent
underlying force, a capacity to do huge things when once roused. He
had been roused in his short day. The life into which he had been
thrown with men of vaster ambition and much more selfish ends than his
own, had stirred him to prodigies of activity in those strenuous,
wonderful, electric days when gold and diamonds changed the
hard-bitten, wearied prospector, who had doggedly delved till he had
forced open the hand of the Spirit of the Earth and caught the
treasure that flowed forth, into a millionaire, into a conqueror, with
the world at his feet. He had been of those who, for many a night and
many a year, eating food scarce fit for Kaffirs, had, in poverty and
grim endeavour, seen the sun rise and fall over the Magaliesberg
range, hope alive in the morning and dead at night. He had faced the
devilish storms which swept the high veld with lightning and the
thunderstone, striking men dead as they fled for shelter to the
boulders of some barren, mocking kopje; and he had had the occasional
wild nights of carousal, when the miseries and robberies of life and
time and the ceaseless weariness and hope deferred, were forgotten.

It was all there in his face--the pioneer endeavour, the reckless
effort, the gambler's anxiety, the self-indulgence, the crude
passions, with a far-off, vague idealism, the selfish outlook, and yet
great breadth of feeling, with narrowness of individual purpose. The
rough life, the sordid struggle, had left their mark, and this easy,
coaxing, comfortable life of London had not covered it up--not yet. He
still belonged to other--and higher--spheres.

There was a great contrast between him and Ian Stafford. Ian was
handsome, exquisitely refined, lean and graceful of figure, with a
mind which saw the end of your sentences from the first word, with a
skill of speech like a Damascus blade, with knowledge of a half-dozen
languages. Ian had an allusiveness of conversation which made human
intercourse a perpetual entertainment, and Jasmine's intercourse with
him a delight which lingered after his going until his coming
again. The contrast was prodigious--and perplexing, for Rudyard Byng
had qualities which compelled her interest. She sighed as she
reflected.

"I suppose you can't get three millions all to yourself with your own
hands without missing a good deal and getting a good deal you could do
without," she said to herself, as he wonderingly interjected the
exclamation:

"Now, what do you know of the Limpopo? I'll venture there isn't
another woman in England who even knows the name."

"I always had a thirst for travel, and I've read endless books of
travel and adventure," she replied. "I'd have been an explorer, or a
Cecil Rhodes, if I had been a man."

"Can you ride?" he asked, looking wonderingly at her tiny hand, her
slight figure, her delicate face with its almost impossible pink and
white.

"Oh, man of little faith!" she rejoined. "I can't remember when I
didn't ride. First a Shetland pony, and now at last I've reached
Zambesi--such a wicked dear."

"Zambesi--why Zambesi? One would think you were South African."

She enjoyed his mystification. Then she grew serious and her eyes
softened. "I had a friend--a girl, older than I. She married. Well,
he's an earl now, the Earl of Tynemouth, but he was the elder son
then, and wild for sport. They went on their honeymoon to shoot in
Africa, and they visited the falls of the Zambesi. She, my friend, was
standing on the edge of the chasm--perhaps you know it--not far from
Livingstone's tree, between the streams. It was October, and the river
was low. She put up her big parasol. A gust of wind suddenly caught
it, and instead of letting the thing fly, she hung on, and was nearly
swept into the chasm. A man with them pulled her back in time--but she
hung on to that red parasol. Only when it was all over did she realize
what had really happened. Well, when she came back to England, as a
kind of thank-offering she gave me her father's best hunter. That was
like her, too; she could always make other people generous. He is a
beautiful Satan, and I rechristened him Zambesi. I wanted the red
parasol, too, but Alice Tynemouth wouldn't give it to me."

"So she gave it to the man who pulled her back. Why not?"

"How do you know she did that?"

"Well, it hangs in an honoured place in Stafford's chambers. I
conjecture right, do I?"

Her eyes darkened slowly, and a swift-passing shadow covered her
faintly smiling lips; but she only said, "You see he was entitled to
it, wasn't he?" To herself, however, she whispered, "Neither of
them--neither ever told me that."

At that moment the door opened, and a footman came forward to Rudyard
Byng. "If you please, sir, your servant says, will you see him. There
is news from South Africa."

Byng rose, but Jasmine intervened. "No, tell him to come here," she
said to the footman. "Mayn't he?" she asked.

Byng nodded, and remained standing. He seemed suddenly lost to her
presence, and with head dropped forward looked into space, engrossed,
intense.

Jasmine studied him as an artist would study a picture, and decided
that he had elements of the unusual, and was a distinct
personality. Though rugged, he was not uncouth, and there was nothing
of the nouveau riche about him. He did not wear a ring or scarf-pin,
his watch-chain was simple and inconspicuous enough for a
school-boy--and he was worth three million pounds, with a palace
building in Park Lane and a feudal castle in Wales leased for a period
of years. There was nothing greatly striking in his carriage; indeed,
he did not make enough of his height and bulk; but his eye was strong
and clear, his head was powerful, and his quick smile was very
winning. Yet--yet, he was not the type of man who, to her mind should
have made three millions at thirty-three. It did not seem to her that
he was really representative of the great fortune-builders--she had
her grandfather and others closely in mind. She had seen many captains
of industry and finance in her grandfather's house, men mostly silent,
deliberate and taciturn, and showing in their manner and persons the
accumulated habits of patience, force, ceaseless aggression and
domination.

Was it only luck which had given Rudyard Byng those three millions? It
could not be just that alone. She remembered her grandfather used to
say that luck was a powerful ingredient in the successful career of
every man, but that the man was on the spot to take the luck, knew
when to take it, and how to use it. "The lucky man is the man that
sits up watching for the windfall while other men are sleeping"--that
was the way he had put it. So Rudyard Byng, if lucky, had also been of
those who had grown haggard with watching, working and waiting; but
not a hair of his head had whitened, and if he looked older than he
was, still he was young enough to marry the youngest debutante in
England and the prettiest and best-born. He certainly had inherent
breeding. His family had a long pedigree, and every man could not be
as distinguished-looking as Ian Stafford--as Ian Stafford, who,
however, had not three millions of pounds; who had not yet made his
name and might never do so.

She flushed with anger at herself that she should be so disloyal to
Ian, for whom she had pictured a brilliant future--ambassador at Paris
or Berlin, or, if he chose, Foreign Minister in Whitehall--Ian,
gracious, diligent, wonderfully trained, waiting, watching for his
luck and ready to take it; and to carry success, when it came, like a
prince of princelier days. Ian gratified every sense in her, met every
demand of an exacting nature, satisfied her unusually critical
instinct, and was, in effect, her affianced husband. Yet it was so
hard to wait for luck, for place, for power, for the environment where
she could do great things, could fill that radiant place which her
cynical and melodramatic but powerful and sympathetic grandfather had
prefigured for her. She had been the apple of that old man's eye, and
he had filled her brain--purposely--with ambitious ideas. He had done
it when she was very young, because he had not long to stay; and he
had overcoloured the pictures in order that the impression should be
vivid and indelible when he was gone. He had meant to bless, for, to
his mind, to shine, to do big things, to achieve notoriety, to attain
power, "to make the band play when you come," was the true philosophy
of life. And as this philosophy, successful in his case, was
accompanied by habits of life which would bear the closest inspection
by the dean and chapter, it was a difficult one to meet by argument or
admonition. He had taught his grandchild as successfully as he had
built the structure of his success. He had made material things the
basis of life's philosophy and purpose; and if she was not wholly
materialistic, it was because she had drunk deep, for one so young, at
the fountains of art, poetry, sculpture and history. For the last she
had a passion which was represented by books of biography without
number, and all the standard historians were to be found in her
bedroom and her boudoir. Yet, too, when she had opportunity--when Lady
Tynemouth brought them to her--she read the newest and most daring
productions of a school of French novelists and dramatists who saw the
world with eyes morally astigmatic and out of focus. Once she had
remarked to Alice Tynemouth:

"You say I dress well, yet it isn't I. It's my dressmaker. I choose
the over-coloured thing three times out of five--it used to be more
than that. Instinctively I want to blaze. It is the same in
everything. I need to be kept down, but, alas! I have my own way in
everything. I wish I hadn't, for my own good. Yet I can't brook being
ruled."

To this Alice had replied: "A really selfish husband--not a difficult
thing to find--would soon keep you down sufficiently. Then you'd
choose the over-coloured thing not more than two times, perhaps one
time, out of five. Your orientalism is only undisciplined self-will. A
little cruelty would give you a better sense of proportion in
colour--and everything else. You have orientalism, but little or no
orientation."

Here, now, standing before the fire, was that possible husband who, no
doubt, was selfish, and had capacities for cruelty which would give
her greater proportion--and sense of colour. In Byng's palace, with
three millions behind her--she herself had only the tenth of one
million--she could settle down into an exquisitely ordered, beautiful,
perfect life where the world would come as to a court, and--

Suddenly she shuddered, for these thoughts were sordid, humiliating,
and degrading. They were unbidden, but still they came. They came from
some dark fountain within herself. She really wanted--her idealistic
self wanted--to be all that she knew she looked, a flower in life and
thought. But, oh, it was hard, hard for her to be what she wished!
Why should it be so hard for her?

She was roused by a voice. "Cronje!" it said in a deep, slow, ragged
note.

Byng's half-caste valet, Krool, sombre of face, small, lean, ominous,
was standing in the doorway.

"Cronje! . . . Well?" rejoined Byng, quietly, yet with a kind of
smother in the tone.

Krool stretched out a long, skinny, open hand, and slowly closed the
fingers up tight with a gesture suggestive of a trap closing upon a
crushed captive.

"Where?" Byng asked, huskily.

"Doornkop," was the reply; and Jasmine, watching closely, fascinated
by Krool's taciturnity, revolted by his immobile face, thought she saw
in his eyes a glint of malicious and furtive joy. A dark premonition
suddenly flashed into her mind that this creature would one day,
somehow, do her harm; that he was her foe, her primal foe, without
present or past cause for which she was responsible; but still a
foe--one of those antipathies foreordained, one of those evil
influences which exist somewhere in the universe against every
individual life.

"Doornkop--what did I say!" Byng exclaimed to Jasmine. "I knew they'd
put the double-and-twist on him at Doornkop, or some such place; and
they've done it--Kruger and Joubert. Englishmen aren't slim enough to
be conspirators. Dr. Jim was going it blind, trusting to good luck,
gambling with the Almighty. It's bury me deep now. It's Paul Kruger
licking his chops over the savoury mess. 'Oh, isn't it a pretty dish
to set before the king!' What else, Krool?"

"Nothing, Baas."

"Nothing more in the cables?"

"No, Baas."

"That will do, Krool. Wait. Go to Mr. Whalen. Say I want him to bring
a stenographer and all the Partners--he'll understand--to me at ten
to-night."

"Yes, Baas."

Krool bowed slowly. As he raised his head his eyes caught those of
Jasmine. For an instant they regarded each other steadily, then the
man's eyes dropped, and a faint flush passed over his face. The look
had its revelation which neither ever forgot. A quiver of fear passed
through Jasmine, and was followed by a sense of self-protection and a
hardening of her will, as against some possible danger.

As Krool left the room he said to himself: "The Baas speaks her for
his vrouw. But the Baas will go back quick to the Vaal--p'r'aps."

Then an evil smile passed over his face, as he thought of the fall of
the Rooinek--of Dr. Jim in Oom Paul's clutches. He opened and shut his
fingers again with a malignant cruelty.

Standing before the fire, Byng said to Jasmine meditatively, with that
old ironic humour which was always part of him: "'Fee, fo, fi, fum, I
smell the blood of an Englishman.'"

Her face contracted with pain. "They will take Dr. Jim's life?" she
asked, solemnly.

"It's hard to tell. It isn't him alone. There's lots of others that we
both know."

"Yes, yes, of course. It's terrible, terrible," she whispered.

"It's more terrible than it looks, even now. It's a black day for
England. She doesn't know yet how black it is. I see it, though; I see
it. It's as plain as an open book. Well, there's work to do, and I
must be about it. I'm off to the Colonial Office. No time to
lose. It's a job that has no eight-hours shift."

Now the real man was alive. He was transformed. The face was set and
quiet. He looked concentrated will and power as he stood with his
hands clasped behind him, his shoulders thrown back, his eyes alight
with fire and determination. To herself Jasmine seemed to be moving in
the centre of great events, having her fingers upon the levers which
work behind the scenes of the world's vast schemes, standing by the
secret machinery of government.

"How I wish I could help you," she said, softly, coming nearer to him,
a warm light in her liquid blue eyes, her exquisite face flushing with
excitement, her hands clasped in front of her.

As Byng looked at her, it seemed to him that sweet honesty and
high-heartedness had never had so fine a setting; that never had there
been in the world such an epitome of talent, beauty and sincerity. He
had suddenly capitulated, he who had ridden unscathed so long. If he
had dared he would have taken her in his arms there and then; but he
had known her only for a day. He had been always told that a woman
must be wooed and won, and to woo took time. It was not a task he
understood, but suddenly it came to him that he was prepared to do it;
that he must be patient and watch and serve, and, as he used to do,
perhaps, be elate in the morning and depressed at night, till the day
of triumph came and his luck was made manifest.

"But you can help me, yes, you can help me as no one else can," he
said almost hoarsely, and his hands moved a little towards her.

"You must show me how," she said, scarce above a whisper, and she drew
back slightly, for this look in his eyes told its own story.

"When may I come again?" he asked.

"I want so much to hear everything about South Africa. Won't you come
to-morrow at six?" she asked.

"Certainly, to-morrow at six," he answered, eagerly, "and thank you."

His honest look of admiration enveloped her as her hand was again lost
in his strong, generous palm, and lay there for a moment thrilling
him.... He turned at the door and looked back, and the smile she gave
seemed the most delightful thing he had ever seen.

"She is a flower, a jasmine-flower," he said, happily, as he made his
way into the street.

When he had gone she fled to her bedroom. Standing before the mirror,
she looked at herself long, laughing feverishly. Then suddenly she
turned and threw herself upon the bed, bursting into a passion of
tears. Sobs shook her.

"Oh, Ian," she said, raisig her head at last, "oh, Ian, Ian, I hate
myself!"

Down in the library her stepmother was saying to her father, "You are
right, Jasmine will marry the nabob."

"I am sorry for Ian Stafford," was the response.

"Men get over such things," came the quietly cynical reply.

"Jasmine takes a lot of getting over," answered Jasmine's father. "She
has got the brains of all the family, the beauty her family never
had--the genius of my father, and the wilfulness, and--"

He paused, for, after all, he was not talking to the mother of his
child.

"Yes, all of it, dear child," was the enigmatical reply.

"I wish--Nelly, I do wish that--"

"Yes, I know what you wish, Cuthbert, but it's no good. I'm not of any
use to her. She will work out her own destiny alone--as her
grandfather did."

"God knows I hope not! A man can carry it off, but a woman--"

Slow and almost stupid as he was, he knew that her inheritance from
her grandfather's nature was a perilous gift.



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--Barry?"

"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.



CHAPTER V

A WOMAN TELLS HER STORY


"Soon he will speak you. Wait here, madame."

Krool passed almost stealthily out.

Al'mah looked round the rather formal sitting-room, with its somewhat
incongruous furnishing--leopard-skins from Bechuanaland; lion-skins
from Matabeleland; silver-mounted tusks of elephants from Eastern Cape
Colony and Portuguese East Africa; statues and statuettes of classical
subjects; two or three Holbeins, a Rembrandt, and an El Greco on the
walls; a piano, a banjo, and a cornet; and, in the corner, a little
roulette-table. It was a strange medley, in keeping, perhaps, with the
incongruously furnished mind of the master of it all; it was
expressive of tastes and habits not yet settled and consistent.

Al'mah's eyes had taken it all in rather wistfully, while she had
waited for Krool's return from his master; but the wistfulness was due
to personal trouble, for her eyes were clouded and her motions
languid. But when she saw the banjo, the cornet, and the
roulette-table, a deep little laugh rose to her full red lips.

"How like a subaltern, or a colonial civil servant!" she said to
herself.

She reflected a moment, then pursued the thought further: "But there
must be bigness in him, as well as presence of mind and depth of
heart--yes, I'm sure his nature is deep."

She remembered the quick, protecting hands which had wrapped her round
with Jasmine Grenfel's cloak, and the great arms in which she had
rested, the danger over.

"There can't be much wrong with a nature like his, though Adrian hates
him so. But, of course, Adrian would. Besides, Adrian will never get
over the drop in the mining-stock which ruined him--Rudyard Byng's
mine.... It's natural for Adrian to hate him, I suppose," she added
with a heavy sigh.

Mentally she took to comparing this room with Adrian Fellowes'
sitting-room overlooking the Thames Embankment, where everything was
in perfect taste and order, where all was modulated, harmonious,
soigne and artistic. Yet, somehow, the handsome chambers which hung
over the muddy river with its wonderful lights and shades, its mists
and radiance, its ghostly softness and greyness, lacked in something
that roused imagination, that stirred her senses here--the vital being
in her.

It was power, force, experience, adventure. They were all here. She
knew the signs: the varied interests, the primary emotions, music,
art, hunting, prospecting, fighting, gambling. They were mixed with
the solid achievement of talent and force in the business of
life. Here was a model of a new mining-drill, with a picture of the
stamps working in the Work-and-Wonder mine, together with a model of
the Kaffir compound at Kimberley, with the busy, teeming life behind
the wire boundaries.

Thus near was Byng to the ways of a child, she thought, thus near to
the everlasting intelligence and the busy soul of a constructive and
creative Deity--if there was a Deity. Despite the frequent laughter on
her tongue and in her eyes, she doubted bitterly at times that there
was a Deity. For how should happen the awful tragedies which
encompassed men and peoples, if there was a Deity. No benign Deity
could allow His own created humanity to be crushed in bleeding masses,
like the grapes trampled in the vats of a vineyard. Whole cities
swallowed up by earthquake; islands swept of their people by a tidal
wave; a vast ship pierced by an iceberg and going down with its
thousand souls; provinces spread with the vile elements of a plague
which carpeted the land with dead; mines flooded by water or
devastated by fire; the little new-born babe left without the rightful
breast to feed it; the mother and her large family suddenly deprived
of the breadwinner; old men who had lived like saints, giving their
all to their own and to the world, driven to the degradation of the
poorhouse in the end--ah, if one did not smile, one would die of
weeping, she thought.

Al'mah had smiled her way through the world; with a quick word of
sympathy for any who were hurt by the blows of life or time; with an
open hand for the poor and miserable,--now that she could afford
it--and hiding her own troubles behind mirth and bonhommie; for her
humour, as her voice, was deep and strong like that of a man. It was
sometimes too pronounced, however, Adrian Fellowes had said; and
Adrian was an acute observer, who took great pride in her. Was it not
to Adrian she had looked first for approval the night of her triumph
at Covent Garden--why, that was only a few days ago, and it seemed a
hundred days, so much had happened since. It was Adrian's handsome
face which had told her then of the completeness of her triumph.

The half-caste valet entered again. "Here come, madame," he said with
something very near a smile; for he liked this woman, and his dark,
sensual soul would have approved of his master liking her.

"Soon the Baas, madame," he said as he placed a chair for her, and
with the gliding footstep of a native left the room.

"Sunny creature!" she remarked aloud, with a little laugh, and looked
round. Instantly her face lighted with interest. Here was nothing of
that admired disorder, that medley of incongruous things which marked
the room she had just left; but perfect order, precision, and balance
of arrangement, the most peaceful equipoise. There was a great carved
oak-table near to sun-lit windows, and on it were little regiments of
things, carefully arranged--baskets with papers in elastic bands;
classified and inscribed reference-books, scales, clips, pencils; and
in one clear space, with a bunch of violets before it, the photograph
of a woman in a splendid silver frame--a woman of seventy or so,
obviously Rudyard Byng's mother.

Al'mah's eyes softened. Here was insight into a nature of which the
world knew so little. She looked further. Everywhere were signs of
disciplined hours and careful hands--cabinets with initialed drawers,
shelves filled with books. There is no more impressive and revealing
moment with man or woman than when you stand in a room empty of their
actual presence, but having, in every inch of it, the pervasive
influences of the absent personality. A strange, almost solemn
quietness stole over Al'mah's senses. She had been admitted to the
inner court, not of the man's house, but of his life. Her eyes
travelled on with the gratified reflection that she had been admitted
here. Above the books were rows of sketches--rows of sketches!

Suddenly, as her eyes rested on them, she turned pale and got to her
feet. They were all sketches of the veld, high and low; of natives; of
bits of Dutch architecture; of the stoep with its Boer farmer and his
vrouw; of a kopje with a dozen horses or a herd of cattle grazing; of
a spruit, or a Kaffir's kraal; of oxen leaning against the disselboom
of a cape-wagon; of a herd of steinboks, or a little colony of
meerkats in the karoo.

Her hand went to her heart with a gesture of pain, and a little cry of
misery escaped her lips.

Now there was a quick footstep, and Byng entered with a cordial smile
and an outstretched hand.

"Well, this is a friendly way to begin the New Year," he said,
cheerily, taking her hand. "You certainly are none the worse for our
little unrehearsed drama the other night. I see by the papers that you
have been repeating your triumph. Please sit down. Do you mind my
having a little toast while we talk? I always have my petit dejeuner
here; and I'm late this morning."

"You look very tired," she said as she sat down.

Krool here entered with a tray, placing it on a small table by the big
desk. He was about to pour out the tea, but Byng waved him away.

"Send this note at once by hand," he said, handing him an envelope. It
was addressed to Jasmine Grenfel.

"Yes, I'm tired--rather," he added to his guest with a sudden
weariness of manner. "I've had no sleep for three nights--working all
the time, every hour; and in this air of London, which doesn't feed
you, one needs plenty of sleep. You can't play with yourself here as
you can on the high veld, where an hour or two of sleep a day will
do. On-saddle and off-saddle, in-span and outspan, plenty to eat and a
little sleep; and the air does the rest. It has been a worrying time."

"The Jameson Raid--and all the rest?"

"Particularly all the rest. I feel easier in my mind about Dr. Jim and
the others. England will demand--so I understand," he added with a
careful look at her, as though he had said too much--"the right to try
Jameson and his filibusters from Matabeleland here in England; but
it's different with the Jo'burgers. They will be arrested--"

"They have been arrested," she intervened.

"Oh, is it announced?" he asked without surprise.

"It was placarded an hour ago," she replied, heavily.

"Well, I fancied it would be," he remarked. "They'll have a close
squeak. The sympathy of the world is with Kruger--so far."

"That is what I have come about," she said, with an involuntary and
shrinking glance at the sketches on the walls.

"What you have come about?" he said, putting down his cup of tea and
looking at her intently." How are you concerned? Where do you come
in?"

"There is a man--he has been arrested with the others; with Farrar,
Phillips, Hammond, and the rest--"

"Oh, that's bad! A relative, or--"

"Not a relative, exactly," she replied in a tone of irony. Rising, she
went over to the wall and touched one of the water-colour sketches.

"How did you come by these?" she asked.

"Blantyre's sketches? Well, it's all I ever got for all Blantyre owed
me, and they're not bad. They're lifted out of the life. That's why I
bought them. Also because I liked to think I got something out of
Blantyre; and that he would wish I hadn't. He could paint a bit--
don't you think so?"

"He could paint a bit--always," she replied.

A silence followed. Her back was turned to him, her face was towards
the pictures.

Presently he spoke, with a little deferential anxiety in the
tone. "Are you interested in Blantyre?" he asked, cautiously. Getting
up, he came over to her.

"He has been arrested--as I said--with the others."

"No, you did not say so. So they let Blantyre into the game, did
they?" he asked almost musingly; then, as if recalling what she had
said, he added: "Do you mind telling me exactly what is your interest
in Blantyre?"

She looked at him straight in the eyes. For a face naturally so full
of humour, hers was strangely dark with stormy feeling now.

"Yes, I will tell you as much as I can--enough for you to understand,"
she answered.

He drew up a chair to the fire, and she sat down. He nodded at her
encouragingly. Presently she spoke.

"Well, at twenty-one I was studying hard, and he was painting--"

"Blantyre?"

She inclined her head. "He was full of dreams--beautiful, I thought
them; and he was ambitious. Also he could talk quite marvellously."

"Yes, Blantyre could talk--once," Byng intervened, gently.

"We were married secretly."

Byng made a gesture of amazement, and his face became shocked and
grave. "Married! Married! You were married to Blantyre?"

"At a registry office in Chelsea. One month, only one month it was,
and then he went away to Madeira to paint--'a big commission,' he
said; and he would send for me as soon as he could get money in
hand--certainly in a couple of months. He had taken most of my
half-year's income--I had been left four hundred a year by my mother."

Byng muttered a malediction under his breath and leaned towards her
sympathetically.

With an effort she continued. "From Madeira he wrote to tell me he was
going on to South Africa, and would not be home for a year. From South
Africa he wrote saying he was not coming back; that I could divorce
him if I liked. The proof, he said, would be easy; or I needn't
divorce him unless I liked, since no one knew we were married."

For an instant there was absolute silence, and she sat with her
fingers pressed tight to her eyes. At last she went on, her face
turned away from the great kindly blue eyes bent upon her, from the
face flushed with honourable human sympathy.

"I went into the country, where I stayed for nearly three years,
till--till I could bear it no longer; and then I began to study and
sing again."

"What were you doing in the country?" he asked in a low voice.

"There was my baby," she replied, her hands clasping and unclasping in
pain. "There was my little Nydia."

"A child--she is living?" he asked gently.

"No, she died two years ago," was the answer in a voice which tried to
be firm.

"Does Blantyre know?"

"He knew she was born, nothing more."

"We were married secretly."

"And after all he has done, and left undone, you want to try and save
him now?"

He was thinking that she still loved the man. "That offscouring!" he
said to himself. "Well, women beat all! He treats her like a
Patagonian; leaves her to drift with his child not yet born; rakes the
hutches of the towns and the kraals of the veld for women--always
women, black or white, it didn't matter; and yet, by gad, she wants
him back!"

She seemed to understand what was passing in his mind. Rising, with a
bitter laugh which he long remembered, she looked at him for a moment
in silence, then she spoke, her voice shaking with scorn:

"You think it is love for him that prompts me now?" Her eyes blazed,
but there was a contemptuous laugh at her lips, and she nervously
pulled at the tails of her sable muff. "You are wrong--absolutely. I
would rather bury myself in the mud of the Thames than let him touch
me. Oh, I know what his life must have been--the life of him that you
know! With him it would either be the sewer or the sycamore-tree of
Zaccheus; either the little upper chamber among the saints or eating
husks with the swine. I realize him now. He was easily susceptible to
good and evil, to the clean and the unclean; and he might have been
kept in order by some one who would give a life to building up his
character; but his nature was rickety, and he has gone down and not
up."

"Then why try to save him? Let Oom Paul have him. He'll do no more
harm, if--"

"Wait a minute," she urged. "You are a great man"--she came close to
him--"and you ought to understand what I mean, without my saying it. I
want to save him for his own sake, not for mine--to give him a
chance. While there's life there's hope. To go as he is, with the mud
up to his lips--ah, can't you see! He is the father of my dead
child. I like to feel that he may make some thing of his life and of
himself yet. That's why I haven't tried to divorce him, and--"

"If you ever want to do so--" he interrupted, meaningly.

"Yes, I know. I have always been sure that nothing could be quite so
easy; but I waited, on the chance of something getting hold of him
which would lift him out of himself, give him something to think of so
much greater than himself, some cause, perhaps--"

"He had you and your unborn child," he intervened.

"Me--!" She laughed bitterly. "I don't think men would ever be better
because of me. I've never seen that. I've seen them show the worst of
human nature because of me--and it wasn't inspiring. I've not met many
men who weren't on the low levels."

"He hasn't stood his trial for the Johannesburg conspiracy yet. How do
you propose to help him? He is in real danger of his life."

She laughed coldly, and looked at him with keen, searching eyes. "You
ask that, you who know that in the armory of life there's one
all-powerful weapon?"

He nodded his head whimsically. "Money? Well, whatever other weapons
you have, you must have that, I admit. And in the Transvaal--"

"Then here," she said, handing him an envelope--"here is what may
help."

He took it hesitatingly. "I warn you," he remarked, "that if money is
to be used at all, it must be a great deal. Kruger will put up the
price to the full capacity of the victim."

"I suppose this victim has nothing," she ventured, quietly.

"Nothing but what the others give him, I should think. It may be a
very costly business, even if it is possible, and you--"

"I have twenty thousand pounds," she said.

"Earned by your voice?" he asked, kindly.

"Every penny of it."

"Well, I wouldn't waste it on Blantyre, if I were you. No, by Heaven,
you shall not do it, even if it can be done! It is too horrible."

"I owe it to myself to do it. After all, he is still my husband. I
have let it be so; and while it is so, and while"--her eyes looked
away, her face suffused slightly, her lips tightened--"while things
are as they are, I am bound--bound by something, I don't know what,
but it is not love, and it is not friendship--to come to his
rescue. There will be legal expenses--"

Byng frowned. "Yes, but the others wouldn't see him in a hole--yet I'm
not sure, either, Blantyre being Blantyre. In any case, I'm ready to
do anything you wish."

She smiled gratefully. "Did you ever know any one to do a favor who
wasn't asked to repeat it--paying one debt by contracting another,
finding a creditor who will trust, and trading on his trust? Yet I'd
rather owe you two debts than most men one." She held out her hand to
him. "Well, it doesn't do to mope--'The merry heart goes all the day,
the sad one tires in a mile-a.' And I am out for all day. Please wish
me a happy new year."

He took her hand in both of his. "I wish you to go through this year
as you ended the last--in a blaze of glory."

"Yes, really a blaze if not of glory," she said, with bright tears,
yet laughing, too, a big warm humour shining in her strong face with
the dark brown eyes and the thick, heavy eyebrows under a low, broad
forehead like his own. They were indeed strangely alike in many ways
both of mind and body.

"They say we end the year as we begin it," he said, cheerily. "You
proved to Destiny that you were entitled to all she could give in the
old year, and you shall have the best that's to be had in 1897. You
are a woman in a million, and--"

"May I come and breakfast with you some morning?" she asked, gaily.

"Well, if ever I'm thought worthy of that honour, don't hesitate. As
the Spanish say, It is all yours." He waved a hand to the
surroundings.

"No, it is all yours," she said, reflectively, her eyes slowly roaming
about her. "It is all you. I'm glad to have been here, to be as near
as this to your real life. Real life is so comforting after the mock
kind so many of us live; which singers and actors live anyhow."

She looked round the room again. "I feel--I don't know why it is, but
I feel that when I'm in trouble I shall always want to come to this
room. Yes, and I will surely come; for I know there's much trouble in
store for me. You must let me come. You are the only man I would go to
like this, and you can't think what it means to me--to feel that I'm
not misunderstood, and that it seems absolutely right to come. That's
because any woman could trust you--as I do. Good-bye."

In another moment she had gone, and he stood beside the table with the
envelope she had left with him. Presently he opened it, and unfolded
the cheque which was in it. Then he gave an exclamation of
astonishment.

"Seven thousand pounds!" he exclaimed. "That's a better estimate of
Krugerism than I thought she had. It'll take much more than that,
though, if it's done at all; but she certainly has sense. It's seven
thousand times too much for Blantyre," he added, with an exclamation
of disgust. "Blantyre--that outsider!" Then he fell to thinking of all
she had told him. "Poor girl--poor girl!" he said aloud. "But she must
not come here, just the same. She doesn't see that it's not the thing,
just because she thinks I'm a Sir Galahad--me!" He glanced at the
picture of his mother, and nodded toward it tenderly. "So did she
always. I might have turned Kurd and robbed caravans, or become a Turk
and kept concubines, and she'd never have seen that it was so. But
Al'mah mustn't come here any more, for her own sake.... I'd find it
hard to explain if ever, by any chance--"

He fell to thinking of Jasmine, and looked at the clock. It was only
ten, and he would not see Jasmine till six; but if he had gone to
South Africa he would not have seen her at all! Fate and Wallstein had
been kind.

Presently, as he went to the hall to put on his coat and hat to go
out, he met Barry Whalen. Barry looked at him curiously; then, as
though satisfied, he said: "Early morning visitor, eh? I just met her
coming away. Card of thanks for kind services au theatre, eh?"

"Well, it isn't any business of yours what it is, Barry," came the
reply in tones which congealed.

"No, perhaps not," answered his visitor, testily, for he had had a
night of much excitement, and, after all, this was no way to speak to
a friend, to a partner who had followed his lead always. Friendship
should be allowed some latitude, and he had said hundreds of things
less carefully to Byng in the past. The past--he was suddenly
conscious that Byng had changed within the past few days, and that he
seemed to have put restraint on himself. Well, he would get back at
him just the same for the snub.

"It's none of my business," he retorted, "but it's a good deal of
Adrian Fellowes' business--"

"What is a good deal of Adrian Fellowes' business?"

"Al'mah coming to your rooms. Fellowes is her man. Going to marry her,
I suppose," he added, cynically.

Byng's jaw set and his eyes became cold. "Still, I'd suggest your
minding your own business, Barry. Your tongue will get you into
trouble some day.... You've seen Wallstein this morning--and Fleming?"

Barry replied sullenly, and the day's pressing work began, with the
wires busy under the seas.



CHAPTER VI

WITHIN THE POWER-HOUSE


At a few moments before six o'clock Byng was shown into Jasmine's
sitting-room. As he entered, the man who sat at the end of the front
row of stalls the first night of "Manassa" rose to his feet. It was
Adrian Fellowes, slim, well groomed, with the colour of an apple in
his cheeks, and his gold-brown hair waving harmoniously over his
unintellectual head.

"But, Adrian, you are the most selfish man I've ever known," Jasmine
was saying as Byng entered.

Either Jasmine did not hear the servant announce Byng, or she
pretended not to do so, and the words were said so distinctly that
Byng heard them as he came forward.

"Well, he is selfish," she added to Byng, as she shook hands. "I've
known him since I was a child, and he has always had the best of
everything and given nothing for it." Turning again to Fellowes, she
continued: "Yes, it's true. The golden apples just fall into your
hands."

"Well, I wish I had the apples, since you give me the reputation,"
Fellowes replied, and, shaking hands with Byng, who gave him an
enveloping look and a friendly greeting, he left the room.

"Such a boy--Adrian," Jasmine said, as they sat down.

"Boy--he looks thirty or more!" remarked Byng in a dry tone.

"He is just thirty. I call him a boy because he is so young
in most things that matter to people. He is the most sumptuous
person--entirely a luxury. Did you ever see such colouring--like a
woman's! But selfish, as I said, and useful, too, is Adrian. Yes, he
really is very useful. He would be a private secretary beyond price to
any one who needed such an article. He has tact--as you saw--and would
make a wonderful master of ceremonies, a splendid comptroller of the
household and equerry and lord-chamberlain in one. There, if ever you
want such a person, or if--"

She paused. As she did so she was sharply conscious of the contrast
between her visitor and Ian Stafford in outward appearance. Byng's
clothes were made by good hands, but they were made by tailors who
knew their man was not particular, and that he would not "try on." The
result was a looseness and carelessness of good things--giving him, in
a way, the look of shambling power. Yet in spite of the tie a little
crooked, and the trousers a little too large and too short, he had
touches of that distinction which power gives. His large hands with
the square-pointed fingers had obtrusive veins, but they were not
common.

"Certainly," he intervened, smiling indulgently; "if ever I want a
comptroller, or an equerry, or a lord-chamberlain, I'll remember
'Adrian.' In these days one can never tell. There's the Sahara. It
hasn't been exploited yet. It has no emperor."

"I like you in this mood," she said, eagerly. "You seem on the surface
so tremendously practical and sensible. You frighten me a little, and
I like to hear you touch things off with raillery. But, seriously, if
you can ever put anything in that boy's way, please do so. He has had
bad luck--in your own Rand mine. He lost nearly everything in that,
speculating, and--"

Byng's face grew serious again. "But he shouldn't have speculated; he
should have invested. It wants brains, good fortune, daring and wealth
to speculate. But I will remember him, if you say so. I don't like to
think that he has been hurt in any enterprise of mine. I'll keep him
in mind. Make him one of my secretaries perhaps."

Then Barry Whalen's gossip suddenly came to his mind, and he added:
"Fellowes will want to get married some day. That face and manner will
lead him into ways from which there's only one outlet."

"Matrimony?" She laughed. "Oh dear, no, Adrian is much too selfish to
marry."

"I thought that selfishness was one of the elements of successful
marriages. I've been told so."

A curious look stole into her eyes. All at once she wondered if his
words had any hidden meaning, and she felt angrily self-conscious; but
she instantly put the reflection away, for if ever any man travelled
by the straight Roman road of speech and thought, it was he. He had
only been dealing in somewhat obvious worldly wisdom.

"You ought not to give encouragement to such ideas by repeating them,"
she rejoined with raillery. "This is an age of telepathy and
suggestion, and the more silent we are the safer we are. Now, please,
tell me everything--of the inside, I mean--about Cecil Rhodes and the
Raiders. Is Rhodes overwhelmed? And Mr. Chamberlain--you have seen
him? The papers say you have spent many hours at the Colonial
Office. I suppose you were with him at six o'clock last evening,
instead of being here with me, as you promised."

He shook his head. "Rhodes? The bigger a man is the greater the crash
when he falls; and no big man falls alone."

She nodded. "There's the sense of power, too, which made everything
vibrate with energy, which gave a sense of great empty places
filled--of that power withdrawn and collapsed. Even the bad great man
gone leaves a sense of desolation behind. Power--power, that is the
thing of all," she said, her eyes shining and her small fingers
interlacing with eager vitality: "power to set waves of influence in
motion which stir the waters on distant shores. That seems to me the
most wonderful thing."

Her vitality, her own sense of power, seemed almost incongruous. She
was so delicately made, so much the dresden-china shepherdess, that
intensity seemed out of relation to her nature. Yet the tiny hands
playing before her with natural gestures like those of a child had,
too, a decision and a firmness in keeping with the perfectly modelled
head and the courageous poise of the body. There was something regnant
in her, while, too, there was something sumptuous and sensuous and
physically thrilling to the senses. To-day she was dressed in an
exquisite blue gown, devoid of all decoration save a little chinchilla
fur, which only added to its softness and richness. She wore no
jewelry whatever except a sapphire brooch, and her hair shone and
waved like gossamer in the sun.

"Well, I don't know," he rejoined, admiration unbounded in his eyes
for the picture she was of maidenly charm and womanly beauty, "I
should say that goodness was a more wonderful thing. But power is the
most common ambition, and only a handful of the hundreds of millions
get it in any large way. I used to feel it tremendously when I first
heard the stamps pounding the quartz in the mills on the Rand. You
never heard that sound? In the clear height of that plateau the air
reverberates greatly; and there's nothing on earth which so much gives
a sense of power--power that crushes--as the stamps of a great mine
pounding away night and day. There they go, thundering on, till it
seems to you that some unearthly power is hammering the world into
shape. You get up and go to the window and look out into the
night. There's the deep blue sky--blue like nothing you ever saw in
any other sky, and the stars so bright and big, and so near, that you
feel you could reach up and pluck one with your hand; and just over
the little hill are the lights of the stamp-mills, the smoke and the
mad red flare, the roar of great hammers as they crush, crush, crush;
while the vibration of the earth makes you feel that you are living in
a world of Titans."

"And when it all stops?" she asked, almost breathlessly. "When the
stamps pound no more, and the power is withdrawn? It is empty and
desolate--and frightening?"

"It is anything you like. If all the mills all at once, with the
thousands of stamps on the Rand reef, were to stop suddenly, and the
smoke and the red flare were to die, it would be frightening in more
ways than one. But I see what you mean. There might be a sense of
peace, but the minds and bodies which had been vibrating with the stir
of power would feel that the soul had gone out of things, and they
would dwindle too."

"If Rhodes should fall, if the stamps on the Rand should cease--?"

He got to his feet. "Either is possible, maybe probable; and I don't
want to think of it. As you say, there'd be a ghastly sense of
emptiness and a deadly kind of peace." He smiled bitterly.

She rose now also, and fingering some flowers in a vase, arranging
them afresh, said: "Well, this Jameson Raid, if it is proved that
Cecil Rhodes is mixed up in it, will it injure you greatly--I mean
your practical interests?"

He stood musing for a moment. "It's difficult to say at this
distance. One must be on the spot to make a proper estimate. Anything
may happen."

She was evidently anxious to ask him a question, but hesitated. At
last she ventured, and her breath came a little shorter as she spoke.

"I suppose you wish you were in South Africa now. You could do so much
to straighten things out, to prevent the worst. The papers say you
have a political mind--the statesman's intelligence, the Times
said. That letter you wrote, that speech you made at the Chamber of
Commerce dinner--"

She watched him, dreading what his answer might be. There was silence
for a moment, then he answered: "Fleming is going to South Africa, not
myself. I stay here to do Wallstein's work. I was going, but Wallstein
was taken ill suddenly. So I stay--I stay."

She sank down in her chair, going a little pale from excitement. The
whiteness of her skin gave a delicate beauty to the faint rose of her
cheeks--that rose-pink which never was to fade entirely from her face
while life was left to her.

"If it had been necessary, when would you have gone?" she asked.

"At once. Fleming goes to-morrow," he added.

She looked slowly up at him. "Wallstein is a new name for a special
Providence," she murmured, and the colour came back to her face. "We
need you here. We--"

Suddenly a thought flashed into his mind and suffused his face. He was
conscious of that perfume which clung to whatever she touched. It
stole to his senses and intoxicated them. He looked at her with
enamoured eyes. He had the heart of a boy, the impulsiveness of a
nature which had been unschooled in women's ways. Weaknesses in other
directions had taught him much, but experiences with her sex had been
few. The designs of other women had been patent to him, and he had
been invincible to all attack; but here was a girl who, with her
friendly little fortune and her beauty, could marry with no
difficulty; who, he had heard, could pick and choose, and had so far
rejected all comers; and who, if she had shown preference at all, had
shown it for a poor man like Ian Stafford. She had courage and
simplicity and a downright mind; that was clear. And she was
capable. She had a love for big things, for the things that
mattered. Every word she had ever said to him had understanding, not
of the world alone, and of life, but of himself, Rudyard Byng. She
grasped exactly what he would say, and made him say things he would
never have thought of saying to any one else. She drew him out, made
the most of him, made him think. Other women only tried to make him
feel. If he had had a girl like this beside him during the last ten
years, how many wasted hours would have been saved, how many bottles
of champagne would not have been opened, how many wild nights would
have been spent differently!

Too good, too fine for him--yes, a hundred times, but he would try to
make it up to her, if such a girl as this could endure him. He was not
handsome, he was not clever, so he said to himself, but he had a
little power. That he had to some degree rough power, of course, but
power; and she loved power, force. Had she not said so, shown it, but
a moment before? Was it possible that she was really interested in
him, perhaps because he was different from the average Englishman and
not of a general pattern? She was a woman of brains, of great
individuality, and his own individuality might influence her. It was
too good to be true; but there had ever been something of the gambler
in him, and he had always plunged. If he ever had a conviction he
acted on it instantly, staked everything, when that conviction got
into his inner being. It was not, perhaps, a good way, and it had
failed often enough; but it was his way, and he had done according to
the light and the impulse that were in him. He had no diplomacy, he
had only purpose.

He came over to her. "If I had gone to South Africa would you have
remembered my name for a month?" he asked with determination and
meaning.

"My friends never suffer lunar eclipse," she answered, gaily. "Dear
sir, I am called Hold-Fast. My friends are century-flowers and are
always blooming."

"You count me among your friends?"

"I hope so. You will let me make all England envious of me, won't you?
I never did you any harm, and I do want to have a hero in my tiny
circle."

"A hero--you mean me? Well, I begin to think I have some courage when
I ask you to let me inside your 'tiny' circle. I suppose most people
would think it audacity, not courage."

"You seem not to be aware what an important person you are--how almost
sensationally important. Why, I am only a pebble on a shore like
yours, a little unknown slip of a girl who babbles, and babbles in
vain."

She got to her feet now. "Oh, but believe me, believe me," she said,
with sweet and sudden earnestness, "I am prouder than I can say that
you will let me be a friend of yours! I like men who have done things,
who do things. My grandfather did big, world-wide things, and--"

"Yes, I know; I met your grandfather once. He was a big man, big as
can be. He had the world by the ear always."

"He spoiled me for the commonplace," she replied. "If I had lived in
Pizarro's time, I'd have gone to Peru with him, the splendid robber."

He answered with the eager frankness and humour of a boy. "If you mean
to be a friend of mine, there are those who will think that in one way
you have fulfilled your ambition, for they say I've spoiled the
Peruvians, too."

"I like you when you say things like that," she murmured. "If you said
them often--"

She looked at him archly, and her eyes brimmed with amusement and
excitement.

Suddenly he caught both her hands in his and his eyes burned. "Will
you--"

He paused. His courage forsook him. Boldness had its limit. He feared
a repulse which could never be overcome. "Will you, and all of you
here, come down to my place in Wales next week?" he blundered out.

She was glad he had faltered. It was too bewildering. She dared not
yet face the question she had seen he was about to ask. Power--yes, he
could give her that; but power was the craving of an ambitious
soul. There were other things. There was the desire of the heart, the
longing which came with music and the whispering trees and the bright
stars, the girlish dreams of ardent love and the garlands of youth and
joy--and Ian Stafford.

Suddenly she drew herself together. She was conscious that the servant
was entering the room with a letter.

"The messenger is waiting," the servant said.

With an apology she opened the note slowly as Byng turned to the
fire. She read the page with a strange, tense look, closing her eyes
at last with a slight sense of dizziness. Then she said to the
servant:

"Tell the messenger to wait. I will write an answer."

"I am sure we shall be glad to go to you in Wales next week," she
added, turning to Byng again. "But won't you be far away from the
centre of things in Wales?"

"I've had the telegraph and a private telephone wire to London put
in. I shall be as near the centre as though I lived in Grosvenor
Square; and there are always special trains."

"Special trains--oh, but it's wonderful to have power to do things
like that! When do you go down?" she asked.

"To-morrow morning."

She smiled radiantly. She saw that he was angry with himself for his
cowardice just now, and she tried to restore him. "Please, will you
telephone me when you arrive at your castle? I should like the
experience of telephoning by private wire to Wales."

He brightened. "Certainly, if you really wish it. I shall arrive at
ten to-morrow night, and I'll telephone you at eleven."

"Splendid--splendid! I'll be alone in my room then. I've got a
telephone instrument there, and so we could say good-night."

"So we can say good-night," he repeated in a low voice, and he held
out his hand in good-bye. When he had gone, with a new, great hope in
his heart, she sat down and tremblingly re-opened the note she had
received a moment before.

"I am going abroad" it read--"to Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and
St. Petersburg. I think I've got my chance at last. I want to see you
before I go--this evening, Jasmine. May I?"

It was signed "Ian."

"Fate is stronger than we are," she murmured; "and Fate is not kind to
you, Ian," she added, wearily, a wan look coming into her face.

"Mio destino," she said at last--"mio destino!" But who was her
destiny--which of the two who loved her?




BOOK II




CHAPTER VII

THREE YEARS LATER


"Extra speshul--extra speshul--all about Kruger an' his guns!"

The shrill, acrid cry rang down St. James's Street, and a newsboy with
a bunch of pink papers under his arm shot hither and thither on the
pavement, offering his sensational wares to all he met.

"Extra speshul--extra speshul--all about the war wot's comin'--all
about Kruger's guns!"

From an open window on the second floor of a building in the street a
man's head was thrust out, listening.

"The war wot's comin'!" he repeated, with a bitter sort of smile. "And
all about Kruger's guns. So it is coming, is it, Johnny Bull; and you
do know all about his guns, do you? If it is, and you do know, then a
shattering big thing is coming, and you know quite a lot, Johnny
Bull."

He hummed to himself an impromptu refrain to an impromptu tune:



"Then you know quite a lot, Johnny Bull, Johnny Bull,
Then you know quite a lot, Johnny Bull!"


Stepping out of the French window upon a balcony now, he looked down
the street. The newsboy was almost below. He whistled, and the lad
looked up. In response to a beckoning finger the gutter-snipe took the
doorway and the staircase at a bound. Like all his kind, he was a good
judge of character, and one glance had assured him that he was
speeding upon a visit of profit. Half a postman's knock--a sharp,
insistent stroke--and he entered, his thin weasel-like face thrust
forward, his eyes glittering. The fire in such eyes is always cold,
for hunger is poor fuel to the native flame of life.

"Extra speshul, m'lord--all about Kruger's guns."

He held out the paper to the figure that darkened the window, and he
pronounced the g in Kruger soft, as in Scrooge.

The hand that took the paper deftly slipped a shilling into the cold,
skinny palm. At its first touch the face of the paper-vender fell, for
it was the same size as a halfpenny; but even before the swift fingers
had had a chance to feel the coin, or the glance went down, the face
regained its confidence, for the eyes looking at him were generous. He
had looked at so many faces in his brief day that he was an expert
observer.

"Thank y' kindly," he said; then, as the fingers made assurance of the
fortune which had come to him, "Ow, thank ye werry much, y'r gryce,"
he added.

Something alert and determined in the face of the boy struck the giver
of the coin as he opened the paper to glance at its contents, and he
paused to scan him more closely. He saw the hunger in the lad's eyes
as they swept over the breakfast-table, still heavy with uneaten
breakfast--bacon, nearly the whole of an omelette, and rolls, toast,
marmalade and honey.

"Wait a second," he said, as the boy turned toward the door.

"Yes, y'r gryce."

"Had your breakfast?"

"I has me brekfist w'en I sells me pypers." The lad hugged the
remaining papers closer under his arms, and kept his face turned
resolutely away from the inviting table. His host correctly
interpreted the action.

"Poor little devil--grit, pure grit!" he said under his breath. "How
many papers have you got left?" he asked.

The lad counted like lightning. "Ten," he answered. "I'll soon get 'em
off now. Luck's wiv me dis mornin'." The ghost of a smile lighted his
face.

"I'll take them all," the other said, handing over a second shilling.

The lad fumbled for change and the fumbling was due to honest
agitation. He was not used to this kind of treatment.

"No, that's all right," the other interposed.

"But they're only a h'ypenny," urged the lad, for his natural cupidity
had given way to a certain fine faculty not too common in any grade of
human society.

"Well, I'm buying them at a penny this morning. I've got some friends
who'll be glad to give a penny to know all about Kruger's guns." He
too softened the g in Kruger in consideration of his visitor's
idiosyncrasies.

"You won't be mykin' anythink on them, y'r gryce," said the lad with a
humour which opened the doors of Ian Stafford's heart wide; for to him
heaven itself would be insupportable if it had no humorists.

"I'll get at them in other ways," Stafford rejoined. "I'll get my
profit, never fear. Now what about breakfast? You've sold all your
papers, you know."

"I'm fair ready for it, y'r gryce," was the reply, and now the lad's
glance went eagerly towards the door, for the tension of labour was
relaxed, and hunger was scraping hard at his vitals.

"Well, sit down--this breakfast isn't cold yet.... But, no, you'd
better have a wash-up first, if you can wait," Stafford added, and
rang a bell.

"Wot, 'ere--brekfist wiv y'r gryce 'ere?"

"Well, I've had mine"--Stafford made a slight grimace--" and there's
plenty left for you, if you don't mind eating after me."

"I dusted me clothes dis mornin'," said the boy, with an attempt to
justify his decision to eat this noble breakfast. "An' I washed me
'ends--but pypers is muck," he added.

A moment later he was in the fingers of Gleg the valet in the
bath-room, and Stafford set to work to make the breakfast piping hot
again. It was an easy task, as heaters were inseparable from his
bachelor meals, and, though this was only the second breakfast he had
eaten since his return to England after three years' absence,
everything was in order.

For Gleg was still more the child of habit--and decorous habit--than
himself. It was not the first time that Gleg had had to deal with his
master's philanthropic activities. Much as he disapproved of them, he
could discriminate; and there was that about the newsboy which somehow
disarmed him. He went so far as to heap the plate of the lad, and
would have poured the coffee too, but that his master took the pot
from his hand and with a nod and a smile dismissed him; and his
master's smile was worth a good deal to Gleg. It was an exacting if
well-paid service, for Ian Stafford was the most particular man in
Europe, and he had grown excessively so during the past three years,
which, as Gleg observed, had brought great, if quiet, changes in
him. He had grown more studious, more watchful, more exclusive in his
daily life, and ladies of all kinds he had banished from direct
personal share in his life. There were no more little tea-parties and
dejeuners chez lui, duly chaperoned by some gracious cousin or
aunt--for there was no embassy in Europe where he had not relatives.

"'Ipped--a bit 'ipped. 'E 'as found 'em out, the 'uzzies," Gleg had
observed; for he had decided that the general cause of the change in
his master was Woman, though he did not know the particular woman who
had 'ipped him.

As the lad ate his wonderful breakfast, in which nearly half a pot of
marmalade and enough butter for three ordinary people figured,
Stafford read the papers attentively, to give his guest a fair chance
at the food and to overcome his self-consciousness. He got an
occasional glance at the trencherman, however, as he changed the
sheets, stepped across the room to get a cigarette, or poked the small
fire--for, late September as it was, a sudden cold week of rain had
come and gone, leaving the air raw; and a fire was welcome.

At last, when he realized that the activities of the table were
decreasing, he put down his paper. "Is it all right?" he asked. "Is
the coffee hot?"

"I ain't never 'ad a meal like that, y'r gryce, not never any time,"
the boy answered, with a new sort of fire in his eyes.

"Was there enough?"

"I've left some," answered his guest, looking at the jar of marmalade
and half a slice of toast. "I likes the coffee hot--tykes y'r longer
to drink it," he added.

Ian Stafford chuckled. He was getting more than the worth of his
money. He had nibbled at his own breakfast, with the perturbations of
a crossing from Flushing still in his system, and its equilibrium not
fully restored; and yet, with the waste of his own meal and the
neglect of his own appetite, he had given a great and happy half-hour
to a waif of humanity.

As he looked at the boy he wondered how many thousands there were like
him within rifle-shot from where he sat, and he thought each of them
would thank whatever gods they knew for such a neglected meal. The
words from the scare-column of the paper he held smote his sight:

"War Inevitable--Transvaal Bristling with Guns and Loaded to the
Nozzle with War Stores--Milner and Kruger No Nearer a Settlement--
Sullen and Contemptuous Treatment of British Outlander."
. . . And so on.

And if war came, if England must do this ugly thing, fulfil her bitter
and terrible task, then what about such as this young outlander here,
this outcast from home and goodly toil and civilized conditions, this
sickly froth of the muddy and dolorous stream of lower England? So
much withdrawn from the sources of the possible relief, so much less
with which to deal with their miseries--perhaps hundreds of millions,
mopped up by the parched and unproductive soil of battle and disease
and loss.

He glanced at the paper again. "Britons Hold Your Own," was the
heading of the chief article. "Yes, we must hold our own," he said,
aloud, with a sigh. "If it comes, we must see it through; but the
breakfasts will be fewer. It works down one way or another--it all
works down to this poor little devil and his kind."

"Now, what's your name?" he asked.

"Jigger," was the reply.

"What else?"

"Nothin', y'r gryce."

"Jigger--what?"

"It's the only nyme I got," was the reply.

"What's your father's or your mother's name?"

"I ain't got none. I only got a sister."

"What's her name?"

"Lou," he answered." That's her real name. But she got a fancy name
yistiddy. She was took on at the opera yistiddy, to sing with a
hunderd uvver girls on the styge. She's Lulu Luckingham now."

"Oh--Luckingham!" said Stafford, with a smile, for this was a name of
his own family, and of much account in circles he frequented. "And who
gave her that name? Who were her godfathers and godmothers?"

"I dunno, y'r gryce. There wasn't no religion in it. They said she'd
have to be called somefink, and so they called her that. Lou was
always plenty for 'er till she went there yistiddy."

"What did she do before yesterday?"

"Sold flowers w'en she could get 'em to sell. 'Twas when she couldn't
sell her flowers that she piped up sort of dead wild--for she 'adn't
'ad nothin' to eat, an' she was fair crusty. It was then a gentleman,
'e 'eard 'er singin' hot, an' he says, 'That's good enough for a
start,' 'e says, 'an' you come wiv me,' he says. 'Not much,' Lou says,
'not if I knows it. I seed your kind frequent.' But 'e stuck to it,
an' says, 'It's stryght, an' a lydy will come for you to-morrer, if
you'll be 'ere on this spot, or tell me w'ere you can be found.' An'
Lou says, says she, 'You buy my flowers, so's I kin git me
bread-baskit full, an' then I'll think it over.' An' he bought 'er
flowers, an' give 'er five bob. An' Lou paid rent for both of us wiv
that, an' 'ad brekfist; an' sure enough the lydy come next dy an' took
her off. She's in the opery now, an' she'll 'ave 'er brekfist
reg'lar. I seed the lydy meself. Her picture 's on the 'oardings--"

Suddenly he stopped. "W'y, that's 'er--that's 'er!" he said, pointing
to the mantel-piece.

Stafford followed the finger and the glance. It was Al'mah's portrait
in the costume she had worn over three years ago, the night when
Rudyard Byng had rescued her from the flames. He had bought it
then. It had been unpacked again by Gleg, and put in the place it had
occupied for a day or two before he had gone out of England to do his
country's work--and to face the bitterest disillusion of his life; to
meet the heaviest blow his pride and his heart had ever known.

"So that's the lady, is it?" he said, musingly, to the boy, who nodded
assent.

"Go and have a good look at it," urged Stafford.

The boy did so. "It's 'er--done up for the opery," he declared.

"Well, Lulu Luckingham is all right, then. That lady will be good to
her."

"Right. As soon as I seed her, I whispers to Lou 'You keep close to
that there wall,' I sez. 'There's a chimbey in it, an' you'll never be
cold,' I says to Lou."

Stafford laughed softly at the illustration. Many a time the lad
snuggled up to a wall which had a warm chimney, and he had got his
figure of speech from real life.

"Well, what's to become of you?" Stafford asked.

"Me--I'll be level wiv me rent to-day," he answered, turning over the
two shillings and some coppers in his pocket; "an' Lou and me's got a
fair start."

Stafford got up, came over, and laid a hand on the boy's
shoulder. "I'm going to give you a sovereign," he said--"twenty
shillings, for your fair start; and I want you to come to me here next
Sunday-week to breakfast, and tell me what you've done with it."

"Me--y'r gryce!" A look of fright almost came into the lad's
face. "Twenty bob--me!"

The sovereign was already in his hand, and now his face suffused. He
seemed anxious to get away, and looked round for his cap. He couldn't
do here what he wanted to do. He felt that he must burst.

"Now, off you go. And you be here at nine o'clock on Sunday-week with
the papers, and tell me what you've done."

"Gawd--my Gawd!" said the lad, huskily. The next minute he was out in
the hall, and the door was shut behind him. A moment later, hearing a
whoop, Stafford went to the window and, looking down, he saw his late
visitor turning a cart-wheel under the nose of a policeman, and then,
with another whoop, shooting down into the Mall, making Lambeth way.

With a smile he turned from the window. "Well, we shall see," he
said. "Perhaps it will be my one lucky speculation. Who knows--who
knows!"

His eye caught the portrait of Al'mah on the mantelpiece. He went over
and stood looking at it musingly.

"You were a good girl," he said, aloud. "At any rate, you wouldn't
pretend. You'd gamble with your immortal soul, but you wouldn't sell
it--not for three millions, not for a hundred times three millions. Or
is it that you are all alike, you women? Isn't there one of you that
can be absolutely true? Isn't there one that won't smirch her soul and
kill the faith of those that love her for some moment's excitement,
for gold to gratify a vanity, or to have a wider sweep to her skirts?
Vain, vain, vain--and dishonourable, essentially dishonourable. There
might be tragedies, but there wouldn't be many intrigues if women
weren't so dishonourable--the secret orchard rather than the open
highway and robbery under arms.... Whew, what a world!"

He walked up and down the room for a moment, his eyes looking straight
before him; then he stopped short. "I suppose it's natural that,
coming back to England, I should begin to unpack a lot of old
memories, empty out the box-room, and come across some useless and
discarded things. I'll settle down presently; but it's a thoroughly
useless business turning over old stock. The wise man pitches it all
into the junk-shop, and cuts his losses."

He picked up the Morning Post and glanced down the middle page--the
social column first--with the half-amused reflection that he hadn't
done it for years, and that here were the same old names reappearing,
with the same brief chronicles. Here, too, were new names, some of
them, if not most of them, of a foreign turn to their syllables--New
York, Melbourne, Buenos Ayres, Johannesburg. His lip curled a little
with almost playful scorn. At St. Petersburg, Vienna, and elsewhere he
had been vaguely conscious of these social changes; but they did not
come within the ambit of his daily life, and so it had not
mattered. And there was no reason why it should matter now. His
England was a land the original elements of which would not change,
had not changed; for the old small inner circle had not been invaded,
was still impervious to the wash of wealth and snobbery and push. That
refuge had its sequestered glades, if perchance it was unilluminating
and rather heavily decorous; so that he could let the climbers, the
toadies, the gold-spillers, and the bribers have the middle of the
road.

It did not matter so much that London was changing fast. The old clock
on the tower of St. James's would still give the time to his step as
he went to and from the Foreign Office, and there were quiet places
like Kensington Gardens where the bounding person would never think to
stray. Indeed, they never strayed; they only rushed and pushed where
their spreading tails could be seen by the multitude. They never got
farther west than Rotten Row, which was in possession of three classes
of people--those who sat in Parliament, those who had seats on the
Stock Exchange, and those who could not sit their horses. Three years
had not done it all, but it had done a good deal; and he was more
keenly alive to the changes and developments which had begun long
before he left and had increased vastly since. Wealth was more and
more the master of England--new-made wealth; and some of it was too
ostentatious and too pretentious to condone, much less indulge.

All at once his eye, roaming down the columns, came upon the following
announcement:

"Mr. and Mrs. Rudyard Byng have returned to town from Scotland for a
few days, before proceeding to Wales, where they are presently to
receive at Glencader Castle the Duke and Duchess of Sheffield, the
Prince and Princess of Cleaves, M. Santon, the French Foreign
Minister, the Slavonian Ambassador, the Earl and Countess of
Tynemouth, and Mr. Tudor Tempest."

"'And Mr. Tudor Tempest,'" Ian repeated to himself. "Well, she
would. She would pay that much tribute to her own genius. Four-fifths
to the claims of the body and the social nervous system, and one-fifth
to the desire of the soul. Tempest is a literary genius by what he has
done, and she is a genius by nature, and with so much left undone. The
Slavonian Ambassador--him, and the French Foreign Minister! That looks
like a useful combination at this moment--at this moment. She has a
gift for combinations, a wonderful skill, a still more wonderful
perception--and a remarkable unscrupulousness. She's the naturally
ablest woman I have ever known; but she wants to take short-cuts to a
worldly Elysium, and it can't be done, not even with three times three
millions--and three millions was her price."

Suddenly he got up and went over to a table where were several
dispatch-boxes. Opening one, he drew forth from the bottom, where he
had placed it nearly three years ago, a letter. He looked at the long,
sliding handwriting, so graceful and fine, he caught the perfume which
had intoxicated Rudyard Byng, and, stooping down, he sniffed the
dispatch-box. He nodded.

"She's pervasive in everything," he murmured. He turned over several
other packets of letters in the box. "I apologize," he said,
ironically, to these letters. "I ought to have banished her long ago,
but, to tell you the truth, I didn't realize how much she'd influence
everything--even in a box." He laughed cynically, and slowly opened
the one letter which had meant so much to him.

There was no show of agitation. His eye was calm; only his mouth
showed any feeling or made any comment. It was a little supercilious
and scornful. Sitting down by the table, he spread the letter out, and
read it with great deliberation. It was the first time he had looked
at it since he received it in Vienna and had placed it in the
dispatch-box.

"Dear Ian," it ran, "our year of probation--that is the word isn't
it?--is up; and I have decided that our ways must lie apart. I am
going to marry Rudyard Byng next month. He is very kind and very
strong, and not too ragingly clever. You know I should chafe at being
reminded daily of my own stupidity by a very clever man. You and I
have had so many good hours together, there has been such confidence
between us, that no other friendship can ever be the same; and I shall
always want to go to you, and ask your advice, and learn to be
wise. You will not turn a cold shoulder on me, will you? I think you
yourself realized that my wish to wait a year before giving a final
answer was proof that I really had not that in my heart which would
justify me in saying what you wished me to say. Oh yes, you knew; and
the last day when you bade me good-bye you almost said as much! I was
so young, so unschooled, when you first asked me, and I did not know my
own mind; but I know it now, and so I go to Rudyard Byng for better or
for worse--"

He suddently stopped reading, sat back in his char, and laughed
sardonically.

"For richer, for poorer'--now to have launched out on the first
phrase, and to have jibbed at the second was distinctly stupid. The
quotation could only have been carried off with audacity of the ripest
kind. 'For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and
in health, till death us do part, amen--' That was the way to have
done it, if it was to be done at all. Her cleverness forsook her when
she wrote that letter. 'Our year of probation'--she called it
that. Dear, dear, what a poor prevaricator the best prevaricator is!
She was sworn to me, bound to me, wanted a year in which to have her
fling before she settled down, and she threw me over--like that."

He did not read the rest of the letter, but got up, went over to the
fire, threw it in, and watched it burn.

"I ought to have done so when I received it," he said, almost kindly
now. "A thing like that ought never to be kept a minute. It's a
terrible confession, damning evidence, a self-made exposure, and to
keep it is too brutal, too hard on the woman. If anything had
happened to me and it had been read, 'Not all the King's horses nor
all the King's men could put Humpty Dumpty together again.'"

Then he recalled the brief letter he had written her in reply. Unlike
him, she had not kept his answer, when it came into her hands, but,
tearing it up into fifty fragments, had thrown it into the waste-
basket, and paced her room in shame, anger and humiliation. Finally,
she had taken the waste-basket and emptied it into the flames. She had
watched the tiny fragments burn in a fire not hotter than that in her
own eyes, which presently were washed by a flood of bitter tears and
passionate and unavailing protest. For hours she had sobbed, and when
she went out into the world the next day, it was with his every word
ringing in her ears, as they had rung ever since: the sceptic comment
at every feast, the ironical laughter behind every door, the whispered
detraction in every loud accent of praise.

"Dear Jasmine," his letter had run, "it is kind of you to tell me of
your intended marriage before it occurs, for in these distant lands
news either travels slowly or does not reach one at all. I am
fortunate in having my information from the very fountain of first
knowledge. You have seen and done much in the past year; and the end
of it all is more fitting than the most meticulous artist could desire
or conceive. You will adorn the new sphere into which you enter. You
are of those who do not need training or experience: you are a genius,
whose chief characteristic is adaptability. Some people, to whom
nature and Providence have not been generous live up to things; to you
it is given to live down to them; and no one can do it so well. We
have had good times together--happy conversations and some cheerful
and entertaining dreams and purposes. We have made the most of
opportunity, each in his and her own way. But, my dear Jasmine, don't
ever think that you will need to come to me for advice and to learn to
be wise. I know of no one from whom I could learn, from whom I have
learned, so I much. I am deeply your debtor for revelations which
never could have come to me without your help. There is a wonderful
future before you, whose variety let Time, not me, attempt to
reveal. I shall watch your going on"--(he did not say goings
on)--"your Alpine course, with clear memories of things and hours
dearer to me than all the world, and with which I would not have
parted for the mines of the Rand. I lose them now for nothing--and
less than nothing. I shall be abroad for some years, and, meanwhile, a
new planet will swim into the universe of matrimony. I shall see the
light shining, but its heavenly orbit will not be within my
calculations. Other astronomers will watch, and some no doubt will
pray, and I shall read in the annals the bright story of the flower
that was turned into a star!

"Always yours sincerely,
IAN STAFFORD."

From the filmy ashes of her letter to him Stafford now turned away
to his writing-table. There he sat for a while and answered several
notes, among them one to Alice Mayhew, now the Countess of Tynemouth,
whose red parasol still hung above the mantel-piece, a relic of the
Zambesi--and of other things.

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!"



CHAPTER VIII

"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.

She did not see him enter, and he had time to note what matrimony, and
the three years and the three million pounds, had done to her. She was
radiant and exquisite, a little paler, a little more complete, but
increasingly graceful and perfectly appointed. Her dress was of dark
green, of a most delicate shade, and with the clinging softness and
texture of velvet. She wore a jacket of the same material, and a
single brilliant ornament at her throat relieved the simplicity. In
the hat, too, one big solitary emerald shone against the lighter
green.

She was talking now with animation and amusement to the shop-girl who
was supplying her with sweets, and every attendant was watching her
with interest and pleasure. Stafford reflected that this was always
her way: wherever she went she attracted attention, drew interest,
magnetized the onlooker. Nothing had changed in her. nothing of charm
and beauty and eloquence,--how eloquent she had always been!--of
esprit, had gone from her; nothing. Presently she turned her face full
toward him, still not seeing him, half hidden as he was behind some
piled-up tables in the centre of the shop.

Nothing changed? Yes, instantly he was aware of a change, in the eyes,
at the mouth. An elusive, vague, distant kind of disturbance--he could
not say trouble--had stolen into her eyes, had taken possession of the
corners of the mouth; and he was conscious of something exotic,
self-indulgent, and "emancipated." She had always been self-indulgent
and selfish, and, in a wilful, innocent way, emancipated, in the old
days; but here was a different, a fuller, a more daring expression of
these qualities.... Ah, he had it now! That elusive something was a
lurking recklessness, which, perhaps, was not bold enough yet to leap
into full exercise, or even to recognize itself.

So this was she to whom he had given the best of which he had been
capable--not a very noble or priceless best, he was willing to
acknowledge, but a kind of guarantee of the future, the nucleus of
fuller things. As he looked at her now his heart did not beat faster,
his pulses did not quicken, his eye did not soften, he did not even
wish himself away. Love was as dead as last year's leaves--so dead
that no spirit of resentment, or humiliation, or pain of heart was in
his breast at this sight of her again. On the contrary, he was
conscious of a perfect mastery of himself, of being easily superior to
the situation.

Love was dead; youth was dead; the desire that beats in the veins of
the young was dead; his disillusion and disappointment and contempt
for one woman had not driven him, as it so often does, to other
women--to that wild waste which leaves behind it a barren and
ill-natured soil exhausted of its power, of its generous and native
health. There was a strange apathy in his senses, an emotional
stillness, as it were, the atrophy of all the passionate elements of
his nature. But because of this he was the better poised, the more
evenly balanced, the more perceptive. His eyes were not blurred or
dimmed by any stress of emotion, his mind worked in a cool quiet, and
his forward tread had leisurely decision and grace. He had sunk one
part of himself far below the level of activity or sensation, while
new resolves, new powers of mind, new designs were set in motion to
make his career a real and striking success. He had the most friendly
ear and the full confidence of the Prime Minister, who was also
Foreign Secretary--he had got that far; and now, if one of his great
international schemes could but be completed, an ambassadorship would
be his reward, and one of first-class importance. The three years had
done much for him in a worldly way, wonderfully much.

As he looked at the woman who had shaken his life to the centre--not
by her rejection of him, but by the fashion of it, the utter
selfishness and cold-blooded calculation of it, he knew that love's
fires were out, and that he could meet her without the agitation of a
single nerve. He despised her, but he could make allowance for her. He
knew the strain that was in her, got from her brilliant and rather
plangent grandfather. He knew the temptation of a vast fortune, the
power that it would bring--and the notoriety, too, again an
inheritance from her grandfather. He was not without magnanimity, and
he could the more easily exercise it because his pulses of emotion
were still.

She was by nature the most brilliantly endowed woman he had ever met,
the most naturally perceptive and artistic, albeit there was a touch
of gorgeousness to the inherent artistry which time, training and
experience would have chastened. Would have chastened? Was it not,
then, chastened? Looking at her now, he knew that it was not. It was
still there, he felt; but how much else was also there--of charm, of
elusiveness, of wit, of mental adroitness, of joyous eagerness to
discover a new thought or a new thing! She was a creature of rare
splendour, variety and vanity.

Why should he deny himself the pleasure of her society? His
intellectual side would always be stimulated by her, she would always
"incite him to mental riot," as she had often said. Time had flown,
love had flown, and passion was dead; but friendship stayed. Yes,
friendship stayed--in spite of all. Her conduct had made him blush for
her, had covered him with shame, but she was a woman, and therefore
weak--he had come to that now. She was on a lower plateau of honour,
and therefore she must be--not forgiven--that was too banal; but she
must be accepted as she was. And, after all, there could be no more
deception; for opportunity and occasion no longer existed. He would go
and speak to her now.

At that moment he was aware that she had caught sight of him, and that
she was startled. She had not known of his return to England, and she
was suddenly overwhelmed by confusion. The words of the letter he had
written her when she had thrown him over rushed through her brain now,
and hurt her as much as they did the first day they had been
received. She became a little pale, and turned as though to find some
other egress from the shop. There being none, there was but one
course, and that was to go out as though she had not seen him. He had
not even been moved at all at seeing her; but with her it was
different. She was disturbed--in her vanity? In her peace? In her
pride? In her senses? In her heart? In any, or each, or all? But she
was disturbed: her equilibrium was shaken. He had scorched her soul by
that letter to her, so gently cold, so incisive, so subtly cruel, so
deadly in its irony, so final--so final.

She was ashamed, and no one else in the world but Ian Stafford could
so have shamed her. Power had been given to her, the power of great
riches--the three millions had been really four--and everything and
everybody, almost, was deferential towards her. Had it brought her
happiness, or content, or joy? It had brought her excitement--much of
that--and elation, and opportunity to do a thousand things, and to
fatigue herself in a thousand ways; but had it brought happiness?

If it had, the face of this man who was once so much to her, and whom
she had flung into outer darkness, was sufficient to cast a cloud over
it. She felt herself grow suddenly weak, but she determined to go out
of the place without appearing to see him.

He was conscious of it all, saw it out of a corner of his eye, and as
she started forward, he turned, deliberately walked towards her, and,
with a cheerful smile, held out his hand.

"Now, what good fortune!" he said, spiritedly. "Life plays no tricks,
practices no deception this time. In a book she'd have made us meet on
a grand staircase or at a court ball."

As he said this, he shook her hand warmly, and again and again, as
would be fitting with old friends. He had determined to be master of
the situation, and to turn the moment to the credit of his
account--not hers; and it was easy to do it, for love was dead, and
the memory of love atrophied.

Colour came back to her face. Confusion was dispelled, a quick and
grateful animation took possession of her, to be replaced an instant
after by the disconcerting reflection that there was in his face or
manner not the faintest sign of emotion or embarrassment. From his
attitude they might have been good friends who had not met for some
time; nothing more.

"Yes, what a place to meet!" she said. "It really ought to have been
at a green-grocer's, and the apotheosis of the commonplace would have
been celebrated. But when did you return? How long do you remain in
England?"

Ah, the sense of relief to feel that he was not reproaching her for
anything, not impeaching her by an injured tone and manner, which so
many other men had assumed with infinitely less right or cause than
he!

"I came back thirty-six hours ago, and I stay at the will of the
master-mind," he answered.

The old whimsical look came into her face, the old sudden flash which
always lighted her eyes when a daring phrase was born in her mind, and
she instantly retorted:

"The master-mind--how self-centred you are!"

Whatever had happened, certainly the old touch of intellectual
diablerie was still hers, and he laughed good-humoredly. Yes, she
might be this or that, she might be false or true, she might be one
who had sold herself for mammon, and had not paid tribute to the one
great natural principle of being, to give life to the world, man and
woman perpetuating man and woman; but she was stimulating and
delightful without effort.

"And what are you doing these days?" he asked. "One never hears of you
now."

This was cruel, but she knew that he was "inciting her to riot," and
she replied: "That's because you are so secluded--in your kindergarten
for misfit statesmen. Abandon knowledge, all ye who enter there!"

It was the old flint and steel, but the sparks were not bright enough
to light the tinder of emotion. She knew it, for he was cool and
buoyant and really unconcerned, and she was feverish--and determined.

"You still make life worth living," he answered, gaily.

"It is not an occupation I would choose," she replied. "It is sure to
make one a host of enemies."

"So many of us make our careers by accident," he rejoined.

"Certainly I made mine not by design," she replied instantly; and
there was an undercurrent of meaning in it which he was not slow to
notice; but he disregarded her first attempt to justify, however
vaguely, her murderous treatment of him.

"But your career is not yet begun," he remarked.

Her eyes flashed--was it anger, or pique, or hurt, or merely the fire
of intellectual combat?

"I am married," she said, defiantly, in direct retort.

"That is not a career--it is casual exploration in a dark continent,"
he rejoined.

"Come and say that to my husband," she replied, boldly. Suddenly a
thought lighted her eyes. "Are you by any chance free to-morrow night
to dine with us--quite, quite en famille' Rudyard will be glad to see
you--and hear you," she added, teasingly.

He was amused. He felt how much he had really piqued her and provoked
her by showing her so plainly that she had lost every vestige of the
ancient power over him; and he saw no reason why he should not spend
an evening where she sparkled.

"I am free, and will come with pleasure," he replied.

"That is delightful," she rejoined, "and please bring a box of bons
mots with you. But you will come, then--?" She was going to add,
"Ian," but she paused.

"Yes, I'll come--Jasmine," he answered, coolly, having read her
hesitation aright.

She flushed, was embarrassed and piqued, but with a smile and a nod
she left him.

In her carriage, however, her breath came quick and fast, her tiny
hand clenched, her face flushed, and there was a devastating fire in
her eyes.

"He shall not treat me so. He shall show some feeling. He shall--he
shall--he shall!" she gasped, angrily.



CHAPTER IX

THE APPIAN WAY


"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.

"Krool?"

"Krool--for sure."

"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."

"What is?"

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.



CHAPTER X

AN ARROW FINDS A BREAST


As he entered the new sphere of Jasmine's influence, charm, and
existence, Ian Stafford's mind became flooded by new impressions. He
was not easily moved by vastness or splendour. His ducal grandfather's
houses were palaces, the estates were a fair slice of two counties,
and many of his relatives had sumptuous homes stored with priceless
legacies of art. He had approached the great house which Byng had
built for himself with some trepidation; for though Byng came of
people whose names counted for a good deal in the north of England,
still, in newly acquired fortunes made suddenly in new lands there was
something that coarsened taste--an unmodulated, if not a garish,
elegance which "hit you in the eye," as he had put it to himself. He
asked himself why Byng had not been content to buy one of the great
mansions which could always be had in London for a price, where time
had softened all the outlines, had given that subdued harmony in
architecture which only belongs to age. Byng could not buy with any
money those wonderful Adam's mantels, over-mantels and ceilings which
had a glory quite their own. There must, therefore, be an air of
newness in the new mansion, which was too much in keeping with the new
money, the gold as yet not worn smooth by handling, the staring,
brand-new sovereigns looking like impostors.

As he came upon the great house, however, in the soft light of
evening, he was conscious of no violence done to his artistic
sense. It was a big building, severely simple in design, yet with the
rich grace, spacious solidity, and decorative relief of an Italian
palace: compact, generous, traditionally genuine and wonderfully
proportionate.

"Egad, Byng, you had a good architect--and good sense!" he said to
himself. "It's the real thing; and he did it before Jasmine came on
the scene too."

The outside of the house was Byng's, but the inside would, in the
essentials, of course, be hers; and he would see what he would see.

When the door opened, it came to him instantly that the inside and
outside were in harmony. How complete was that harmony remained to be
seen, but an apparently unstudied and delightful reticence was
noticeable at once. The newness had been rubbed off the gold somehow,
and the old furniture--Italian, Spanish--which relieved the
spaciousness of the entrance gave an air of Time and Time's eloquence
to this three-year-old product of modern architectural skill.

As he passed on, he had more than a glimpse of the ball-room, which
maintained the dignity and the refined beauty of the staircase and the
hallways; and only in the insistent audacity and intemperate colouring
of some Rubens pictures did he find anything of that inherent tendency
to exaggeration and Oriental magnificence behind the really delicate
artistic faculties possessed by Jasmine.

The drawing-room was charming. It was not quite perfect, however. It
was too manifestly and studiously arranged, and it had the finnicking
exactness of the favourite gallery of some connoisseur. For its
nobility of form, its deft and wise softness of colouring, its
half-smothered Italian joyousness of design in ceiling and cornice,
the arrangement of choice and exquisite furniture was too careful, too
much like the stage. He smiled at the sight of it, for he saw and knew
that Jasmine had had his playful criticism of her occasionally
flamboyant taste in mind, and that she had over-revised, as it
were. She had, like a literary artist, polished and refined and
stippled the effect, till something of personal touch had gone, and
there remained classic elegance without the sting of life and the
idiosyncrasy of its creator's imperfections. No, the drawing-room
would not quite do, though it was near the perfect thing. His judgment
was not yet complete, however. When he was shown into Jasmine's
sitting-room his breath came a little quicker, for here would be the
real test; and curiosity was stirring greatly in him.

Yes, here was the woman herself, wilful, original, delightful, with a
flower-like delicacy joined to a determined and gorgeous
audacity. Luxury was heaped on luxury, in soft lights from Indian
lamps and lanterns, in the great divan, the deep lounge, the piled-up
cushions, the piano littered with incongruous if artistic bijouterie;
but everywhere, everywhere, books in those appealing bindings and with
that paper so dear to every lover of literature. Instinctively he
picked them up one by one, and most of them were affectionately marked
by marginal notes of criticism, approval, or reference; and all
showing the eager, ardent mind of one who loved books. He noticed,
however, that most of the books he had seen before, and some of them
he had read with her in the days which were gone forever. Indeed, in
one of them he found some of his own pencilled marginal notes, beneath
which she had written her insistent opinions, sometimes with amazing
point. There were few new books, and they were mostly novels; and it
was borne in on him that not many of these annotated books belonged to
the past three years. The millions had come, the power and the place;
but something had gone with their coming.

He was turning over the pages of a volume of Browning when she
entered; and she had an instant to note the grace and manly dignity of
his figure, the poise of the intellectual head--the type of a perfect,
well-bred animal, with the accomplishment of a man of purpose and
executive design. A little frown of trouble came to her forehead, but
she drove it away with a merry laugh, as he turned at the rustle of
her skirts and came forward.

He noted her blue dress, he guessed the reason she had put it on; and
he made an inward comment of scorn. It was the same blue, and it was
near the same style of the dress she wore the last time he saw
her. She watched to see whether it made any impression on him, and was
piqued to observe that he who had in that far past always swept her
with an admiring, discriminating, and deferential glance, now only
gave her deference of a courteous but perfunctory kind. It made the
note to all she said and did that evening--the daring, the brilliance,
the light allusion to past scenes and happenings, the skilful comment
on the present, the joyous dominance of a position made supreme by
beauty and by gold; behind which were anger and bitterness, and wild
and desperate revolt.

For, if love was dead in him, and respect, and all that makes man's
association with woman worth while, humiliation and the sting of
punishment and penalty were alive in her, flaying her spirit, rousing
that mad streak which was in her grandfather, who had had many a
combat, the outcome of wild elements of passion in him. She was not
happy; she had never been happy since she married Rudyard Byng; yet
she had said to herself so often that she might have been at peace, in
a sense, had it not been for the letter which Ian Stafford had written
her, when she turned from him to the man she married.

The passionate resolve to compel him to reproach himself in soul for
his merciless, if subtle, indictment of her to bring him to the old
place where he had knelt in spirit so long ago--ah, it was so
long!--came to her. Self-indulgent and pitifully mean as she had been,
still this man had influenced her more than any other in the world--in
that region where the best of herself lay, the place to which her eyes
had turned always when she wanted a consoling hour. He belonged to her
realm of the imagination, of thought, of insight, of intellectual
passions and the desires of the soul. Far above any physical
attraction Ian had ever possessed for her was the deep conviction that
he gave her mind what no one else gave it, that he was the being who
knew the song her spirit sang.... He should not go forever from her
and with so cynical a completeness. He should return; he should not
triumph in his self-righteousness, be a living reproach to her always
by his careless indifference to everything that had ever been between
them. If he treated her so because of what she had done to him, with
what savagery might not she be treated, if all that had happened in
the last three years were open as a book before him!

Her husband--she had not thought of that. So much had happened in the
past three years; there had been so much adulation and worship and
daring assault upon her heart--or emotions--from quarters of unusual
distinction, that the finest sense of her was blunted, and true
proportions were lost. Rudyard ought never to have made that five
months' visit to South Africa a year before, leaving her alone to make
the fight against the forces round her. Those five months had brought
a change in her, had made her indignant at times against Rudyard.

"Why did he go to South Africa? Why did he not take me with him? Why
did he leave me here alone?" she had asked herself. She did not
realize that there would have been no fighting at all, that all the
forces contending against her purity and devotion would never have
gathered at her feet and washed against the shores of her resolution,
if she had loved Rudyard Byng when she married him as she might have
loved him, ought to have loved him.

The faithful love unconsciously announces its fidelity, and men
instinctively are aware of it, and leave it unassailed. It is the
imperfect love which subtly invites the siege, which makes the call
upon human interest, selfishness, or sympathy, so often without
intended unscrupulousness at first. She had escaped the suspicion, if
not the censure, of the world--or so she thought; and in the main she
was right. But she was now embarked on an enterprise which never would
have been begun, if she had not gambled with her heart and soul three
years ago; if she had not dragged away the veil from her inner self,
putting her at the mercy of one who could say, "I know you--what you
are."

Just before they went to the dining-room Byng came in and cheerily
greeted Stafford, apologizing for having forgotten his engagement to
dine with Wallstein.

"But you and Jasmine will have much to talk about," he said--"such old
friends as you are; and fond of books and art and music and all that
kind of thing.... Glad to see you looking so well, Stafford," he
continued. "They say you are the coming man. Well, au revoir. I hope
Jasmine will give you a good dinner." Presently he was gone--in a
heavy movement of good-nature and magnanimity.

"Changed--greatly changed, and not for the better," said Ian Stafford
to himself." This life has told on him. The bronze of the veld has
vanished, and other things are disappearing."

At the table with the lights and the flowers and the exquisite
appointments, with appetite flattered and tempted by a dinner of rare
simplicity and perfect cooking, Jasmine was radiant, amusing, and
stimulating in her old way. She had never seemed to him so much a
mistress of delicate satire and allusiveness. He rose to the combat
with an alacrity made more agile by considerable abstinence, for
clever women were few, and real talk was the rarest occurrence in his
life, save with men in his own profession chiefly.

But later, in her sitting-room, after the coffee had come, there was a
change, and the transition was made with much skill and
sensitiveness. Into Jasmine's voice there came another and more
reflective note, and the drift of the conversation changed. Books
brought the new current; and soon she had him moving almost
unconsciously among old scenes, recalling old contests of ideas, and
venturing on bold reproductions of past intellectual ideals. But
though they were in this dangerous field of the past, he did not once
betray a sign of feeling, not even when, poring over Coventry
Patmore's poems, her hand touched his, and she read the lines which
they had read together so long ago, with no thought of any
significance to themselves:



"With all my will, but much against my heart,
We two now part.
My very Dear,
Our solace is the sad road lies so clear. . .
Go thou to East, I West.
We will not say
There's any hope, it is so far away. . ."



He read the verses with a smile of quiet enjoyment, saying, when he
had finished:

"A really moving and intimate piece of work. I wonder what their story
was--a hopeless love, of course. An affaire--an 'episode'--London
ladies now call such things."

"You find London has changed much since you went away--in three years
only?" she asked.

"Three years--why, it's an eternity, or a minute, as you are obliged
to live it. In penal servitude it is centuries, in the Appian Way of
pleasure it is a sunrise moment. Actual time has nothing to do with
the clock."

She looked up to the little gold-lacquered clock on the
mantel-piece. "See, it is going to strike," she said. As she spoke,
the little silver hammer softly struck. "That is the clock-time, but
what time is it really--for you, for instance?"

"In Elysium there is no time," he murmured with a gallantry so
intentionally obvious and artificial that her pulses beat with anger.

"It is wonderful, then, how you managed the dinner-hour so
exactly. You did not miss it by a fraction."

"It is only when you enter Elysium that there is no time. It was eight
o'clock when I arrived--by the world's time. Since then I have been
dead to time--and the world."

"You do not suggest that you are in heaven?" she asked, ironically.

"Nothing so extreme as that. All extremes are violent."

"Ah, the middle place--then you are in purgatory?"

"But what should you be doing in purgatory? Or have you only come with
a drop of water to cool the tongue of Dives?" His voice trailed along
so coolly that it incensed her further.

"Certainly Dives' tongue is blistering," she said with great effort to
still the raging tumult within her. "Yet I would not cool it if I
could."

Suddenly the anger seemed to die out of her, and she looked at him as
she did in the days before Rudyard Byng came across her path--eagerly,
childishly, eloquently, inquiringly. He was the one man who satisfied
the intellectual and temperamental side of her; and he had taught her
more than any one else in the world. She realized that she had "Tossed
him violently like a ball into a far country," and that she had not
now a vestige of power over him--either of his senses or his mind;
that he was master of the situation. But was it so that there was a
man whose senses could not be touched when all else failed? She was
very woman, eager for the power which she had lost, and power was hard
to get--by what devious ways had she travelled to find it!

As they leaned over a book of coloured prints of Gainsborough, Romney,
and Vandyke, her soft, warm breast touched his arm and shoulder, a
strand of her cobweb, golden hair swept his cheek, and a sigh came
from her lips, so like those of that lass who caught and held her
Nelson to the end, and died at last in poverty, friendless, homeless,
and alone. Did he fancy that he heard a word breathing through her
sigh--his name, Ian? For one instant the wild, cynical desire came
over him to turn and clasp her in his arms, to press those lips which
never but once he had kissed, and that was when she had plighted her
secret troth to him, and had broken it for three million pounds. Why
not? She was a woman, she was beautiful, she was a siren who had lured
him and used him and tossed him by. Why not? All her art was now used,
the art of the born coquette which had been exquisitely cultivated
since she was a child, to bring him back to her feet--to the feet of
the wife of Rudyard Byng. Why not? For an instant he had the dark
impulse to treat her as she deserved, and take a kiss "as long as my
exile, as sweet as my revenge"; but then the bitter memory came that
this was the woman to whom he had given the best of which he was
capable and the promise of that other best which time and love and
life truly lived might accomplish; and the wild thing died in him.

The fever fled, and his senses became as cold as the statue of
Andromeda on the pedestal at his hand. He looked at her. He did not
for the moment realize that she was in reality only a girl, a child in
so much; wilful, capricious, unregulated in some ways, with the
hereditary taint of a distorted moral sense, and yet able, intuitive
and wise, in so many aspects of life and conversation. Looking, he
determined that she should never have that absolution which any
outward or inward renewal of devotion would give her. Scorn was too
deep--that arrogant, cruel, adventitious attribute of the sinner who
has not committed the same sin as the person he despises--

"Sweet is the refuge of scorn."

His scorn was too sweet; and for the relish of it on his tongue, the
price must be paid one way or another. The sin of broken faith she had
sinned had been the fruit of a great temptation, meaning more to a
woman, a hundred times, than to a man. For a man there is always
present the chance of winning a vast fortune and the power that it
brings; but it can seldom come to a woman except through marriage. It
ill became him to be self-righteous, for his life had not been
impeccable--



"The shaft of slander shot
Missed only the right blot!"



Something of this came to him suddenly now as she drew away from him
with a sense of humiliation, and a tear came unbidden to her eye.

She wiped the tear away, hastily, as there came a slight tapping at
the door, and Krool entered, his glance enveloping them both in one
lightning survey--like the instinct of the dweller in wild places of
the earth, who feels danger where all is most quiet, and ever scans
the veld or bush with the involuntary vigilance belonging to the
life. His look rested on Jasmine for a moment before he spoke, and
Stafford inwardly observed that here was an enemy to the young wife
whose hatred was deep. He was conscious, too, that Jasmine realized
the antipathy. Indeed, she had done so from the first days she had
seen Krool, and had endeavoured, without success, to induce Byng to
send the man back to South Africa, and to leave him there last year
when he went again to Johannesburg. It was the only thing in which
Byng had proved invulnerable, and Krool had remained a menace which
she vaguely felt and tried to conquer, which, in vain, Adrian Fellowes
had endeavoured to remove. For in the years in which Fellowes had been
Byng's secretary his relations with Krool seemed amiable and he had
made light of Jasmine's prejudices.

"The butler is out and they come me," Krool said. "Mr. Stafford's
servant is here. There is a girl for to see him, if he will let. The
boy, Jigger, his name. Something happens."

Stafford frowned, then turned to Jasmine. He told her who Jigger was,
and of the incident the day before, adding that he had no idea of the
reason for the visit; but it must be important, or nothing would have
induced his servant to fetch the girl.

"I will come," he said to Krool, but Jasmine's curiosity was roused.

"Won't you see her here?" she asked.

Stafford nodded assent, and presently Krool showed the girl into the
room.

For an instant she stood embarrassed and confused, then she addressed
herself to Stafford. "I'm Lou--Jigger's sister," she said, with white
lips. "I come to ask if you'd go to him. 'E's been hurt bad--knocked
down by a fire-engine, and the doctor says 'e can't live. 'E made yer
a promise, and 'e wanted me to tell yer that 'e meant to keep it; but
if so be as you'd come, and wouldn't mind a-comin', 'e'd tell yer
himself. 'E made that free becos 'e had brekfis wiv ye. 'E's all
right--the best as ever--the top best."  Suddenly the tears flooded
her eyes and streamed down her pale cheeks. "Oh, 'e was the best--my
Gawd, 'e was the best! If it 'd make 'im die happy, you'd come, y'r
gryce, wouldn't y'r?"

Child of the slums as she was, she was exceedingly comely and was
simply and respectably dressed. Her eyes were big and brown like
Stafford's; her face was a delicate oval, and her hair was a deep
black, waving freely over a strong, broad forehead. It was her speech
that betrayed her; otherwise she was little like the flower-girl that
Adrian Fellowes had introduced to Al'mah, who had got her a place in
the chorus of the opera and had also given her personal care and
friendly help.

"Where is he? In the hospital?" Stafford asked.

"It was just beside our own 'ome it 'appened. We got two rooms now,
Jigger and me. 'E was took in there. The doctor come, but 'e says it
ain't no use. 'E didn't seem to care much, and 'e didn't give no 'ope,
not even when I said I'd give him all me wages for a year."

Jasmine was beside her now, wiping her tears and holding her hand, her
impulsive nature stirred, her heart throbbing with desire to
help. Suddenly she remembered what Rudyard had said up-stairs three
hours ago, that there wasn't a single person in the world to whom they
had done an act which was truly and purely personal during the past
three years: and she had a tremulous desire to help this crude,
mothering, passionately pitiful girl.

"What will you do?" Jasmine said to Stafford.

"I will go at once. Tell my servant to have up a cab," he said to
Krool, who stood outside the door.

"Truly, 'e will be glad," the girl exclaimed. "'E told me about the
suvring, and Sunday-week for brekfis," she murmured. "You'll never
miss the time, y'r gryce. Gawd knows you'll not miss it--an' 'e ain't
got much left."

"I will go, too--if you will let me," said Jasmine to Stafford. "You
must let me go. I want to help--so much."

"No, you must not come," he replied. "I will pick up a surgeon in
Harley Street, and we'll see if it is as hopeless as she says. But you
must not come to-night. To-morrow, certainly, to-morrow, if you
will. Perhaps you can do some good then. I will let you know."

He held out his hand to say good-bye, as the girl passed out with
Jasmine's kiss on her cheek and a comforting assurance of help.

Jasmine did not press her request. First there was the fact that
Rudyard did not know, and might strongly disapprove; and secondly,
somehow, she had got nearer to Stafford in the last few minutes than
in all the previous hours since they had met again. Nowhere, by all
her art, had she herself touched him, or opened up in his nature one
tiny stream of feeling; but this girl's story and this piteous
incident had softened him, had broken down the barriers which had
checked and baffled her. There was something almost gentle in his
smile as he said good-bye, and she thought she detected warmth in the
clasp of his hand.

Left alone, she sat in the silence, pondering as she had not pondered
in the past three years. These few days in town, out of the season,
were sandwiched between social functions from which their lives were
never free. They had ever passed from event to event like minor
royalties with endless little ceremonies and hospitalities; and there
had been so little time to meditate--had there even been the wish?

The house was very still, and the far-off, muffled rumble of omnibuses
and cabs gave a background of dignity to this interior peace and
luxurious quiet. For long she sat unmoving--nearly two hours--alone
with her inmost thoughts. Then she went to the little piano in the
corner where stood the statue of Andromeda, and began to play
softly. Her fingers crept over the keys, playing snatches of things
she knew years before, improvising soft, passionate little
movements. She took no note of time. At last the clock struck twelve,
and still she sat there playing. Then she began to sing a song which
Alice Tynemouth had written and set to music two years before. It was
simply yet passionately written, and the wail of anguished
disappointment, of wasted chances was in it--



"Once in the twilight of the Austrian hills,
A word came to me, beautiful and good;
If I had spoken it, that message of the stars,
Love would have filled thy blood:
Love would have sent thee pulsing to my arms,
Thy heart a nestling bird;
A moment fled--it passed:
I seek in vain
For that forgotten word."



In the last notes the voice rose in passionate pain, and died away
into an aching silence.

She leaned her arms on the piano in front of her and laid her forehead
on them.

"When will it all end--what will become of me!" she cried in pain that
strangled her heart. "I am so bad--so bad. I was doomed from the
beginning. I always felt it so--always, even when things were
brightest. I am the child of black Destiny. For me--there is nothing,
nothing, for me. The straight path was before me, and I would not walk
in it."

With a gesture of despair, and a sudden faintness, she got up and went
over to the tray of spirits and liqueurs which had been brought in
with the coffee. Pouring out a liqueur-glass of brandy, she was about
to drink it, when her ear became attracted by a noise without, a
curious stumbling, shuffling sound. She put down the glass, went to
the door that opened into the hall, and looked out and down. One light
was still burning below, and she could see distinctly. A man was
clumsily, heavily, ascending the staircase, holding on to the
balustrade. He was singing to himself, breaking into the maudlin
harmony with an occasional laugh--



"For this is the way we do it on the veld,
When the band begins to play;
With one bottle on the table and one below the belt,
When the band begins to play--"



It was Rudyard, and he was drunk--almost helplessly drunk.

A cry of pain rose to her lips, but her trembling hand stopped
it. With a shudder she turned back to her sitting-room. Throwing
herself on the divan where she had sat with Ian Stafford, she buried
her face in her arms. The hours went by.



CHAPTER XI

IN WALES, WHERE JIGGER PLAYS HIS PART


"Really, the unnecessary violence with which people take their own
lives, or the lives of others, is amazing. They did it better in olden
days in Italy and the East. No waste or anything--all scientifically
measured."

With a confident and satisfied smile Mr. Mappin, the celebrated
surgeon, looked round the little group of which he was the centre at
Glencader, Rudyard Byng's castle in Wales.

Rudyard blinked at him for a moment with ironical amusement, then
remarked: "When you want to die, does it matter much whether you kill
yourself with a bludgeon or a pin, take gas from a tap or cyanide of
potassium, jump in front of a railway train or use the revolting
razor? You are dead neither less nor more, and the shock to the world
is the same. It's only the housemaid or the undertaker that notices
any difference. I knew a man at Vleifontein who killed himself by
jumping into the machinery of a mill. It gave a lot of trouble to all
concerned. That was what he wanted--to end his own life and exasperate
the foreman."

"Rudyard, what a horrible tale!" exclaimed his wife, turning again to
the surgeon, eagerly. "It is most interesting, and I see what you
mean. It is, that if we only really knew, we could take our own lives
or other people's with such ease and skill that it would be hard to
detect it?"

The surgeon nodded. "Exactly, Mrs. Byng. I don't say that the expert
couldn't find what the cause of death was, if suspicion was aroused;
but it could be managed so that 'heart failure' or some such silly
verdict would be given, because there was no sign of violence, or of
injury artificially inflicted."

"It is fortunate the world doesn't know these ways to euthanasia,"
interposed Stafford. "I fancy that murders would be more numerous than
suicides, however. Suicide enthusiasts would still pursue their
melodramatic indulgences--disfiguring themselves unnecessarily."

Adrian Fellowes, the amiable, ever-present secretary and "chamberlain"
of Rudyard's household, as Jasmine teasingly called him, whose
handsome, unintellectual face had lighted with amusement at the
conversation, now interposed. "Couldn't you give us some idea how it
can be done, this smooth passage of the Styx?" he asked. "We'll
promise not to use it."

The surgeon looked round the little group reflectively. His eyes
passed from Adrian to Jasmine, who stood beside him, to Byng, and to
Ian Stafford, and stimulated by their interest, he gave a pleased
smile of gratified vanity. He was young, and had only within the past
three years got to the top of the tree at a bound, by a certain
successful operation in royal circles.

Drawing out of his pocket a small case, he took from it a needle and
held it up. "Now that doesn't look very dangerous, does it?" he
asked. "Yet a firm pressure of its point could take a life, and there
would be little possibility of finding how the ghastly trick was done
except by the aroused expert."

"If you will allow me," he said, taking Jasmine's hand and poising the
needle above her palm. "Now, one tiny thrust of this steel point,
which has been dipped in a certain acid, would kill Mrs. Byng as
surely as though she had been shot through the heart. Yet it would
leave scarcely the faintest sign. No blood, no wound, just a tiny
pin-prick, as it were; and who would be the wiser? Imagine an average
coroner's jury and the average examination of the village doctor, who
would die rather than expose his ignorance, and therefore gives 'heart
failure' as the cause of death."

Jasmine withdrew her hand with a shudder. "Please, I don't like being
so near the point," she said.

"Woman-like," interjected Byng ironically.

"How does it happen you carry this murdering asp about with you,
Mr. Mappin?" asked Stafford.

The surgeon smiled. "For an experiment to-morrow. Don't start. I have
a favorite collie which must die. I am testing the poison with the
minimum. If it kills the dog it will kill two men."

He was about to put the needle back into the case when Adrian Fellowes
held out a hand for it. "Let me look at it," he said. Turning the
needle over in his palm, he examined it carefully. "So near and yet so
far," he remarked. "There are a good many people who would pay a high
price for the little risk and the dead certainty. You wouldn't,
perhaps, tell us what the poison is, Mr. Mappin? We are all very
reliable people here, who have no enemies, and who want to keep their
friends alive. We should then be a little syndicate of five, holding a
great secret, and saving numberless lives every day by not giving the
thing away. We should all be entitled to monuments in Parliament
Square."

The surgeon restored the needle to the case. "I think one monument
will be sufficient," he said. "Immortality by syndicate is too modern,
and this is an ancient art." He tapped the case." Turkey and the
Mongol lands have kept the old cult going. In England, it's only for
the dog!" He laughed freely but noiselessly at his own joke.

This talk had followed the news brought by Krool to the Baas, that the
sub-manager of the great mine, whose chimneys could be seen from the
hill behind the house, had thrown himself down the shaft and been
smashed to a pulp. None of them except Byng had known him, and the
dark news had brought no personal shock.

They had all gathered in the library, after paying an afternoon visit
to Jigger, who had been brought down from London in a special
carriage, and was housed near the servants' quarters with a nurse. On
the night of Jigger's accident Ian Stafford on his way from Jasmine's
house had caught Mr. Mappin, and the surgeon had operated at once,
saving the lad's life. As it was necessary to move him in any case, it
was almost as easy, and no more dangerous, to bring him to Glencader
than to take him to a London hospital.

Under the surgeon's instructions Jasmine had arranged it all, and
Jigger had travelled like royalty from Paddington into Wales, and
there had captured the household, as he had captured Stafford at
breakfast in St. James's Street.

Thinking that perhaps this was only a whim of Jasmine's, and merely
done because it gave a new interest to a restless temperament,
Stafford had at first rejected the proposal. When, however, the
surgeon said that if the journey was successfully made, the
after-results would be all to the good, Stafford had assented, and had
allowed himself to be included in the house-party at Glencader.

It was a triumph for Jasmine, for otherwise Stafford would not have
gone. Whether she would have insisted on Jigger going to Glencader if
it had not meant that Ian would go also, it would be hard to say. Her
motives were not unmixed, though there had been a real impulse to do
all she could. In any case, she had lessened the distance between Ian
and herself, and that gave her wilful mind a rather painful
pleasure. Also, the responsibility for Jigger's well-being, together
with her duties as hostess, had prevented her from dwelling on that
scene in the silent house at midnight which had shocked her so--her
husband reeling up the staircase, singing a ribald song.

The fullest significance of this incident had not yet come home to
her. She had fought against dwelling on it, and she was glad that
every moment since they had come to Glencader had been full; that
Rudyard had been much away with the shooters, and occupied in trying
to settle a struggle between the miners and the proprietors of the
mine itself, of whom he was one. Still, things that Rudyard had said
before he left the house to dine with Wallstein, leaving her with
Stafford, persistently recurred to her mind.

"What's the matter?" had been Rudyard's troubled cry. "We've got
everything--everything, and yet--!" Her eyes were not opened. She had
had a shock, but it had not stirred the inner, smothered life; there
had been no real revelation. She was agitated and disturbed--no
more. She did not see that the man she had married to love and to
cherish was slowly changing--was the change only a slow one
now?--before her eyes; losing that brave freshness which had so
appealed to London when he first came back to civilization. Something
had been subtracted from his personality which left it poorer,
something had been added which made it less appealing. Something had
given way in him. There had been a subsidence of moral energy, and
force had inwardly declined, though to all outward seeming he had
played a powerful and notable part in the history of the last three
years, gaining influence in many directions, without suffering
excessive notoriety.

On the day Rudyard married Jasmine he would have cut off his hand
rather than imagine that he would enter his wife's room helpless from
drink and singing a song which belonged to loose nights on the Limpopo
and the Vaal.

As the little group drew back, their curiosity satisfied, Mr. Mappin,
putting the case carefully into his pocket again, said to Jasmine:

"The boy is going on so well that I am not needed longer. Mr. Wharton,
my locum tenens, will give him every care."

"When did you think of going?" Jasmine asked him, as they all moved on
towards the hall, where the other guests were assembled.

"To-morrow morning early, if I may. No night travel for me, if I can
help it."

"I am glad you are not going to-night," she answered,
graciously. "Al'mah is arriving this afternoon, and she sings for us
this evening. Is it not thrilling?"

There was a general murmur of pleasure, vaguely joined by Adrian
Fellowes, who glanced quickly round the little group, and met an
enigmatical glance from Byng's eye. Byng was remembering what Barry
Whalen had told him three years ago, and he wondered if Jasmine was
cognizant of it all. He thought not; for otherwise she would scarcely
bring Al'mah to Glencader and play Fellowes' game for him.

Jasmine, in fact, had not heard. Days before she had wondered that
Adrian had tried to discourage her invitation to Al'mah. While it was
an invitation, it was also an engagement, on terms which would have
been adequate for Patti in her best days. It would, if repeated a few
times, reimburse Al'mah for the sums she had placed in Byng's hands at
the time of the Raid, and also, later still, to buy the life of her
husband from Oom Paul. It had been insufficient, not because of the
value of the article for sale, but because of the rapacity of the
vender. She had paid half the cruel balance demanded; Byng and his
friends had paid the rest without her knowledge; and her husband had
been set free.

Byng had only seen Al'mah twice since the day when she first came to
his rooms, and not at all during the past two years, save at the
opera, where she tightened the cords of captivity to her gifts around
her admirers. Al'mah had never met Mrs. Byng since the day after that
first production of "Manassa," when Rudyard rescued her, though she
had seen her at the opera again and again. She cared nothing for
society or for social patronage or approval, and the life that Jasmine
led had no charms for her. The only interest she had in it was that it
suited Adrian from every standpoint. He loved the splendid social
environment of which Jasmine was the centre, and his services were
well rewarded.

When she received Jasmine's proposal to sing at Glencader she had
hesitated to accept it, for society had no charms for her; but at
length three considerations induced her to do so. She wanted to see
Rudyard Byng, for South Africa and its shadow was ever present with
her; and she dreaded she knew not what. Blantyre was still her
husband, and he might return--and return still less a man than when he
deserted her those sad long years ago. Also, she wanted to see Jigger,
because of his sister Lou, whose friendless beauty, so primitively
set, whose transparent honesty appealed to her quick, generous
impulses. Last of all she wanted to see Adrian in the surroundings and
influences where his days had been constantly spent during the past
three years.

Never before had she had the curiosity to do so. Adrian had, however,
deftly but clearly tried to dissuade her from coming to Glencader, and
his reasons were so new and unconvincing that, for the first
time,--she had a nature of strange trustfulness once her faith was
given--a vague suspicion concerning Adrian perplexed and troubled
her. His letter had arrived some hours after Jasmine's, and then her
answer was immediate--she would accept. Adrian heard of the acceptance
first through Jasmine, to whom he had spoken of his long
"acquaintance" with the great singer.

From Byng's look, as they moved towards the hall, Adrian gathered that
rumour had reached a quarter where he had much at stake; but it did
not occur to him that this would be to his disadvantage. Byng was a
man of the world. Besides, he had his own reasons for feeling no
particular fear where Byng was concerned. His glance ran from Byng's
face to that of Jasmine; but, though her eyes met his, there was
nothing behind her glance which had to do with Al'mah.

In the great hall whose windows looked out on a lovely, sunny valley
still as green as summer, the rest of the house-party were gathered,
and Jigger's visitors were at once surrounded.

Among the visitors were Alice, Countess of Tynemouth, also the
Slavonian ambassador, whose extremely pale face, stooping shoulders,
and bald head with the hair carefully brushed over from each side in a
vain attempt to cover the baldness, made him seem older than he really
was. Count Landrassy had lived his life in many capitals up to the
limit of his vitality, and was still covetous of notice from the sex
who had, in a checkered career, given him much pleasure, and had
provided him with far more anxiety. But he was almost uncannily able
and astute, as every man found who entered the arena of diplomacy to
treat with him or circumvent him. Suavity, with an attendant mordant
wit, and a mastery of tactics unfamiliar to the minds and capacities
of Englishmen, made him a great factor in the wide world of haute
politique; but it also drew upon him a wealth of secret hatred and
outward attention. His follies were lashed by the tongues of virtue
and of slander; but his abilities gave him a commanding place in the
arena of international politics.

As Byng and his party approached, the eyes of the ambassador and of
Lady Tynemouth were directed towards Ian Stafford. The glance of the
former was ironical and a little sardonic. He had lately been deeply
engaged in checkmating the singularly skilful and cleverly devised
negotiations by which England was to gain a powerful advantage in
Europe, the full significance of which even he had not yet
pierced. This he knew, but what he apprehended with the instinct of an
almost scientific sense became unduly important to his mind. The
author of the profoundly planned international scheme was this young
man, who had already made the chancelleries of Europe sit up and look
about them in dismay; for its activities were like those of
underground wires; and every area of diplomacy, the nearest, the most
remote, was mined and primed, so that each embassy played its part
with almost startling effect. Tibet and Persia were not too far, and
France was not too near to prevent the incalculably smooth working of
a striking and far-reaching political move. It was the kind of thing
that England's Prime Minister, with his extraordinary frankness, with
his equally extraordinary secretiveness, insight and immobility,
delighted in; and Slavonia and its ambassador knew, as an American
high in place had colloquially said, "that they were up against a
proposition which would take some moving."

The scheme had taken some moving. But it had not yet succeeded; and if
M. Mennaval, the ambassador of Moravia, influenced by Count Landrassy,
pursued his present tactics on behalf of his government, Ian
Stafford's coup would never be made, and he would have to rise to fame
in diplomacy by slower processes. It was the daily business of the
Slavonian ambassador to see that M. Mennaval of Moravia was not
captured either by tactics, by smooth words, or all those arts which
lay beneath the outward simplicity of Ian Stafford and of those who
worked with him.

With England on the verge of war, the outcome of the negotiations was
a matter of vital importance. It might mean the very question of
England's existence as an empire. England in a conflict with South
Africa, the hour long desired by more than one country, in which she
would be occupied to the limit of her capacity, with resources taxed
to the utmost, army inadequate, and military affairs in confusion,
would come, and with it the opportunity to bring the Titan to her
knees. This diplomatic scheme of Ian Stafford, however, would prevent
the worst in any case, and even in the disasters of war, would be
working out advantages which, after the war was done, would give
England many friends and fewer enemies, give her treaties and new
territory, and set her higher than she was now by a political metre.

Count Landrassy had thought at first, when Ian Stafford came to
Glencader, that this meeting had been purposely arranged; but through
Byng's frankness and ingenuous explanations he saw that he was
mistaken. The two subtle and combating diplomats had not yet conversed
save in a general way by the smoking-room fire.

Lady Tynemouth's eyes fell on Ian with a different meaning. His coming
to Glencader had been a surprise to her. He had accepted an invitation
to visit her in another week, and she had only come to know later of
the chance meeting of Ian and Jasmine in London, and the subsequent
accident to Jigger which had brought Ian down to Wales. The man who
had saved her life on her wedding journey, and whose walls were still
garish with the red parasol which had nearly been her death, had a
place quite his own in her consideration. She had, of course, known of
his old infatuation for Jasmine, though she did not know all; and she
knew also that he had put Jasmine out of his life completely when she
married Byng; which was not a source of regret to her. She had written
him about Jasmine, again and again,--of what she did and what the
world said--and his replies had been as casual and as careless as the
most jealous woman could desire; though she was not consciously
jealous, and, of course, had no right to be.

She saw no harm in having a man as a friend on a basis of intimacy
which drew the line at any possibility of divorce-court
proceedings. Inside this line she frankly insisted on latitude, and
Tynemouth gave it to her without thought or anxiety. He was too fond
of outdoor life, of racing and hunting and shooting and polo and
travel, to have his eye unnerved by any such foolishness as jealousy.

"Play the game--play the game, Alice, and so will I, and the rest of
the world be hanged!" was what Tynemouth had said to his wife; and it
would not have occurred to him to suspect Stafford, or to read one of
his letters to Lady Tynemouth. He had no literary gifts; in truth, he
had no "culture," and he looked upon his wife's and Stafford's
interest in literature and art as a game of mystery he had never
learned. Inconsequent he thought it in his secret mind, but played by
nice, clever, possible, "livable" people; and, therefore, not to be
pooh-poohed openly or kicked out of the way. Besides, it "gave Alice
something to do, and prevented her from being lonely--and all that
kind of thing."

Thus it was that Lady Tynemouth, who had played the game all round
according to her lights, and thought no harm of what she did, or of
her weakness for Ian Stafford--of her open and rather gushing
friendship for him--had an almost honest dislike to seeing him
brought into close relations again with the woman who had
dishonourably treated him. Perhaps she wanted his friendship wholly
for herself; but that selfish consideration did not overshadow the
feeling that Jasmine had cheated at cards, as it were; and that Ian
ought not to be compelled to play with her again.

"But men, even the strongest, are so weak," she had said to Tynemouth
concerning it, and he had said in reply, "And the weakest are so
strong--sometimes."

At which she had pulled his shoulder, and had said with a delighted
laugh, "Tynie, if you say clever things like that I'll fall in love
with you."

To which he had replied: "Now, don't take advantage of a moment's
aberration, Alice; and for Heaven's sake don't fall in love wiv me"
(he made a v of a th, like Jigger). "I couldn't go to Uganda if you
did."

To which she had responded, "Dear me, are you going to Uganda?" and
was told with a nod that next month he would be gone. This
conversation had occurred on the day of their arrival at Glencader;
and henceforth Alice had forcibly monopolized Stafford whenever and
wherever possible. So far, it had not been difficult, because Jasmine
had, not ostentatiously, avoided being often with Stafford. It seemed
to Jasmine that she must not see much of him alone. Still there was
some new cause to provoke his interest and draw him to herself. The
Jigger episode had done much, had altered the latitudes of their
association, but the perihelion of their natures was still far off;
and she was apprehensive, watchful, and anxious.

This afternoon, however, she felt that she must talk with him. Waiting
and watching were a new discipline for her, and she was not yet the
child of self-denial. Fate, if there be such a thing, favoured her,
however, for as they drew near to the fireplace where the ambassador
and Alice Tynemouth and her husband stood, Krool entered, came forward
to Byng, and spoke in a low tone to him.

A minute afterward, Byng said to them all: "Well, I'm sorry, but I'm
afraid we can't carry out our plans for the afternoon. There's trouble
again at the mine, and I am needed, or they think I am. So I must go
there--and alone, I'm sorry to say; not with you all, as I had
hoped. Jasmine, you must plan the afternoon. The carriages are
ready. There's the Glen o' Smiling, well worth seeing, and the
Murderer's Leap, and Lover's Land--something for all tastes," he
added, with a dry note to his voice.

"Take care of yourself, Ruddy man," Jasmine said, as he left them
hurriedly, with an affectionate pinch of her arm. "I don't like these
mining troubles," she added to the others, and proceeded to arrange
the afternoon.

She did it so deftly that she and Ian and Adrian Fellowes were the
only ones left behind out of a party of twelve. She had found it
impossible to go on any of the excursions, because she must stay and
welcome Al'mah. She meant to drive to the station herself, she
said. Adrian stayed behind because he must superintend the
arrangements of the ball-room for the evening, or so he said; and Ian
Stafford stayed because he had letters to write--ostensibly; for he
actually meant to go and sit with Jigger, and to send a code message
to the Prime Minister, from whom he had had inquiries that morning.

When the others had gone, the three stood for a moment silent in the
hall, then Adrian said to Jasmine, "Will you give me a moment in the
ball-room about those arrangements?"

Jasmine glanced out of the corner of her eye at Ian. He showed no sign
that he wanted her to remain. A shadow crossed her face, but she
laughingly asked him if he would come also.

"If you don't mind--!" he said, shaking his head in negation; but he
walked with them part of the way to the ball-room, and left them at
the corridor leading to his own little sitting-room.

A few minutes later, as Jasmine stood alone at a window looking down
into the great stone quadrangle, she saw him crossing toward the
servants' quarters.

"He is going to Jigger," she said, her heart beating faster. "Oh, but
he is 'the best ever,'" she added, repeating Lou's words--"the best
ever!"

Her eye brightened with intention. She ran down the corridor, and
presently made her way to the housekeeper's room.



CHAPTER XII

THE KEY IN THE LOCK


A quarter of an hour later Jasmine softly opened the door of the room
where Jigger lay, and looked in. The nurse stood at the foot of the
bed, listening to talk between Jigger and Ian, the like of which she
had never heard. She was smiling, for Jigger was original, to say the
least of it, and he had a strange, innocent, yet wise philosophy. Ian
sat with his elbows on his knees, hands clasped, leaning towards the
gallant little sufferer, talking like a boy to a boy, and getting
revelations of life of which he had never even dreamed.

Jasmine entered with a little tray in one hand, bearing a bowl of
delicate broth, while under an arm was a puzzle-box, which was one of
the relics of a certain house-party in which a great many smart people
played at the simple life, and sought to find a new sensation in
making believe they were the village rector's brood of innocents. She
was dressed in a gown almost as simple in make as that of the nurse,
but of exquisite material--the soft green velvet which she had worn
when she met Ian in the sweetshop in Regent Street. Her hair was a
perfect gold, wavy and glistening and prettily fine, and her eyes were
shining--so blue, so deep, so alluring.

The boy saw her first, and his eyes grew bigger with welcome and
interest.

"It's her--me lydy," he said with a happy gasp, for she seemed to him
like a being from another sphere. When she came near him the faint,
delicious perfume exhaling from her garments was like those
flower-gardens and scented fields to which he had once been sent for a
holiday by some philanthropic society.

Ian rose as the nurse came forward quickly to relieve Jasmine of the
tray and the box. His first glance was enigmatical--almost
suspicious--then, as he saw the radiance in her face and the burden
she carried, a new light came into his eyes. In this episode of Jigger
she had shown all that gentle charm, sympathy, and human feeling which
he had once believed belonged so much to her. It seemed to him in the
old days that at heart she was simple, generous, and capable of the
best feelings of woman, and of living up to them; and there began to
grow at the back of his mind now the thought that she had been carried
away by a great temptation--the glitter and show of power and all that
gold can buy, and a large circle for the skirts of woman's pride and
vanity. If she had married him instead of Byng, they would now be
living in a small house in Curzon Street, or some such fashionable
quarter, with just enough to enable them to keep their end up with
people who had five thousand a year--with no box at the opera, or
house in the country, or any of the great luxuries, and with a
thriving nursery which would be a promise of future expense--if she
had married him! . . . A kinder, gentler spirit was suddenly awake in
him, and he did not despise her quite so much. On her part, she saw
him coming nearer, as, standing in the door of a cottage in a valley,
one sees trailing over the distant hills, with the light behind, a
welcome and beloved figure with face turned towards the home in the
green glade.

A smile came to his lips, as suspicion stole away ashamed, and he
said: "This will not do. Jigger will be spoiled. We shall have to see
Mr. Mappin about it."

As she yielded to him the puzzle-box, which she had refused to the
nurse, she said: "And pray who sets the example? I am a very imitative
person. Besides, I asked Mr. Mappin about the broth, so it's all
right; and Jigger will want the puzzle-box when you are not here," she
added, quizzically.

"Diversion or continuity?" he asked, with a laugh, as she held the
bowl of soup to Jigger's lips. At this point the nurse had discreetly
left the room.

"Continuity, of course," she replied. "All diplomatists are puzzles,
some without solution."

"Who said I was a diplomatist?" he asked, lightly.

"Don't think that I'm guilty of the slander," she rejoined. "It was
the Moravian ambassador who first suggested that what you were by
profession you were by nature."

Jasmine felt Ian hold his breath for a moment, then he said in a low
tone, "M. Mennaval--you know him well?"

She did not look towards him, but she was conscious that he was eying
her intently. She put aside the bowl, and began to adjust Jigger's
pillow with deft fingers, while the lad watched her with a worship
worth any money to one attacked by ennui and stale with purchased
pleasures.

"I know him well--yes, quite well," she replied. "He comes sometimes
of an afternoon, and if he had more time--or if I had--he would no
doubt come oftener. But time is the most valuable thing I have, and I
have less of it than anything else."

"A diminishing capital, too," he returned with a laugh; while his mind
was suddenly alert to an idea which had flown into his vision, though
its full significance did not possess him yet.

"The Moravian ambassador is not very busy," he added with an undertone
of meaning.

"Perhaps; but I am," she answered with like meaning, and looked him in
the eyes, steadily, serenely, determinedly. All at once there had
opened out before her a great possibility. Both from the Count
Landrassy and from the Moravian ambassador she had had hints of some
deep, international scheme of which Ian Stafford was the
engineer-in-chief, though she did not know definitely what it
was. Both ambassadors had paid their court to her, each in a different
way, and M. Mennaval would have been as pertinacious as he was vain
and somewhat weak (albeit secretive, too, with the feminine instinct
so strong in him) if she had not checked him at all points. From what
Count Landrassy had said, it would appear that Ian Stafford's future
hung in the balance--dependent upon the success of his great
diplomatic scheme.

Could she help Ian? Could she help him? Had the time come when she
could pay her debt, the price of ransom from the captivity in which he
held her true and secret character? It had been vaguely in her mind
before; but now, standing beside Jigger's bed, with the lad's feverish
hand in hers, there spread out before her a vision of a lien lifted,
of an ugly debt redeemed, of freedom from this man's scorn. If she
could do some great service for him, would not that wipe out the
unsettled claim? If she could help to give him success, would not
that, in the end, be more to him than herself? For she would soon
fade, the dust would soon gather over her perished youth and beauty;
but his success would live on, ever freshening in his sight, rising
through long years to a great height, and remaining fixed and
exalted. With a great belief she believed in him and what he could
do. He was a Sisyphus who could and would roll the-huge stone to the
top of the hill--and ever with easier power.

The old touch of romance and imagination which had been the governing
forces of her grandfather's life, the passion of an idea, however
essentially false and meretricious and perilous to all that was worth
while keeping in life, set her pulses beating now. As a child her
pulses used to beat so when she had planned with her good-for-nothing
brother some small escapade looming immense in the horizon of her
enjoyment. She had ever distorted or inflamed the facts of life by an
overheated fancy, by the spirit of romance, by a gift--or curse--of
imagination, which had given her also dark visions of a miserable end,
of a clouded and piteous close to her brief journey. "I am
doomed--doomed," had been her agonized cry that day before Ian
Stafford went away three years ago, and the echo of that cry was often
in her heart, waking and sleeping. It had come upon her the night when
Rudyard reeled, intoxicated, up the staircase. She had the penalties
of her temperament shadowing her footsteps always, dimming the
radiance which broke forth for long periods, and made her so rare and
wonderful a figure in her world. She was so young, and so exquisite,
that Fate seemed harsh and cruel in darkening her vision, making
pitfalls for her feet.

Could she help him? Had her moment come when she could force him to
smother his scorn and wait at her door for bounty? She would make the
effort to know.

"But, yes, I am very busy," she repeated. "I have little interest in
Moravia--which is fortunate; for I could not find the time to study
it."

"If you had interest in Moravia, you would find the time with little
difficulty," he answered, lightly, yet thinking ironically that he
himself had given much time and study to Moravia, and so far had not
got much return out of it. Moravia was the crux of his diplomacy.
Everything depended on it; but Landrassy, the Slavonian ambassador,
had checkmated him at every move towards the final victory.

"It is not a study I would undertake con amore," she said, smiling
down at Jigger, who watched her with sharp yet docile eyes. Then,
suddenly turning towards him again, she said:

"But you are interested in Moravia--do you find it worth the time?"

"Did Count Landrassy tell you that?" he asked.

"And also the ambassador for Moravia; but only in the vaguest and
least consequential way," she replied.

She regarded him steadfastly. "It is only just now--is it a kind of
telepathy'--that I seem to get a message from what we used to call the
power-house, that you are deeply interested in Moravia and
Slavonia. Little things which have been said seem to have new meaning
now, and I feel"--she smiled significantly--"that I am standing on the
brink of some great happening, and only a big secret, like a cloud,
prevents me from seeing it, realizing it. Is it so?" she added, in a
low voice.

He regarded her intently. His look held hers. It would seem as though
he tried to read the depths of her soul; as though he was asking if
what had once proved so false could in the end prove true; for it came
to him with sudden force, with sure conviction, that she could help
him as no one else could; that at this critical moment, when he was
trembling between success and failure, her secret influence might be
the one reinforcement necessary to conduct him to victory. Greater and
better men than himself had used women to further their vast purposes;
could one despise any human agency, so long as it was not
dishonourable, in the carrying out of great schemes?

It was for Britain--for her ultimate good, for the honour and glory of
the Empire, for the betterment of the position of all men of his race
in all the world, their prestige, their prosperity, their patriotism;
and no agency should be despised. He knew so well what powers of
intrigue had been used against him, by the embassy of Slavonia and
those of other countries. His own methods had been simple and direct;
only the scheme itself being intricate, complicated, and reaching
further than any diplomatist, except his own Prime Minister, had
dreamed. If carried, it would recast the international position in the
Orient, necessitating new adjustments in Europe, with cession of
territory and gifts for gifts in the way of commercial treaties and
the settlement of outstanding difficulties.

His key, if it could be made to turn in the lock, would open the door
to possibilities of prodigious consequence.

He had been three years at work, and the end must come soon. The
crisis was near. A game can only be played for a given time, then it
works itself out, and a new one must take its place. His top was
spinning hard, but already the force of the gyration was failing, and
he must presently make his exit with what the Prime Minister called
his Patent, or turn the key in the lock and enter upon his kingdom. In
three months--in two months--in one month--it might be too late, for
war was coming; and war would destroy his plans, if they were not
furfilled now. Everything must be done before war came, or be forever
abandoned.

This beautiful being before him could help him. She had brains, she
was skilful, inventive, supple, ardent, yet intellectually
discreet. She had as much as told him that the ambassador of Moravia
had paid her the compliment of admiring her with some ardour. It would
not grieve him to see her make a fool and a tool of the impressionable
yet adroit diplomatist, whose vanity was matched by his unreliability,
and who had a passion for philandering--unlike Count Landrassy, who
had no inclination to philander, who carried his citadels by direct
attack in great force. Yes, Jasmine could help him, and, as in the
dead years when it seemed that she would be the courier star of his
existence, they understood each other without words.

"It is so," he said at last, in a low voice, his eyes still regarding
her with almost painful intensity.

"Do you trust me--now--again?" she asked, a tremor in her voice and
her small hand clasping ever and ever tighter the fingers of the lad,
whose eyes watched her with such dog-like adoration.

A mournful smile stole to his lips--and stayed. "Come where we can be
quiet and I will tell you all," he said. "You can help me, maybe."

"I will help you," she said, firmly, as the nurse entered the room
again and, approaching the bed, said, "I think he ought to sleep now";
and forthwith proceeded to make Jigger comfortable.

When Stafford bade Jigger good-bye, the lad said: "I wish I could 'ear
the singing to-night, y'r gryce. I mean the primmer donner. Lou says
she's a fair wonder."

"We will open your window," Jasmine said, gently. "The ball-room is
just across the quadrangle, and you will be able to hear perfectly."

"Thank you, me lydy," he answered, gratefully, and his eyes closed.

"Come," said Jasmine to Stafford. "I will take you where we can talk
undisturbed."

They passed out, and both were silent as they threaded the corridors
and hallways; but in Jasmine's face was a light of exaltation and of
secret triumph.

"We must give Jigger a good start in life," she said, softly, as they
entered her sitting-room. Jigger had broken down many barriers between
her and the man who, a week ago, had been eternities distant from her.

"He's worth a lot of thought," Ian answered, as the pleasant room
enveloped him, and they seated themselves on a big couch before the
fire.

Again there was a long silence; then, not looking at her, but gazing
into the fire, Ian Stafford slowly unfolded the wide and wonderful
enterprise of diplomacy in which his genius was employed. She listened
with strained attention, but without moving. Her eyes were fixed on
his face, and once, as the proposed meaning of the scheme was made
dear by the turn of one illuminating phrase, she gave a low
exclamation of wonder and delight. That was all until, at last,
turning to her as though from some vision that had chained him, he saw
the glow in her eyes, the profound interest, which was like the
passion of a spirit moved to heroic undertaking. Once again it was as
in the years gone by--he trusted her, in spite of himself; in spite of
himself he had now given his very life into her hands, was making her
privy to great designs which belonged to the inner chambers of the
chancelleries of Europe.

Almost timorously, as it seemed, she put out her hand and touched his
shoulder. "It is wonderful--wonderful," she said. "I can, I will help
you. Will let you let me win back your trust--Ian?"

"I want your help, Jasmine," he replied, and stood up. "It is the last
turn of the wheel. It may be life or death to me professionally."

"It shall be life," she said, softly.

He turned slowly from her and went towards the door.

"Shall we not go for a walk," she intervened--"before I drive to the
station for Al'mah?"

He nodded, and a moment afterward they were passing along the
corridors. Suddenly, as they passed a window, Ian stopped. "I thought
Mr. Mappin went with the others to the Glen?" he said.

"He did," was the reply.

"Who is that leaving his room?" he continued, as she followed his
glance across the quadrangle. "Surely, it's Fellowes," he added.

"Yes, it looked like Mr. Fellowes," she said, with a slight frown of
wonder.



CHAPTER XIII

"I WILL NOT SING"



"I will not sing--it's no use, I will not." Al'mah's eyes were vivid
with anger, and her lips, so much the resort of humour, were set in
determination. Her words came with low vehemence.

Adrian Fellowes' hand nervously appealed to her. His voice was coaxing
and gentle.

"Al'mah, must I tell Mrs. Byng that?" he asked. "There are a hundred
people in the ball-room. Some of them have driven thirty miles to hear
you. Besides, you are bound in honour to keep your engagement."

"I am bound to keep nothing that I don't wish to keep--you
understand!" she replied, with a passionate gesture. "I am free to do
what I please with my voice and with myself. I will leave here in the
morning. I sang before dinner. That pays my board and a little over,"
she added, with bitterness. "I prefer to be a paying guest. Mrs. Byng
shall not be my paying hostess."

Fellowes shrugged his shoulders, but his lips twitched with
excitement. "I don't know what has come over you, Al'mah," he said
helplessly and with an anxiety he could not disguise. "You can't do
that kind of thing. It isn't fair, it isn't straight business; from a
social standpoint, it isn't well-bred."

"Well-bred!" she retorted with a scornful laugh and a look of angry
disdain. "You once said I had the manners of Madame Sans Gene, the
washer-woman--a sickly joke, it was. Are you going to be my guide in
manners? Does breeding only consist in having clothes made in Savile
Row and eating strawberries out of season at a pound a basket?"

"I get my clothes from the Stores now, as you can see," he said, in a
desperate attempt to be humorous, for she was in a dangerous
mood. Only once before had he seen her so, and he could feel the air
charged with catastrophe. "And I'm eating humble pie in season now at
nothing a dish," he added. "I really am; and it gives me shocking
indigestion."

Her face relaxed a little, for she could seldom resist any touch of
humour, but the stubborn and wilful light in her eyes remained.

"That sounds like last year's pantomime," she said, sharply, and, with
a jerk of her shoulders, turned away.

"For God's sake wait a minute, Al'mah!" he urged, desperately. "What
has upset you? What has happened? Before dinner you were yourself;
now--" he threw up his hands in despair--"Ah, my dearest, my star--"

She turned upon him savagely, and it seemed as though a storm of
passion would break upon him; but all at once she changed, came up
close to him, and looked him steadily in the eyes.

"I do not think I trust you," she said, quite quietly.

His eyes could not meet hers fairly. He felt them shrinking from her
inquisition. "You have always trusted me till now. What has happened?"
he asked, apprehensively and with husky voice.

"Nothing has happened," she replied in a low, steady
voice. "Nothing. But I seem to realize you to-night. It came to me
suddenly, at dinner, as I listened to you, as I saw you talk--I had
never before seen you in surroundings like these. But I realized you
then: I had a revelation. You need not ask me what it was. I do not
know quite. I cannot tell. It is all vague, but it is startling, and
it has gone through my heart like a knife. I tell you this, and I tell
you quite calmly, that if you prove to be what, for the first time, I
have a vision you are, I shall never look upon your face again if I
can help it. If I come to know that you are false in nature and in
act, that all you have said to me is not true, that you have degraded
me--Oh," she fiercely added, breaking off and speaking with infinite
anger and scorn--"it was only love, honest and true, however mistaken,
which could make what has been between us endurable in my eyes! What I
have thought was true love, and its true passion, helped me to forget
the degradation and the secret shame--only the absolute honesty of
that love could make me forget. But suppose I find it only imitation;
suppose I see that it is only selfishness, only horrible, ugly
self-indulgence; suppose you are a man who plays with a human soul! If
I find that to be so, I tell you I shall hate you; and I shall hate
myself; but I shall hate you more--a thousand times more."

She paused with agony and appealing, with confusion and vague horror
in her face. Her look was direct and absorbing, her eyes like wells of
sullen fire.

"Al'mah," he replied with fluttered eagerness, "let us talk of this
later--not now--later. I will answer anything--everything. I can and I
will prove to you that this is only a mad idea of yours, that--"

"No, no, no, not mad," she interrupted. "There is no madness in it. I
had a premonition before I came. It was like a cloud on my soul. It
left me when we met here, when I heard your voice again; and for a
moment I was happy. That was why I sang before dinner that song of
Lassen's, 'Thine Eyes So Blue and Tender.' But it has come
back. Something deep within me says, 'He is not true.' Something
whispers, 'He is false by nature; it is not in him to be true to
anything or anybody.'"

He made an effort to carry off the situation lightly. With a great
sense of humour, she had also an infinite capacity for taking things
seriously--with an almost sensational gravity. Yet she had always
responded to his cheerful raillery when he had declined to be
tragical. He essayed the old way now.

"This is just absurd, old girl;"--she shrank--"you really are
mad. Your home is Colney Hatch or thereabouts. Why, I'm just what I
always was to you--your constant slave, your everlasting lover, and
your friend. I'll talk it all over with you later. It's impossible
now. They're ready for you in the ball-room. The accompanist is
waiting. Do, do, do be reasonable. I will see you--afterwards--late."

A determined poignant look came into her eyes. She drew still farther
away from him. "You will not, you shall not, see me 'afterwards--late.'
No, no, no; I will trust my instinct now. I am natural, I am true,
I hide nothing. I take my courage in both hands. I do not hide my head
in the sands. I have given, because I chose to give, and I made and make
no presences to myself. I answer to myself, and I do not play false with
the world or with you. Whatever I am the world can know, for I deceive
no one, and I have no fears. But you--oh, why, why is it I feel now,
suddenly, that you have the strain of the coward in you! Why it comes
to me now I do not know; but it is here"--she pressed her hand
tremblingly to her heart--"and I will not act as though it wasn't
here. I'm not of this world."

She waved a hand towards the ball-room. "I am not of the world that
lives in terror of itself. Mine is a world apart, where one acts and
lives and sings the passion and sorrows and joys of others--all
unreal, unreal. The one chance of happiness we artists have is not to
act in our own lives, but to be true--real and true. For one's own
life as well as one's work to be all grease-paint--no, no, no. I have
hid all that has been between us, because of things that have nothing
to do with fear or courage, and for your sake; but I haven't acted, or
pretended. I have not flaunted my private life, my wretched sin--"

"The sin of an angel--"

She shrank from the blatant insincerity of the words, and still more
from the tone. Why had it not all seemed insincere before?

"But I was true in all I did, and I believed you were," she continued.

"And you don't believe it now?"

"To-night I do not. What I shall feel to-morrow I cannot tell. Maybe I
shall go blind again, for women are never two days alike in their
minds or bodies." She threw up her hands with a despairing
helplessness. "But we shall not meet till to-morrow, and then I go
back to London. I am going to my room now. You may tell Mrs. Byng that
I am not well enough to sing--and indeed I am not well," she added,
huskily. "I am sick at heart with I don't know what; but I am wretched
and angry and dangerous--and bad."

Her eyes fastened his with a fateful bitterness and gloom. "Where is
Mr. Byng?" she added, sharply. "Why was he not at dinner?"

He hailed the change of idea gladly. He spoke quickly, eagerly. "He
was kept at the mine. There's trouble--a strike. He was needed. He has
great influence with the men, and the masters, too. You heard
Mrs. Byng say why he had not returned."

"No; I was thinking of other things. But I wanted--I want to see
him. When will he be back?"

"At any moment, I should think. But, Al'mah, no matter what you feel
about me, you must keep your engagement to sing here. The people in
there, a hundred of the best people of the county--"

"The best people of the county--such abject snobbery!" she retorted,
sharply. "Do you think that would influence me? You ought to know me
well enough--but that's just it, you do not know me. I realize it at
last. Listen now. I will not sing to-night, and you will go and tell
Mrs. Byng so."

Once again she turned away, but her exit was arrested by another
voice, a pleasant voice, which said:

"But just one minute, please. Mr. Fellowes is quite
right.... Fellowes, won't you go and say that Madame Al'mah will be
there in five minutes?"

It was Ian Stafford. He had come at Jasmine's request to bring Al'mah,
and he had overheard her last words. He saw that there had been a
scene, and conceived that it was the kind of quarrel which could be
better arranged by a third disinterested person.

After a moment's hesitation, with an anxious yet hopeful look,
Fellowes disappeared, Al'mah's brown eyes following him with dark
inquisition. Presently she looked at Ian Stafford with a flash of
malice. Did this elegant and diplomatic person think that all he had
to do was to speak, and she would succumb to his blandishment? He
should see.

He smiled, and courteously motioned her to a chair.

"You said to Mr. Fellowes that I should sing in five minutes," she
remarked maliciously and stubbornly, but she moved forward to the
chair, nevertheless.

"Yes, but there is no reason why we should not sit for three out of
the five minutes. Energy should be conserved in a tiring world."

"I have some energy to spare--the overflow," she returned with a
protesting flash of the eyes, as, however, she slowly seated herself.

"We call it power and magnetism in your case," he answered in that
low, soothing voice which had helped to quiet storms in more than one
chancellerie of Europe. . . . "What are you going to sing to-night?"
he added.

"I am not going to sing," she answered, nervously. "You heard what I
said to Mr. Fellowes."

"I was an unwilling eavesdropper; I heard your last words. But surely
you would not be so unoriginal, so cliche, as to say the same thing to
me that you said to Mr. Fellowes!"

His smile was winning and his humour came from a deep well. On the
instant she knew it to be real, and his easy confidence, his
assumption of dominancy had its advantage.

"I'll say it in a different way to you, but it will be the same
thing. I shall not sing to-night," she retorted, obstinately.

"Then a hundred people will go hungry to bed," he rejoined. "Hunger is
a dreadful thing--and there are only three minutes left out of the
five," he added, looking at his watch.

"I am not the baker or the butler," she replied with a smile, but her
firm lips did not soften.

He changed his tactics with adroitness. If he failed now, it would be
final. He thought he knew where she might be really vulnerable.

"Byng will be disappointed and surprised when he hears of the famine
that the prima donna has left behind her. Byng is one of the best that
ever was. He is trying to do his fellow-creatures a good turn down
there at the mine. He never did any harm that I ever heard of--and
this is his house, and these are his guests. He would, I'll stake my
life, do Al'mah a good turn if he could, even if it cost him something
quite big. He is that kind of a man. He would be hurt to know that you
had let the best people of the county be parched, when you could give
them drink."

"You said they were hungry a moment ago," she rejoined, her resolution
slowly breaking under the one influence which could have softened her.

"They would be both hungry and thirsty," he urged. "But, between
ourselves, would you like Byng to come home from a hard day's work, as
it were, and feel that things had gone wrong here while he was away on
humanity's business? Just try to imagine him having done you a
service--"

"He has done me more than one service," she interjected. "You know it
as well as I do. You were there at the opera, three years ago, when he
saved me from the flames, and since then--"

Stafford looked at his watch again with a smile. "Besides, there's a
far more important reason why you should sing to-night. I promised
some one who's been hurt badly, and who never heard you sing, that he
should hear you to-night. He is lying there now, and--"

"Jigger?" she asked, a new light in her eyes, something fleeing from
her face and leaving a strange softness behind it.

"Quite so," he replied. "That's a lad really worth singing for.
He's an original, if ever there was one. He worships you for what
you have done for his sister, Lou. I'd undergo almost any
humiliation not to disappoint Jigger. Byng would probably get over
his disappointment--he'd only feel that he hadn't been used fairly,
and he's used to that; but Jigger wouldn't sleep to-night, and it's
essential that he should. Think of how much happiness and how much
pain you can give, just by trilling a simple little song with your
little voice oh, madame la cantatrice?"

Suddenly her eyes filled with tears. She brushed them away hastily.
"I've been upset and angry and disturbed--and I don't know what," she
said, abruptly. "One of my black moods was on me. They only come once
in a blue moon; but they almost kill me when they do." . . . She
stopped and looked at him steadily for a moment, the tears still in
her eyes. "You are very understanding and gentle--and sensible," she
added, with brusque frankness and cordiality. "Yes, I will sing for
Rudyard Byng and for Jigger; and a little too for a very clever
diplomatist." She gave a spasmodic laugh.

"Only half a minute left," he rejoined with gay raillery. "I said
you'd sing to them in five minutes, and you must. This way."

He offered her his arm, she took it, and in cheerful silence he
hurried her to the ball-room.

Before her first song he showed her the window which looked across to
that out of which Jigger gazed with trembling eagerness. The blinds
and curtains were up at these windows, and Jigger could see her as she
sang.

Never in all her wonderful career had Al'mah sung so well--with so
much feeling and an artist's genius--not even that night of all when
she made her debut. The misery, the gloom, the bitterness of the past
hour had stirred every fibre of her being, and her voice told with
thrilling power the story of a soul.

Once after an outburst of applause from the brilliant audience, there
came a tiny echo of it from across the courtyard. It was Jigger,
enraptured by a vision of heaven and the sounds of it. Al'mah turned
towards the window with a shining face, and waved a kiss out of the
light and glory where she was, to the sufferer in the darkness. Then,
after a whispered word to the accompanist she began singing Gounod's
memorable song, "There is a Green Hill Far Away." It was not what the
audience expected; it was in strangest contrast to all that had gone
before; it brought a hush like a benediction upon the great
chamber. Her voice seemed to ache with the plaintive depth of the
song, and the soft night filled its soul with melody.

A wonderful and deep solemnity was suddenly diffused upon the assembly
of world-worn people, to most of whom the things that mattered were
those which gave them diversion. They were wont to swim with the tide
of indolence, extravagance, self-seeking, and sordid pleasure now
flowing through the hardy isles, from which had come much of the
strength of the Old World and the vision and spirit of the New World.

Why had she chosen this song? Because, all at once, as she thought of
Jigger lying there in the dark room, she had a vision of her own child
lying near to death in the grasp of pneumonia five years ago; and the
misery of that time swept over her--its rebellion, its hideous fear,
its bitter loneliness. She recalled how a woman, once a great singer,
now grown old in years as in sorrow, had sung this very song to her
then, in the hour of her direst apprehension. She sang it now to her
own dead child, and to Jigger. When she ceased, there was not a sound
save of some woman gently sobbing. Others were vainly trying to choke
back their tears.

Presently, as Al'mah stood still in the hush which was infinitely more
grateful to her than any applause, she saw Krool advancing hurriedly
up the centre aisle. He was drawn and haggard, and his eyes were
sunken and wild. Turning at the platform, he said in a strange, hollow
voice:

"At the mine--an accident. The Baas he go down to save--he not come
up."

With a cry Jasmine staggered to her feet. Ian Stafford was beside her
in an instant.

"The Baas--the Baas!" said Krool, insistently, painfully. "I have the
horses--come."



CHAPTER XIV

THE BAAS


There had been an explosion in the Glencader Mine, and twenty men had
been imprisoned in the stark solitude of the underground world. Or was
it that they lay dead in that vast womb of mother-earth which takes
all men of all time as they go, and absorbs them into her fruitful
body, to produce other men who will in due days return to the same
great mother to rest and be still? It mattered little whether
malevolence had planned the outrage in the mine, or whether accident
alone had been responsible; the results were the same. Wailing,
woebegone women wrung their hands, and haggard, determined men stood
by with bowed heads, ready to offer their lives to save those other
lives far down below, if so be it were possible.

The night was serene and quiet, clear and cold, with glimmering stars
and no moon, and the wide circle of the hills was drowsy with night
and darkness. All was at peace in the outer circle, but at the centre
was travail and storm and outrage and death. What nature had made
beautiful, man had made ugly by energy and all the harsh necessities
of progress. In the very heart of this exquisite and picturesque
country-side the ugly, grim life of the miner had established itself,
and had then turned an unlovely field of industrial activity into a
cock-pit of struggle between capital and labour. First, discontent,
fed by paid agitators and scarcely steadied by responsible and
level-headed labour agents and leaders; then active disturbance and
threatening; then partial strike, then minor outrages, then some
foolishness on the part of manager or man, and now tragedy darkening
the field, adding bitterness profound to the discontent and strife.

Rudyard Byng had arrived on the scene in the later stages of the
struggle, when a general strike with all its attendant miseries, its
dangers and provocations, was hovering. Many men in his own mine in
South Africa had come from this very district, and he was known to be
the most popular of all the capitalists on the Rand. His generosity to
the sick and poor of the Glencader Mine had been great, and he had
given them a hospital and a club with adequate endowment. Also, he had
been known to take part in the rough sports of the miners, and had
afterwards sat and drunk beer with them--as much as any, and carying
it better than any.

If there was any one who could stay the strike and bring about a
settlement it was he; and it is probable he would have stayed it, had
it not been for a collision between a government official and a
miners' leader. Things had grown worse, until the day of catastrophe,
when Byng had been sent for by the leaders of both parties to the
quarrel. He had laboured hours after hour in the midst of grave unrest
and threats of violence, for some of the men had taken to drinking
heavily--but without success. Still he had stayed on, going here and
there, mostly among the men themselves, talking to them in little
groups, arguing simply with them, patiently dealing with facts and
figures, quietly showing them the economic injustice which lay behind
their full demands, and suggesting compromises.

He was received with good feeling, but in the workers' view it was
"class against class--labour against capital, the man against the
master." In their view Byng represented class, capital and master, not
man; his interests were not identical with theirs; and though some
were disposed to cheer him, the majority said he was "as good a sort
as that sort can be," but shrugged their shoulders and remained
obstinate. The most that he did during the long afternoon and evening
was to prevent the worst; until, as he sat eating a slice of ham in a
miner's kitchen, there came the explosion: the accident or
crime--which, like the lances in an angry tumour, let out the fury,
enmity, and rebellion, and gave human nature its chance again. The
shock of the explosion had been heard at Glencader, but nothing was
thought of it, as there had been much blasting in the district for
days.

"There's twenty men below," said the grimy manager who had brought the
news to Byng. Together they sped towards the mine, little groups
running beside them, muttering those dark sayings which, either as
curses or laments, are painful comments on the relations of life on
the lower levels with life on the higher plateaux.

Among the volunteers to go below, Byng was of the first, and against
the appeal of the mine-manager, and of others who tried to dissuade
him, he took his place with two miners with the words:

"I know this pit better than most; and I'd rather be down there
knowing the worst, than waiting to learn it up here. I'm going; so
lower away, lads."

He had disappeared, and for a long time there was no sign; but at last
there came to the surface three of the imprisoned miners and two dead
bodies, and these were followed by others still alive; but Byng did
not come up. He remained below, leading the search, the first in the
places of danger and exploration, the last to retreat from any peril
of falling timbers or from fresh explosion. Twelve of the twenty men
were rescued. Six were dead, and their bodies were brought to the
surface and to the arms of women whose breadwinners were gone; whose
husbands or sons or brothers had been struck out into darkness without
time to strip themselves of the impedimenta of the soul. Two were left
below, and these were brothers who had married but three months
before. They were strong, buoyant men of twenty-five, with life just
begun, and home still welcome and alluring--warm-faced, bonny women to
meet them at the door, and lay the cloth, and comfort their beds, and
cheer them away to work in the morning. These four lovers had been the
target for the good-natured and half-affectionate scoffing of the
whole field; for the twins, Jabez and Jacob, were as alike as two
peas, and their wives were cousins, and were of a type in mind, body,
and estate. These twin toilers were left below, with Rudyard Byng
forcing his way to the place where they had worked. With him was one
other miner of great courage and knowledge, who had gone with other
rescue parties in other catastrophes.

It was this man who was carried to the surface when another small
explosion occurred. He brought the terrible news that Byng, the
rescuer of so many, was himself caught by falling timbers and
imprisoned near a spot where Jabez and Jacob Holyhoke were entombed.

Word had gone to Glencader, and within an hour and a half Jasmine,
Al'mah, Stafford, Lord Tynemouth, the Slavonian Ambassador, Adrian
Fellowes, Mr. Tudor Tempest and others were at the pit's mouth,
stricken by the same tragedy which had made so many widows and orphans
that night. Already two attempts had been made to descend, but they
had not been successful. Now came forward a burly and dour-looking
miner, called Brengyn, who had been down before, and had been in
command. His look was forbidding, but his face was that of a man on
whom you could rely; and his eyes had a dogged, indomitable
expression. Behind him were a dozen men, sullen and haggard, their
faces showing nothing of that pity in their hearts which drove them to
risk all to save the lives of their fellow-workers. Was it all pity
and humanity? Was there also something of that perdurable cohesion of
class against class; the powerful if often unlovely unity of faction,
the shoulder-to-shoulder combination of war; the tribal fanaticism
which makes brave men out of unpromising material? Maybe something of
this element entered into the heroism which had been displayed; but
whatever the impulse or the motive, the act and the end were the
same--men's lives were in peril, and they were risking their own to
rescue them.

When Jasmine and her friends arrived, Ian Stafford addressed himself
to the groups of men at the pit's mouth, asking for news. Seeing
Brengyn approach Jasmine, he hurried over, recognizing in the stalwart
miner a leader of men.

"It's a chance in a thousand," he heard Brengyn say to Jasmine, whose
white face showed no trace of tears, and who held herself with
courage. There was something akin in the expression of her face and
that of other groups of women, silent, rigid and bitter, who stood
apart, some with children's hands clasped in theirs, facing the worst
with regnant resolution. All had that horrible quietness of despair so
much more poignant than tears and wailing. Their faces showed the
weariness of labour and an ill-nourished daily life, but there was the
same look in them as in Jasmine's. There was no class in this
communion of suffering and danger.

"Not one chance in a thousand," Brengyn added, heavily. "I know where
they are, but--"

"You think they are--dead?" Jasmine asked in a hollow voice.

"I think, alive or dead, it's all against them as goes down to bring
them out. It's more lives to be wasted."

Stafford heard, and he stepped forward. "If there's a chance in a
thousand, it's good enough for a try," he said. "If you were there,
Mr. Byng would take the chance in the thousand for you."

Brengyn looked Stafford up and down slowly. "What is it you've got to
say?" he asked, gloomily.

"I am going down, if there's anybody will lead," Stafford replied. "I
was brought up in a mining country. I know as much as most of you
about mines, and I'll make one to follow you, if you'll lead--you've
been down, I know."

Brengyn's face changed. "Mr. Byng isn't our class, he's with capital,"
he said, "but he's a man. He went down to help save men of my class,
and to any of us he's worth the risk. But how many of his own class is
taking it on?"

"I, for one," said Lord Tynemouth, stepping forward.

"I--I," answered three other men of the house-party.

Al'mah, who was standing just below Jasmine, had her eyes fixed on
Adrian Fellowes, and when Brengyn called for volunteers, her heart
almost stood still in suspense. Would Adrian volunteer?

Brengyn's look rested on Adrian for an instant, but Adrian's eyes
dropped. Brengyn had said one chance in a thousand, and Adrian said to
himself that he had never been lucky--never in all his life. At games
of chance he had always lost. Adrian was for the sure thing always.

Al'mah's face flushed with anger and shame at the thing she saw, and a
weakness came over her, as though the springs of life had been
suddenly emptied.

Brengyn once again fastened the group from Glencader with his
eyes. "There's a gentleman in danger," he said, grimly, again. "How
many gentlemen volunteer to go down--ay, there's five!" he added, as
Stafford and Tynemouth and the others once again responded.

Jasmine saw, but at first did not fully realize what was
happening. But presently she understood that there was one near, owing
everything to her husband, who had not volunteered to help to save
him--on the thousandth chance. She was stunned and stricken.

"Oh, for God's sake, go!" she said, brokenly, but not looking at
Adrian Fellowes, and with a heart torn by misery and shame.

Brengyn turned to the men behind him, the dark, determined toilers who
sustained the immortal spirit of courage and humanity on thirty
shillings a week and nine hours' work a day. "Who's for it, mates?" he
asked, roughly. "Who's going wi' me?"

Every man answered hoarsely, "Ay," and every hand went up. Brengyn's
back was on Fellowes, Al'mah, and Jasmine now. There was that which
filled the cup of trembling for Al'mah in the way he nodded to the
men.

"Right, lads," he said with a stern joy in his voice. "But there's
only one of you can go, and I'll pick him. Here, Jim," he added to a
small, wiry fellow not more than five feet four in height--"here, Jim
Gawley, you're comin' wi' me, an' that's all o' you as can come. No,
no," he added, as there was loud muttering and dissent. "Jim's got no
missis, nor mother, and he's tough as leather and can squeeze in small
places, and he's all right, too, in tight corners." Now he turned to
Stafford and Tynemouth and the others. "You'll come wi' me," he said
to Stafford--" if you want. It's a bad look-out, but we'll have a
try. You'll do what I say?" he sharply asked Stafford, whose face was
set.

"You know the place," Stafford answered. "I'll do what you say."

"My word goes?"

"Right. Your word goes. Let's get on."

Jasmine took a step forward with a smothered cry, but Alice Tynemouth
laid a hand on her arm.

"He'll bring Rudyard back, if it can be done," she whispered.

Stafford did not turn round. He said something in an undertone to
Tynemouth, and then, without a glance behind, strode away beside
Brengyn and Jim Gawley to the pit's mouth.

Adrian Fellowes stepped up to Tynemouth. "What do you think the
chances are?" he asked in a low tone.

"Go to--bed!" was the gruff reply of the irate peer, to whom cowardice
was the worst crime on earth, and who was enraged at being left
behind. Also he was furious because so many working-men had responded
to Brengyn's call for volunteers and Adrian Fellowes had shown the
white feather. In the obvious appeal to the comparative courage of
class his own class had suffered.

"Or go and talk to the women," he added to Fellowes. "Make 'em
comfortable. You've got a gift that way."

Turning on his heel, Lord Tynemouth hastened to the mouth of the pit
and watched the preparations for the descent.

Never was night so still; never was a sky so deeply blue, nor stars so
bright and serene. It was as though Peace had made its habitation on
the wooded hills, and a second summer had come upon the land, though
wintertime was near. Nature seemed brooding, and the generous odour of
ripened harvests came over the uplands to the watchers in the
valley. All was dark and quiet in the sky and on the hills; but in the
valley were twinkling lights and the stir and murmur of troubled
life--that sinister muttering of angry and sullen men which has struck
terror to the hearts of so many helpless victims of revolution, when
it has been the mutterings of thousands and not of a few rough,
discontented toilers. As Al'mah sat near to the entrance of the mine,
wrapped in a warm cloak, and apart from the others who watched and
waited also, she seemed to realize the agony of the problem which was
being worked out in these labour-centres where, between capital and
the work of men's hands, there was so apparent a gulf of
disproportionate return.

The stillness of the night was broken now by the hoarse calls of the
men, now by the wailing of women, and Al'mah's eyes kept turning to
those places where lights were shining, which, as she knew, were
houses of death or pain. For hours she and Jasmine and Lady Tynemouth
had gone from cottage to cottage where the dead and wounded were, and
had left everywhere gifts, and the promises of gifts, in the attempt
to soften the cruelty of the blow to those whose whole life depended
on the weekly wage. Help and the pledge of help had lightened many a
dark corner that night; and an unexplainable antipathy which had
suddenly grown up in Al'mah's mind against Jasmine after her arrival
at Glencader was dissipated as the hours wore on.

Pale of face, but courageous and solicitous, Jasmine, accompanied by
Al'mah, moved among the dead and dying and the bitter and bereaved
living, with a gentle smile and a soft word or touch of the hand. Men
near to death, or suffering torture, looked gratefully at her or tried
to smile; and more than once Mr. Mappin, whose hands were kept busy
and whose skill saved more than a handful of lives that night, looked
at her in wonder.

Jasmine already had a reputation in the great social world for being
of a vain lightness, having nothing of that devotion to good works
which Mr. Mappin had seen so often on those high levels where the rich
and the aristocratic lived. There was, then, more than beauty and wit
and great social gift, gaiety and charm, in this delicate personality?
Yes, there was something good and sound in her, after all. Her
husband's life was in infinite danger,--had not Brengyn said that his
chances were only one in a thousand?--death stared her savagely in the
face; yet she bore herself as calmly as those women who could not
afford the luxury of tears or the self-indulgence of a despairing
indolence; to whom tragedy was but a whip of scorpions to drive them
into action. How well they all behaved, these society butterflies--
Jasmine, Lady Tynemouth, and the others! But what a wonderful
motherliness and impulsive sympathy steadied by common sense did
Al'mah the singing-woman show!

Her instinct was infallible, her knowledge of how these poor people
felt was intuitive, and her great-heartedness was to be seen in every
motion, heard in every tone of her voice. If she had not had this work
of charity to do, she felt she would have gone shrieking through the
valley, as, this very midnight, she had seen a girl with streaming
hair and bare breast go crying through the streets, and on up the
hills to the deep woods, insane with grief and woe.

Her head throbbed. She felt as though she also could tear the
coverings from her own bosom to let out the fever which was there; for
in her life she had loved two men who had trampled on her
self-respect, had shattered all her pride of life, had made her
ashamed to look the world in the face. Blantyre, her husband, had been
despicable and cruel, a liar and a deserter; and to-night she had seen
the man to whom she had given all that was left of her heart and faith
disgrace himself and his class before the world by a cowardice which
no woman could forgive.

Adrian Fellowes had gone back to Glencader to do necessary things, to
prepare the household for any emergency; and she was grateful for the
respite. If she had been thrown with him in the desperate mood of the
moment, she would have lost her self-control. Happily, fate had taken
him away for a few hours; and who could tell what might not happen in
a few hours? Meanwhile, there was humanity's work to be done.

About four o'clock in the morning, when she came out from a cottage
where she had assisted Mr. Mappin in a painful and dangerous
operation, she stood for a moment in reverie, looking up at the hills,
whose peace had been shrilly broken a few hours before by that
distracted waif of the world, fleeing from the pain of life.

An ample star of rare brilliancy came stealing up over the trees
against the sky-line, twinkling and brimming with light.

"No," she said, as though in reply to an inner voice, "there's nothing
for me--nothing. I have missed it all." Her hands clasped her breast
in pain, and she threw her face upwards. But the light of the star
caught her eyes, and her hands ceased to tremble. A strange quietness
stole over her.

"My child, my lost beloved child," she whispered.

Her eyes swam with tears now, the lines of pain at her mouth relaxed,
the dark look in her eyes stole away. She watched the star with
sorrowful eyes. "How much misery does it see!" she said. Suddenly, she
thought of Rudyard Byng. "He saved my life," she murmured. "I owe
him--ah, Adrian might have paid the debt!" she cried, in pain. "If he
had only been a man to-night--"

At that moment there came a loud noise up the valley from the pit's
mouth--a great shouting. An instant later two figures ran past
her. One was Jasmine, the other was a heavy-footed miner. Gathering
her cloak around her Al'mah sped after them.

A huddled group at the pit's mouth, and men and women running toward
it; a sharp voice of command, and the crowd falling back, making way
for men who carried limp bodies past; then suddenly, out of wild
murmurs and calls, a cry of victory like the call of a muezzin from
the tower of a mosque--a resonant monotony, in which a dominant
principle cries.

A Welsh preaching hillman, carried away by the triumph of the moment,
gave the great tragedy the bugle-note of human joy and pride.

Ian Stafford and Brengyn and Jim Gawley had conquered. The limp bodies
carried past Al'mah were not dead. They were living, breathing men
whom fresh air and a surgeon's aid would soon restore. Two of them
were the young men with the bonny wives who now with murmured
endearments grasped their cold hands. Behind these two was carried
Rudyard Byng, who could command the less certain concentration of a
heart. The men whom Rudyard had gone to save could control a greater
wealth, a more precious thing than anything he had. The boundaries of
the interests of these workers were limited, but their souls were
commingled with other souls bound to them by the formalities; and
every minute of their days, every atom of their forces, were moving
round one light, the light upon the hearthstone. These men were
carried ahead of Byng now, as though by the ritual of nature taking
their rightful place in life's procession before him.

Something of what the working-women felt possessed Jasmine, but it was
an impulse born of the moment, a flood of feeling begotten by the
tragedy. It had in it more of remorse than aught else; it was, in
part, the agitation of a soul surprised into revelation. Yet there
was, too, a strange, deep, undefined pity welling up in her
heart,--pity for Rudyard, and because of what she did not say directly
even to her own soul. But pity was there, with also a sense of
inevitableness, of the continuance of things which she was too weak to
alter.

Like the two women of the people ahead, she held Rudyard's hand, as
she walked beside him, till he was carried into the manager's office
near by. She was conscious that on the other side of Rudyard was a
tall figure that staggered and swayed as it moved on, and that two
dark eyes were turned towards her ever and anon.

Into those eyes she had looked but once since the rescue, but all that
was necessary of gratitude was said in that one glance: "You have
saved Rudyard--you, Ian," it said.

With Al'mah it was different. In the light of the open door of the
manager's office, she looked into Ian Stafford's face. "He saved my
life, you remember," she said; "and you have saved his. I love you."

"I love you!" Greatness of heart was speaking, not a woman's
emotions. The love she meant was of the sort which brings no darkness
in its train. Men and women can speak of it without casting down their
eyes or feeling a flush in their cheeks.

To him came also the two women whose husbands, Jacob and Jabez, were
restored to them.

"Man, we luv ye," one said, and the other laid a hand on his breast
and nodded assent, adding, "Ay, we luv ye."

That was all; but greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down
his life for his friend--and for his enemies, maybe. Enemies these two
rescued men were in one sense--young socialists--enemies to the
present social order, with faces set against the capitalist and the
aristocrat and the landlord; yet in the crisis of life dipping their
hands in the same dish, drinking from the same cup, moved by the same
sense of elementary justice, pity, courage, and love.

"Man, we luv ye!" And the women turned away to their own--to their
capital, which in the slump of Fate had suffered no loss. It was
theirs, complete and paying large dividends.

To the crowd, Brengyn, with gruff sincerity, said, loudly: "Jim
Gawley, he done as I knowed he'd do. He done his best, and he done it
prime. We couldn't ha' got on wi'out him. But first there was Mr. Byng
as had sense and knowledge more than any; an' he couldn't be denied;
an' there was Mr. Stafford--him--" pointing to Ian, who, with misty
eyes, was watching the women go back to their men. "He done his bit
better nor any of us. And Mr. Byng and Jacob and Jabez, they can thank
their stars that Mr. Stafford done his bit. Jim's all right an' I done
my duty, I hope, but these two that ain't of us, they done
more--Mr. Byng and Mr. Stafford. Here's three cheers, lads--no, this
ain't a time for cheerin'; but ye all ha' got hands."

His hand caught Ian's with the grip of that brotherhood which is as
old as Adam, and the hand of miner after miner did the same.

The strike was over--at a price too big for human calculation; but it
might have been bigger still.

Outside the open door of the manager's office Stafford watched and
waited till he saw Rudyard, with a little laugh, get slowly to his
feet and stretch his limbs heavily. Then he turned away gloomily to
the darkness of the hills. In his soul there was a depression as deep
as in that of the singing-woman.

"Al'mah had her debt to pay, and I shall have mine," he said, wearily.




BOOK III




CHAPTER XV

THE WORLD WELL LOST


People were in London in September and October who seldom arrived
before November. War was coming. Hundreds of families whose men were
in the army came to be within touch of the War Office and Aldershot,
and the capital of the Empire was overrun by intriguers, harmless and
otherwise. There were ladies who hoped to influence officers in high
command in favour of their husbands, brothers, or sons; subalterns of
title who wished to be upon the staff of some famous general; colonels
of character and courage and scant ability, craving commands;
high-placed folk connected with great industrial, shipping, or
commercial firms, who were used by these firms to get "their share" of
contracts and other things which might be going; and patriotic
amateurs who sought to make themselves notorious through some civilian
auxiliary to war organization, like a voluntary field hospital or a
home of convalescence. But men, too, of the real right sort, longing
for chance of work in their profession of arms; ready for anything,
good for anything, brave to a miracle: and these made themselves fit
by hard riding or walking or rowing, or in some school of physical
culture, that they might take a war job on, if, and when, it was
going.

Among all these Ian Stafford moved with an undercurrent of agitation
and anxiety unseen in his face, step, motion, or gesture. For days he
was never near the Foreign Office, and then for days he was there
almost continuously; yet there was scarcely a day when he did not see
Jasmine. Also there were few days in the week when Jasmine did not see
M. Mennaval, the ambassador for Moravia--not always at her own house,
but where the ambassador chanced to be of an evening, at a fashionable
restaurant, or at some notable function. This situation had not been
difficult to establish; and, once established, meetings between the
lady and monsieur were arranged with that skill which belongs to woman
and to diplomacy.

Once or twice at the beginning Jasmine's chance question concerning
the ambassador's engagements made M. Mennaval keen to give information
as to his goings and comings. Thus if they met naturally, it was also
so constantly that people gossiped; but at first, certainly, not to
Jasmine's grave disadvantage, for M. Mennaval was thought to be less
dangerous than impressionable.

In that, however, he was somewhat maligned, for his penchant for
beautiful and "select" ladies had capacities of development almost
unguessed. Previously Jasmine had never shown him any marked
preference; and when, at first, he met her in town on her return from
Wales he was no more than watchfully courteous and admiring. When,
however, he found her in a receptive mood, and evidently taking
pleasure in his society, his vanity expanded greatly. He at once
became possessed by an absorbing interest in the woman who, of all
others in London, had gifts which were not merely physical, but of a
kind that stimulate the mind and rouse those sensibilities so easily
dulled by dull and material people. Jasmine had her material side; but
there was in her the very triumph of the imaginative also; and through
it the material became alive, buoyant and magnetic.

Without that magnetic power which belonged to the sensuous part of her
she would not have gained control of M. Mennaval's mind, for it was
keen, suspicious, almost abnormally acute; and, while lacking real
power, it protected itself against the power of others by assembled
and well-disciplined adroitness and evasions.

Very soon, however, Jasmine's sensitive beauty, which in her desire to
intoxicate him became voluptuousness, enveloped his brain in a mist of
rainbow reflections. Under her deft questions and suggestions he
allowed her to see the springs of his own diplomacy and the machinery
inside the Moravian administration. She caught glimpses of its
ambitions, its unscrupulous use of its position in international
relations, to gain advantage for itself, even by a dexterity which
might easily bear another name, and by sudden disregard of
international attachments not unlike treachery.

Rudyard was too busy to notice the more than cavalier attitude of
M. Mennaval; and if he had noticed it, there would have been no
intervention. Of late a lesion of his higher moral sense made him
strangely insensitive to obvious things. He had an inborn chivalry,
but the finest, truest chivalry was not his--that which carefully
protects a woman from temptation, by keeping her unostentatiously away
from it; which remembers that vanity and the need for admiration drive
women into pitfalls out of which they climb again maimed for life, if
they climb at all.

He trusted Jasmine absolutely, while there was, at the same time, a
great unrest in his heart and life--an unrest which the accident at
the Glencader Mine, his own share in a great rescue, and her gratitude
for his safety did little to remove. It produced no more than a
passing effect upon Jasmine or upon himself. The very convention of
making light of bravery and danger, which has its value, was in their
case an evil, preventing them from facing the inner meaning of it
all. If they had been less rich, if their house had been small, if
their acquaintances had been fewer, if . . .

It was not by such incidents that they were to be awakened, and with
the wild desire to make Stafford grateful to her, and owe her his
success, the tragedy yonder must, in the case of Jasmine, have been
obscured and robbed of its force. At Glencader Jasmine had not got
beyond desire to satisfy a vanity, which was as deep in her as life
itself. It was to regain her hold upon a man who had once acknowledged
her power and, in a sense, had bowed to her will. But that had
changed, and, down beneath all her vanity and wilfulness, there was
now a dangerous regard and passion for him which, under happy
circumstances, might have transformed her life--and his. Now it all
served to twist her soul and darken her footsteps. On every hand she
was engaged in a game of dissimulation, made the more dangerous by the
thread of sincerity and desire running through it all. Sometimes she
started aghast at the deepening intrigue gathering in her path; at the
deterioration in her husband; and at the hollow nature of her home
life; but the excitement of the game she was playing, the ardour of
the chase, was in her veins, and her inherited spirit of great daring
kept her gay with vitality and intellectual adventure.

Day after day she had strengthened the cords by which she was drawing
Ian to her; and in the confidence begotten of her services to him, of
her influence upon M. Mennaval and the progress of her efforts, a new
intimacy, different from any they had ever known, grew and
thrived. Ian scarcely knew how powerful had become the feeling between
them. He only realized that delight which comes from working with
another for a cherished cause, the goal of one's life, which has such
deeper significance when the partner in the struggle is a woman. They
both experienced that most seductive of all influences, a secret
knowledge and a pact of mutual silence and purpose.

"You trust me now?" Jasmine asked at last one day, when she had been
able to assure Ian that the end was very near, that M. Mennaval had
turned his face from Slavonia, and had carried his government with
him--almost. In the heir-apparent to the throne of Moravia, whose
influence with the Moravian Prime Minister was considerable, there
still remained one obdurate element; but Ian's triumph only lacked the
removal of this one obstructive factor, and thereafter England would
be secure from foreign attack, if war came in South Africa. In that
case Ian's career might culminate at the head of the Foreign Office
itself, or as representative of the throne in India, if he chose that
splendid sphere.

"You do trust me, Ian?" Jasmine repeated, with a wistfulness as near
reality as her own deceived soul could permit.

With a sincerity as deep as one can have who embarks on enterprises in
which one regrets the means in contemplation of the end, Ian replied:

"Yes, yes, I trust you, Jasmine, as I used to do when I was twenty and
you were five. You have brought back the boy in me. All the dreams of
youth are in my heart again, all the glow of the distant sky of
hope. I feel as though I lived upon a hill-top, under some greenwood
tree, and--"

"And 'sported with Amaryllis in the shade,'" she broke in with a
little laugh of triumph, her eyes brighter than he had ever seen
them. They were glowing with a fire of excitement which was like a
fever devouring the spirit, with little dark, flying banners of fate
or tragedy behind.

Strange that he caught the inner meaning of it as he looked into her
eyes now. In the depths of those eyes, where long ago he had drowned
his spirit, it was as though he saw an army of reckless battalions
marching to a great battle; but behind all were the black wings of
vultures--pinions of sorrow following the gay brigades. Even as he
gazed at her, something ominous and threatening caught his heart, and,
with the end of his great enterprise in sight, a black premonition
smothered him.

But with a smile he said: "Well, it does look as though we are near
the end of the journey."

"And 'journeys end in lovers' meeting,'" she whispered softly, lowered
her eyes, and then raised them again to his.

The light in them blinded him. Had he not always loved her--before any
one came, before Rudyard came, before the world knew her? All that he
had ever felt in the vanished days rushed upon him with intolerable
force. Through his life-work, through his ambition, through helping
him as no one else could have done at the time of crisis, she had
reached the farthest confines of his nature. She had woven, thread by
thread, the magic carpet of that secret companionship by which the
best as the worst of souls are sometimes carried into a land
enchanted--for a brief moment, before Fate stoops down and hangs a
veil of plague over the scene of beauty, passion, and madness.

Her eyes, full of liquid fire, met his. They half closed as her body
swayed slightly towards him.

With a cry, almost rough in its intensity, he caught her in his arms
and buried his face in the soft harvest of her hair. "Jasmine--Jasmine,
my love!" he murmured.

Suddenly she broke from him. "Oh no--oh no, Ian! The work is not
done. I can't take my pay before I have earned it--such pay--such
pay."

He caught her hands and held them fast. "Nothing can alter what is. It
stands. Whatever the end, whatever happens to the thing I want to do,
I--"

He drew her closer.

"You say this before we know what Moravia will do; you--oh, Ian, tell
me it is not simply gratitude, and because I tried to help you; not
only because--"

He interrupted her with a passionate gesture. "It belonged at first
to what you were doing for me. Now it is by itself, that which, for
good or ill, was to be between you and me--the foreordained thing."

She drew back her head with a laugh of vanity and pride and bursting
joy. "Ah, it doesn't matter now!" she said. "It doesn't matter."

He looked at her questioningly.

"Nothing matters now," she repeated, less enigmatically. She stretched
her arms up joyously, radiantly.

"The world well lost!" she cried.

Her reckless mood possessed him also. They breathed that air which
intoxicates, before it turns heavy with calamity and stifles the whole
being; by which none ever thrived, though many have sought nourishment
in daring draughts of it.

"The world well lost!" he repeated; and his lips sought hers.

Her determined patience had triumphed. Hour by hour, by being that to
his plans, to his work of life, which no one else could be, she had
won back what she had lost when the Rand had emptied into her lap its
millions, at the bidding of her material soul. With infinite tact and
skill she had accomplished her will. The man she had lost was hers
again. What it must mean, what it must do, what price must be paid for
this which her spirit willed had never yet been estimated. But her
will had been supreme, and she took all out of the moment which was
possible to mortal pleasure.

Like the Columbus, however, who plants his flag upon the cliffs of a
new land, and then, leaving his vast prize unharvested, retreats upon
the sea by which he came, so Ian suddenly realized that here was no
abiding-place for his love. It was no home for his faith, for those
joys which the sane take gladly, when it is right to take them, and
the mad long for and die for when their madness becomes unbearable.

A cloud suddenly passed over him, darkened his eyes, made his bones
like water. For, whatever might come, he knew in his heart of hearts
that the "old paths" were the only paths which he could tread in
peace--or tread at all without the ruin of all he had slowly builded.

Jasmine, however, did not see his look or realize the sudden physical
change which passed over him, leaving him cold and numbed; for a
servant now entered with a note.

Seeing the handwriting on the envelope, with an exclamation of
excitement and surprise, Jasmine tore the letter open. One glance was
sufficient.

"Moravia is ours--ours, Ian!" she cried, and thrust the letter into
his hands.

 "Dearest lady," it ran, "the Crown has intervened successfully. The
Heir Apparent has been set aside. The understanding may now be
ratified. May I dine with you to-night?

 "Yours, M.

 "P.S.--You are the first to know, but I have also sent a note to our
young friend, Ian Stafford. Mais, he cannot say, 'Alone I did it.'

 "M."

"Thank God--thank God, for England!" said Ian solemnly, the greater
thing in him deeply stirred. "Now let war come, if it must; for we can
do our work without interference."

"Thank God," he repeated, fervently, and the light in his eyes was
clearer and burned brighter than the fire which had filled them during
the past few moments.

Then he clasped her in his arms again.

As Ian drove swiftly in a hansom to the Foreign Office, his brain
putting in array and reviewing the acts which must flow from this
international agreement now made possible, the note Mennaval had
written Jasmine flashed before his eyes: "Dearest lady.... May I dine
with you to-night? . . . M."

His face flushed. There was something exceedingly familiar--more in
the tone of the words than the words themselves--which irritated and
humiliated him. What she had done for him apparently warranted this
intimate, self-assured tone on the part of Mennaval, the
philanderer. His pride smarted. His rose of triumph had its thorns.

A letter from Mennaval was at the Foreign Office awaiting him. He
carried it to the Prime Minister, who read it with grave satisfaction.

"It is just in time, Stafford," he remarked. "You ran it close. We
will clinch it instantly. Let us have the code."

As the Prime Minister turned over the pages of the code, he said,
dryly: "I hear from Pretoria, through Mr. Byng, that President Kruger
may send the ultimatum tomorrow. I fear he will have the laugh on us,
for ours is not ready. We have to make sure of this thing first.... I
wonder how Landrassy will take it."

He chuckled deeply. "Landrassy made a good fight, but you made a
better one, Stafford. I shouldn't wonder if you got on in diplomacy,"
he added, with quizzical humour.... "Ah, here is the code! Now to
clinch it all before Oom Paul's challenge arrives."



CHAPTER XVI

THE COMING OF THE BAAS


"The Baas--where the Baas?"

Barry Whalen turned with an angry snort to the figure in the
doorway. "Here's the sweet Krool again," he said. "Here's the
faithful, loyal offspring of the Vaal and the karoo, the bulwark of
the Baas.... For God's sake smile for once in your life!" he growled
with an oath, and, snatching up a glass of whiskey and water, threw
the contents at the half-caste.

Krool did not stir, and some of the liquid caught him in the
face. Slowly he drew out an old yellow handkerchief and wiped his
cheeks, his eyes fixed with a kind of impersonal scrutiny on Barry
Whalen and the scene before him.

The night was well forward, and an air of recklessness and dissipation
pervaded this splendid room in De Lancy Scovel's house. The air was
thick with tobacco-smoke, trays were scattered about, laden with stubs
of cigars and ashes, and empty and half-filled glasses were
everywhere. Some of the party had already gone, their gaming instinct
satisfied for the night, their pockets lighter than when they came;
and the tables where they had sat were in a state of disorder more
suggestive of a "dive" than of the house of one who lived in Grosvenor
Square.

No servant came to clear away the things. It was a rule of the
establishment that at midnight the household went to bed, and the host
and his guests looked after themselves thereafter. The friends of De
Lancy Scovel called him "Cupid," because of his cherubic face, but he
was more gnome than cherub at heart. Having come into his fortune by
being a henchman to abler men than himself, he was almost over-zealous
to retain it, knowing that he could never get it again; yet he was
hospitable with the income he had to spend. He was the Beau Brummel of
that coterie which laid the foundation of prosperity on the Rand; and
his house was a marvel of order and crude elegance--save when he had
his roulette and poker parties, and then it was the shambles of
murdered niceties. Once or twice a week his friends met here; and it
was not mendaciously said that small fortunes were lost and won within
these walls "between drinks."

The critical nature of things on the Rand did not lessen the gaming or
the late hours, the theatrical entertainments and social functions at
which Al'mah or another sang at a fabulous fee; or from which a dancer
took away a pocketful of gold--partly fee. Only a few of all the
group, great and small, kept a quiet pace and cherished their nerves
against possible crisis or disaster; and these were consumed by inward
anxiety, because all the others looked to them for a lead, for policy,
for the wise act and the manoevre that would win.

Rudyard Byng was the one person who seemed equally compacted of both
elements. He was a powerful figure in the financial inner circle; but
he was one of those who frequented De Lancy Scovel's house; and he
had, in his own house, a roulette-table and a card-room like a
banqueting-hall. Wallstein, Wolff, Barry Whalen, Fleming, Hungerford,
Reuter, and the others of the inner circle he laughed at in a
good-natured way for coddling themselves, and called them--not without
some truth--valetudinarians. Indeed, the hard life of the Rand in the
early days, with the bad liqueur and the high veld air, had brought to
most of the Partners inner physical troubles of some kind; and their
general abstention was not quite voluntary moral purpose.

Of them all, except De Lancy Scovel, Rudyard was most free from any
real disease or physical weakness which could call for the care of a
doctor. With a powerful constitution, he had kept his general health
fairly, though strange fits of depression had consumed him of late,
and the old strong spring and resilience seemed going, if not gone,
from his mind and body. He was not that powerful virile animal of the
day when he caught Al'mah in his arms and carried her off the stage at
Covent Garden. He was vaguely conscious of the great change in him,
and Barry Whalen, who, with all his faults, would have gone to the
gallows for him, was ever vividly conscious of it, and helplessly
resented the change. At the time of the Jameson Raid Rudyard Byng had
gripped the situation with skill, decision, and immense resource,
giving as much help to the government of the day as to his colleagues
and all British folk on the Rand.

But another raid was nearing, a raid upon British territory this
time. The Rand would be the centre of a great war; and Rudyard Byng
was not the man he had been, in spite of his show of valour and vigour
at the Glencader Mine. Indeed, that incident had shown a certain
physical degeneracy--he had been too slow in recovering from the few
bad hours spent in the death-trap. The government at Whitehall still
consulted him, still relied upon his knowledge and his natural tact;
but secret as his conferences were with the authorities, they were not
so secret that criticism was not viciously at work. Women jealous of
Jasmine, financiers envious of Rudyard, Imperial politicians resentful
of his influence, did their best to present him in the worst light
possible. It was more than whispered that he sat too long over his
wine, and that his desire for fiery liquid at other than meal-times
was not in keeping with the English climate, but belonged to lands of
drier weather and more absorptive air.

"What damned waste!" was De Lancy Scovel's attempt at wit as Krool
dried his face and put the yellow handkerchief back into his
pocket. The others laughed idly and bethought themselves of their own
glasses, and the croupier again set the ball spinning and drew their
eyes.

"Faites vos jeux!" the croupier called, monotonously, and the jingle
of coins followed.

"The Baas--where the Baas?" came again the harsh voice from the
doorway.

"Gone--went an hour ago," said De Lancy Scovel, coming forward. "What
is it, Krool?"

"The Baas--"

"The Baas!" mocked Barry Whalen, swinging round again. "The Baas is
gone to find a rope to tie Oom Paul to a tree, as Oom Paul tied you at
Lichtenburg."

Slowly Krool's eyes went round the room, and then settled on Barry
Whalen's face with owl-like gravity. "What the Baas does goes good,"
he said. "When the Baas ties, Alles zal recht kom."

He turned away now with impudent slowness, then suddenly twisted his
body round and made a grimace of animal-hatred at Barry Whalen, his
teeth showing like those of a wolf.

"The Baas will live long as he want," he added, "but Oom Paul will
have your heart--and plenty more," he added, malevolently, and moved
into the darkness without, closing the door behind him.

A shudder passed through the circle, for the uncanny face and the
weird utterance had the strange reality of fate. A gloom fell on the
gamblers suddenly, and they slowly drew into a group, looking half
furtively at one another.

The wheel turned on the roulette-table, the ball clattered.

"Rien ne va plus!" called the croupier; but no coins had fallen on the
green cloth, and the wheel stopped spinning for the night, as though
by common consent.

"Krool will murder you some day, Barry," said Fleming, with
irritation. "What's the sense in saying things like that to a
servant?"

"How long ago did Rudyard leave?" asked De Lancy Scovel, curiously. "I
didn't see him go. He didn't say good-night to me. Did he to you--to
any of you?"

"Yes, he said to me he was going," rejoined Barry Whalen.

"And to me," said Melville, the Pole, who in the early days on the
Rand had been a caterer. His name then had been Joseph Sobieski, but
this not fitting well with the English language, he had searched the
directory of London till he found the impeachably English combination
of Clifford Melville. He had then cut his hair and put himself into
the hands of a tailor in Conduit Street, and they had turned him
into--what he was.

"Yes, Byng thed good-night to me--deah old boy," he repeated. "'I'm so
damned thleepy, and I have to be up early in the morning,' he thed to
me."

"Byng's example's good enough. I'm off," said Fleming, stretching up
his arms and yawning.

"Byng ought to get up earlier in the morning--much earlier,"
interposed De Lancy Scovel, with a meaning note in his voice.

"Why?" growled out Barry Whalen.

"He'd see the Outlander early-bird after the young domestic worm," was
the slow reply.

For a moment a curious silence fell upon the group. It was as though
some one had heard what had been said--some one who ought not to have
heard.

That is exactly what had happened. Rudyard had not gone home. He had
started to do so; but, remembering that he had told Krool to come at
twelve o'clock if any cables arrived, that he might go himself to the
cable-office, if necessary, and reply, he passed from the hallway into
a little room off the card-room, where there was a sofa, and threw
himself down to rest and think. He knew that the crisis in South
Africa must come within a few hours; that Oom Paul would present an
ultimatum before the British government was ready to act; and that
preparations must be made on the morrow to meet all chances and
consequences. Preparations there had been, but conditions altered from
day to day, and what had been arranged yesterday morning required
modification this evening.

He was not heedless of his responsibilities because he was at the
gaming-table; but these were days when he could not bear to be
alone. Yet he could not find pleasure in the dinner-parties arranged
by Jasmine, though he liked to be with her--liked so much to be with
her, and yet wondered how it was he was not happy when he was beside
her. This night, however, he had especially wished to be alone with
her, to dine with her a deux, and he had been disappointed to find
that she had arranged a little dinner and a theatre-party. With a sigh
he had begged her to arrange her party without him, and, in unusual
depression, he had joined "the gang," as Jasmine called it, at De
Lancy Scovel's house.

Here he moved in a kind of gloom, and had a feeling as though he were
walking among pitfalls. A dread seemed to descend upon him and deaden
his natural buoyancy. At dinner he was fitful in conversation, yet
inclined to be critical of the talk around him. Upon those who talked
excitedly of war and its consequences, with perverse spirit he fell
like a sledge-hammer, and proved their information or judgment
wrong. Then, again, he became amiable and almost sentimental in his
attitude toward them all, gripping the hands of two or three with a
warmth which more than surprised them. It was as though he was
subconsciously aware of some great impending change. It may be there
whispered through the clouded space that lies between the
dwelling-house of Fate and the place where a man's soul lives the
voice of that Other Self, which every man has, warning him of
darkness, or red ruin, or a heartbreak coming on.

However that may be, he had played a good deal during the evening, had
drunk more than enough brandy and soda, had then grown suddenly
heavy-hearted and inert. At last he had said good-night, and had
fallen asleep in the little dark room adjoining the card-room.

Was it that Other Self which is allowed to come to us as our trouble
or our doom approaches, who called sharply in his ear as De Lancy
Scovel said, "Byng ought to get up earlier in the morning--much
earlier."

Rudyard wakened upon the words without stirring--just a wide opening
of the eyes and a moveless body. He listened with, as it were, a new
sense of hearing, so acute, so clear, that it was as though his
friends talked loudly in his very ears.

"He'd see the Outlander early-bird after the young domestic worm."

His heart beat so loud that it seemed his friends must hear it, in the
moment's silence following these suggestive words.

"Here, there's enough of this," said Barry Whalen, sharply, upon the
stillness. "It's nobody's business, anyhow. Let's look after
ourselves, and we'll have enough to do, or I don't know any of us."

"But it's no good pretending," said Fleming. "There isn't one of us
but 'd put ourselves out a great deal for Byng. It isn't human nature
to sit still and do naught, and say naught, when things aren't going
right for him in the place where things matter most.

"Can't he see? Doesn't he see--anything?" asked a little wizened
lawyer, irritably, one who had never been married, the solicitor of
three of their great companies.

"See--of course he doesn't see. If he saw, there'd be hell--at least,"
replied Barry Whalen, scornfully.

"He's as blind as a bat," sighed Fleming.

"He got into the wrong garden and picked the wrong flower--wrong for
him," said another voice. "A passion-flower, not the flower her name
is," added De Lancy Scovel, with a reflective cynicism.

"They they there's no doubt about it--she's throwing herself
away. Ruddy isn't in it, deah old boy, so they they," interposed
Clifford Melville, alias Joseph Sobieski of Posen." Diplomathy is all
very well, but thith kind of diplomathy is not good for the thoul." He
laughed as only one of his kidney can laugh.

Upon the laugh there came a hoarse growl of anger. Barry Whalen was
standing above Mr. Clifford Melville with rage in every fibre, threat
in every muscle.

"Shut up--curse you, Sobieski! It's for us, for any and every one, to
cut the throats of anybody that says a word against her. We've all got
to stand together. Byng forever, is our cry, and Byng's wife is
Byng--before the world. We've got to help him--got to help him, I
say."

"Well, you've got to tell him first. He's got to know it first,"
interposed Fleming; "and it's not a job I'm taking on. When Byng's
asleep he takes a lot of waking, and he's asleep in this thing."

"And the world's too wide awake," remarked De Lancy Scovel,
acidly. "One way or another Byng's got to be waked. It's only him can
put it right."

No one spoke for a moment, for all saw that Barry Whalen was about to
say something important, coming forward to the table impulsively for
the purpose, when a noise from the darkened room beyond fell upon the
silence.

De Lancy Scovel heard, Fleming heard, others heard, and turned towards
the little room. Sobieski touched Barry Whalen's arm, and they all
stood waiting while a hand slowly opened wide the door of the little
room, and, white with a mastered agitation, Byng appeared.

For a moment he looked them all full in the face, yet as though he did
not see them; and then, without a word, as they stepped aside to make
way for him, he passed down the room to the outer hallway.

At the door he turned and looked at them again. Scorn, anger, pride,
impregnated with a sense of horror, were in his face. His white lips
opened to speak, but closed again, and, turning, he stepped out of
their sight.

No one followed. They knew their man.

"My God, how he hates us!" said Barry Whalen, and sank into a chair at
the table, with his head between his hands.

The cheeks of the little wizened lawyer glistened with tears, and De
Lancy Scovel threw open a window and leaned out, looking into the
night remorsefully.



CHAPTER XVII

IS THERE NO HELP FOR THESE THINGS?


Slowly, heavily, like one drugged, Rudyard Byng made his way through
the streets, oblivious of all around him. His brain was like some
engine pounding at high pressure, while all his body was cold and
lethargic. His anger at those he left behind was almost madness, his
humiliation was unlike anything he had ever known. In one sense he was
not a man of the world. All his thoughts and moods and habits had been
essentially primitive, even in the high social and civilized
surroundings of his youth; and when he went to South Africa, it was to
come into his own--the large, simple, rough, adventurous life. His
powerful and determined mind was confined in its scope to the big
essential things. It had a rare political adroitness, but it had
little intellectual subtlety. It had had no preparation for the
situation now upon him, and its accustomed capacity was suddenly
paralyzed. Like some huge ship staggered by the sea, it took its
punishment with heavy, sullen endurance. Socially he had never, as it
were, seen through a ladder; and Jasmine's almost uncanny brilliance
of repartee and skill in the delicate contest of the mind had ever
been a wonder to him, though less so of late than earlier in their
married life. Perhaps this was because his senses were more used to
it, more blunted; or was it because something had gone from her--that
freshness of mind and body, that resilience of temper and spirit,
without which all talk is travail and weariness? He had never thought
it out, though he was dimly conscious of some great loss--of the light
gone from the evening sky.

Yes, it was always in the evening that he had most longed to see "his
girl"; when the day's work was done; when the political and financial
stress had subsided; or when he had abstracted himself from it all and
turned his face towards home. For the big place in Park Lane had
really been home to him, chiefly because, or alone because, Jasmine
had made it what it was; because in every room, in every corner, was
the product of her taste and design. It had been home because it was
associated with her. But of late ever since his five months' visit to
South Africa without her the year before--there had come a change, at
first almost imperceptible, then broadening and deepening.

At first it had vexed and surprised him; but at length it had become a
feeling natural to, and in keeping with, a scheme of life in which
they saw little of each other, because they saw so much of other
people. His primitive soul had rebelled against it at first, not
bitterly, but confusedly; because he knew that he did not know why it
was; and he thought that if he had patience he would come to
understand it in time. But the understanding did not come, and on that
ominous, prophetic day before they went to Glencader, the day when Ian
Stafford had dined with Jasmine alone after their meeting in Regent
Street, there had been a wild, aching protest against it all. Not
against Jasmine--he did not blame her; he only realized that she was
different from what he had thought she was; that they were both
different from what they had been; and that--the light had gone from
the evening sky.

But from first to last he had always trusted her. It had never crossed
his mind, when she "made up" to men in her brilliant, provoking,
intoxicating way, that there was any lack of loyalty to him. It simply
never crossed his mind. She was his wife, his girl, his flower which
he had plucked; and there it was, for the universe to see, for the
universe to heed as a matter of course. For himself, since he had
married her, he had never thought of another woman for an instant,
except either to admire or to criticize her; and his criticism was, as
Jasmine had said, "infantile." The sum of it was, he was married to
the woman of his choice, she was married to the man of her choice; and
there it was, there it was, a great, eternal, settled fact. It was not
a thing for speculation or doubt or reconsideration.

Always, when he had been troubled of late years, his mind had
involuntarily flown to South Africa, as a bird flies to its nest in
the distant trees for safety, from the spoiler or from the storm. And
now, as he paced the streets with heavy, almost blundering tread,--so
did the weight of slander drag him down--his thoughts suddenly saw a
picture which had gone deep down into his soul in far-off days. It was
after a struggle with Lobengula, when blood had been shed and lives
lost, and the backbone of barbarism had been broken south of the
Zambesi for ever and ever and ever. He had buried two companions in
arms whom he had loved in that way which only those know who face
danger on the plain, by the river, in the mountain, or on the open
road together. After they had been laid to rest in the valley where
the great baboons came down to watch the simple cortege pass, where a
stray lion stole across the path leading to the grave, he had gone on
alone to a spot in the Matoppos, since made famous and sacred.

Where John Cecil Rhodes sleeps on that high plateau of convex hollow
stone, with the great natural pillars standing round like sentinels,
and all the rugged unfinished hills tumbling away to an unpeopled
silence, he came that time to rest his sorrowing soul. The woods, the
wild animal life, had been left behind, and only a peaceful middle
world between God and man greeted his stern eyes.

Now, here in London, at that corner where the lonely white statue
stands by Londonderry House, as he moved in a dream of pain, with vast
weights like giant manacles hampering every footstep, inwardly raging
that into his sweet garden of home the vile elements of slander had
been thrown, yet with a terrible and vague fear that something had
gone terribly wrong with him, that far-off day spent at the Matoppos
flashed upon his sight.

Through streets upon streets he had walked, far, far out of his way,
subconsciously giving himself time to recover before he reached his
home; until the green quiet of Hyde Park, the soft depths of its empty
spaces, the companionable and commendable trees, greeted his
senses. Then, here, suddenly there swam before his eyes the bright sky
over those scarred and jagged hills beyond the Matoppos, purple and
grey, and red and amethyst and gold, and his soul's sight went out
over the interminable distance of loneliness and desolation which only
ended where the world began again, the world of fighting men. He saw
once more that tumbled waste of primeval creation, like a crazed sea
agitated by some Horror underneath, and suddenly transfixed in its
plunging turmoil--a frozen concrete sorrow, with all active pain
gone. He heard the loud echo of his feet upon that hollow plateau of
rock, with convex skin of stone laid upon convex skin, and then
suddenly the solid rock which gave no echo under his tread, where
Rhodes lies buried. He saw all at once, in the shining horizon at
different points, black, angry, marauding storms arise and roar and
burst: while all the time above his head there was nothing but sweet
sunshine, into which the mists of the distant storms drifted, and
rainbows formed above him. Upon those hollow rocks the bellow of the
storms was like the rumbling of the wheels of a million gun-carriages;
and yet high overhead there were only the bright sun and faint drops
of rain falling like mystic pearls.

And then followed--he could hear it again, so plainly, as his eyes now
sought the friendly shades of the beeches and the elms yonder in Hyde
Park!--upon the air made denser by the storm, the call of a lonely
bird from one side of the valley. The note was deep and strong and
clear, like the bell-bird of the Australian salt-bush plains beyond
the Darling River, and it rang out across the valley, as though a soul
desired its mate; and then was still. A moment, and there came across
the valley from the other side, stealing deep sweetness from the
hollow rocks, the answer of the bird which had heard her master's
call. Answering, she called too, the viens ici of kindred things; and
they came nearer and nearer and nearer, until at last their two voices
were one.

In that wild space there had been worked out one of the great wonders
of creation, and under the dim lamps of Park Lane, in his black,
shocked mood, Rudyard recalled it all by no will of his own. Upon his
eye and brain the picture had been registered, and in its appointed
time, with an automatic suggestion of which he was ignorant and
innocent, it came to play its part and to transform him.

The thought of it all was like a cool hand laid upon his burning
brow. It gave him a glimpse of the morning of life.

The light was gone from the evening sky: but was it gone forever?

As he entered his house now he saw upon a Spanish table in the big
hall a solitary bunch of white roses--a touch of simplicity in an area
of fine artifice. Regarding it a moment, black thoughts receded, and
choosing a flower from the vase he went slowly up the stairs to
Jasmine's room.

He would give her this rose as the symbol of his faith and belief in
her, and then tell her frankly what he had heard at De Lancy Scovel's
house.

For the moment it did not occur to him that she might not be at
home. It gave him a shock when he opened the door and found her room
empty. On her bed, like a mesh of white clouds, lay the soft linen and
lace and the delicate clothes of the night; and by the bed were her
tiny blue slippers to match the blue dressing-gown. Some gracious
things for morning wear hung over a chair; an open book with a little
cluster of violets and a tiny mirror lay upon a table beside a sofa; a
footstool was placed at a considered angle for her well-known seat on
the sofa where the soft-blue lamp-shade threw the light upon her book;
and a little desk with dresden-china inkstand and penholder had little
pockets of ribbon-tied letters and bills--even business had an air of
taste where Jasmine was. And there on a table beside her bed was a
large silver-framed photograph of himself turned at an angle toward
the pillow where she would lay her head.

How tender and delicate and innocent it all was! He looked round the
room with new eyes, as though seeing everything for the first
time. There was another photograph of himself on her dressing-table.
It had no companion there; but on another table near were many
photographs; four of women, the rest of men: celebrities, old friends
like Ian Stafford--and M. Mennaval.

His face hardened. De Lancy Scovel's black slander swept through his
veins like fire again, his heart came up in his throat, his fingers
clinched.

Presently, as he stood with clouded face and mist in his eyes,
Jasmine's maid entered, and, surprised at seeing him, retreated again,
but her eyes fastened for a moment strangely on the white rose he held
in his hand. Her glance drew his own attention to it again. Going over
to the gracious and luxurious bed, with its blue silk canopy, he laid
the white rose on her pillow. Somehow it was more like an offering to
the dead than a lover's tribute to the living. His eyes were fogged,
his lips were set. But all he was then in mind and body and soul he
laid with the rose on her pillow.

As he left the rose there, his eyes wandered slowly over this retreat
of rest and sleep: white robe-de-nuit, blue silk canopy, blue
slippers, blue dressing-gown--all blue, the colour in which he had
first seen her.

Slowly he turned away at last and went to his own room. But the
picture followed him. It kept shining in his eyes. Krool's face
suddenly darkened it.

"You not ring, Baas," Krool said.

Without a word Rudyard waved him away, a sudden and unaccountable fury
in his mind. Why did the sight of Krool vex him so?

"Come back," he said, angrily, before the door of the bedroom closed.

Krool returned.

"Weren't there any cables? Why didn't you come to Mr. Scovel's at
midnight, as I told you?"

"Baas, I was there at midnight, but they all say you come home,
Baas. There the cable--two." He pointed to the dressing-table.

Byng snatched them, tore them open, read them.

One had the single word, "Tomorrow." The other said, "Prepare." The
code had been abandoned. Tragedy needs few words.

They meant that to-morrow Kruger's ultimatum would be delivered and
that the worst must be faced.

He glanced at the cables in silence, while Krool watched him narrowly,
covertly, with a depth of purpose which made his face uncanny.

"That will do, Krool; wake me at seven," he said, quietly, but with
suppressed malice in his tone.

Why was it that at that moment he could, with joy, have taken Krool by
the neck and throttled him? All the bitterness, anger and rage that he
had felt an hour ago concentrated themselves upon Krool--without
reason, without cause. Or was it that his deeper Other Self had
whispered something to his mind about Krool--something terrible and
malign?

In this new mood he made up his mind that he would not see Jasmine
till the morning. How late she was! It was one o'clock, and yet this
was not the season. She had not gone to a ball, nor were these the
months of late parties.

As he tossed in his bed and his head turned restlessly on his pillow,
Krool's face kept coming before him, and it was the last thing he saw,
ominous and strange, before he fell into a heavy but troubled sleep.

Perhaps the most troubled moment of the night came an hour after he
went to bed.

Then it was that a face bent over him for a minute, a fair face, with
little lines contracting the ripe lips, which were redder than usual,
with eyes full of a fevered brightness. But how harmonious and sweetly
ordered was the golden hair above! Nothing was gone from its lustre,
nothing robbed it of its splendour. It lay upon her forehead like a
crown. In its richness it seemed a little too heavy for the tired face
beneath, almost too imperial for so slight and delicate a figure.

Rudyard stirred in his sleep, murmuring as she leaned over him; and
his head fell away from her hand as she stretched out her fingers with
a sudden air of pity--of hopelessness, as it might seem from her
look. His face restlessly turned to the wall--a vexed, stormy, anxious
face and head, scarred by the whip of that overlord more cruel and
tyrannous than Time, the Miserable Mind.

She drew back with a little shudder. "Poor Ruddy!" she said, as she
had said that evening when Ian Stafford came to her after the
estranging and scornful years, and she had watched Rudyard leave
her--to her fate and to her folly.

"Poor Ruddy!"

With a sudden frenzied motion of her hands she caught her breath, as
though some pain had seized her. Her eyes almost closed with the shame
that reached out from her heart, as though to draw the veil of her
eyelids over the murdered thing before her--murdered hope, slaughtered
peace: the peace of that home they had watched burn slowly before
their eyes in the years which the locust had eaten.

Which the locust had eaten--yes, it was that. More than once she had
heard Rudyard tell of a day on the veld when the farmer surveyed his
abundant fields with joy, with the gay sun flaunting it above; and
suddenly there came a white cloud out of the west, which made a weird
humming, a sinister sound. It came with shining scales glistening in
the light and settled on the land acre upon acre, morgen upon morgen;
and when it rose again the fields, ready for the harvest, were like a
desert--the fields which the locust had eaten. So had the years been,
in which Fortune had poured gold and opportunity and unlimited choice
into her lap. She had used them all; but she had forgotten to look for
the Single Secret, which, like a key, unlocks all doors in the House
of Happiness.

"Poor Ruddy!" she said, but even as she said it for the second time a
kind of anger seemed to seize her.

"Oh, you fool--you fool!" she whispered, fiercely. "What did you know
of women! Why didn't you make me be good? Why didn't you master
me--the steel on the wrist--the steel on the wrist!"

With a little burst of misery and futile rage she went from the room,
her footsteps uneven, her head bent. One of the open letters she
carried dropped from her hand onto the floor of the hall outside. She
did not notice it. But as she passed inside her door a shadowy figure
at the end of the hall watched her, saw the letter drop, and moved
stealthily forward towards it. It was Krool.

How heavy her head was! Her worshipping maid, near dead with fatigue,
watched her furtively, but avoided the eyes in the mirror which had a
half-angry look, a look at once disturbed and elated, reckless and
pitiful. Lablanche was no reader of souls, but there was something
here beyond the usual, and she moved and worked with unusual
circumspection and lightness of touch. Presently she began to unloose
the coils of golden hair; but Jasmine stopped her with a gesture of
weariness.

"No, don't," she said. "I can't stand your touch tonight,
Lablanche. I'll do the rest myself. My head aches so. Good-night."

"I will be so light with it, madame," Lablanche said, protestingly.

"No, no. Please go. But the morning, quite early."

"The hour, madame?"

"When the letters come, as soon as the letters come, Lablanche--the
first post. Wake me then."

She watched the door close, then turned to the mirror in front of her
and looked at herself with eyes in which brooded a hundred thoughts
and feelings: thoughts contradictory, feelings opposed, imaginings
conflicting, reflections that changed with each moment; and all under
the spell of a passion which had become in the last few hours the most
powerful influence her life had ever known. Right or wrong, and it was
wrong, horribly wrong; wise or unwise, and how could the wrong be
wise! she knew she was under a spell more tyrannous than death,
demanding more sacrifices than the gods of Hellas.

Self-indulgent she had been, reckless and wilful and terribly modern,
taking sweets where she found them. She had tried to squeeze the
orange dry, in the vain belief that Wealth and Beauty can take what
they want, when they want it, and that happiness will come by
purchase; only to find one day that the thing you have bought, like a
slave that revolts, stabs you in your sleep, and you wake with
wide-eyed agony only to die, or to live--with the light gone from the
evening sky.

Suddenly, with the letters in her hand with which she had entered the
room, she saw the white rose on her pillow. Slowly she got up from the
dressing-table and went over to the bed in a hushed kind of way. With
a strange, inquiring, half-shrinking look she regarded the flower. One
white rose. It was not there when she left. It had been brought from
the hall below, from the great bunch on the Spanish table. Those white
roses, this white rose, had come from one who, selfish as he was, knew
how to flatter a woman's vanity. From that delicate tribute of
flattery and knowledge Rudyard had taken this flowering stem and
brought it to her pillow.

It was all too malevolently cynical. Her face contracted in pain and
shame. She had a soul to which she had never given its chance. It had
never bloomed. Her abnormal wilfulness, her insane love of pleasure,
her hereditary impulses, had been exercised at the expense of the
great thing in her, the soul so capable of memorable and beautiful
deeds.

As she looked at the flower, a sense of the path by which she had
come, of what she had left behind, of what was yet to chance,
shuddered into her heart.

That a flower given by Adrian Fellowes should be laid upon her pillow
by her husband, by Rudyard Byng, was too ghastly or too devilishly
humorous for words; and both aspects of the thing came to her. Her
face became white, and almost mechanically she put the letters she
held on a writing-table near; then coming to the bed again she looked
at the rose with a kind of horror. Suddenly, however, she caught it
up, and bursting into a laugh which was shrill and bitter she threw it
across the room. Still laughing hysterically, with her golden hair
streaming about her head, folding her round like a veil which reached
almost to her ankles, she came back to the chair at the dressing-table
and sat down.

Slowly drawing the wonderful soft web of hair over her shoulders, she
began to weave it into one wide strand, which grew and grew in length
till it was like a great rope of spun gold. Inch by inch, foot by foot
it grew, until at last it lay coiled in her lap like a golden serpent,
with a kind of tension which gave it life, such as Medusa's hair must
have known as the serpent-life entered into it. There is--or was--in
Florence a statue of Medusa, seated, in her fingers a strand of her
hair, which is beginning to coil and bend and twist before her
horror-stricken eyes; and this statue flashed before Jasmine's eyes as
she looked at the loose ends of gold falling beyond the blue ribbon
with which she had tied the shining rope.

With the mad laughter of a few moments before still upon her lips, she
held the flying threads in her hand, and so strained was her mind that
it would not have caused her surprise if they had wound round her
fingers or given forth forked tongues. She laughed again--a low and
discordant laugh it was now.

"Such imaginings--I think I must be mad," she murmured.

Then she leaned her elbows on the dressing-table and looked at herself
in the glass.

"Am I not mad?" she asked herself again. Then there stole across her
face a strange, far-away look, bringing a fresh touch of beauty to it,
and flooding it for a moment with that imaginative look which had been
her charm as a girl, a look of far-seeing and wonder and strange
light.

"I wonder--if I had had a mother!" she said, wistfully, her chin in
her hand. "If my mother had lived, what would I have been?"

She reached out to a small table near, and took from it a miniature at
which she looked with painful longing. "My dear, my very dear, you
were so sweet, so good," she said. "Am I your daughter, your own
daughter--me? Ah, sweetheart mother, come back to me! For God's sake
come--now. Speak to me if you can. Are you so very far away?
Whisper--only whisper, and I shall hear.

"Oh, she would, she would, if she could!" her voice wailed, softly.
"She would if she could, I know. I was her youngest child, her only
little girl. But there is no coming back. And maybe there is no going
forth; only a blackness at the last, when all stops--all stops, for
ever and ever and ever, amen! . . .Amen--so be it. Ah, I even can't
believe in that! I can't even believe in God and Heaven and the
hereafter. I am a pagan, with a pagan's heart and a pagan's ways."

She shuddered again and closed her eyes for a moment. "Ruddy had a
glimpse, one glimpse, that day, the day that Ian came back. Ruddy said
to me that day, 'If you had lived a thousand years ago you would have
had a thousand lovers.' . . . And it is true--by all the gods of all
the worlds, it is true. Pleasure, beauty, is all I ever cared
for--pleasure, beauty, and the Jasmine-flower. And Ian--and Ian, yes,
Ian! I think I had soul enough for one true thing, even if I was not
true."

She buried her face in her hands for a moment, as though to hide a
great burning.

"But, oh, I wonder if I did ever love Ian, even! I wonder.... Not
then, not then when I deserted him and married Rudyard, but now--now?
Do--do I love him even now, as we were to-day with his arms round me,
or is it only beauty and pleasure and--me? . . . Are they really happy
who believe in God and live like--like her?" She gazed at her mother's
portrait again. "Yes, she was happy, but only for a moment, and then
she was gone--so soon. And I shall never see her, I who never saw her
with eyes that recall.... And if I could see her, would I? I am a
pagan--would I try to be like her, if I could? I never really prayed,
because I never truly felt there was a God that was not all space, and
that was all soul and understanding. And what is to come of it, or
what will become of me? . . . I can't go back, and going on is
madness. Yes, yes, it is madness, I know--madness and badness--and
dust at the end of it all. Beauty gone, pleasure gone.... I do not
even love pleasure now as I did. It has lost its flavour; and I do not
even love beauty as I did. How well I know it! I used to climb hills
to see a sunset; I used to walk miles to find the wood anemones and
the wild violets; I used to worship a pretty child . . . a pretty
child!"

She shrank back in her chair and pondered darkly. "A pretty
child.... Other people's pretty children, and music and art and trees
and the sea, and the colours of the hills, and the eyes of wild
animals . . and a pretty child. I wonder, I wonder if--"

But she got no farther with that thought. "I shall hate everything on
earth if it goes from me, the beauty of things; and I feel that it is
going. The freshness of sense has gone, somehow. I am not stirred as I
used to be, not by the same things. If I lose that sense I shall kill
myself. Perhaps that would be the easiest way now. Just the overdose
of--"

She took a little phial from the drawer of the dressing-table. "Just
the tiny overdose and 'good-bye, my lover, good-bye.'" Again that hard
little laugh of bitterness broke from her. "Or that needle Mr. Mappin
had at Glencader. A thrust of the point, and in an instant gone, and
no one to know, no one to discover, no one to add blame to blame, to
pile shame upon shame. Just blackness--blackness all at once, and no
light or anything any more. The fruit all gone from the trees, the
garden all withered, the bower all ruined, the children all dead--the
pretty children all dead forever, the pretty children that never were
born, that never lived in Jasmine's garden."

As there had come to Rudyard premonition of evil, so to-night, in the
hour of triumph, when, beyond peradventure, she had got for Ian
Stafford what would make his career great, what through him gave
England security in her hour of truth, there came now to her something
of the real significance of it all.

She had got what she wanted. Her pride had been appeased, her vanity
satisfied, her intellect flattered, her skill approved, and Ian was
hers. But the cost?

Words from Swinburne's threnody on Baudelaire came to her mind. How
often she had quoted them for their sheer pagan beauty! It was the
kind of beauty which most appealed to her, which responded to the
element of fatalism in her, the sense of doom always with her since
she was a child, in spite of her gaiety, her wit, and her native
eloquence. She had never been happy, she had never had a real
illusion, never aught save the passion of living, the desire to
conquer unrest:

"And now, no sacred staff shall break in blossom,
No choral salutation lure to light
The spirit sick with perfume and sweet night,
And Love's tired eyes and hands and barren bosom.
There is no help for these things, none to mend and none to mar
Not all our songs, oh, friend, can make Death clear or make Life durable
But still with rose and ivy and wild vine,
And with wild song about this dust of thine,
At least I fill a place where white dreams dwell,
And wreathe an unseen shrine."

"'And Love's tired eyes and hands and barren bosom. . . . There is no
help for these things, none to mend and none to mar....'" A sob rose
in her throat. "Oh, the beauty of it, the beauty and the misery and
the despair of it!" she murmured.

Slowly she wound and wound the coil of golden hair about her neck,
drawing it tighter, fold on fold, tighter and tighter.

"This would be the easiest way--this," she whispered. "By my own hair!
Beauty would have its victim then. No one would kiss it any more,
because it killed a woman. . . . No one would kiss it any more."

She felt the touch of Ian Stafford's lips upon it, she felt his face
buried in it. Her own face suffused, then Adrian Fellowes' white rose,
which Rudyard had laid upon her pillow, caught her eye where it lay on
the floor. With a cry as of a hurt animal she ran to her bed, crawled
into it, and huddled down in the darkness, shivering and afraid.

Something had discovered her to herself for the first time. Was it her
own soul? Had her Other Self, waking from sleep in the eternal spaces,
bethought itself and come to whisper and warn and help? Or was it
Penalty, or Nemesis, or that Destiny which will have its toll for all
it gives of beauty, or pleasure, or pride, or place, or pageantry?

"Love's tired eyes and hands and barren bosom"--

The words kept ringing in her ears. They soothed her at last into a
sleep which brought no peace, no rest or repose.



CHAPTER XVIII

LANDRASSY'S LAST STROKE


Midnight--one o'clock, two o'clock, three o'clock. Big Ben boomed the
hours, and from St. James's Palace came the stroke of the quarters,
lighter, quicker, almost pensive in tone. From St. James's Street
below came no sounds at last. The clatter of the hoofs of horses had
ceased, the rumble of drays carrying their night freights, the shouts
of the newsboys making sensation out of rumours made in a newspaper
office, had died away. Peace came, and a silver moon gave forth a soft
light, which embalmed the old thoroughfare, and added a tenderness to
its workaday dignity. In only one window was there a light at three
o'clock. It was the window of Ian Stafford's sitting-room.

He had not left the Foreign Office till nearly ten o'clock, then had
had a light supper at his club, had written letters there, and after a
long walk up and down the Mall had, with reluctant feet, gone to his
chambers.

The work which for years he had striven to do for England had been
accomplished. The Great Understanding was complete. In the words of
the secretary of the American Embassy, "Mennaval had delivered the
goods," and an arrangement had been arrived at, completed this very
night, which would leave England free to face her coming trial in
South Africa without fear of trouble on the flank or in the rear.

The key was turned in the lock, and that lock had been the original
device and design of Ian Stafford. He had done a great work for
civilization and humanity; he had made improbable, if not impossible,
a European war. The Kaiser knew it, Franz Joseph knew it, the Czar
knew it; the White House knew it, and its master nodded with
satisfaction, for John Bull was waking up--"getting a move on."
America might have her own family quarrel with John Bull, but when it
was John Bull versus the world, not even James G. Blaine would have
been prepared to see the old lion too deeply wounded. Even Landrassy,
ambassador of Slavonia, had smiled grimly when he met Ian Stafford on
the steps of the Moravian Embassy. He was artist enough to appreciate
a well-played game, and, in any case, he had had done all that mortal
man could in the way of intrigue and tact and device. He had worked
the international press as well as it had ever been worked; he had
distilled poison here and rosewater there; he had again and again
baffled the British Foreign Office, again and again cut the ground
from under Ian Stafford's feet; and if he could have staved off the
pact, the secret international pact, by one more day, he would have
gained the victory for himself, for his country, for the alliance
behind him.

One day, but one day, and the world would never have heard of Ian
Stafford. England would then have approached her conflict with the cup
of trembling at her lips, and there would be a new disposition of
power in Europe, a new dominating force in the diplomacy and the
relations of the peoples of the world. It was Landrassy's own last
battle-field of wit and scheming, of intellect and ambition. If he
failed in this, his sun would set soon. He was too old to carry on
much longer. He could not afford to wait. He was at the end of his
career, and he had meant this victory to be the crown of his long
services to Slavonia and the world.

But to him was opposed a man who was at the beginning of his career,
who needed this victory to give him such a start as few men get in
that field of retarded rewards, diplomacy. It had been a man at the
end of the journey, and a man at the beginning, measuring skill,
playing as desperate a game as was ever played. If Landrassy
won--Europe a red battle-field, England at bay; if Ian Stafford
won--Europe at peace, England secure. Ambition and patriotism
intermingled, and only He who made human nature knew how much was pure
patriotism and how much pure ambition. It was a great stake. On this
day of days to Stafford destiny hung shivering, each hour that passed
was throbbing with unparalleled anxiety, each minute of it was to be
the drum-beat of a funeral march or the note of a Te Deum.

Not more uncertain was the roulette-wheel spinning in De Lancy
Scovel's house than the wheel of diplomacy which Ian Stafford had set
spinning. Rouge et noire--it was no more, no less. But Ian had won;
England had won. Black had been beaten.

Landrassy bowed suavely to Ian as they met outside Mennaval's door in
the early evening of this day when the business was accomplished, the
former coming out, the latter going in.

"Well, Stafford," Landrassy said in smooth tones and with a jerk of
the head backward, "the tables are deserted, the croupier is going
home. But perhaps you have not come to play?"

Ian smiled lightly. "I've come to get my winnings--as you say," he
retorted.

Landrassy seemed to meditate pensively. "Ah yes, ah yes, but I'm not
sure that Mennaval hasn't bolted with the bank and your winnings,
too!"

His meaning was clear--and hateful. Before Ian had a chance to reply,
Landrassy added in a low, confidential voice, saturated with sardonic
suggestion, "To tell you the truth, I had ceased to reckon with women
in diplomacy. I thought it was dropped with the Second Empire; but you
have started a new dispensation--evidemment, evidemment. Still
Mennaval goes home with your winnings. Eh bien, we have to pay for our
game! Allons gai!"

Before Ian could reply--and what was there to say to insult couched in
such highly diplomatic language?--Landrassy had stepped sedately away,
swinging his gold-headed cane and humming to himself.

"Duelling had its merits," Ian said to himself, as soon as he had
recovered from the first effect of the soft, savage insolence. "There
is no way to deal with our Landrassys except to beat them, as I have
done, in the business of life."

He tossed his head with a little pardonable pride, as it were, to
soothe his heart, and then went in to Mennaval. There, in the
arrangements to be made with Moravia he forgot the galling incident;
and for hours afterward it was set aside. When, however, he left his
club, his supper over, after scribbling letters which he put in his
pocket absent-mindedly, and having completed his work at the Foreign
Office, it came back to his mind with sudden and scorching force.

Landrassy's insult to Jasmine rankled as nothing had ever rankled in
his mind before, not even that letter which she had written him so
long ago announcing her intended marriage to Byng. He was fresh from
the first triumph of his life: he ought to be singing with joy,
shouting to the four corners of the universe his pride, walking on
air, finding the world a good, kind place made especially for him--his
oyster to open, his nut which he had cracked; yet here he was fresh
from the applause of his chief, with a strange heaviness at his heart,
a gloom upon his mind.

Victory in his great fight--and love; he had them both and so he said
to himself as he opened the door of his rooms and entered upon their
comfort and quiet. He had love, and he had success; and the one had
helped to give him the other, helped in a way which was wonderful, and
so brilliantly skilful and delicate. As he poured out a glass of
water, however, the thought stung him that the nature of the success
and its value depended on the nature of the love and its value. As the
love was, so was the success, no higher, no different, since the one,
in some deep way, begot the other. Yes, it was certain that the thing
could not have been done at this time without Jasmine, and if not at
this time, then the chances were a thousand to one that it never could
be done at any time; for Britain's enemies would be on her back while
she would have to fight in South Africa. The result of that would mean
a shattered, humiliated land, with a people in pawn to the will of a
rising power across the northern sea. That it had been prevented just
in the nick of time was due to Jasmine, his fate, the power that must
beat in his veins till the end of all things.

Yet what was the end to be? To-day he had buried his face in her
wonderful cloud of hair and had kissed her; and with it, almost on the
instant, had come the end of his great struggle for England and
himself; and for that he was willing to pay any price that time and
Nemesis might demand--any price save one.

As he thought of that one price his lips tightened, his brow clouded,
his eyes half closed with shame.

Rudyard Byng was his friend, whose bread he had eaten, whom he had
known since they were boys at school. He remembered acutely Rudyard's
words to him that fateful night when he had dined with Jasmine
alone--"You will have much to talk about, to say to each other, such
old friends as you are." He recalled how Rudyard had left them,
trusting them, happy in the thought that Jasmine would have a pleasant
evening with the old friend who had first introduced him to her, and
that the old friend would enjoy his eager hospitality. Rudyard had
blown his friend's trumpet wherever men would listen to him; had
proclaimed Stafford as the coming man: and this was what he had done
to Rudyard!

This was what he had done; but what did he propose to do? What of the
future? To go on in miserable intrigue, twisting the nature, making
demands upon life out of all those usual ways in which walk love and
companionship--paths that lead through gardens of poppies, maybe, but
finding grey wilderness at the end? Never, never the right to take the
loved one by the hand before all the world and say: "We two are one,
and the reckoning of the world must be made with both." Never to have
the right to stand together in pride before the wide-eyed many and
say: "See what you choose to see, say what you choose to say, do what
you choose to do, we do not care." The open sharing of worldly
success; the inner joys which the world may not see--these things
could not be for Jasmine and for him.

Yet he loved her. Every fibre in his being thrilled to the thought of
her. But as his passion beat like wild music in his veins, a blindness
suddenly stole into his sight, and in deep agitation he got up, opened
the window, and looked out into the night. For long he stood gazing
into the quiet street, and watched a daughter of the night, with
dilatory steps and neglected mien, go up towards the more frequented
quarter of Piccadilly. Life was grim in so much of it, futile in more,
feeble at the best, foolish in the light of a single generation or a
single century or a thousand years. It was only reasonable in the vast
proportions of eternity. It had only little sips of happiness to give,
not long draughts of joy. Who drank deep, long draughts--who of all
the men and women he had ever known? Who had had the primrose path
without the rain of fire, the cinders beneath the feet, the gins and
the nets spread for them?

Yet might it not be that here and there people were permanently happy?
And had things been different, might not he and Jasmine have been of
the radiant few? He desired her above all things; he was willing to
sacrifice all--all for her, if need be; and yet there was that which
he could not, would not face. All or nothing--all or nothing. If he
must drink of the cup of sorrow and passion mixed, then it would be
from the full cup.

With a stifled exclamation he sat down and began to write. Again and
again he stopped to think, his face lined and worn and old; then he
wrote on and on. Ambition, hope, youth, the Foreign Office, the
chancelleries of Europe, the perils of impending war, were all
forgotten, or sunk into the dusky streams of subconsciousness. One
thought dominated him. He was playing the game that has baffled all
men, the game of eluding destiny; and, like all men, he must break his
heart in the playing.

"Jasmine," he wrote, "this letter, this first real letter of love
which I have ever written you, will tell you how great that love
is. It will tell you, too, what it means to me, and what I see before
us. To-day I surrendered to you all of me that would be worth your
keeping, if it was so that you might take and keep it. When I kissed
you, I set the seal upon my eternal offering to you. You have given me
success. It is for that I thank you with all my soul, but it is not
for that I love you. Love flows from other fountains than
gratitude. It rises from the well which has its springs at the
beginning of the world, where those beings lived who loved before
there were any gods at all, or any faiths, or any truths save the
truth of being.

"But it is because what I feel belongs to something in me deeper than
I have ever known that, since we parted a few hours ago, I see all in
a new light. You have brought to me what perhaps could only have come
as it did--through fire and cloud and storm. I did not will it so,
indeed, I did not wish it so, as you know; but it came in spite of
all. And I shall speak to you of it as to my own soul. I want no
illusions, no self-deception, no pretense to be added to my debt to
you. With wide-open eyes I want to look at it. I know that this love
of mine for you is my fate, the first and the last passion of my
soul. And to have known it with all its misery,--for misery there must
be; misery, Jasmine, there is--to have known it, to have felt it, the
great overwhelming thing, goes far to compensate for all the loss it
so terribly exposes. It has brought me, too, the fruit of life's
ambition. With the full revelation of all that I feel for you came
that which gives me place in the world, confers on me the right to
open doors which otherwise were closed to me. You have done this for
me, but what have I done for you? One thing at least is forced upon
me, which I must do now while I have the sight to see and the mind to
understand.

"I cannot go on with things as they are. I cannot face Rudyard and
give myself to hourly deception. I think that yesterday, a month ago,
I could have done so, but not now. I cannot walk the path which will
be paved with things revolting to us both. My love for you, damnable
as it would seem in the world's eyes, prevents it. It is not small
enough to be sustained or made secure in its furfilment by the devices
of intrigue. And I know that if it is so with me, it must be a
thousand times so with you. Your beauty would fade and pass under the
stress and meanness of it; your heart would reproach me even when you
smiled; you would learn to hate me even when you were resting upon my
hungry heart. You would learn to loathe the day when you said, Let me
help you. Yet, Jasmine, I know that you are mine; that you were mine
long ago, even when you did not know, and were captured by opportunity
to do what, with me, you felt you could not do. You were captured by
it; but it has not proved what it promised. You have not made the best
of the power into which you came, and you could not do so, because the
spring from which all the enriching waters of married life flow was
dry. Poor Jasmine--poor illusion of a wild young heart which reached
out for the golden city of the mirage!

"But now.... Two ways spread out, and only two, and one of these two I
must take--for your sake. There is the third way, but I will not take
it--for your sake and for my own. I will not walk in it ever. Already
my feet are burned by the fiery path, already I am choked by the smoke
and the ashes. No. I cannot atone for what has been, but I can try and
gather up the chances that are left.

"You must come with me away--away, to start life afresh, somewhere,
somehow; or I must go alone on some enterprise from which I shall not
return. You cannot bear what is, but, together, having braved the
world, we could look into each other's eyes without shrinking, knowing
that we had been at least true to each other, true at the last to the
thing that binds us, taking what Fate gave without repining, because
we had faced all that the world could do against us. It would mean
that I should leave diplomacy forever, give up all that so far has
possessed me in the business of life; but I should not lament. I have
done the one big thing I wanted to do, I have cut a swath in the
field. I have made some principalities and powers reckon with me. It
may be I have done all I was meant to do in doing that--it may be. In
any case, the thing I did would stand as an accomplished work--it
would represent one definite and original thing; one piece of work in
design all my own, in accomplishment as much yours as mine.... To go
then--together--with only the one big violence to the conventions of
the world, and take the law into our own hands? Rudyard, who
understands Life's violence, would understand that; what he could
never understand would be perpetual artifice, unseemly secretiveness.
He himself would have been a great filibuster in the olden days;
he would have carried off the wives and daughters of the chiefs and
kings he conquered; but he would never have stolen into the secret
garden at night and filched with the hand of the sneak-thief--never.

"To go with me--away, and start afresh. There will be always work to
do, always suffering humanity to be helped. We should help because we
would have suffered, we should try to set right the one great mistake
you made in not coming to me and so furfilling the old promise. To set
that error right, even though it be by wronging Rudyard by one great
stroke--that is better than hourly wronging him now with no surcease
of that wrong. No, no, this cannot go on. You could not have it so. I
seem to feel that you are writing to me now, telling me to begone
forever, saying that you had given me gifts--success and love; and now
to go and leave you in peace.

"Peace, Jasmine, it is that we cry for, pray for, adjure the heavens
for in the end. And all this vast, passionate love of mine is the
strife of the soul for peace, for fruition.

"That peace we may have in another way: that I should go forever, now,
before the terrible bond of habit has done its work, and bound us in
chains that never fall, that even remain when love is dead and gone,
binding the cold cadre to the living pain. To go now, with something
accomplished, and turn my back forever on the world, with one last
effort to do the impossible thing for some great cause, and fail and
be lost forever--do you not understand? Face it, Jasmine, and try to
see it in its true light.... I have a friend, John Caxton--you know
him. He is going to the Antarctic to find the futile thing, but the
necessary thing so far as the knowledge of the world is
concerned. With him, then, that long quiet and in the far white spaces
to find peace--forever.

"You? . . . Ah, Jasmine, habit, the habit of enduring me, is not
fixed, and in my exit there would be the agony of the moment, and then
the comforting knowledge that I had done my best to set things
right. Perhaps it is the one way to set things right; the fairest to
you, the kindest, and that which has in it most love. The knowledge of
a great love ended--yours and mine--would help you to give what you
can give with fuller soul. And, maybe, to be happy with Rudyard at the
last! Maybe, to be happy with him, without this wonderful throbbing
pulse of being, but with quiet, and to get a measure of what is due to
you in the scheme of things. Destiny gives us in life so much and no
more: to some a great deal in a little time, to others a little over a
great deal of time, but never the full cup and the shining sky over
long years. One's share small it must be, but one's share! And it may
be, in what has come to-day, in the hour of my triumph, in the
business of life, in the one hour of revealing love, it may be I have
had my share.... And if that is so, then peace should be my goal, and
peace I can have yonder in the snows. No one would guess that it was
not accident, and I should feel sure that I had stopped in time to
save you from the worst. But it must be the one or the other.

"The third way I cannot, will not, take, nor would you take it
willingly. It would sear your heart and spirit, it would spoil all
that makes you what you are. Jasmine, once for all I am your lover and
your friend. I give you love and I give you friendship--whatever
comes; always that, always friendship. Tempus fugit sed amicitia est.

"In my veins is a river of fire, and my heart is wrenched with pain;
but in my soul is that which binds me to you, together or apart, in
life, in death.... Good-night.... Good-morrow.

"Your Man,

"IAN.

"P.S.--I will come for your reply at eleven to-morrow.

"IAN."

He folded the letter slowly and placed it in an envelope which was
lying loose on the desk with the letters he had written at the
Trafalgar Club, and had forgotten to post. When he had put the letter
inside the envelope and stamped it, he saw that the envelope was one
carrying the mark of the Club. By accident he had brought it with the
letters written there. He hesitated a moment, then refrained from
opening the letter again, and presently went out into the night and
posted all his letters.



CHAPTER XIX

TO-MORROW . . . PREPARE!


Krool did not sleep. What he read in a letter he had found in a
hallway, what he knew of those dark events in South Africa, now to
culminate in a bitter war, and what, with the mysterious psychic
instinct of race, he divined darkly and powerfully, all kept his eyes
unsleeping and his mind disordered. More than any one, he knew of the
inner story of the Baas' vrouw during the past week and years; also he
had knowledge of what was soon to empty out upon the groaning earth
the entrails of South Africa; but how he knew was not to be
discovered. Even Rudyard, who thought he read him like a book, only
lived on the outer boundaries of his character. Their alliance was
only the durable alliance of those who have seen Death at their door,
and together have driven him back.

Barry Whalen had regarded Krool as a spy; all Britishers who came and
went in the path to Rudyard's door had their doubts or their dislike
of him; and to every servant of the household he was a dark and
isolated figure. He never interfered with the acts of his
fellow-servants, except in so far as those acts affected his master's
comfort; and he paid no attention to their words except where they
affected himself.

"When you think it's a ghost, it's only Krool wanderin' w'ere he ain't
got no business," was the angry remark of the upper-housemaid, whom
his sudden appearance had startled in a dim passage one day.

"Lor'! what a turn you give me, Mr. Krool, spookin' about where
there's no call for you to be," she had said to him, and below stairs
she had enlarged upon his enormities greatly.

"And Mrs. Byng, she not like him better as we do," was the comment of
Lablanche, the lady's maid. "A snake in the grass--that is what Madame
think."

Slowly the night passed for Krool. His disturbed brain was like some
dark wood through which flew songless birds with wings of night;
through which sped the furtive dwellers of the grass and the
earth-covert. The real and the imaginative crowded the dark
purlieus. He was the victim of his blood, his beginnings off there
beyond the Vaal, where the veld was swept by the lightning and the
storm, the home of wild dreams, and of a loneliness terrible and
strange, to which the man who once had tasted its awful pleasures
returned and returned again, until he was, at the last, part of its
loneliness, its woeful agitations and its reposeless quiet.

It was not possible for him to think or be like pure white people, to
do as they did. He was a child of the kopje, the spruit, and the dun
veld, where men dwelt with weird beings which were not men--presences
that whispered, telling them of things to come, blowing the warnings
of Destiny across the waste, over thousands and thousands of
miles. Such as he always became apart and lonely because of this
companionship of silence and the unseen. More and more they withdrew
themselves, unwittingly and painfully, from the understanding and
companionship of the usual matter-of-fact, commonplace, sensible
people--the settler, the emigrant, and the British man. Sinister they
became, but with the helplessness of those in whom the under-spirit of
life has been working, estranging them, even against their will, from
the rest of the world.

So Krool, estranged, lonely, even in the heart of friendly, pushing,
jostling London, still was haunted by presences which whispered to
him, not with the old clearness of bygone days, but with confused
utterances and clouded meaning; and yet sufficient in dark suggestion
for him to know that ill happenings were at hand, and that he would be
in the midst of them, an instrument of Fate. All night strange shapes
trooped past his clouded eyes, and more than once, in a half-dream, he
called out to his master to help him as he was helped long ago when
that master rescued him from death.

Long before the rest of the house was stirring, Krool wandered hither
and thither through the luxurious rooms, vainly endeavouring to occupy
himself with his master's clothes, boots, and belongings. At last he
stole into Byng's room and, stooping, laid something on the floor;
then reclaiming the two cables which Rudyard had read, crumpled up,
and thrown away, he crept stealthily from the room. His face had a
sombre and forbidding pleasure as he read by the early morning light
the discarded messages with their thunderous warnings--"To-morrow
. . . Prepare!"

He knew their meaning well enough. "To-morrow" was here, and it would
bring the challenge from Oom Paul to try the might of England against
the iron courage of those to whom the Vierkleur was the symbol of
sovereignty from sea to sea and the ruin of the Rooinek.

"Prepare!" He knew vastly more than those responsible men in position
or in high office, who should know a thousand times as much more. He
knew so much that was useful--to Oom Paul; but what he knew he did not
himself convey, though it reached those who welcomed it eagerly and
grimly. All that he knew, another also near to the Baas also knew, and
knew it before Krool; and reaped the reward of knowing.

Krool did not himself need to betray the Baas direct; and, with the
reasoning of the native in him, he found it possible to let another be
the means and the messenger of betrayal. So he soothed his conscience.

A little time before they had all gone to Glencader, however, he had
discovered something concerning this agent of Paul Kruger in the heart
of the Outlander camp, whom he employed, which had roused in him the
worst passions of an outcast mind. Since then there had been no
trafficking with the traitor--the double traitor, whom he was now
plotting to destroy, not because he was a traitor to his country, but
because he was a traitor to the Baas. In his evil way, he loved his
master as a Caliban might love an Apollo. That his devotion took forms
abnormal and savage in their nature was due to his origin and his
blood. That he plotted to secure the betrayal of the Baas' country and
the Outlander interest, while he would have given his life for the
Baas, was but the twisted sense of a perverted soul.

He had one obsession now--to destroy Adrian Fellowes, his agent for
Paul Kruger in the secret places of British policy and in the house of
the Partners, as it were. But how should it be done? What should be
the means? On the very day in which Oom Paul would send his ultimatum,
the means came to his hand.

"Prepare!" the cable to the Baas had read. The Baas would be prepared
for the thunderbolt to be hurled from Pretoria; but he would have no
preparation for the thunderbolt which would fall at his feet this day
in this house, where white roses welcomed the visitor at the door-way
and the beauty of Titians and Botticellis and Rubens' and Goyas
greeted him in the luxuriant chambers. There would be no preparation
for that war which rages most violently at a fireside and in the human
heart.



CHAPTER XX

THE FURNACE DOOR


It was past nine o'clock when Rudyard wakened. It was nearly ten
before he turned to leave his room for breakfast. As he did so he
stooped and picked up an open letter lying on the floor near the door.

His brain was dazed and still surging with the terrible thoughts which
had agonized him the night before. He was as in a dream, and was only
vaguely conscious of the fugitive letter. He was wondering whether he
would go at once to Jasmine or wait until he had finished
breakfast. Opening the door of his room, he saw the maid entering to
Jasmine with a gown over her arm.

No, he would not go to her till she was alone, till she was dressed
and alone. Then he would tell her all, and take her in his arms, and
talk with her--talk as he had never talked before. Slowly, heavily, he
went to his study, where his breakfast was always eaten. As he sat
down he opened, with uninterested inquiry, the letter he had picked up
inside the door of his room. As he did so he vaguely wondered why
Krool had overlooked it as he passed in and out. Perhaps Krool had
dropped it. His eyes fell on the opening words. . . His face turned
ashen white. A harsh cry broke from him.

At eleven o'clock to the minute Ian Stafford entered Byng's mansion
and was being taken to Jasmine's sitting-room, when Rudyard appeared
on the staircase, and with a peremptory gesture waved the servant
away. Ian was suddenly conscious of a terrible change in Rudyard's
appearance. His face was haggard and his warm colour had given place
to a strange blackish tinge which seemed to underlie the pallor--the
deathly look to be found in the faces of those stricken with a mortal
disease. All strength and power seemed to have gone from the face,
leaving it tragic with uncontrolled suffering. Panic emotion was
uppermost, while desperate and reckless purpose was in his eyes. The
balance was gone from the general character and his natural force was
like some great gun loose from its fastenings on the deck of a
sea-stricken ship. He was no longer the stalwart Outlander who had
done such great work in South Africa and had such power in political
London and in international finance. The demoralization which had
stealthily gone on for a number of years was now suddenly a debacle of
will and body. Of the superb physical coolness and intrepid mind with
which he had sprung upon the stage of Covent Garden Opera House to
rescue Al'mah nothing seemed left; or, if it did remain, it was
shocked out of its bearings. His eyes were almost glassy as he looked
at Ian Stafford, and animal-like hatred was the dominating note of his
face and carriage.

"Come with me, Stafford: I want to speak to you," he said,
hoarsely. "You've arrived when I wanted you--at the exact time."

"Yes, I said I would come at eleven," responded Stafford,
mechanically. "Jasmine expects me at eleven."

"In here," Byng said, pointing to a little morning-room.

As Stafford entered, he saw Krool's face, malign and sombre, show in a
doorway of the hall. Was he mistaken in thinking that Krool flashed a
look of secret triumph and yet of obscure warning? Warning? There was
trouble, strange and dreadful trouble, here; and the wrenching thought
had swept into his brain that he was the cause of it all, that he was
to be the spring and centre of dreadful happenings.

He was conscious of something else purely objective as he entered the
room--of music, the music of a gay light opera being played in the
adjoining room, from which this little morning-room was separated only
by Indian bead-curtains. He saw idle sunlight play upon these beads,
as he sat down at the table to which Rudyard motioned him. He was also
subconsciously aware who it was that played the piano beyond there
with such pleasant skill. Many a time thereafter, in the days to come,
he would be awakened in the night by the sound of that music, a
love-song from the light opera "A Lady of London," which had just
caught the ears of the people in the street.

Of one thing he was sure: the end of things had come--the end of all
things that life meant to him had come. Rudyard knew! Rudyard, sitting
there at the other side of the table and leaning toward him with a
face where, in control of all else, were hate and panic emotion--he
knew.

The music in the next room was soft, persistent and searching. As Ian
waited for Rudyard to speak he was conscious that even the words of
the silly, futile love-song:

"Not like the roses shall our love be, dear
Never shall its lovely petals fade,
Singing, it will flourish till the world's last year
Happy as the song-birds in the glade."

Through it all now came Rudyard's voice.

"I have a letter here," the voice said, and he saw Rudyard slowly take
it from his pocket. "I want you to read it, and when you have read it,
I want you to tell me what you think of the man who wrote it."

He threw a letter down on the table--a square white envelope with the
crest of the Trafalgar Club upon it. It lay face downward, waiting for
his hand.

So it had come. His letter to Jasmine which told all--Rudyard had read
it. And here was the end of everything--the roses faded before they
had bloomed an hour. It was not for them to flourish "till the world's
last year."

His hand reached out for the letter. With eyes almost blind he raised
it, and slowly and mechanically took the document of tragedy from the
envelope. Why should Rudyard insist on his reading it? It was a
devilish revenge, which he could not resent. But time--he must have
time; therefore he would do Rudyard's bidding, and read this thing he
had written, look at it with eyes in which Penalty was gathering its
mists.

So this was the end of it all--friendship gone with the man before
him; shame come to the woman he loved; misery to every one; a
home-life shattered; and from the souls of three people peace banished
for evermore.

He opened out the pages with a slowness that seemed almost apathy,
while the man opposite clinched his hands on the table spasmodically.
Still the music from the other room with cheap, flippant sensuousness
stole through the burdened air:

"Singing, it will flourish till the world's last year--"

He looked at the writing vaguely, blindly. Why should this be exacted
of him, this futile penalty? Then all at once his sight cleared; for
this handwriting was not his--this letter was not his; these wild,
passionate phrases--this terrible suggestiveness of meaning, these
references to the past, this appeal for further hours of love
together, this abjectly tender appeal to Jasmine that she would wear
one of his white roses when he saw her the next day--would she not see
him between eleven and twelve o'clock?--all these words were not his.

They were written by the man who was playing the piano in the next
room; by the man who had come and gone in this house like one who had
the right to do so; who had, as it were, fed from Rudyard Byng's hand;
who lived on what Byng paid him; who had been trusted with the
innermost life of the household and the life and the business of the
master of it.

The letter was signed, Adrian.

His own face blanched like the face of the man before him. He had
braced himself to face the consequences of his own letter to the woman
he loved, and he was face to face with the consequences of another
man's letter to the same woman, to the woman who had two lovers. He
was face to face with Rudyard's tragedy, and with his own.... She,
Jasmine, to whom he had given all, for whom he had been ready to give
up all--career, fame, existence--was true to none, unfaithful to all,
caring for none, but pretending to care for all three--and for how
many others? He choked back a cry.

"Well--well?" came the husband's voice across the table. "There's one
thing to do, and I mean to do it." He waved a hand towards the
music-room. "He's in the next room there. I mean to kill him--to kill
him--now. I wanted you to know why, to know all, you, Stafford, my old
friend and hers. And I'm going to do it now. Listen to him there!"

His words came brokenly and scarce above a whisper, but they were
ghastly in their determination, in their loathing, their blind
fury. He was gone mad, all the animal in him alive, the brain tossing
on a sea of disorder.

"Now!" he said, suddenly, and, rising, he pushed back his chair. "Give
that to me."

He reached out his hand for the letter, but his confused senses were
suddenly arrested by the look in Ian Stafford's face, a look so
strange, so poignant, so insistent, that he paused. Words could not
have checked his blind haste like that look. In the interval which
followed, the music from the other room struck upon the ears of both,
with exasperating insistence:

"Not like the roses shall our love be, dear--"

Stafford made no motion to return the letter. He caught and held
Rudyard's eyes.

"You ask me to tell you what I think of the man who wrote this
letter," he said, thickly and slowly, for he was like one paralyzed,
regaining his speech with blanching effort: "Byng, I think what you
think--all you think; but I would not do what you want to do."

As he had read the letter the whole horror of the situation burst upon
him. Jasmine had deceived her husband when she turned to himself, and
that was to be understood--to be understood, if not to be pardoned. A
woman might marry, thinking she cared, and all too soon, sometimes
before the second day had dawned, learn that shrinking and repugnance
which not even habit can modify or obscure. A girl might be mistaken,
with her heart and nature undeveloped, and with that closer intimate
life with another of another sex still untried. With the transition
from maidenhood to wifehood, fateful beyond all transitions, yet
unmade, she might be mistaken once; as so many have been in the
revelations of first intimacy; but not twice, not the second time. It
was not possible to be mistaken in so vital a thing twice. This was
merely a wilful, miserable degeneracy. Rudyard had been
wronged--terribly wronged--by himself, by Jasmine; but he had loved
Jasmine since she was a child, before Rudyard came--in truth, he all
but possessed her when Rudyard came; and there was some explanation,
if no excuse, for that betrayal; but this other, it was incredible, it
was monstrous. It was incredible but yet it was true. Thoughts that
overturned all his past, that made a melee of his life, rushed and
whirled through his mind as he read the letter with assumed
deliberation when he saw what it was. He read slowly that he might
make up his mind how to act, what to say and do in this crisis. To
do--what? Jasmine had betrayed him long ago when she had thrown him
over for Rudyard, and now she had betrayed him again after she had
married Rudyard, and betrayed Rudyard, too; and for whom this second
betrayal? His heart seemed to shrink to nothingness. This business
dated far beyond yesterday. The letter furnished that sure evidence.

What to do? Like lightning his mind was made up. What to do? Ah, but
one thing to do--only one thing to do--save her at any cost, somehow
save her! Whatever she was, whatever she had done, however she had
spoiled his life and destroyed forever his faith, yet he too had
betrayed this broken man before him, with the look in his eyes of an
animal at bay, ready to do the last irretrievable thing. Even as her
shameless treatment of himself smote him; lowered him to that dust
which is ground from the heels of merciless humanity--even as it
sickened his soul beyond recovery in this world, up from the lowest
depths of his being there came the indestructible thing. It was the
thing that never dies, the love that defies injury, shame, crime,
deceit, and desertion, and lives pityingly on, knowing all, enduring
all, desiring no touch, no communion, yet prevailing--the
indestructible thing.

He knew now in a flash what he had to do. He must save her. He saw
that Rudyard was armed, and that the end might come at any
moment. There was in the wronged husband's eyes the wild, reckless,
unseeing thing which disregards consequences, which would rush blindly
on the throne of God itself to snatch its vengeance. He spoke again:
and just in time.

"I think what you think, Byng, but I would not do what you want to
do. I would do something else."

His voice was strangely quiet, but it had a sharp insistence which
caused Rudyard to turn back mechanically to the seat he had just
left. Stafford saw the instant's advantage which, if he did not
pursue, all would be lost. With a great effort he simulated intense
anger and indignation.

"Sit down, Byng," he said, with a gesture of authority. He leaned over
the table, holding the other's eyes, the letter in one clinched
hand. "Kill him--," he said, and pointed to the other room, from which
came the maddening iteration of the jingling song--"you would kill him
for his hellish insolence, for this infamous attempt to lead your wife
astray, but what good will it do to kill him?"

"Not him alone, but her too," came the savage, uncontrolled voice from
the uncontrolled savagery of the soul.

Suddenly a great fear shot up in Stafford's heart. His breath came in
sharp, breaking gasps. Had he--had he killed Jasmine?

"You have not--not her?"

"No--not yet." The lips of the avenger suddenly ceased twitching, and
they shut with ominous certainty.

An iron look came into Stafford's face. He had his chance now. One
word, one defense only! It would do all, or all would be lost--sunk in
a sea of tragedy. Diplomacy had taught him the gift of control of face
and gesture, of meaning in tone and word. He made an effort greater
than he had ever put forward in life. He affected an enormous and
scornful surprise.

"You think--you dare to think that she--that Jasmine--"

"Think, you say! The letter--that letter--"

"This letter--this letter, Byng--are you a fool? This letter, this
preposterous thing from the universal philanderer, the effeminate
erotic! It is what it is, and it is no more. Jasmine--you know
her. Indiscreet--yes; always indiscreet in her way, in her own way,
and always daring. A coquette always. She has coquetted all her life;
she cannot help it. She doesn't even know it. She led him on from
sheer wilfulness. What did it matter to her that he was of no account!
She led him on, to be at her feet like the rest, like bigger and
better men--like us all. Was there ever a time when she did not want
to master us? She has coquetted since--ah, you do not know as I do,
her old friend! She has coquetted since she was a little
child. Coquetted, and no more. We have all been her slaves--yes, long
before you came--all of us. Look at Mennaval! She--"

With a distracted gesture Byng interrupted. "The world believes the
worst. Last night, by accident, I heard at De Lancy Scovel's house
that she and Mennaval--and now this--!"

But into the rage, the desperation in the wild eyes, was now creeping
an eager look--not of hope, but such a look as might be in eyes that
were striving to see through darkness, looking for a glimmer of day in
the black hush of morning before the dawn. It was pitiful to see the
strong man tossing on the flood of disordered understanding, a willing
castaway, yet stretching out a hand to be saved.

"Oh, last night, Mennaval, you say, and to-day--this!" Stafford held
up the letter. "This means nothing against her, except indiscretion,
and indiscretion which would have been nothing if the man had not been
what he is. He is of the slime. He does not matter, except that he has
dared--!"

"He has dared, by God--!"

All Byng's rage came back, the lacerated pride, the offended manhood,
the self-esteem which had been spattered by the mud of slander, by the
cynical defense, or the pitying solicitude of his friends--of De Lancy
Scovel, Barry Whalen, Sobieski the Polish Jew, Fleming, Wolff, and the
rest. The pity of these for him--for Rudyard Byng, because the flower
in his garden, his Jasmine-flower, was swept by the blast of calumny!
He sprang from his chair with an ugly oath.

But Stafford stepped in front of him. "Sit down, Byng, or damn
yourself forever. If she is innocent--and she is--do you think she
would ever live with you again, after you had dragged her name into
the dust of the criminal courts and through the reek of the ha'penny
press? Do you think Jasmine would ever forgive you for suspecting her?
If you want to drive her from you forever, then kill him, and go and
tell her that you suspect her. I know her--I have known her all her
life, long before you came. I care what becomes of her. She has many
who care what becomes of her--her father, her brother, many men, and
many women who have seen her grow up without a mother. They understand
her, they believe in her, because they have known her over all the
years. They know her better than you. Perhaps they care for her--
perhaps any one of them cares for her far more than you do."

Now there came a new look into the big, staring eyes. Byng was as one
fascinated; light was breaking in on his rage, his besmirched pride,
his vengeance; hope was stealing tremblingly into his face.

"She was more to me than all the world--than twenty worlds. She--"

He hesitated, then his voice broke and his body suddenly shook
violently, as tears rose in the far, deep wells of feeling and tried
to reach the fevered eyes. He leaned his head in his big, awkward
hands.

Stafford saw the way of escape for Jasmine slowly open out, and went
on quickly. "You have neglected her "--Rudyard's head came up in angry
protest--"not wilfully; but you have neglected her. You have been too
easy. You should lead, not follow, where a woman is concerned. All
women are indiscreet, all are a little dishonourable on opportunity;
but not in the big way, only in the small, contemptible way, according
to our code. We men are dishonourable in the big way where they are
concerned. You have neglected her, Byng, because you have not said,
'This way, Jasmine. Come with me. I want you; and you must came, and
come now.' She wanted your society, wanted you all the time; but while
you did not have her on the leash she went playing--playing. That is
it, and that is all. And now, if you want to keep her, if you want her
to live on with you, I warn you not to tell her you know of the insult
this letter contains, nor ever say what would make her think you
suspected her. If you do, you will bid good-bye to her forever. She
has bold blood in her veins, rash blood. Her grandfather--"

"I know--I know." The tone was credulous, understanding now. Hope
stole into the distorted face.

"She would resent your suspicion. She, then, would do the mad thing,
not you. She would be as frenzied as you were a moment ago; and she
would not listen to reason. If you dared to hint outside in the world,
that you believed her guilty, there are some of her old friends who
would feel like doing to you what you want to do to that libertine in
there, to Al'mah's lover--"

"Good God, Stafford--wait!"

"I don't mean Barry Whalen, Fleming, De Lancy Scovel, and the
rest. They are not her old friends, and they weren't yours once--that
breed; but the others who are the best, of whom you come, over there
in Herefordshire, in Dorset, in Westmorland, where your and her people
lived, and mine. You have been too long among the Outlanders,
Byng. Come back, and bring Jasmine with you. And as for this letter--"

Byng reached out his hand for it.

"No, it contains an insult to your wife. If you get it into your
hands, you will read it again, and then you will do some foolish
thing, for you have lost grip of yourself. Here is the only place for
such stuff--an outburst of sensuality!"

He threw the letter suddenly into the fire. Rudyard sprang to his feet
as though to reclaim it, but stood still bewildered, as he saw
Stafford push it farther into the coals.

Silent, they watched shrivel such evidence as brings ruin upon men and
women in courts of law.

"Leave the whole thing--leave Fellowes to me," Stafford said, after a
slight pause. "I will deal with him. He shall leave the country
to-night. I will see to that. He shall go for three years at least. Do
not see him. You will not contain yourself, and for your own chance of
happiness with the woman you love, you must do nothing, nothing at all
now."

"He has keys, papers--"

"I will see to that; I will see to everything. Now go, at once. There
is enough for you to do. The war, Oom Paul's war, will be on us to
day. Do you hear, Byng--to-day! And you have work to do for this your
native country and for South Africa, your adopted country. England and
the Transvaal will be at each other's throat before night. You have
work to do. Do it. You are needed. Go, and leave this wretched
business in my hands. I will deal with Fellowes--adequately."

The rage had faded from Byng's fevered eyes, and now there was a
moisture in them, a look of incalculable relief. To believe in
Jasmine, that was everything to him. He had not seen her yet, not
since he left the white rose on her pillow last night--Adrian
Fellowes' tribute; and after he had read the letter, he had had no
wish to see her till he had had his will and done away with Fellowes
forever. Then he would see her--for the last time: and she should die,
too,--with himself. That had been his purpose. Now all was changed. He
would not see her now, not till Fellowes was gone forever. Then he
would come again, and say no word which would let her think he knew
what Fellowes had written. Yes, Stafford was right. She must not know,
and they must start again, begin life again together, a new
understanding in his heart, new purposes in their existence. In these
few minutes Stafford had taught him much, had showed him where he had
been wrong, had revealed to him Jasmine's nature as he never really
understood it.

At the door, as Stafford helped him on with a light overcoat, he took
a revolver from his pocket.

"That's the proof of what I meant to do," he said; "and this is proof
of what I mean to do," he added, as he handed over the revolver and
Stafford's fingers grasped it with a nervous force which he
misinterpreted.

"Ah yes," he exclaimed, sadly, "you don't quite trust me yet--not
quite, Stafford; and I don't wonder; but it's all right.... You've
been a good, good friend to us both," he added. "I wish Jasmine might
know how good a friend you've been. But never mind. We'll pay the debt
sometime, somehow, she and I. When shall I see you again?"

At that moment a clear voice rang out cheerily in the
distance. "Rudyard--where are you, Ruddy?" it called.

A light broke over Byng's haggard face. "Not yet?" he asked Stafford.

"No, not yet," was the reply, and Byng was pushed through the open
door into the street.

"Ruddy--where are you, Ruddy?" sang the voice like a morning song.

Then there was silence, save for the music in the room beyond the
little room where the two men had sat a few moments ago.

The music was still poured forth, but the tune was changed. Now it was
"Pagliacci"--that wonderful passage where the injured husband pours
out his soul in agony.

Stafford closed the doors of the little room where he and Byng had
sat, and stood an instant listening to the music. He shuddered as the
passionate notes swept over his senses. In this music was the note of
the character of the man who played--sensuous emotion, sensual
delight. There are men who by nature are as the daughters of the
night, primary prostitutes, with no minds, no moral sense; only a
sensuous organization which has a gift of shallow beauty, while the
life is never deep enough for tears nor high enough for real joy.

In Stafford's pocket was the revolver which Byng had given him. He
took it out, and as he did so, a flush swept over his face, and every
nerve of his body tingled.

"That way out?" he thought. "How easy--and how selfish.... If one's
life only concerned oneself.... But it's only partly one's own from
first to last." . . . Then his thoughts turned again to the man who
was playing "Pagliacci." "I have a greater right to do it than Byng,
and I'd have a greater joy in doing it; but whatever he is, it is not
all his fault." Again he shuddered. "No man makes love like that to a
woman unless she lets him, . . . until she lets him." Then he looked
at the fire where the cruel testimony had shrivelled into smoke. "If
it had been read to a jury . . . Ah, my God! How many he must have
written her like that ... How often...."

With an effort he pulled himself together. "What does it matter now!
All things have come to an end for me. There is only one way. My
letter to her showed it. But this must be settled first. Then to see
her for the last time, to make her understand...."

He went to the beaded curtain, raised it, and stepped into the flood
of warm sunlight. The voluptuous, agonizing music came in a wave over
him. Tragedy, poignant misery, rang through every note, swelled in a
stream which drowned the senses. This man-devil could play, Stafford
remarked, cynically, to himself.

"A moment--Fellowes," he said, sharply.

The music frayed into a discord and stopped.



CHAPTER XXI

THE BURNING FIERY FURNACE


There was that in Stafford's tone which made Fellowes turn with a
start. It was to this room that Fellowes had begged Jasmine to come
this morning, in the letter which Krool had so carefully placed for
his master to find, after having read it himself with minute
scrutiny. It was in this room they had met so often in those days when
Rudyard was in South Africa, and where music had been the medium of an
intimacy which had nothing for its warrant save eternal vanity and
curiosity, the evil genius of the race of women. Here it was that
Krool's antipathy to Jasmine and fierce hatred of Fellowes had been
nurtured. Krool had haunted the room, desiring the end of it all; but
he had been disarmed by a smiling kindness on Jasmine's part, which
shook his purpose again and again.

It had all been a problem which Krool's furtive mind failed to
master. If he went to the Baas with his suspicions, the chance was
that he would be flayed with a sjambok and turned into the streets; if
he warned Jasmine, the same thing might happen, or worse. But fate had
at last played into his hands, on the very day that Oom Paul had
challenged destiny, when all things were ready for the ruin of the
hated English.

Fate had sent him through the hallway between Jasmine's and Rudyard's
rooms in the moment when Jasmine had dropped Fellowes' letter; and he
had seen it fall. He knew not what it was, but it might be of
importance, for he had seen Fellowes' handwriting on an envelope among
those waiting for Jasmine's return home. In a far dark corner he had
waited till he saw Lablanche enter her mistress' room hurriedly,
without observing the letter. Then he caught it up and stole away to
the library, where he read it with malevolent eyes.

He had left this fateful letter where Rudyard would see it when he
rose in the morning. All had worked out as he had planned, and now,
with his ear against the door which led from the music-room, he
strained to hear what passed between Stafford and Fellowes.

"Well, what is it?" asked Fellowes, with an attempt to be casual,
though there was that in Stafford's face which gave him anxiety, he
knew not why. He had expected Jasmine, and, instead, here was
Stafford, who had been so much with her of late; who, with Mennaval,
had occupied so much of her time that she had scarcely spoken to him,
and, when she did so, it was with a detachment which excluded him from
intimate consideration.

His face wore a mechanical smile, as his pale blue eyes met the dark
intensity of Stafford's. But slowly the peach-bloom of his cheeks
faded and his long, tapering fingers played nervously with the
leather-trimming of the piano-stool.

"Anything I can do for you, Stafford?" he added, with attempted
nonchalance.

"There is nothing you can do for me," was the meaning reply, "but
there is something you can do advantageously for yourself, if you will
think it worth while."

"Most of us are ready to do ourselves good turns. What am I to do?"

"You will wish to avoid it, and yet you will do yourself a good turn
in not avoiding it."

"Is that the way you talk in diplomatic circles--cryptic, they call
it, don't they?"

Stafford's chin hardened, and a look of repulsion and disdain crossed
over his face.

"It is more cryptic, I confess, than the letter which will cause you
to do yourself a good turn."

Now Fellowes' face turned white. "What letter?" he asked, in a sharp,
querulous voice.

"The letter you wrote Mrs. Byng from the Trafalgar Club yesterday."

Fellowes made a feint, an attempt at bravado. "What business is it of
yours, anyhow? What rights have you got in Mrs. Byng's letters?"

"Only what I get from a higher authority."

"Are you in sweet spiritual partnership with the Trinity?"

"The higher authority I mean is Mr. Byng. Let us have no tricks with
words, you fool."

Fellowes made an ineffective attempt at self-possession.

"What the devil . . . why should I listen to you?" There was a peevish
stubbornness in the tone.

"Why should you listen to me? Well, because I have saved your
life. That should be sufficient reason for you to listen."

"Damnation--speak out, if you've got anything to say! I don't see what
you mean, and you are damned officious. Yes, that's it--damned
officious." The peevishness was becoming insolent recklessness.

Slowly Stafford drew from his pocket the revolver Rudyard had given
him. As Fellowes caught sight of the glittering steel he fell back
against the piano-stool, making a clatter, his face livid.

Stafford's lips curled with contempt. "Don't squirm so, Fellowes. I'm
not going to use it. But Mr. Byng had it, and he was going to use
it. He was on his way to do it when I appeared. I stopped him . . . I
will tell you how. I endeavoured to make him believe that she was
absolutely innocent, that you had only been an insufferably insolent,
presumptuous, and lecherous cad--which is true. I said that, though
you deserved shooting, it would only bring scandal to Rudyard Byng's
honourable wife, who had been insulted by the lover of Al'mah and the
would-be betrayer of an honest girl--of Jigger's sister.... Yes, you
may well start. I know of what stuff you are, how you had the soul and
body of one of the most credulous and wonderful women in the world in
your hands, and you went scavenging. From Al'mah to the flower-girl!
. . . I think I should like to kill you myself for what you tried to
do to Jigger's sister; and if it wasn't here"--he handled the little
steel weapon with an eager fondness--" I think I'd do it. You are a
pest."

Cowed, shivering, abject, Fellowes nervously fell back. His body
crashed upon the keys of the piano, producing a hideous
discord. Startled, he sprang aside and with trembling hands made
gestures of appeal.

"Don't--don't! Can't you see I'm willing! What is it you want me to
do? I'll do it. Put it away.... Oh, my God--Oh!" His bloodless lips
were drawn over his teeth in a grimace of terror.

With an exclamation of contempt Stafford put the weapon back into his
pocket again. "Pull yourself together," he said. "Your life is safe
for the moment; but I can say no more than that. After I had proved
the lady's innocence--you understand, after I had proved the lady's
innocence to him--"

"Yes, I understand," came the hoarse reply.

"After that, I said I would deal with you; that he could not be
trusted to do so. I said that you would leave England within
twenty-four hours, and that you would not return within three
years. That was my pledge. You are prepared to fulfil it?"

"To leave England! It is impossible--"

"Perhaps to leave it permanently, and not by the English Channel,
either, might be worse," was the cold, savage reply. "Mr. Byng made
his terms."

Fellowes shivered. "What am I to do out of England--but, yes, I'll go,
I'll go," he added, as he saw the look in Stafford's face and thought
of the revolver so near to Stafford's hand.

"Yes, of course you will go," was the stern retort. "You will go, just
as I say."

"What shall I do abroad?" wailed the weak voice.

"What you have always done here, I suppose--live on others," was the
crushing reply. "The venue will be changed, but you won't change, not
you. If I were you, I'd try and not meet Jigger before you go. He
doesn't know quite what it is, but he knows enough to make him
reckless."

Fellowes moved towards the door in a stumbling kind of way. "I have
some things up-stairs," he said.

"They will be sent after you to your chambers. Give me the keys to the
desk in the secretary's room."

"I'll go myself, and--"

"You will leave this house at once, and everything will be sent after
you--everything. Have no fear. I will send them myself, and your
letters and private papers will not be read.... You feel you can rely
on me for that--eh?"

"Yes . . . I'll go now . . . abroad . . . where?"

"Where you please outside the United Kingdom."

Fellowes passed heavily out through the other room, where his letter
had been read by Stafford, where his fate had been decided. He put on
his overcoat nervously and went to the outer door.

Stafford came up to him again. "You understand, there must be no
attempt to communicate here.... You will observe this?"

Fellowes nodded. "Yes, I will.... Good-night," he added, absently.

"Good-day," answered Stafford, mechanically.

The outer door shut, and Stafford turned again to the little room
where so much had happened which must change so many lives, bring so
many tears, divert so many streams of life.

How still the house seemed now! It had lost all its charm and
homelikeness. He felt stifled. Yet there was the warm sun streaming
through the doorway of the music-room, making the beaded curtains
shine like gold.

As he stood in the doorway of the little morning-room, looking in with
bitter reflection and dreading beyond words what now must come--his
meeting with Jasmine, the story he must tell her, and the exposure of
a truth so naked that his nature revolted from it, he heard a footstep
behind him. It was Krool.

Stafford looked at the saturnine face and wondered how much he knew;
but there was no glimmer of revelation in Krool's impassive look. The
eyes were always painful in their deep animal-like glow, and they
seemed more than usually intense this morning; that was all.

"Will you present my compliments to Mrs. Byng, and say--"

Krool, with a gesture, stopped him.

"Mrs. Byng is come now," he said, making a gesture towards the
staircase. Then he stole away towards the servants' quarters of the
house. His work had been well done, of its kind, and he could now
await consequences.

Stafford turned to the staircase and saw--in blue, in the old
sentimental blue--Jasmine slowly descending, a strange look of
apprehension in her face.

Immediately after calling out for Rudyard a little while before, she
had discovered the loss of Adrian Fellowes' letter. Hours before this
she had read and re-read Ian's letter, that document of pain and
purpose, of tragical, inglorious, fatal purpose. She was suddenly
conscious of an air of impending catastrophe about her now. Or was it
that the catastrophe had come? She had not asked for Adrian Fellowes'
letter, for if any servant had found it, and had not returned it, it
was useless asking; and if Rudyard had found it--if Rudyard had found
it . . . !

Where was Rudyard? Why had he not come to her, Why had he not eaten
the breakfast which still lay untouched on the table of his study?
Where was Rudyard?

Ian's eyes looked straight into hers as she came down the staircase,
and there was that in them which paralyzed her. But she made an effort
to ignore the apprehension which filled her soul.

"Good-morning. Am I so very late?" she said, gaily, to him, though
there was a hollow note in her voice.

"You are just in time," he answered in an even tone which told
nothing.

"Dear me, what a gloomy face! What has happened? What is it? There
seems to be a Cassandra atmosphere about the place--and so early in
the day, too."

"It is full noon--and past," he said, with acute meaning, as her
daintily shod feet met the floor of the hallway and glided towards
him. How often he had admired that pretty flitting of her feet!

As he looked at her he was conscious, with a new force, of the wonder
of that hair on a little head as queenly as ever was given to the
modern world. And her face, albeit pale, and with a strange
tremulousness in it now, was like that of some fairy dame painted by
Greuze. All last night's agony was gone from the rare blue eyes, whose
lashes drooped so ravishingly betimes, though that droop was not there
as she looked at Ian now.

She beat a foot nervously on the floor. "What is it--why this
Euripidean air in my simple home? There's something wrong, I see. What
is it? Come, what is it, Ian?"

Hesitatingly she laid a hand upon his arm, but there was no
loving-kindness in his look. The arms which yesterday--only
yesterday--had clasped her passionately and hungrily to his breast now
hung inert at his side. His eyes were strange and hard.

"Will you come in here," he said, in an arid voice, and held wide the
door of the room where he and Rudyard had settled the first chapter of
the future and closed the book of the past.

She entered with hesitating step. Then he shut the door with an
accentuated softness, and came to the table where he had sat with
Rudyard. Mechanically she took the seat which Rudyard had occupied,
and looked at him across the table with a dread conviction stealing
over her face, robbing it of every vestige of its heavenly colour,
giving her eyes a staring and solicitous look.

"Well, what is it? Can't you speak and have it over?" she asked, with
desperate impatience.

"Fellowes' letter to you--Rudyard found it," he said, abruptly.

She fell back as though she had been struck, then recovered
herself. "You read it?" she gasped.

"Rudyard made me read it. I came in when he was just about to kill
Fellowes."

She gave a short, sharp cry, which with a spasm of determination her
fingers stopped.

"Kill him--why?" she asked in a weak voice, looking down at her
trembling hands which lay clasped on the table before her.

"The letter--Fellowes' letter to you."

"I dropped it last night," she said, in a voice grown strangely
impersonal and colourless. "I dropped it in Rudyard's room, I
suppose."

She seemed not to have any idea of excluding the terrible facts, but
to be speaking as it were to herself and of something not vital,
though her whole person was transformed into an agony which congealed
the lifeblood.

Her voice sounded tuneless and ragged. "He read it--Rudyard read a
letter which was not addressed to him! He read a letter addressed to
me--he read my letter.... It gave me no chance."

"No chance--?"

A bitter indignation was added to the cheerless discord of her
tones. "Yes, I had a chance, a last chance--if he had not read the
letter. But now, there is no chance.... You read it, too. You read the
letter which was addressed to me. No matter what it was--my letter,
you read it."

"Rudyard said to me in his terrible agitation, 'Read that letter, and
then tell me what you think of the man who wrote it.' . . . I thought
it was the letter I wrote to you, the letter I posted to you last
night. I thought it was my letter to you."

Her eyes had a sudden absent look. It was as though she were speaking
in a trance. "I answered that letter--your letter. I answered it this
morning. Here is the answer . . . here." She laid a letter on the
table before him, then drew it back again into her lap. "Now it does
not matter. But it gives me no chance...."

There was a world of despair and remorse in her voice. Her face was
wan and strained. "No chance, no chance," she whispered.

"Rudyard did not kill him?" she asked, slowly and cheerlessly, after a
moment, as though repeating a lesson. "Why?"

"I stopped him. I prevented him."

"You prevented him--why?" Her eyes had a look of unutterable confusion
and trouble. "Why did you prevent it--you?"

"That would have hurt you--the scandal, the grimy press, the world."

Her voice was tuneless, and yet it had a strange, piteous
poignancy. "It would have hurt me--yes. Why did you not want to hurt
me?"

He did not answer. His hands had gone into his pockets, as though to
steady their wild nervousness, and one had grasped the little weapon
of steel which Rudyard had given him. It produced some strange,
malignant effect on his mind. Everything seemed to stop in him, and he
was suddenly possessed by a spirit which carried him into that same
region where Rudyard had been. It was the region of the abnormal. In
it one moves in a dream, majestically unresponsive to all outward
things, numb, unconcerned, disregarding all except one's own agony,
which seems to neutralize the universe and reduce all life's problems
to one formula of solution.

"What did you say to him that stopped him?" she asked in a whisper of
awed and dreadful interest, as, after an earthquake, a survivor would
speak in the stillness of dead and unburied millions.

"I said the one thing to say," he answered after a moment,
involuntarily laying the pistol on the table before him--doing it, as
it were, without conscious knowledge.

It fascinated Jasmine, the ugly, deadly little vehicle of
oblivion. Her eyes fastened on it, and for an instant stared at it
transfixed; then she recovered herself and spoke again.

"What was the one thing to say?" she whispered.

"That you were innocent--absolutely, that--"

Suddenly she burst into wild laughter--shrill, acrid, cheerless,
hysterical, her face turned upward, her hands clasped under her chin,
her body shaking with what was not laughter, but the terrifying
agitation of a broken organism.

He waited till she had recovered somewhat, and then he repeated his
words.

"I said that you were innocent absolutely; that Fellowes' letter was
the insolence and madness of a voluptuary, that you had only been
wilful and indiscreet, and that--"

In a low, mechanical tone from which was absent any agitation, he told
her all he had said to Rudyard, and what Rudyard had said to
him. Every word had been burned into his brain, and nearly every word
was now repeated, while she sat silent, looking at her hands clasped
on the table before her. When he came to the point where Rudyard went
from the house, leaving Stafford to deal with Fellowes, she burst
again into laughter, mocking, wilful, painful.

"You were left to set things right, to be the lord high
executioner--you, Ian!"

How strange his name sounded on her lips now--foreign, distant,
revealing the nature of the situation more vividly than all the words
which had been said, than all that had been done.

"Rudyard did not think of killing you, I suppose," she went on,
presently, with a bitter motion of the lips, and a sardonic note
creeping into the voice.

"No, I thought of that," he answered, quietly, "as you know." His eyes
sought the weapon on the table involuntarily. "That would have been
easy enough," he added. "I was not thinking of myself, or of Fellowes,
but only of you--and Rudyard."

"Only of me--and Rudyard," she repeated with drooping eyes, which
suddenly became alive again with feeling and passion and
wildness. "Wasn't it rather late for that?"

The words stung him beyond endurance. He rose and leaned across the
table towards her.

"At least I recognized what I had done, what you had done, and I tried
to face it. I did not disguise it. My letter to you proves that. But
nevertheless I was true to you. I did not deceive you--ever. I loved
you--ah, I loved you as few women have been loved! . . . But you, you
might have made a mistake where Rudyard was concerned, made the
mistake once, but if you wronged him, you wronged me infinitely
more. I was ready to give up all, throw all my life, my career, to the
winds, and prove myself loyal to that which was more than all; or I
was willing to eliminate myself from the scene forever. I was willing
to pay the price--any price--just to stand by what was the biggest
thing in my life. But you were true to nothing--to nothing--to
nobody."

"If one is untrue--once, why be true at all ever?" she said with an
aching laugh, through which tears ran, though none dropped from her
eyes. "If one is untrue to one, why not to a thousand?"

Again a mocking laugh burst from her. "Don't you see? One kiss, a
wrong? Why not, then, a thousand kisses! The wrong came in the moment
that the one kiss was given. It is the one that kills, not the
thousand after."

There came to her mind again--and now with what sardonic
force--Rudyard's words that day before they went to Glencader: "If you
had lived a thousand years ago you would have had a thousand lovers."

"And so it is all understood between you and Rudyard," she added,
mechanically. "That is what you have arranged for me--that I go on
living as before with Rudyard, while I am not to know from him
anything has happened; but to accept what has been arranged for me,
and to be repentant and good and live in sackcloth. It has been
arranged, has it, that Rudyard is to believe in me?"

"That has not been arranged."

"It has been arranged that I am to live with him as before, and that
he is to pretend to love me as before, and--"

"He does love you as before. He has never changed. He believed in you,
was so pitifully eager to believe in you even when the letter--"

"Where is the letter?"

He pointed to the fire.

"Who put it in the fire?" she asked. "You?"

He inclined his head.

"Ah yes, always so clever! A burst of indignation at his daring to
suspect me even for an instant, and with a flourish into the fire, the
evidence. Here is yours--your letter. Would you like to put it into
the fire also?" she asked, and drew his letter from the folds of her
dress.

"But, no, no, no--" She suddenly sprang to her feet, and her eyes had
a look of agonized agitation. "When I have learned every word by
heart, I will burn it myself--for your sake." Her voice grew softer,
something less discordant came into it. "You will never
understand. You could never understand me, or that letter of Adrian
Fellowes to me, and that he could dare to write me such a letter. You
could never understand it. But I understand you. I understand your
letter. It came while I was--while I was broken. It healed me,
Ian. Last night I wanted to kill myself. Never mind why. You would not
understand. You are too good to understand. All night I was in
torture, and then this letter of yours--it was a revelation. I did not
think that a man lived like you, so true, so kind, so mad. And so I
wrote you a letter, ah, a letter from my soul! and then came down to
this--the end of all. The end of everything--forever."

"No, the beginning if you will have it so.... Rudyard loves you . . ."

She gave a cry of agony. "For God's sake--oh, for God's sake, hush!
. . . You think that now I could . . ."

"Begin again with new purpose."

"Purpose! Oh, you fool! You fool! You fool--you who are so wise
sometimes! You want me to begin again with Rudyard: and you do not
want me to begin again--with you?"

He was silent, and he looked her in the eyes steadily.

"You do not want me to begin again with you, because you believe
me--because you believed the worst from that letter, from Adrian
Fellowes' letter.... You believed, yet you hypnotized Rudyard into not
believing. But did you, after all? Was it not that he loves me, and
that he wanted to be deceived, wanted to be forced to do what he has
done? I know him better than you. But you are right, he would have
spoken to me about it if you had not warned him."

"Then begin again--"

"You do not want me any more." The voice had an anguish like the cry
of the tragic music in "Elektra." "You do not want what you wanted
yesterday--for us together to face it all, Ian. You do not want it?
You hate me."

His face was disturbed by emotion, and he did not speak for a moment.

In that moment she became transformed. With a sudden tragic motion she
caught the pistol from the table and raised it, but he wrenched it
from her hand.

"Do you think that would mend anything?" he asked, with a new pity in
his heart for her." That would only hurt those who have been hurt
enough already. Be a little magnanimous. Do not be selfish. Give
others a chance."

"You were going to do it as an act of unselfishness," she moaned.
"You were going to die in order to mend it all. Did you think of me in
that? Did you think I would or could consent to that? You believed in
me, of course, when you wrote it. But did you think that was
magnanimous--when you had got a woman's love, then to kill yourself in
order to cure her? Oh, how little you know! . . . But you do not want
me now. You do not believe in me now. You abhor me. Yet if that letter
had not fallen into Rudyard's hands we might perhaps have now been on
our way to begin life again together. Does that look as though there
was some one else that mattered--that mattered?"

He held himself together with all his power and will. "There is one
way, and only one way," he said, firmly. "Rudyard loves you. Begin
again with him." His voice became lower. "You know the emptiness of
your home. There is a way to make some recompense to him. You can pay
your debt. Give him what he wants so much. It would be a link. It
would bind you. A child . . ."

"Oh, how you loathe me!" she said, shudderingly. "Yesterday--and now
. . . No, no, no," she added, " I will not, cannot live with
Rudyard. I cannot wrench myself from one world into another like
that. I will not live with him any more.... There--listen."

Outside the newsboys were calling:

"Extra speshul! Extra speshul! All about the war! War declared! Extra
speshul!"

"War! That will separate many," she added. "It will separate Rudyard
and me.... No, no, there will be no more scandal.... But it is the way
of escape--the war."

"The way of escape for us all, perhaps," he answered, with a light of
determination in his eyes. "Good-bye," he added, after a slight
pause. "There is nothing more to say."

He turned to go, but he did not hold out his hand, nor even look at
her.

"Tell me," she said, in a strange, cold tone, "tell me, did Adrian
Fellowes--did he protect me? Did he stand up for me? Did he defend
me?"

"He was concerned only for himself," Ian answered, hesitatingly.

Her face hardened. Pitiful, haggard lines had come into it in the last
half-hour, and they deepened still more.

"He did not say one word to put me right?"

Ian shook his head in negation. "What did you expect?" he said.

She sank into a chair, and a strange cruelty came into her eyes,
something so hard that it looked grotesque in the beautiful setting of
her pain-worn, exquisite face.

So utter was her dejection that he came back from the door and bent
over her.

"Jasmine," he said, gently, "we have to start again, you and I--in
different paths. They will never meet. But at the end of the
road--peace. Peace the best thing of all. Let us try and find it,
Jasmine."

"He did not try to protect me. He did not defend me," she kept saying
to herself, and was only half conscious of what Ian said to her.

He touched her shoulder. "Nothing can set things right between you and
me, Jasmine," he added, unsteadily, "but there's Rudyard--you must
help him through. He heard scandal about Mennaval last night at De
Lancy Scovel's. He didn't believe it. It rests with you to give it all
the lie.... Good-bye."

In a moment he was gone. As the door closed she sprang to her
feet. "Ian--Ian--come back," she cried. "Ian, one word--one word."

But the door did not open again. For a moment she stood like one
transfixed, staring at the place whence he had vanished, then, with a
moan, she sank in a heap on the floor, and rocked to and fro like one
demented.

Once the door opened quietly, and Krool's face showed, sinister and
furtive, but she did not see it, and the door closed again softly.

At last the paroxysms passed, and a haggard face looked out into the
world of life and being with eyes which were drowned in misery.

"He did not defend me--the coward!" she murmured; then she rose with a
sudden effort, swayed, steadied herself, and arranged her hair in the
mirror over the mantelpiece. "The low coward!" she said again. "But
before he leaves . . . before he leaves England . . . "

As she turned to go from the room, Rudyard's portrait on the wall met
her eyes. "I can't go on, Rudyard," she said to it. "I know that now."

Out in the streets, which Ian Stafford travelled with hasty steps, the
newsboys were calling:

"War declared! All about the war!"

"That is the way out for me," Stafford said, aloud, as he hastened
on. "That opens up the road.... I'm still an artillery officer."

He directed his swift steps toward Pall Mall and the War Office.



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.



CHAPTER XXIII

"MORE WAS LOST AT MOHACKSFIELD"


Eastminster House was ablaze. A large dinner had been fixed for this
October evening, and only just before half-past eight Jasmine entered
the drawing-room to receive her guests. She had completely forgotten
the dinner till very late in the afternoon, when she observed
preparations for which she had given instructions the day before. She
was about to leave the house upon the mission which had drawn her
footsteps in the same direction as those of Ian Stafford, when the
butler came to her for information upon some details. These she gave
with an instant decision which was part of her equipment, and then,
when the butler had gone, she left the house on foot to take a cab at
the corner of Piccadilly.

When she returned home, the tables in the dining-room were decorated,
the great rooms were already lighted, and the red carpet was being
laid down at the door. The footmen looked up with surprise as she came
up the steps, and their eyes followed her as she ascended the
staircase with marked deliberation.

"Well, that's style for you," said the first footman. "Takin' an
airin' on shanks' hosses."

"And a quarter of an hour left to put on the tirara," sniggered the
second footman. "The lot is asked for eight-thirty."

"Swells, the bunch, windin' up with the brother of an
Emperor--'struth!"

"I'll bet the Emperor's brother ain't above takin' a tip about shares
on the Rand, me boy."

"I'll bet none of 'em ain't. That's why they come--not forgetting th'
grub and the fizz."

"What price a title for the Byng Baas one of these days! They like
tips down there where the old Markis rumbles through his beard--and a
lot of hands to be greased. And grease it costs a lot, political
grease does. But what price a title--Sir Rudyard Byng, Bart., wot oh!"

"Try another shelf higher up, and it's more like it. Wot a head for a
coronet 'ers! W'y--"

But the voice of the butler recalled them from the fields of
imagination, and they went with lordly leisure upon the business of
the household.

Socially this was to be the day of Jasmine's greatest triumph. One of
the British royal family was, with the member of another great
reigning family, honouring her table--though the ladies of neither
were to be present; and this had been a drop of chagrin in her
cup. She had been unaware of the gossip there had been of
late,--though it was unlikely the great ladies would have known of
it--and she would have been slow to believe what Ian had told her this
day, that men had talked lightly of her at De Lancy Scovel's
house. Her eyes had been shut; her wilful nature had not been
sensitive to the quality of the social air about her. People
came--almost "everybody" came--to her house, and would come, of
course, until there was some open scandal; until her husband
intervened. Yet everybody did not come. The royal princesses had not
found it convenient to come; and this may have meant nothing, or very
much indeed. To Jasmine, however, as she hastily robed herself for
dinner, her mind working with lightning swiftness, it did not matter
at all; if all the kings and queens of all the world had promised to
come and had not come, it would have meant nothing to her this night
of nights.

In her eyes there was the look of one who has seen some horrible
thing, though she gave her orders with coherence and decision as
usual, and with great deftness she assisted her maid in the hasty
toilette. Her face was very pale, save for one or two hectic spots
which took the place of the nectarine bloom so seldom absent from her
cheeks, and in its place was a new, shining, strange look like a most
delicate film--the transfiguring kind of look which great joy or great
pain gives.

Coming up the staircase from the street, she had seen Krool enter her
husband's room more hastily than usual, and had heard him greeted
sharply--something that sounded strange to her ears, for Rudyard was
uniformly kind to Krool. Never had Rudyard's voice sounded as it did
now. Of course it was her imagination, but it was like a voice which
came from some desolate place, distant, arid and alien. That was not
the voice in which he had wooed her on the day when they heard of
Jameson's Raid. That was not the voice which had spoken to her in
broken tones of love on the day Ian first dined with her after her
marriage--that fateful, desperate day. This was a voice which had a
cheerless, fretful note, a savage something in it. Presently they two
would meet, and she knew how it would be--an outward semblance, a
superficial amenity and confidence before their guests; the smile of
intimacy, when there was no intimacy, and never, never, could be
again; only acting, only make-believe, only the artifice of deceit.

Yet when she was dressed--in pure white, with only a string of pearls,
the smallest she had, round her neck--she was like that white flower
which had been placed on her pillow last night.

Turning to leave the bedroom she caught sight of her face and figure
again in the big mirror, and she seemed to herself like some other
woman. There was that strange, distant look of agony in her eyes, that
transfiguring look in the face; there was the figure somehow gone
slimmer in these few hours; and there was a frail appearance which did
not belong to her.

As she was about to leave the room to descend the stairs, there came a
knock at the door. A bunch of white violets was handed in, with a
pencilled note in Rudyard's handwriting.

White violets--white violets!

The note read, "Wear these to-night, Jasmine."

White violets--how strange that he should send them! These they send
for the young, the innocent, and the dead. Rudyard had sent them to
her--from how far away! He was there just across the hallway, and yet
he might have been in Bolivia, so far as their real life was
concerned.

She was under no illusion. This day, and perhaps a few, a very few
others, must be lived under the same roof, in order that they could
separate without scandal; but things could never go on as in the
past. She had realized that the night before, when still that chance
of which she had spoken to Stafford was hers; when she had wound the
coil of her wonderful hair round her throat, and had imagined that
self-destruction which has tempted so many of more spiritual make than
herself. It was melodramatic, emotional, theatrical, maybe; but the
emotional, the theatrical, the egotistic mortal has his or her
tragedy, which is just as real as that which comes to those of more
spiritual vein, just as real as that which comes to the more classical
victim of fate. Jasmine had the deep defects of her qualities. Her
suffering was not the less acute because it found its way out with
impassioned demonstration.

There was, however, no melodrama in the quiet trembling with which she
took the white violets, the symbol of love and death. She was sure
that Rudyard was not aware of their significance and meaning, but that
did not modify the effect upon her. Her trouble just now was too deep
for tears, too bitter for words, too terrible for aught save numb
endurance. Nothing seemed to matter in a sense, and yet the little
routine of life meant so much in its iron insistence. The habits of
convention are so powerful that life's great issues are often obscured
by them. Going to her final doom a woman would stop to give the last
careful touch to her hair--the mechanical obedience to long habit. It
is not vanity, not littleness, but habit; never shown with subtler
irony than in the case of Madame de Langrois, who, pacing the path to
her execution at Lille, stooped, picked up a pin from the ground, and
fastened it in her gown--the tyranny of habit.

Outside her own room Jasmine paused for a moment and looked at the
closed door of Rudyard's room. Only a step--and yet she was kept apart
from him by a shadow so black, so overwhelming, that she could not
penetrate it. It smothered her sight. No, no, that little step could
not be taken; there was a gulf between them which could not be
bridged.

There was nothing to say to Rudyard except what could be said upon the
surface, before all the world, as it were; things which must be said
through an atmosphere of artificial sounds, which would give no
response to the agonized cries of the sentient soul. She could make
believe before the world, but not alone with Rudyard. She shrank
within herself at the idea of being alone with him.

As she went down-stairs a scene in a room on the Thames Embankment,
from which she had come a half hour ago, passed before her vision. It
was as though it had been imprinted on the film of her eye and must
stay there forever.

When would the world know that Adrian Fellowes lay dead in the room on
the Embankment? And when they knew it, what would they say? They would
ask how he died--the world would ask how he died. The Law would ask
how he died.

How had he died? Who killed him? Or did he die by his own hand? Had
Adrian Fellowes, the rank materialist, the bon viveur, the man-luxury,
the courage to kill himself by his own hand? If not, who killed him?
She shuddered. They might say that she killed him.

She had seen no one on the staircase as she had gone up, but she had
dimly seen another figure outside in the terrace as she came out, and
there was the cabman who drove her to the place. That was all.

Now, entering the great drawing-room of her own house she shuddered as
though from an icy chill. The scene there on the Embankment--her own
bitter anger, her frozen hatred; then the dead man with his face
turned to the wall; the stillness, the clock ticking, her own cold
voice speaking to him, calling; then the terrified scrutiny, the touch
of the wrist, the realization, the moment's awful horror, the silence
which grew more profound, the sudden paralysis of body and
will.... And then--music, strange, soft, mysterious music coming from
somewhere inside the room, music familiar and yet unnatural, a song
she had heard once before, a pathetic folk-song of eastern Europe,
"More Was Lost at Mohacksfield." It was a tale of love and loss and
tragedy and despair.

Startled and overcome, she had swayed, and would have fallen, but that
with an effort of the will she had caught at the table and saved
herself. With the music still creeping in unutterable melancholy
through the room, she had fled, closing the door behind her very
softly as though not to disturb the sleeper. It had followed her down
the staircase and into the street, the weird, unnatural music.

It was only when she had entered a cab in the Strand that she realized
exactly what the music was. She remembered that Fellowes had bought a
music-box which could be timed to play at will--even days ahead, and
he had evidently set the box to play at this hour. It did so, a
strange, grim commentary on the stark thing lying on the couch,
nerveless as though it had been dead a thousand years. It had ceased
to play before Stafford entered the room, but, strangely enough, it
began again as he said over the dead body, "He did not die by his own
hand."

Standing before the fireplace in the drawing-room, awaiting the first
guest, Jasmine said to herself: "No, no, he had not the courage to
kill himself."

Some one had killed him. Who was it? Who killed
him--Rudyard--Ian--who? But how? There was no sign of violence. That
much she had seen. He lay like one asleep. Who was it killed him?

"Lady Tynemouth."

Back to the world from purgatory again. The butler's voice broke the
spell, and Lady Tynemouth took her friend in her arms and kissed her.

"So handsome you look, my darling--and all in white. White violets,
too. Dear, dear, how sweet, and oh, how triste! But I suppose it's
chic. Certainly, it is stunning. And so simple. Just the weeny, teeny
string of pearls, like a young under-secretary's wife, to show what
she might do if she had a fair chance. Oh, you clever, wonderful
Jasmine!"

"My dressmaker says I have no real taste in colours, so I
compromised," was Jasmine's reply, with a really good imitation of a
smile.

As she babbled on, Lady Tynemouth had been eyeing her friend with
swift inquiry, for she had never seen Jasmine look as she did
to-night, so ethereal, so tragically ethereal, with dark lines under
the eyes, the curious transparency of the skin, and the feverish
brightness and far-awayness of the look. She was about to say
something in comment, but other guests entered, and it was
impossible. She watched, however, from a little distance, while
talking gaily to other guests; she watched at the dinner-table, as
Jasmine, seated between her two royalties, talked with gaiety, with
pretty irony, with respectful badinage; and no one could be so daring
with such ceremonious respect at the same time as she. Yet through it
all Lady Tynemouth saw her glance many times with a strange, strained
inquiry at Rudyard, seated far away opposite her; at another big,
round table.

"There's something wrong here," Lady Tynemouth said to herself, and
wondered why Ian Stafford was not present. Mennaval was there, eagerly
seeking glances. These Jasmine gave with a smiling openness and
apparent good-fellowship, which were not in the least compromising.
Lady Tynemouth saw Mennaval's vain efforts, and laughed to herself,
and presently she even laughed with her neighbour about them.

"What an infant it is!" she said to her table companion. "Jasmine Byng
doesn't care a snap of her finger about Mennaval."

"Does she care a snap for anybody?" asked the other. Then he added,
with a kind of query in the question apart from the question itself:
"Where is the great man--where's Stafford to-night?"

"Counting his winnings, I suppose." Lady Tynemouth's face grew
soft. "He has done great things for so young a man. What a distance he
has gone since he pulled me and my red umbrella back from the Zambesi
Falls!"

Then proceeded a gay conversation, in which Lady Tynemouth was quite
happy. When she could talk of Ian Stafford she was really enjoying
herself. In her eyes he was the perfect man, whom other women tried to
spoil, and whom, she flattered herself, she kept sound and unspoiled
by her frank platonic affection.

"Our host seems a bit abstracted to-night," said her table companion
after a long discussion about what Stafford had done and what he still
might do.

"The war--it means so much to him," said Lady Tynemouth. Yet she had
seen the note of abstraction too, and it had made her wonder what was
happening in this household.

The other demurred.

"But I imagine he has been prepared for the war for some time. He
didn't seem excessively worried about it before dinner, yet he seemed
upset too, so pale and anxious-looking."

"I'll make her talk, make her tell me what it is, if there is
anything," said Lady Tynemouth to herself. "I'll ask myself to stay
with her for a couple of days."

Superficial as Lady Tynemouth seemed to many, she had real sincerity,
and she was a friend in need to her friends. She loved Jasmine as much
as she could love any woman, and she said now, as she looked at
Jasmine's face, so alert, so full of raillery, yet with such an
undertone of misery:

"She looks as if she needed a friend."

After dinner she contrived to get her arm through that of her hostess,
and gave it an endearing pressure. "May I come to you for a few days,
Jasmine?" she asked.

"I was going to ask if you would have me," answered Jasmine, with a
queer little smile. "Rudyard will be up to his ears for a few days,
and that's a chance for you and me to do some shopping, and some other
things together, isn't it?"

She was thinking of appearances, of the best way to separate from
Rudyard for a little while, till the longer separation could be
arranged without scandal. Ian Stafford had said that things could go
on in this house as before, that Rudyard would never hint to her what
he knew, or rather what the letter had told him or left untold: but
that was impossible. Whatever Rudyard was willing to do, there was
that which she could not do. Twenty-four hours had accomplished a
complete revolution in her attitude towards life and in her sense of
things. Just for these immediate days to come, when the tragedy of
Fellowes' death would be made a sensation of the hour, there must be
temporary expedients; and Lady Tynemouth had suggested one which had
its great advantages.

She could not bear to remain in Rudyard's house; and in his heart of
hearts Rudyard would wish the same, even if he believed her innocent;
but if she must stay for appearance' sake, then it would be good to
have Lady Tynemouth with her. Rudyard would be grateful for time to
get his balance again. This bunch of violets was the impulse of a big,
magnanimous nature; but it would be followed by the inevitable
reaction, which would be the real test and trial.

Love and forgiveness--what had she to do with either! She did not wish
forgiveness because of Adrian Fellowes. No heart had been involved in
that episode. It had in one sense meant nothing to her. She loved
another man, and she did not wish forgiveness of him either. No, no,
the whole situation was impossible. She could not stay here. For his
own sake Rudyard would not, ought not, to wish her to stay. What might
the next few days bring forth?

Who had killed Adrian Fellowes? He was not man enough to take his own
life--who had killed him? Was it her husband, after all? He had said
to Ian Stafford that he would do nothing, but, with the maggot of
revenge and jealousy in their brains, men could not be trusted from
one moment to another.

The white violets? Even they might be only the impulse of the moment,
one of those acts of madness of jealous and revengeful people. Men had
kissed their wives and then killed them--fondled them, and then
strangled them. Rudyard might have made up his mind since morning to
kill Fellowes, and kill herself, also. Fellowes was gone, and now
might come her turn. White violets were the flowers of death, and the
first flowers he had ever given her were purple violets, the flowers
of life and love.

If Rudyard had killed Adrian Fellowes, there would be an end to
everything. If he was suspected, and if the law stretched out its hand
of steel to clutch him--what an ignominious end to it all; what a mean
finish to life, to opportunity, to everything worth doing!

And she would have been the cause of everything.

The thought scorched her soul.

Yet she talked on gaily to her guests until the men returned from
their cigars; as though Penalty and Nemesis were outside even the
range of her imagination; as though she could not hear the snap of the
handcuffs on Rudyard's--or Ian's--wrists.

Before and after dinner only a few words had passed between her and
Rudyard, and that was with people round them. It was as though they
spoke through some neutralizing medium, in which all real personal
relation was lost. Now Rudyard came to her, however, and in a
matter-of-fact voice said: "I suppose Al'mah will be here. You haven't
heard to the contrary, I hope? These great singers are so whimsical."

There was no time for Jasmine to answer, for through one of the far
entrances of the drawing-room Al'mah entered. Her manner was
composed--if possible more composed than usual, and she looked around
her calmly. At that moment a servant handed Byng a letter. It
contained only a few words, and it ran:

"DEAR BYNG,--Fellowes is gone. I found him dead in his rooms. An
inquest will be held to-morrow. There are no signs of violence;
neither of suicide or anything else. If you want me, I shall be at my
rooms after ten o'clock to-night. I have got all his papers." Yours
ever,

"IAN STAFFORD."

Jasmine watched Rudyard closely as he read. A strange look passed over
his face, but his hand was steady as he put the note in his
pocket. She then saw him look searchingly at Al'mah as he went forward
to greet her.

On the instant Rudyard had made up his mind what to do. It was clear
that Al'mah did not know that Fellowes was dead, or she would not be
here; for he knew of their relations, though he had never told
Jasmine. Jasmine did not suspect the truth, or Al'mah would not be
where she was; and Fellowes would never have written to Jasmine the
letter for which he had paid with his life.

Al'mah was gently appreciative of the welcome she received from both
Byng and Jasmine, and she prepared to sing.

"Yes, I think I am in good voice," she said to Jasmine,
presently. Then Rudyard went, giving his wife's arm a little familiar
touch as he passed, and said:

"Remember, we must have some patriotic things tonight. I'm sure Al'mah
will feel so, too. Something really patriotic and stirring. We shall
need it--yes we shall need cheering very badly before we've
done. We're not going to have a walk-over in South Africa. Cheering up
is what we want, and we must have it."

Again he cast a queer, inquiring look at Al'mah, to which he got no
response, and to himself he said, grimly: "Well, it's better she
should not know it--here."

His mind was in a maze. He moved as in a dream. He was pale, but he
had an air of determination. Once he staggered with dizziness, then he
righted himself and smiled at some one near. That some one winked at
his neighbour.

"It's true, then, what we hear about him," the neighbour said, and
suggestively raised fingers to his mouth.

Al'mah sang as perhaps she had seldom sung. There was in her voice an
abandon and tragic intensity, a wonderful resonance and power, which
captured her hearers as they had never been captured before. First she
sang a love-song, then a song of parting. Afterwards came a lyric of
country, which stirred her audience deeply. It was a challenge to
every patriot to play his part for home and country. It was an appeal
to the spirit of sacrifice; it was an inspiration and an
invocation. Men's eyes grew moist.

And now another, a final song, a combination of all--of love, and loss
and parting and ruin, and war and patriotism and destiny. With the
first low notes of it Jasmine rose slowly from her seat, like one in a
dream, and stood staring blindly at Al'mah. The great voice swelled
out in a passion of agony, then sank away into a note of despair that
gripped the heart.

"But more was lost at Mohacksfield--"

Jasmine had stood transfixed while the first words were sung, then, as
the last line was reached, staring straight in front of her, as though
she saw again the body of Adrian Fellowes in the room by the river,
she gave a cry, which sounded half laughter and half torture, and fell
heavily on the polished floor.

Rudyard ran forward and lifted her in his arms. Lady Tynemouth was
beside him in an instant.

"Yes, that's right--you come," he said to her, and he carried the limp
body up-stairs, the white violets in her dress crushed against his
breast.

"Poor child--the war, of course; it means so much to them."

Thus, a kindly dowager, as she followed the Royalties down-stairs.



CHAPTER XXIV

ONE WHO CAME SEARCHING


"A lady to see you, sir."

"A lady? What should we be doing with ladies here, Gleg?"

"I'm sure I have no use for them, sir," replied Gleg, sourly. He was
in no good humour. That very morning he had been told that his master
was going to South Africa, and that he would not be needed there, but
that he should remain in England, drawing his usual pay. Instead of
receiving this statement with gratitude, Gleg had sniffed in a manner
which, in any one else, would have been impertinence; and he had not
even offered thanks.

"Well, what do you think she wants? She looks respectable?"

"I don't know about that, sir. It's her ladyship, sir."

"It's what 'ladyship,' Gleg?"

"Her ladyship, sir--Lady Tynemouth."

Stafford looked at Gleg meditatively for a minute, and then said
quietly:

"Let me see, you have been with me sixteen years, Gleg. You've
forgotten me often enough in that time, but you've never forgotten
yourself before. Come to me to-morrow at noon.... I shall allow you a
small pension. Show her ladyship in."

Gone waxen in face, Gleg crept out of the room.

"Seven-and-six a week, I suppose," he said to himself as he went down
the stairs. "Seven-and-six for a bit of bonhommy."

With great consideration he brought Lady Tynemouth up, and shut the
door with that stillness which might be reverence, or something at its
antipodes.

Lady Tynemouth smiled cheerily at Ian as she held out her hand.

"Gleg disapproves of me very greatly. He thinks I am no better than I
ought to be."

"I am sure you are," answered Stafford, drily.

"Well, if you don't know, Ian, who does? I've put my head in the
lion's mouth before, just like this, and the lion hasn't snapped
once," she rejoined, settling herself cozily in a great, green
leather-chair. "Nobody would believe it; but there it is. The world
couldn't think that you could be so careless of your opportunities, or
that I would pay for the candle without burning it."

"On the contrary, I think they would believe anything you told them."

She laughed happily. "Wouldn't you like to call me Alice, 'same as
ever,' in the days of long ago? It would make me feel at home after
Gleg's icy welcome."

He smiled, looked down at her with admiration, and quoted some lines
of Swinburne, alive with cynicism:

"And the worst and the best of this is,
That neither is most to blame
If she has forgotten my kisses,
And I have forgotten her name."

Lady Tynemouth made a plaintive gesture. "I should probably be able
to endure the bleak present, if there had been any kisses in the sunny
past," she rejoined, with mock pathos. "That's the worst of our
friendship, Ian. I'm quite sure the world thinks I'm one of your spent
flames, and there never was any fire, not so big as the point of a
needle, was there? It's that which hurts so now, little Ian
Stafford--not so much fire as would burn on the point of a needle."

"'On the point of a needle,'" Ian repeated, half-abstractedly. He went
over to his writing-desk, and, opening a blotter, regarded it
meditatively for an instant. As he did so she tapped the floor
impatiently with her umbrella, and looked at him curiously, but with a
little quirk of humour at the corners of her mouth.

"The point of a needle might carry enough fire to burn up a good
deal," he said, reflectively. Then he added, slowly: "Do you remember
Mr. Mappin and his poisoned needle at Glencader?"

"Yes, of course. That was a day of tragedy, when you and Rudyard Byng
won a hundred Royal Humane Society medals, and we all felt like
martyrs and heroes. I had the most creepy dreams afterwards. One night
it was awful. I was being tortured with Mr. Mappin's needle horribly
by--guess whom? By that half-caste Krool, and I waked up with a
little scream, to find Tynie busy pinching me. I had been making such
a wurra-wurra, as he called it."

"Well, it is a startling idea that there's poison powerful enough to
make a needle-point dipped in it deadly."

"I don't believe it a bit, but--"

Pausing, she flicked a speck of fluff from her black dress--she was
all in black, with only a stole of pure white about her
shoulders. "But tell me," she added, presently--"for it's one of the
reasons why I'm here now--what happened at the inquest to-day? The
evening papers are not out, and you were there, of course, and gave
evidence, I suppose. Was it very trying? I'm sure it was, for I've
never seen you look so pale. You are positively haggard, Ian. You
don't mind that from an old friend, do you? You look terribly ill,
just when you should look so well."

"Why should I look so well?" He gazed at her steadily. Had she any
glimmering of the real situation? She was staying now in Byng's house,
and two days had gone since the world had gone wrong; since Jasmine
had sunk to the floor unconscious as Al'mah sang, "More was lost at
Mohacksfield."

"Why should you look so well? Because you are the coming man, they
say. It makes me so proud to be your friend--even your neglected, if
not quite discarded, friend. Every one says you have done such
splendid work for England, and that now you can have anything you
want. The ball is at your feet. Dear man, you ought to look like a
morning-glory, and not as you do. Tell me, Ian, are you ill, or is it
only the reaction after all you've done?"

"No doubt it's the reaction," he replied.

"I know you didn't like Adrian Fellowes much," she remarked, watching
him closely. "He behaved shockingly at the Glencader Mine
affair--shockingly. Tynie was for pitching him out of the house, and
taking the consequences; but, all the same, a sudden death like that
all alone must have been dreadful. Please tell me, what was the
verdict?"

"Heart failure was the verdict; with regret for a promising life cut
short, and sympathy with the relatives."

"I never heard that he had heart trouble," was the meditative
response. "But--well, of course, it was heart failure. When the heart
stops beating, there's heart failure. What a silly verdict!"

"It sounded rather worse than silly," was Ian's comment.

"Did--did they cut him up, to see if he'd taken morphia, or an
overdose of laudanum or veronal or something? I had a friend who died
of taking quantities of veronal while you were abroad so long--a South
American, she was."

He nodded. "It was all quite in order. There were no signs of poison,
they said, but the heart had had a shock of some kind. There had been
what they called lesion, and all that kind of thing, and not
sufficient strength for recovery."

"I suppose Mr. Mappin wasn't present?" she asked, curiously. "I know
it is silly in a way, but don't you remember how interested
Mr. Fellowes was in that needle? Was Mr. Mappin there?"

"There was no reason why he should be there."

"What witnesses were called?"

"Myself and the porter of Fellowes' apartments, his banker, his
doctor--"

"And Al'mah?" she asked, obliquely.

He did not reply at once, but regarded her inquiringly.

"You needn't be afraid to speak about Al'mah," she continued. "I saw
something queer at Glencader. Then I asked Tynie, and he told me
that--well, all about her and Adrian Fellowes. Was Al'mah there? Did
she give evidence?"

"She was there to be called, if necessary," he responded, "but the
coroner was very good about it. After the autopsy the authorities said
evidence was unnecessary, and--"

"You arranged that, probably?"

"Yes; it was not difficult. They were so stupid--and so kind."

She smoothed out the folds of her dress reflectively, then got up as
if with sudden determination, and came near to him. Her face was pale
now, and her eyes were greatly troubled.

"Ian," she said, in a low voice, "I don't believe that Adrian Fellowes
died a natural death, and I don't believe that he killed himself. He
would not have that kind of courage, even in insanity. He could never
go insane. He could never care enough about anything to do
so. He--did--not--kill--himself. There, I am sure of it. And he did
not die a natural death, either."

"Who killed him?" Ian asked, his face becoming more drawn, but his
eyes remaining steady and quiet.

She put her hand to her eyes for a moment. "Oh, it all seems so
horrible! I've tried to shake it off, and not to think my thoughts,
and I came to you to get fresh confidence; but as soon as I saw your
face I knew I couldn't have it. I know you are upset too, perhaps not
by the same thoughts, but through the same people."

"Tell me all you think or know. Be quite frank," he said, heavily. "I
will tell you why later. It is essential that you should be wholly
frank with me."

"As I have always been. I can't be anything else. Anyhow, I owe you so
much that you have the right to ask me what you will.... There it is,
the fatal thing," she added.

Her eyes were raised to the red umbrella which had nearly carried her
over into the cauldron of the Zambesi Falls.

"No, it is the world that owes me a heavy debt," he responded,
gallantly. "I was merely selfish in saving you."

Her eyes filled with tears, which she brushed away with a little
laugh.

"Ah, how I wish it was that! I am just mean enough to want you to want
me, while I didn't want you. That's the woman, and that's all women,
and there's no getting away from it. But still I would rather you had
saved me than any one else who wasn't bound, like Tynie, to do so."

"Well, it did seem absurd that you should risk so much to keep a
sixpenny umbrella," he rejoined, drily.

"How we play on the surface while there's so much that is wearing our
hearts out underneath," she responded, wearily. "Listen, Ian, you know
what I mean. Whoever killed Adrian Fellowes, or didn't, I am sure that
Jasmine saw him dead. Three nights ago when she fainted and went ill
to bed, I stayed with her, slept in the same room, in the bed beside
hers. The opiate the doctor gave her was not strong enough, and two or
three times she half waked, and--and it was very painful. It made my
heart ache, for I knew it wasn't all dreams. I am sure she saw Adrian
Fellowes lying dead in his room.... Ian, it is awful, but for some
reason she hated him, and she saw him lying dead. If any one knows the
truth, you know. Jasmine cares for you--no, no, don't mind my saying
it. She didn't care a fig for Mennaval, or any of the others, but she
does care for you--cares for you. She oughtn't to, but she does, and
she should have married you long ago before Rudyard Byng came. Please
don't think I am interfering, Ian. I am not. You never had a better
friend than I am. But there's something ghastly wrong. Rudyard is
looking like a giant that's had blood-letting, and he never goes near
Jasmine, except when some one is with her. It's a bad sign when two
people must have some third person about to insulate their
self-consciousness and prevent those fatal moments when they have to
be just their own selves, and have it out."

"You think there's been trouble between them?" His voice was quite
steady, his manner composed.

"I don't think quite that. But there is trouble in that
palace. Rudyard is going to South Africa."

"Well, that is not unnatural. I should expect him to do so. I am going
to South Africa also."

For a moment she looked at him without speaking, and her face slowly
paled. "You are going to the Front--you?"

"Yes--'Back to the army again, sergeant, back to the army again.' I
was a gunner, you know, and not a bad one, either, if I do say it."

"You are going to throw up a great career to go to the Front? When you
have got your foot at the top of the ladder, you climb down?" Her
voice was choking a little.

He made a little whimsical gesture. "There's another ladder to
climb. I'll have a try at it, and do my duty to my country, too. I'll
have a double-barrelled claim on her, if possible."

"I know that you are going because you will not stay when Rudyard
goes," she rejoined, almost irritably.

"What a quixotic idea! Really you are too impossible and
wrong-headed."

He turned an earnest look upon her. "No, I give you my word, I am not
going because Rudyard is going. I didn't know he was going till you
told me. I got permission to go three hours after Kruger's message
came."

"You are only feckless--only feckless, as the Scotch say," she
rejoined with testy sadness. "Well, since everybody is going, I am
going too. I am going with a hospital-ship."

"Well, that would pay off a lot of old debts to the Almighty," he
replied, in kindly taunt.

"I haven't been worse than most women, Ian," she replied. "Women
haven't been taught to do things, to pay off their debts. Men run up
bills and pay them off, and run them up again and again and pay them
off; but we, while we run up bills, our ways of paying them off are so
few, and so uninteresting."

Suddenly she took from her pocket a letter. "Here is a letter for
you," she said. "It was lying on Jasmine's table the night she was
taken ill. I don't know why I did it, but I suppose I took it up so
that Rudyard should not see it; and then I didn't say anything to
Jasmine about it at once. She said nothing, either; but to-day I told
her I'd seen the letter addressed to you, and had posted it. I said it
to see how she would take it. She only nodded, and said nothing at
first. Then after a while she whispered, 'Thank you, my dear,' but in
such a queer tone. Ian, she meant you to have the letter, and here it
is."

She put it into his hands. He remembered it. It was the letter which
Jasmine had laid on the table before him at that last interview when
the world stood still. After a moment's hesitation he put it in his
pocket.

"If she wished me to have it--" he said in a low voice.

"If not, why, then, did she write it? Didn't she say she was glad I
posted it?"

A moment followed, in which neither spoke. Lady Tynemouth's eyes were
turned to the window; Stafford stood looking into the fire.

"Tynie is sure to go to South Africa with his Yeomanry," she continued
at last. "He'll be back in England next week. I can be of use out
there, too. I suppose you think I'm useless because I've never had to
do anything, but you are quite wrong. It's in me. If I'd been driven
to work when I was a girl, if I'd been a labourer's daughter, I'd have
made hats--or cream-cheeses. I'm not really such a fool as you've
always thought me, Ian; at any rate, not in the way you've thought
me."

His look was gentle, as he gazed into her eyes. "I've never thought
you anything but a very sensible and alluring woman, who is only
wilfully foolish at times," he said. "You do dangerous things."

"But you never knew me to do a really wrong thing, and if you haven't,
no one has."

Suddenly her face clouded and her lips trembled. "But I am a good
friend, and I love my friends. So it all hurts. Ian, I'm most
upset. There's something behind Adrian Fellowes' death that I don't
understand. I'm sure he didn't kill himself; but I'm also sure that
some one did kill him." Her eyes sought his with an effort and with
apprehension, but with persistency too. "I don't care what the jury
said--I know I'm right."

"But it doesn't matter now," he answered, calmly. "He will be buried
to-morrow, and there's an end of it all. It will not even be the usual
nine days' wonder. I'd forget it, if I were you."

"I can't easily forget it while you remember it," she rejoined,
meaningly. "I don't know why or how it affects you, but it does affect
you, and that's why I feel it; that's why it haunts me."

Gleg appeared. "A gentleman to see you, sir," he said, and handed Ian
a card.

"Where is he?"

"In the dining-room, sir."

"Very good. I will see him in a moment."

When they were alone again, Lady Tynemouth held out her hand. "When do
you start for South Africa?" she asked.

"In three days. I join my battery in Natal."

"You will hear from me when I get to Durban," she said, with a shy,
inquiring glance.

"You are really going?"

"I mean to organize a hospital-ship and go."

"Where will you get the money?"

"From some social climber," she replied, cynically. His hand was on
the door-knob, and she laid her own on it gently. "You are ill, Ian,"
she said. "I have never seen you look as you do now."

"I shall be better before long," he answered. "I never saw you look so
well."

"That's because I am going to do some work at last," she
rejoined. "Work at last. I'll blunder a bit, but I'll try a great
deal, and perhaps I'll do some good.... And I'll be there to nurse you
if you get fever or anything," she added, laughing nervously--"you and
Tynie."

When she was gone he stood looking at the card in his hand, with his
mind seeing something far beyond. Presently he rang for Gleg.

"Show Mr. Mappin in," he said.



CHAPTER XXV

WHEREIN THE LOST IS FOUND


In a moment the great surgeon was seated, looking reflectively round
him. Soon, however, he said brusquely, "I hope your friend Jigger is
going on all right?"

"Yes, yes, thanks to you."

"No, no, Mr. Stafford, thanks to you and Mrs. Byng chiefly. It was
care and nursing that did it. If I could have hospitals like Glencader
and hospital nurses like Mrs. Byng and Al'mah and yourself, I'd have
few regrets at the end of the year. That was an exciting time at
Glencader."

Stafford nodded, but said nothing. Presently, after some reference to
the disaster at the mine at Glencader and to Stafford's and Byng's
bravery, Mr. Mappin said. "I was shocked to hear of Mr. Fellowes'
death. I was out of town when it happened--a bad case at Leeds; but I
returned early this morning." He paused, inquiringly but Ian said
nothing, and he continued, "I have seen the body."

"You were not at the inquest, I think," Ian remarked, casually.

"No, I was not in time for that, but I got permission to view the
body."

"And the verdict--you approve?"

"Heart failure--yes." Mr. Mappin's lip curled. "Of course. But he had
no heart trouble. His heart wasn't even weak. His life showed that."

"His life showed--?" Ian's eyebrows went up.

"He was very much in society, and there's nothing more strenuous than
that. His heart was all right. Something made it fail, and I have been
considering what it was."

"Are you suggesting that his death was not natural?"

"Quite artificial, quite artificial, I should say."

Ian took a cigarette, and lighted it slowly. "According to your
theory, he must have committed suicide. But how? Not by an effort of
the will, as they do in the East, I suppose?"

Mr. Mappin sat up stiffly in his chair. "Do you remember my showing
you all at Glencader a needle which had on its point enough poison to
kill a man?"

"And leave no trace--yes."

"Do you remember that you all looked at it with interest, and that
Mr. Fellowes examined it more attentively than any one else?"

"I remember."

"Well, I was going to kill a collie with it next day."

"A favourite collie grown old, rheumatic--yes, I remember."

"Well, the experiment failed."

"The collie wasn't killed by the poison?"

"No, not by the poison, Mr. Stafford."

"So your theory didn't work except on paper."

"I think it worked, but not with the collie."

There was a pause, while Stafford looked composedly at his visitor,
and then he said: "Why didn't it work with the collie?"

"It never had its chance."

"Some mistake, some hitch?"

"No mistake, no hitch; but the wrong needle."

"The wrong needle! I should not say that carelessness was a habit with
you." Stafford's voice was civil and sympathetic.

"Confidence breeds carelessness," was Mr. Mappin's enigmatical retort.

"You were over-confident then?"

"Quite clearly so. I thought that Glencader was beyond reproach."

There was a slight pause, and then Stafford, flicking away some
cigarette ashes, continued the catechism. "What particular form of
reproach do you apply to Glencader?"

"Thieving."

"That sounds reprehensible--and rude."

"If you were not beyond reproach, it would be rude, Mr. Stafford."

Stafford chafed at the rather superior air of the expert, whose habit
of bedside authority was apt to creep into his social conversation;
but, while he longed to give him a shrewd thrust, he forbore. It was
hard to tell how much he might have to do to prevent the man from
making mischief. The compliment had been smug, and smugness irritated
Stafford.

"Well, thanks for your testimonial," he said, presently, and then he
determined to cut short the tardy revelation, and prick the bubble of
mystery which the great man was so slowly blowing.

"I take it that you think some one at Glencader stole your needle, and
so saved your collie's life," he said.

"That is what I mean," responded Mr. Mappin, a little discomposed that
his elaborate synthesis should be so sharply brought to an end.

There was almost a grisly raillery in Stafford's reply. "Now, the
collie--were you sufficiently a fatalist to let him live, or did you
prepare another needle, or do it in the humdrum way?"

"I let the collie live."

"Hoping to find the needle again?" asked Stafford, with a smile.

"Perhaps to hear of it again."

"Hello, that is rather startling! And you have done so?

"I think so. Yes, I may say that."

"Now how do you suppose you lost that needle?"

"It was taken from my pocket-case, and another substituted.

"Returning good for evil. Could you not see the difference in the
needles?"

"There is not, necessarily, difference in needles. The substitute was
the same size and shape, and I was not suspicious."

"And what form does your suspicion take now?"

The great man became rather portentously solemn--he himself would have
said "becomingly grave." "My conviction is that Mr. Fellowes took my
needle."

Stafford fixed the other with his gaze. "And killed himself with it?"

Mr. Mappin frowned. "Of that I cannot be sure, of course."

"Could you not tell by examining the body?"

"Not absolutely from a superficial examination."

"You did not think a scientific examination necessary?"

"Yes, perhaps; but the official inquest is over, the expert analysis
or examination is finished by the authorities, and the superficial
proofs, while convincing enough to me, are not complete and final; and
so, there you are."

Stafford got and held his visitor's eyes, and with slow emphasis said:
"You think that Fellowes committed suicide with your needle?"

"No, I didn't say that."

"Then I fear my intelligence must be failing rapidly. You said--"

"I said I was not sure that he killed himself. I am sure that he was
killed by my needle; but I am not sure that he killed himself. Motive
and all that kind of thing would come in there."

"Ah--and all that kind of thing! Why should you discard motive for his
killing himself?"

"I did not say I discarded motive, but I think Mr. Fellowes the last
man in the world likely to kill himself."

"Why, then, do you think he stole the needle?"

"Not to kill himself."

Stafford turned his head away a little. "Come now; this is too
tall. You are going pretty far in suggesting that Fellowes took your
needle to kill some one else."

"Perhaps. But motive might not be so far to seek."

"What motive in this case?" Stafford's eyes narrowed a little with the
inquiry.

"Well, a woman, perhaps."

"You know of some one, who--"

"No. I am only assuming from Mr. Fellowes' somewhat material nature
that there must be a woman or so."

"Or so--why 'or so?'" Stafford pressed him into a corner.

"There comes the motive--one too many, when one may be suspicious, or
jealous, or revengeful, or impossible."

"Did you see any mark of the needle on the body?"

"I think so. But that would not do more than suggest further delicate,
detailed, and final examination."

"You have no trace of the needle itself?"

"None. But surely that isn't strange. If he had killed himself, the
needle would probably have been found. If he did not kill himself, but
yet was killed by it, there is nothing strange in its not being
recovered."

Stafford took on the gravity of a dry-as-dust judge. "I suppose that
to prove the case it would be necessary to produce the needle, as your
theory and your invention are rather new."

"For complete proof the needle would be necessary, though not
indispensable."

Stafford was silent for an instant, then he said: "You have had a look
for the little instrument of passage?"

"I was rather late for that, I fear."

"Still, by chance, the needle might have been picked up. However, it
would look foolish to advertise for a needle which had traces of atric
acid on it, wouldn't it?"

Mr. Mappin looked at Stafford quite coolly, and then, ignoring the
question, said, deliberately: "You discovered the body, I hear. You
didn't by any chance find the needle, I suppose?"

Stafford returned his look with a cool stare. "Not by any chance," he
said, enigmatically.

He had suddenly decided on a line of action which would turn this
astute egoist from his half-indicated purpose. Whatever the means of
Fellowes' death, by whomsoever caused, or by no one, further inquiry
could only result in revelations hurtful to some one. As Mr. Mappin
had surmised, there was more than one woman,--there may have been a
dozen, of course--but chance might just pitch on the one whom
investigation would injure most.

If this expert was quieted, and Fellowes was safely bestowed in his
grave, the tragic incident would be lost quickly in the general
excitement and agitation of the nation. The war-drum would drown any
small human cries of suspicion or outraged innocence. Suppose some one
did kill Adrian Fellowes? He deserved to die, and justice was
satisfied, even if the law was marauded. There were at least four
people who might have killed Fellowes without much remorse. There was
Rudyard, there was Jasmine, there was Lou the erstwhile
flower-girl--and himself. It was necessary that Mappin, however,
should be silenced, and sent about his business.

Stafford suddenly came over to the table near to his visitor, and with
an assumed air of cold indignation, though with a little natural
irritability behind all, said "Mr. Mappin, I assume that you have not
gone elsewhere with your suspicions?"

The other shook his head in negation.

"Very well, I should strongly advise you, for your own reputation as
an expert and a man of science, not to attempt the rather cliche
occupation of trying to rival Sherlock Holmes. Your suspicions may
have some distant justification, but only a man of infinite skill,
tact, and knowledge, with an almost abnormal gift for tracing elusive
clues and, when finding them, making them fit in with fact--only a man
like yourself, a genius at the job, could get anything out of it. You
are not prepared to give the time, and you could only succeed in
causing pain and annoyance beyond calculation. Just imagine a Scotland
Yard detective with such a delicate business to do. We have no Hamards
here, no French geniuses who can reconstruct crimes by a kind of
special sense. Can you not see the average detective blundering about
with his ostentatious display of the obvious; his mind, which never
traced a motive in its existence, trying to elucidate a clue? Well, it
is the business of the Law to detect and punish crime. Let the Law do
it in its own way, find its own clues, solve the mysteries given it to
solve. Why should you complicate things? The official fellows could
never do what you could do, if you were a detective. They haven't the
brains or initiative or knowledge. And since you are not a detective,
and can't devote yourself to this most delicate problem, if there be
any problem at all, I would suggest--I imitate your own rudeness--that
you mind your own business."

He smiled, and looked down at his visitor with inscrutable eyes.

At the last words Mr. Mappin flushed and looked consequential; but
under the influence of a smile, so winning that many a chancellerie of
Europe had lost its irritation over some skilful diplomatic stroke
made by its possessor, he emerged from his atmosphere of offended
dignity and feebly returned the smile.

"You are at once complimentary and scathing, Mr. Stafford," he said;
"but I do recognize the force of what you say. Scotland Yard is
beneath contempt. I know of cases--but I will not detain you with them
now. They bungle their work terribly at Scotland Yard. A detective
should be a man of imagination, of initiative, of deep knowledge of
human nature. In the presence of a mystery he should be ready to find
motives, to construct them and put them into play, as though they were
real--work till a clue was found. Then, if none is found, find another
motive and work on that. The French do it. They are marvels. Hamard is
a genius, as you say. He imagines, he constructs, he pursues, he
squeezes out every drop of juice in the orange.... You see, I agree
with you on the whole, but this tragedy disturbed me, and I thought
that I had a real clue. I still believe I have, but cui bono?"

"Cui bono indeed, if it is bungled. If you could do it all yourself,
good. But that is impossible. The world wants your skill to save life,
not to destroy it. Fellowes is dead--does it matter so infinitely,
whether by his own hand or that of another?"

"No, I frankly say I don't think it does matter infinitely. His type
is no addition to the happiness of the world."

They looked at each other meaningly, and Mappin responded once again
to Stafford's winning smile.

It pleased him prodigiously to feel Stafford lay a firm hand on his
arm and say: "Can you, perhaps, dine with me to-night at the
Travellers' Club? It makes life worth while to talk to men like you
who do really big things."

"I shall be delighted to come for your own reasons," answered the
great man, beaming, and adjusting his cuffs carefully.

"Good, good. It is capital to find you free." Again Stafford caught
the surgeon's arm with a friendly little grip.

Suddenly, however, Mr. Mappin became aware that Stafford had turned
desperately white and worn. He had noticed this spent condition when
he first came in, but his eyes now rediscovered it. He regarded
Stafford with concern.

"Mr. Stafford," he said, "I am sure you do not realize how much below
par you are.... You have been under great strain--I know, we all know,
how hard you have worked lately. Through you, England launches her
ship of war without fear of complications; but it has told on you
heavily. Nothing is got without paying for it. You need rest, and you
need change."

"Quite so--rest and change. I am going to have both now," said
Stafford with a smile, which was forced and wan.

"You need a tonic also, and you must allow me to give you one," was
the brusque professional response.

With quick movement he went over to Stafford's writing-table, and
threw open the cover of the blotter.

In a flash Stafford was beside him, and laid a hand upon the blotter,
saying with a smile, of the kind which had so far done its work--

"No, no, my friend, I will not take a tonic. It's only a good sleep I
want; and I'll get that to-night. But I give my word, if I'm not all
right to-morrow, if I don't sleep, I'll send to you and take your
tonic gladly."

"You promise?"

"I promise, my dear Mappin."

The great man beamed again: and he really was solicitous for his
new-found friend.

"Very well, very well--Stafford," he replied. "It shall be as you
say. Good-bye, or, rather, au revoir!"

"A la bonne heure!" was the hearty response, as the door opened for
the great surgeon's exit.

When the door was shut again, and Stafford was alone, he staggered
over to the writing-desk. Opening the blotter, he took something up
carefully and looked at it with a sardonic smile.

"You did your work quite well," he said, reflectively.

It was such a needle as he had seen at Glencader in Mr. Mappin's
hand. He had picked it up in Adrian Fellowes' room.

"I wonder who used you," he said in a hard voice. "I wonder who used
you so well. Was it--was it Jasmine?"

With a trembling gesture he sat down, put the needle in a drawer,
locked it, and turned round to the fire again.

"Was it Jasmine?" he repeated, and he took from his pocket the letter
which Lady Tynemouth had given him. For a moment he looked at it
unopened--at the beautiful, smooth handwriting so familiar to his
eyes; then he slowly broke the seal, and took out the closely written
pages.



CHAPTER XXVI

JASMINE'S LETTER


"Ian, oh, Ian, what strange and dreadful things you have written to
me!" Jasmine's letter ran--the letter which she told him she had
written on that morning when all was lost. "Do you realize what you
have said, and, saying it, have you thought of all it means to me? You
have tried to think of what is best, I know, but have you thought of
me? When I read your letter first, a flood of fire seemed to run
through my veins; then I became as though I had been dipped in ether,
and all the winds of an arctic sea were blowing over me.

"To go with you now, far away from the world in which we live and in
which you work, to begin life again, as you say--how sweet and
terrible and glad it would be! But I know, oh, I know myself and I
know you! I am like one who has lived forever. I am not good, and I am
not foolish, I am only mad; and the madness in me urges me to that
visionary world where you and I could live and work and wander, and be
content with all that would be given us--joy, seeing, understanding,
revealing, doing.

"But Ian, it is only a visionary world, that world of which you
speak. It does not exist. The overmastering love, the desire for you
that is in me, makes for me the picture as it is in your mind; but
down beneath all, the woman in me, the everlasting woman, is sure
there is no such world.

"Listen, dear child--I call you that, for though I am only twenty-five
I seem as aged as the Sphinx, and, like the Sphinx that begets
mockery, so my soul, which seems to have looked out over unnumbered
centuries, mocks at this world which you would make for you and
me. Listen, Ian. It is not a real world, and I should not--and that is
the pitiful, miserable part of it--I should not make you happy, if I
were in that world with you. To my dire regret I know it. Suddenly you
have roused in me what I can honestly say I have never felt
before--strange, reckless, hungry feelings. I am like some young
dweller of the jungle which, cut off from its kind tries, with a
passion that eats and eats and eats away his very flesh to get back to
its kind, to his mate, to that other wild child of nature which waits
for the one appeasement of primeval desire.

"Ian, I must tell you the whole truth about myself as I understand
it. I am a hopeless, painful contradiction; I have always been so. I
have always wanted to be good, but something has always driven me
where the flowers have a poisonous sweetness, where the heart grows
bad. I want to cry to you, Ian, to help me to be good; and yet
something drives me on to want to share with you the fruit which turns
to dust and ashes in the long end. And behind all that again, some
tiny little grain of honour in me says that I must not ask you to help
me; says that I ought never to look into your eyes again, never touch
your hand, nor see you any more; and from the little grain of honour
comes the solemn whisper, 'Do not ruin him; do not spoil his life.'

"Your letter has torn my heart, so that it can never again be as it
was before, and because there is some big, noble thing in you, some
little, not ignoble thing is born in me. Ian, you could never know the
anguished desire I have to be with you always, but, if I keep sane at
all, I will not go--no, I will not go with you, unless the madness
carries me away. It would kill you. I know, because I have lived so
many thousands of years. My spirit and my body might be satisfied, the
glory in having you all my own would be so great; but there would be
no joy for you. To men like you, work is as the breath of life. You
must always be fighting for something, always climbing higher, because
you see some big thing to do which is so far above you.

"Yes, men like you get their chance sooner or later, because you work,
and are ready to take the gifts of Fate when they appear and before
they pass. You will be always for climbing, if some woman does not
drag you back. That woman may be a wife, or it may be a loving and
living ghost of a wife like me. Ian, I could not bear to see what
would come at last--the disappointment in your face the look of hope
gone from your eyes; your struggle to climb, and the struggle of no
avail. Sisyphus had never such a task as you would have on the hill of
life, if I left all behind here and went with you. You would try to
hide it; but I would see you growing older hourly before my eyes. You
would smile--I wonder if you know what sort of wonderful, alluring
thing your smile is, Ian?--and that smile would drive me to kill
myself, and so hurt you still more. And so it is always an everlasting
circle of penalty and pain when you take the laws of life you get in
the mountains in your hands and break them in pieces on the rocks in
the valleys, and make new individual laws out of harmony with the
general necessity.

"Isn't it strange, Ian, that I who can do wrong so easily still know
so well and value so well what is right? It is my mother in me and my
grandfather in me, both of them fighting for possession. Let me empty
out my heart before you, because I know--I do not know why, but I do
know, as I write--that some dark cloud lowers, gathers round us, in
which we shall be lost, shall miss the touch of hand and never see
each other's face again. I know it, oh so surely! I did not really
love you years ago, before I married Rudyard; I did not love you when
I married him; I did not love him, I could not really love any one. My
heart was broken up in a thousand pieces to give away in little bits
to all who came. But I cared for you more than I cared for any one
else--so much more; because you were so able and powerful, and were
meant to do such big things; and I had just enough intelligence to
want to understand you; to feel what you were thinking, to grasp its
meaning, however dimly. Yet I have no real intellect. I am only quick
and rather clever--sharp, as Jigger would say, and with some cunning,
too. I have made so many people believe that I am brilliant. When I
think and talk and write, I only give out in a new light what others
like you have taught me; give out a loaf where you gave me a crumb;
blow a drop of water into a bushel of bubbles. No, I did not love you,
in the big way, in those old days, and maybe it is not love I feel for
you now; but it is a great and wonderful thing, so different from the
feeling I once had. It is very powerful, and it is also very cruel,
because it smothers me in one moment, and in the next it makes me want
to fly to you, heedless of consequences.

"And what might those consequences be, Ian, and shall I let you face
them? The real world, your world, England, Europe, would have no more
use for all your skill and knowledge and power, because there would be
a woman in the way. People who would want to be your helpers, and to
follow you, would turn away when they saw you coming; or else they
would say the superficial things which are worse than blows in the
face to a man who wants to feel that men look to him to help solve the
problems perplexing the world. While it may not be love I feel for
you, whatever it is, it makes me a little just and unselfish now. I
will not--unless a spring-time madness drives me to it to-day--I will
not go with you.

"As for the other solution you offer, deceiving the world as to your
purposes, to go far away upon some wild mission, and to die!

"Ah, no, you must not cheat the world so; you must not cheat yourself
so! And how cruel it would be to me! Whatever I deserve--and in
leaving you to marry Rudyard I deserved heavy punishment--still I do
not deserve the torture which would follow me to the last day of my
life if, because of me, you sacrificed that which is not yours alone,
but which belongs to all the world. I loathe myself when I think of
the old wrong that I did you; but no leper woman could look upon
herself with such horror as I should upon myself, if, for the new
wrong I have done you, you were to take your own life.

"These are so many words, and perhaps they will not read to you as
real. That is perhaps because I am only shallow at the best; am only,
as you once called me, 'a little burst of eloquence.' But even I can
suffer, and I believe that even I can love. You say you cannot go on
as things are; that I must go with you or you must die; and yet you do
not wish me to go with you. You have said that, too. But do you not
wonder what would become of me, if either of these alternatives is
followed? A little while ago I could deceive Rudyard, and put myself
in pretty clothes with a smile, and enjoy my breakfast with him and
look in his face boldly, and enjoy the clothes, and the world and the
gay things that are in it, perhaps because I had no real moral
sense. Isn't it strange that out of the thing which the world would
condemn as most immoral, as the very degradation of the heart and soul
and body, there should spring up a new sense that is moral--perhaps
the first true glimmering of it? Oh, dear love of my life, comrade of
my soul, something has come to me which I never had before, and for
that, whatever comes, my lifelong gratitude must be yours! What I now
feel could never have come except through fire and tears, as you
yourself say, and I know so well that the fire is at my feet, and the
tears--I wept them all last night, when I too wanted to die.

"You are coming at eleven to-day, Ian--at eleven. It is now eight. I
will try and send this letter to reach you before you leave your
rooms. If not, I will give it to you when you come--at eleven. Why did
you not say noon--noon--twelve of the clock? The end and the
beginning! Why did you not say noon, Ian? The light is at its zenith
at noon, at twelve; and the world is dark at twelve--at
midnight. Twelve at noon; twelve at night; the light and the
dark--which will it be for us, Ian? Night or noon? I wonder, oh, I
wonder if, when I see you I shall have the strength to say, 'Yes, go,
and come again no more.' Or whether, in spite of everything, I shall
wildly say, 'Let us go away together.' Such is the kind of woman that
I am. And you--dear lover, tell me truly what kind of man are you?

"Your JASMINE."

He read the letter slowly, and he stopped again and again as though to
steady himself. His face became strained and white, and once he poured
brandy and drank it off as though it were water. When he had finished
the letter he went heavily over to the fire and dropped it in. He
watched it burn, until only the flimsy carbon was left.

"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."



CHAPTER XXVII

KROOL


"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."

"We have been the victims of treachery for years," burst out Fleming,
with anger. "Nearly everything we've done here, nearly everything the
Government has done here, has been known to Kruger--ever since the
Raid."

"I think it could have been stopped," said the once Sobieski, with an
ugly grimace, and an attempt at an accent which would suit his new
name. "Byng's to blame. We ought to have put down our feet from the
start. We're Byng-ridden."

"Keep a civil tongue, Israel," snarled Barry Whalen. "You know nothing
about it, and that is the state in which you most shine--in your
natural state of ignorance, like the heathen in his blindness. But
before Byng comes I'd better give you all some information I've got."

"Isn't it for Byng to hear?" asked Fleming.

"Very much so; but it's for you all to decide what's to be
done. Perhaps Mr. Stafford can help us in the matter, as he has been
with Byng very lately." Wallstein looked inquiringly towards Stafford.

The group nodded appreciatively, and Stafford came forward to the
table, but without seating himself. "Certainly you may command me," he
said. "What is the mystery?"

In short and abrupt sentences Barry Whalen, with an occasional
interjection and explanation from Wallstein, told of the years of
leakage in regard to their plans, of moves circumvented by information
which could only have been got by treacherous means either in South
Africa or in London.

"We didn't know for sure which it was," said Barry, "but the proof has
come at last. One of Kruger's understrappers from Holland was
successfully tapped, and we've got proof that the trouble was here in
London, here in this house where we sit--Byng's home."

There was a stark silence, in which more than one nodded
significantly, and looked round furtively to see how the others took
the news.

"Here is absolute proof. There were two in it here--Adrian Fellowes
and Krool."

"Adrian Fellowes!"

It was Ian Stafford's voice, insistent and inquiring.

"Here is the proof, as I say." Barry Whalen leaned forward and pushed
a paper over on the table, to which were attached two or three smaller
papers and some cablegrams. "Look at them. Take a good look at them
and see how we've been done--done brown. The hand that dipped in the
same dish, as it were, has handed out misfortune to us by the
bucketful. We've been carted in the house of a friend."

The group, all standing, leaned over, as Barry Whalen showed them the
papers, one by one, then passed them round for examination.

"It's deadly," said Fleming. "Men have had their throats cut or been
hanged for less. I wouldn't mind a hand in it myself."

"We warned Byng years ago," interposed Barry, "but it was no use. And
we've paid for it par and premium."

"What can be done to Krool?" asked Fleming.

"Nothing particular--here," said Barry Whalen, ominously.

"Let's have the dog in," urged one of the group.

"Without Byng's permission?" interjected Wallstein.

There was a silence. The last time any of them, except Wallstein, had
seen Byng, was on the evening when he had overheard the slanders
concerning Jasmine, and none had pleasant anticipation of this meeting
with him now. They recalled his departure when Barry Whalen had said,
"God, how he hates us." He was not likely to hate them less, when they
proved that Fellowes and Krool had betrayed him and them all. They had
a wholesome fear of him in more senses than one, because, during the
past few years, while Wallstein's health was bad, Byng's position had
become more powerful financially, and he could ruin any one of them,
if he chose. A man like Byng in "going large" might do the Samson
business. Besides, he had grown strangely uncertain in his temper of
late, and, as Barry Whalen had said, "It isn't good to trouble a
wounded bull in the ring."

They had him on the hip in one way through the exposure of Krool, but
they were all more or less dependent on his financial movements. They
were all enraged at Byng because he had disregarded all warnings
regarding Krool; but what could they do? Instinctively they turned now
to Stafford, whose reputation for brains and diplomacy was so great
and whose friendship with Byng was so close.

Stafford had come to-day for two reasons: to do what he could to help
Byng--for the last time; and to say to Byng that they could not travel
together to South Africa. To make the long journey with him was beyond
his endurance. He must put the world between Rudyard and himself; he
must efface all companionship. With this last act, begotten of the
blind confidence Rudyard had in him, their intercourse must cease
forever. This would be easy enough in South Africa. Once at the Front,
it was as sure as anything on earth that they would never meet
again. It was torture to meet him, and the day of the inquest, when
Byng had come to his rooms after his interview with Lady Tynemouth and
Mr. Mappin, he had been tried beyond endurance.

"Shall we have Krool in without Byng's permission? Is it wise?" asked
Wallstein again. He looked at Stafford, and Stafford instantly
replied:

"It would be well to see Krool, I think. Your action could then be
decided by Krool's attitude and what he says."

Barry Whalen rang the bell, and the footman came. After a brief
waiting Krool entered the room with irritating deliberation and closed
the door behind him.

He looked at no one, but stood contemplating space with a composure
which made Barry Whalen almost jump from his seat in rage.

"Come a little closer," said Wallstein in a soothing voice, but so
Wallstein would have spoken to a man he was about to disembowel.

Krool came nearer, and now he looked round at them all slowly and
inquiringly. As no one spoke for a moment he shrugged his shoulders.

"If you shrug your shoulders again, damn you, I'll sjambok you here as
Kruger did at Vleifontein," said Barry Whalen in a low, angry
voice. "You've been too long without the sjambok."

"This is not the Vaal, it is Englan'," answered Krool, huskily. "The
Law--here!"

"Zo you stink ze law of England would help you--eh?" asked Sobieski,
with a cruel leer, relapsing into his natural vernacular.

"I mean what I say, Krool," interposed Barry Whalen, fiercely,
motioning Sobieski to silence. "I will sjambok you till you can't
move, here in England, here in this house, if you shrug your shoulders
again, or lift an eyebrow, or do one damned impudent thing."

He got up and rang a bell. A footman appeared. "There is a
rhinoceros-hide whip, on the wall of Mr. Byng's study. Bring it here,"
he said, quietly, but with suppressed passion.

"Don't be crazy, Whalen," said Wallstein, but with no great force, for
he would richly have enjoyed seeing the spy and traitor under the
whip. Stafford regarded the scene with detached, yet deep and
melancholy interest.

While they waited, Krool seemed to shrink a little; but as he watched
like some animal at bay, Stafford noticed that his face became
venomous and paler, and some sinister intention showed in his eyes.

The whip was brought and laid upon the table beside Barry Whalen, and
the footman disappeared, looking curiously at the group and at Krool.

Barry Whalen's fingers closed on the whip, and now a look of fear
crept over Krool's face. If there was one thing calculated to stir
with fear the Hottentot blood in him, it was the sight of the
sjambok. He had native tendencies and predispositions out of
proportion to the native blood in him--maybe because he had ever been
treated more like a native than a white man by his Boer masters in the
past.

As Stafford viewed the scene, it suddenly came home to him how strange
was this occurrence in Park Lane. It was medieval, it belonged to some
land unslaked of barbarism. He realized all at once how little these
men around him represented the land in which they were living, and how
much they were part of the far-off land which was now in the throes of
war.

To these men this was in one sense an alien country. Through the
dulled noises of London there came to their ears the click of the
wheels of a cape-wagon, the crack of the Kaffir's whip, the creak of
the disselboom. They followed the spoor of a company of elephants in
the East country, they watched through the November mist the blesbok
flying across the veld, a herd of quaggas taking cover with the
rheebok, or a cloud of locusts sailing out of the sun to devastate the
green lands. Through the smoky smell of London there came to them the
scent of the wattle, the stinging odour of ten thousand cattle, the
reek of a native kraal, the sharp sweetness of orange groves, the
aromatic air of the karoo, laden with the breath of a thousand wild
herbs. Through the drizzle of the autumn rain they heard the wild
thunderbolt tear the trees from earthly moorings. In their eyes was
the livid lightning that searched in spasms of anger for its prey,
while there swept over the brown, aching veld the flood which filled
the spruits, which made the rivers seas, and ploughed fresh channels
through the soil. The luxury of this room, with its shining mahogany
tables, its tapestried walls, its rare fireplace and massive
overmantel brought from Italy, its exquisite stained-glass windows,
was only part of a play they were acting; it was not their real life.

And now there was not one of them that saw anything incongruous in the
whip of rhinoceros-hide lying on the table, or clinched in Barry
Whalen's hand. On the contrary, it gave them a sense of supreme
naturalness. They had lived in a land where the sjambok was the symbol
of progress. It represented the forward movement of civilization in
the wilderness. It was the vierkleur of the pioneer, without which the
long train of capewagons, with the oxen in longer coils of effort,
would never have advanced; without which the Kaffir and the Hottentot
would have sacrificed every act of civilization. It prevented crime,
it punished crime, it took the place of the bowie-knife and the
derringer of that other civilization beyond the Mississippi; it was
the lock to the door in the wild places, the open sesame to the
territories where native chiefs ruled communal tribes by playing
tyrant to the commune. It was the rod of Aaron staying the plague of
barbarism. It was the sceptre of the veldt. It drew blood, it ate
human flesh, it secured order where there was no law, and it did the
work of prison and penitentiary. It was the symbol of authority in the
wilderness.

It was race.

Stafford was the only man present who saw anything incongruous in the
scene, and yet his travels in the East his year in Persia, Tibet and
Afghanistan, had made him understand things not revealed to the wise
and prudent of European domains. With Krool before them, who was of
the veld and the karoo, whose natural habitat was but a cross between
a krall and the stoep of a dopper's home, these men were instantly
transported to the land where their hearts were in spite of all,
though the flesh-pots of the West End of London had turned them into
by-paths for a while. The skin had been scratched by Krool's insolence
and the knowledge of his treachery, and the Tartar showed--the sjambok
his scimitar.

In spite of himself, Stafford was affected by it all. He
understood. This was not London; the scene had shifted to
Potchefstroom or Middleburg, and Krool was transformed too. The
sjambok had, like a wizard's wand, as it were, lifted him away from
England to spaces where he watched from the grey rock of a kopje for
the glint of an assegai or the red of a Rooinek's tunic: and he had
done both in his day.

"We've got you at last, Krool," said Wallstein. "We have been some
time at it, but it's a long lane that has no turning, and we have
you--"

"Like that--like that, jackal!" interjected Barry Whalen, opening and
shutting his lean fingers with a gesture of savage possession.

"What?" asked Krool, with a malevolent thrust forward of his
head. "What?"

"You betrayed us to Kruger," answered Wallstein, holding the
papers. "We have here the proof at last."

"You betrayed England and her secrets, and yet you think that the
English law would protect you against this," said Barry Whalen,
harshly, handling the sjambok.

"What I betray?" Krool asked again. "What I tell?"

With great deliberation Wallstein explained.

"Where proof?" Krool asked, doggedly.

"We have just enough to hang you," said Wallstein, grimly, and lifted
and showed the papers Barry Whalen had brought.

An insolent smile crossed Krool's face.

"You find out too late. That Fellowes is dead. So much you get, but
the work is done. It not matter now. It is all done--altogether. Oom
Paul speaks now, and everything is his--from the Cape to the Zambesi,
everything his. It is too late. What can to do?" Suddenly ferocity
showed in his face. "It come at last. It is the end of the English
both sides the Vaal. They will go down like wild hogs into the sea
with Joubert and Botha behind them. It is the day of Oom Paul and
Christ. The God of Israel gives to his own the tents of the Rooineks."

In spite of the fierce passion of the man, who had suddenly disclosed
a side of his nature hitherto hidden--the savage piety of the copper
Boer impregnated with stereotyped missionary phrasing, Ian Stafford
almost laughed outright. In the presence of Jews like Sobieski it
seemed so droll that this half-caste should talk about the God of
Israel, and link Oom Paul's name with that of Christ the great
liberator as partners in triumph.

In all the years Krool had been in England he had never been inside a
place of worship or given any sign of that fanaticism which, all at
once, he made manifest. He had seemed a pagan to all of his class, had
acted as a pagan.

Barry Whalen, as well as Ian Stafford, saw the humour of the
situation, while they were both confounded by the courageous malice of
the traitor. It came to Barry's mind at the moment, as it came to Ian
Stafford's, that Krool had some card to play which would, to his mind,
serve him well; and, by instinct, both found the right clue. Barry's
anger became uneasiness, and Stafford's interest turned to anxiety.

There was an instant's pause after Krool's words, and then Wolff the
silent, gone wild, caught the sjambok from the hands of Barry
Whalen. He made a movement towards Krool, who again suddenly shrank,
as he would not have shrunk from a weapon of steel.

"Wait a minute," cried Fleming, seizing the arm of his friend. "One
minute. There's something more." Turning to Wallstein, he said, "If
Krool consents to leave England at once for South Africa, let him
go. Is it agreed? He must either be dealt with adequately, or get
out. Is it agreed?"

"I do what I like," said Krool, with a snarl, in which his teeth
showed glassily against his drawn lips. "No one make me do what I not
want."

"The Baas--you have forgotten him," said Wallstein.

A look combined of cunning, fear and servility crossed Krool's face,
but he said, morosely:

"The Baas--I will do what I like."

There was a singular defiance and meaning in his tone, and the moment
seemed critical, for Barry Whalen's face was distorted with
fury. Stafford suddenly stooped and whispered a word in Wallstein's
ear, and then said:

"Gentlemen, if you will allow me, I should like a few words with Krool
before Mr. Byng comes. I think perhaps Krool will see the best course
to pursue when we have talked together. In one sense it is none of my
business, in another sense it is everybody's business. A few minutes,
if you please, gentlemen." There was something almost authoritative in
his tone.

"For Byng's sake--his wife--you understand," was all Stafford had said
under his breath, but it was an illumination to Wallstein, who
whispered to Stafford.

"Yes, that's it. Krool holds some card, and he'll play it now."

By his glance and by his word of assent, Wallstein set the cue for the
rest, and they all got up and went slowly into the other room. Barry
Whalen was about to take the sjambok, but Stafford laid his hand upon
it, and Barry and he exchanged a look of understanding.

"Stafford's a little bit of us in a way," said Barry in a whisper to
Wallstein as they left the room. "He knows, too, what a sjambok's
worth in Krool's eyes."

When the two were left alone, Stafford slowly seated himself, and his
fingers played idly with the sjambok.

"You say you will do what you like, in spite of the Baas?" he asked,
in a low, even tone.

"If the Baas hurt me, I will hurt. If anybody hurt me, I will hurt."

"You will hurt the Baas, eh? I thought he saved your life on the
Limpopo."

A flush stole across Krool's face, and when it passed again he was
paler than before. "I have save the Baas," he answered, sullenly.

"From what?"

"From you."

With a powerful effort, Stafford controlled himself. He dreaded what
was now to be said, but he felt inevitably what it was.

"How--from me?"

"If that Fellowes' letter come into his hands first, yours would not
matter. She would not go with you."

Stafford had far greater difficulty in staying his hand than had Barry
Whalen, for the sjambok seemed the only reply to the dark
suggestion. He realized how, like the ostrich, he had thrust his head
into the sand, imagining that no one knew what was between himself and
Jasmine. Yet here was one who knew, here was one who had, for whatever
purpose, precipitated a crisis with Fellowes to prevent a crisis with
himself.

Suddenly Stafford thought of an awful possibility. He fastened the
gloomy eyes of the man before him, that he might be able to see any
stir of emotion, and said: "It did not come out as you expected?"

"Altogether--yes."

"You wished to part Mr. and Mrs. Byng. That did not happen."

"The Baas is going to South Africa."

"And Mr. Fellowes?"

"He went like I expec'."

"He died--heart failure, eh?"

A look of contempt, malevolence, and secret reflection came into
Krool's face. "He was kill," he said.

"Who killed him?"

Krool was about to shrug his shoulders, but his glance fell on the
sjambok, and he made an ugly gesture with his lean fingers. "There was
yourself. He had hurt you--you went to him.... Good! There was the
Baas, he went to him. The dead man had hurt him.... Good!"

Stafford interrupted him by an exclamation. "What's that you say--the
Baas went to Mr. Fellowes?"

"As I tell the vrouw, Mrs. Byng, when she say me go from the house
to-day--I say I will go when the Baas send me."

"The Baas went to Mr. Fellowes--when?"

"Two hours before you go, and one hour before the vrouw, she go."

Like some animal looking out of a jungle, so Krool's eyes glowed from
beneath his heavy eyebrows, as he drawled out the words.

"The Baas went--you saw him?"

"With my own eyes."

"How long was he there?"

"Ten minutes."

"Mrs. Byng--you saw her go in?"

"And also come out."

"And me--you followed me--you saw me, also?"

"I saw all that come, all that go in to him."

With a swift mind Stafford saw his advantage--the one chance, the one
card he could play, the one move he could make in checkmate, if, and
when, necessary. "So you saw all that came and went. And you came and
went yourself!"

His eyes were hard and bright as he held Krool's, and there was a
sinister smile on his lips.

"You know I come and go--you say me that?" said Krool, with a sudden
look of vague fear and surprise. He had not foreseen this.

"You accuse yourself. You saw this person and that go out, and you
think to hold them in your dirty clutches; but you had more reason
than any for killing Mr. Fellowes."

"What?" asked Krool, furtively.

"You hated him because he was a traitor like yourself. You hated him
because he had hurt the Baas."

"That is true altogether, but--"

"You need not explain. If any one killed Mr. Fellowes, why not you?
You came and went from his rooms, too."

Krool's face was now yellowish pale. "Not me . . . it was not me."

"You would run a worse chance than any one. Your character would damn
you--a partner with him in crime. What jury in the world but would
convict you on your own evidence? Besides, you knew--"

He paused to deliver a blow on the barest chance. It was an insidious
challenge which, if it failed, might do more harm to others, might do
great harm, but he plunged. "You knew about the needle."

Krool was cowed and silent. On a venture Stafford had struck straight
home.

"You knew that Mr. Fellowes had stolen the needle from Mr. Mappin at
Glencader," he added.

"How you know that?" asked Krool, in a husky, ragged voice.

"I saw him steal it--and you?"

"No. He tell me."

"What did he mean to do with it?"

A look came into Krool's eyes, malevolent and barbaric.

"Not to kill himself," he reflected. "There is always some one a man
or a woman want kill."

There was a hideous commonplaceness in the tone which struck a chill
to Stafford's heart.

"No doubt there is always some one you want to kill. Now listen,
Krool. You think you've got a hold over me--over Mrs. Byng. You
threaten. Well, I have passed through the fire of the coroner's
inquest. I have nothing to fear. You have. I saw you in the street as
you watched. You came behind me--"

He remembered now the footsteps that paused when he did, the figure
behind his in the dark, as he watched for Jasmine to come out from
Fellowes' rooms, and he determined to plunge once more.

"I recognized you, and I saw you in the Strand just before that. I did
not speak at the inquest, because I wanted no scandal. If I had
spoken, you would have been arrested. Whatever happened your chances
were worse than those of any one. You can't frighten me, or my friends
in there, or the Baas, or Mrs. Byng. Look after your own skin. You are
the vile scum of the earth,"--he determined to take a strong line now,
since he had made a powerful impression on the creature before
him--"and you will do what the Baas likes, not what you like. He saved
your life. Bad as you are, the Baas is your Baas for ever and ever,
and what he wants to do with you he will do. When his eyes look into
yours, you will think the lightning speaks. You are his slave. If he
hates you, you will die; if he curses you, you will wither."

He played upon the superstitious element, the native strain again. It
was deeper in Krool than anything else.

"Do you think you can defy them?" Stafford went on, jerking a finger
towards the other room. "They are from the veld. They will have you as
sure as the crack of a whip. This is England, but they are from the
veld. On the veld you know what they would do to you. If you speak
against the Baas, it is bad for you; if you speak against the Baas'
vrouw it will be ten times worse. Do you hear?"

There was a strange silence, in which Stafford could feel Krool's soul
struggling in the dark, as it were--a struggle as of black spirits in
the grey dawn.

"I wait the Baas speak," Krool said at last, with a shiver.

There was no time for Stafford to answer. Wallstein entered the room
hurriedly. "Byng has come. He has been told about him," he said in
French to Stafford, and jerking his head towards Krool.

Stafford rose. "It's all right," he answered in the same language. "I
think things will be safe now. He has a wholesome fear of the Baas."

He turned to Krool. "If you say to the Baas what you have said to me
about Mr. Fellowes or about the Baas's vrouw, you will have a bad
time. You will think that wild hawks are picking out your vitals. If
you have sense, you will do what I tell you."

Krool's eyes were on the door through which Wallstein had come. His
gaze was fixed and tortured. Stafford had suddenly roused in him some
strange superstitious element. He was like a creature of a lower order
awaiting the approach of the controlling power. It was, however, the
door behind him which opened, and he gave a start of surprise and
terror. He knew who it was. He did not turn round, but his head bent
forward, as though he would take a blow from behind, and his eyes
almost closed. Stafford saw with a curious meticulousness the long
eyelashes touch the grey cheek.

"There's no fight in him now," he said to Byng in French. "He was
getting nasty, but I've got him in order. He knows too much. Remember
that, Byng."

Byng's look was as that of a man who had passed through some chamber
of torture, but the flabbiness had gone suddenly from his face, and
even from his figure, though heavy lines had gathered round the mouth
and scarred the forehead. He looked worn and much thinner, but there
was a look in his eyes which Stafford had never seen there--a new look
of deeper seeing, of revelation, of realization. With all his ability
and force, Byng had been always much of a boy, so little at one with
the hidden things--the springs of human conduct, the contradictions of
human nature, the worst in the best of us, the forces that emerge
without warning in all human beings, to send them on untoward courses
and at sharp tangents to all the habits of their existence and their
character. In a real sense he had been very primitive, very objective
in all he thought and said and did. With imagination, and a sensitive
organization out of keeping with his immense physique, it was still
only a visualizing sense which he had, only a thing that belongs to
races such as those of which Krool had come.

A few days of continuous suffering begotten by a cataclysm, which had
rent asunder walls of life enclosing vistas he had never before seen;
these had transformed him. Pain had given him dignity of a savage
kind, a grim quiet which belonged to conflict and betokened grimmer
purpose. In the eyes was the darkness of the well of despair; but at
his lips was iron resolution.

In reply to Stafford he said quietly: "All right, I understand. I know
how to deal with Krool."

As Stafford withdrew, Byng came slowly down the room till he stood at
the end of the table opposite to Krool.

Standing there, he looked at the Boer with hard eyes.

"I know all, Krool," he said. "You sold me and my country--you tried
to sell me and my country to Oom Paul. You dog, that I snatched from
the tiger death, not once but twice."

"It is no good. I am a Hottentot. I am for the Boer, for Oom Paul. I
would have die for you, but--"

"But when the chance came to betray the thing I cared for more than I
would twenty lives--my country--you tried to sell me and all who
worked with me."

"It would be same to you if the English go from the Vaal," said the
half-caste, huskily, not looking into the eyes fixed on him. "But it
matter to me that the Boer keep all for himself what he got for
himself. I am half Boer. That is why."

"You defend it--tell me, you defend it?"

There was that in the voice, some terrible thing, which drew Krool's
eyes in spite of himself, and he met a look of fire and wrath.

"I tell why. If it was bad, it was bad. But I tell why, that is
all. If it is not good, it is bad, and hell is for the bad; but I tell
why."

"You got money from Oom Paul for the man--Fellowes?" It was hard for
him to utter the name.

Krool nodded.

"Every year--much?"

Again Krool nodded.

"And for yourself--how much?"

"Nothing for myself; no money, Baas."

"Only Oom Paul's love!"

Krool nodded again.

"But Oom Paul flayed you at Vleifontein; tied you up and skinned you
with a sjambok.... That didn't matter, eh? And you went on loving
him. I never touched you in all the years. I gave you your life
twice. I gave you good money. I kept you in luxury--you that fed in
the cattle-kraal; you that had mealies to eat and a shred of biltong
when you could steal it; you that ate a steinbok raw on the Vaal, you
were so wild for meat . . . I took you out of that, and gave you
this."

He waved an arm round the room, and went on: "You come in and go out
of my room, you sleep in the same cart with me, you eat out of the
same dish on trek, and yet you do the Judas trick. Slim--god of gods,
how slim!  You are the snake that crawls in the slime. It's the native
in you, I suppose.... But see, I mean to do to you as Oom Paul
did. It's the only thing you understand. It's the way to make you
straight and true, my sweet Krool."

Still keeping his eyes fixed on Krool's eyes, his hand reached out and
slowly took the sjambok from the table. He ran the cruel thing through
his fingers as does a prison expert the cat-o'-nine-tails before
laying on the lashes of penalty. Into Krool's eyes a terror crept
which never had been there in the old days on the veld when Oom Paul
had flayed him. This was not the veld, and he was no longer the
veld-dweller with skin like the rhinoceros, all leather and bone and
endurance. And this was not Oom Paul, but one whom he had betrayed,
whose wife he had sought to ruin, whose subordinate he had turned into
a traitor. Oom Paul had been a mere savage master; but here was a
master whose very tongue could excoriate him like Oom Paul's sjambok;
whom, at bottom, he loved in his way as he had never loved anything;
whom he had betrayed, not realizing the hideous nature of his deed;
having argued that it was against England his treachery was directed,
and that was a virtue in his eyes; not seeing what direct injury could
come to Byng through it. He had not seen, he had not understood, he
was still uncivilized; he had only in his veins the morality of the
native, and he had tried to ruin his master's wife for his master's
sake; and when he had finished with Fellowes as a traitor, he was
ready to ruin his confederate--to kill him--perhaps did kill him!

"It's the only way to deal with you, Hottentot dog!"

The look in Krool's eyes only increased Byng's lust of
punishment. What else was there to do? Without terrible scandal there
was no other way to punish the traitor, but if there had been another
way he would still have done this. This Krool understood; behind every
command the Baas had ever given him this thing lay--the sjambok, the
natural engine of authority.

Suddenly Byng said with a voice of almost guttural anger: "You dropped
that letter on my bedroom floor--that letter, you understand?
. . . Speak."

"I did it, Baas."

Byng was transformed. Slowly he laid down the sjambok, and as slowly
took off his coat, his eyes meanwhile fastening those of the wretched
man before him. Then he took up the sjambok again.

"You know what I am going to do with you?"

"Yes, Baas."

It never occurred to Byng that Krool would resist; it did not occur to
Krool that he could resist. Byng was the Baas, who at that moment was
the Power immeasurable. There was only one thing to do--to obey.

"You were told to leave my house by Mrs. Byng, and you did not go."

"She was not my Baas."

"You would have done her harm, if you could?"

"So, Baas."

With a low cry Byng ran forward, the sjambok swung through the air,
and the terrible whip descended on the crouching half-caste.

Krool gave one cry and fell back a little, but he made no attempt to
resist.

Suddenly Byng went to a window and threw it open.

"You can jump from there or take the sjambok. Which?" he said with a
passion not that of a man wholly sane. "Which?"

Krool's wild, sullen, trembling look sought the window, but he had no
heart for that enterprise--thirty feet to the pavement below.

"The sjambok, Baas," he said.

Once again Byng moved forward on him, and once again Krool's cry rang
out, but not so loud. It was like that of an animal in torture.

In the next room, Wallstein and Stafford and the others heard it, and
understood. Whispering together they listened, and Stafford shrank
away to the far side of the room; but more than one face showed
pleasure in the sound of the whip and the moaning.

It went on and on.

Barry Whalen, however, was possessed of a kind of fear, and presently
his face became troubled. This punishment was terrible. Byng might
kill the man, and all would be as bad as could be. Stafford came to
him.

"You had better go in," he said. "We ought to intervene. If you don't,
I will. Listen...."

It was a strange sound to hear in this heart of civilization. It
belonged to the barbaric places of the earth, where there was no law,
where every pioneer was his own cadi.

With set face Barry Whalen entered the room. Byng paused for an
instant and looked at him with burning, glazed eyes that scarcely
realized him.

"Open that door," he said, presently, and Barry Whalen opened the door
which led into the big hall.

"Open all down to the street," Byng said, and Barry Whalen went
forward quickly.

Like some wild beast Krool crouched and stumbled and moaned as he ran
down the staircase, through the outer hall, while a servant with
scared face saw Byng rain savage blows upon the hated figure.

On the pavement outside the house, Krool staggered, stumbled, and fell
down; but he slowly gathered himself up, and turned to the doorway,
where Byng stood panting with the sjambok in his hand.

"Baas!--Baas!" Krool said with livid face, and then he crept painfully
away along the street wall.

A policeman crossed the road with a questioning frown and the apparent
purpose of causing trouble, but Barry Whalen whispered in his ear, and
told him to call that evening and he would hear all about
it. Meanwhile a five-pound note in a quick palm was a guarantee of
good faith.

Presently a half-dozen people began to gather near the door, but the
benevolent policeman moved them on.

At the top of the staircase Jasmine met her husband. She shivered as
he came up towards her.

"Will you come to me when you have finished your business?" she said,
and she took the sjambok gently from his hand.

He scarcely realized her. He was in a dream; but he smiled at her, and
nodded, and passed on to where the others awaited him.



CHAPTER XXVIII

"THE BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM"


Slowly Jasmine returned to her boudoir. Laying the sjambok on the
table among the books in delicate bindings and the bowls of flowers,
she stood and looked at it with confused senses for a long time. At
last a wan smile stole to her lips, but it did not reach her
eyes. They remained absorbed and searching, and were made painfully
sad by the wide, dark lines under them. Her fair skin was fairer than
ever, but it was delicately faded, giving her a look of pensiveness,
while yet there was that in her carriage and at her mouth which
suggested strength and will and new forces at work in her. She carried
her head, weighted by its splendour of golden hair, as an Eastern
woman carries a goulah of water. There was something pathetic yet
self-reliant in the whole figure. The passion slumbering in the eyes,
however, might at any moment burst forth in some wild relinquishment
of control and self-restraint.

"He did what I should have liked to do," she said aloud. "We are not
so different, after all. He is primitive at bottom, and so am I. He
gets carried away by his emotions, and so do I."

She took up the whip, examined it, felt its weight, and drew it with a
swift jerk through the air.

"I did not even shrink when Krool came stumbling down the stairs, with
this cutting his flesh," she said to herself. "Somehow it all seemed
natural and right. What has come to me? Are all my finer senses dead?
Am I just one of the crude human things who lived a million years ago,
and who lives again as crude as those; with only the outer things
changed? Then I wore the skins of wild animals, and now I do the same,
just the same; with what we call more taste perhaps, because we have
ceased to see the beauty in the natural thing."

She touched the little band of grey fur at the sleeve of her clinging
velvet gown. "Just a little distance away--that is all."

Suddenly a light flashed up in her eyes, and her face flushed as
though some one had angered her. She seized the whip again. "Yes, I
could have seen him whipped to death before my eyes--the coward, the
abject coward. He did not speak for me; he did not defend me; he did
not deny. He let Ian think--death was too kind to him. How dared he
hurt me so! . . . Death is so easy a way out, but he would not have
taken it. No, no, no, it was not suicide; some one killed him. He
could never have taken his own life--never. He had not the
courage.... No; he died of poison or was strangled. Who did it? Who
did it? Was it Rudyard? Was it. . . ? Oh, it wears me out--thinking,
thinking, thinking!"

She sat down and buried her face in her hands. "I am doomed--doomed,"
she moaned. "I was doomed from the start. It must always have been so,
whatever I did. I would do it again, whatever I did; I know I would do
it again, being what I was. It was in my veins, in my blood from the
start, from the very first days of my life."

All at once there flashed through her mind again, as on that night so
many centuries ago, when she had slept the last sleep of her life as
it was, Swinburne's lines on Baudelaire:

"There is no help for these things, none to mend and none to mar; Not
all our songs, oh, friend, can make death clear Or make life
durable...."

"'There is no help for these things,'" she repeated with a sigh which
seemed to tear her heart in twain. "All gone--all. What is there left
to do? If death could make it better for any one, how easy! But
everything would be known--somehow the world would know, and every one
would suffer more. Not now--no, not now. I must live on, but not
here. I must go away. I must find a place to go where Rudyard will not
come. There is no place so far but it is not far enough. I am
twenty-five, and all is over--all is done for me. I have nothing that
I want to keep, there is nothing that I want to do except to go--to go
and to be alone. Alone, always alone now. It is either that, or be
Jezebel, or--"

The door opened, and the servant brought a card to her. "His
Excellency, the Moravian ambassador," the footman said.

"Monsieur Mennaval?" she asked, mechanically, as though scarcely
realizing what he had said.

"Yes, ma'am, Mr. Mennaval."

"Please say I am indisposed, and am sorry I cannot receive him
to-day," she said.

"Very good, ma'am." The footman turned to go, then came back.

"Shall I tell the maid you want her?" he asked, respectfully.

"No, why should you?" she asked.

"I thought you looked a bit queer, ma'am," he responded, hastily. "I
beg your pardon, ma'am."

She rewarded him with a smile. "Thank you, James, I think I should
like her after all. Ask her to come at once."

When he had gone she leaned back and shut her eyes. For a moment she
was perfectly motionless, then she sat up again and looked at the card
in her hand.

"M. Mennaval--M. Mennaval," she said, with a note so cynical that it
betrayed more than her previous emotion, to such a point of despair
her mind had come.

M. Mennaval had played his part, had done his service, had called out
from her every resource of coquetry and lure; and with wonderful art
she had cajoled him till he had yielded to influence, and Ian had
turned the key in the international lock. M. Mennaval had been used
with great skill to help the man who was now gone from her forever,
whom perhaps she would never see again; and who wanted never to see
her again, never in all time or space. M. Mennaval had played his game
for his own desire, and he had lost; but what had she gained where
M. Mennaval had lost? She had gained that which now Ian despised,
which he would willingly, so far as she was concerned, reject with
contempt.... And yet, and yet, while Ian lived he must still be
grateful to her that, by whatever means, she had helped him to do what
meant so much to England. Yes, he could not wholly dismiss her from
his mind; he must still say, "This she did for me--this thing, in
itself not commendable, she did for me; and I took it for my country."

Her eyes were open, and her garden had been invaded by those
revolutionaries of life and time, Nemesis, Penalty, Remorse. They
marauded every sacred and secret corner of her mind and soul. They
came with whips to scourge her. Nothing was private to her inner self
now. Everything was arrayed against her. All life doubled backwards on
her, blocking her path.

M. Mennaval--what did she care for him! Yet here he was at her door
asking payment for the merchandise he had sold to her: his judgment,
his reputation as a diplomatist, his freedom, the respect of the
world--for how could the world respect a man at whom it laughed, a man
who had hoped to be given the key to a secret door in a secret garden!

As Jasmine sat looking at the card, the footman entered again with a
note.

"His Excellency's compliments," he said, and withdrew.

She opened the letter hesitatingly, held it in her hand for a moment
without reading it, then, with an impulsive effort, did so. When she
had finished, she gave a cry of anger and struck her tiny clinched
hand upon her knee.

The note ran:

"Chere amie, you have so much indisposition in these days. It is all
too vexing to your friends. The world will be surprised, if you allow
a migraine to come between us. Indeed, it will be shocked. The world
understands always so imperfectly, and I have no gift of
explanation. Of course, I know the war has upset many, but I thought
you could not be upset so easily--no, it cannot be the war; so I must
try and think what it is. If I cannot think by tomorrow at five
o'clock, I will call again to ask you. Perhaps the migraine will be
better. But, if you will that migraine to be far away, it will fly,
and then I shall be near. Is it not so? You will tell me to-morrow at
five, will you not, belle amie?

"A toi,  M. M."

The words scorched her eyes. They angered her, scourged her. One of
life's Revolutionaries was insolently ravaging the secret place where
her pride dwelt. Pride--what pride had she now? Where was the room for
pride or vanity? . . . And all the time she saw the face of a dead man
down by the river--a face now beneath the sod. It flashed before her
eyes at moments when she least could bear it, to agitate her soul.

M. Mennaval--how dare he write to her so! "Chere amie" and "A
toi"--how strange the words looked now, how repulsive and strange!  It
did not seem possible that once before he had written such words to
her. But never before had these epithets or others been accompanied by
such meaning as his other words conveyed.

"I will not see him to-morrow. I will not see him ever again, if I can
help it," she said bitterly, and trembling with agitation. "I shall go
where I shall not be found. I will go to-night."

The door opened. Her maid entered. "You wanted me, madame?" asked the
girl, in some excitement and very pale.

"Yes, what is the matter? Why so agitated?" Jasmine asked.

The maid's eyes were on the sjambok. She pointed to it. "It was that,
madame. We are all agitated. It was terrible. One had never seen
anything like that before in one's life, madame--never. It was like
the days--yes, of slavery. It was like the galleys of Toulon in the
old days. It was--"

"There, don't be so eloquent, Lablanche. What do you know of the
galleys of Toulon or the days of slavery?"

"Madame, I have heard, I have read, I--"

"Yes, but did you love Krool so?"

The girl straightened herself with dramatic indignation. "Madame, that
man, that creature, that toad--!"

"Then why so exercised? Were you so pained at his punishment? Were all
the household so pained?"

"Every one hated him, madame," said the girl, with energy.

"Then let me hear no more of this impudent nonsense," Jasmine said,
with decision.

"Oh, madame, to speak to me like this!" Tears were ready to do needful
service.

"Do you wish to remain with me, Lablanche?"

"Ah, madame, but yes--"

"Then my head aches, and I don't want you to make it worse.... And,
see, Lablanche, there is that grey walking-suit; also the mauve
dressing-gown, made by Loison; take them, if you can make them fit
you; and be good."

"Madame, how kind--ah, no one is like you, madame--!"

"Well, we shall see about that quite soon. Put out at once every gown
of mine for me to see, and have trunks ready to pack immediately; but
only three trunks, not more."

"Madame is going away?"

"Do as I say, Lablanche. We go to-night. The grey gown and the mauve
dressing-gown that Loison made, you will look well in them. Quick,
now, please."

In a flutter Lablanche left the room, her eyes gleaming.

She had had her mind on the grey suit for some time, but the mauve
dressing-gown as well--it was too good to be true.

She almost ran into Lady Tynemouth's arms as the door opened. With a
swift apology she sped away, after closing the door upon the visitor.

Jasmine rose and embraced her friend, and Lady Tynemouth subsided into
a chair with a sigh.

"My dear Jasmine, you look so frail," she said. "A short time ago I
feared you were going to blossom into too ripe fruit, now you look
almost a little pinched. But it quite becomes you, mignonne--quite.
You have dark lines under your eyes, and that transparency of skin--
it is quite too fetching. Are you glad to see me?"

"I would have seen no one to-day, no one, except you or Rudyard."

"Love and duty," said Lady Tynemouth, laughing, yet acutely alive to
the something so terribly wrong, of which she had spoken to Ian
Stafford.

"Why is it my duty to see you, Alice?" asked Jasmine, with the dry
glint in her tone which had made her conversation so pleasing to men.

"You clever girl, how you turn the tables on me," her friend replied,
and then, seeing the sjambok on the table, took it up. "What is this
formidable instrument? Are you flagellating the saints?"

"Not the saints, Alice."

"You don't mean to say you are going to scourge yourself?"

Then they both smiled--and both immediately sighed. Lady Tynemouth's
sympathy was deeply roused for Jasmine, and she meant to try and win
her confidence and to help her in her trouble, if she could; but she
was full of something else at this particular moment, and she was not
completely conscious of the agony before her.

"Have you been using this sjambok on Mennaval?" she asked with an
attempt at lightness. "I saw him leaving as I came in. He looked
rather dejected--or stormy, I don't quite know which."

"Does it matter which? I didn't see Mennaval today."

"Then no wonder he looked dejected and stormy. But what is the history
of this instrument of torture?" she asked, holding up the sjambok
again.

"Krool."

"Krool! Jasmine, you surely don't mean to say that you--"

"Not I--it was Rudyard. Krool was insolent--a half-caste, you know."

"Krool--why, yes, it was he I saw being helped into a cab by a
policeman just down there in Piccadilly. You don't mean that
Rudyard--"

She pushed the sjambok away from her.

"Yes--terribly."

"Then I suppose the insolence was terrible enough to justify it."

"Quite, I think." Jasmine's voice was calm.

"But of course it is not usual--in these parts."

"Rudyard is not usual in these parts, or Krool either. It was a touch
of the Vaal."

Lady Tynemouth gave a little shudder. "I hope it won't become
fashionable. We are altogether too sensational nowadays. But,
seriously, Jasmine, you are not well. You must do something. You must
have a change."

"I am going to do something--to have a change."

"That's good. Where are you going, dear?"

"South.... And how are you getting on with your hospital-ship?"

Lady Tynemouth threw up her hands. "Jasmine, I'm in despair. I had set
my heart upon it. I thought I could do it easily, and I haven't done
it, after trying as hard as can be. Everything has gone wrong, and now
Tynie cables I mustn't go to South Africa. Fancy a husband forbidding
a wife to come to him."

"Well, perhaps it's better than a husband forbidding his wife to leave
him."

"Jasmine, I believe you would joke if you were dying."

"I am dying."

There was that in the tone of Jasmine's voice which gave her friend a
start. She eyed her suddenly with a great anxiety.

"And I'm not jesting," Jasmine added, with a forced smile. "But tell
me what has gone wrong with all your plans. You don't mind what
Tynemouth says. Of course you will do as you like."

"Of course; but still Tynie has never 'issued instructions' before,
and if there was any time I ought to humour him it is now. He's so
intense about the war! But I can't explain everything on paper to him,
so I've written to say I'm going to South Africa to explain, and that
I'll come back by the next boat, if my reasons are not convincing."

In other circumstances Jasmine would have laughed. "He will find you
convincing," she said, meaningly.

"I said if he found my reasons convincing."

"You will be the only reason to him."

"My dear Jasmine, you are really becoming sentimental. Tynie would
blush to discover himself being silly over me. We get on so well
because we left our emotions behind us when we married."

"Yours, I know, you left on the Zambesi," said Jasmine, deliberately.

A dull fire came into Lady Tynemouth's eyes, and for an instant there
was danger of Jasmine losing a friend she much needed; but Lady
Tynemouth had a big heart, and she knew that her friend was in a mood
when anything was possible, or everything impossible.

So she only smiled, and said, easily: "Dearest Jasmine, that umbrella
episode which made me love Ian Stafford for ever and ever without even
amen came after I was married, and so your pin doesn't prick, not a
weeny bit. No, it isn't Tynie that makes me sad. It's the Climbers who
won't pay."

"The Climbers? You want money for--"

"Yes, the hospital-ship; and I thought they'd jump at it; but they've
all been jumping in other directions. I asked the Steuvenfeldts, the
Boulters, the Felix Fowles, the Brutons, the Sheltons, and that fellow
Mackerel, who has so much money he doesn't know what to do with it and
twenty others; and Mackerel was the only one who would give me
anything at all large. He gave me ten thousand pounds. But I want
fifty--fifty, my beloved. I'm simply broken-hearted. It would do so
much good, and I could manage the thing so well, and I could get other
splendid people to help me to manage it--there's Effie Lyndhall and
Mary Meacham. The Mackerel wanted to come along, too, but I told him
he could come out and fetch us back--that there mustn't be any scandal
while the war was on. I laugh, my dear, but I could cry my eyes out. I
want something to do--I've always wanted something to do. I've always
been sick of an idle life, but I wouldn't do a hundred things I might
have done. This thing I can do, however, and, if I did it, some of my
debt to the world would be paid. It seems to me that these last
fifteen years in England have been awful. We are all restless; we all
have been going, going--nowhere; we have all been doing,
doing--nothing; we have all been thinking, thinking, thinking--of
ourselves. And I've been a playbody like the rest; I've gone with the
Climbers because they could do things for me; I've wanted more and
more of everything--more gadding, more pleasure, more excitement. It's
been like a brass-band playing all the time, my life this past ten
years. I'm sick of it. It's only some big thing that can take me out
of it. I've got to make some great plunge, or in a few years more I'll
be a middle-aged peeress with nothing left but a double chin, a tongue
for gossip, and a string of pearls. There must be a bouleversement of
things as they are, or good-bye to everything except emptiness. Don't
you see, Jasmine, dearest?"

"Yes yes, I see." Jasmine got up, went to her desk, opened a drawer,
took out a book, and began to write hastily. "Go on," she said as she
wrote; "I can hear what you are saying."

"But are you really interested?"

"Even Tynemouth would find you interesting and convincing. Go on."

"I haven't anything more to say, except that nothing lies between me
and flagellation and the sack cloth,"--she toyed with the
sjambok--"except the Climbers; and they have failed me. They won't
play--or pay."

Jasmine rose from the desk and came forward with a paper in her
hand. "No, they have not failed you, Alice," she said, gently. "The
Climbers seldom really disappoint you. The thing is, you must know how
to talk to them, to say the right thing, the flattering, the tactful,
and the nice sentimental thing,--they mostly have middle-class
sentimentality--and then you get what you want. As you do
now. There...."

She placed in her friend's hand a long, narrow slip of paper. Lady
Tynemouth looked astonished, gazed hard at the paper, then sprang to
her feet, pale and agitated.

"Jasmine--you--this--sixty thousand pounds!" she cried. "A cheque for
sixty thousand pounds--Jasmine!"

There was a strange brilliance in Jasmine's eyes, a hectic flush on
her cheek.

"It must not be cashed for forty-eight hours; but after that the money
will be there."

Lady Tynemouth caught Jasmine's shoulders in her trembling yet strong
fingers, and looked into the wild eyes with searching inquiry and
solicitude.

"But, Jasmine, it isn't possible. Will Rudyard--can you afford it?"

"That will not be Rudyard's money which you will get. It will be all
my own."

"But you yourself are not rich. Sixty thousand pounds--why?"

"It is because it is a sacrifice to me that I give it; because it is
my own; because it is two-thirds of what I possess. And if all is
needed before we have finished, then all shall go."

Alice Tynemouth still held the shoulders, still gazed into the eyes
which burned and shone, which seemed to look beyond this room into
some world of the soul or imagination. "Jasmine, you are not crazy,
are you?" she asked, excitedly. "You will not repent of this? It is
not a sudden impulse?"

"Yes, it is a sudden impulse; it came to me all at once. But when it
came I knew it was the right thing, the only thing to do. I will not
repent of it. Have no fear. It is final. It is sure. It means that,
like you, I have found a rope to drag myself out of this stream which
sweeps me on to the rapids."

"Jasmine, do you mean that you will--that you are coming, too?"

"Yes, I am going with you. We will do it together. You shall lead, and
I shall help. I have a gift for organization. My grandfather? he--"

"All the world knows that. If you have anything of his gift, we shall
not fail. We shall feel that we are doing something for our
country--and, oh, so much for ourselves! And we shall be near our
men. Tynie and Ruddy Byng will be out there, and we shall be ready for
anything if necessary. But Rudyard, will he approve?" She held up the
cheque.

Jasmine made a passionate gesture. "There are times when we must do
what something in us tells us to do, no matter what the
consequences. I am myself. I am not a slave. If I take my own way in
the pleasures of life, why should I not take it in the duties and the
business of life?"

Her eyes took on a look of abstraction, and her small hand closed on
the large, capable hand of her friend. "Isn't work the secret of life?
My grandfather used to say it was. Always, always, he used to say to
me, 'Do something, Jasmine. Find a work to do, and do it. Make the
world look at you, not for what you seem to be, but for what you
do. Work cures nearly every illness and nearly every trouble'--that is
what he said. And I must work or go mad. I tell you I must work,
Alice. We will work together out there where great battles will be
fought."

A sob caught her in the throat, and Alice Tynemouth wrapped her round
with tender arms. "It will do you good, darling," she said, softly."
It will help you through--through it all, whatever it is."

For an instant Jasmine felt that she must empty out her heart; tell
the inner tale of her struggle; but the instant of weakness passed as
suddenly as it came, and she only said--repeating Alice Tynemouth's
words: "Yes, through it all, through it all, whatever it is." Then she
added: "I want to do something big. I can, I can. I want to get out of
this into the open world. I want to fight. I want to balance things
somehow--inside myself...."

All at once she became very quiet. "But we must do business like
business people. This money: there must be a small committee of
business men, who--"

Alice Tynemouth finished the sentence for her. "Who are not Climbers?"

"Yes. But the whole organization must be done by ourselves--all the
practical, unfinancial work. The committee will only be like careful
trustees."

There was a new light in Jasmine's eyes. She felt for the moment that
life did not end in a cul de sac. She knew that now she had found a
way for Rudyard and herself to separate without disgrace, without
humiliation to him. She could see a few steps ahead. When she gave
Lablanche instructions to put out her clothes a little while before,
she did not know what she was going to do; but now she knew. She knew
how she could make it easier for Rudyard when the inevitable hour
came,--and it was here--which should see the end of their life
together. He need not now sacrifice himself so much for her sake.

She wanted to be alone, and, as if divining her thought, Lady
Tynemouth embraced her, and a moment later there was no sound in the
room save the ticking of the clock and the crackle of the fire.

How silent it was! The world seemed very far away. Peace seemed to
have taken possession of the place, and Jasmine's stillness as she sat
by the fire staring into the embers was a part of it. So lost was she
that she was not conscious of an opening door and of a footstep. She
was roused by a low voice.

"Jasmine!"

She did not start. It was as though there had come a call, for which
she had waited long, and she appeared to respond slowly to it, as one
would to a summons to the scaffold. There was no outward agitation
now, there was only a cold stillness which seemed little to belong to
the dainty figure which had ever been more like a decoration than a
living utility in the scheme of things. The crisis had come which she
had dreaded yet invited--that talk which they two must have before
they went their different ways. She had never looked Rudyard in the
eyes direct since the day when Adrian Fellowes died. They had met, but
never quite alone; always with some one present, either the servants
or some other. Now they were face to face.

On Rudyard's lips was a faint smile, but it lacked the old bonhomie
which was part of his natural equipment; and there were still sharp,
haggard traces of the agitation which had accompanied the expulsion of
Krool.

For an instant the idea possessed her that she would tell him
everything there was to tell, and face the consequences, no matter
what they might be. It was not in her nature to do things by halves,
and since catastrophe was come, her will was to drink the whole cup to
the dregs. She did not want to spare herself. Behind it all lay
something of that terrible wilfulness which had controlled her life so
far. It was the unlovely soul of a great pride. She did not want to be
forgiven for anything. She did not want to be condoned. There was a
spirit of defiance which refused to accept favours, preferring
punishment to the pity or the pardon which stooped to make it easier
for her. It was a dangerous pride, and in the mood of it she might
throw away everything, with an abandonment and recklessness only known
to such passionate natures.

The mood came on her all at once as she stood and looked at
Rudyard. She read, or she thought she read in his eyes, in his smile,
the superior spirit condescending to magnanimity, to compassion; and
her whole nature was instantly up in arms. She almost longed on the
instant to strip herself bare, as it were, and let him see her as she
really was, or as, in her despair, she thought she really was. The
mood in which she had talked to Lady Tynemouth was gone, and in its
place a spirit of revolt was at work. A certain sullenness which
Rudyard and no one else had ever seen came into her eyes, and her lips
became white with an ominous determination. She forgot him and all
that he would suffer if she told him the whole truth; and the whole
truth would, in her passion, become far more than the truth: she was
again the egoist, the centre of the universe. What happened to her was
the only thing which mattered in all the world. So it had ever been;
and her beauty and her wit and her youth and the habit of being
spoiled had made it all possible, without those rebuffs and that
confusion which fate provides sooner or later for the egoist.

"Well," she said, sharply, "say what you wish to say. You have wanted
to say it badly. I am ready."

He was stunned by what seemed to him the anger and the repugnance in
her tone.

"You remember you asked me to come, Jasmine, when you took the sjambok
from me."

He nodded towards the table where it lay, then went forward and picked
it up, his face hardening as he did so.

Like a pendulum her mood swung back. By accident he had said the one
thing which could have moved her, changed her at the moment. The
savage side of him appealed to her. What he lacked in brilliance and
the lighter gifts of raillery and eloquence and mental give-and-take,
he had balanced by his natural forces--from the power-house, as she
had called it long ago. Pity, solicitude, the forced smile,
magnanimity, she did not want in this black mood. They would have made
her cruelly audacious, and her temper would have known no license; but
now, suddenly, she had a vision of him as he stamped down the
staircase, his coat off, laying the sjambok on the shoulders of the
man who had injured her so, who hated her so, and had done so over all
the years. It appealed to her.

In her heart of hearts she was sure he had done it directly or
indirectly for her sake; and that was infinitely more to her than that
he should stoop from the heights to pick her up. He was what he was
because Heaven had made him so; and she was what she was because
Heaven had forgotten to make her otherwise; and he could not know or
understand how she came to do things that he would not do. But she
could know and understand why his hand fell on Krool like that of Cain
on Abel. She softened, changed at once.

"Yes, I remember," she said. "I've been upset. Krool was insolent, and
I ordered him to go. He would not."

"I've been a fool to keep him all these years. I didn't know what he
was--a traitor, the slimmest of the slim, a real Hottentot-Boer. I was
pigheaded about him, because he seemed to care so much about me. That
counts for much with the most of us."

"Alice Tynemouth saw a policeman help him into a cab in Piccadilly and
take him away. Will there be trouble?"

A grim look crossed his face. "I think not," he responded. "There are
reasons. He has been stealing information for years, and sending it to
Kruger, he and--"

He stopped short, and into his face came a look of sullen reticence.

"Yes, he and--and some one else? Who else?" Her face was white. She
had a sudden intuition.

He met her eyes. "Adrian Fellowes--what Fellowes knew, Krool knew, and
one way or another, by one means or another, Fellowes knew a great
deal."

The knowledge of Adrian Fellowes' treachery and its full significance
had hardly come home to him, even when he punished Krool, so shaken
was he by the fact that the half-caste had been false to
him. Afterwards, however, as the Partners all talked together
up-stairs, the enormity of the dead man's crime had fastened on him,
and his brain had been stunned by the terrible thought that directly
or indirectly Jasmine had abetted the crime. Things he had talked over
with her, and with no one else, had got to Kruger's knowledge, as the
information from South Africa showed. She had at least been
indiscreet, had talked to Fellowes with some freedom or he could not
have known what he did. But directly, knowingly abetted Fellowes? Of
course, she had not done that; but her foolish confidences had abetted
treachery, had wronged him, had helped to destroy his plans, had
injured England.

He had savagely punished Krool for insolence to her and for his
treachery, but a new feeling had grown up in him in the last
half-hour. Under the open taunts of his colleagues, a deep resentment
had taken possession of him that his work, so hard to do, so important
and critical, should have been circumvented by the indiscretions of
his wife.

Upon her now this announcement came with crushing force. Adrian
Fellowes had gained from her--she knew it all too well now--that which
had injured her husband; from which, at any rate, he ought to have
been immune. Her face flushed with a resentment far greater than that
of Rudyard's, and it was heightened by a humiliation which overwhelmed
her. She had been but a tool in every sense, she, Jasmine Byng, one
who ruled, had been used like a--she could not form the comparison in
her mind--by a dependent, a hanger-on of her husband's bounty; and it
was through her, originally, that he had been given a real chance in
life by Rudyard.

"I am sorry," she said, calmly, as soon as she could get her voice.
"I was the means of your employing him."

"That did not matter," he said, rather nervously. "There was no harm
in that, unless you knew his character before he came to me."

"You think I did?"

"I cannot think so. It would have been too ruthless--too wicked."

She saw his suffering, and it touched her. "Of course I did not know
that he could do such a thing--so shameless. He was a low coward. He
did not deserve decent burial," she added. "He had good fortune to die
as he did."

"How did he die?" Rudyard asked her, with a face so unlike what it had
always been, so changed by agitation, that it scarcely seemed his. His
eyes were fixed on hers.

She met them resolutely. Did he ask her in order to see if she had any
suspicion of himself? Had he done it? If he had, there would be some
mitigation of her suffering. Or was it Ian Stafford who had done it?
One or the other--but which?

"He died without being made to suffer," she said. "Most people who do
wrong have to suffer."

"But they live on," he said, bitterly.

"That is no great advantage unless you want to live," she replied. "Do
you know how he died?" she added, after a moment, with sharp scrutiny.

He shook his head and returned her scrutiny with added poignancy. "It
does not matter. He ceases to do any more harm. He did enough."

"Yes, quite enough," she said, with a withered look, and going over to
her writing-table, stood looking at him questioningly. He did not
speak again, however.

Presently she said, very quietly, "I am going away."

"I do not understand."

"I am going to work."

"I understand still less."

She took from the writing-table her cheque-book, and handed it to
him. He looked at it, and read the counterfoil of the cheque she had
given to Alice Tynemouth.

He was bewildered. "What does this mean?" he asked.

"It is for a hospital-ship."

"Sixty thousand pounds! Why, it is nearly all you have."

"It is two-thirds of what I have."

"Why--in God's name, why?"

"To buy my freedom," she answered, bitterly.

"From what?"

"From you."

He staggered back and leaned heavily against a bookcase.

"Freedom from me!" he exclaimed, hoarsely.

He had had terribly bitter and revengeful feelings during the last
hour, but all at once his real self emerged, the thing that was
deepest in him. "Freedom from me? Has it come to that?"

"Yes, absolutely. Do you remember the day you first said to me that
something was wrong with it all,--the day that Ian Stafford dined
after his return from abroad? Well, it has been all wrong--cruelly
wrong. We haven't made the best of things together, when everything
was with us to do so. I have spoiled it all. It hasn't been what you
expected."

"Nor what you expected?" he asked, sharply.

"Nor what I expected; but you are not to blame for that."

Suddenly all he had ever felt for her swept through his being, and
sullenness fled away. "You have ceased to love me, then.... See, that
is the one thing that matters, Jasmine. All else disappears beside
that. Do you love me? Do you love me still? Do you love me, Jasmine?
Answer that."

He looked like the ghost of his old dead self, pleading to be
recognized.

His misery oppressed her. "What does one know of one's self in the
midst of all this--of everything that has nothing to do with love?"
she asked.

What she might have said in the dark mood which was coming on her
again it is hard to say, but from beneath the window of the room which
looked on Park Lane, there came the voice of a street-minstrel,
singing to a travelling piano, played by sympathetic fingers, the
song:

"She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps, And lovers
around her are sighing--"

The simple pathos of the song had nothing to do with her own
experience or her own case, but the flood of it swept through her
veins like tears. She sank into a chair and listened for a moment with
eyes shining, then she sprang up in an agitation which made her
tremble and her face go white.

"No, no, no, Rudyard, I do not love you," she said, swiftly. "And
because I do not love you, I will not stay. I never loved you, never
truly loved you at any time. I never knew myself--that is all that I
can say. I never was awake till now. I never was wholly awake till I
saw you driving Krool into the street with the sjambok."

She flung up her hands. "For God's sake, let me be truthful at last. I
don't want to hurt you--I have hurt you enough, but I do not love you;
and I must go. I am going with Alice Tynemouth. We are going together
to do something. Maybe I shall learn what will make life possible."

He reached out his arms towards her with a sudden tenderness.

"No, no, no, do not touch me," she cried. "Do not come near me. I must
be alone now, and from now on and on.... You do not understand, but I
must be alone. I must work it out alone, whatever it is."

She got up with a quick energy, and went over to the writing-table
again. "It may take every penny I have got, but I shall do it, because
it is the thing I feel I must do."

"You have millions, Jasmine," he said, in a low, appealing voice.

She looked at him almost fiercely again. "No, I have what is my own,
my very own, and no more," she responded, bitterly. "You will do your
work, and I will do mine. You will stay here. There will be no
scandal, because I shall be going with Alice Tynemouth, and the world
will not misunderstand."

"There will be no scandal, because I am going, too," he said, firmly.

"No, no, you cannot, must not, go," she urged.

"I am going to South Africa in two days," he replied. "Stafford was
going with me, but he cannot go for a week or so. He will help you, I
am sure, with forming your committee and arranging, if you will insist
on doing this thing. He is still up-stairs there with the rest of
them. I will get him down now, I--"

"Ian Stafford is here--in this house?" she asked, with staring
eyes. What inconceivable irony it all was! She could have shrieked
with that laughter which is more painful far than tears.

"Yes, he is up-stairs. I made him come and help us--he knows the
international game. He will help you, too. He is a good friend--you
will know how good some day."

She went white and leaned against the table.

"No, I shall not need him," she said. "We have formed our committee."

"But when I am gone, he can advise you, he can--"

"Oh--oh!" she murmured, and swayed forward, fainting.

He caught her and lowered her gently into a chair.

"You are only mad," he whispered to ears which heard not as he bent
over her. "You will be sane some day."





BOOK IV




CHAPTER XXIX

THE MENACE OF THE MOUNTAIN


Far away, sharply cutting the ether, rise the great sterile peaks and
ridges. Here a stark, bare wall like a prison which shuts in a city of
men forbidden the blithe world of sun and song and freedom; yonder, a
giant of a lost world stretched out in stony ease, sleeping on, while
over his grey quiet, generations of men pass. First came savage,
warring, brown races alien to each other; then following, white races
with faces tanned and burnt by the sun, and smothered in unkempt beard
and hair--men restless and coarse and brave, and with ancient sins
upon them; but with the Bible in their hands and the language of the
prophets on their lips; with iron will, with hatred as deep as their
race-love is strong; they with their cattle and their herds, and the
clacking wagons carrying homes and fortunes, whose women were
housewives and warriors too. Coming after these, men of fairer aspect,
adventurous, self-willed, intent to make cities in the wilderness; to
win open spaces for their kinsmen, who had no room to swing the hammer
in the workshops of their far-off northern island homes; or who,
having room, stood helpless before the furnaces where the fires had
left only the ashes of past energies.

Up there, these mountains which, like Marathon, look on the sea. But
lower the gaze from the austere hills, slowly to the plains
below. First the grey of the mountains, turning to brown, then the
bare bronze rock giving way to a tumbled wilderness of boulders, where
lizards lie in the sun, where the meerkat startles the gazelle. Then
the bronze merging into a green so deep and strong that it resembles a
blanket spread upon the uplands, but broken by kopjes, shelterless and
lonely, rising here and there like watch-towers. After that, below and
still below, the flat and staring plain, through which runs an ugly
rift turning and twisting like a snake, and moving on and on, till
lost in the arc of other hills away to the east and the south: a river
in the waste, but still only a muddy current stealing between banks
baked and sterile, a sinister stream, giving life to the veld, as some
gloomy giver of good gifts would pay a debt of atonement.

On certain Dark Days of 1899-1900, if you had watched these turgid
waters flow by, your eyes would have seen tinges of red like blood;
and following the stain of red, gashed lifeless things, which had been
torn from the ranks of sentient beings.

Whereupon, lifting your eyes from the river, you would have seen the
answer to your question--masses of men mounted and unmounted, who
moved, or halted, or stood like an animal with a thousand legs
controlled by one mind. Or again you would have observed those myriad
masses plunging across the veld, still in cohering masses, which shook
and broke and scattered, regathering again, as though drawn by a
magnet, but leaving stark remnants in their wake.

Great columns of troops which had crossed the river and pushed on into
a zone of fierce fire, turn and struggle back again across the stream;
other thousands of men, who had not crossed, succour their wounded,
and retreat steadily, bitterly to places of safety, the victims of
blunders from which come the bloody punishment of valour.

Beyond the grey mountains were British men and women waiting for
succour from forces which poured death in upon them from the
malevolent kopjes, for relief from the ravages of disease and
hunger. They waited in a straggling town of the open plain circled by
threatening hills, where the threat became a blow, and the blow was
multiplied a million times. Gaunt, fighting men sought to appease the
craving of starvation by the boiled carcasses of old horses; in caves
and dug-outs, feeble women, with undying courage, kept alive the
flickering fires of life in their children; and they smiled to cheer
the tireless, emaciated warriors who went out to meet death, or with a
superior yet careful courage stayed to receive or escape it.

When night came, across the hills and far away in the deep blue, white
shaking streams of light poured upward, telling the besieged forces
over there at Lordkop that rescue would come, that it was moving on to
the mountain. How many times had this light in the sky flashed the
same grave pledge in the mystic code of the heliograph, "We are
gaining ground--we will reach you soon." How many times, however, had
the message also been, "Not yet--but soon."

Men died in this great camp from wounds and from fever, and others
went mad almost from sheer despair; yet whenever the Master Player
called, they sprang to their places with a new-born belief that he who
had been so successful in so many long-past battles would be right in
the end with his old rightness, though he had been wrong so often on
the Dreitval.

Others there were who were sick of the world and wished "to be well
out of it"--as they said to themselves. Some had been cruelly injured,
and desire of life was dead in them; others had given injury, and
remorse had slain peace. Others still there were who, having done evil
all their lives, knew that they could not retrace their steps, and yet
shrank from a continuance of the old bad things.

Some indeed, in the red futile sacrifice, had found what they came to
find; but some still were left whose recklessness did not
avail. Comrades fell beside them, but, unscathed, they went on
fighting. Injured men were carried in hundreds to the hospitals, but
no wounds brought them low. Bullets were sprayed around them, but none
did its work for them. Shells burst near, yet no savage shard
mutilated their bodies.

Of these was Ian Stafford.

Three times he had been in the fore-front of the fight where Death
came sweeping down the veld like rain, but It passed him by. Horses
and men fell round his guns, yet he remained uninjured.

He was patient. If Death would not hasten to meet him, he would
wait. Meanwhile, he would work while he could, but with no thought
beyond the day, no vision of the morrow.

He was one of the machines of war. He was close to his General, he was
the beloved of his men, still he was the man with no future; though he
studied the campaign with that thoroughness which had marked his last
years in diplomacy.

He was much among his own wounded, much with others who were comforted
by his solicitude, by the courage of his eye, and the grasp of his
firm, friendly hand. It was at what the soldiers called the Stay
Awhile Hospital that he came in living touch again with the life he
had left behind.

He knew that Rudyard Byng had come to South Africa; but he knew no
more. He knew that Jasmine had, with Lady Tynemouth, purchased a ship
and turned it into a hospital at a day's notice; but as to whether
these two had really come to South Africa, and harboured at the Cape,
or Durban, he had no knowledge. He never looked at the English
newspapers which arrived at Dreitval River. He was done with that old
world in which he once worked; he was concerned only for this narrow
field where an Empire's fate was being solved.

Night, the dearest friend of the soldier, had settled on the veld. A
thousand fires were burning, and there were no sounds save the
murmuring voices of myriads of men, and the stamp of hoofs where the
Cavalry and Mounted Infantry horses were picketed. Food and fire, the
priceless comfort of a blanket on the ground, and a saddle or kit for
a pillow gave men compensation for all the hardships and dangers of
the day; and they gave little thought to the morrow.

The soldier lives in the present. His rifle, his horse, his boots, his
blanket, the commissariat, a dry bit of ground to sleep on--these are
the things which occupy his mind. His heroism is incidental, the
commonplace impulse of the moment. He does things because they are
there to do, not because some great passion, some exaltation, seizes
him. His is the real simple life. So it suddenly seemed to Stafford as
he left his tent, after he had himself inspected every man and every
horse in his battery that lived through the day of death, and made his
way towards the Stay Awhile Hospital.

"This is the true thing," he said to himself as he gazed at the wide
camp. He turned his face here and there in the starlight, and saw
human life that but now was moving in the crash of great guns, the
shrieking of men terribly wounded, the agony of mutilated horses, the
bursting of shells, the hissing scream of the pom-pom, and the
discordant cries of men fighting an impossible fight.

"There is no pretense here," he reflected. "It is life reduced down to
the bare elements. There is no room for the superficial thing. It's
all business. It's all stark human nature."

At that moment his eye caught one of those white messages of the sky
flashing the old bitter promise, "We shall reach you soon." He forgot
himself, and a great spirit welled up in him.

"Soon!" The light in the sky shot its message over the hills.

That was it--the present, not the past. Here was work, the one thing
left to do.

"And it has to be done," he said aloud, as he walked on swiftly, a
spring to his footstep. Presently he mounted and rode away across the
veld. Buried in his thoughts, he was only subconsciously aware of what
he saw until, after near an hour's riding, he pulled rein at the door
of the Stay Awhile Hospital, which was some miles in the rear of the
main force.

As he entered, a woman in a nurse's garb passed him swiftly. He
scarcely looked at her; he was only conscious that she was in great
haste. Her eyes seemed looking at some inner, hidden thing, and,
though they glanced at him, appeared not to see him or to realize more
than that some one was passing. But suddenly, to both, after they had
passed, there came an arrest of attention. There was a consciousness,
which had nothing to do with the sight of the eyes, that a familiar
presence had gone by. Each turned quickly, and their eyes came back
from regarding the things of the imagination, and saw each other face
to face. The nurse gave an exclamation of pleasure and ran forward.

Stafford held out a hand. It seemed to him, as he did it, that it
stretched across a great black gulf and found another hand in the
darkness beyond.

"Al'mah!" he said, in a voice of protest as of companionship.

Of all those he had left behind, this was the one being whom to meet
was not disturbing. He wished to encounter no one of that inner circle
of his tragic friendship; but he realized that Al'mah had had her
tragedy too, and that her suffering could not be less than his
own. The same dark factor had shadowed the lives of both. Adrian
Fellowes had injured them both through the same woman, had shaken, if
not shattered, the fabric of their lives. However much they two were
blameworthy, they had been sincere, they had been honourable in their
dishonour, they had been "falsely true." They were derelicts of life,
with the comradeship of despair as a link between them.

"Al'mah," he said again, gently. Then, with a bitter humour, he added,
"You here--I thought you were a prima donna!"

The flicker of a smile crossed her odd, fine, strong face. "This is
grand opera," she said. "It is the Nibelungen Ring of England."

"To end in the Twilight of the Gods?" he rejoined with a hopeless kind
of smile.

They turned to the outer door of the hospital and stepped into the
night. For a moment they stood looking at the great camp far away to
right and left, and to the lone mountains yonder, where the Boer
commandoes held the passes and trained their merciless armament upon
all approaches. Then he said at last: "Why have you come here? You had
your work in England."

"What is my work?" she asked.

"To heal the wounded," he answered.

"I am trying to do that," she replied.

"You are trying to heal bodies, but it is a bigger, greater thing to
heal the wounded mind."

"I am trying to do that too. It is harder than the other."

"Whose minds are you trying to heal?" he questioned, gently.

"'Physician heal thyself' was the old command, wasn't it? But that is
harder still."

"Must one always be a saint to do a saintly thing?" he asked.

"I am not clever," she replied, "and I can't make phrases. But must
one always be a sinner to do a wicked thing? Can't a saint do a wicked
thing, and a sinner do a good thing without being called the one or
the other?"

"I don't think you need apologize for not being able to make
phrases. I suppose you'd say there is neither absolute saintliness nor
absolute wickedness, but that life is helplessly composite of both,
and that black really may be white. You know the old phrase, 'Killing
no murder.'"

She seemed to stiffen, and her lips set tightly for a minute; then, as
though by a great effort, she laughed bitterly.

"Murder isn't always killing," she replied. "Don't you remember the
protest in Macbeth, 'Time was, when the brains were out the man would
die'?" Then, with a little quick gesture towards the camp, she added,
"When you think of to-day, doesn't it seem that the brains are out,
and yet that the man still lives? I'm not a soldier, and this awful
slaughter may be the most wonderful tactics, but it's all beyond my
little mind."

"Your littleness is not original enough to attract notice," he replied
with kindly irony. "There is almost an epidemic of it. Let us hope we
shall have an antidote soon."

There was a sudden cry from inside the hospital. Al'mah shut her eyes
for a moment, clinched her fingers, and became very pale; then she
recovered herself, and turned her face towards the door, as though
waiting for some one to come out.

"What is the matter?" he asked. "Some bad case?"

"Yes--very bad," she replied.

"One you've been attending?"

"Yes."

"What arm--the artillery?" he asked with sudden interest.

"Yes, the artillery."

He turned towards the door of the hospital again. "One of my men? What
battery? Do you know?"

"Not yours--Schiller's."

"Schiller's! A Boer?"

She nodded. "A Boer spy, caught by Boer bullets as he was going back."

"When was that?"

"This morning early."

"The little business at Wortmann's Drift?"

She nodded. "Yes, there."

"I don't quite understand. Was he in our lines--a Boer spy?"

"Yes. But he wore British uniform, he spoke English. He was an
Englishman once."

Suddenly she came up close to him, and looked into his face
steadily. "I will tell you all," she said scarce above a whisper. "He
came to spy, but he came also to see his wife. She had written to ask
him not to join the Boers, as he said he meant to do; or, if he had,
to leave them and join his own people. He came, but not to join his
fellow-countrymen. He came to get money from his wife; and he came to
spy."

An illuminating thought shot into Stafford's mind. He remembered
something that Byng once told him.

"His wife is a nurse?" he asked in a low tone.

"She is a nurse."

"She knew, then, that he was a spy?" he asked.

"Yes, she knew. I suppose she ought to be tried by court-martial. She
did not expose him. She gave him a chance to escape. But he was shot
as he tried to reach the Boer lines."

"And was brought back here to his wife--to you! Did he let them"--he
nodded towards the hospital--"know he was your husband?"

When she spoke again her voice showed strain, but it did not
tremble. "Of course. He would not spare me. He never did. It was
always like that."

He caught her hand in his. "You have courage enough for a hundred," he
said.

"I have suffered enough for a hundred," she responded.

Again that sharp cry rang out, and again she turned anxiously towards
the door.

"I came to South Africa on the chance of helping him in some way," she
replied. "It came to me that he might need me."

"You paid the price of his life once to Kruger--after the Raid, I've
heard," he said.

"Yes, I owed him that, and as much more as was possible," she
responded with a dark, pained look.

"His life is in danger--an operation?" he questioned.

"Yes. There is one chance; but they could not give him an anaesthetic,
and they would not let me stay with him. They forced me away--out
here." She appeared to listen again. "That was his voice--that
crying," she added presently.

"Wouldn't it be better he should go? If he recovers there would only
be--"

"Oh yes, to be tried as a spy--a renegade Englishman! But he would
rather live in spite of that, if it was only for an hour."

"To love life so much as that--a spy!" Stafford reflected.

"Not so much love of life as fear of--" She stopped short.

"To fear--silence and peace!" he remarked darkly, with a shrug of his
shoulders. Then he added: "Tell me, if he does not die, and if--if he
is pardoned by any chance, do you mean to live with him again?"

A bitter laugh broke from her. "How do I know? What does any woman
know what she will do until the situation is before her! She may mean
to do one thing and do the complete opposite. She may mean to hate,
and will end by loving. She may mean to kiss and will end by
killing. She may kiss and kill too all in one moment, and still not be
inconsistent. She would have the logic of a woman. How do I know what
I would do--what I will do!"

The door of the hospital opened. A surgeon came out, and seeing
Al'mah, moved towards the two. Stafford went forward hurriedly, but
Al'mah stood like one transfixed. There was a whispered word, and then
Stafford came back to her.

"You will not need to do anything," he said.

"He is gone--like that!" she whispered in an awed voice. "Death,
death--so many die!" She shuddered.

Stafford passed her arm through his, and drew her towards the door of
the hospital.

A half-hour later Stafford emerged again from the hospital, his head
bent in thought. He rode slowly back to his battery, unconscious of
the stir of life round him, of the shimmering white messages to the
besieged town beyond the hills. He was thinking of the tragedy of the
woman he had left tearless and composed beside the bedside of the man
who had so vilely used her. He was reflecting how her life, and his
own, and the lives of at least three others, were so tangled together
that what twisted the existence of one disturbed all. In one sense the
woman he had just left in the hospital was nothing to him, and yet now
she seemed to be the only living person to whom he was drawn.

He remembered the story he had once heard in Vienna of a man and a
woman who both had suffered betrayal, who both had no longer a single
illusion left, who had no love for each other at all, in whom indeed
love was dead--a mangled murdered thing; and yet who went away to
Corfu together, and there at length found a pathway out of despair in
the depths of the sea. Between these two there had never been even the
faint shadow of romance or passion; but in the terrible mystery of
pain and humiliation, they had drawn together to help each other,
through a breach of all social law, in pity of each other. He
apprehended the real meaning of the story when Vienna was alive with
it, but he understood far, far better now.

A pity as deep as any feeling he had ever known had come to him as he
stood with Al'mah beside the bed of her dead renegade man; and it
seemed to him that they two also might well bury themselves in the
desert together, and minister to each other's despair. It was only the
swift thought of a moment, which faded even as it saw the light; but
it had its origin in that last flickering sense of human companionship
which dies in the atmosphere of despair. "Every man must live his dark
hours alone," a broken-down actor once said to Stafford as he tried to
cheer him when the last thing he cared for had been taken from
him--his old, faded, misshapen wife; when no faces sent warm glances
to him across the garish lights. "It is no use," this Roscius had
said, "every man must live his dark hours alone."

That very evening, after the battle of the Dreitval, Jigger,
Stafford's trumpeter, had said a thing to him which had struck a chord
that rang in empty chambers of his being. He had found Jigger sitting
disconsolate beside a gun, which was yet grimy and piteous with the
blood of men who had served it, and he asked the lad what his trouble
was.

In reply Jigger had said, "When it 'it 'm 'e curled up like a bit o'
shaving. An' when I done what I could 'e says, 'It's a speshul for one
now, an' it's lonely goin',' 'e says. When I give 'im a drink 'e says,
'It 'd do me more good later, little 'un'; an' 'e never said no more
except, 'One at a time is the order--only one.'"

Not even his supper had lifted the cloud from Jigger's face, and
Stafford had left the lad trying to compose a letter to the mother of
the dead man, who had been an especial favourite with the trumpeter
from the slums.

Stafford was roused from his reflections by the grinding, rumbling
sound of a train. He turned his face towards the railway line.

"A troop-train--more food for the dragons," he said to himself. He
could not see the train itself, but he could see the head-light of the
locomotive, and he could hear its travail as it climbed slowly the
last incline to the camp.

"Who comes there!" he said aloud, and in his mind there swept a
premonition that the old life was finding him out, that its invisible
forces were converging upon him. But did it matter? He knew in his
soul that he was now doing the right thing, that he had come out in
the open where all the archers of penalty had a fair target for their
arrows. He wished to be "Free among the dead that are wounded and that
lie in the grave and are out of remembrance;" but he would do no more
to make it so than tens of thousands of other men were doing on these
battle-fields.

"Who comes there!" he said again, his eyes upon the white, round light
in the distance, and he stood still to try and make out the black,
winding, groaning thing.

Presently he heard quick footsteps.

A small, alert figure stopped short, a small, abrupt hand
saluted. "The General Commanding 'as sent for you, sir."

It was trumpeter Jigger of the Artillery.

"Are you the General's orderly, then?" asked Stafford quizzically.

"The orderly's gone w'ere 'e thought 'e'd find you, and I've come
w'ere I know'd you'd be, sir."

"Where did he think he'd find me?"

"Wiv the 'osses, sir."

A look of gratification crossed Stafford's face. He was well known in
the army as one who looked after his horses and his men. "And what
made you think I was at the hospital, Jigger?"

"Becos you'd been to the 'osses, sir."

"Did you tell the General's orderly that?"

"No, your gryce--no, sir," he added quickly, and a flush of
self-reproach came to his face, for he prided himself on being a real
disciplinarian, a disciple of the correct thing. "I thought I'd like
'im to see our 'osses, an' 'ow you done 'em, an' I'd find you as quick
as 'e could, wiv a bit to the good p'r'aps."

Stafford smiled. "Off you go, then. Find that orderly. Say, Colonel
Stafford's compliments to the General Commanding and he will report
himself at once. See that you get it straight, trumpeter."

Jigger would rather die than not get it straight, and his salute made
that quite plain.

"It's made a man of him, anyhow," Stafford said to himself, as he
watched the swiftly disappearing figure. "He's as straight as a nail,
body and mind--poor little devil.... How far away it all seems!"

A quarter of an hour later he was standing beside the troop-train
which he had seen labouring to its goal. It was carrying the old
regiment of the General Officer Commanding, who had sent Stafford to
its Colonel with an important message. As the two officers stood
together watching the troops detrain and make order out of the chaos
of baggage and equipment, Stafford's attention was drawn to a woman
some little distance away, giving directions about her impedimenta.

"Who is the lady?" he asked, while in his mind was a sensible stir of
recognition.

"Ah, there's something like the real thing!" his companion replied.
"She is doing a capital bit of work. She and Lady Tynemouth have got a
hospital-ship down at Durban. She's come to link it up better with the
camp. It's Rudyard Byng's wife. They're both at it out here."

"Who comes there!" Stafford had exclaimed a moment before with a sense
of premonition.

Jasmine had come.

He drew back in the shadow as she turned round towards them.

"To the Stay Awhile--right!" he heard a private say in response to her
directions.

He saw her face, but not clearly. He had glimpse of a Jasmine not so
daintily pretty as of old, not so much of a dresden-china shepherdess;
but with the face of a woman who, watching the world with
understanding eyes, and living with an understanding heart, had taken
on something of the mysterious depths of the Life behind life. It was
only a glimpse he had, but it was enough. It was more than enough.

"Where is Byng?" he asked his fellow-officer.

"He's been up there with Tain's Brigade for a fortnight. He was in
Kimberley, but got out before the investment, went to Cape Town, and
came round here--to be near his wife, I suppose."

"He is soldiering, then?"

"He was a Colonel in the Rand Rifles once. He's with the South African
Horse now in command of the regiment attached to Tain. Tain's out of
your beat--away on the right flank there."

Presently Stafford saw Jasmine look in their direction; then, on
seeing Stafford's companion, came forward hastily. The Colonel left
Stafford and went to meet her.

A moment afterwards, she turned and looked at Stafford. Her face was
now deadly pale, but it showed no agitation. She was in the light of
an electric lamp, and he was in the shadow. For one second only she
gazed at him, then she turned and moved away to the cape-cart awaiting
her. The Colonel saw her in, then returned to Stafford.

"Why didn't you come and be introduced?" the Colonel asked. "I told
her who you were."

"Hospital-ships are not in my line," Stafford answered
casually. "Women and war don't go together."

"She's a nurse, she's not a woman," was the paradoxical reply.

"She knows Byng is here?"

"I suppose so. It looks like a clever bit of strategy--junction of
forces. There's a lot of women at home would like the chance she
has--at a little less cost."

"What is the cost?"

"Well, that ship didn't cost less than a hundred thousand pounds."

"Is that all?"

The Colonel looked at Stafford in surprise: but Stafford was not
thinking of the coin.



CHAPTER XXX

"AND NEVER THE TWAIN SHALL MEET!"


As the cape-cart conveying Jasmine to the hospital moved away from the
station, she settled down into the seat beside the driver with the
helplessness of one who had received a numbing blow. Her body swayed
as though she would faint, and her eyes closed, and stayed closed for
so long a time, that Corporal Shorter, who drove the rough little pair
of Argentines, said to her sympathetically:

"It's all right, ma'am. We'll be there in a jiffy. Don't give way."

This friendly solicitude had immediate effect. Jasmine sat up, and
thereafter held herself as though she was in her yellow salon yonder
in London.

"Thank you," she replied serenely to Corporal Shorter. "It was a long,
tiring journey, and I let myself go for a moment."

"A good night's rest'll do you a lot of good, ma'am," he
ventured. Then he added, "Beggin' pardon, ain't you Mrs. Colonel
Rudyard Byng?"

She turned and looked at the man inquiringly. "Yes, I am Mrs. Byng."

"Thank you, ma'am. Now how did I know? Why," he chuckled, "I saw a big
B on your hand-bag, and I knew you was from the hospital-ship--they
told me that at the Stay Awhile; and the rest was easy, ma'am. I had a
mate along o' your barge. He was one of them the Boers got at Talana
Hill. They chipped his head-piece nicely--just like the 4.7's flay the
kopjes up there. My mate's been writing to me about you. We're a long
way from home, Joey and me, and a bit o' kindness is a bit of all
right to us."

"Where is your home?" Jasmine asked, her fatigue and oppression
lifting.

He chuckled as though it were a joke, while he answered: "Australia
onct and first. My mate, Joey Clynes, him that's on your ship, we was
both born up beyond Bendigo. When we cut loose from the paternal
leash, so to speak, we had a bit of boundary-riding, rabbit-killing,
shearing and sun-downing--all no good, year by year. Then we had a bit
o' luck and found a mob of warrigals--horses run wild, you know. We
stalked 'em for days in the droughttime to a water-course, and got
'em, and coaxed 'em along till the floods come; then we sold 'em, and
with the hard tin shipped for to see the world. So it was as of
old. And by and by we found ourselves down here, same as all the rest,
puttin' in a bit o' time for the Flag."

Jasmine turned on him one of those smiles which had made her so many
friends in the past--a smile none the less alluring because it had
lost that erstime flavour of artifice and lure which, however hidden,
had been part of its power. Now it was accompanied by no slight
drooping of the eyelids. It brightened a look which was direct and
natural.

"It's a good thing to have lived in the wide distant spaces of the
world," she responded. "A man couldn't easily be mean or small where
life is so simple and so large."

His face flushed with pleasure. She was so easy to get on with, he
said to himself; and she certainly had a wonderfully kind smile. But
he felt too that she needed greater wisdom, and he was ready to give
it--a friendly characteristic of the big open spaces "where life is so
simple and so large."

"Well, that might be so 'long o' some continents," he remarked, "but
it wasn't so where Joey Clynes and me was nourished, so to speak. I
tripped up on a good many mean things from Bendigo to Thargomindah and
back around. The back-blocks has its tricks as well as the towns, as
you would see if you come across a stock-rider with a cheque to be
broke in his hand. I've seen six months' wages go bung in a day with a
stock-rider on the gentle jupe. But again, peradventure, I've seen a
man that had lost ten thousand sheep tramp fifty miles in a blazing
sun with a basket of lambs on his back, savin' them two switherin'
little papillions worth nothin' at all, at the risk of his own
life--just as mates have done here on this salamanderin' veld; same as
Colonel Byng did to-day along o' Wortmann's Drift."

Jasmine had been trying to ask a question concerning her husband ever
since the man had mentioned his name, and had not been able to do
so. She had never spoken of him directly to any one since she had left
England; had never heard from him; had written him no word; was, so
far as the outer acts of life were concerned, as distant from him as
Corporal Shorter was from his native Bendigo. She had been busy as she
had never before been in her life, in a big, comprehensive, useful
way. It had seemed to her in England, as she carried through the
negotiations for the Valoria, fitted it out for the service it was to
render, directed its administration over the heads of the committee
appointed, for form's sake, to assist Lady Tynemouth and herself, that
the spirit of her grandfather was over her, watching her, inspiring
her. This had become almost an obsession with her. Her grandfather had
had belief in her, delight in her; and now the innumerable talks she
had had with him, as to the way he had done things, gave her
confidence and a key to what she had to do. It was the first real
work; for what she did for Ian Stafford in diplomacy was only playing
upon the weakness of human nature with a skilled intelligence, with an
instinctive knowledge of men and a capacity for managing them. The
first real pride she had ever felt soothed her angry soul.

Her grandfather had been more in her mind than any one else--than
either Rudyard or Ian Stafford. Towards both of these her mind had
slowly and almost unconsciously changed, and she wished to think about
neither. There had been a revolution in her nature, and all her tragic
experience, her emotions, and her faculties, had been shaken into a
crucible where the fire of pain and revolt burned on and on and
on. From the crucible there had come as yet no precipitation of life's
elements, and she scarcely knew what was in her heart. She tried to
smother every thought concerning the past. She did not seek to find
her bearings, or to realize in what country of the senses and the
emotions she was travelling.

One thing was present, however, at times, and when it rushed over her
in its fulness, it shook her as the wind shakes the leaf on a tree--a
sense of indignation, of anger, or resentment. Against whom?  Against
all. Against Rudyard, against Ian Stafford; but most of all, a
thousand times most against a dead man, who had been swept out of
life, leaving behind a memory which could sting murderously.

Now, when she heard of Rudyard's bravery at Wortmann's Drift, a
curious thrill of excitement ran through her veins, or it would be
truer to say that a sensation new and strange vibrated in her
blood. She had heard many tales of valour in this war, and more than
one hero of the Victoria Cross had been in her charge at Durban; but
as a child's heart might beat faster at the first words of a wonderful
story, so she felt a faint suffocation in the throat and her brooding
eyes took on a brighter, a more objective look, as she heard the tale
of Wortmann's Drift.

"Tell me about it," she said, yet turned her head away from her eager
historian.

Corporal Shorter's words were addressed to the smallest pink ear he
had ever seen except on a baby, but he was only dimly conscious of
that. He was full of a man's pride in a man's deed.

"Well, it was like this," he recited. "Gunter's horse bolted--Dick
Gunter's in the South African Horse same as Colonel Byng--his lot. Old
Gunter's horse gits away with him into the wide open. I s'pose there'd
been a hunderd Boers firing at the runaway for three minutes, and at
last off comes Gunter. He don't stir for a minute or more, then we see
him pick himself up a bit quick, but settle back again. And while we
was lookin' and tossin' pennies like as to his chances out there, a
grey New Zealand mare nips out across the veld stretchin' every
string. We knowed her all right, that grey mare--a regular
Mrs. Mephisto, w'ich belongs to Colonel Byng. Do the Boojers fire at
him? Don't they! We could see the spots of dust where the bullets
struck, spittin', spittin', spittin', and Lord knows how many hunderd
more there was that didn't hit the ground. An' the grey mare gets
there. As cool as a granadillar, down drops Colonel Byng beside old
Gunter; down goes the grey mare--Colonel Byng had taught her that
trick, like the Roosian Cossack hosses. Then up on her rolls old
Gunter, an' up goes Colonel Byng, and the grey mare switchin' her
bobtail, as if she was havin' a bit of mealies in the middle o' the
day. But when they was both on, then the band begun to play. Men was
fightin' of course, but it looked as if the whole smash stopped to see
what the end would be. It was a real pretty race, an' the grey mare
takin' it as free as if she was carryin' a little bit of a pipkin like
me instead of twenty-six stone. She's a flower, that grey mare! Once
she stumbled, an' we knowed it wasn't an ant-bear's hole she'd found
in the veld, and that she'd been hurt. But they know, them hosses,
that they must do as their Baases do; and they fight right on. She
come home with the two all right. She switched round a corner and over
a nose of land where that crossfire couldn't hit the lot; an' there
was the three of 'em at 'ome for a cup o' tea. Why, ma'am, that done
the army as much good to-day, that little go-to-the-devil, you
mud-suckers! as though we'd got Schuster's Hill. 'Twas what we
needed--an' we got it. It took our eyes off the nasty little fact that
half of a regiment was down, an' the other half with their job not
done as it was ordered. It made the S.A.'s and the Lynchesters and the
Gessex lot laugh. Old Gunter's all right. He's in the Stay Awhile
now. You'll be sure to see him. And Colonel Byng's all right, too,
except a little bit o' splinter--"

"A bit of splinter--" Her voice was almost peremptory.

"A chip off his wrist like, but he wasn't thinkin' of that when he got
back. He was thinkin' of the grey mare; and she was hit in three
places, but not to mention. One bullet cut through her ear and through
Colonel Byng's hat as he stooped over her neck; but the luck was with
them. They was born to do a longer trek together. A little bit of the
same thing in both of 'em, so to speak. The grey mare has a temper
like a hunderd wildcats, and Colonel Byng can let himself go too, as
you perhaps know, ma'am. We've seen him let loose sometimes when there
was shirkers about, but he's all right inside his vest. And he's a
good feeder. His men get their tucker all right. He knows when to shut
his eyes. He's got a way to make his bunch--and they're the
hardest-bit bunch in the army--do anything he wants 'em to. He's as
hard himself as ever is, but he's all right underneath the
epidermotis."

All at once there flashed before Jasmine's eyes the picture of Rudyard
driving Krool out of the house in Park Lane with a sjambok. She heard
again the thud of the rhinoceros-whip on the cringing back of the
Boer; she heard the moan of the victim as he stumbled across the
threshold into the street; and again she felt that sense of
suffocation, that excitement which the child feels on the brink of a
wonderful romance, the once-upon-a-time moment.

They were nearing the hospital. The driver silently pointed to it. He
saw that he had made an impression, and he was content with it. He
smiled to himself.

"Is Colonel Byng in the camp?" she asked.

"He's over--'way over, miles and miles, on the left wing with Kearey's
brigade now. But old Gunter's here, and you're sure to see Colonel
Byng soon--well, I should think."

She had no wish to see Colonel Byng soon. Three days would suffice to
do what she wished here, and then she would return to Durban to her
work there--to Alice Tynemouth, whose friendship and wonderful
tactfulness had helped her in indefinable ways, as a more obvious
sympathy never could have done. She would have resented one word which
would have suggested that a tragedy was slowly crushing out her life.

Never a woman in the world was more alone. She worked and smiled with
eyes growing sadder, yet with a force hardening in her which gave her
face a character it never had before. Work had come at the right
moment to save her from the wild consequences of a nature maddened by
a series of misfortunes and penalties, for which there had been no
warning and no preparation.

She was not ready for a renewal of the past. Only a few minutes before
she had been brought face to face with Ian Stafford, had seen him look
at her out of the shadow there at the station, as though she was an
infinite distance away from him; and she had realized with overwhelming
force how changed her world was. Ian Stafford, who but a few short
months ago had held her in his arms and whispered unforgettable things,
now looked at her as one looks at the image of a forgotten thing. She
recalled his last words to her that awful day when Rudyard had read
the fatal letter, and the world had fallen:

"Nothing can set things right between you and me, Jasmine," he had
said. "But there is Rudyard. You must help him through. He heard
scandal about Mennaval last night at De Lancy Scovel's. He didn't
believe it. It rests with you to give it all the lie. Good-bye."

That had been the end--the black, bitter end. Since then Ian had never
spoken a word to her, nor she to him; but he had stood there in the
shadow at the station like a ghost, reproachful, unresponsive,
indifferent. She recalled now the day when, after three years'
parting, she had left him cool, indifferent, and self-contained in the
doorway of the sweet-shop in Regent Street; how she had entered her
carriage, had clinched her hands, and cried with wilful passion: "He
shall not treat me so. He shall show some feeling. He shall! He
shall!"

Here was indifference again, but of another land. Hers was not a
woman's vanity, in fury at being despised. Vanity, maybe, was still
there, but so slight that it made no contrast to the proud turmoil of
a nature which had been humiliated beyond endurance; which, for its
mistakes, had received accruing penalties as precise as though they
had been catalogued; which had waked to find that a whole lifetime had
been an error; and that it had no anchor in any set of principles or
impelling habits.

And over all there hung the shadow of a man's death, with its black
suspicion. When Ian Stafford looked at her from the shadow of the
railway-station, the question had flashed into his mind, Did she kill
him? Around Adrian Fellowes' death there hung a cloud of mystery which
threw a sinister shadow on the path of three people. In the middle of
the night, Jasmine started from her sleep with the mystery of the
man's death torturing her, and with the shuddering question, Which? on
her fevered lips. Was it her husband--was it Ian Stafford? As he
galloped over the veld, or sat with his pipe beside the camp-fire,
Rudyard Byng was also drawn into the frigid gloom of the ugly thought,
and his mind asked the question, Did she kill him? It was as though
each who had suffered from the man in life was destined to be menaced
by his shade, till it should be exorcised by that person who had taken
the useless life, saying, "It was I; I did it!"

As Jasmine entered the hospital, it seemed to her excited imagination
as though she was entering a House of Judgment: as though here in a
court of everlasting equity she would meet those who had played their
vital parts in her life.

What if Rudyard was here! What if in these few days while she was to
be here he was to cross her path! What would she say? What would she
do? What could be said or done? Bitterness and resentment and dark
suspicion were in her mind--and in his. Her pride was less wilful and
tempestuous than on the day when she drove him from her; when he said
things which flayed her soul, and left her body as though it had been
beaten with rods. Her bitterness, her resentment had its origin in the
fact that he did not understand--and yet in his crude big way he had
really understood better than Ian Stafford. She felt that Rudyard
despised her now a thousand times more than ever he had hinted at in
that last stifling scene in Park Lane; and her spirit rebelled against
it. She would rather that he had believed everything against her, and
had made an open scandal, because then she could have paid any debt
due to him by the penalty most cruel a woman can bear. But pity,
concession, the condescension of a superior morality, were impossible
to her proud mind.

As for Ian Stafford, he had left her stripped bare of one single
garment of self-respect. His very kindness, his chivalry in defending
her; his inflexible determination that all should be over between them
forever, that she should be prevailed upon to be to Rudyard more than
she had ever been--it all drove her into a deeper isolation. This
isolation would have been her destruction but that something bigger
than herself, a passion to do things, lifted to idealism a mind which
in the past had grown materialistic, which, in gaining wit and mental
skill, had missed the meaning of things, the elemental sense.

Corporal Shorter's tale of Rudyard's heroism had stirred her; but she
could not have said quite what her feeling was with regard to it. She
only knew vaguely that she was glad of it in a more personal than
impersonal way. When she shook hands with the cheerful non-com. at the
door of the hospital, she gave him a piece of gold which he was loth
to accept till she said: "But take it as a souvenir of Colonel Byng's
little ride with 'Old Gunter.'"

With a laugh, he took it then, and replied, "I'll not smoke it, I'll
not eat it, and I'll not drink it. I'll wear it for luck and
God-bless-you!"



CHAPTER XXXI

THE GREY HORSE AND ITS RIDER


It was almost midnight. The camp was sleeping. The forces of
destruction lay torpid in the starry shadow of the night. There was no
moon, but the stars gave a light that relieved the gloom. They were so
near to the eye that it might seem a lancer could pick them from their
nests of blue. The Southern Cross hung like a sign of hope to guide
men to a new Messiah.

In vain Jasmine had tried to sleep. The day had been too much for
her. All that happened in the past four years went rushing past, and
she saw herself in scenes which were so tormenting in their reality
that once she cried out as in a nightmare. As she did so, she was
answered by a choking cry of pain like her own, and, waking, she
started up from her couch with poignant apprehension; but presently
she realized that it was the cry of some wounded patient in the ward
not far from the room where she lay.

It roused her, however, from the half wakefulness which had been
excoriated by burning memories, and, hurriedly rising, she opened wide
the window and looked out into the night. The air was sharp, but it
soothed her hot face and brow, and the wild pulses in her wrists
presently beat less vehemently. She put a firm hand on herself, as she
was wont to do in these days, when there was no time for brooding on
her own troubles, and when, with the duties she had taken upon
herself, it would be criminal to indulge in self-pity.

Looking out of the window now into the quiet night, the watch-fires
dotting the plain had a fascination for her greater than the wonder of
the southern sky and its plaque of indigo sprinkled with silver dust
and diamonds. Those fires were the bulletins of the night, telling
that around each of them men were sleeping, or thinking of other
scenes, or wondering whether the fight to-morrow would be their last
fight, and if so, what then? They were to the army like the candle in
the home of the cottager. Those little groups of men sleeping around
their fires were like a family, where men grow to serve each other as
brother serves brother, knowing each other's foibles, but preserving
each other's honour for the family's pride, risking life to save each
other.

As Jasmine gazed into the gloom, spattered with a delicate radiance
which did not pierce the shadows, but only made lively the darkness,
she was suddenly conscious of the dull regular thud of horses' hoofs
upon the veld. Troops of Mounted Infantry were evidently moving to
take up a new position at the bidding of the Master Player. The sound
was like the rub-a-dub of muffled hammers. The thought forced itself
on her mind that here were men secretly hastening to take part in the
grim lottery of life and death, from which some, and maybe many, would
draw the black ticket of doom, and so pass from the game before the
game was won.

The rumbling roll of hoofs grew distinct. Now they seemed to be almost
upon her, and presently they emerged into view from the right, where
their progress had been hidden by the hospital-building. When they
reached the hospital there came a soft command and, as the troop
passed, every face was turned towards the building. It was men full of
life and the interest of the great game paying passing homage to their
helpless comrades in this place of healing.

As they rode past, a few of the troopers had a glimpse of the figure
dimly outlined at the window. Some made kindly jests, cheffing each
other--"Your fancy, old sly-boots? Arranged it all, eh? Watch me,
Lizzie, as I pass, and wave your lily-white hand!"

But others pressed their lips tightly, for visions of a woman
somewhere waiting and watching flashed before their eyes; while others
still had only the quiet consciousness of the natural man, that a
woman looks at them; and where women are few and most of them are
angels,--the battle-field has no shelter for any other--such looks
have deep significance.

The troop went by steadily, softly and slowly. After they had all gone
past, two horsemen detached from the troop came after. Presently one
of them separated from his companion and rode on. The other came
towards the hospital at a quick trot, drew bridle very near Jasmine's
window, slid to the ground, said a soft word to his charger, patted
its neck, and, turning, made for the door of the hospital. For a
moment Jasmine stood looking out, greatly moved, she scarcely knew
why, by this little incident of the night, and then suddenly the
starlight seemed to draw round the patient animal standing at
attention, as it were.

Then she saw it was a grey horse.

Its owner, as Corporal Shorter predicted, had come to see "Old
Gunter," ere he went upon another expedition of duty. Its owner was
Rudyard Byng.

That was why so strange a coldness, as of apprehension or anxiety, had
passed through Jasmine when the rider had come towards her out of the
night. Her husband was here. If she called, he would come. If she
stretched out her hand, she could touch him. If she opened a door, she
would be in his presence. If he opened the door behind her, he could--

She stepped back hastily into the room, and drew her night-robe
closely about her with sudden flushing of the face. If he should enter
her room--she felt in the darkness for her dressing-gown. It was not
on the chair beside her bed. She moved hastily, and blundered against
a table. She felt for the foot of the bed. The dressing-gown was not
there. Her brain was on fire. Where was her dressing-gown? She tried
to button the night-dress over her palpitating breast, but abandoned
it to throw back her head and gather her golden hair away from her
shoulders and breast. All this in the dark, in the safe dusk of her
own room.... Where was her dressing-gown? Where was her maid? Why
should she be at such a disadvantage! She reached for the table again
and found a match-box. She would strike a light, and find her
dressing-gown. Then she abruptly remembered that she had no
dressing-gown with her; that she had travelled with one single
bag--little more than a hand-bag--and it contained only the emergency
equipment of a nurse. She had brought no dressing-gown; only the light
outer rain-proof coat which should serve a double purpose. She had
forgotten for a moment that she was not in her own house, that she was
an army-woman, living a soldier's life. She felt her way to the wall,
found the rain-proof coat, and, with trembling fingers, put it on. As
she did so a wave of weakness passed over her, and she swayed as
though she would fall; but she put a hand on herself and fought her
growing agitation.

She turned towards the bed, but stopped abruptly, because she heard
footsteps in the hall outside--footsteps she knew, footsteps which for
years had travelled towards her, day and night, with eagerness; the
quick, urgent footsteps of a man of decision, of impulse, of
determination. It was Rudyard's footsteps outside her door, Rudyard's
voice speaking to some one; then Rudyard's footsteps pausing; and
afterwards a dead silence. She felt his presence; she imagined his
hand upon her door. With a little smothered gasp, she made a move
forward as though to lock the door; then she remembered that it had no
lock. With strained and startled eyes, she kept her gaze turned on the
door, expecting to see it open before her. Her heart beat so hard she
could hear it pounding against her breast, and her temples were
throbbing.

The silence was horrible to her. Her agitation culminated. She could
bear it no longer. Blindly she ran to another door which led into the
sitting-room of the matron, used for many purposes--the hold-all of
the odds and ends of the hospital life; where surgeons consulted,
officers waited, and army authorities congregated for the business of
the hospital. She found the door, opened it and entered hastily. One
light was burning--a lamp with a green shade. She shut the door behind
her quickly and leaned against it, closing her eyes with a sense of
relief. Presently some movement in the room startled her. She opened
her eyes. A figure stood between the green lamp and the farther door.

It was her husband.

Her senses had deceived her. His footsteps had not stopped before her
bedroom-door. She had not heard the handle of the door of her bedroom
turn, but the handle of the door of this room. The silence which had
frightened her had followed his entrance here.

She hastily drew the coat about her. The white linen of her
night-dress showed. She thrust it back, and instinctively drew behind
the table, as though to hide her bare ankles.

He had started back at seeing her, but had instantly recovered
himself. "Well, Jasmine," he said quietly, "we've met in a queer
place."

All at once her hot agitation left her, and she became cold and
still. She was in a maelstrom of feeling a minute before, though she
could not have said what the feeling meant; now she was dominated by a
haunting sense of injury, roused by resentment, not against him, but
against everything and everybody, himself included. All the work of
the last few months seemed suddenly undone--to go for nothing. Just as
a drunkard in his pledge made reformation, which has done its work for
a period, feels a sudden maddening desire to indulge his passion for
drink, and plunges into a debauch,--the last maddening degradation
before his final triumph,--so Jasmine felt now the restrictions and
self-control of the past few months fall away from her. She emerged
from it all the same woman who had flung her married life, her man,
and her old world to the winds on the day that Krool had been driven
into the street. Like Krool, she too had gone out into the
unknown--into a strange land where "the Baas" had no habitation.

Rudyard's words seemed to madden her, and there was a look of scrutiny
and inquiry in his eyes which she saw--and saw nothing else
there. There was the inquisition in his look which had been there in
their last interview when he had said as plainly as man could say,
"What did it mean--that letter from Adrian Fellowes?"

It was all there in his eyes now--that hateful inquiry, the piercing
scrutiny of a judge in the Judgment House, and there came also into
her eyes, as though in consequence, a look of scrutiny too.

"Did you kill Adrian Fellowes? Was it you?" her disordered mind asked.

She had mistaken the look in his eyes. It was the same look as the
look in hers, and in spite of all the months that had gone, both asked
the same question as in the hour when they last parted. The dead man
stood between them, as he had never stood in life--of infinitely more
importance than he had ever been in life. He had never come between
Rudyard and herself in the old life in any vital sense, not in any
sense that finally mattered. He had only been an incident; not part of
real life, but part of a general wastage of character; not a
disintegrating factor in itself. Ah, no, not Adrian Fellowes, not him!
It enraged her that Rudyard should think the dead man had had any sway
over her. It was a needless degradation, against which she revolted
now.

"Why have you come here--to this room?" she asked coldly.

As a boy flushes when he has been asked a disconcerting question which
angers him or challenges his innocence, so Rudyard's face suffused;
but the flush faded as quickly as it came. His eyes then looked at her
steadily, the whites of them so white because of his bronzed face and
forehead, the glance firmer by far than in his old days in
London. There was none of that unmanageable emotion in his features,
the panic excitement, the savage disorder which were there on the day
when Adrian Fellowes' letter brought the crisis to their lives; none
of the barbaric storm which drove Krool down the staircase under the
sjambok. Here was force and iron strength, though the man seemed
older, his thick hair streaked with grey, while there was a deep
fissure between the eyebrows. The months had hardened him physically,
had freed him from all superfluous flesh; and the flabbiness had
wholly gone from his cheeks and chin. There was no sign of a luxurious
life about him. He was merely the business-like soldier with work to
do. His khaki fitted him as only uniform can fit a man with a physique
without defect. He carried in his hand a short whip of
rhinoceros-hide, and as he placed his hands upon his hips and looked
at Jasmine meditatively, before he answered her question, she recalled
the scene with Krool. Her eyes were fascinated by the whip in his
hand. It seemed to her, all at once, as though she was to be the
victim of his wrath, and that the whip would presently fall upon her
shoulders, as he drove her out into the veld. But his eyes drew hers
to his own presently, and even while he spoke to her now, the illusion
of the sjambok remained, and she imagined his voice to be
intermingling with the dull thud of the whip on her shoulders.

"I came to see one of my troop who was wounded at Wortmann's Drift,"
he answered her.

"Old Gunter," she said mechanically.

"Old Gunter, if you like," he returned, surprised. "How did you know?"

"The world gossips still," she rejoined bitterly.

"Well, I came to see Gunter."

"On the grey mare," she said again like one in a dream.

"On the grey mare. I did not know that you were here, and--"

"If you had known I was here, you would not have come?" she asked with
a querulous ring to her voice.

"No, I should not have come if I had known, unless people in the camp
were aware that I knew. Then I should have felt it necessary to come."

"Why?" She knew; but she wanted him to say.

"That the army should not talk and wonder. If you were here, it is
obvious that I should visit you."

"The army might as well wonder first as last," she rejoined. "That
must come."

"I don't know anything that must come in this world," he replied. "We
don't control ourselves, and must lies in the inner Mystery where we
cannot enter. I had only to deal with the present. I could not come to
the General and go again, knowing that you were here, without seeing
you. We ought to do our work here without unnecessary cross-firing
from our friends. There's enough of that from our foes."

"What right had you to enter my room?" she rejoined stubbornly.

"I am not in your room. Something--call it anything you like--made us
meet on this neutral ground."

"You might have waited till morning," she replied perversely.

"In the morning I shall be far from here. Before daybreak I shall be
fighting. War waits for no one--not even for you," he added, with more
sarcasm than he intended.

Her feelings were becoming chaos again. He was going into
battle. Bygone memories wakened, and the first days of their lives
together came rushing upon her; but her old wild spirit was up in arms
too against the irony of his last words, "Not even for you." Added to
this was the rushing remembrance that South Africa had been the medium
of all her trouble. If Rudyard had not gone to South Africa, that one
five months a year and more ago, when she was left alone, restless,
craving for amusement and excitement and--she was going to say
romance, but there was no romance in those sordid hours of
pleasure-making, when she plucked the fruit as it lay to her hand--ah,
if only Rudyard had not gone to South Africa then! That five months
held no romance. She had never known but one romance, and it was over
and done. The floods had washed it away.

"You are right. War does not wait even for me," she exclaimed. "It
came to meet me, to destroy me, when I was not armed. It came in the
night as you have come, and found me helpless as I am now."

Suddenly she clasped her hands and wrung them, then threw them above
her head in a gesture of despair. "Why didn't God or Destiny, or
whatever it is, stop you from coming here! There is nothing between us
worth keeping, and there can never be. There is a black sea between
us. I never want to see you any more."

In her agitation the coat had fallen away from her white night-
dress, and her breast showed behind the parted folds of the linen.
Involuntarily his eyes saw. What memories passed through him were
too vague to record; but a heavy sigh escaped him, followed,
however, by a cloud which gathered on his brow. The shadow of a
man's death thrust itself between them. This war might have never
been, had it not been for the treachery of the man who had been
false to everything and every being that had come his way.
Indirectly this vast struggle in which thousands of lives were
being lost had come through his wife's disloyalty, however
unintentional, or in whatever degree. Whenever he thought of it,
his pulses beat faster with indignation, and a deep resentment
possessed him.

It was a resentment whose origin was not a mere personal wrong to him,
but the betrayal of all that invaded his honour and the honour of his
country. The map was dead--so much. He had paid a price--too small.

And Jasmine, as she looked at her husband now, was, oppressed by the
same shadow--the inescapable thing. That was what she meant when she
said, "There is a black sea between us."

What came to her mind when she saw his glance fall on her breast, she
could not have told. But a sudden flame of anger consumed her. The
passion of the body was dead in her--atrophied. She was as one through
whose veins had passed an icy fluid which stilled all the senses of
desire, but never had her mind been so passionate, so alive. In the
months lately gone, there had been times when her mind was in a
paroxysm of rebellion and resentment and remorse; but in this red
corner of the universe, from which the usual world was shut out, from
which all domestic existence, all social organization, habit or the
amenities of social intercourse were excluded, she had been able to
restore her equilibrium. Yet now here, all at once, there was an
invasion of this world of rigid, narrow organization, where there was
no play; where all men's acts were part of a deadly mortal issue;
where the human being was only part of a scheme which allowed nothing
of the flexible adaptations of the life of peace, the life of cities,
of houses: here was the sudden interposition of a purely personal
life, of domestic being--of sex. She was conscious of no reasoning, of
no mental protest which could be put into words: she was only
conscious of emotions which now shook her with their power, now left
her starkly cold, her brain muffled, or again aflame with a suffering
as intense as that of Procrustes on his bed of iron.

This it was that seized her now. The glance of his eyes at her bared
breast roused her. She knew not why, except that there was an
indefinable craving for a self respect which had been violated by
herself and others; except that she longed for the thing which she
felt he would not give her. The look in his eye offered her nothing of
that.

That she mistook what really was in his eyes was not material, though
he was thinking of days when he believed he had discovered the secret
of life--a woman whose life was beautiful; diffusing beauty,
contentment, inspiration and peace. She did not know that his look was
the wistful look backward, with no look forward; and that alone. She
was living a life where new faculties of her nature were being
exercised or brought into active being; she was absorbed by it all; it
was part of her scheme for restoring herself, for getting surcease of
anguish; but here, all at once, every entrenchment was overrun, the
rigidity of the unit was made chaos, and she was tossed by the Spirit
of Confusion upon a stormy sea of feeling.

"Will you not go?" she asked in a voice of suppressed passion. "Have
you no consideration? It is past midnight."

His anger flamed, but he forced back the words upon his lips, and said
with a bitter smile: "Day and night are the same to me always
now. What else should be in war? I am going." He looked at the watch
at his wrist. "It is half-past one o'clock. At five our work
begins--not an eight-hour day. We have twenty-four-hour days here
sometimes. This one may be shorter. You never can tell. It may be a
one-hour day--or less."

Suddenly he came towards her with hands outstretched. "Dear
wife--Jasmine--" he exclaimed.

Pity, memory, a great magnanimity carried him off his feet for a
moment, and all that had happened seemed as nothing beside this fact
that they might never see each other again; and peace appeared to him
the one thing needful after all. The hatred and conflict of the world
seemed of small significance beside the hovering presence of an enemy
stronger than Time.

She was still in a passion of rebellion against the inevitable--that
old impatience and unrealized vanity which had helped to destroy her
past. She shrank back in blind misunderstanding from him, for she
scarcely heard his words. She mistook what he meant. She was
bewildered, distraught.

"No, no--coward!" she cried.

He stopped short as though he had been shot. His face turned
white. Then, with an oath, he went swiftly to the window which opened
to the floor and passed through it into the night.

An instant later he was on his horse.

A moment of dumb confusion succeeded, then she realized her madness,
and the thing as it really was. Running to the window, she leaned out.

She called, but only the grey mare's galloping came back to her
awe-struck ears.

With a cry like that of an animal in pain, she sank on her knees on
the floor, her face turned towards the stars.

"Oh, my God, help me!" she moaned.

At least here was no longer the cry of doom.



CHAPTER XXXII

THE WORLD'S FOUNDLING


At last day came. Jasmine was crossing the hallway of the hospital on
her way to the dining-room when there came from the doorway of a ward
a figure in a nurse's dress. It startled her by some familiar
motion. Presently the face turned in her direction, but without seeing
her. Jasmine recognized her then. She went forward quickly and touched
the nurse's arm.

"Al'mah--it is Al'mah?" she said.

Al'mah's face turned paler, and she swayed slightly, then she
recovered herself. "Oh, it is you, Mrs. Byng!" she said, almost
dazedly.

After an instant's hesitation she held out a hand. "It's a queer place
for it to happen," she added.

Jasmine noticed the hesitation and wondered at the words. She searched
the other's face. What did Al'mah's look mean? It seemed composite of
paralyzing surprise, of anxiety, of apprehension. Was there not also a
look of aversion?

"Everything seems to come all at once," Al'mah continued, as though in
explanation.

Jasmine had no inkling as to what the meaning of the words was; and,
with something of her old desire to conquer those who were alien to
her, she smiled winningly.

"Yes, things concentrate in life," she rejoined.

"I've noticed that," was the reply. "Fate seems to scatter, and then
to gather in all at once, as though we were all feather-toys on
strings."

After a moment, as Al'mah regarded her with vague wonder, though now
she smiled too, and the anxiety, apprehension, and pain went from her
face, Jasmine said: "Why did you come here? You had a world to work
for in England."

"I had a world to forget in England," Al'mah replied. Then she added
suddenly, "I could not sing any longer."

"Your voice--what happened to it?" Jasmine asked.

"One doesn't sing with one's voice only. The music is far behind the
voice."

They had been standing in the middle of the hallway. Suddenly Al'mah
caught at Jasmine's sleeve. "Will you come with me?" she said.

She led the way into a room which was almost gay with veld
everlastings, pictures from illustrated papers, small flags of the
navy and the colonies, the Boer Vierkleur and the Union Jack.

"I like to have things cheerful here," Al'mah said almost gaily.
"Sometimes I have four or five convalescents in here, and they like a
little gaiety. I sing them things from comic operas--Offenbach,
Sullivan, and the rest; and if they are very sentimentally inclined I
sing them good old-fashioned love-songs full of the musician's
tricks. How people adore illusions! I've had here an old Natal
sergeant, over sixty, and he was as cracked as could be about songs
belonging to the time when we don't know that it's all illusion, and
that there's no such thing as Love, nor ever was; but only a kind of
mirage of the mind, a sort of phantasy that seizes us, in which we do
crazy things, and sometimes, if the phantasy is strong enough, we do
awful things. But still the illusions remain in spite of everything,
as they did with the old sergeant. I've heard the most painful stories
here from men before they died, of women that were false, and injuries
done, many, many years ago; and they couldn't see that it wasn't real
at all, but just phantasy."

"All the world's mad," responded Jasmine wearily, as Al'mah paused.

Al'mah nodded. "So I laugh a good deal, and try to be cheerful, and it
does more good than being too sympathetic. Sympathy gets to be mere
snivelling very often. I've smiled and laughed a great deal out here;
and they say it's useful. The surgeons say it, and the men say it too
sometimes."

"Are you known as Nurse Grattan?" Jasmine asked with sudden
remembrance.

"Yes, Grattan was my mother's name. I am Nurse Grattan here."

"So many have whispered good things of you. A Scottish Rifleman said
to me a week ago, 'Ech, she's aye see cheery!' What a wonderful thing
it is to make a whole army laugh. Coming up here three officers spoke
of you, and told of humorous things you had said. It's all quite
honest, too. It's a reputation made out of new cloth. No one knows who
you are?"

Al'mah flushed. "I don't know quite who I am myself. I think sometimes
I'm the world's foundling."

Suddenly a cloud passed over her face again, and her strong whimsical
features became drawn.

"I seem almost to lose my identity at times; and then it is I try most
to laugh and be cheerful. If I didn't perhaps I should lose my
identity altogether. Do you ever feel that?"

"No; I often wish I could."

Al'mah regarded her steadfastly. "Why did you come here?" she
asked. "You had the world at your feet; and there was plenty to do in
London. Was it for the same reason that brought me here? Was it
something you wanted to forget there, some one you wanted to help
here?"

Jasmine saw the hovering passion in the eyes fixed on her, and
wondered what this woman had to say which could be of any import to
herself; yet she felt there was something drawing nearer which would
make her shrink.

"No," Jasmine answered, "I did not come to forget, but to try and
remember that one belongs to the world, to the work of the world, to
the whole people, and not to one of the people; not to one man, or to
one family, or to one's self. That's all."

Al'mah's face was now very haggard, but her eyes were burning. "I do
not believe you," she said straightly. "You are one of those that have
had a phantasy. I had one first fifteen years ago, and it passed, yet
it pursued me till yesterday--till yesterday evening. Now it's gone;
that phantasy is gone forever. Come and see what it was."

She pointed to the door of another room.

There was something strangely compelling in her tone, in her
movements. Jasmine followed her, fascinated by the situation, by the
look in the woman's face. The door opened upon darkness, but Jasmine
stepped inside, with Almah's fingers clutching her sleeve. For a
moment nothing was visible; then, Jasmine saw, dimly, a coffin on two
chairs.

"That was the first man I ever loved--my husband," Al'mah said
quietly, pointing at the coffin. "There was another, but you took him
from me--you and others."

Jasmine gave a little cry which she smothered with her hand; and she
drew back involuntarily towards the light of the hallway. The smell of
disinfectants almost suffocated her. A cloud of mystery and
indefinable horror seemed to envelop her; then a light flooded through
her brain. It was like a stream of fire. But with a voice strangely
calm, she said, "You mean Adrian Fellowes?"

Al'mah's face was in the shadow, but her voice was full of storm. "You
took him from me, but you were only one," she said sharply and
painfully. "I found it out at last. I suspected first at
Glencader. Then at last I knew. It was an angry, contemptuous letter
from you. I had opened it. I understood. When everything was clear,
when there was no doubt, when I knew he had tried to hurt little
Jigger's sister, when he had made up his mind to go abroad, then, I
killed him. Then--I killed him."

Jasmine's cheek was white as Al'mah's apron; but she did not
shrink. She came a step nearer, and peered into Al'mah's face, as
though to read her inmost mind, as though to see if what she said was
really true. She saw not a quiver of agitation, not the faintest
horror of memory; only the reflective look of accomplished purpose.

"You--are you insane?" Jasmine exclaimed in a whisper. "Do you know
what you have said?"

Al'mah smoothed her apron softly. "Perfectly. I do not think I am
insane. I seem not to be. One cannot do insane things here. This is
the place of the iron rule. Here we cure madness--the madness of war
and other madnesses."

"You had loved him, yet you killed him!"

"You would have killed him though you did not love him. Yes, of
course--I know that. Your love was better placed; but it was like a
little bird caught by the hawk in the upper air--its flight was only a
little one before the hawk found it. Yes, you would have killed
Adrian, as I did if you had had the courage. You wanted to do it, but
I did it. Do you remember when I sang for you on the evening of that
day he died? I sang, 'More Was Lost at Mohacksfield.' As soon as I saw
your face that evening I felt you knew all. You had been to his rooms
and found him dead. I was sure of that. You remember how La Tosca
killed Scarpia? You remember how she felt? I felt so--just like
that. I never hesitated. I knew what I wanted to do, and I did it."

"How did you kill him?" Jasmine asked in that matter-of-fact way which
comes at those times when the senses are numbed by tragedy.

"You remember the needle--Mr. Mappin's needle? I knew Adrian had
it. He showed it to me. He could not keep the secret. He was too
weak. The needle was in his pocket-book--to kill me with some day
perhaps. He certainly had not the courage to kill himself.... I went
to see him. He was dressing. The pocket-book lay on the table. As I
said, he had showed it to me. While he was busy I abstracted the
needle. He talked of his journey abroad. He lied--nothing but lies,
about himself, about everything. When he had said enough,--lying was
easier to him than anything else--I told him the truth. Then he went
wild. He caught hold of me as if to strangle me.... He did not realize
the needlepoint when it caught him. If he did, it must have seemed to
him only the prick of a pin.... But in a few minutes it was all
over. He died quite peacefully. But it was not very easy getting him
on the sofa. He looked sleeping as he lay there. You saw. He would
never lie any more to women, to you or to me or any other. It is a
good thing to stop a plague, and the simplest way is the best. He was
handsome, and his music was very deceiving. It was almost good of its
kind, and it was part of him. When I look back I find only misery. Two
wicked men hurt me. They spoiled my life, first one and then another;
and I went from bad to worse. At least he"--she pointed to the other
room--"he had some courage at the very last. He fought, he braved
death. The other--you remember the Glencader Mine. Your husband and
Ian Stafford went down, and Lord Tynemouth was ready to go, but Adrian
would not go. Then it was I began to hate him. That was the
beginning. What happened had to be. I was to kill him; and I did. It
avenged me, and it avenged your husband. I was glad of that, for
Rudyard Byng had done so much for me: not alone that he saved me at
the opera, you remember, but other good things. I did his work for him
with Adrian."

"Have you no fear--of me?" Jasmine asked.

"Fear of--you? Why?"

"I might hate you--I might tell."

Al'mah made a swift gesture of protest. "Do not say foolish things.
You would rather die than tell. You should be grateful to me. Some
one had to kill him. There was Rudyard Byng, Ian Stafford, or
yourself. It fell to me. I did your work. You will not tell; but it
would not matter if you did. Nothing would happen--nothing at
all. Think it out, and you will see why."

Jasmine shuddered violently. Her body was as cold as ice.

"Yes, I know. What are you going to do after the war?"

"Back to Covent Garden perhaps; or perhaps there will be no 'after the
war.' It may all end here. Who knows--who cares!"

Jasmine came close to her. For an instant a flood of revulsion had
overpowered her; but now it was all gone.

"We pay for all the wrong we do. We pay for all the good we get"--once
Ian Stafford had said that, and it rang in her ears now. Al'mah would
pay, and would pay here--here in this world. Meanwhile, Al'mah was a
woman who, like herself, had suffered.

"Let me be your friend; let me help you," Jasmine said, and she took
both of Almah's hands in her own.

Somehow Jasmine's own heart had grown larger, fuller, and kinder all
at once. Until lately she had never ached to help the world or any
human being in all her life; there had never been any of the divine
pity which finds its employ in sacrifice. She had been kind, she had
been generous, she had in the past few months given service unstinted;
but it was more as her own cure for her own ills than yearning
compassion for all those who were distressed "in mind, body, or
estate."

But since last evening, in the glimmer of the stars, when Rudyard went
from her with bitter anger on his lips, and a contempt which threw her
far behind him,--since that hour, when, in her helplessness, she had
sunk to the ground with an appeal to Something outside herself, her
heart had greatly softened. Once before she had appealed to the
Invisible--that night before her catastrophe, when she wound her
wonderful hair round her throat and drew it tighter and tighter, and
had cried out to the beloved mother she had never known. But her
inborn, her cultivated, her almost invincible egoism, had not even
then been scattered by the bitter helplessness of her life.

That cry last night was a cry to the Something behind all. Only in the
last few hours--why, she knew not--her heart had found a new
sense. She felt her soul's eyes looking beyond herself. The Something
that made her raise her eyes to the stars, which seemed a pervading
power, a brooding tenderness and solicitude, had drawn her mind away
into the mind of humanity. Her own misery now at last enabled her to
see, however dimly, the woes of others; and it did not matter whether
the woes were penalties or undeserved chastisement; the new-born pity
of her soul made no choice and sought no difference.

As the singing-woman's hands lay in hers, a flush slowly spread over
Al'mah's face, and behind the direct power of her eyes there came a
light which made them aglow with understanding.

"I always thought you selfish--almost meanly selfish," Al'mah said
presently. "I thought you didn't know any real life, any real
suffering--only the surface, only disappointment at not having your
own happiness; but now I see that was all a mask. You understand why I
did what I did?"

"I understand."

"I suppose there would be thousands who would gladly see me in prison
and on the scaffold--if they knew--"

Pain travelled across Jasmine's face. She looked Al'mah in the eyes
with a look of reproof and command. "Never, never again speak of that
to me or to any living soul," she said. "I will try to forget it; you
must put it behind you." . . . Suddenly she pointed to the other room
where Al'mah's husband lay dead. "When is he to be buried?" she asked.

"In an hour." A change came over Al'mah's face again, and she stood
looking dazedly at the door of the room, behind which the dead man
lay. "I cannot realize it. It does not seem real," she said. "It was
all so many centuries ago, when I was young and glad."

Jasmine admonished her gently and drew her away.

A few moments later an officer approached them from one of the
wards. At that moment the footsteps of the three were arrested by the
booming of artillery. It seemed as though all the guns of both armies
were at work.

The officer's eyes blazed, and he turned to the two women with an
impassioned gesture.

"Byng and the S.A.'s have done their trick," he said. "If they hadn't,
that wouldn't be going on. It was to follow--a general assault--if
Byng pulled it off. Old Blunderbuss has done it this time. His
combination's working all right--thanks to Byng's lot."

As he hurried on he was too excited to see Jasmine's agitation.

"Wait!" Jasmine exclaimed, as he went quickly down the hallway. But
her voice was scarcely above a whisper, and he did not hear.

She wanted to ask him if Rudyard was safe. She did not realize that he
could not know.

But the thunder of artillery told her that Rudyard had had his
fighting at daybreak, as he had said.



CHAPTER XXXIII

"ALAMACHTIG!"


When Rudyard flung himself on the grey mare outside Jasmine's window
at the Stay Awhile Hospital, and touched her flank with his heel, his
heart was heavy with passion, his face hard with humiliation and
defeat. He had held out the hand of reconciliation, and she had met it
with scorn. He had smothered his resentment, and let the light of
peace in upon their troubles, and she had ruthlessly drawn a black
curtain between them. He was going upon as dangerous a task as could
be set a soldier, from which he might never return, and she had not
even said a God-be-with-you--she who had lain in his bosom, been so
near, so dear, so cherished:

"For Time and Change estrange, estrange--
And, now they have looked and seen us,
Oh, we that were dear, we are all too near,
With the thick of the world between us!"

How odd it seemed that two beings who had been all in all to each
other, who in the prime of their love would have died of protesting
shame, if they had been told that they would change towards each
other, should come to a day when they would be less to each other than
strangers, less and colder and farther off! It is because some cannot
bear this desecration of ideals, this intolerable loss of life's
assets, that they cling on and on, long after respect and love have
gone, after hope is dead.

There had been times in the past few months when such thoughts as
these vaguely possessed Rudyard's mind; but he could never, would
never, feel that all was over, that the book of Jasmine's life was
closed to him; not even when his whole nature was up in arms against
the injury she had done him.

But now, as the grey mare reached out to achieve the ground his
troopers had covered before him, his brain was in a storm of
feeling. After all, what harm had he done her, that he should be
treated so? Was he the sinner? Why should he make the eternal
concession? Why should he be made to seem the one needing forgiveness?
He did not know why. But at the bottom of everything lay a
something--a yearning--which would not be overwhelmed. In spite of
wrong and injury, it would live on and on; and neither Time nor crime,
nor anything mortal could obliterate it from his heart's oracles.

The hoofs of the grey mare fell like the soft thud of a hammer in the
sand, regular and precise. Presently the sound and the motion lulled
his senses. The rage and humiliation grew less, his face cooled. His
head, which had been bent, lifted and his face turned upwards to the
stars. The influence of an African night was on him. None that has not
felt it can understand it so cold, so sweet, so full of sleep, so
stirring with an underlife. Many have known the breath of the pampas
beyond the Amazon; the soft pungency of the wattle blown across the
salt-bush plains of Australia; the friendly exhilaration of the
prairie or the chaparral; the living, loving loneliness of the desert;
but yonder on the veld is a life of the night which possesses all the
others have, and something of its own besides; something which gets
into the bones and makes for forgetfulness of the world. It lifts a
man away from the fret of life, and sets his feet on the heights where
lies repose.

The peace of the stars crept softly into Rudyard's heart as he
galloped gently on to overtake his men. His pulses beat slowly once
again, his mind regained its poise. He regretted the oath he uttered,
as he left Jasmine; he asked himself if, after all, everything was
over and done.

How good the night suddenly seemed! No, it was not all over--unless,
unless, indeed, in this fight coming on with the daybreak, Fate should
settle it all by doing with him as it had done with so many thousands
of others in this war. But even then, would it be all over? He was a
primitive man, and he raised his face once more to the heavens. He was
no longer the ample millionaire, sitting among the flesh-pots; he was
a lean, simple soldier eating his biscuit as though it were the
product of the chef of the Cafe Voisin; he was the fighter sleeping in
a blanket in the open; he was a patriot after his kind; he was the
friend of his race and the lover of one woman.

Now he drew rein. His regiment was just ahead. Daybreak was not far
off, and they were near the enemy's position. In a little while, if
they were not surprised, they would complete a movement, take a hill,
turn the flank of the foe, and, if designed supports came up, have the
Boers at a deadly disadvantage. Not far off to the left of him and his
mounted infantry there were coming on for this purpose two batteries
of artillery and three thousand infantry--Leary's brigade, which had
not been in the action the day before at Wortmann's Drift.

But all depended on what he was able to do, what he and his
hard-bitten South Africans could accomplish. Well, he had no
doubt. War was part chance, part common sense, part the pluck and luck
of the devil. He had ever been a gambler in the way of taking chances;
he had always possessed ballast even when the London life had
enervated, had depressed him; and to men of his stamp pluck is a
commonplace: it belongs as eyes and hands and feet belong.

Dawn was not far away, and before daybreak he must have the hill which
was the key to the whole position, which commanded the left flank of
the foe. An hour or so after he got it, if the artillery and infantry
did their portion, a great day's work would be done for England; and
the way to the relief of the garrison beyond the mountains would be
open. The chance to do this thing was the reward he received for his
gallant and very useful fight at Wortmann's Drift twenty-four hours
before. It would not do to fail in justifying the choice of the Master
Player, who had had enough bad luck in the campaign so far.

The first of his force to salute him in the darkness was his next in
command, Barry Whalen. They had been together in the old Rand Rifles,
and had, in the words of the Kaffir, been as near as the flea to the
blanket, since the day when Rudyard discovered that Barry Whalen was
on the same ship bound for the seat of war. They were not youngsters,
either of them; but they had the spring of youth in them, and a deep
basis of strength and force; and they knew the veld and the veld
people. There was no trick of the veldschoen copper for which they
were not ready; and for any device of Kruger's lambs they were
prepared to go one better. As Barry Whalen had said, "They'll have to
get up early in the morning if they want to catch us."

This morning the Boers would not get up early enough; for Rudyard's
command had already reached the position from which they could do
their work with good chances in their favour; and there had been no
sign of life from the Boer trenches in the dusk--naught of what
chanced at Magersfontein. Not a shot had been fired, and there would
certainly have been firing if the Boer had known; for he could not
allow the Rooinek to get to the point where his own position would be
threatened or commanded. When Kruger's men did discover the truth,
there would be fighting as stiff as had been seen in this struggle for
half a continent.

"Is it all right?" whispered Rudyard, as Barry VVhalen drew up by him.

"Not a sound from them--not a sign."

"Their trenches should not be more than a few hundred yards on, eh?"

"Their nearest trenches are about that. We are just on the left of
Hetmeyer's Kopje."

"Good. Let Glossop occupy the kopje with his squadrons, while we take
the trenches. If we can force them back on their second line of
trenches, and keep them there till our supports come up, we shall be
all right."

"When shall we begin, sir?" asked Barry.

"Give orders to dismount now. Get the horses in the lee of the kopje,
and we'll see what Brother Boer thinks of us after breakfast."

Rudyard took out a repeating-watch, and held it in his closed palm. As
it struck, he noted the time.

His words were abrupt but composed. "Ten minutes more and we shall
have the first streak of dawn. Then move. We shall be on them before
they know it."

Barry Whalen made to leave, then turned back. Rudyard understood. They
clasped hands. It was the grip of men who knew each other--knew each
other's faults and weaknesses, yet trusted with a trust which neither
disaster nor death could destroy.

"My girl--if anything happens to me," Barry said.

"You may be sure--as if she were my own," was Rudyard's reply. "If I
go down, find my wife at the Stay Awhile Hospital. Tell her that the
day I married her was the happiest day of my life, and that what I
said then I thought at the last. Everything else is straightened
out--and I'll not forget your girl, Barry. She shall be as my own if
things should happen that way."

"God bless you, old man," whispered Barry. "Goodbye." Then he
recovered himself and saluted. "Is that all, sir?"

"Au revoir, Barry," came the answer; then a formal return of the
salute. "That is all," he added brusquely.

They moved forward to the regiment, and the word to dismount was given
softly. When the forces crept forward again, it was as infantrymen,
moving five paces apart, and feeling their way up to the Boer
trenches.

Dawn. The faintest light on the horizon, as it were a soft, grey
glimmer showing through a dark curtain. It rises and spreads slowly,
till the curtain of night becomes the veil of morning, white and
kind. Then the living world begins to move. Presently the face of the
sun shines through the veil, and men's bodies grow warm with active
being, and the world stirs with busy life. On the veld, with the first
delicate glow, the head of a meerkat, or a springbok, is raised above
the gray-brown grass; herds of cattle move uneasily. Then a bird takes
flight across the whitening air, another, and then another; the
meerkat sits up and begs breakfast of the sun; lizards creep out upon
the stones; a snake slides along obscenely foraging. Presently man and
beast and all wild things are afoot or a-wing, as though the world was
new-created; as though there had never been any mornings before, and
this was not the monotonous repetition of a million mornings, when all
things living begin the world afresh.

But nowhere seems the world so young and fresh and glad as on the
sun-warmed veld. Nowhere do the wild roses seem so pure, or are the
aloes so jaunty and so gay. The smell of the karoo bush is sweeter
than attar, and the bog-myrtle and mimosa, where they shelter a house
or fringe a river, have a look of Arcady. It is a world where any
mysterious thing may happen--a world of five thousand years ago--the
air so light, so sweetly searching and vibrating, that Ariel would
seem of the picture, and gleaming hosts of mailed men, or vast
colonies of green-clad archers moving to virgin woods might
belong. Something frightens the timid spirit of a springbok, and his
flight through the grass is like a phrase of music on a wilful
adventure; a bird hears the sighing of the breeze in the mimosa leaves
or the swaying shrubs, and in disdain of such slight performance
flings out a song which makes the air drunken with sweetness.

A world of light, of commendable trees, of grey grass flecked with
flowers, of life having the supreme sense of a freedom which has known
no check. It is a life which cities have not spoiled, and where man is
still in touch with the primeval friends of man; where the wildest
beast and the newest babe of a woman have something in common.

Drink your fill of the sweet intoxicating air with eyes shut till the
lungs are full and the heart beats with new fulness; then open them
upon the wide sunrise and scan the veld so full of gracious odour. Is
it not good and glad? And now face the hills rising nobly away there
to the left, the memorable and friendly hills. Is it not--

Upon the morning has crept suddenly a black cloud, although the sun is
shining brilliantly. A moment before the dawn all was at peace on the
veld and among the kopjes, and only the contented sighing of men and
beasts broke the silence, or so it seemed; but with the glimmer of
light along the horizon came a change so violent that all the circle
of vision was in a quiver of trouble. Affrighted birds, in fluttering
bewilderment, swept and circled aimlessly through the air with
strange, half-human cries; the jackal and the meerkat, the springbok
and the rheebok, trembled where they stood, with heads uplifted,
vaguely trying to realize the Thing which was breaking the peace of
their world; useless horses which had been turned out of the armies of
Boers and British galloped and stumbled and plunged into space in
alarm; for they knew what was darkening the morning. They had suffered
the madness of battle, and they realized it at its native first value.

There was a battle forward on the left flank of the Boer Army. Behind
Hetmeyer's Kopje were the horses of the men whom Rudyard Byng had
brought to take a position and hold it till support came and this
flank of the Farmer's Army was turned; but the men themselves were at
work on the kopjes--the grim work of dislodging the voortrekker people
from the places where they burrowed like conies among the rocks.

Just before dawn broke Byng's men were rushing the outer
trenches. These they cleared with the wild cries of warriors whose
blood was in a tempest. Bayonets dripped red, rifles were fired at
hand-to-hand range, men clubbed their guns and fought as men fought in
the days when the only fighting was man to man, or one man to many
men. Here every "Boojer" and Rooinek was a champion. The Boer fell
back because he was forced back by men who were men of the veld like
himself; and the Briton pressed forward because he would not be
denied; because he was sick of reverses; of going forward and falling
back; of taking a position with staggering loss and then abandoning
it; of gaining a victory and then not following it up; of having the
foe in the hollow of the hand and hesitating to close it with a
death-grip; of promising relief to besieged men, and marking time when
you had gained a foothold, instead of gaining a foothold farther on.

Byng's men were mostly South-Africans born, who had lived and worked
below the Zambesi all their lives; or else those whose blood was in a
fever at the thought that a colony over which the British flag flew
should be trod by the feet of an invader, who had had his own liberty
and independence secured by that flag, but who refused to white men
the status given to "niggers" in civilized states. These fighters
under Byng had had their fill of tactics and strategy which led
nowhere forward; and at Wortmann's Drift the day before they had done
a big thing for the army with a handful of men. They could ride like
Cossacks, they could shoot like William Tell, and they had a mind to
be the swivel by which the army of Queen Victoria should swing from
almost perpetual disaster, in large and small degree, to victory.

From the first trenches on and on to the second trenches higher up!
But here the Boer in his burrow with his mauser rifle roaring, and his
heart fierce with hatred and anger at the surprise, laid down to the
bloody work with an ugly determination to punish remorselessly his
fellow-citizens of the veld and the others. It was a fire which only
bullet-proof men could stand, and these were but breasts of flesh and
muscle, though the will was iron.

Up, up, and up, struggled these men of the indomitable will. Step by
step, while man after man fell wounded or dead, they pushed forward,
taking what cover was possible; firing as steadily as at Aldershot;
never wasting shots, keeping the eye vigilant for the black slouch hat
above the rocks, which told that a Boer's head was beneath it, and
might be caught by a lightning shot.

Step by step, man by man, troop by troop, they came nearer to the
hedges of stone behind which an inveterate foe with grim joy saw a
soldier fall to his soft-nosed bullet; while far down behind these men
of a forlorn hope there was hurrying up artillery which would
presently throw its lyddite and its shrapnel on the top of the hill up
where hundreds of Boers held, as they thought, an impregnable
position. At last with rushes which cost them almost as dearly in
proportion as the rush at Balaclava cost the Light Brigade, Byng's men
reached the top, mad with the passion of battle, vengeful in spirit
because of the comrades they had lost; and the trenches emptied before
them. As they were forsaken, men fought hand to hand and as savagely
as ever men fought in the days of Rustum.

In one corner, the hottest that the day saw, Rudyard and Barry Whalen
and a scattered handful of men threw themselves upon a greatly larger
number of the enemy. For a moment a man here and there fought for his
life against two or three of the foe. Of these were Rudyard and Barry
Whalen. The khaki of the former was shot through in several places, he
had been slashed in the cheek by a bullet, and a bullet had also
passed through the muscle of his left forearm; but he was scarcely
conscious of it. It seemed as though Fate would let no harm befall
him; but, in the very moment, when on another part of the ridge his
men were waving their hats in victory, three Boers sprang up before
him, ragged and grim and old, but with the fire of fanaticism and
race-hatred in their eyes. One of them he accounted for, another he
wounded, but the wounded voortrekker--a giant of near seven feet
clubbed his rifle, and drove at him. Rudyard shot at close quarters
again, but his pistol missed fire.

Just as the rifle of his giant foe swung above him, Byng realized that
the third Boer was levelling a rifle directly at his breast. His eyes
involuntarily closed as though to draw the curtain of life itself,
but, as he did so, he heard a cry--the wild, hoarse cry of a voice he
knew so well.

"Baas! Baas!" it called.

Then two shots came simultaneously, and the clubbed rifle brought him
to the ground.

"Baas! Baas!"

The voice followed him, as he passed into unconsciousness.

Barry Whalen had seen Rudyard's danger, but had been unable to do
anything. His hands were more than full, his life in danger; but in
the instant that he had secured his own safety, he heard the cry of
"Baas! Baas!" Then he saw the levelled rifle fall from the hands of
the Boer who had aimed at Byng, and its owner collapse in a heap. As
Rudyard fell beneath the clubbed rifle he heard the cry, "Baas! Baas!"
again, and saw an unkempt figure darting among the rocks. His own
pistol brought down the old Boer who had felled Byng, and then he
realized who it was had cried out, "Baas!"

The last time he had heard that voice was in Park Lane, when Byng,
with sjambok, drove a half-caste valet into the street.

It was the voice of Krool. And Krool was now bending over Rudyard's
body, raising his head and still murmuring, "Baas--Baas!"

Krool's rifle had saved Rudyard from death by killing one of his own
fellow-fighters. Much as Barry Whalen loathed the man, this act showed
that Krool's love for the master who had sjamboked him was stronger
than death.

Barry, himself bleeding from slight wounds, stooped over his
unconscious friend with a great anxiety.

"No, it is nothing," Krool said, with his hand on Rudyard's
breast. "The left arm, it is hurt, the head not get all the
blow. Alamachtig, it is good! The Baas--it is right with the Baas."

Barry Whalen sighed with relief. He set about to restore Rudyard, as
Krool prepared a bandage for the broken head.

Down in the valley the artillery was at work. Lyddite and shrapnel and
machine-guns were playing upon the top of the ridge above them, and
the infantry--Humphrey's and Blagdon's men--were hurrying up the slope
which Byng's pioneers had cleared, and now held. From this position
the enemy could be driven from their main position on the summit,
because they could be swept now by artillery fire from a point as high
as their own.

"A good day's work, old man," said Barry Whalen to the still
unconscious figure. "You've done the trick for the Lady at Windsor
this time. It's a great sight better business than playing baccarat at
DeLancy Scovel's."

Cheering came from everywhere, cries of victory filled the air. As he
looked down the valley Barry could see the horses they had left behind
being brought, under cover of the artillery and infantry fire, to the
hill they had taken. The grey mare would be among them. But Rudyard
would not want the grey mare yet awhile. An ambulance-cart was the
thing for him.

Barry would have given much for a flask of brandy. A tablespoonful
would bring Rudyard back. A surgeon was not needed, however. Krool's
hands had knowledge. Barry remembered the day when Wallstein was taken
ill in Rudyard's house, and how Krool acted with the skill of a
Westminster sawbones.

Suddenly a bugle-call sounded, loud and clear and very near them. Byng
had heard that bugle call again and again in this engagement, and once
he had seen the trumpeter above the trenches, sounding the advance
before more than a half-dozen men had reached the defences of the
Boers. The same trumpeter was now running towards them. He had been
known in London as Jigger. In South Africa he was familiarly called
Little Jingo.

His face was white as he leaned over Barry Whalen to look at Rudyard,
but suddenly the blood came back to his cheek.

"He wants brandy," Jigger said.

"Well, go and get it," said Barry sharply.

"I've got it here," was the reply; and he produced a flask.

"Well, I'm damned!" said Barry. "You'll have a gun next, and fire it
too!"

"A 4.7," returned Jigger impudently.

As the flask was at Rudyard's lips, Barry Whalen said to Krool, "What
do you stay here as--deserter or prisoner? It's got to be one or the
other."

"Prisoner," answered Krool. Then he added, "See--the Baas."

Rudyard's eyes were open.

"Prisoner--who is a prisoner?" he asked feebly.

"Me, Baas," whispered Krool, leaning over him.

"He saved your life, Colonel," interposed Barry Whalen.

"I thought it was the brandy," said Jigger with a grin.



CHAPTER XXXIV

"THE ALPINE FELLOW"


To all who fought in the war a change of some sort had come. Those who
emerged from it to return to England or her far Dominions, or to stay
in the land of the veld, of the kranz and the kloof and the spruit,
were never the same again. Something came which, to a degree,
transformed them, as the salts of the water and the air permeate the
skin and give the blood new life. None escaped the salt of the air of
conflict.

The smooth-faced young subaltern who but now had all his life before
him, realized the change when he was swept by the leaden spray of
death on Spion Kop, and received in his face of summer warmth, or in
his young exultant heart, the quietus to all his hopes, impulses and
desires. The young find no solace or recompense in the philosophy of
those who regard life as a thing greatly over-estimated.

Many a private grown hard of flesh and tense of muscle, with his scant
rations and meagre covering in the cold nights, with his long marches
and fruitless risks and futile fightings, when he is shot down, has
little consolation, save in the fact that the thing he and his
comrades and the regiment and the army set out to do is done. If he
has to do so, he gives his life with a stony sense of loss which has
none of the composure of those who have solace in thinking that what
they leave behind has a constantly decreasing value. And here and
there some simple soul, more gifted than his comrades, may touch off
the meaning of it all, as it appears to those who hold their lives in
their hands for a nation's sake, by a stroke of mordant comment.

So it was with that chess-playing private from New Zealand of whom
Barry Whalen told Ian Stafford. He told it a few days after Rudyard
Byng had won that fight at Hetmeyer's Kopje, which had enabled the
Master Player to turn the flank of the Boers, though there was yet
grim frontal work to do against machines of Death, carefully hidden
and masked on the long hillsides, which would take staggering toll of
Britain's manhood.

"From behind Otago there in New Zealand, he came," began Barry, "as
fine a fella of thirty-three as ever you saw. Just come, because he
heard old Britain callin'. Down he drops the stock-whip, away he
shoves the plough, up he takes his little balance from the bank,
sticks his chess-box in his pocket, says 'so-long' to his girl, and
treks across the world, just to do his whack for the land that gave
him and all his that went before him the key to civilization, and how
to be happy though alive.... He was the real thing, the ne plus ultra,
the I-stand-alone. The other fellas thought him the best of the
best. He was what my father used to call 'a wide man.' He was in and
out of a fight with a quirk at the corner of his mouth, as much as to
say, 'I've got the hang of this, and it's different from what I
thought; but that doesn't mean it hasn't got to be done, and done in
style. It's the has-to-be.' And when they got him where he breathes,
he fished out the little ivory pawn and put it on a stone at his head,
to let it tell his fellow-countrymen how he looked at it--that he was
just a pawn in the great game. The game had to be played, and won, and
the winner had to sacrifice his pawns. He was one of the
sacrifices. Well, I'd like a tombstone the same as that fella from New
Zealand, if I could win it as fair, and see as far."

Stafford raised his head with a smile of admiration. "Like the
ancients, like the Oriental Emperors to-day, he left his message. An
Alexander, with not one world conquered."

"I'm none so sure of that," was Barry's response. "A man that could
put such a hand on himself as he did has conquered a world. He didn't
want to go, but he went as so many have gone hereabouts. He wanted to
stay, but he went against his will, and--and I wish that the
grub-hunters, and tuft-hunters, and the blind greedy majority in
England could get hold of what he got hold of. Then life 'd be a
different thing in Thamesfontein and the little green islands."

"You were meant for a Savonarola or a St. Francis, my bold grenadier,"
said Stafford with a friendly nod.

"I was meant for anything that comes my way, and to do everything that
was hard enough."

Stafford waved a hand. "Isn't this hard enough--a handful of guns and
fifteen hundred men lost in a day, and nothing done that you can put
in an envelope and send 'to the old folks at 'ome?'"

"Well, that's all over, Colonel. Byng has turned the tide by turning
the Boer flank. I'm glad he's got that much out of his big
shindy. It'll do him more good than his millions. He was oozing away
like a fat old pine-tree in London town. He's got all his balsam in
his bones now. I bet he'll get more out of this thing than anybody,
more that's worth having. He doesn't want honours or promotion; he
wants what 'd make his wife sorry to be a widow; and he's getting it."

"Let us hope that his wife won't be put to the test," responded
Stafford evenly.

Barry looked at him a little obliquely. "She came pretty near it when
we took Hetmeyer's Kopje."

"Is he all right again?" Stafford asked; then added quickly, "I've had
so much to do since the Hetmeyer business that I have not seen Byng."

Barry spoke very carefully and slowly. "He's over at Brinkwort's Farm
for a while. He didn't want to go to the hospital, and the house at
the Farm is good enough for anybody. Anyhow, you get away from the
smell of disinfectants and the business of the hospital. It's a
snigger little place is Brinkwort's Farm. There's an orchard of
peaches and oranges, and there are pomegranate hedges, and plenty of
nice flowers in the garden, and a stoep made for candidates for
Stellenbosch--as comfortable as the room of a Rand director."

"Mrs. Byng is with him?" asked Stafford, his eyes turned towards
Brinkwort's Farm miles away. He could see the trees, the kameel-thorn,
the blue-gums, the orange and peach trees surrounding it, a clump or
cloud of green in the veld.

"No, Mrs. Byng's not with him," was the reply.

Stafford stirred uneasily, a frown gathered, his eyes took on a look
of sombre melancholy. "Ah," he said at length, "she has returned to
Durban, then?"

"No. She got a chill the night of the Hetmeyer coup, and she's in bed
at the hospital."

Stafford controlled himself. "Is it a bad chill?" he asked
heavily. "Is she dangerously ill?" His voice seemed to thicken.

"She was; but she's not so bad that a little attention from a friend
would make her worse. She never much liked me; but I went just the
same, and took her some veld-roses."

"You saw her?" Stafford's voice was very low.

"Yes, for a minute. She's as thin as she once wasn't," Barry answered,
"but twice as beautiful. Her eyes are as big as stars, and she can
smile still, but it's a new one--a war-smile, I expect. Everything
gets a turn of its own at the Front."

"She was upset and anxious about Byng, I suppose?" Stafford asked,
with his head turned away from this faithfulest of friends, who would
have died for the man now sitting on the stoep of Brinkwort's house,
looking into the bloom of the garden.

"Naturally," was the reply. Barry Whalen thought carefully of what he
should say, because the instinct of the friend who loved his friend
had told him that, since the night at De Lancy Scovel's house when the
name of Mennaval had been linked so hatefully with that of Byng's
wife, there had been a cloud over Rudyard's life; and that Rudyard and
Jasmine were not the same as of yore.

"Naturally she was upset," he repeated. "She made Al'mah go and nurse
Byng."

"Al'mah," repeated Stafford mechanically. "Al'mah!" His mind rushed
back to that night at the opera, when Rudyard had sprung from the box
to the stage and had rescued Al'mah from the flames. The world had
widened since then.

Al'mah and Jasmine had been under the same roof but now; and Al'mah
was nursing Jasmine's husband--surely life was merely farce and
tragedy.

At this moment an orderly delivered a message to Barry Whalen. He rose
to go, but turned back to Stafford again.

"She'd be glad to see you, I'm certain," he said. "You never can tell
what a turn sickness will take in camp, and she's looking pretty
frail. We all ought to stand by Byng and whatever belongs to Byng. No
need to say that to you; but you've got a lot of work and
responsibility, and in the rush you mightn't realize that she's more
ill than the chill makes her. I hope you won't mind my saying so in my
stupid way."

Stafford rose and grasped his hand, and a light of wonderful
friendliness and comradeship shone in his eyes.

"Beau chevalier! Beau chevalier!" was all he said, and impulsive Barry
Whalen went away blinking; for hard as iron as he was physically, and
a fighter of courage, his temperament got into his eyes or at his lips
very easily.

Stafford looked after him admiringly. "Lucky the man who has such a
friend," he said aloud--"Sans peur et sans reproche! He could not
betray a "--the waving of wings above him caught his eye--"he could
not betray an aasvogel." His look followed the bird of prey, the
servitor of carrion death, as it flew down the wind.

He had absorbed the salt of tears and valour. He had been enveloped in
the Will that makes all wills as one, the will of a common purpose;
and it had changed his attitude towards his troubles, towards his
past, towards his future.

What Barry had said to him, and especially the tale of the New
Zealander, had revealed the change which had taken place. The War had
purged his mind, cleared his vision. When he left England he was
immersed in egoism, submerged by his own miseries. He had isolated
himself in a lazaretto of self-reproach and resentment. The universe
was tottering because a woman had played him false. Because of this
obsession of self, he was eager to be done with it all, to pay a price
which he might have paid, had it been possible to meet Rudyard pistol
or sword in hand, and die as many such a man has done, without trying
to save his own life or to take the life of another. That he could not
do. Rudyard did not know the truth, had not the faintest knowledge
that Jasmine had been more to himself than an old and dear friend. To
pay the price in any other way than by eliminating himself from the
equation was to smirch her name, be the ruin of a home, and destroy
all hope for the future.

It had seemed to him that there was no other way than to disappear
honourably through one of the hundred gates which the war would open
to him--to go where Death ambushed the reckless or the brave, and take
the stroke meant for him, on a field of honour all too kind to himself
and soothing to those good friends who would mourn his going, those
who hoped for him the now unattainable things.

In a spirit of stoic despair he had come to the seat of war. He had
invited Destiny to sweep him up in her reaping, by placing himself in
the ambit of her scythe; but the sharp reaping-hook had passed him by.

The innumerable exits were there in the wall of life and none had
opened to him; but since the evening when he saw Jasmine at the
railway station, there had been an opening of doors in his soul
hitherto hidden. Beyond these doors he saw glimpses of a new
world--not like the one he had lived in, not so green, so various, or
tumultuous, but it had the lure of that peace, not sterile or
somnolent, which summons the burdened life, or the soul with a
vocation, to the hood of a monk--a busy self-forgetfulness.

Looking after Barry Whalen's retreating figure he saw this new, grave
world opening out before him; and as the vision floated before his
eyes, Barry's appeal that he should visit Jasmine at the hospital came
to him.

Jasmine suffered. He recalled Barry's words: "She's as thin as she
once wasn't, but twice as beautiful. Her eyes are as big as stars, and
she can smile still, but it's a new one--a war-smile, I
expect. Everything gets a turn of its own at the Front."

Jasmine suffered in body. He knew that she suffered in mind also. To
go to her? Was that his duty? Was it his desire? Did his heart cry out
for it either in pity--or in love?

In love? Slowly a warm flood of feeling passed through him. It was
dimly borne in on him, as he gazed at the hospital in the distance,
that this thing called Love, which seizes upon our innermost selves,
which takes up residence in the inner sanctuary, may not be
dislodged. It stays on when the darkness comes, reigning in the
gloom. Even betrayal, injury, tyranny, do not drive it forth. It
continues. No longer is the curtain drawn aside for tribute, for
appeal, or for adoration, but It remains until the last footfall dies
in the temple, and the portals ate closed forever.

For Stafford the curtain was drawn before the shrine; but love was
behind the curtain still.

He would not go to her as Barry had asked. There in Brinkwort's house
in the covert of peaches and pomegranates was the man and the only man
who should, who must, bring new bloom to her cheek. Her suffering
would carry her to Rudyard at the last, unless it might be that one or
the other of them had taken Adrian Fellowes' life. If either had done
that, there could be no reunion.

He did not know what Al'mah had told Jasmine, the thing which had
cleared Jasmine's vision, and made possible a path which should lead
from the hospital to the house among the orchard-trees at Brinkwort's
Farm.

No, he would not, could not go to Jasmine--unless, it might be, she
was dying. A sudden, sharp anxiety possessed him. If, as Barry Whalen
suggested, one of those ugly turns should come, which illnesses take
in camp, and she should die without a friend near her, without Rudyard
by her side! He mounted his horse, and rode towards the hospital.

His inquiries at the hospital relieved his mind. "If there is no turn
for the worse, no complications, she will go on all right, and will be
convalescent in a few days," the medicine-man had said.

He gave instructions for a message to be sent to him if there was any
change for the worse. His first impulse, to tell them not to let her
know he had inquired, he set aside. There must not be subterfuge or
secrecy any longer. Let Destiny take her course.

As he left the hospital, he heard a wounded Boer prisoner say to a
Tommy who had fought with him on opposite sides in the same
engagement, "Alles zal recht kom!" All will come right, was the
English of it.

Out of the agony of conflict would all come right--for Boer, for
Briton, for Rudyard, for Jasmine, for himself, for Al'mah?

As he entered his tent again, he was handed his mail, which had just
arrived. The first letter he touched had the postmark of Durban. The
address on the envelope was in the handwriting of Lady Tynemouth.

He almost shrank from opening it, because of the tragedy which had
come to the husband of the woman who had been his faithful friend over
so many years. At an engagement a month before, Tynemouth had been
blinded by shrapnel, and had been sent to Durban. To the two letters
he had written there had come no answer until now; and he felt that
this reply would be a plaint against Fate, a rebellion against the
future restraint and trial and responsibility which would be put upon
the wife, who was so much of the irresponsible world.

After a moment, however, he muttered a reproach against his own
darkness of spirit and his lack of faith in her womanliness, and
opened the envelope.

It was not the letter he had imagined and feared. It began by thanking
him for his own letter, and then it plunged into the heart of her
trouble:

".... Tynie is blind. He will never see again. But his face seems to
me quite beautiful. It shines, Ian: beauty comes from within. Poor old
Tynie, who would have thought that the world he loved couldn't make
that light in his face! I never saw it there--did you? It is just
giving up one's self to the Inevitable. I suppose we mostly are giving
up ourselves to Ourselves, thinking always of our own pleasure and
profit and pride, never being content, pushing on and on...., Ian, I'm
not going to push on any more. I've done with the Climbers. There's
too much of the Climbers in us all--not social climbing, I mean, but
wanting to get somewhere that has something for us, out in the big
material world. When I look at Tynie--he's lying there so
peaceful--you might think it is a prison he is in. It isn't. He's set
free into a world where he had never been. He's set free in a world of
light that never blinds us. If he'd lived to be a hundred with the
sight of his eyes, he'd never have known that there's a world that
belongs to Allah,--I love that word, it sounds so great and yet so
friendly, so gentler than the name by which we call the First One in
our language and our religion--and that world is inside
ourselves.... Tynie is always thinking of other people now, wondering
what they are doing and how they are doing it. He was talking about
you a little while ago, and so admiringly. It brought the tears to my
eyes. Oh, I am so glad, Ian, that our friendship has always been so
much on the surface, so 'void of offence'--is that the phrase? I can
look at it without wincing; and I am glad. It never was a thing of
importance to you, for I am not important, and there was no weight of
life in it or in me. But even the butterfly has its uses, and maybe I
was meant to play a little part in your big life. I like to think it
was so. Sometimes a bright day gets a little more interest from the
drone of the locust or the glow of a butterfly's wings. I'm not sure
that the locust's droning and the bright flutter of the butterfly's
wings are not the way Nature has of fastening the soul to the meaning
of it all. I wonder if you ever heard the lines--foolish they read,
but they are not:

"'All summer long there was one little butterfly,
Flying ahead of me,
Wings red and yellow, a pretty little fellow,
Flying ahead of me.
One little butterfly, one little butterfly,
What can his message be?--
All summer long, there was one little butterfly
Flying ahead of me.'

"It may be so that the poet meant the butterfly to mean the joy of
things, the hope of things, the love of things flying ahead to draw us
on and on into the sunlight and up the steeps, and over the higher
hills.

"Ian, I would like to be such a butterfly in your eyes at this moment;
perhaps the insignificant means of making you see the near thing to
do, and by doing it get a step on towards the Far Thing. You used
always to think of the Far Thing. Ah, what ambition you had when I
first knew you on the Zambesi, when the old red umbrella, but for you,
would have carried me over into the mist and the thunder! Well, you
have lost that ambition. I know why you came out here. No one ever
told me. The thing behind the words in your letter tells me plainer
than words. The last time I saw you in London--do you remember when it
was? It was the day that Rudyard Byng drove Krool into Park Lane with
the sjambok. Well, that last time, when I met you in the hall as we
were both leaving a house of trouble, I felt the truth. Do you
remember the day I went to see you when Mr. Mappin came? I felt the
truth then more. I often wondered how I could ever help you in the old
days. That was an ambition of mine. But I had no brains--no brains
like Jasmine's and many another woman; and I was never able to do
anything. But now I feel as I never felt anything before in my life.
I feel that my time and my chance have come. I feel like a prophetess,
like Miriam,--or was it Deborah?--and that I must wind the horn of
warning as you walk on the edge of the precipice.

"Ian, it's only little souls who do the work that should be left to
Allah, and I don't believe that you can take the reins out of Allah's
hands,--He lets you do it, of course, if you insist, for a wilful
child must be taught his lesson--without getting smashed up at a sharp
corner that you haven't learnt to turn. Ian, there's work for you to
do. Even Tynie thinks that he can do some work still. He sees he can,
as he never did before; and he talks of you as a man who can do
anything if you will. He says that if England wanted a strong man
before the war she will want a stronger man afterwards to pick up the
pieces, and put them all together again. He says that after we win,
reconstruction in South Africa will be a work as big as was ever given
to a man, because, if it should fail, 'down will go the whole Imperial
show'--that's Tynie's phrase. And he says, why shouldn't you do it
here, or why shouldn't you be the man who will guide it all in
England?  You found the key to England's isolation, to her foreign
problem,--I'm quoting Tynie--which meant that the other nations keep
hands off in this fight; well, why shouldn't you find another key,
that to the future of this Empire? You got European peace for England,
and now the problem is how to make this Empire a real thing. Tynie
says this, not me. His command of English is better than mine, but
neither of us would make a good private secretary, if we had to write
letters with words of over two syllables. I've told you what Tynie
says, but he doesn't know at all what I know; he doesn't see the
danger I see, doesn't realize the mad thing in your brain, the sad
thing weighing down your heart--and hers.

"Ian, I feel it on my own heart, and I want it lifted away. Your
letter has only one word in it really. That word is Finis. I say, it
must not, shall not, be Finis. Look at the escapes you have had in
this war. Is not that enough to prove that you have a long way to go
yet, and that you have to 'make good' the veld as you trek. To outspan
now would be a crime. It would spoil a great life, it would darken
memory--even mine, Ian. I must speak the truth. I want you, we all
want you, to be the big man you are at heart. Do not be a Lassalle. It
is too small. If one must be a slave, then let it be to something
greater than one's self, higher--toweringly unattainably
higher. Believe me, neither the girl you love nor any woman on earth
is entitled to hold in slavery the energies and the mind and hopes of
a man who can do big things--or any man at all.

"Ian, Tynie and I have our trials, but we are going to live them
down. At first Tynie wanted to die, but he soon said he would see it
through--blind at forty. You have had your trials, you have them
still; but every gift of man is yours, and every opportunity. Will you
not live it all out to the end?  Allah knows the exit He wants for us,
and He must resent our breaking a way out of the prison of our own
making.

"You've no idea how this life of work with Jasmine has brought things
home to me--and to Jasmine too. When I see the multitude of broken and
maimed victims of war, well, I feel like Jeremiah; but I feel sad too
that these poor fellows and those they love must suffer in order to
teach us our lesson--us and England. Dear old friend, great man, I am
going to quote a verse Tynie read to me last night--oh, how strange
that seems! Yet it was so in a sense, he did read to me. Tynie made me
say the words from the book, but he read into them all that they were,
he that never drew a literary breath. It was a poem Jasmine quoted to
him a fortnight ago--Browning's 'Grammarian,' and he stopped me at
these words:

"'Thither our path lies; wind we up the heights:
Wait ye the warning?
Our low life was the level's and the night's;
He's for the morning.'

"Tynie stopped me there, and said, 'That's Stafford. He's the Alpine
fellow!' . . ."

A few sentences more and then the letter ended on a note of courage,
solicitude and friendship. And at the very last she said:

"It isn't always easy to find the key to things, but you will find it,
not because you are so clever, but because at heart you are so
good.... We both send our love, and don't forget that England hasn't
had a tenth of her share of Ian Stafford...."

Then there followed a postscript which ran:

"I always used to say, 'When my ship comes home,' I'd have this or
that. Well, here is the ship--mine and Jasmine's, and it has come Home
for me, and for Jasmine, too, I hope."

Stafford looked out over the veld. He saw the light of the sun, the
joy of summer, the flowers, the buoyant hills, where all the guns were
silent now; he saw a blesbok in the distance leaping to join its
fellows of a herd which had strayed across the fields of war; he felt
that stir of vibrant life in the air which only the new lands know;
and he raised his head with the light of resolve growing in his eyes.

"Don't forget that England hasn't had a tenth of her share of Ian
Stafford," Alice Tynemouth had said.

Looking round, he saw men whose sufferings were no doubt as great as
his own or greater; but they were living on for others' sakes. Despair
retreated before a woman's insight.

"The Alpine fellow" wanted to live now.



CHAPTER XXXV

AT BRINKWORT'S FARM


"What are you doing here, Krool?" The face of the half-caste had grown
more furtive than it was in the London days, and as he looked at
Stafford now, it had a malignant expression which showed through the
mask of his outward self-control.

"I am prisoner," Krool answered thickly.

"When--where?" Stafford inquired, his eye holding the other's.

"At Hetmeyer's Kopje."

"But what are you--a prisoner--doing here at Brinkwort's Farm?"

"I was hurt. They take me hospital, but the Baas, he send for me."

"They let you come without a guard ?"

"No--not. They are outside"--Krool jerked a finger towards the rear of
the house--"with the biltong and the dop."

"You are a liar, Krool. There may be biltong, but there is no dop."

"What matters!" Krool's face had a leer. He looked impudently at
Stafford, and Stafford read the meaning behind the unveiled insolence:
Krool knew what no one else but Jasmine and himself knew with absolute
certainty. Krool was in his own country, more than half a savage, with
the lust of war in his blood, with memories of a day in Park Lane when
the sjambok had done its ugly work, and Ian Stafford had, as Krool
believed, placed it in the hands of the Baas.

It might be that this dark spirit, this Nibelung of the tragedy of the
House of Byng, would even yet, when the way was open to a
reconstructed life for Jasmine and Rudyard, bring catastrophe.

The thought sickened him, and then black anger took possession of
him. The look he cast on the bent figure before him in the threadbare
frock-coat which had been taken from the back of some dead Boer, with
the corded breeches stuck in boots too large for him, and the khaki
hat which some vanished Tommy would never wear again, was resolute and
vengeful.

Krool must not stay at Brinkwort's Farm. He must be removed. If the
Caliban told Rudyard what he knew, there could be but one end to it
all; and Jasmine's life, if not ruined, must ever be, even at the
best, lived under the cover of magnanimity and compassion. That would
break her spirit, would take from her the radiance of temperament
which alone could make life tolerable to her or to others who might
live with her under the same roof. Anxiety possessed him, and he
swiftly devised means to be rid of Krool before harm could be done. He
was certain harm was meant--there was a look of semi-insanity in
Krool's eyes. Krool must be put out of the way before he could speak
with the Baas.... But how?

With a great effort Stafford controlled himself. Krool must be got rid
of at once, must be sent back to the prisoners' quarters and kept
there. He must not see Byng now. In a few more hours the army would
move on, leaving the prisoners behind, and Rudyard would presently
move on with the army. This was Byng's last day at Brinkwort's Farm,
to which he himself had come to-day lest Rudyard should take note of
his neglect, and their fellow-officers should remark that the old
friendship had grown cold, and perhaps begin to guess at the reason
why.

"You say the Baas sent for you?" he asked presently.

"Yes."

"To sjambok you again?"

Krool made a gesture of contempt. "I save the Baas at Hetmeyer's
Kopje. I kill Piet Graaf to do it."

There was a look of assurance in the eyes of the mongrel, which sent a
wave of coldness through Stafford's veins and gave him fresh anxiety.

He was in despair. He knew Byng's great, generous nature, and he
dreaded the inconsistency which such men show--forgiving and
forgetting when the iron penalty should continue and the chains of
punishment remain.

He determined to know the worst. "Traitor all round!" he said
presently with contempt. "You saved the Baas by killing Piet
Graaf--have you told the Baas that? Has any one told the Baas that?
The sjambok is the Baas' cure for the traitor, and sometimes it kills
to cure. Do you think that the Baas would want his life through the
killing of Piet Graaf by his friend Krool, the slim one from the
slime?"

As a sudden tempest twists and bends a tree, contorts it, bows its
branches to the dust, transforms it from a thing of beauty to a hag of
Walpurgis, so Stafford's words transformed Krool. A passion of rage
possessed him. He looked like one of the creatures that waited on
Wotan in the nether places. He essayed to speak, but at first could
not. His body bent forward, and his fingers spread out in a spasm of
hatred, then clinched with the stroke of a hammer on his knees, and
again opened and shut in a gesture of loathsome cruelty.

At length he spoke, and Stafford listened intently, for now Caliban
was off his guard, and he knew the worst that was meant.

"Ah, you speak of traitor--you! The sjambok for the traitor, eh?  The
sjambok--fifty strokes, a hunderd strokes--a t'ousand!  Krool--Krool
is a traitor, and the sjambok for him. What did he do?  What did Krool
do? He help Oom Paul against the Rooinek--against the Philistine. He
help the chosen against the children of Hell.

"What did Krool do? He tell Oom Paul how the thieves would to come in
the night to sold him like sheep to a butcher, how the t'ousand wolves
would swarm upon the sheepfold, and there would be no homes for the
voortrekker and his vrouw, how the Outlander would sit on our stoeps
and pick the peaches from our gardens. And he tell him other things
good for him to hear."

Stafford was conscious of the smell of orchard blossoms blown through
the open window, of the odour of the pomegranate in the hedge; but his
eyes were fascinated by the crouching passion of the figure before him
and the dissonance of the low, unhuman voice. There was no pause in
the broken, turgid torrent, which was like a muddy flood pouring over
the boulders of a rapid.

"Who the traitor is? Is it the man that tries to save his homeland
from the wolf and the worm? I kill Piet Graaf to save the Baas. The
Baas an' I, we understand--on the Limpopo we make the unie. He is the
Baas, and I am his slave. All else nothing is. I kill all the people
of the Baas' country, but I die for the Baas. The Baas kill me if he
will it. So it was set down in the bond on the Limpopo. If the Baas
strike, he strike; if he kill, he kill. It is in the bond, it is set
down. All else go. Piet Graaf, he go. Oom Paul, he go. Joubert,
Cronje, Botha, they all go, if the Baas speak. It is written so. On
the Limpopo it is written. All must go, if the Baas speak--one, two,
three, a t'ousand. Else the bond is water, and the spirits come in the
night, and take you to the million years of torment. It is nothing to
die--pain! But only the Baas is kill me. It is written so. Only the
Baas can hurt me. Not you, nor all the verdomde Rooineks out
there"--he pointed to the vast camp out on the veld--"nor the Baas'
vrouw. Do I not know all about the Baas' vrouw! She cannot hurt
me.. ." He spat on the ground. "Who is the traitor? Is it Krool? Did
Krool steal from the Baas? Krool is the Baas' slave; it is only the
friend of the Baas that steal from him--only him is traitor. I kill
Piet Graaf to save the Baas. No one kills you to save the Baas! I saw
you with your arms round the Baas' vrouw. So I go tell the Baas
all. If he kill me--it is the Baas. It is written."

He spat on the ground again, and his eyes grown red with his passion
glowered on Stafford like those of some animal of the jungle.

Stafford's face was white, and every nerve in his body seemed suddenly
to be wrenched by the hand of torture. What right had he to resent
this abominable tirade, this loathsome charge by such a beast? Yet he
would have shot where he stood the fellow who had spoken so of "the
Baas' vrouw," if it had not come to him with sudden conviction that
the end was not to be this way. Ever since he had read Alice
Tynemouth's letter a new spirit had been working in him. He must do
nothing rash. There was enough stain on his hands now without the
added stain of blood. But he must act; he must prevent Krool from
telling the Baas. Yonder at the hospital was Jasmine, and she and her
man must come together here in this peaceful covert before Rudyard
went forward with the army. It must be so.

Two sentries were beyond the doorway. He stepped quickly to the stoep
and summoned them. They came. Krool watched with eyes that, at first,
did not understand.

Stafford gave an order. "Take the prisoner to the guard. They will at
once march him back to the prisoners' camp."

Now Krool understood, and he made as if to spring on Stafford, but a
pistol suddenly faced him, and he knew well that what Stafford would
not do in cold blood, he would do in the exercise of his duty and as a
soldier before these Rooinek privates. He stood still; he made no
resistance.

But suddenly his voice rang out in a guttural cry--"Baas!"

In an instant a hand was clapped on his mouth, and his own dirty
neckcloth provided a gag.

The storm was over. The native blood in him acknowledged the logic
of superior force, and he walked out quietly between the sentries.
Stafford's move was regular from a military point of view. He was
justified in disposing of a dangerous and recalcitrant prisoner.
He could find a sufficient explanation if he was challenged.

As he turned round from the doorway through which Krool had
disappeared, he saw Al'mah, who had entered from another room during
the incident.

A light came to Stafford's face. They two derelicts of life had much
in common--the communion of sinners who had been so much sinned
against.

"I heard his last words about you and--her," she said in a low voice.

"Where is Byng?" he asked anxiously.

"In the kloof near by. He will be back presently."

"Thank God!"

Al'mah's face was anxious. "I don't know what you are going to say to
him, or why you have come," she said, "but--"

"I have come to congratulate him on his recovery."

"I understand. I want to say some things to you. You should know them
before you see him. There is the matter of Adrian Fellowes."

"What about Adrian Fellowes?" Stafford asked evenly, yet he felt his
heart give a bound and his brain throb.

"Does it matter to you now? At the inquest you were--concerned."

"I am more concerned now," he rejoined huskily.

He suddenly held out a hand to her with a smile of rare
friendliness. There came over him again the feeling he had at the
hospital when they talked together last, that whatever might come of
all the tragedy and sorrow around them they two must face
irretrievable loss.

She hesitated a moment, and then as she took his outstretched hand she
said, "Yes, I will take it while I can."

Her eyes went slowly round the room as though looking for
something--some point where they might rest and gather courage maybe,
then they steadied to his firmly.

"You knew Adrian Fellowes did not die a natural death--I saw that at
the inquest."

"Yes, I knew."

"It was a poisoned needle."

"I know. I found the needle."

"Ah! I threw it down afterwards. I forgot about it."

Slowly the colour left Stafford's face, as the light of revelation
broke in upon his brain. Why had he never suspected her? His brain was
buzzing with sounds which came from inner voices--voices of old
thoughts and imaginings, like little beings in a dark forest hovering
on the march of the discoverer. She was speaking, but her voice seemed
to come through a clouded medium from a great distance to him.

"He had hurt me more than any other--than my husband or her. I did
it. I would do it again.... I had been good to him.... I had suffered,
I wanted something for all I had lost, and he was . . ."

Her voice trailed away into nothing, then rose again presently. "I am
not sorry. Perhaps you wonder at that. But no, I do not hate myself
for it--only for all that went before it. I will pay, if I have to
pay, in my own way.... Thousands of women die who are killed by hands
that carry no weapon. They die of misery and shame and regret.... This
one man died because ..."

He did not hear, or if he heard he did not realize what she was saying
now. One thought was ringing through his mind like bells pealing. The
gulf of horrible suspicion between Rudyard and Jasmine was closed. So
long as it yawned, so long as there was between them the accounting
for Adrian Fellowes' death, they might have come together, but there
would always have been a black shadow between--the shadow that hangs
over the scaffold.

"They should know the truth," he said almost peremptorily.

"They both know," she rejoined calmly. "I told him this evening. On
the day I saw you at the hospital, I told her."

There was silence for a moment, and then he said: "She must come here
before he joins his regiment."

"I saw her last night at the hospital," Al'mah answered. "She was
better. She was preparing to go to Durban. I did not ask her if she
was coming, but I was sure she was not. So, just now, before you came,
I sent a message to her. It will bring her.... It does not matter what
a woman like me does."

"What did you say to her?"

"I wrote, 'If you wish to see him before the end, come quickly.' She
will think he is dying."

"If she resents the subterfuge?"

"Risks must be taken. If he goes without their meeting--who can tell!
Now is the time--now. I want to see it. It must be."

He reached out both hands and took hers, while she grew pale. Her eyes
had a strange childishly frightened look.

"You are a good woman, Al'mah," he said.

A quivering, ironical laugh burst from her lips. Then, suddenly, her
eyes were suffused.

"The world would call it the New Goodness then," she replied in a
voice which told how deep was the well of misery in her being.

"It is as old as Allah," he replied.

"Or as old as Cain?" she responded, then added quickly, "Hush! He is
coming."

An instant afterwards she was outside among the peach trees, and
Rudyard and Stafford faced each other in the room she had just left.

As Al'mah stood looking into the quivering light upon the veld, her
fingers thrust among the blossoms of a tree which bent over her, she
heard horses' hoofs, and presently there came round the corner of the
house two mounted soldiers who had brought Krool to Brinkwort's
Farm. Their prisoner was secured to a stirrup-leather, and the
neckcloth was still binding his mouth.

As they passed, Krool turned towards the house, eyes showing like
flames under the khaki trooper's hat, which added fresh incongruity to
the frock-coat and the huge top-boots.

The guard were now returning to their post at the door-way.

"What has happened?" she asked, with a gesture towards the departing
Krool.

"A bit o' lip to Colonel Stafford, ma'am," answered one of the
guard. "He's got a tongue like a tanner's vat, that goozer. Wants a
lump o' lead in 'is baskit 'e does."

"'E done a good turn at Hetmeyer's Kopje," added the Second. "If it
hadn't been for 'im the S.A.'s would have had a new Colonel"--he
jerked his head towards the house, from which came the murmur of men's
voices talking earnestly.

"Whatever 'e done it for, it was slim, you can stake a tidy lot on
that, ma'am," interjected the First. "He's the bottom o' the sink,
this half-caste Boojer is."

The Second continued: "If I 'ad my way 'e'd be put in front at the
next push-up, just where the mausers of his pals would get 'im. 'E's
done a lot o' bitin' in 'is time--let 'im bite the dust now, I
sez. I'm fair sick of treatin' that lot as if they was square
fighters. Why, 'e'd fire on a nurse or an ambulanche, that tyke
would."

"There's lots like him in yonder," urged the First, as a hand was
jerked forward towards the hills, "and we're goin' to get 'em this
time--goin' to get 'em on the shovel. Their schanses and their kranzes
and their ant-bear dugouts ain't goin' to help them this mop-up. We're
goin' to get the tongue in the hole o' the buckle this time. It's over
the hills and far away, and the Come-in-Elizas won't stop us. When the
howitzers with their nice little balls of lyddite physic get opening
their bouquets to-morrow--"

"Who says to-morrow?" demanded the Second.

"I says to-morrow. I know. I got ears, and 'im that 'as ears to 'ear
let 'im 'ear--that's what the Scripture saith. I was brought up on the
off side of a vicarage."

He laughed eagerly at his own joke, chuckling till his comrade
followed up with a sharp challenge.

"I bet you never heard nothin' but your own bleatin's--not about wot
the next move is, and w'en it is."

The First made quick retort. "Then you lose your bet, for I 'eard
Colonel Byng get 'is orders larst night--w'en you was sleepin' at
your post, Willy. By to-morrow this time you'll see the whole outfit
at it. You'll see the little billows of white rolling over the
hills--that's shrapnel. You'll hear the rippin', zippin', zimmin'
thing in the air wot makes you sick; for you don't know who it's goin'
to 'it. That's shells. You'll hear a thousand blankets being
shook--that's mausers and others. You'll see regiments marching out o'
step, an' every man on his own, which is not how we started this war,
not much. And where there's a bit o' rock, you say, 'Ere's a friend,
and you get behind it like a man. And w'en there's nothing to get
behind, you get in front, and take your chances, and you get
there--right there, over the trenches, over the bloomin' Amalakites,
over the hills and far away, where they want the relief they're goin'
to get, or I'm a pansy blossom."

"Well, to-morrow can't come quick enough for me," answered the
Second. He straightened out his shoulders and eyed the hills in front
of him with a calculating air, as though he were planning the tactics
of the fight to come.

"We'll all be in it--even you, ma'am," insinuated the First to Al'mah
with a friendly nod. "But I'd ruther 'ave my job nor yours. I've done
a bit o' nursin'--there was Bob Critchett that got a splinter o' shell
in 'is 'ead, and there was Sergeant Hoyle and others. But it gits me
where I squeak that kind o' thing do."

Suddenly they brought their rifles to the salute, as a footstep
sounded smartly on the stoep. It was Stafford coming from the house.

He acknowledged the salute mechanically. His eyes were fastened on the
distance. They had a rapt, shining look, and he walked like one in a
pleasant dream. A moment afterwards he mounted his horse with the
lightness of a boy, and galloped away.

He had not seen Al'mah as he passed.

In her fingers was crushed a bunch of orange blossoms. A heavy sigh
broke from her lips. She turned to go within, and, as she did so, saw
Rudyard Byng looking from the doorway towards the hospital where
Jasmine was.

"Will she come?" Al'mah asked herself, and mechanically she wiped the
stain of the blossoms from her fingers.



CHAPTER XXXVI

SPRINGS OF HEALING


Dusk had almost come, yet Jasmine had not arrived at Brinkwort's Farm,
the urgency of Al'mah's message notwithstanding. As things stood, it
was a matter of life and death; and to Al'mah's mind humanity alone
should have sent Jasmine at once to her husband's side. Something of
her old prejudice against Jasmine rose up again. Perhaps behind it all
was involuntary envy of an invitation to happiness so freely laid at
Jasmine's feet, but withheld from herself by Fate. Never had the
chance to be happy or the obvious inducement to be good ever been
hers. She herself had nothing, and Jasmine still had a chance for all
to which she had no right. Her heart beat harder at the thought of
it. She was of those who get their happiness first in making others
happy--as she would have done with Blantyre, if she had had a chance;
as even she tried to do with the man whom she had sent to his account
with the firmness and fury of an ancient Greek. The maternal, the
protective sense was big in her, and indirectly it had governed her
life. It had sent her to South Africa--to protect the wretch who had
done his best to destroy her; it had made her content at times as she
did her nurse's work in what dreadful circumstances! It was the source
of her revolt at Jasmine's conduct and character.

But was it also that, far beneath her criticism of Jasmine, which was,
after all, so little in comparison with the new-found affection she
really had for her, there lay a kinship, a sympathy, a soul's
rapprochement with Rudyard, which might, in happier circumstances,
have become a mating such as the world knew in its youth? Was that
also in part the cause of her anxiety for Rudyard, and of her sharp
disapproval of Jasmine? Did she want to see Rudyard happy, no matter
at what cost to Jasmine? Was it the everlasting feminine in her which
would make a woman sacrifice herself for a man, if need be, in order
that he might be happy? Was it the ancient tyrannical soul in her
which would make a thousand women sacrifice themselves for the man she
herself set above all others?

But she was of those who do not know what they are, or what they think
and feel, till some explosion forces open the doors of their souls and
they look upon a new life over a heap of ruins.

She sat in the gathering dusk, waiting, while hope slowly
waned. Rudyard also, on the veranda, paced weakly, almost stumblingly,
up and down, his face also turning towards the Stay Awhile
Hospital. At length, with a heavy sigh, he entered the house and sat
down in a great arm-chair, from which old Brinkwort the Boer had laid
down the law for his people.

Where was Jasmine? Why did she not hasten to Brinkwort's Farm?

A Staff Officer from the General Commanding had called to congratulate
Jasmine on her recovery, and to give fresh instructions which would
link her work at Durban effectively with the army as it now moved on
to the relief of the town beyond the hills. Al'mah's note had arrived
while the officer was with Jasmine, and it was held back until he
left. It was then forgotten by the attendant on duty, and it lay for
three hours undelivered. Then when it was given to her, no mention was
made of the delay.

When the Staff Officer left her, he had said to himself that hers was
one of the most alluring and fascinating faces he had ever seen; and
he, like Stafford, though in another sphere--that of the Secret
Intelligence Department--had travelled far and wide in the
world. Perfectly beautiful he did not call her, though her face was as
near that rarity as any he had known. He would only have called a
woman beautiful who was tall, and she was almost petite; but that was
because he himself was over-tall, and her smallness seemed to be
properly classed with those who were pretty, not the handsome or the
beautiful. But there was something in her face that haunted him--a
wistful, appealing delicacy, which yet was associated with an instant
readiness of intellect, with a perspicuous judgment and a gift of
organization. And she had eyes of blue which were "meant to drown
those who hadn't life-belts," as he said.

In one way or another he put all this to his fellow officers, and said
that the existence of two such patriots as Byng and Jasmine in one
family was unusual.

"Pretty fairly self-possessed, I should say," said Rigby, the youngest
officer present at mess. "Her husband under repair at Brinkwort's
Farm, in the care of the blue-ribbon nurse of the army, who makes a
fellow well if he looks at her, and she studying organization at the
Stay Awhile with a staff-officer."

The reply of the Staff Officer was quick and cutting enough for any
officers' mess.

"I see by the latest papers from England, that Balfour says we'll
muddle through this war somehow," he said. "He must have known you,
Rigby. With the courage of the damned you carry a fearsome lot of
impedimenta, and you muddle quite adequately. The lady you have
traduced has herself been seriously ill, and that is why she is not at
Brinkwort's Farm. What a malicious mind you've got! Byng would think
so."

"If Rigby had been in your place to-day," interposed a gruff major,
"the lady would surely have had a relapse. Convalescence is no time
for teaching the rudiments of human intercourse."

Pale and angry, Rigby, who was half Scotch and correspondingly
self-satisfied, rejoined stubbornly: "I know what I know. They haven't
met since she came up from Durban. Sandlip told me that--"

The Staff Officer broke the sentence. "What Sandlip told you is what
Nancy woutd tell Polly and Polly would tell the cook--and then Rigby
would know. But statement number one is an Ananiasism, for Byng saw
his wife at the hospital the night before Hetmeyer's Kopje. I can't
tell what they said, though, nor what was the colour of the lady's
pegnoir, for I am neither Nancy nor Polly nor the cook--nor Rigby."

With a maddened gesture Rigby got to his feet, but a man at his side
pulled him down. "Sit still, Baby Bunting, or you'll not get over the
hills to-morrow," he said, and he offered Rigby a cigar from Rigby's
own cigar-case, cutting off the end, handing it to him and lighting a
match.

"Gun out of action: record the error of the day," piped the thin
precise voice of the Colonel from the head of the table.

A chorus of quiet laughter met the Colonel's joke, founded on the
technical fact that the variation in the firing of a gun, due to any
number of causes, though apparently firing under the same conditions,
is carted officially "the error of the day" in Admiralty reports.

"Here the incident closed," as the newspapers say, but Rigby the
tactless and the petty had shown that there was rumour concerning the
relations of Byng and his wife, which Jasmine, at least, imagined did
not exist.

When Jasmine read the note Al'mah had sent her, a flush stole slowly
over her face, and then faded, leaving a whiteness, behind which was
the emanation, not of fear, but of agitation and of shock.

It meant that Rudyard was dying, and that she must go to him. That she
must go to him? Was that the thought in her mind--that she must go to
him?

If she wished to see him again before he went! That midnight, when he
was on his way to Hetmeyer's Kopje, he had flung from her room into
the night, and ridden away angrily on his grey horse, not hearing her
voice faintly calling after him. Now, did she want to see him--the
last time before he rode away again forever, on that white horse
called Death? A shudder passed through her.

"Ruddy! Poor Ruddy!" she said, and she did not remember that those
were the pitying, fateful words she used on the day when Ian Stafford
dined with her alone after Rudyard made his bitter protest against the
life they lived. "We have everything--everything," he had said, "and
yet--"

Now, however, there was an anguished sob in her voice. With the
thought of seeing him, her fingers tremblingly sought the fine-spun
strands of hair which ever lay a little loose from the wonder of its
great coiled abundance, and then felt her throat, as though to adjust
the simple linen collar she wore, making exquisite contrast to the
soft simplicity of her dark-blue gown.

She found the attendant who had given her the letter, and asked if the
messenger was waiting, and was only then informed that he had been
gone three hours or more.

Three hours or more! It might be that Rudyard was gone forever without
hearing what she had to say, or knowing whether she desired
reconciliation and peace.

She at once gave orders for a cape-cart to take her over to
Brinkwort's Farm. The attendant respectfully said that he must have
orders. She hastened to the officer in charge of the hospital, and
explained. His sympathy translated itself into instant action.
Fortunately there was a cart at the door. In a moment she was
ready, and the cart sped away into the night across the veld.

She had noticed nothing as she mounted the cart--neither the driver
nor the horses; but, as they hurried on, she was roused by a familiar
voice saying, "'E done it all right at Hetmeyer's Kopje--done it
brown. First Wortmann's Drift, and then Hetmeyer's Kopje, and he'll be
over the hills and through the Boers and into Lordkop with the rest of
the hold-me-backs."

She recognized him--the first person who had spoken to her of her
husband on her arrival, the cheerful Corporal Shorter, who had told
her of Wortmann's Drift and the saving of "Old Gunter."

She touched his arm gently. "I am glad it is you," she said in a low
tone.

"Not so glad as I am," he answered. "It's a purple shame that you
should ha' been took sick when he was mowed down, and that some one
else should be healin' 'is gapin' wounds besides 'is lawful wife, and
'er a rifle-shot away! It's a fair shame, that's wot it is. But all's
well as ends well, and you're together at the finish."

She shrank from his last words. Her heart seemed to contract; it hurt
her as though it was being crushed in a vise. She was used to that
pain now. She had felt it--ah, how many times since the night she
found Adrian Fellowes' white rose on her pillow, laid there by the man
she had sworn at the altar to love, honor, and obey! Her head
drooped. "At the finish"--how strange and new and terrible it was!
The world stood still for her.

"You'll go together to Lordkop, I expeck," she heard her companion's
voice say, and at first she did not realize its meaning; then slowly
it came to her. "At the finish" in his words meant the raising of the
siege of Lordkop, it meant rescue, victory, restoration. He had not
said that Rudyard was dead, that the Book of Rudyard and Jasmine was
closed forever. Her mind was in chaos, her senses in confusion. She
seemed like one in a vague shifting, agonizing dream.

She was unconscious of what her friendly Corporal was saying. She only
answered him mechanically now and then; and he, seeing that she was
distraught, talked on in a comforting kind of way, telling her
anecdotes of Rudyard, as they were told in that part of the army to
which he belonged.

What was she going to do when she arrived? What could she do if
Rudyard was dead? If Rudyard was still alive, she would make him
understand that she was not the Jasmine of the days "before the
flood"--before that storm came which uprooted all that ever was in her
life except the old, often anguished, longing to be good, and the
power which swept her into bye and forbidden paths. If he was gone,
deaf to her voice and to any mortal sound, then--there rushed into her
vision the figure of Ian Stafford, but she put that from her with a
trembling determination. That was done forever. She was as sure of it
as she was sure of anything in the world. Ian had not forgiven her,
would never forgive her. He despised her, rejected her, abhorred
her. Ian had saved her from the result of Rudyard's rash retaliation
and fury, and had then repulsed her, bidden her stand off from him
with a magnanimity and a chivalry which had humiliated her. He had
protected her from the shame of an open tragedy, and then had shut the
door in her face. Rudyard, with the same evidence as Ian held,--the
same letter as proof--he, whatever he believed or thought, he had
forgiven her. Only a few nights ago, that night before the fight at
Hetmeyer's Kopje, he had opened his arms to her and called her his
wife. In Rudyard was some great good thing, something which could not
die, which must live on. She sat up straight in the seat of the cart,
her hands clinched.

No, no, no, Rudyard was not dead, and he should not die. It mattered
not what Al'mah had written, she must have her chance to prove
herself; his big soul must have its chance to run a long course, must
not be cut off at the moment when so much had been done; when there
was so much to do. Ian should see that she was not "just a little
burst of eloquence," as he had called her, not just a strumpet, as he
thought her; but a woman now, beyond eloquence, far distant from the
poppy-fields of pleasure. She was young enough for it to be a virtue
in her to avoid the poppy-fields. She was not twenty-six years of age,
and to have learned the truth at twenty-six, and still not to have
been wholly destroyed by the lies of life, was something which might
be turned to good account.

She was sharply roused, almost shocked out of her distraction. Bright
lights appeared suddenly in front of her, and she heard the voice of
her Corporal saying: "We're here, ma'am, where old Brinkwort built a
hospital for one, and that one's yours, Mrs. Byng."

He clucked to his horses and they slackened. All at once the lights
seemed to grow larger, and from the garden of Brinkwort's house came
the sharp voice of a soldier saying:

"Halt! Who goes there?"

"A friend," was the Corporal's reply.

"Advance, friend, and give the countersign," was brusquely returned.

A moment afterwards Jasmine was in the sweet-smelling garden, and the
lights of the house were flaring out upon her.

She heard at the same time the voices of the sentry and of Corporal
Shorter in low tones of badinage, and she frowned. It was cruel that
at the door of the dead or the dying there should be such levity.

All at once a figure came between her and the light. Instinctively she
knew it was Al'mah.

"Al'mah! Al'mah!" she said painfully, and in a voice scarce above a
whisper.

The figure of the singing-woman bent over her protectingly, as it
might almost seem, and her hands were caught in a warm clasp.

"Am I in time?" Jasmine asked, and the words came from her in gasps.

Al'mah had no repentance for her deception. She saw an agitation which
seemed to her deeper and more real than any emotion ever shown by
Jasmine, not excepting the tragical night at the Glencader Mine and
the morning of the first meeting at the Stay Awhile Hospital. The
butterfly had become a thrush that sang with a heart in its throat.

She gathered Jasmine's eyes to her own. It seemed as though she never
would answer. To herself she even said, why should she hurry, since
all was well, since she had brought the two together living, who had
been dead to each other these months past, and, more than all, had
been of the angry dead? A little more pain and regret could do no
harm, but only good. Besides, now that she was face to face with the
result of her own deception, she had a sudden fear that it might go
wrong. She had no remorse for the act, but only a faint apprehension
of the possible consequences. Suppose that in the shock of discovery
Jasmine should throw everything to the winds, and lose herself in
arrant egotism once more! Suppose--no, she would suppose nothing. She
must believe that all she had done was for the best.

She felt how cold were the small delicate hands in her own strong warm
fingers, she saw the frightened appeal of the exquisite haunting eyes,
and all at once realized the cause of that agitation--the fear that
death had come without understanding, that the door had been forever
shut against the answering voices.

"You are in time," she said gently, encouragingly, and she tightened
the grasp of her hands.

As the volts of an electric shock quivering through a body are
suddenly withdrawn, and the rigidity becomes a ghastly inertness, so
Jasmine's hands, and all her body, seemed released. She felt as though
she must fall, but she reasserted her strength, and slowly regained
her balance, withdrawing her hands from those of Al'mah.

"He is alive--he is alive--he is alive," she kept repeating to herself
like one in a dream. Then she added hastily, with an effort to bear
herself with courage: "Where is he? Take me."

Al'mah motioned, and in a moment they were inside the house. A sense
of something good and comforting came over Jasmine. Here was an old,
old room furnished in heavy and simple Dutch style, just as old Elias
Brinkwort had left it. It had the grave and heavy hospitableness of a
picture of Teniers or Jan Steen. It had the sense of home, the welcome
of the cradle and the patriarch's chair. These were both here as they
were when Elias Brinkwort and his people went out to join the Boer
army in the hills, knowing that the verdomde Rooinek would not loot
his house or ravage his belongings.

To Jasmine's eyes, it brought a new strange sense, as though all at
once doors had been opened up to new sensations of life. Almost
mechanically, yet with a curious vividness and permanency of vision,
her eyes drifted from the patriarch's chair to the cradle in the
corner; and that picture would remain with her till she could see no
more at all. Unbidden and unconscious there came upon her lips a faint
smile, and then a door in front of her was opened, and she was inside
another room--not a bedroom as she had expected, but a room where the
Dutch simplicity and homely sincerity had been invaded by something
English and military. This she felt before her eyes fell on a man
standing beside a table, fully dressed. Though shaken and worn, it was
a figure which had no affinity with death.

As she started back Al'mah closed the door behind her, and she found
herself facing Rudyard, looking into his eyes.

Al'mah had miscalculated. She did not realize Jasmine as she really
was--like one in a darkened room who leans out to the light and
sun. The old life, the old impetuous egoism, the long years of self
were not yet gone from a character composite of impulse, vanity and
intensity. This had been too daring an experiment with one of her
nature, which had within the last few months become as strangely,
insistently, even fanatically honest, as it had been elusive in the
past. In spite of a tremulous effort to govern herself and see the
situation as it really was--an effort of one who desired her good to
bring her and Rudyard together, the ruse itself became magnified to
monstrous proportions, and her spirit suddenly revolted. She felt that
she had been inveigled; that what should have been her own voluntary
act of expiation and submission, had been forced upon her, and pride,
ever her most secret enemy, took possession of her.

"I have been tricked," she said, with eyes aflame and her body
trembling. "You have trapped me here!" There was scorn and indignation
in her voice.

He did not move, but his eyes were intent upon hers and persistently
held them. He had been near to death, and his vision had been more
fully cleared than hers. He knew that this was the end of all or the
beginning of all things for them both; and though anger suddenly
leaped at the bottom of his heart, he kept it in restraint, the
primitive thing of which he had had enough.

"I did not trick you, Jasmine," he answered, in a low voice. "The
letter was sent without my knowledge or permission. Al'mah thought she
was doing us both a good turn. I never deceived you--never. I should
not have sent for you in any case. I heard you were ill and I tried to
get up and go to you; but it was not possible. Besides, they would not
let me. I wanted to go to you again, because, somehow, I felt that
midnight meeting in the hospital was a mistake; that it ended as you
would not really wish it to end."

Again, with wonderful intuition for a man who knew so little of women,
as he thought, he had said the one thing which could have cooled the
anger that drowned the overwhelming gratitude she felt at his being
alive--overwhelming, in spite of the fact that her old mad temperament
had flooded it for the moment.

He would have gone to her--that was what he had said. In spite of her
conduct that midnight, when he was on his way to Hetmeyer's Kopje, he
would have come again to her! How, indeed, he must have loved her; or
how magnanimous, how impossibly magnanimous, he was!

How thin and worn he was, and how large the eyes were in the face
grown hollow with suffering! There were liberal streaks of grey also
at his temples, and she noted there was one strand all white just in
the centre of his thick hair. A swift revulsion of feeling in her
making for peace was, however, sharply arrested by the look in his
eyes. It had all the sombreness of reproach--of immitigable
reproach. Could she face that look now and through the years to come?
It were easier to live alone to the end with her own remorse, drinking
the cup that would not empty, on and on, than to live with that look
in his eyes.

She turned her head away from him. Her glance suddenly caught a
sjambok lying along two nails on the wall. His eyes followed hers, and
in the minds of both was the scene when Rudyard drove Krool into the
street under just such a whip of rhinoceros-hide.

Something of the old spirit worked in her in spite of
all. Idiosyncrasy may not be cauterized, temperament must assert
itself, or the personality dies. Was he to be her master--was that the
end of it all? She had placed herself so completely in his power by
her wilful waywardness and errors. Free from blame, she would have
been ruler over him; now she must be his slave!

"Why did you not use it on me?" she asked, in a voice almost like a
cry, though it had a ring of bitter irony. "Why don't you use it now?
Don't you want to?"

"You were always so small and beautiful," he answered, slowly. "A
twenty-stamp mill to crush a bee!"

Again resentment rose in her, despite the far-off sense of joy she had
in hearing him play with words. She could forgive almost anything for
that--and yet she was real and had not merely the dilettante soul. But
why should he talk as though she was a fly and he an eagle?  Yet there
was admiration in his eyes and in his words. She was angry with
herself--and with him. She was in chaos again.

"You treat me like a child, you condescend--"

"Oh, for God's sake--for God's sake!" he interrupted, with a sudden
storm in his face; but suddenly, as though by a great mastery of the
will, he conquered himself, and his face cleared.

"You must sit down, Jasmine," he said, hurriedly. "You look tired. You
haven't got over your illness yet."

He hastily stepped aside to get her a chair, but, as he took hold of
it, he stumbled and swayed in weakness, born of an excitement far
greater than her own; for he was thinking of the happiness of two
people, not of the happiness of one; and he realized how critical was
this hour. He had a grasp of the bigger things, and his talk with
Stafford of a few hours ago was in his mind--a talk which, in its
brevity, still had had the limitlessness of revelation. He had made a
promise to one of the best friends that man--or woman--ever had, as he
thought; and he would keep it. So he said to himself. Stafford
understood Jasmine, and Stafford had insisted that he be not deceived
by some revolt on the part of Jasmine, which would be the outcome of
her own humiliation, of her own anger with herself for all the trouble
she had caused. So he said to himself.

As he staggered with the chair she impulsively ran to aid him.

"Rudyard," she exclaimed, with concern, "you must not do that. You
have not the strength. It is silly of you to be up at all. I wonder at
Al'mah and the doctor!"

She pushed him to a big arm-chair beside the table and gently pressed
him down into the seat. He was very weak, and his hand trembled on the
chair-arm. She reached out, as if to take it; but, as though the act
was too forward, her fingers slipped to his wrist instead, and she
felt his pulse with the gravity of a doctor.

Despite his weakness a look of laughter crept into his eyes and stayed
there. He had read the little incident truly. Presently, seeing the
whiteness of his face but not the look in his eyes, she turned to the
table, and pouring out a glass of water from a pitcher there, held it
to his lips.

"Here, Rudyard," she said, soothingly, "drink this. You are faint. You
shouldn't have got up simply because I was coming."

As he leaned back to drink from the glass she caught the gentle humour
of his look, begotten of the incident of a moment before.

There was no reproach in the strong, clear eyes of blue which even
wounds and illness had not faced--only humour, only a hovering joy,
only a good-fellowship, and the look of home. She suddenly thought of
the room from which she had just come, and it seemed, not
fantastically to her, that the look in his eyes belonged to the other
room where were the patriarch's chair and the baby's cradle. There was
no offending magnanimity, no lofty compassion in his blameless eyes,
but a human something which took no account of the years that the
locust had eaten, the old mad, bad years, the wrong and the shame of
them. There was only the look she had seen the day he first visited
her in her own home, when he had played with words she had used in the
way she adored, and would adore till she died; when he had said, in
reply to her remark that he would turn her head, that it wouldn't make
any difference to his point of view if she did turn her head! Suddenly
it was all as if that day had come back, although his then giant
physical strength had gone; although he had been mangled in the
power-house of which they had spoken that day. Come to think of it,
she too had been working in the "power-house" and had been mangled
also; for she was but a thread of what she was then, but a wisp of
golden straw to the sheaf of the then young golden wheat.

All at once, in answer to the humour in his eyes, to the playful
bright look, the tragedy and the passion which had flown out from her
old self like the flame that flares out of an opened furnace-door,
sank back again, the door closed, and all her senses were cooled as by
a gentle wind.

Her eyes met his, and the invitation in them was like the call of the
thirsty harvester in the sunburnt field. With an abandon, as startling
as it was real and true to her nature, she sank down to the floor and
buried her face in her hands at his feet. She sobbed deeply, softly.

With an exclamation of gladness and welcome he bent over her and drew
her close to him, and his hands soothed her trembling shoulders.

"Peace is the best thing of all, Jasmine," he whispered. "Peace."

They were the last words that Ian had addressed to her. It did not
make her shrink now that both had said to her the same thing, for both
knew her, each in his own way, better than she had ever known herself;
and each had taught her in his own way, but by what different means!

All at once, with a start, she caught Rudyard's arm with a little
spasmodic grasp.

"I did not kill Adrian Fellowes," she said, like a child eager to be
absolved from a false imputation. She looked up at him simply,
bravely.

"Neither did I," he answered gravely, and the look in his eyes did not
change. She noted that.

"I know. It was--"

She paused. What right had she to tell!

"Yes, we both know who did it," he added. "Al'mah told me."

She hid her head in her hands again, while he hung over her wisely
waiting and watching.

Presently she raised her head, but her swimming eyes did not seek
his. They did not get so high. After one swift glance towards his own,
they dropped to where his heart might be, and her voice trembled as
she said:

"Long ago Alice Tynemouth said I ought to marry a man who would master
me. She said I needed a heavy hand over me--and the shackles on my
wrists."

She had forgotten that these phrases were her own; that she had used
them concerning herself the night before the tragedy.

"I think she was right," she added. "I had never been mastered, and I
was all childish wilfulness and vanity. I was never worth while. You
took me too seriously, and vanity did the rest."

"You always had genius," he urged, gently, "and you were so
beautiful."

She shook her head mournfully. "I was only an imitation always--only a
dresden-china imitation of the real thing I might have been, if I had
been taken right in time. I got wrong so early. Everything I said or
did was mostly imitation. It was made up of other people's acts and
words. I could never forget anything I'd ever heard; it drowned any
real thing in me. I never emerged--never was myself."

"You were a genius," he repeated again. "That's what genius does. It
takes all that ever was and makes it new."

She made a quick spasmodic protest of her hand. She could not bear to
have him praise her. She wanted to tell him all that had ever been,
all that she ought to be sorry for, was sorry for now almost beyond
endurance. She wanted to strip her soul bare before him; but she
caught the look of home in his eyes, she was at his knees at peace,
and what he thought of her meant so much just now--in this one hour,
for this one hour. She had had such hard travelling, and here was a
rest-place on the road.

He saw that her soul was up in battle again, but he took her arms, and
held them gently, controlling her agitation. Presently, with a great
sigh, her forehead drooped upon his hands. They were in a vast theatre
of war, and they were part of it; but for the moment sheer waste of
spirit and weariness of soul made peace in a turbulent heart.

"It's her real self--at last," he kept saying to himself, "She had to
have her chance, and she has got it."

Outside in a dark corner of the veranda, Al'mah was in reverie. She
knew from the silence within that all was well. The deep peace of the
night, the thing that was happening in the house, gave her a moment's
surcease from her own problem, her own arid loneliness. Her mind went
back to the night when she had first sung "Manassa" at Covent
Garden. The music shimmered in her brain. She essayed to hum some
phrases of the opera which she had always loved, but her voice had no
resonance or vibration. It trailed away into a whisper.

"I can't sing any more. What shall I do when the war ends? Or is it
that I am to end here with the war?" she whispered to herself....
Again reverie deepened. Her mind delivered itself up to an obsession.
"No, I am not sorry I killed him," she said firmly after a long time,
"If a price must be paid, I will pay it."

Buried in her thoughts, she was scarcely conscious of voices near
by. At last they became insistent to her ears, They were the voices of
sentries off duty--the two who had talked to her earlier in the
evening, after Ian Stafford had left.

"This ain't half bad, this night ain't," said one. "There's a lot o'
space in a night out here."

"I'd like to be 'longside o' some one I know out by 'Ampstead 'Eath,"
rejoined the other.

"I got a girl in Camden Town," said the First victoriously.

"I got kids--somewheres, I expect," rejoined the Second with a
flourish of pride and self-assertion.

"Oh, a donah's enough for me!" returned the First.

"You'll come to the other when you don't look for it neither,"
declared his friend in a voice of fatality.

"You ain't the only fool in the world, mate, of course. But 'struth, I
like this business better. You've got a good taste in your mouth in
the morning 'ere."

"Well, I'll meet you on 'Ampstead 'Eath when the war is over, son,"
challenged the Second.

"I ain't 'opin' and I ain't prophesyin' none this heat," was the quiet
reply. "We've got a bit o' hell in front of us yet. I'll talk to you
when we're in Lordkop."

"I'll talk to your girl in Camden Town, if you 'appen to don't," was
the railing reply.

"She couldn't stand it not but the once," was the retort; and then
they struck each other with their fists in rough play, and laughed,
and said good-night in the vernacular.



CHAPTER XXXVII

UNDER THE GUN


They had left him for dead in a dreadful circle of mangled gunners who
had fallen back to cover in a donga, from a fire so stark that it
seemed the hillside itself was discharging myriad bolts of death, as a
waterwheel throws off its spray. No enemy had been visible, but far
away in front--that front which must be taken--there hung over the
ridge of the hills veils of smoke like lace. Hideous sounds tortured
the air--crackling, snapping, spitting sounds like the laughter of
animals with steel throats. Never was ill work better done than when,
on that radiant veld, the sky one vast turquoise vault, beneath which
quivered a shimmer of quicksilver light, the pom-poms, the maulers,
and the shrapnel of Kruger's men mowed down Stafford and his battery,
showered them, drowned them in a storm of lead.

"Alamachtig," said a Rustenburg dopper who, at the end of the day,
fell into the hands of the English, "it was like cutting alfalfa with
a sickle! Down they tumbled, horses and men, mashed like mealies in
the millstones. A damn lot of good horses was killed this time. The
lead-grinders can't pick the men and leave the horses. It was a
verdomde waste of good horses. The Rooinek eats from a bloody basin
this day."

Alamachtig!

At the moment Ian Stafford fell the battle was well launched. The air
was shrieking with the misery of mutilated men and horses and the
ghoulish laughter of pom-poms. When he went down it seemed to him that
human anger had reached its fullest expression. Officers and men alike
were in a fury of determination and vengeance. He had seen no fear, no
apprehension anywhere, only a defiant anger which acted swiftly,
coolly. An officer stepped over the lacerated, shattered body of a
comrade of his mess with the abstracted impassiveness of one who finds
his way over a puddle in the road; and here were puddles too--puddles
of blood. A gunner lifted away the corpse of his nearest friend from
the trail and strained and wrenched at his gun with the intense
concentration of one who kneads dough in a trough. The sobbing agony
of those whom Stafford had led rose up from the ground around him, and
voices cried to be put out of pain and torture. These begrimed men
around him, with jackets torn by bullets, with bandaged head stained
with blood or dragging leg which left a track of blood behind, were
not the men who last night were chatting round the camp-fires and
making bets as to where the attack would begin to-day.

Stafford was cool enough, however. It was as though an icy liquid had
been poured into his veins. He thought more clearly than he had ever
done, even in those critical moments of his past when cool thinking
was indispensable. He saw the mistake that had been made in giving his
battery work which might have been avoided, and with the same result
to the battle; but he also saw the way out of it, and he gave orders
accordingly. When the horses were lashed to a gallop to take up the
new position, which, if they reached, would give them shelter against
this fiendish rain of lead, and also enable them to enfilade the foe
at advantage, something suddenly brought confusion to his senses, and
the clear thinking stopped. His being seemed to expand suddenly to an
enormity of chaos and then as suddenly to shrink, dwindle, and fall
back into a smother--as though, in falling, blankets were drawn
roughly over his head and a thousand others were shaken in the air
around him. And both were real in their own way. The thousand blankets
flapping in the air were the machine guns of the foe following his
battery into a zone of less dreadful fire, and the blankets that
smothered him were wrappings of unconsciousness which save us from the
direst agonies of body and mind.

The last thing he saw, as his eyes, with a final effort of power,
sought to escape from this sudden confusion, was a herd of springboks
flinging themselves about in the circle of fire, caught in the
struggle of the two armies, and, like wild birds in a hurricane,
plunging here and there in flight and futile motion. As
unconsciousness enwrapped him the vision of these distraught denizens
of the veld was before his eyes. Somehow, in a lightning
transformation, he became one with them and was mingled with them.

Time passed.

When his eyes opened again, slowly, heavily, the same vision was
before him--the negative left on the film of his sight by his last
conscious glance at the world.

He raised himself on his elbow and looked out over the veld. The
springboks were still distractedly tossing here and there, but the
army to which he belonged had moved on. It was now on its way up the
hill lying between them and the Besieged City. He was dimly conscious
of this, for the fight round him had ceased, the storm had gone
forward. There was noise, great noise, but he was outside of it, in a
kind of valley of awful inactivity. All round him was the debris of a
world in which he had once lived and moved and worked. How many
years--or centuries--was it since he had been in that harvest of
death? There was no anomaly. It was not that time had passed; it was
that his soul had made so far a journey.

In his sleep among the guns and the piteous, mutilated dead, he had
gone a pilgrimage to a Distant Place and had been told the secret of
the world. Yet when he first waked, it was not in his mind--only that
confusion out of which he had passed to nothingness with the vision of
the distracted springboks. Suddenly a torturing thirst came, and it
waked him fully to the reality of it all. He was lying in his own
blood, in the swath which the battle had cut.

His work was done. This came to him slowly, as the sun clears away the
mists of morning. Something--Some One--had reached out and touched him
on the shoulder, had summoned him.

When he left Brinkwort's Farm yesterday, it was with the desire to
live, to do large things. He and Rudyard had clasped hands, and
Rudyard had made a promise to him, which gave him hope that the broken
roof-tree would be mended, the shattered walls of home restored. It
had seemed to him then that his own mistake was not irreparable, and
that the way was open to peace, if not to happiness.

When he first came to this war he had said, "I will do this," and, "I
will do that," and he had thought it possible to do it in his own time
and because he willed it. He had put himself deliberately in the way
of the Scythe, and had thrown himself into its arc of death.

To have his own way by tricking Destiny into giving him release and
absolution without penalty--that had been his course. In the hour when
he had ceased to desire exit by breaking through the wall and not by
the predestined door, the reply of Destiny to him had been: "It is not
for you to choose." He had wished to drink the cup of release, had
reached out to take it, but presently had ceased to wish to drink
it. Then Destiny had said: "Here is the dish--drink it."

He closed his eyes to shut out the staring light, and he wished in a
vague way that he might shut out the sounds of the battle--the
everlasting boom and clatter, the tearing reverberations. But he
smiled too, for he realized that his being where he was alone meant
that the army had moved on over that last hill; and that there would
soon be the Relief for which England prayed.

There was that to the good; and he had taken part in it all. His
battery, a fragment of what it had been when it galloped out to do its
work in the early morning, had had its glorious share in the great
day's work.

He had had the most critical and dangerous task of this memorable
day. He had been on the left flank of the main body, and his battery
had suddenly faced a terrific fire from concealed riflemen who had not
hitherto shown life at this point. His promptness alone had saved the
battery from annihilation. His swift orders secured the gallant
withdrawal of the battery into a zone of comparative safety and
renewed activity, while he was left with this one abandoned gun and
his slain men and fellow-officers.

But somehow it all suddenly became small and distant and insignificant
to his senses. He did not despise the work, for it had to be done. It
was big to those who lived, but in the long movement of time it was
small, distant, and subordinate.

If only the thirst did not torture him, if only the sounds of the
battle were less loud in his ears! It was so long since he waked from
that long sleep, and the world was so full of noises, the air so arid,
and the light of the sun so fierce. Darkness would be peace. He longed
for darkness.

He thought of the spring that came from the rocks in the glen behind
the house, where he was born in Derbyshire. He saw himself stooping
down, kneeling to drink, his face, his eyes buried in the water, as he
gulped down the good stream. Then all at once it was no longer the
spring from the rock in which he laved his face and freshened his
parched throat; a cool cheek touched his own, lips of tender freshness
swept his brow, silken hair with a faint perfume of flowers brushed
his temples, his head rested on a breast softer than any pillow he had
ever known.

"Jasmine!" he whispered, with parched lips and closed
eyes. "Jasmine--water," he pleaded, and sank away again intothat dream
from which he had but just wakened.

It had not been all a vision. Water was here at his tongue, his head
was pillowed on a woman's breast, lips touched his forehead.

But it was not Jasmine's breast; it was not Jasmine's hand which held
the nozzle of the water-bag to his parched lips.

Through the zone of fire a woman and a young surgeon had made their
way from the attending ambulance that hovered on the edge of battle to
this corner of death in the great battle-field. It mattered not to the
enemy, who still remained in the segment of the circle where they
first fought, whether it was man or woman who crossed this zone of
fire. No heed could be given now to Red Cross work, to ambulance,
nurse, or surgeon. There would come a time for that, but not yet. Here
were two races in a life-and-death grip; and there could be no give
and take for the wounded or the dead until the issue of the day was
closed.

The woman who had come through the zone of fire was Al'mah. She had no
right to be where she was. As a nurse her place was not the
battle-field; but she had had a premonition of Stafford's tragedy, and
in the night had concealed herself in the blankets of an ambulance and
had been carried across the veld to that outer circle of battle where
wait those who gather up the wreckage, who provide the salvage of
war. When she was discovered there was no other course but to allow
her to remain; and so it was that as the battle moved on she made her
way to where the wounded and dead lay.

A sorely wounded officer, able with the help of a slightly injured
gunner to get out of the furnace of fire, had brought word of
Stafford's death but with the instinct of those to whom there come
whisperings, visions of things, Al'mah felt she must go and find the
man with whose fate, in a way, her own had been linked; who, like
herself, had been a derelict upon the sea of life; the grip of whose
hand, the look of whose eyes the last time she saw him, told her that
as a brother loves so he loved her.

Hundreds saw the two make their way across the veld, across the
lead-swept plain; but such things in the hour of battle are
commonplaces; they are taken as part of the awful game. Neither mauser
nor shrapnel nor maxim brought them down as they made their way to the
abandoned gun beside which Stafford lay. Yet only one reached
Stafford's side, where he was stretched among his dead comrades. The
surgeon stayed his course at three-quarters of the distance to care
for a gunner whose mutilations were robbed of half their horror by a
courage and a humour which brought quick tears to Al'mah's eyes. With
both legs gone the stricken fellow asked first for a match to light
his cutty pipe and then remarked: "The saint's own luck that there it
was with the stem unbroke to give me aise whin I wanted it!

"Shure, I thought I was dead," he added as the surgeon stooped over
him, "till I waked up and give meself the lie, and got a grip o' me
pipe, glory be!"

With great difficulty Al'mah dragged Stafford under the horseless gun,
left behind when the battery moved on. Both forces had thought that
nothing could live in that gray-brown veld, and no effort at first was
made to rescue or take it. By every law of probability Al'mah and the
young surgeon ought to be lying dead with the others who had died,
some with as many as twenty bullet wounds in their bodies, while the
gunner, who had served this gun to the last and then, alone, had stood
at attention till the lead swept him down, had thirty wounds to his
credit for England's sake. Under the gun there was some shade, for she
threw over it a piece of tarpaulin and some ragged, blood-stained
jackets lying near--jackets of men whose wounds their comrades had
tried hastily to help when the scythe of war cut them down.

There was shade now, but there was not safety, for the ground was
spurting dust where bullets struck, and even bodies of dead men were
dishonoured by the insult of new wounds and mutilations.

Al'mah thought nothing of safety, but only of this life which was
ebbing away beside her. She saw that a surgeon could do nothing, that
the hurt was internal and mortal; but she wished him not to die until
she had spoken with him once again and told him all there was to
tell--all that had happened after he left Brinkwort's Farm yesterday.

She looked at the drawn and blanched face and asked herself if that
look of pain and mortal trouble was the precursor of happiness and
peace. As she bathed the forehead of the wounded man, it suddenly came
to her that here was the only tragedy connected with Stafford's going:
his work was cut short, his usefulness ended, his hand was fallen from
the lever that lifted things.

She looked away from the blanched face to the field of battle, towards
the sky above it. Circling above were the vile aasvogels, the
loathsome birds which followed the track of war, watching, waiting
till they could swoop upon the flesh blistering in the sun.
Instinctively she drew nearer to the body of the dying man,
as though to protect it from the evil flying things. She forced
between his lips a little more water.

"God make it easy!" she said.

A bullet struck a wheel beside her, and with a ricochet passed through
the flesh of her forearm. A strange look came into her eyes, suffusing
them. Was her work done also? Was she here to find the solution of all
her own problems--like Stafford--like Stafford? Stooping, she
reverently kissed the bloodless cheek. A kind of exaltation possessed
her. There was no fear at all. She had a feeling that he would need
her on the journey he was about to take, and there was no one else who
could help him now. Who else was there beside herself--and Jigger?

Where was Jigger? What had become of Jigger? He would surely have been
with Stafford if he had not been hurt or killed. It was not like
Jigger to be absent when Stafford needed him.

She looked out from under the gun, as though expecting to find him
coming--to see him somewhere on this stricken plain. As she did so she
saw the young surgeon, who had stayed to help the wounded gunner,
stumbling and lurching towards the gun, hands clasping his side, and
head thrust forward in an attitude of tense expectation, as though
there was a goal which must be reached.

An instant later she was outside hastening towards him. A bullet spat
at her feet, another cut the skirt of her dress, but all she saw was
the shambling figure of the man who, but a few minutes before, was so
flexible and alert with life, eager to relieve the wounds of those who
had fallen. Now he also was in dire need.

She had almost reached him when, with a stiff jerk sideways and an
angular artion of the figure, he came to the ground like a log,
ungainly and rigid.

"They got me! I'm hit--twice," he said, with grey lips; with eyes that
stared at her and through her to something beyond; but he spoke in an
abrupt, professional, commonplace tone. "Shrapnel and mauler," he
added, his hands protecting the place where the shrapnel had found
him. His staring blue eyes took on a dull cloud, and his whole figure
seemed to sink and shrink away. As though realizing and resisting, if
not resenting this dissolution of his forces, his voice rang out
querulously, and his head made dogmatic emphasis.

"They oughtn't to have done it," the petulant voice insisted. "I
wasn't fighting." Suddenly the voice trailed away, and all emphasis,
accent, and articulation passed from the sentient figure. Yet his lips
moved once again. "Ninety-nine Adelphi Terrace--first floor," he said
mechanically, and said no more.

As mechanically as he had spoken, Al'mah repeated the last
words. "Ninety-nine Adelphi Terrace, first floor," she said slowly.

They were chambers next to those where Adrian Fellowes had lived and
died. She shuddered.

"So he was not married," she said reflectively, as she left the
lifeless body and went back to the gun where Stafford lay.

Her arm through which the bullet had passed was painful, but she took
no heed of it. Why should she? Hundreds, maybe thousands, were being
killed off there in the hills. She saw nothing except the debris of
Ian Stafford's life drifting out to the shoreless sea.

He lived still, but remained unconscious, and she did not relax her
vigil. As she watched and waited the words of the young surgeon kept
ringing in her ears, a monotonous discord, "Ninety-nine Adelphi
Terrace--first floor!" Behind it all was the music of the song she had
sung at Rudyard Byng's house the evening of the day Adrian Fellowes
had died--"More was lost at Mohacksfield."

The stupefaction that comes with tragedy crept over her. As the victim
of an earthquake sits down amid vast ruins, where the dead lie
unnumbered, speechless, and heedless, so she sat and watched the face
of the man beside her, and was not conscious that the fire of the
armies was slackening, that bullets no longer spattered the veld or
struck the gun where she sat; that the battle had been carried over
the hills.

In time help would come, so she must wait. At least she had kept
Stafford alive. So far her journey through Hades had been
justified. He would have died had it not been for the water and brandy
she had forced between his lips, for the shade in which he lay beneath
the gun. In the end they would come and gather the dead and
wounded. When the battle was over they would come, or, maybe, before
it was over.

But through how many hours had there been the sickening monotony of
artillery and rifle-fire, the bruit of angry metal, in which the roar
of angrier men was no more than a discord in the guttural harmony. Her
senses became almost deadened under the strain. Her cheeks grew
thinner, her eyes took on a fixed look. She seemed like one in a
dream. She was only conscious in an isolated kind of way. Louder than
all the noises of the clanging day was the beating of her heart. Her
very body seemed to throb, the pulses in her temples were like hammers
hurting her brain.

At last she was roused by the sound of horses' hoofs.

So the service-corps were coming at last to take up the wounded and
bury the dead. There were so many dead, so few wounded!

The galloping came nearer and nearer. It was now as loud as thunder
almost. It stopped short. She gave a sigh of relief. Her vigil was
ended. Stafford was still alive. There was yet a chance for him to
know that friends were with him at the last, and also what had
happened at Brinkwort's Farm after he had left yesterday.

She leaned out to see her rescuers. A cry broke from her. Here was one
man frantically hitching a pair of artillery-horses to the gun and
swearing fiercely in the Taal as he did so.

The last time she had seen that khaki hat, long, threadbare
frock-coat, huge Hessian boots and red neckcloth was at Brinkwort's
Farm. The last time she had seen that malevolent face was when its
owner was marched away from Brinkwort's Farm yesterday.

It was Krool.

An instant later she had dragged Stafford out from beneath the gun,
for it was clear that the madman intended to ride off with it.

When Krool saw her first he was fastening the last hook of the traces
with swift, trained fingers. He stood dumfounded for a moment. The
superstitious, half-mystical thing in him came trembling to his eyes;
then he saw Stafford's body, and he realized the situation. A look of
savage hatred came into his face, and he made a step forward with
sudden impulse, as though he would spring upon Stafford. His hand was
upon a knife at his belt. But the horses plunged and strained, and he
saw in the near distance a troop of cavalry.

With an obscene malediction at the body, he sprang upon a horse. A
sjambok swung, and with a snort, which was half a groan, the trained
horses sprang forward.

"The Rooinek's gun for Oom Paul!" he shouted back over his shoulder.

Most prisoners would have been content to escape and save their skins,
but a more primitive spirit lived in Krool. Escape was not enough for
him. Since he had been foiled at Brinkwort's Farm and could not reach
Rudyard Byng; since he would be shot the instant he was caught after
his escape--if he was caught--he would do something to gall the pride
of the verdomde English. The gun which the Boers had not dared to
issue forth and take, which the British could not rescue without heavy
loss while the battle was at its height--he would ride it over the
hills into the Boers' camp.

There was something so grotesque in the figure of the half-caste, with
his copper-coat flying behind him as the horses galloped away, that a
wan smile came to Al'mah's lips. With Stafford at her feet in the
staring sun she yet could not take her eyes from the man, the horses,
and the gun. And not Al'mah alone shaded and strained eyes to follow
the tumbling, bouncing gun. Rifles, maxims, and pom-poms opened fire
upon it. It sank into a hollow and was partially lost to sight; it
rose again and jerked forward, the dust rising behind it like surf. It
swayed and swung, as the horses wildly took the incline of the hills,
Krool's sjambok swinging above them; it struggled with the forces that
dragged it higher and higher up, as though it were human and
understood that it was a British gun being carried into the Boer
lines.

At first a battery of the Boers, fighting a rear-guard action, had
also fired on it, but the gunners saw quickly that a single British
gun was not likely to take up an advance position and attack alone,
and their fire died away. Thinking only that some daring Boer was
doing the thing with a thousand odds against him, they roared approval
as the gun came nearer and nearer.

Though the British poured a terrific fire after the flying battery of
one gun, there was something so splendid in the episode; the horses
were behaving so gallantly,--horses of one of their own batteries
daringly taken by Krool under the noses of the force--that there was
scarcely a man who was not glad when, at last, the gun made a sudden
turn at a kopje, and was lost to sight within the Boer lines, leaving
behind it a little cloud of dust.

Tommy Atkins had his uproarious joke about it, but there was one man
who breathed a sigh of relief when he heard of it. That was Barry
Whalen. He had every reason to be glad that Krool was out of the way,
and that Rudyard Byng would see him no more. Sitting beside the still
unconscious Ian Stafford on the veld, Al'mah's reflections were much
the same as those of Barry Whalen.

With the flight of Krool and the gun came the end of Al'mah's
vigil. The troop of cavalry which galloped out to her was followed by
the Red Cross wagons.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

"PHEIDIPPIDES"


At dawn, when the veld breathes odours of a kind pungency and
fragrance, which only those know who have made it their bed and
friend, the end came to the man who had lain under the gun.

"Pheidippides!" the dying Stafford said, with a grim touch of the
humour which had ever been his. He was thinking of the Greek runner
who brought the news of victory to Athens and fell dead as he told it.

It almost seemed from the look on Stafford's face that, in very truth,
he was laying aside the impedimenta of the long march and the battle,
to carry the news to that army of the brave in Walhalla who had died
for England before they knew that victory was hers.

"Pheidippides," he repeated, and Rudyard Byng, whose eyes were so much
upon the door, watching and waiting for some one to come, pressed his
hand and said: "You know the best, Stafford. So many didn't. They had
to go before they knew."

"I have my luck," Stafford replied, but yet there was a wistful look
in his face.

His eyes slowly closed, and he lay so motionless that Al'mah and
Rudyard thought he had gone. He scarcely seemed to notice when Al'mah
took the hand that Rudyard had held, and the latter, with quick,
noiseless steps, left the room.

What Rudyard had been watching and waiting for was come.

Jasmine was at the door. His message had brought her in time.

"Is it dangerous?" she asked, with a face where tragedy had written
self-control.

"As bad as can be," he answered. "Go in and speak to him, Jasmine. It
will help him."

He opened the door softly. As Jasmine entered, Al'mah with a glance of
pity and friendship at the face upon the bed, passed into another
room.

There was a cry in Jasmine's heart, but it did not reach her lips.

She stole to the bed and laid her fingers upon the hand lying white
and still upon the coverlet.

At once the eyes of the dying man opened. This was a touch that would
reach to the farthest borders of his being--would bring him back from
the Immortal Gates. Through the mist of his senses he saw her. He half
raised himself. She pillowed his head on her breast. He smiled. A
light transfigured his face.

"All's well," he said, with a long sigh, and his body sank slowly
down.

"Ian! Ian!" she cried, but she knew that he could not hear.



CHAPTER XXXIX

"THE ROAD IS CLEAR"


The Army had moved on over the hills, into the valley of death and
glory, across the parched veld to the town of Lordkop, where an
emaciated, ragged garrison had kept faith with all the heroes from
Caractacus to Nelson. Courageous legions had found their way to the
petty dorp, with its corrugated iron roofs, its dug-outs, its
improvised forts, its fever hospitals, its Treasure House of Britain,
where she guarded the jewels of her honour.

The menace of the hills had passed, heroes had welcomed heroes and
drunk the cup of triumph; but far back in the valleys beyond the hills
from which the army had come, there were those who must drink the cup
of trembling, the wine of loss.

As the trumpets of victory attended the steps of those remnants of
brigades which met the remnants of a glorious garrison in the streets
of Lordkop, drums of mourning conducted the steps of those who came to
bury the dust of one who had called himself Pheidippides as he left
the Day Path and took the Night Road.

Gun-carriage and reversed arms and bay charger, faithful comrades with
bent heads, the voice of victory over the grave--"I am the
resurrection and the life"--the volleys of honour, the proud salut of
the brave to the vanished brave, the quivering farewells of the few
who turn away from the fresh-piled earth with their hearts dragging
behind--all had been; and all had gone. Evening descended upon the
veld with a golden radiance which soothed like prayer.

By the open window at the foot of a bed in the Stay Awhile Hospital a
woman gazed into the saffron splendour with an intentness which seemed
to make all her body listen. Both melancholy and purpose marked the
attitude of the figure.

A voice from the bed at the foot of which she stood drew her gaze away
from the sunset sky to meet the bright, troubled eyes.

"What is it, Jigger?" the woman asked gently, and she looked to see
that the framework which kept the bedclothes from a shattered leg was
properly in its place.

"'E done a lot for me," was the reply. "A lot 'e done, and I dunno how
I'll git along now."

There was great hopelessness in the tone.

"He told me you would always have enough to help you get on,
Jigger. He thought of all that."

"'Ere, oh, 'ere it ain't that," the lad said in a sudden passion of
protest, the tears standing in his eyes. "It ain't that! Wot's money,
when your friend wot give it ain't 'ere! I never done nothing for
'im--that's wot I feel. Nothing at all for 'im."

"You are wrong," was the soft reply. "He told me only a few days ago
that you were like a loaf of bread in the cupboard--good for all the
time."

The tears left the wide blue eyes. "Did 'e say that--did 'e?" he
asked, and when she nodded and smiled, he added, "'E's 'appy now,
ain't 'e?" His look questioned her eagerly.

For an instant she turned and gazed at the sunset, and her eyes took
on a strange mystical glow. A colour came to her face, as though from
strong flush of feeling, then she turned to him again, and answered
steadily:

"Yes, he is happy now."

"How do you know?" the lad asked with awe in his face, for he believed
in her utterly. Then, without waiting for her to answer, he added: "Is
it, you hear him say so, as I hear you singin' in my sleep
sometimes--singin', singin', as you did at Glencader, that first time
I ever 'eerd you? Is it the same as me in my sleep?"

"Yes, it is like that--just like that," she answered, taking his hand,
and holding it with a motherly tenderness.

"Ain't you never goin' to sing again?" he added.

She was silent, looking at him almost abstractedly.

"This war'll be over pretty soon now," he continued, "and we'll all
have to go back to work."

"Isn't this work?" Al'mah asked with a smile, which had in it
something of her old whimsical self.

"It ain't play, and it ain't work," he answered with a sage frown of
intellectual effort." It's a cut above 'em both--that's my fancy."

"It would seem like that," was the response. "What are you going to do
when you get back to England?" she inquired.

"I thought I'd ask you that," he replied anxiously. "Couldn't I be a
scene-shifter or somefink at the opery w'ere you sing?"

"I'm going to sing again, am I?" she asked.

"You'd have to be busy," he protested admiringly.

"Yes, I'll have to be busy," she replied, her voice ringing a little,
"and we'll have to find a way of being busy together."

"His gryce'd like that," he responded.

She turned her face slowly to the evening sky, where grey clouds
became silver and piled up to a summit of light. She was silent for a
long time.

"If work won't cure, nothing will," she said in a voice scarce above a
whisper. Her body trembled a little, and her eyes closed, as though to
shut out something that pained her sight.

"I wish you'd sing somethin'--same as you did that night at Glencader,
about the green hill far away," whispered the little trumpeter from
the bed.

She looked at him for a moment meditatively, then shook her head, and
turned again to the light in the evening sky.

"P'raps she's makin' up a new song," Jigger said to himself.

On a kopje overlooking the place where Ian Stafford had been laid to
sleep to the call of the trumpets, two people sat watching the sun go
down. Never in the years that had gone had there been such silence
between them as they sat together. Words had been the clouds in which
the lightning of their thoughts had been lost; they had been the
disguises in which the truth of things masqueraded. They had not dared
to be silent, lest the truth should stalk naked before them. Silence
would have revealed their unhappiness; they would not have dared to
look closely and deeply into each other's face, lest revelation should
force them to say, "It has been a mistake; let us end it." So they had
talked and talked and acted, and yet had done nothing and been
nothing.

Now they were silent, because they had tossed into the abyss of Time
the cup of trembling, and had drunk of the chalice of peace. Over the
grave into which, this day, they had thrown the rock-roses and sprigs
of the karoo bush, they had, in silence, made pledges to each other,
that life's disguises should be no more for them; that the door should
be wide open between the chambers where their souls dwelt, each in its
own pension of being, with its own individual sense, but with the same
light, warmth, and nutriment, and with the free confidence which
exempts life from its confessions. There should be no hidden things
any more.

There was a smile on the man's face as he looked out over the
valley. With this day had come triumph for the flag he loved, for the
land where he was born, and also the beginning of peace for the land
where he had worked, where he had won his great fortune. He had helped
to make this land what it was, and in battle he had helped to save it
from disaster.

But there had come another victory--the victory of Home. The
coincidence of all the vital values had come in one day, almost in one
hour.

Smiling, he laid his hand upon the delicate fingers of the woman
beside him, as they rested on her knee. She turned and looked at him
with an understanding which is the beginning of all happiness; and a
colour came to her cheeks such as he had not seen there for more days
than he could count. Her smile answered his own, but her eyes had a
sadness which would never wholly leave them. When he had first seen
those eyes he had thought them the most honest he had ever
known. Looking at them now, with confidence restored, he thought again
as he did that night at the opera the year of the Raid.

"It's all before us still, Jasmine," he said with a ring of purpose
and a great gentleness in his tone.

Her hand trembled, the shadows deepened in her eyes, but determination
gathered at her lips.

Some deep-cherished, deferred resolve reasserted itself.

"But I cannot--I cannot go on until you know all, Rudyard, and then
you may not wish to go on," she said. Her voice shook, and the colour
went from her lips. "I must be honest now--at last, about
everything. I want to tell you--"

He got to his feet. Stooping, he raised her, and looked her squarely
in the eyes.

"Tell me nothing, Jasmine," he said. Then he added in a voice of
finality, "There is nothing to tell." Holding both her hands tight in
one of his own, he put his fingers on her lips.

"A fresh start for a long race--the road is clear," he said firmly.

Looking into his eyes, she knew that he read her life and soul, that
in his deep primitive way he understood her as she had been and as she
was, and yet was content to go on. Her head drooped upon his breast.

A trumpet-call rang out piercingly sweet across the valley. It echoed
and echoed away among the hills.

He raised his head to listen. Pride, vision and power were in his
eyes.

"It's all before us still, Jasmine," he said again.

Her fingers tightened on his.

THE END



GLOSSARY:

AASVOGEL Vulture.

ALFALFA Lucerne.

BILTONG Strips of dried meat.

DISSELBOOM The single shaft of an ox-wagon.

DONGA A gulley or deep fissure in the soil.

DOPPER A dissenter from the Dutch Reformed Church, but generally
applied to Dutchmen in South Africa.

DORP Settlement or town.

KAROO The highlands of the interior of South Africa.

KOPJE A rounded hillock.

KLOOF A gap or pass in mountains.

KRAAL Native hut; also a walled inclosure for cattle.

KRANZES Rocky precipices.

MEERKAT A species of ichneumon.

ROOINEK Literally, "red-neck"; term applied to British soldiers by the
Boers.

SCHANSES Intrenchments (or fissures on hills).

SJAMBOK A stick or whip made from hippopotamus or rhinoceros hide.

SPRUIT A small stream.

STOEP Veranda of a Dutch house.

TAAL South African Dutch.

TREK To move from place to place with belongings.

VELD An open grassy plain.

VELDSCHOEN Rough untanned leather shoes.

VERDOMDE Damned.

VIERKLEUR The national flag (four colours) of the late South African
Republics.

VOORTREKKER Pioneer.

VROUW Wife.





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Colophon

This file was acquired from Project Gutenberg, and it is in the public domain. It is re-distributed here as a part of the Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts (http://infomotions.com/alex/) by Eric Lease Morgan (Infomotions, Inc.) for the purpose of freely sharing, distributing, and making available works of great literature. Its Infomotions unique identifier is etext3746, and it should be available from the following URL:

http://infomotions.com/etexts/id/etext3746



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