The Judgment House
Part 7 out of 9
"But, Jasmine, it isn't possible. Will Rudyard--can you afford it?"
"That will not be Rudyard's money which you will get. It will be all
"But you yourself are not rich. Sixty thousand pounds--why?"
"It is because it is a sacrifice to me that I give it; because it is
my own; because it is two-thirds of what I possess. And if all is
needed before we have finished, then all shall go."
Alice Tynemouth still held the shoulders, still gazed into the eyes
which burned and shone, which seemed to look beyond this room into
some world of the soul or imagination. "Jasmine, you are not crazy,
are you?" she asked, excitedly. "You will not repent of this? It is
not a sudden impulse?"
"Yes, it is a sudden impulse; it came to me all at once. But when it
came I knew it was the right thing, the only thing to do. I will not
repent of it. Have no fear. It is final. It is sure. It means that,
like you, I have found a rope to drag myself out of this stream which
sweeps me on to the rapids."
"Jasmine, do you mean that you will--that you are coming, too?"
"Yes, I am going with you. We will do it together. You shall lead, and
I shall help. I have a gift for organization. My grandfather? he--"
"All the world knows that. If you have anything of his gift, we shall
not fail. We shall feel that we are doing something for our
country--and, oh, so much for ourselves! And we shall be near our
men. Tynie and Ruddy Byng will be out there, and we shall be ready for
anything if necessary. But Rudyard, will he approve?" She held up the
Jasmine made a passionate gesture. "There are times when we must do
what something in us tells us to do, no matter what the
consequences. I am myself. I am not a slave. If I take my own way in
the pleasures of life, why should I not take it in the duties and the
business of life?"
Her eyes took on a look of abstraction, and her small hand closed on
the large, capable hand of her friend. "Isn't work the secret of life?
My grandfather used to say it was. Always, always, he used to say to
me, 'Do something, Jasmine. Find a work to do, and do it. Make the
world look at you, not for what you seem to be, but for what you
do. Work cures nearly every illness and nearly every trouble'--that is
what he said. And I must work or go mad. I tell you I must work,
Alice. We will work together out there where great battles will be
A sob caught her in the throat, and Alice Tynemouth wrapped her round
with tender arms. "It will do you good, darling," she said, softly."
It will help you through--through it all, whatever it is."
For an instant Jasmine felt that she must empty out her heart; tell
the inner tale of her struggle; but the instant of weakness passed as
suddenly as it came, and she only said--repeating Alice Tynemouth's
words: "Yes, through it all, through it all, whatever it is." Then she
added: "I want to do something big. I can, I can. I want to get out of
this into the open world. I want to fight. I want to balance things
All at once she became very quiet. "But we must do business like
business people. This money: there must be a small committee of
business men, who--"
Alice Tynemouth finished the sentence for her. "Who are not Climbers?"
"Yes. But the whole organization must be done by ourselves--all the
practical, unfinancial work. The committee will only be like careful
There was a new light in Jasmine's eyes. She felt for the moment that
life did not end in a cul de sac. She knew that now she had found a
way for Rudyard and herself to separate without disgrace, without
humiliation to him. She could see a few steps ahead. When she gave
Lablanche instructions to put out her clothes a little while before,
she did not know what she was going to do; but now she knew. She knew
how she could make it easier for Rudyard when the inevitable hour
came,--and it was here--which should see the end of their life
together. He need not now sacrifice himself so much for her sake.
She wanted to be alone, and, as if divining her thought, Lady
Tynemouth embraced her, and a moment later there was no sound in the
room save the ticking of the clock and the crackle of the fire.
How silent it was! The world seemed very far away. Peace seemed to
have taken possession of the place, and Jasmine's stillness as she sat
by the fire staring into the embers was a part of it. So lost was she
that she was not conscious of an opening door and of a footstep. She
was roused by a low voice.
She did not start. It was as though there had come a call, for which
she had waited long, and she appeared to respond slowly to it, as one
would to a summons to the scaffold. There was no outward agitation
now, there was only a cold stillness which seemed little to belong to
the dainty figure which had ever been more like a decoration than a
living utility in the scheme of things. The crisis had come which she
had dreaded yet invited--that talk which they two must have before
they went their different ways. She had never looked Rudyard in the
eyes direct since the day when Adrian Fellowes died. They had met, but
never quite alone; always with some one present, either the servants
or some other. Now they were face to face.
On Rudyard's lips was a faint smile, but it lacked the old bonhomie
which was part of his natural equipment; and there were still sharp,
haggard traces of the agitation which had accompanied the expulsion of
For an instant the idea possessed her that she would tell him
everything there was to tell, and face the consequences, no matter
what they might be. It was not in her nature to do things by halves,
and since catastrophe was come, her will was to drink the whole cup to
the dregs. She did not want to spare herself. Behind it all lay
something of that terrible wilfulness which had controlled her life so
far. It was the unlovely soul of a great pride. She did not want to be
forgiven for anything. She did not want to be condoned. There was a
spirit of defiance which refused to accept favours, preferring
punishment to the pity or the pardon which stooped to make it easier
for her. It was a dangerous pride, and in the mood of it she might
throw away everything, with an abandonment and recklessness only known
to such passionate natures.
The mood came on her all at once as she stood and looked at
Rudyard. She read, or she thought she read in his eyes, in his smile,
the superior spirit condescending to magnanimity, to compassion; and
her whole nature was instantly up in arms. She almost longed on the
instant to strip herself bare, as it were, and let him see her as she
really was, or as, in her despair, she thought she really was. The
mood in which she had talked to Lady Tynemouth was gone, and in its
place a spirit of revolt was at work. A certain sullenness which
Rudyard and no one else had ever seen came into her eyes, and her lips
became white with an ominous determination. She forgot him and all
that he would suffer if she told him the whole truth; and the whole
truth would, in her passion, become far more than the truth: she was
again the egoist, the centre of the universe. What happened to her was
the only thing which mattered in all the world. So it had ever been;
and her beauty and her wit and her youth and the habit of being
spoiled had made it all possible, without those rebuffs and that
confusion which fate provides sooner or later for the egoist.
"Well," she said, sharply, "say what you wish to say. You have wanted
to say it badly. I am ready."
He was stunned by what seemed to him the anger and the repugnance in
"You remember you asked me to come, Jasmine, when you took the sjambok
He nodded towards the table where it lay, then went forward and picked
it up, his face hardening as he did so.
Like a pendulum her mood swung back. By accident he had said the one
thing which could have moved her, changed her at the moment. The
savage side of him appealed to her. What he lacked in brilliance and
the lighter gifts of raillery and eloquence and mental give-and-take,
he had balanced by his natural forces--from the power-house, as she
had called it long ago. Pity, solicitude, the forced smile,
magnanimity, she did not want in this black mood. They would have made
her cruelly audacious, and her temper would have known no license; but
now, suddenly, she had a vision of him as he stamped down the
staircase, his coat off, laying the sjambok on the shoulders of the
man who had injured her so, who hated her so, and had done so over all
the years. It appealed to her.
In her heart of hearts she was sure he had done it directly or
indirectly for her sake; and that was infinitely more to her than that
he should stoop from the heights to pick her up. He was what he was
because Heaven had made him so; and she was what she was because
Heaven had forgotten to make her otherwise; and he could not know or
understand how she came to do things that he would not do. But she
could know and understand why his hand fell on Krool like that of Cain
on Abel. She softened, changed at once.
"Yes, I remember," she said. "I've been upset. Krool was insolent, and
I ordered him to go. He would not."
"I've been a fool to keep him all these years. I didn't know what he
was--a traitor, the slimmest of the slim, a real Hottentot-Boer. I was
pigheaded about him, because he seemed to care so much about me. That
counts for much with the most of us."
"Alice Tynemouth saw a policeman help him into a cab in Piccadilly and
take him away. Will there be trouble?"
A grim look crossed his face. "I think not," he responded. "There are
reasons. He has been stealing information for years, and sending it to
Kruger, he and--"
He stopped short, and into his face came a look of sullen reticence.
"Yes, he and--and some one else? Who else?" Her face was white. She
had a sudden intuition.
He met her eyes. "Adrian Fellowes--what Fellowes knew, Krool knew, and
one way or another, by one means or another, Fellowes knew a great
The knowledge of Adrian Fellowes' treachery and its full significance
had hardly come home to him, even when he punished Krool, so shaken
was he by the fact that the half-caste had been false to
him. Afterwards, however, as the Partners all talked together
up-stairs, the enormity of the dead man's crime had fastened on him,
and his brain had been stunned by the terrible thought that directly
or indirectly Jasmine had abetted the crime. Things he had talked over
with her, and with no one else, had got to Kruger's knowledge, as the
information from South Africa showed. She had at least been
indiscreet, had talked to Fellowes with some freedom or he could not
have known what he did. But directly, knowingly abetted Fellowes? Of
course, she had not done that; but her foolish confidences had abetted
treachery, had wronged him, had helped to destroy his plans, had
He had savagely punished Krool for insolence to her and for his
treachery, but a new feeling had grown up in him in the last
half-hour. Under the open taunts of his colleagues, a deep resentment
had taken possession of him that his work, so hard to do, so important
and critical, should have been circumvented by the indiscretions of
Upon her now this announcement came with crushing force. Adrian
Fellowes had gained from her--she knew it all too well now--that which
had injured her husband; from which, at any rate, he ought to have
been immune. Her face flushed with a resentment far greater than that
of Rudyard's, and it was heightened by a humiliation which overwhelmed
her. She had been but a tool in every sense, she, Jasmine Byng, one
who ruled, had been used like a--she could not form the comparison in
her mind--by a dependent, a hanger-on of her husband's bounty; and it
was through her, originally, that he had been given a real chance in
life by Rudyard.
"I am sorry," she said, calmly, as soon as she could get her voice.
"I was the means of your employing him."
"That did not matter," he said, rather nervously. "There was no harm
in that, unless you knew his character before he came to me."
"You think I did?"
"I cannot think so. It would have been too ruthless--too wicked."
She saw his suffering, and it touched her. "Of course I did not know
that he could do such a thing--so shameless. He was a low coward. He
did not deserve decent burial," she added. "He had good fortune to die
as he did."
"How did he die?" Rudyard asked her, with a face so unlike what it had
always been, so changed by agitation, that it scarcely seemed his. His
eyes were fixed on hers.
She met them resolutely. Did he ask her in order to see if she had any
suspicion of himself? Had he done it? If he had, there would be some
mitigation of her suffering. Or was it Ian Stafford who had done it?
One or the other--but which?
"He died without being made to suffer," she said. "Most people who do
wrong have to suffer."
"But they live on," he said, bitterly.
"That is no great advantage unless you want to live," she replied. "Do
you know how he died?" she added, after a moment, with sharp scrutiny.
He shook his head and returned her scrutiny with added poignancy. "It
does not matter. He ceases to do any more harm. He did enough."
"Yes, quite enough," she said, with a withered look, and going over to
her writing-table, stood looking at him questioningly. He did not
speak again, however.
Presently she said, very quietly, "I am going away."
"I do not understand."
"I am going to work."
"I understand still less."
She took from the writing-table her cheque-book, and handed it to
him. He looked at it, and read the counterfoil of the cheque she had
given to Alice Tynemouth.
He was bewildered. "What does this mean?" he asked.
"It is for a hospital-ship."
"Sixty thousand pounds! Why, it is nearly all you have."
"It is two-thirds of what I have."
"Why--in God's name, why?"
"To buy my freedom," she answered, bitterly.
He staggered back and leaned heavily against a bookcase.
"Freedom from me!" he exclaimed, hoarsely.
He had had terribly bitter and revengeful feelings during the last
hour, but all at once his real self emerged, the thing that was
deepest in him. "Freedom from me? Has it come to that?"
"Yes, absolutely. Do you remember the day you first said to me that
something was wrong with it all,--the day that Ian Stafford dined
after his return from abroad? Well, it has been all wrong--cruelly
wrong. We haven't made the best of things together, when everything
was with us to do so. I have spoiled it all. It hasn't been what you
"Nor what you expected?" he asked, sharply.
"Nor what I expected; but you are not to blame for that."
Suddenly all he had ever felt for her swept through his being, and
sullenness fled away. "You have ceased to love me, then.... See, that
is the one thing that matters, Jasmine. All else disappears beside
that. Do you love me? Do you love me still? Do you love me, Jasmine?
He looked like the ghost of his old dead self, pleading to be
His misery oppressed her. "What does one know of one's self in the
midst of all this--of everything that has nothing to do with love?"
What she might have said in the dark mood which was coming on her
again it is hard to say, but from beneath the window of the room which
looked on Park Lane, there came the voice of a street-minstrel,
singing to a travelling piano, played by sympathetic fingers, the
"She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps, And lovers
around her are sighing--"
The simple pathos of the song had nothing to do with her own
experience or her own case, but the flood of it swept through her
veins like tears. She sank into a chair and listened for a moment with
eyes shining, then she sprang up in an agitation which made her
tremble and her face go white.
"No, no, no, Rudyard, I do not love you," she said, swiftly. "And
because I do not love you, I will not stay. I never loved you, never
truly loved you at any time. I never knew myself--that is all that I
can say. I never was awake till now. I never was wholly awake till I
saw you driving Krool into the street with the sjambok."
She flung up her hands. "For God's sake, let me be truthful at last. I
don't want to hurt you--I have hurt you enough, but I do not love you;
and I must go. I am going with Alice Tynemouth. We are going together
to do something. Maybe I shall learn what will make life possible."
He reached out his arms towards her with a sudden tenderness.
"No, no, no, do not touch me," she cried. "Do not come near me. I must
be alone now, and from now on and on.... You do not understand, but I
must be alone. I must work it out alone, whatever it is."
She got up with a quick energy, and went over to the writing-table
again. "It may take every penny I have got, but I shall do it, because
it is the thing I feel I must do."
"You have millions, Jasmine," he said, in a low, appealing voice.
She looked at him almost fiercely again. "No, I have what is my own,
my very own, and no more," she responded, bitterly. "You will do your
work, and I will do mine. You will stay here. There will be no
scandal, because I shall be going with Alice Tynemouth, and the world
will not misunderstand."
"There will be no scandal, because I am going, too," he said, firmly.
"No, no, you cannot, must not, go," she urged.
"I am going to South Africa in two days," he replied. "Stafford was
going with me, but he cannot go for a week or so. He will help you, I
am sure, with forming your committee and arranging, if you will insist
on doing this thing. He is still up-stairs there with the rest of
them. I will get him down now, I--"
"Ian Stafford is here--in this house?" she asked, with staring
eyes. What inconceivable irony it all was! She could have shrieked
with that laughter which is more painful far than tears.
"Yes, he is up-stairs. I made him come and help us--he knows the
international game. He will help you, too. He is a good friend--you
will know how good some day."
She went white and leaned against the table.
"No, I shall not need him," she said. "We have formed our committee."
"But when I am gone, he can advise you, he can--"
"Oh--oh!" she murmured, and swayed forward, fainting.
He caught her and lowered her gently into a chair.
"You are only mad," he whispered to ears which heard not as he bent
over her. "You will be sane some day."
THE MENACE OF THE MOUNTAIN
Far away, sharply cutting the ether, rise the great sterile peaks and
ridges. Here a stark, bare wall like a prison which shuts in a city of
men forbidden the blithe world of sun and song and freedom; yonder, a
giant of a lost world stretched out in stony ease, sleeping on, while
over his grey quiet, generations of men pass. First came savage,
warring, brown races alien to each other; then following, white races
with faces tanned and burnt by the sun, and smothered in unkempt beard
and hair--men restless and coarse and brave, and with ancient sins
upon them; but with the Bible in their hands and the language of the
prophets on their lips; with iron will, with hatred as deep as their
race-love is strong; they with their cattle and their herds, and the
clacking wagons carrying homes and fortunes, whose women were
housewives and warriors too. Coming after these, men of fairer aspect,
adventurous, self-willed, intent to make cities in the wilderness; to
win open spaces for their kinsmen, who had no room to swing the hammer
in the workshops of their far-off northern island homes; or who,
having room, stood helpless before the furnaces where the fires had
left only the ashes of past energies.
Up there, these mountains which, like Marathon, look on the sea. But
lower the gaze from the austere hills, slowly to the plains
below. First the grey of the mountains, turning to brown, then the
bare bronze rock giving way to a tumbled wilderness of boulders, where
lizards lie in the sun, where the meerkat startles the gazelle. Then
the bronze merging into a green so deep and strong that it resembles a
blanket spread upon the uplands, but broken by kopjes, shelterless and
lonely, rising here and there like watch-towers. After that, below and
still below, the flat and staring plain, through which runs an ugly
rift turning and twisting like a snake, and moving on and on, till
lost in the arc of other hills away to the east and the south: a river
in the waste, but still only a muddy current stealing between banks
baked and sterile, a sinister stream, giving life to the veld, as some
gloomy giver of good gifts would pay a debt of atonement.
On certain Dark Days of 1899-1900, if you had watched these turgid
waters flow by, your eyes would have seen tinges of red like blood;
and following the stain of red, gashed lifeless things, which had been
torn from the ranks of sentient beings.
Whereupon, lifting your eyes from the river, you would have seen the
answer to your question--masses of men mounted and unmounted, who
moved, or halted, or stood like an animal with a thousand legs
controlled by one mind. Or again you would have observed those myriad
masses plunging across the veld, still in cohering masses, which shook
and broke and scattered, regathering again, as though drawn by a
magnet, but leaving stark remnants in their wake.
Great columns of troops which had crossed the river and pushed on into
a zone of fierce fire, turn and struggle back again across the stream;
other thousands of men, who had not crossed, succour their wounded,
and retreat steadily, bitterly to places of safety, the victims of
blunders from which come the bloody punishment of valour.
Beyond the grey mountains were British men and women waiting for
succour from forces which poured death in upon them from the
malevolent kopjes, for relief from the ravages of disease and
hunger. They waited in a straggling town of the open plain circled by
threatening hills, where the threat became a blow, and the blow was
multiplied a million times. Gaunt, fighting men sought to appease the
craving of starvation by the boiled carcasses of old horses; in caves
and dug-outs, feeble women, with undying courage, kept alive the
flickering fires of life in their children; and they smiled to cheer
the tireless, emaciated warriors who went out to meet death, or with a
superior yet careful courage stayed to receive or escape it.
When night came, across the hills and far away in the deep blue, white
shaking streams of light poured upward, telling the besieged forces
over there at Lordkop that rescue would come, that it was moving on to
the mountain. How many times had this light in the sky flashed the
same grave pledge in the mystic code of the heliograph, "We are
gaining ground--we will reach you soon." How many times, however, had
the message also been, "Not yet--but soon."
Men died in this great camp from wounds and from fever, and others
went mad almost from sheer despair; yet whenever the Master Player
called, they sprang to their places with a new-born belief that he who
had been so successful in so many long-past battles would be right in
the end with his old rightness, though he had been wrong so often on
Others there were who were sick of the world and wished "to be well
out of it"--as they said to themselves. Some had been cruelly injured,
and desire of life was dead in them; others had given injury, and
remorse had slain peace. Others still there were who, having done evil
all their lives, knew that they could not retrace their steps, and yet
shrank from a continuance of the old bad things.
Some indeed, in the red futile sacrifice, had found what they came to
find; but some still were left whose recklessness did not
avail. Comrades fell beside them, but, unscathed, they went on
fighting. Injured men were carried in hundreds to the hospitals, but
no wounds brought them low. Bullets were sprayed around them, but none
did its work for them. Shells burst near, yet no savage shard
mutilated their bodies.
Of these was Ian Stafford.
Three times he had been in the fore-front of the fight where Death
came sweeping down the veld like rain, but It passed him by. Horses
and men fell round his guns, yet he remained uninjured.
He was patient. If Death would not hasten to meet him, he would
wait. Meanwhile, he would work while he could, but with no thought
beyond the day, no vision of the morrow.
He was one of the machines of war. He was close to his General, he was
the beloved of his men, still he was the man with no future; though he
studied the campaign with that thoroughness which had marked his last
years in diplomacy.
He was much among his own wounded, much with others who were comforted
by his solicitude, by the courage of his eye, and the grasp of his
firm, friendly hand. It was at what the soldiers called the Stay
Awhile Hospital that he came in living touch again with the life he
had left behind.
He knew that Rudyard Byng had come to South Africa; but he knew no
more. He knew that Jasmine had, with Lady Tynemouth, purchased a ship
and turned it into a hospital at a day's notice; but as to whether
these two had really come to South Africa, and harboured at the Cape,
or Durban, he had no knowledge. He never looked at the English
newspapers which arrived at Dreitval River. He was done with that old
world in which he once worked; he was concerned only for this narrow
field where an Empire's fate was being solved.
Night, the dearest friend of the soldier, had settled on the veld. A
thousand fires were burning, and there were no sounds save the
murmuring voices of myriads of men, and the stamp of hoofs where the
Cavalry and Mounted Infantry horses were picketed. Food and fire, the
priceless comfort of a blanket on the ground, and a saddle or kit for
a pillow gave men compensation for all the hardships and dangers of
the day; and they gave little thought to the morrow.
The soldier lives in the present. His rifle, his horse, his boots, his
blanket, the commissariat, a dry bit of ground to sleep on--these are
the things which occupy his mind. His heroism is incidental, the
commonplace impulse of the moment. He does things because they are
there to do, not because some great passion, some exaltation, seizes
him. His is the real simple life. So it suddenly seemed to Stafford as
he left his tent, after he had himself inspected every man and every
horse in his battery that lived through the day of death, and made his
way towards the Stay Awhile Hospital.
"This is the true thing," he said to himself as he gazed at the wide
camp. He turned his face here and there in the starlight, and saw
human life that but now was moving in the crash of great guns, the
shrieking of men terribly wounded, the agony of mutilated horses, the
bursting of shells, the hissing scream of the pom-pom, and the
discordant cries of men fighting an impossible fight.
"There is no pretense here," he reflected. "It is life reduced down to
the bare elements. There is no room for the superficial thing. It's
all business. It's all stark human nature."
At that moment his eye caught one of those white messages of the sky
flashing the old bitter promise, "We shall reach you soon." He forgot
himself, and a great spirit welled up in him.
"Soon!" The light in the sky shot its message over the hills.
That was it--the present, not the past. Here was work, the one thing
left to do.
"And it has to be done," he said aloud, as he walked on swiftly, a
spring to his footstep. Presently he mounted and rode away across the
veld. Buried in his thoughts, he was only subconsciously aware of what
he saw until, after near an hour's riding, he pulled rein at the door
of the Stay Awhile Hospital, which was some miles in the rear of the
As he entered, a woman in a nurse's garb passed him swiftly. He
scarcely looked at her; he was only conscious that she was in great
haste. Her eyes seemed looking at some inner, hidden thing, and,
though they glanced at him, appeared not to see him or to realize more
than that some one was passing. But suddenly, to both, after they had
passed, there came an arrest of attention. There was a consciousness,
which had nothing to do with the sight of the eyes, that a familiar
presence had gone by. Each turned quickly, and their eyes came back
from regarding the things of the imagination, and saw each other face
to face. The nurse gave an exclamation of pleasure and ran forward.
Stafford held out a hand. It seemed to him, as he did it, that it
stretched across a great black gulf and found another hand in the
"Al'mah!" he said, in a voice of protest as of companionship.
Of all those he had left behind, this was the one being whom to meet
was not disturbing. He wished to encounter no one of that inner circle
of his tragic friendship; but he realized that Al'mah had had her
tragedy too, and that her suffering could not be less than his
own. The same dark factor had shadowed the lives of both. Adrian
Fellowes had injured them both through the same woman, had shaken, if
not shattered, the fabric of their lives. However much they two were
blameworthy, they had been sincere, they had been honourable in their
dishonour, they had been "falsely true." They were derelicts of life,
with the comradeship of despair as a link between them.
"Al'mah," he said again, gently. Then, with a bitter humour, he added,
"You here--I thought you were a prima donna!"
The flicker of a smile crossed her odd, fine, strong face. "This is
grand opera," she said. "It is the Nibelungen Ring of England."
"To end in the Twilight of the Gods?" he rejoined with a hopeless kind
They turned to the outer door of the hospital and stepped into the
night. For a moment they stood looking at the great camp far away to
right and left, and to the lone mountains yonder, where the Boer
commandoes held the passes and trained their merciless armament upon
all approaches. Then he said at last: "Why have you come here? You had
your work in England."
"What is my work?" she asked.
"To heal the wounded," he answered.
"I am trying to do that," she replied.
"You are trying to heal bodies, but it is a bigger, greater thing to
heal the wounded mind."
"I am trying to do that too. It is harder than the other."
"Whose minds are you trying to heal?" he questioned, gently.
"'Physician heal thyself' was the old command, wasn't it? But that is
"Must one always be a saint to do a saintly thing?" he asked.
"I am not clever," she replied, "and I can't make phrases. But must
one always be a sinner to do a wicked thing? Can't a saint do a wicked
thing, and a sinner do a good thing without being called the one or
"I don't think you need apologize for not being able to make
phrases. I suppose you'd say there is neither absolute saintliness nor
absolute wickedness, but that life is helplessly composite of both,
and that black really may be white. You know the old phrase, 'Killing
She seemed to stiffen, and her lips set tightly for a minute; then, as
though by a great effort, she laughed bitterly.
"Murder isn't always killing," she replied. "Don't you remember the
protest in Macbeth, 'Time was, when the brains were out the man would
die'?" Then, with a little quick gesture towards the camp, she added,
"When you think of to-day, doesn't it seem that the brains are out,
and yet that the man still lives? I'm not a soldier, and this awful
slaughter may be the most wonderful tactics, but it's all beyond my
"Your littleness is not original enough to attract notice," he replied
with kindly irony. "There is almost an epidemic of it. Let us hope we
shall have an antidote soon."
There was a sudden cry from inside the hospital. Al'mah shut her eyes
for a moment, clinched her fingers, and became very pale; then she
recovered herself, and turned her face towards the door, as though
waiting for some one to come out.
"What is the matter?" he asked. "Some bad case?"
"Yes--very bad," she replied.
"One you've been attending?"
"What arm--the artillery?" he asked with sudden interest.
"Yes, the artillery."
He turned towards the door of the hospital again. "One of my men? What
battery? Do you know?"
"Schiller's! A Boer?"
She nodded. "A Boer spy, caught by Boer bullets as he was going back."
"When was that?"
"This morning early."
"The little business at Wortmann's Drift?"
She nodded. "Yes, there."
"I don't quite understand. Was he in our lines--a Boer spy?"
"Yes. But he wore British uniform, he spoke English. He was an
Suddenly she came up close to him, and looked into his face
steadily. "I will tell you all," she said scarce above a whisper. "He
came to spy, but he came also to see his wife. She had written to ask
him not to join the Boers, as he said he meant to do; or, if he had,
to leave them and join his own people. He came, but not to join his
fellow-countrymen. He came to get money from his wife; and he came to
An illuminating thought shot into Stafford's mind. He remembered
something that Byng once told him.
"His wife is a nurse?" he asked in a low tone.
"She is a nurse."
"She knew, then, that he was a spy?" he asked.
"Yes, she knew. I suppose she ought to be tried by court-martial. She
did not expose him. She gave him a chance to escape. But he was shot
as he tried to reach the Boer lines."
"And was brought back here to his wife--to you! Did he let them"--he
nodded towards the hospital--"know he was your husband?"
When she spoke again her voice showed strain, but it did not
tremble. "Of course. He would not spare me. He never did. It was
always like that."
He caught her hand in his. "You have courage enough for a hundred," he
"I have suffered enough for a hundred," she responded.
Again that sharp cry rang out, and again she turned anxiously towards
"I came to South Africa on the chance of helping him in some way," she
replied. "It came to me that he might need me."
"You paid the price of his life once to Kruger--after the Raid, I've
heard," he said.
"Yes, I owed him that, and as much more as was possible," she
responded with a dark, pained look.
"His life is in danger--an operation?" he questioned.
"Yes. There is one chance; but they could not give him an anaesthetic,
and they would not let me stay with him. They forced me away--out
here." She appeared to listen again. "That was his voice--that
crying," she added presently.
"Wouldn't it be better he should go? If he recovers there would only
"Oh yes, to be tried as a spy--a renegade Englishman! But he would
rather live in spite of that, if it was only for an hour."
"To love life so much as that--a spy!" Stafford reflected.
"Not so much love of life as fear of--" She stopped short.
"To fear--silence and peace!" he remarked darkly, with a shrug of his
shoulders. Then he added: "Tell me, if he does not die, and if--if he
is pardoned by any chance, do you mean to live with him again?"
A bitter laugh broke from her. "How do I know? What does any woman
know what she will do until the situation is before her! She may mean
to do one thing and do the complete opposite. She may mean to hate,
and will end by loving. She may mean to kiss and will end by
killing. She may kiss and kill too all in one moment, and still not be
inconsistent. She would have the logic of a woman. How do I know what
I would do--what I will do!"
The door of the hospital opened. A surgeon came out, and seeing
Al'mah, moved towards the two. Stafford went forward hurriedly, but
Al'mah stood like one transfixed. There was a whispered word, and then
Stafford came back to her.
"You will not need to do anything," he said.
"He is gone--like that!" she whispered in an awed voice. "Death,
death--so many die!" She shuddered.
Stafford passed her arm through his, and drew her towards the door of
A half-hour later Stafford emerged again from the hospital, his head
bent in thought. He rode slowly back to his battery, unconscious of
the stir of life round him, of the shimmering white messages to the
besieged town beyond the hills. He was thinking of the tragedy of the
woman he had left tearless and composed beside the bedside of the man
who had so vilely used her. He was reflecting how her life, and his
own, and the lives of at least three others, were so tangled together
that what twisted the existence of one disturbed all. In one sense the
woman he had just left in the hospital was nothing to him, and yet now
she seemed to be the only living person to whom he was drawn.
He remembered the story he had once heard in Vienna of a man and a
woman who both had suffered betrayal, who both had no longer a single
illusion left, who had no love for each other at all, in whom indeed
love was dead--a mangled murdered thing; and yet who went away to
Corfu together, and there at length found a pathway out of despair in
the depths of the sea. Between these two there had never been even the
faint shadow of romance or passion; but in the terrible mystery of
pain and humiliation, they had drawn together to help each other,
through a breach of all social law, in pity of each other. He
apprehended the real meaning of the story when Vienna was alive with
it, but he understood far, far better now.
A pity as deep as any feeling he had ever known had come to him as he
stood with Al'mah beside the bed of her dead renegade man; and it
seemed to him that they two also might well bury themselves in the
desert together, and minister to each other's despair. It was only the
swift thought of a moment, which faded even as it saw the light; but
it had its origin in that last flickering sense of human companionship
which dies in the atmosphere of despair. "Every man must live his dark
hours alone," a broken-down actor once said to Stafford as he tried to
cheer him when the last thing he cared for had been taken from
him--his old, faded, misshapen wife; when no faces sent warm glances
to him across the garish lights. "It is no use," this Roscius had
said, "every man must live his dark hours alone."
That very evening, after the battle of the Dreitval, Jigger,
Stafford's trumpeter, had said a thing to him which had struck a chord
that rang in empty chambers of his being. He had found Jigger sitting
disconsolate beside a gun, which was yet grimy and piteous with the
blood of men who had served it, and he asked the lad what his trouble
In reply Jigger had said, "When it 'it 'm 'e curled up like a bit o'
shaving. An' when I done what I could 'e says, 'It's a speshul for one
now, an' it's lonely goin',' 'e says. When I give 'im a drink 'e says,
'It 'd do me more good later, little 'un'; an' 'e never said no more
except, 'One at a time is the order--only one.'"
Not even his supper had lifted the cloud from Jigger's face, and
Stafford had left the lad trying to compose a letter to the mother of
the dead man, who had been an especial favourite with the trumpeter
from the slums.
Stafford was roused from his reflections by the grinding, rumbling
sound of a train. He turned his face towards the railway line.
"A troop-train--more food for the dragons," he said to himself. He
could not see the train itself, but he could see the head-light of the
locomotive, and he could hear its travail as it climbed slowly the
last incline to the camp.
"Who comes there!" he said aloud, and in his mind there swept a
premonition that the old life was finding him out, that its invisible
forces were converging upon him. But did it matter? He knew in his
soul that he was now doing the right thing, that he had come out in
the open where all the archers of penalty had a fair target for their
arrows. He wished to be "Free among the dead that are wounded and that
lie in the grave and are out of remembrance;" but he would do no more
to make it so than tens of thousands of other men were doing on these
"Who comes there!" he said again, his eyes upon the white, round light
in the distance, and he stood still to try and make out the black,
winding, groaning thing.
Presently he heard quick footsteps.
A small, alert figure stopped short, a small, abrupt hand
saluted. "The General Commanding 'as sent for you, sir."
It was trumpeter Jigger of the Artillery.
"Are you the General's orderly, then?" asked Stafford quizzically.
"The orderly's gone w'ere 'e thought 'e'd find you, and I've come
w'ere I know'd you'd be, sir."
"Where did he think he'd find me?"
"Wiv the 'osses, sir."
A look of gratification crossed Stafford's face. He was well known in
the army as one who looked after his horses and his men. "And what
made you think I was at the hospital, Jigger?"
"Becos you'd been to the 'osses, sir."
"Did you tell the General's orderly that?"
"No, your gryce--no, sir," he added quickly, and a flush of
self-reproach came to his face, for he prided himself on being a real
disciplinarian, a disciple of the correct thing. "I thought I'd like
'im to see our 'osses, an' 'ow you done 'em, an' I'd find you as quick
as 'e could, wiv a bit to the good p'r'aps."
Stafford smiled. "Off you go, then. Find that orderly. Say, Colonel
Stafford's compliments to the General Commanding and he will report
himself at once. See that you get it straight, trumpeter."
Jigger would rather die than not get it straight, and his salute made
that quite plain.
"It's made a man of him, anyhow," Stafford said to himself, as he
watched the swiftly disappearing figure. "He's as straight as a nail,
body and mind--poor little devil.... How far away it all seems!"
A quarter of an hour later he was standing beside the troop-train
which he had seen labouring to its goal. It was carrying the old
regiment of the General Officer Commanding, who had sent Stafford to
its Colonel with an important message. As the two officers stood
together watching the troops detrain and make order out of the chaos
of baggage and equipment, Stafford's attention was drawn to a woman
some little distance away, giving directions about her impedimenta.
"Who is the lady?" he asked, while in his mind was a sensible stir of
"Ah, there's something like the real thing!" his companion replied.
"She is doing a capital bit of work. She and Lady Tynemouth have got a
hospital-ship down at Durban. She's come to link it up better with the
camp. It's Rudyard Byng's wife. They're both at it out here."
"Who comes there!" Stafford had exclaimed a moment before with a sense
Jasmine had come.
He drew back in the shadow as she turned round towards them.
"To the Stay Awhile--right!" he heard a private say in response to her
He saw her face, but not clearly. He had glimpse of a Jasmine not so
daintily pretty as of old, not so much of a dresden-china shepherdess;
but with the face of a woman who, watching the world with
understanding eyes, and living with an understanding heart, had taken
on something of the mysterious depths of the Life behind life. It was
only a glimpse he had, but it was enough. It was more than enough.
"Where is Byng?" he asked his fellow-officer.
"He's been up there with Tain's Brigade for a fortnight. He was in
Kimberley, but got out before the investment, went to Cape Town, and
came round here--to be near his wife, I suppose."
"He is soldiering, then?"
"He was a Colonel in the Rand Rifles once. He's with the South African
Horse now in command of the regiment attached to Tain. Tain's out of
your beat--away on the right flank there."
Presently Stafford saw Jasmine look in their direction; then, on
seeing Stafford's companion, came forward hastily. The Colonel left
Stafford and went to meet her.
A moment afterwards, she turned and looked at Stafford. Her face was
now deadly pale, but it showed no agitation. She was in the light of
an electric lamp, and he was in the shadow. For one second only she
gazed at him, then she turned and moved away to the cape-cart awaiting
her. The Colonel saw her in, then returned to Stafford.
"Why didn't you come and be introduced?" the Colonel asked. "I told
her who you were."
"Hospital-ships are not in my line," Stafford answered
casually. "Women and war don't go together."
"She's a nurse, she's not a woman," was the paradoxical reply.
"She knows Byng is here?"
"I suppose so. It looks like a clever bit of strategy--junction of
forces. There's a lot of women at home would like the chance she
has--at a little less cost."
"What is the cost?"
"Well, that ship didn't cost less than a hundred thousand pounds."
"Is that all?"
The Colonel looked at Stafford in surprise: but Stafford was not
thinking of the coin.
"AND NEVER THE TWAIN SHALL MEET!"
As the cape-cart conveying Jasmine to the hospital moved away from the
station, she settled down into the seat beside the driver with the
helplessness of one who had received a numbing blow. Her body swayed
as though she would faint, and her eyes closed, and stayed closed for
so long a time, that Corporal Shorter, who drove the rough little pair
of Argentines, said to her sympathetically:
"It's all right, ma'am. We'll be there in a jiffy. Don't give way."
This friendly solicitude had immediate effect. Jasmine sat up, and
thereafter held herself as though she was in her yellow salon yonder
"Thank you," she replied serenely to Corporal Shorter. "It was a long,
tiring journey, and I let myself go for a moment."
"A good night's rest'll do you a lot of good, ma'am," he
ventured. Then he added, "Beggin' pardon, ain't you Mrs. Colonel
She turned and looked at the man inquiringly. "Yes, I am Mrs. Byng."
"Thank you, ma'am. Now how did I know? Why," he chuckled, "I saw a big
B on your hand-bag, and I knew you was from the hospital-ship--they
told me that at the Stay Awhile; and the rest was easy, ma'am. I had a
mate along o' your barge. He was one of them the Boers got at Talana
Hill. They chipped his head-piece nicely--just like the 4.7's flay the
kopjes up there. My mate's been writing to me about you. We're a long
way from home, Joey and me, and a bit o' kindness is a bit of all
right to us."
"Where is your home?" Jasmine asked, her fatigue and oppression
He chuckled as though it were a joke, while he answered: "Australia
onct and first. My mate, Joey Clynes, him that's on your ship, we was
both born up beyond Bendigo. When we cut loose from the paternal
leash, so to speak, we had a bit of boundary-riding, rabbit-killing,
shearing and sun-downing--all no good, year by year. Then we had a bit
o' luck and found a mob of warrigals--horses run wild, you know. We
stalked 'em for days in the droughttime to a water-course, and got
'em, and coaxed 'em along till the floods come; then we sold 'em, and
with the hard tin shipped for to see the world. So it was as of
old. And by and by we found ourselves down here, same as all the rest,
puttin' in a bit o' time for the Flag."
Jasmine turned on him one of those smiles which had made her so many
friends in the past--a smile none the less alluring because it had
lost that erstime flavour of artifice and lure which, however hidden,
had been part of its power. Now it was accompanied by no slight
drooping of the eyelids. It brightened a look which was direct and
"It's a good thing to have lived in the wide distant spaces of the
world," she responded. "A man couldn't easily be mean or small where
life is so simple and so large."
His face flushed with pleasure. She was so easy to get on with, he
said to himself; and she certainly had a wonderfully kind smile. But
he felt too that she needed greater wisdom, and he was ready to give
it--a friendly characteristic of the big open spaces "where life is so
simple and so large."
"Well, that might be so 'long o' some continents," he remarked, "but
it wasn't so where Joey Clynes and me was nourished, so to speak. I
tripped up on a good many mean things from Bendigo to Thargomindah and
back around. The back-blocks has its tricks as well as the towns, as
you would see if you come across a stock-rider with a cheque to be
broke in his hand. I've seen six months' wages go bung in a day with a
stock-rider on the gentle jupe. But again, peradventure, I've seen a
man that had lost ten thousand sheep tramp fifty miles in a blazing
sun with a basket of lambs on his back, savin' them two switherin'
little papillions worth nothin' at all, at the risk of his own
life--just as mates have done here on this salamanderin' veld; same as
Colonel Byng did to-day along o' Wortmann's Drift."
Jasmine had been trying to ask a question concerning her husband ever
since the man had mentioned his name, and had not been able to do
so. She had never spoken of him directly to any one since she had left
England; had never heard from him; had written him no word; was, so
far as the outer acts of life were concerned, as distant from him as
Corporal Shorter was from his native Bendigo. She had been busy as she
had never before been in her life, in a big, comprehensive, useful
way. It had seemed to her in England, as she carried through the
negotiations for the Valoria, fitted it out for the service it was to
render, directed its administration over the heads of the committee
appointed, for form's sake, to assist Lady Tynemouth and herself, that
the spirit of her grandfather was over her, watching her, inspiring
her. This had become almost an obsession with her. Her grandfather had
had belief in her, delight in her; and now the innumerable talks she
had had with him, as to the way he had done things, gave her
confidence and a key to what she had to do. It was the first real
work; for what she did for Ian Stafford in diplomacy was only playing
upon the weakness of human nature with a skilled intelligence, with an
instinctive knowledge of men and a capacity for managing them. The
first real pride she had ever felt soothed her angry soul.
Her grandfather had been more in her mind than any one else--than
either Rudyard or Ian Stafford. Towards both of these her mind had
slowly and almost unconsciously changed, and she wished to think about
neither. There had been a revolution in her nature, and all her tragic
experience, her emotions, and her faculties, had been shaken into a
crucible where the fire of pain and revolt burned on and on and
on. From the crucible there had come as yet no precipitation of life's
elements, and she scarcely knew what was in her heart. She tried to
smother every thought concerning the past. She did not seek to find
her bearings, or to realize in what country of the senses and the
emotions she was travelling.
One thing was present, however, at times, and when it rushed over her
in its fulness, it shook her as the wind shakes the leaf on a tree--a
sense of indignation, of anger, or resentment. Against whom? Against
all. Against Rudyard, against Ian Stafford; but most of all, a
thousand times most against a dead man, who had been swept out of
life, leaving behind a memory which could sting murderously.
Now, when she heard of Rudyard's bravery at Wortmann's Drift, a
curious thrill of excitement ran through her veins, or it would be
truer to say that a sensation new and strange vibrated in her
blood. She had heard many tales of valour in this war, and more than
one hero of the Victoria Cross had been in her charge at Durban; but
as a child's heart might beat faster at the first words of a wonderful
story, so she felt a faint suffocation in the throat and her brooding
eyes took on a brighter, a more objective look, as she heard the tale
of Wortmann's Drift.
"Tell me about it," she said, yet turned her head away from her eager
Corporal Shorter's words were addressed to the smallest pink ear he
had ever seen except on a baby, but he was only dimly conscious of
that. He was full of a man's pride in a man's deed.
"Well, it was like this," he recited. "Gunter's horse bolted--Dick
Gunter's in the South African Horse same as Colonel Byng--his lot. Old
Gunter's horse gits away with him into the wide open. I s'pose there'd
been a hunderd Boers firing at the runaway for three minutes, and at
last off comes Gunter. He don't stir for a minute or more, then we see
him pick himself up a bit quick, but settle back again. And while we
was lookin' and tossin' pennies like as to his chances out there, a
grey New Zealand mare nips out across the veld stretchin' every
string. We knowed her all right, that grey mare--a regular
Mrs. Mephisto, w'ich belongs to Colonel Byng. Do the Boojers fire at
him? Don't they! We could see the spots of dust where the bullets
struck, spittin', spittin', spittin', and Lord knows how many hunderd
more there was that didn't hit the ground. An' the grey mare gets
there. As cool as a granadillar, down drops Colonel Byng beside old
Gunter; down goes the grey mare--Colonel Byng had taught her that
trick, like the Roosian Cossack hosses. Then up on her rolls old
Gunter, an' up goes Colonel Byng, and the grey mare switchin' her
bobtail, as if she was havin' a bit of mealies in the middle o' the
day. But when they was both on, then the band begun to play. Men was
fightin' of course, but it looked as if the whole smash stopped to see
what the end would be. It was a real pretty race, an' the grey mare
takin' it as free as if she was carryin' a little bit of a pipkin like
me instead of twenty-six stone. She's a flower, that grey mare! Once
she stumbled, an' we knowed it wasn't an ant-bear's hole she'd found
in the veld, and that she'd been hurt. But they know, them hosses,
that they must do as their Baases do; and they fight right on. She
come home with the two all right. She switched round a corner and over
a nose of land where that crossfire couldn't hit the lot; an' there
was the three of 'em at 'ome for a cup o' tea. Why, ma'am, that done
the army as much good to-day, that little go-to-the-devil, you
mud-suckers! as though we'd got Schuster's Hill. 'Twas what we
needed--an' we got it. It took our eyes off the nasty little fact that
half of a regiment was down, an' the other half with their job not
done as it was ordered. It made the S.A.'s and the Lynchesters and the
Gessex lot laugh. Old Gunter's all right. He's in the Stay Awhile
now. You'll be sure to see him. And Colonel Byng's all right, too,
except a little bit o' splinter--"
"A bit of splinter--" Her voice was almost peremptory.
"A chip off his wrist like, but he wasn't thinkin' of that when he got
back. He was thinkin' of the grey mare; and she was hit in three
places, but not to mention. One bullet cut through her ear and through
Colonel Byng's hat as he stooped over her neck; but the luck was with
them. They was born to do a longer trek together. A little bit of the
same thing in both of 'em, so to speak. The grey mare has a temper
like a hunderd wildcats, and Colonel Byng can let himself go too, as
you perhaps know, ma'am. We've seen him let loose sometimes when there
was shirkers about, but he's all right inside his vest. And he's a
good feeder. His men get their tucker all right. He knows when to shut
his eyes. He's got a way to make his bunch--and they're the
hardest-bit bunch in the army--do anything he wants 'em to. He's as
hard himself as ever is, but he's all right underneath the
All at once there flashed before Jasmine's eyes the picture of Rudyard
driving Krool out of the house in Park Lane with a sjambok. She heard
again the thud of the rhinoceros-whip on the cringing back of the
Boer; she heard the moan of the victim as he stumbled across the
threshold into the street; and again she felt that sense of
suffocation, that excitement which the child feels on the brink of a
wonderful romance, the once-upon-a-time moment.
They were nearing the hospital. The driver silently pointed to it. He
saw that he had made an impression, and he was content with it. He
smiled to himself.
"Is Colonel Byng in the camp?" she asked.
"He's over--'way over, miles and miles, on the left wing with Kearey's
brigade now. But old Gunter's here, and you're sure to see Colonel
Byng soon--well, I should think."
She had no wish to see Colonel Byng soon. Three days would suffice to
do what she wished here, and then she would return to Durban to her
work there--to Alice Tynemouth, whose friendship and wonderful
tactfulness had helped her in indefinable ways, as a more obvious
sympathy never could have done. She would have resented one word which
would have suggested that a tragedy was slowly crushing out her life.
Never a woman in the world was more alone. She worked and smiled with
eyes growing sadder, yet with a force hardening in her which gave her
face a character it never had before. Work had come at the right
moment to save her from the wild consequences of a nature maddened by
a series of misfortunes and penalties, for which there had been no
warning and no preparation.
She was not ready for a renewal of the past. Only a few minutes before
she had been brought face to face with Ian Stafford, had seen him look
at her out of the shadow there at the station, as though she was an
infinite distance away from him; and she had realized with overwhelming
force how changed her world was. Ian Stafford, who but a few short
months ago had held her in his arms and whispered unforgettable things,
now looked at her as one looks at the image of a forgotten thing. She
recalled his last words to her that awful day when Rudyard had read
the fatal letter, and the world had fallen:
"Nothing can set things right between you and me, Jasmine," he had
said. "But there is Rudyard. You must help him through. He heard
scandal about Mennaval last night at De Lancy Scovel's. He didn't
believe it. It rests with you to give it all the lie. Good-bye."
That had been the end--the black, bitter end. Since then Ian had never
spoken a word to her, nor she to him; but he had stood there in the
shadow at the station like a ghost, reproachful, unresponsive,
indifferent. She recalled now the day when, after three years'
parting, she had left him cool, indifferent, and self-contained in the
doorway of the sweet-shop in Regent Street; how she had entered her
carriage, had clinched her hands, and cried with wilful passion: "He
shall not treat me so. He shall show some feeling. He shall! He
Here was indifference again, but of another land. Hers was not a
woman's vanity, in fury at being despised. Vanity, maybe, was still
there, but so slight that it made no contrast to the proud turmoil of
a nature which had been humiliated beyond endurance; which, for its
mistakes, had received accruing penalties as precise as though they
had been catalogued; which had waked to find that a whole lifetime had
been an error; and that it had no anchor in any set of principles or
And over all there hung the shadow of a man's death, with its black
suspicion. When Ian Stafford looked at her from the shadow of the
railway-station, the question had flashed into his mind, Did she kill
him? Around Adrian Fellowes' death there hung a cloud of mystery which
threw a sinister shadow on the path of three people. In the middle of
the night, Jasmine started from her sleep with the mystery of the
man's death torturing her, and with the shuddering question, Which? on
her fevered lips. Was it her husband--was it Ian Stafford? As he
galloped over the veld, or sat with his pipe beside the camp-fire,
Rudyard Byng was also drawn into the frigid gloom of the ugly thought,
and his mind asked the question, Did she kill him? It was as though
each who had suffered from the man in life was destined to be menaced
by his shade, till it should be exorcised by that person who had taken
the useless life, saying, "It was I; I did it!"
As Jasmine entered the hospital, it seemed to her excited imagination
as though she was entering a House of Judgment: as though here in a
court of everlasting equity she would meet those who had played their
vital parts in her life.
What if Rudyard was here! What if in these few days while she was to
be here he was to cross her path! What would she say? What would she
do? What could be said or done? Bitterness and resentment and dark
suspicion were in her mind--and in his. Her pride was less wilful and
tempestuous than on the day when she drove him from her; when he said
things which flayed her soul, and left her body as though it had been
beaten with rods. Her bitterness, her resentment had its origin in the
fact that he did not understand--and yet in his crude big way he had
really understood better than Ian Stafford. She felt that Rudyard
despised her now a thousand times more than ever he had hinted at in
that last stifling scene in Park Lane; and her spirit rebelled against
it. She would rather that he had believed everything against her, and
had made an open scandal, because then she could have paid any debt
due to him by the penalty most cruel a woman can bear. But pity,
concession, the condescension of a superior morality, were impossible
to her proud mind.
As for Ian Stafford, he had left her stripped bare of one single
garment of self-respect. His very kindness, his chivalry in defending
her; his inflexible determination that all should be over between them
forever, that she should be prevailed upon to be to Rudyard more than
she had ever been--it all drove her into a deeper isolation. This
isolation would have been her destruction but that something bigger
than herself, a passion to do things, lifted to idealism a mind which
in the past had grown materialistic, which, in gaining wit and mental
skill, had missed the meaning of things, the elemental sense.
Corporal Shorter's tale of Rudyard's heroism had stirred her; but she
could not have said quite what her feeling was with regard to it. She
only knew vaguely that she was glad of it in a more personal than
impersonal way. When she shook hands with the cheerful non-com. at the
door of the hospital, she gave him a piece of gold which he was loth
to accept till she said: "But take it as a souvenir of Colonel Byng's
little ride with 'Old Gunter.'"
With a laugh, he took it then, and replied, "I'll not smoke it, I'll
not eat it, and I'll not drink it. I'll wear it for luck and
THE GREY HORSE AND ITS RIDER
It was almost midnight. The camp was sleeping. The forces of
destruction lay torpid in the starry shadow of the night. There was no
moon, but the stars gave a light that relieved the gloom. They were so
near to the eye that it might seem a lancer could pick them from their
nests of blue. The Southern Cross hung like a sign of hope to guide
men to a new Messiah.
In vain Jasmine had tried to sleep. The day had been too much for
her. All that happened in the past four years went rushing past, and
she saw herself in scenes which were so tormenting in their reality
that once she cried out as in a nightmare. As she did so, she was
answered by a choking cry of pain like her own, and, waking, she
started up from her couch with poignant apprehension; but presently
she realized that it was the cry of some wounded patient in the ward
not far from the room where she lay.
It roused her, however, from the half wakefulness which had been
excoriated by burning memories, and, hurriedly rising, she opened wide
the window and looked out into the night. The air was sharp, but it
soothed her hot face and brow, and the wild pulses in her wrists
presently beat less vehemently. She put a firm hand on herself, as she
was wont to do in these days, when there was no time for brooding on
her own troubles, and when, with the duties she had taken upon
herself, it would be criminal to indulge in self-pity.
Looking out of the window now into the quiet night, the watch-fires
dotting the plain had a fascination for her greater than the wonder of
the southern sky and its plaque of indigo sprinkled with silver dust
and diamonds. Those fires were the bulletins of the night, telling
that around each of them men were sleeping, or thinking of other
scenes, or wondering whether the fight to-morrow would be their last
fight, and if so, what then? They were to the army like the candle in
the home of the cottager. Those little groups of men sleeping around
their fires were like a family, where men grow to serve each other as
brother serves brother, knowing each other's foibles, but preserving
each other's honour for the family's pride, risking life to save each
As Jasmine gazed into the gloom, spattered with a delicate radiance
which did not pierce the shadows, but only made lively the darkness,
she was suddenly conscious of the dull regular thud of horses' hoofs
upon the veld. Troops of Mounted Infantry were evidently moving to
take up a new position at the bidding of the Master Player. The sound
was like the rub-a-dub of muffled hammers. The thought forced itself
on her mind that here were men secretly hastening to take part in the
grim lottery of life and death, from which some, and maybe many, would
draw the black ticket of doom, and so pass from the game before the
game was won.
The rumbling roll of hoofs grew distinct. Now they seemed to be almost
upon her, and presently they emerged into view from the right, where
their progress had been hidden by the hospital-building. When they
reached the hospital there came a soft command and, as the troop
passed, every face was turned towards the building. It was men full of
life and the interest of the great game paying passing homage to their
helpless comrades in this place of healing.
As they rode past, a few of the troopers had a glimpse of the figure
dimly outlined at the window. Some made kindly jests, cheffing each
other--"Your fancy, old sly-boots? Arranged it all, eh? Watch me,
Lizzie, as I pass, and wave your lily-white hand!"
But others pressed their lips tightly, for visions of a woman
somewhere waiting and watching flashed before their eyes; while others
still had only the quiet consciousness of the natural man, that a
woman looks at them; and where women are few and most of them are
angels,--the battle-field has no shelter for any other--such looks
have deep significance.
The troop went by steadily, softly and slowly. After they had all gone
past, two horsemen detached from the troop came after. Presently one
of them separated from his companion and rode on. The other came
towards the hospital at a quick trot, drew bridle very near Jasmine's
window, slid to the ground, said a soft word to his charger, patted
its neck, and, turning, made for the door of the hospital. For a
moment Jasmine stood looking out, greatly moved, she scarcely knew
why, by this little incident of the night, and then suddenly the
starlight seemed to draw round the patient animal standing at
attention, as it were.
Then she saw it was a grey horse.
Its owner, as Corporal Shorter predicted, had come to see "Old
Gunter," ere he went upon another expedition of duty. Its owner was
That was why so strange a coldness, as of apprehension or anxiety, had
passed through Jasmine when the rider had come towards her out of the
night. Her husband was here. If she called, he would come. If she
stretched out her hand, she could touch him. If she opened a door, she
would be in his presence. If he opened the door behind her, he could--
She stepped back hastily into the room, and drew her night-robe
closely about her with sudden flushing of the face. If he should enter
her room--she felt in the darkness for her dressing-gown. It was not
on the chair beside her bed. She moved hastily, and blundered against
a table. She felt for the foot of the bed. The dressing-gown was not
there. Her brain was on fire. Where was her dressing-gown? She tried
to button the night-dress over her palpitating breast, but abandoned
it to throw back her head and gather her golden hair away from her
shoulders and breast. All this in the dark, in the safe dusk of her
own room.... Where was her dressing-gown? Where was her maid? Why
should she be at such a disadvantage! She reached for the table again
and found a match-box. She would strike a light, and find her
dressing-gown. Then she abruptly remembered that she had no
dressing-gown with her; that she had travelled with one single
bag--little more than a hand-bag--and it contained only the emergency
equipment of a nurse. She had brought no dressing-gown; only the light
outer rain-proof coat which should serve a double purpose. She had
forgotten for a moment that she was not in her own house, that she was
an army-woman, living a soldier's life. She felt her way to the wall,
found the rain-proof coat, and, with trembling fingers, put it on. As
she did so a wave of weakness passed over her, and she swayed as
though she would fall; but she put a hand on herself and fought her
She turned towards the bed, but stopped abruptly, because she heard
footsteps in the hall outside--footsteps she knew, footsteps which for
years had travelled towards her, day and night, with eagerness; the
quick, urgent footsteps of a man of decision, of impulse, of
determination. It was Rudyard's footsteps outside her door, Rudyard's
voice speaking to some one; then Rudyard's footsteps pausing; and
afterwards a dead silence. She felt his presence; she imagined his
hand upon her door. With a little smothered gasp, she made a move
forward as though to lock the door; then she remembered that it had no
lock. With strained and startled eyes, she kept her gaze turned on the
door, expecting to see it open before her. Her heart beat so hard she
could hear it pounding against her breast, and her temples were
The silence was horrible to her. Her agitation culminated. She could
bear it no longer. Blindly she ran to another door which led into the
sitting-room of the matron, used for many purposes--the hold-all of
the odds and ends of the hospital life; where surgeons consulted,
officers waited, and army authorities congregated for the business of
the hospital. She found the door, opened it and entered hastily. One
light was burning--a lamp with a green shade. She shut the door behind
her quickly and leaned against it, closing her eyes with a sense of
relief. Presently some movement in the room startled her. She opened
her eyes. A figure stood between the green lamp and the farther door.
It was her husband.
Her senses had deceived her. His footsteps had not stopped before her
bedroom-door. She had not heard the handle of the door of her bedroom
turn, but the handle of the door of this room. The silence which had
frightened her had followed his entrance here.
She hastily drew the coat about her. The white linen of her
night-dress showed. She thrust it back, and instinctively drew behind
the table, as though to hide her bare ankles.
He had started back at seeing her, but had instantly recovered
himself. "Well, Jasmine," he said quietly, "we've met in a queer
All at once her hot agitation left her, and she became cold and
still. She was in a maelstrom of feeling a minute before, though she
could not have said what the feeling meant; now she was dominated by a
haunting sense of injury, roused by resentment, not against him, but
against everything and everybody, himself included. All the work of
the last few months seemed suddenly undone--to go for nothing. Just as
a drunkard in his pledge made reformation, which has done its work for
a period, feels a sudden maddening desire to indulge his passion for
drink, and plunges into a debauch,--the last maddening degradation
before his final triumph,--so Jasmine felt now the restrictions and
self-control of the past few months fall away from her. She emerged
from it all the same woman who had flung her married life, her man,
and her old world to the winds on the day that Krool had been driven
into the street. Like Krool, she too had gone out into the
unknown--into a strange land where "the Baas" had no habitation.
Rudyard's words seemed to madden her, and there was a look of scrutiny
and inquiry in his eyes which she saw--and saw nothing else
there. There was the inquisition in his look which had been there in
their last interview when he had said as plainly as man could say,
"What did it mean--that letter from Adrian Fellowes?"
It was all there in his eyes now--that hateful inquiry, the piercing
scrutiny of a judge in the Judgment House, and there came also into
her eyes, as though in consequence, a look of scrutiny too.
"Did you kill Adrian Fellowes? Was it you?" her disordered mind asked.
She had mistaken the look in his eyes. It was the same look as the
look in hers, and in spite of all the months that had gone, both asked
the same question as in the hour when they last parted. The dead man
stood between them, as he had never stood in life--of infinitely more
importance than he had ever been in life. He had never come between
Rudyard and herself in the old life in any vital sense, not in any
sense that finally mattered. He had only been an incident; not part of
real life, but part of a general wastage of character; not a
disintegrating factor in itself. Ah, no, not Adrian Fellowes, not him!
It enraged her that Rudyard should think the dead man had had any sway
over her. It was a needless degradation, against which she revolted
"Why have you come here--to this room?" she asked coldly.
As a boy flushes when he has been asked a disconcerting question which
angers him or challenges his innocence, so Rudyard's face suffused;
but the flush faded as quickly as it came. His eyes then looked at her
steadily, the whites of them so white because of his bronzed face and
forehead, the glance firmer by far than in his old days in
London. There was none of that unmanageable emotion in his features,
the panic excitement, the savage disorder which were there on the day
when Adrian Fellowes' letter brought the crisis to their lives; none
of the barbaric storm which drove Krool down the staircase under the
sjambok. Here was force and iron strength, though the man seemed
older, his thick hair streaked with grey, while there was a deep
fissure between the eyebrows. The months had hardened him physically,
had freed him from all superfluous flesh; and the flabbiness had
wholly gone from his cheeks and chin. There was no sign of a luxurious
life about him. He was merely the business-like soldier with work to
do. His khaki fitted him as only uniform can fit a man with a physique
without defect. He carried in his hand a short whip of
rhinoceros-hide, and as he placed his hands upon his hips and looked
at Jasmine meditatively, before he answered her question, she recalled
the scene with Krool. Her eyes were fascinated by the whip in his
hand. It seemed to her, all at once, as though she was to be the
victim of his wrath, and that the whip would presently fall upon her
shoulders, as he drove her out into the veld. But his eyes drew hers
to his own presently, and even while he spoke to her now, the illusion
of the sjambok remained, and she imagined his voice to be
intermingling with the dull thud of the whip on her shoulders.
"I came to see one of my troop who was wounded at Wortmann's Drift,"
he answered her.
"Old Gunter," she said mechanically.
"Old Gunter, if you like," he returned, surprised. "How did you know?"
"The world gossips still," she rejoined bitterly.
"Well, I came to see Gunter."
"On the grey mare," she said again like one in a dream.
"On the grey mare. I did not know that you were here, and--"
"If you had known I was here, you would not have come?" she asked with
a querulous ring to her voice.
"No, I should not have come if I had known, unless people in the camp
were aware that I knew. Then I should have felt it necessary to come."
"Why?" She knew; but she wanted him to say.
"That the army should not talk and wonder. If you were here, it is
obvious that I should visit you."
"The army might as well wonder first as last," she rejoined. "That
"I don't know anything that must come in this world," he replied. "We
don't control ourselves, and must lies in the inner Mystery where we
cannot enter. I had only to deal with the present. I could not come to
the General and go again, knowing that you were here, without seeing
you. We ought to do our work here without unnecessary cross-firing
from our friends. There's enough of that from our foes."
"What right had you to enter my room?" she rejoined stubbornly.
"I am not in your room. Something--call it anything you like--made us
meet on this neutral ground."
"You might have waited till morning," she replied perversely.
"In the morning I shall be far from here. Before daybreak I shall be
fighting. War waits for no one--not even for you," he added, with more
sarcasm than he intended.
Her feelings were becoming chaos again. He was going into
battle. Bygone memories wakened, and the first days of their lives
together came rushing upon her; but her old wild spirit was up in arms
too against the irony of his last words, "Not even for you." Added to
this was the rushing remembrance that South Africa had been the medium
of all her trouble. If Rudyard had not gone to South Africa, that one
five months a year and more ago, when she was left alone, restless,
craving for amusement and excitement and--she was going to say
romance, but there was no romance in those sordid hours of
pleasure-making, when she plucked the fruit as it lay to her hand--ah,
if only Rudyard had not gone to South Africa then! That five months
held no romance. She had never known but one romance, and it was over
and done. The floods had washed it away.
"You are right. War does not wait even for me," she exclaimed. "It
came to meet me, to destroy me, when I was not armed. It came in the
night as you have come, and found me helpless as I am now."
Suddenly she clasped her hands and wrung them, then threw them above
her head in a gesture of despair. "Why didn't God or Destiny, or
whatever it is, stop you from coming here! There is nothing between us
worth keeping, and there can never be. There is a black sea between
us. I never want to see you any more."
In her agitation the coat had fallen away from her white night-
dress, and her breast showed behind the parted folds of the linen.
Involuntarily his eyes saw. What memories passed through him were
too vague to record; but a heavy sigh escaped him, followed,
however, by a cloud which gathered on his brow. The shadow of a
man's death thrust itself between them. This war might have never
been, had it not been for the treachery of the man who had been
false to everything and every being that had come his way.
Indirectly this vast struggle in which thousands of lives were
being lost had come through his wife's disloyalty, however
unintentional, or in whatever degree. Whenever he thought of it,
his pulses beat faster with indignation, and a deep resentment
It was a resentment whose origin was not a mere personal wrong to him,
but the betrayal of all that invaded his honour and the honour of his
country. The map was dead--so much. He had paid a price--too small.
And Jasmine, as she looked at her husband now, was, oppressed by the
same shadow--the inescapable thing. That was what she meant when she
said, "There is a black sea between us."
What came to her mind when she saw his glance fall on her breast, she
could not have told. But a sudden flame of anger consumed her. The
passion of the body was dead in her--atrophied. She was as one through
whose veins had passed an icy fluid which stilled all the senses of
desire, but never had her mind been so passionate, so alive. In the
months lately gone, there had been times when her mind was in a
paroxysm of rebellion and resentment and remorse; but in this red
corner of the universe, from which the usual world was shut out, from
which all domestic existence, all social organization, habit or the
amenities of social intercourse were excluded, she had been able to
restore her equilibrium. Yet now here, all at once, there was an
invasion of this world of rigid, narrow organization, where there was
no play; where all men's acts were part of a deadly mortal issue;
where the human being was only part of a scheme which allowed nothing
of the flexible adaptations of the life of peace, the life of cities,
of houses: here was the sudden interposition of a purely personal
life, of domestic being--of sex. She was conscious of no reasoning, of
no mental protest which could be put into words: she was only
conscious of emotions which now shook her with their power, now left
her starkly cold, her brain muffled, or again aflame with a suffering
as intense as that of Procrustes on his bed of iron.
This it was that seized her now. The glance of his eyes at her bared
breast roused her. She knew not why, except that there was an
indefinable craving for a self respect which had been violated by
herself and others; except that she longed for the thing which she
felt he would not give her. The look in his eye offered her nothing of
That she mistook what really was in his eyes was not material, though
he was thinking of days when he believed he had discovered the secret
of life--a woman whose life was beautiful; diffusing beauty,
contentment, inspiration and peace. She did not know that his look was
the wistful look backward, with no look forward; and that alone. She
was living a life where new faculties of her nature were being
exercised or brought into active being; she was absorbed by it all; it
was part of her scheme for restoring herself, for getting surcease of
anguish; but here, all at once, every entrenchment was overrun, the
rigidity of the unit was made chaos, and she was tossed by the Spirit
of Confusion upon a stormy sea of feeling.
"Will you not go?" she asked in a voice of suppressed passion. "Have
you no consideration? It is past midnight."
His anger flamed, but he forced back the words upon his lips, and said
with a bitter smile: "Day and night are the same to me always
now. What else should be in war? I am going." He looked at the watch
at his wrist. "It is half-past one o'clock. At five our work
begins--not an eight-hour day. We have twenty-four-hour days here
sometimes. This one may be shorter. You never can tell. It may be a
one-hour day--or less."
Suddenly he came towards her with hands outstretched. "Dear
wife--Jasmine--" he exclaimed.
Pity, memory, a great magnanimity carried him off his feet for a
moment, and all that had happened seemed as nothing beside this fact
that they might never see each other again; and peace appeared to him
the one thing needful after all. The hatred and conflict of the world
seemed of small significance beside the hovering presence of an enemy
stronger than Time.
She was still in a passion of rebellion against the inevitable--that
old impatience and unrealized vanity which had helped to destroy her
past. She shrank back in blind misunderstanding from him, for she
scarcely heard his words. She mistook what he meant. She was
"No, no--coward!" she cried.
He stopped short as though he had been shot. His face turned
white. Then, with an oath, he went swiftly to the window which opened
to the floor and passed through it into the night.
An instant later he was on his horse.
A moment of dumb confusion succeeded, then she realized her madness,
and the thing as it really was. Running to the window, she leaned out.
She called, but only the grey mare's galloping came back to her
With a cry like that of an animal in pain, she sank on her knees on
the floor, her face turned towards the stars.
"Oh, my God, help me!" she moaned.
At least here was no longer the cry of doom.
THE WORLD'S FOUNDLING
At last day came. Jasmine was crossing the hallway of the hospital on
her way to the dining-room when there came from the doorway of a ward
a figure in a nurse's dress. It startled her by some familiar
motion. Presently the face turned in her direction, but without seeing
her. Jasmine recognized her then. She went forward quickly and touched
the nurse's arm.
"Al'mah--it is Al'mah?" she said.
Al'mah's face turned paler, and she swayed slightly, then she
recovered herself. "Oh, it is you, Mrs. Byng!" she said, almost
After an instant's hesitation she held out a hand. "It's a queer place
for it to happen," she added.
Jasmine noticed the hesitation and wondered at the words. She searched
the other's face. What did Al'mah's look mean? It seemed composite of
paralyzing surprise, of anxiety, of apprehension. Was there not also a
look of aversion?
"Everything seems to come all at once," Al'mah continued, as though in
Jasmine had no inkling as to what the meaning of the words was; and,
with something of her old desire to conquer those who were alien to
her, she smiled winningly.
"Yes, things concentrate in life," she rejoined.
"I've noticed that," was the reply. "Fate seems to scatter, and then
to gather in all at once, as though we were all feather-toys on
After a moment, as Al'mah regarded her with vague wonder, though now
she smiled too, and the anxiety, apprehension, and pain went from her
face, Jasmine said: "Why did you come here? You had a world to work
for in England."
"I had a world to forget in England," Al'mah replied. Then she added
suddenly, "I could not sing any longer."
"Your voice--what happened to it?" Jasmine asked.
"One doesn't sing with one's voice only. The music is far behind the
They had been standing in the middle of the hallway. Suddenly Al'mah
caught at Jasmine's sleeve. "Will you come with me?" she said.
She led the way into a room which was almost gay with veld
everlastings, pictures from illustrated papers, small flags of the
navy and the colonies, the Boer Vierkleur and the Union Jack.
"I like to have things cheerful here," Al'mah said almost gaily.
"Sometimes I have four or five convalescents in here, and they like a
little gaiety. I sing them things from comic operas--Offenbach,
Sullivan, and the rest; and if they are very sentimentally inclined I
sing them good old-fashioned love-songs full of the musician's
tricks. How people adore illusions! I've had here an old Natal
sergeant, over sixty, and he was as cracked as could be about songs
belonging to the time when we don't know that it's all illusion, and
that there's no such thing as Love, nor ever was; but only a kind of
mirage of the mind, a sort of phantasy that seizes us, in which we do
crazy things, and sometimes, if the phantasy is strong enough, we do
awful things. But still the illusions remain in spite of everything,
as they did with the old sergeant. I've heard the most painful stories
here from men before they died, of women that were false, and injuries
done, many, many years ago; and they couldn't see that it wasn't real
at all, but just phantasy."
"All the world's mad," responded Jasmine wearily, as Al'mah paused.
Al'mah nodded. "So I laugh a good deal, and try to be cheerful, and it
does more good than being too sympathetic. Sympathy gets to be mere
snivelling very often. I've smiled and laughed a great deal out here;
and they say it's useful. The surgeons say it, and the men say it too
"Are you known as Nurse Grattan?" Jasmine asked with sudden
"Yes, Grattan was my mother's name. I am Nurse Grattan here."
"So many have whispered good things of you. A Scottish Rifleman said
to me a week ago, 'Ech, she's aye see cheery!' What a wonderful thing
it is to make a whole army laugh. Coming up here three officers spoke
of you, and told of humorous things you had said. It's all quite
honest, too. It's a reputation made out of new cloth. No one knows who
Al'mah flushed. "I don't know quite who I am myself. I think sometimes
I'm the world's foundling."
Suddenly a cloud passed over her face again, and her strong whimsical
features became drawn.
"I seem almost to lose my identity at times; and then it is I try most
to laugh and be cheerful. If I didn't perhaps I should lose my
identity altogether. Do you ever feel that?"
"No; I often wish I could."
Al'mah regarded her steadfastly. "Why did you come here?" she
asked. "You had the world at your feet; and there was plenty to do in
London. Was it for the same reason that brought me here? Was it
something you wanted to forget there, some one you wanted to help
Jasmine saw the hovering passion in the eyes fixed on her, and
wondered what this woman had to say which could be of any import to
herself; yet she felt there was something drawing nearer which would
make her shrink.
"No," Jasmine answered, "I did not come to forget, but to try and
remember that one belongs to the world, to the work of the world, to
the whole people, and not to one of the people; not to one man, or to
one family, or to one's self. That's all."
Al'mah's face was now very haggard, but her eyes were burning. "I do
not believe you," she said straightly. "You are one of those that have
had a phantasy. I had one first fifteen years ago, and it passed, yet
it pursued me till yesterday--till yesterday evening. Now it's gone;
that phantasy is gone forever. Come and see what it was."
She pointed to the door of another room.
There was something strangely compelling in her tone, in her
movements. Jasmine followed her, fascinated by the situation, by the
look in the woman's face. The door opened upon darkness, but Jasmine
stepped inside, with Almah's fingers clutching her sleeve. For a
moment nothing was visible; then, Jasmine saw, dimly, a coffin on two
"That was the first man I ever loved--my husband," Al'mah said
quietly, pointing at the coffin. "There was another, but you took him
from me--you and others."
Jasmine gave a little cry which she smothered with her hand; and she
drew back involuntarily towards the light of the hallway. The smell of
disinfectants almost suffocated her. A cloud of mystery and
indefinable horror seemed to envelop her; then a light flooded through
her brain. It was like a stream of fire. But with a voice strangely
calm, she said, "You mean Adrian Fellowes?"
Al'mah's face was in the shadow, but her voice was full of storm. "You
took him from me, but you were only one," she said sharply and
painfully. "I found it out at last. I suspected first at
Glencader. Then at last I knew. It was an angry, contemptuous letter
from you. I had opened it. I understood. When everything was clear,
when there was no doubt, when I knew he had tried to hurt little
Jigger's sister, when he had made up his mind to go abroad, then, I
killed him. Then--I killed him."
Jasmine's cheek was white as Al'mah's apron; but she did not
shrink. She came a step nearer, and peered into Al'mah's face, as
though to read her inmost mind, as though to see if what she said was
really true. She saw not a quiver of agitation, not the faintest
horror of memory; only the reflective look of accomplished purpose.
"You--are you insane?" Jasmine exclaimed in a whisper. "Do you know
what you have said?"
Al'mah smoothed her apron softly. "Perfectly. I do not think I am
insane. I seem not to be. One cannot do insane things here. This is
the place of the iron rule. Here we cure madness--the madness of war
and other madnesses."
"You had loved him, yet you killed him!"
"You would have killed him though you did not love him. Yes, of
course--I know that. Your love was better placed; but it was like a
little bird caught by the hawk in the upper air--its flight was only a
little one before the hawk found it. Yes, you would have killed
Adrian, as I did if you had had the courage. You wanted to do it, but
I did it. Do you remember when I sang for you on the evening of that
day he died? I sang, 'More Was Lost at Mohacksfield.' As soon as I saw
your face that evening I felt you knew all. You had been to his rooms
and found him dead. I was sure of that. You remember how La Tosca
killed Scarpia? You remember how she felt? I felt so--just like
that. I never hesitated. I knew what I wanted to do, and I did it."
"How did you kill him?" Jasmine asked in that matter-of-fact way which
comes at those times when the senses are numbed by tragedy.
"You remember the needle--Mr. Mappin's needle? I knew Adrian had
it. He showed it to me. He could not keep the secret. He was too
weak. The needle was in his pocket-book--to kill me with some day
perhaps. He certainly had not the courage to kill himself.... I went
to see him. He was dressing. The pocket-book lay on the table. As I
said, he had showed it to me. While he was busy I abstracted the
needle. He talked of his journey abroad. He lied--nothing but lies,
about himself, about everything. When he had said enough,--lying was
easier to him than anything else--I told him the truth. Then he went
wild. He caught hold of me as if to strangle me.... He did not realize
the needlepoint when it caught him. If he did, it must have seemed to
him only the prick of a pin.... But in a few minutes it was all
over. He died quite peacefully. But it was not very easy getting him
on the sofa. He looked sleeping as he lay there. You saw. He would
never lie any more to women, to you or to me or any other. It is a
good thing to stop a plague, and the simplest way is the best. He was
handsome, and his music was very deceiving. It was almost good of its
kind, and it was part of him. When I look back I find only misery. Two
wicked men hurt me. They spoiled my life, first one and then another;
and I went from bad to worse. At least he"--she pointed to the other
room--"he had some courage at the very last. He fought, he braved
death. The other--you remember the Glencader Mine. Your husband and
Ian Stafford went down, and Lord Tynemouth was ready to go, but Adrian
would not go. Then it was I began to hate him. That was the
beginning. What happened had to be. I was to kill him; and I did. It
avenged me, and it avenged your husband. I was glad of that, for
Rudyard Byng had done so much for me: not alone that he saved me at
the opera, you remember, but other good things. I did his work for him
"Have you no fear--of me?" Jasmine asked.
"Fear of--you? Why?"
"I might hate you--I might tell."
Al'mah made a swift gesture of protest. "Do not say foolish things.
You would rather die than tell. You should be grateful to me. Some
one had to kill him. There was Rudyard Byng, Ian Stafford, or
yourself. It fell to me. I did your work. You will not tell; but it
would not matter if you did. Nothing would happen--nothing at
all. Think it out, and you will see why."
Jasmine shuddered violently. Her body was as cold as ice.
"Yes, I know. What are you going to do after the war?"
"Back to Covent Garden perhaps; or perhaps there will be no 'after the
war.' It may all end here. Who knows--who cares!"
Jasmine came close to her. For an instant a flood of revulsion had
overpowered her; but now it was all gone.
"We pay for all the wrong we do. We pay for all the good we get"--once
Ian Stafford had said that, and it rang in her ears now. Al'mah would
pay, and would pay here--here in this world. Meanwhile, Al'mah was a
woman who, like herself, had suffered.
"Let me be your friend; let me help you," Jasmine said, and she took
both of Almah's hands in her own.
Somehow Jasmine's own heart had grown larger, fuller, and kinder all
at once. Until lately she had never ached to help the world or any
human being in all her life; there had never been any of the divine
pity which finds its employ in sacrifice. She had been kind, she had
been generous, she had in the past few months given service unstinted;
but it was more as her own cure for her own ills than yearning
compassion for all those who were distressed "in mind, body, or
But since last evening, in the glimmer of the stars, when Rudyard went
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