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- The Judgment House - 40/85 -
bring the challenge from Oom Paul to try the might of England against the iron courage of those to whom the Vierkleur was the symbol of sovereignty from sea to sea and the ruin of the Rooinek.
"Prepare!" He knew vastly more than those responsible men in position or in high office, who should know a thousand times as much more. He knew so much that was useful--to Oom Paul; but what he knew he did not himself convey, though it reached those who welcomed it eagerly and grimly. All that he knew, another also near to the Baas also knew, and knew it before Krool; and reaped the reward of knowing.
Krool did not himself need to betray the Baas direct; and, with the reasoning of the native in him, he found it possible to let another be the means and the messenger of betrayal. So he soothed his conscience.
A little time before they had all gone to Glencader, however, he had discovered something concerning this agent of Paul Kruger in the heart of the Outlander camp, whom he employed, which had roused in him the worst passions of an outcast mind. Since then there had been no trafficking with the traitor--the double traitor, whom he was now plotting to destroy, not because he was a traitor to his country, but because he was a traitor to the Baas. In his evil way, he loved his master as a Caliban might love an Apollo. That his devotion took forms abnormal and savage in their nature was due to his origin and his blood. That he plotted to secure the betrayal of the Baas' country and the Outlander interest, while he would have given his life for the Baas, was but the twisted sense of a perverted soul.
He had one obsession now--to destroy Adrian Fellowes, his agent for Paul Kruger in the secret places of British policy and in the house of the Partners, as it were. But how should it be done? What should be the means? On the very day in which Oom Paul would send his ultimatum, the means came to his hand.
"Prepare!" the cable to the Baas had read. The Baas would be prepared for the thunderbolt to be hurled from Pretoria; but he would have no preparation for the thunderbolt which would fall at his feet this day in this house, where white roses welcomed the visitor at the door-way and the beauty of Titians and Botticellis and Rubens' and Goyas greeted him in the luxuriant chambers. There would be no preparation for that war which rages most violently at a fireside and in the human heart.
THE FURNACE DOOR
It was past nine o'clock when Rudyard wakened. It was nearly ten before he turned to leave his room for breakfast. As he did so he stooped and picked up an open letter lying on the floor near the door.
His brain was dazed and still surging with the terrible thoughts which had agonized him the night before. He was as in a dream, and was only vaguely conscious of the fugitive letter. He was wondering whether he would go at once to Jasmine or wait until he had finished breakfast. Opening the door of his room, he saw the maid entering to Jasmine with a gown over her arm.
No, he would not go to her till she was alone, till she was dressed and alone. Then he would tell her all, and take her in his arms, and talk with her--talk as he had never talked before. Slowly, heavily, he went to his study, where his breakfast was always eaten. As he sat down he opened, with uninterested inquiry, the letter he had picked up inside the door of his room. As he did so he vaguely wondered why Krool had overlooked it as he passed in and out. Perhaps Krool had dropped it. His eyes fell on the opening words. . . His face turned ashen white. A harsh cry broke from him.
At eleven o'clock to the minute Ian Stafford entered Byng's mansion and was being taken to Jasmine's sitting-room, when Rudyard appeared on the staircase, and with a peremptory gesture waved the servant away. Ian was suddenly conscious of a terrible change in Rudyard's appearance. His face was haggard and his warm colour had given place to a strange blackish tinge which seemed to underlie the pallor--the deathly look to be found in the faces of those stricken with a mortal disease. All strength and power seemed to have gone from the face, leaving it tragic with uncontrolled suffering. Panic emotion was uppermost, while desperate and reckless purpose was in his eyes. The balance was gone from the general character and his natural force was like some great gun loose from its fastenings on the deck of a sea-stricken ship. He was no longer the stalwart Outlander who had done such great work in South Africa and had such power in political London and in international finance. The demoralization which had stealthily gone on for a number of years was now suddenly a debacle of will and body. Of the superb physical coolness and intrepid mind with which he had sprung upon the stage of Covent Garden Opera House to rescue Al'mah nothing seemed left; or, if it did remain, it was shocked out of its bearings. His eyes were almost glassy as he looked at Ian Stafford, and animal-like hatred was the dominating note of his face and carriage.
"Come with me, Stafford: I want to speak to you," he said, hoarsely. "You've arrived when I wanted you--at the exact time."
"Yes, I said I would come at eleven," responded Stafford, mechanically. "Jasmine expects me at eleven."
"In here," Byng said, pointing to a little morning-room.
As Stafford entered, he saw Krool's face, malign and sombre, show in a doorway of the hall. Was he mistaken in thinking that Krool flashed a look of secret triumph and yet of obscure warning? Warning? There was trouble, strange and dreadful trouble, here; and the wrenching thought had swept into his brain that he was the cause of it all, that he was to be the spring and centre of dreadful happenings.
He was conscious of something else purely objective as he entered the room--of music, the music of a gay light opera being played in the adjoining room, from which this little morning-room was separated only by Indian bead-curtains. He saw idle sunlight play upon these beads, as he sat down at the table to which Rudyard motioned him. He was also subconsciously aware who it was that played the piano beyond there with such pleasant skill. Many a time thereafter, in the days to come, he would be awakened in the night by the sound of that music, a love-song from the light opera "A Lady of London," which had just caught the ears of the people in the street.
Of one thing he was sure: the end of things had come--the end of all things that life meant to him had come. Rudyard knew! Rudyard, sitting there at the other side of the table and leaning toward him with a face where, in control of all else, were hate and panic emotion--he knew.
The music in the next room was soft, persistent and searching. As Ian waited for Rudyard to speak he was conscious that even the words of the silly, futile love-song:
"Not like the roses shall our love be, dear Never shall its lovely petals fade, Singing, it will flourish till the world's last year Happy as the song-birds in the glade."
Through it all now came Rudyard's voice.
"I have a letter here," the voice said, and he saw Rudyard slowly take it from his pocket. "I want you to read it, and when you have read it, I want you to tell me what you think of the man who wrote it."
He threw a letter down on the table--a square white envelope with the crest of the Trafalgar Club upon it. It lay face downward, waiting for his hand.
So it had come. His letter to Jasmine which told all--Rudyard had read it. And here was the end of everything--the roses faded before they had bloomed an hour. It was not for them to flourish "till the world's last year."
His hand reached out for the letter. With eyes almost blind he raised it, and slowly and mechanically took the document of tragedy from the envelope. Why should Rudyard insist on his reading it? It was a devilish revenge, which he could not resent. But time--he must have time; therefore he would do Rudyard's bidding, and read this thing he had written, look at it with eyes in which Penalty was gathering its mists.
So this was the end of it all--friendship gone with the man before him; shame come to the woman he loved; misery to every one; a home-life shattered; and from the souls of three people peace banished for evermore.
He opened out the pages with a slowness that seemed almost apathy, while the man opposite clinched his hands on the table spasmodically. Still the music from the other room with cheap, flippant sensuousness stole through the burdened air:
"Singing, it will flourish till the world's last year--"
He looked at the writing vaguely, blindly. Why should this be exacted of him, this futile penalty? Then all at once his sight cleared; for this handwriting was not his--this letter was not his; these wild, passionate phrases--this terrible suggestiveness of meaning, these references to the past, this appeal for further hours of love together, this abjectly tender appeal to Jasmine that she would wear one of his white roses when he saw her the next day--would she not see him between eleven and twelve o'clock?--all these words were not his.
They were written by the man who was playing the piano in the next room; by the man who had come and gone in this house like one who had the right to do so; who had, as it were, fed from Rudyard Byng's hand; who lived on what Byng paid him; who had been trusted with the innermost life of the household and the life and the business of the master of it.
The letter was signed, Adrian.
His own face blanched like the face of the man before him. He had braced himself to face the consequences of his own letter to the woman he loved, and he was face to face with the consequences of another man's letter to the same woman, to the woman who had two lovers. He was face to face with Rudyard's tragedy, and with his own.... She, Jasmine, to whom he had given all, for whom he had been ready to give up all--career, fame, existence--was true to none, unfaithful to all, caring for none, but pretending to care for all three--and for how many others? He choked back a cry.
"Well--well?" came the husband's voice across the table. "There's one thing to do, and I mean to do it." He waved a hand towards the
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