Part 8 out of 9
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 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
"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.
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
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
"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
"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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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.
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
".... 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
"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
"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
"'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.
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
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
"You say the Baas sent for you?" he asked presently.
"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
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
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
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
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
"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."
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"Will she come?" Al'mah asked herself, and mechanically she wiped the
stain of the blossoms from her fingers.
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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,
"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
"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
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
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