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- The Judgment House - 80/85 -
the cup that would not empty, on and on, than to live with that look in his eyes.
She turned her head away from him. Her glance suddenly caught a sjambok lying along two nails on the wall. His eyes followed hers, and in the minds of both was the scene when Rudyard drove Krool into the street under just such a whip of rhinoceros-hide.
Something of the old spirit worked in her in spite of all. Idiosyncrasy may not be cauterized, temperament must assert itself, or the personality dies. Was he to be her master--was that the end of it all? She had placed herself so completely in his power by her wilful waywardness and errors. Free from blame, she would have been ruler over him; now she must be his slave!
"Why did you not use it on me?" she asked, in a voice almost like a cry, though it had a ring of bitter irony. "Why don't you use it now? Don't you want to?"
"You were always so small and beautiful," he answered, slowly. "A twenty-stamp mill to crush a bee!"
Again resentment rose in her, despite the far-off sense of joy she had in hearing him play with words. She could forgive almost anything for that--and yet she was real and had not merely the dilettante soul. But why should he talk as though she was a fly and he an eagle? Yet there was admiration in his eyes and in his words. She was angry with herself--and with him. She was in chaos again.
"You treat me like a child, you condescend--"
"Oh, for God's sake--for God's sake!" he interrupted, with a sudden storm in his face; but suddenly, as though by a great mastery of the will, he conquered himself, and his face cleared.
"You must sit down, Jasmine," he said, hurriedly. "You look tired. You haven't got over your illness yet."
He hastily stepped aside to get her a chair, but, as he took hold of it, he stumbled and swayed in weakness, born of an excitement far greater than her own; for he was thinking of the happiness of two people, not of the happiness of one; and he realized how critical was this hour. He had a grasp of the bigger things, and his talk with Stafford of a few hours ago was in his mind--a talk which, in its brevity, still had had the limitlessness of revelation. He had made a promise to one of the best friends that man--or woman--ever had, as he thought; and he would keep it. So he said to himself. Stafford understood Jasmine, and Stafford had insisted that he be not deceived by some revolt on the part of Jasmine, which would be the outcome of her own humiliation, of her own anger with herself for all the trouble she had caused. So he said to himself.
As he staggered with the chair she impulsively ran to aid him.
"Rudyard," she exclaimed, with concern, "you must not do that. You have not the strength. It is silly of you to be up at all. I wonder at Al'mah and the doctor!"
She pushed him to a big arm-chair beside the table and gently pressed him down into the seat. He was very weak, and his hand trembled on the chair-arm. She reached out, as if to take it; but, as though the act was too forward, her fingers slipped to his wrist instead, and she felt his pulse with the gravity of a doctor.
Despite his weakness a look of laughter crept into his eyes and stayed there. He had read the little incident truly. Presently, seeing the whiteness of his face but not the look in his eyes, she turned to the table, and pouring out a glass of water from a pitcher there, held it to his lips.
"Here, Rudyard," she said, soothingly, "drink this. You are faint. You shouldn't have got up simply because I was coming."
As he leaned back to drink from the glass she caught the gentle humour of his look, begotten of the incident of a moment before.
There was no reproach in the strong, clear eyes of blue which even wounds and illness had not faced--only humour, only a hovering joy, only a good-fellowship, and the look of home. She suddenly thought of the room from which she had just come, and it seemed, not fantastically to her, that the look in his eyes belonged to the other room where were the patriarch's chair and the baby's cradle. There was no offending magnanimity, no lofty compassion in his blameless eyes, but a human something which took no account of the years that the locust had eaten, the old mad, bad years, the wrong and the shame of them. There was only the look she had seen the day he first visited her in her own home, when he had played with words she had used in the way she adored, and would adore till she died; when he had said, in reply to her remark that he would turn her head, that it wouldn't make any difference to his point of view if she did turn her head! Suddenly it was all as if that day had come back, although his then giant physical strength had gone; although he had been mangled in the power-house of which they had spoken that day. Come to think of it, she too had been working in the "power-house" and had been mangled also; for she was but a thread of what she was then, but a wisp of golden straw to the sheaf of the then young golden wheat.
All at once, in answer to the humour in his eyes, to the playful bright look, the tragedy and the passion which had flown out from her old self like the flame that flares out of an opened furnace-door, sank back again, the door closed, and all her senses were cooled as by a gentle wind.
Her eyes met his, and the invitation in them was like the call of the thirsty harvester in the sunburnt field. With an abandon, as startling as it was real and true to her nature, she sank down to the floor and buried her face in her hands at his feet. She sobbed deeply, softly.
With an exclamation of gladness and welcome he bent over her and drew her close to him, and his hands soothed her trembling shoulders.
"Peace is the best thing of all, Jasmine," he whispered. "Peace."
They were the last words that Ian had addressed to her. It did not make her shrink now that both had said to her the same thing, for both knew her, each in his own way, better than she had ever known herself; and each had taught her in his own way, but by what different means!
All at once, with a start, she caught Rudyard's arm with a little spasmodic grasp.
"I did not kill Adrian Fellowes," she said, like a child eager to be absolved from a false imputation. She looked up at him simply, bravely.
"Neither did I," he answered gravely, and the look in his eyes did not change. She noted that.
"I know. It was--"
She paused. What right had she to tell!
"Yes, we both know who did it," he added. "Al'mah told me."
She hid her head in her hands again, while he hung over her wisely waiting and watching.
Presently she raised her head, but her swimming eyes did not seek his. They did not get so high. After one swift glance towards his own, they dropped to where his heart might be, and her voice trembled as she said:
"Long ago Alice Tynemouth said I ought to marry a man who would master me. She said I needed a heavy hand over me--and the shackles on my wrists."
She had forgotten that these phrases were her own; that she had used them concerning herself the night before the tragedy.
"I think she was right," she added. "I had never been mastered, and I was all childish wilfulness and vanity. I was never worth while. You took me too seriously, and vanity did the rest."
"You always had genius," he urged, gently, "and you were so beautiful."
She shook her head mournfully. "I was only an imitation always--only a dresden-china imitation of the real thing I might have been, if I had been taken right in time. I got wrong so early. Everything I said or did was mostly imitation. It was made up of other people's acts and words. I could never forget anything I'd ever heard; it drowned any real thing in me. I never emerged--never was myself."
"You were a genius," he repeated again. "That's what genius does. It takes all that ever was and makes it new."
She made a quick spasmodic protest of her hand. She could not bear to have him praise her. She wanted to tell him all that had ever been, all that she ought to be sorry for, was sorry for now almost beyond endurance. She wanted to strip her soul bare before him; but she caught the look of home in his eyes, she was at his knees at peace, and what he thought of her meant so much just now--in this one hour, for this one hour. She had had such hard travelling, and here was a rest-place on the road.
He saw that her soul was up in battle again, but he took her arms, and held them gently, controlling her agitation. Presently, with a great sigh, her forehead drooped upon his hands. They were in a vast theatre of war, and they were part of it; but for the moment sheer waste of spirit and weariness of soul made peace in a turbulent heart.
"It's her real self--at last," he kept saying to himself, "She had to have her chance, and she has got it."
Outside in a dark corner of the veranda, Al'mah was in reverie. She knew from the silence within that all was well. The deep peace of the night, the thing that was happening in the house, gave her a moment's surcease from her own problem, her own arid loneliness. Her mind went back to the night when she had first sung "Manassa" at Covent Garden. The music shimmered in her brain. She essayed to hum some phrases of the opera which she had always loved, but her voice had no resonance or vibration. It trailed away into a whisper.
"I can't sing any more. What shall I do when the war ends? Or is it that I am to end here with the war?" she whispered to herself.... Again reverie deepened. Her mind delivered itself up to an obsession. "No, I am not sorry I killed him," she said firmly after a long time, "If a price must be paid, I will pay it."
Buried in her thoughts, she was scarcely conscious of voices near
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