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The Judgment House by Gilbert Parker

Part 3 out of 9

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Was it this which had been more or less vaguely working in his mind a
little while before when she had noticed a change in him; or was it
that he was disappointed that they were two and no more--always two,
and no more? Was it that which was working in his mind, and making him
say hard things about their own two commendable selves?

"If you had lived a thousand years ago you would have had a thousand
lovers.... And now you come down through the centuries purlfied by
Time, to be my jasmine-flower"--

She did not break the silence for some time, but at last she said:
"And what were you a thousand years ago, my man?"

He drew a hot hand across a troubled brow. "I? I was the Satrap whose
fury you soothed away, or I was the Antony you lured from fighting
Caesar."

It was as though he had read those lines written by Ian Stafford long
ago.

Again that perfume of hers caught his senses, and his look softened
wonderfully. A certain unconscious but underlying discontent appeared
to vanish from his eyes, and he said, abruptly: "I have it--I have
it. This dress is like the one you wore the first night that we
met. It's the same kind of stuff, it's just the same colour and the
same style. Why, I see it all as plain as can be--there at the
opera. And you wore blue the day I tried to propose to you and
couldn't, and asked you down to Wales instead. Lord, how I funked it!"
He laughed, happily almost. "Yes, you wore blue the first time we
met--like this."

"It was the same skirt, and a different bodice, of course both those
first times," she answered. Then she stepped back and daintily
smoothed out the gown she was wearing, smiling at him as she did that
day three years ago. She had put on this particular gown, remembering
that Ian Stafford had said charming things about that other blue gown
just before he bade her good-bye three years ago. That was why she
wore blue this night--to recall to Ian what it appeared he had
forgotten. And presently she would dine alone with Ian in her
husband's house--and with her husband's blessing. Pique and pride were
in her heart, and she meant Ian Stafford to remember. No man was
adamantine; at least she had never met one--not one, neither bishop
nor octogenarian.

"Come, Ruddy, you must dress, or you'll be late," she continued,
lightly, touching his cheek with her fingers; "and you'll come down
and apologize, and put me right with Ian Stafford, won't you?"

"Certainly. I won't be five minutes. I'll--"

There was a tap at the door and a footman, entering, announced that
Mr. Stafford was in the drawing-room.

"Show him into my sitting-room," she said. "The drawing-room, indeed,"
she added to her husband--"it is so big, and I am so small. I feel
sometimes as though I wanted to live in a tiny, tiny house."

Her words brought a strange light to his eyes. Suddenly he caught her
arm.

"Jasmine," he said, hurriedly, "let us have a good talk over
things--over everything. I want to see if we can't get more out of
life than we do. There's something wrong. What is it? I don't know;
but perhaps we could find out if we put our heads together--eh?" There
was a strange, troubled longing in his look.

She nodded and smiled. "Certainly--to-night when you get back," she
said. "We'll open the machine and find what's wrong with it." She
laughed, and so did he.

As she went down the staircase she mused to herself and there was a
shadow in her eyes and over her face.

"Poor Ruddy! Poor Ruddy!" she said.

Once again before she entered the sitting-room, as she turned and
looked back, she said:

"Poor boy . . . Yet he knew about a thousand years ago!" she added
with a nervous little laugh, and with an air of sprightly eagerness
she entered to Ian Stafford.

CHAPTER X

AN ARROW FINDS A BREAST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Sweet is the refuge of scorn."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XI

IN WALES, WHERE JIGGER PLAYS HIS PART

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Woman-like," interjected Byng ironically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XII

THE KEY IN THE LOCK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He turned slowly from her and went towards the door.

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

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

"He did," was the reply.

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

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

CHAPTER XIII

"I WILL NOT SING"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The sin of an angel--"

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

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

"And you don't believe it now?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He smiled, and courteously motioned her to a chair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XIV

THE BAAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"My word goes?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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