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"A message from Mr. Byng to say that he may be a little late, but he says will you go on without him? He will come as soon as possible."
The footman, having delivered himself, turned to withdraw, but Barry Whalen called him back, saying, "Is Mr. Krool in the house?"
The footman replied in the affirmative. "Did you wish to see him, sir?" he asked.
"Not at present. A little later perhaps," answered Barry, with a glance round the group, who eyed him curiously.
At a word the footman withdrew. As the door closed, little black, oily Sobieski dit Melville said with an attempt at a joke, "Is 'Mr.' Krool to be called into consultation?"
"Don't be so damned funny, Melville," answered Barry. "I didn't ask the question for nothing."
"These aren't days when anybody guesses much," remarked Fleming. "And I'd like to know from Mr. Kruger, who knows a lot of things, and doesn't gas, whether he means the mines to be safe."
They all looked inquiringly at Wallstein, who in the storms which rocked them all kept his nerve and his countenance with a power almost benign. His large, limpid eye looked little like that belonging to an eagle of finance, as he had been called.
"It looked for a while as though they'd be left alone," said Wallstein, leaning heavily on the table," but I'm not so sure now." He glanced at Barry Whalen significantly, and the latter surveyed the group enigmatically.
"There's something evidently waiting to be said," remarked Wolff, the silent Partner in more senses than one. "What's the use of waiting?"
Two or three of those present looked at Ian Stafford, who, standing by the window, seemed oblivious of them all. Byng had requested him to be present, with a view to asking his advice concerning some international aspect of the situation, and especially in regard to Holland and Germany. The group had welcomed the suggestion eagerly, for on this side of the question they were not so well equipped as on others. But when it came to the discussion of inner local policy there seemed hesitation in speaking freely before him. Wallstein, however, gave a reassuring nod and said, meaningly:
"We took up careful strategical positions, but our camp has been overlooked from a kopje higher than ours."
"We have been the victims of treachery for years," burst out Fleming, with anger. "Nearly everything we've done here, nearly everything the Government has done here, has been known to Kruger--ever since the Raid."
"I think it could have been stopped," said the once Sobieski, with an ugly grimace, and an attempt at an accent which would suit his new name. "Byng's to blame. We ought to have put down our feet from the start. We're Byng-ridden."
"Keep a civil tongue, Israel," snarled Barry Whalen. "You know nothing about it, and that is the state in which you most shine--in your natural state of ignorance, like the heathen in his blindness. But before Byng comes I'd better give you all some information I've got."
"Isn't it for Byng to hear?" asked Fleming.
"Very much so; but it's for you all to decide what's to be done. Perhaps Mr. Stafford can help us in the matter, as he has been with Byng very lately." Wallstein looked inquiringly towards Stafford.
The group nodded appreciatively, and Stafford came forward to the table, but without seating himself. "Certainly you may command me," he said. "What is the mystery?"
In short and abrupt sentences Barry Whalen, with an occasional interjection and explanation from Wallstein, told of the years of leakage in regard to their plans, of moves circumvented by information which could only have been got by treacherous means either in South Africa or in London.
"We didn't know for sure which it was," said Barry, "but the proof has come at last. One of Kruger's understrappers from Holland was successfully tapped, and we've got proof that the trouble was here in London, here in this house where we sit--Byng's home."
There was a stark silence, in which more than one nodded significantly, and looked round furtively to see how the others took the news.
"Here is absolute proof. There were two in it here--Adrian Fellowes and Krool."
It was Ian Stafford's voice, insistent and inquiring.
"Here is the proof, as I say." Barry Whalen leaned forward and pushed a paper over on the table, to which were attached two or three smaller papers and some cablegrams. "Look at them. Take a good look at them and see how we've been done--done brown. The hand that dipped in the same dish, as it were, has handed out misfortune to us by the bucketful. We've been carted in the house of a friend."
The group, all standing, leaned over, as Barry Whalen showed them the papers, one by one, then passed them round for examination.
"It's deadly," said Fleming. "Men have had their throats cut or been hanged for less. I wouldn't mind a hand in it myself."
"We warned Byng years ago," interposed Barry, "but it was no use. And we've paid for it par and premium."
"What can be done to Krool?" asked Fleming.
"Nothing particular--here," said Barry Whalen, ominously.
"Let's have the dog in," urged one of the group.
"Without Byng's permission?" interjected Wallstein.
There was a silence. The last time any of them, except Wallstein, had seen Byng, was on the evening when he had overheard the slanders concerning Jasmine, and none had pleasant anticipation of this meeting with him now. They recalled his departure when Barry Whalen had said, "God, how he hates us." He was not likely to hate them less, when they proved that Fellowes and Krool had betrayed him and them all. They had a wholesome fear of him in more senses than one, because, during the past few years, while Wallstein's health was bad, Byng's position had become more powerful financially, and he could ruin any one of them, if he chose. A man like Byng in "going large" might do the Samson business. Besides, he had grown strangely uncertain in his temper of late, and, as Barry Whalen had said, "It isn't good to trouble a wounded bull in the ring."
They had him on the hip in one way through the exposure of Krool, but they were all more or less dependent on his financial movements. They were all enraged at Byng because he had disregarded all warnings regarding Krool; but what could they do? Instinctively they turned now to Stafford, whose reputation for brains and diplomacy was so great and whose friendship with Byng was so close.
Stafford had come to-day for two reasons: to do what he could to help Byng--for the last time; and to say to Byng that they could not travel together to South Africa. To make the long journey with him was beyond his endurance. He must put the world between Rudyard and himself; he must efface all companionship. With this last act, begotten of the blind confidence Rudyard had in him, their intercourse must cease forever. This would be easy enough in South Africa. Once at the Front, it was as sure as anything on earth that they would never meet again. It was torture to meet him, and the day of the inquest, when Byng had come to his rooms after his interview with Lady Tynemouth and Mr. Mappin, he had been tried beyond endurance.
"Shall we have Krool in without Byng's permission? Is it wise?" asked Wallstein again. He looked at Stafford, and Stafford instantly replied:
"It would be well to see Krool, I think. Your action could then be decided by Krool's attitude and what he says."
Barry Whalen rang the bell, and the footman came. After a brief waiting Krool entered the room with irritating deliberation and closed the door behind him.
He looked at no one, but stood contemplating space with a composure which made Barry Whalen almost jump from his seat in rage.
"Come a little closer," said Wallstein in a soothing voice, but so Wallstein would have spoken to a man he was about to disembowel.
Krool came nearer, and now he looked round at them all slowly and inquiringly. As no one spoke for a moment he shrugged his shoulders.
"If you shrug your shoulders again, damn you, I'll sjambok you here as Kruger did at Vleifontein," said Barry Whalen in a low, angry voice. "You've been too long without the sjambok."
"This is not the Vaal, it is Englan'," answered Krool, huskily. "The Law--here!"
"Zo you stink ze law of England would help you--eh?" asked Sobieski, with a cruel leer, relapsing into his natural vernacular.
"I mean what I say, Krool," interposed Barry Whalen, fiercely, motioning Sobieski to silence. "I will sjambok you till you can't move, here in England, here in this house, if you shrug your shoulders again, or lift an eyebrow, or do one damned impudent thing."
He got up and rang a bell. A footman appeared. "There is a rhinoceros-hide whip, on the wall of Mr. Byng's study. Bring it here," he said, quietly, but with suppressed passion.
"Don't be crazy, Whalen," said Wallstein, but with no great force, for he would richly have enjoyed seeing the spy and traitor under the whip. Stafford regarded the scene with detached, yet deep and melancholy interest.
While they waited, Krool seemed to shrink a little; but as he watched like some animal at bay, Stafford noticed that his face became venomous and paler, and some sinister intention showed in his eyes.
The whip was brought and laid upon the table beside Barry Whalen, and the footman disappeared, looking curiously at the group and at Krool.
Barry Whalen's fingers closed on the whip, and now a look of fear crept over Krool's face. If there was one thing calculated to stir with fear the Hottentot blood in him, it was the sight of the sjambok. He had native tendencies and predispositions out of proportion to the native blood in him--maybe because he had ever been treated more like a native than a white man by his Boer masters in the past.
As Stafford viewed the scene, it suddenly came home to him how strange was this occurrence in Park Lane. It was medieval, it belonged to some land unslaked of barbarism. He realized all at once how little these men around him represented the land in which they were living, and how much they were part of the far-off land which was now in the throes of war.
To these men this was in one sense an alien country. Through the dulled noises of London there came to their ears the click of the wheels of a cape-wagon, the crack of the Kaffir's whip, the creak of the disselboom. They followed the spoor of a company of elephants in the East country, they watched through the November mist the blesbok flying across the veld, a herd of quaggas taking cover with the rheebok, or a cloud of locusts sailing out of the sun to devastate the green lands. Through the smoky smell of London there came to them the scent of the wattle, the stinging odour of ten thousand cattle, the reek of a native kraal, the sharp sweetness of orange groves, the aromatic air of the karoo, laden with the breath of a thousand wild herbs. Through the drizzle of the autumn rain they heard the wild thunderbolt tear the trees from earthly moorings. In their eyes was the livid lightning that searched in spasms of anger for its prey, while there swept over the brown, aching veld the flood which filled the spruits, which made the rivers seas, and ploughed fresh channels through the soil. The luxury of this room, with its shining mahogany tables, its tapestried walls, its rare fireplace and massive overmantel brought from Italy, its exquisite stained-glass windows, was only part of a play they were acting; it was not their real life.
And now there was not one of them that saw anything incongruous in the whip of rhinoceros-hide lying on the table, or clinched in Barry Whalen's hand. On the contrary, it gave them a sense of supreme naturalness. They had lived in a land where the sjambok was the symbol of progress. It represented the forward movement of civilization in the wilderness. It was the vierkleur of the pioneer, without which the long train of capewagons, with the oxen in longer coils of effort, would never have advanced; without which the Kaffir and the Hottentot would have sacrificed every act of civilization. It prevented crime, it punished crime, it took the place of the bowie-knife and the derringer of that other civilization beyond the Mississippi; it was the lock to the door in the wild places, the open sesame to the territories where native chiefs ruled communal tribes by playing tyrant to the commune. It was the rod of Aaron staying the plague of barbarism. It was the sceptre of the veldt. It drew blood, it ate human flesh, it secured order where there was no law, and it did the work of prison and penitentiary. It was the symbol of authority in the wilderness.
It was race.
Stafford was the only man present who saw anything incongruous in the scene, and yet his travels in the East his year in Persia, Tibet and Afghanistan, had made him understand things not revealed to the wise and prudent of European domains. With Krool before them, who was of the veld and the karoo, whose natural habitat was but a cross between a krall and the stoep of a dopper's home, these men were instantly transported to the land where their hearts were in spite of all, though the flesh-pots of the West End of London had turned them into by-paths for a while. The skin had been scratched by Krool's insolence and the knowledge of his treachery, and the Tartar showed--the sjambok his scimitar.
In spite of himself, Stafford was affected by it all. He understood. This was not London; the scene had shifted to Potchefstroom or Middleburg, and Krool was transformed too. The sjambok had, like a wizard's wand, as it were, lifted him away from England to spaces where he watched from the grey rock of a kopje for the glint of an assegai or the red of a Rooinek's tunic: and he had done both in his day.
"We've got you at last, Krool," said Wallstein. "We have been some time at it, but it's a long lane that has no turning, and we have you--"
"Like that--like that, jackal!" interjected Barry Whalen, opening and shutting his lean fingers with a gesture of savage possession.
"What?" asked Krool, with a malevolent thrust forward of his head. "What?"
"You betrayed us to Kruger," answered Wallstein, holding the papers. "We have here the proof at last."
"You betrayed England and her secrets, and yet you think that the English law would protect you against this," said Barry Whalen, harshly, handling the sjambok.
"What I betray?" Krool asked again. "What I tell?"
With great deliberation Wallstein explained.
"Where proof?" Krool asked, doggedly.
"We have just enough to hang you," said Wallstein, grimly, and lifted and showed the papers Barry Whalen had brought.
An insolent smile crossed Krool's face.
"You find out too late. That Fellowes is dead. So much you get, but the work is done. It not matter now. It is all done--altogether. Oom Paul speaks now, and everything is his--from the Cape to the Zambesi, everything his. It is too late. What can to do?" Suddenly ferocity showed in his face. "It come at last. It is the end of the English both sides the Vaal. They will go down like wild hogs into the sea with Joubert and Botha behind them. It is the day of Oom Paul and Christ. The God of Israel gives to his own the tents of the Rooineks."
In spite of the fierce passion of the man, who had suddenly disclosed a side of his nature hitherto hidden--the savage piety of the copper Boer impregnated with stereotyped missionary phrasing, Ian Stafford almost laughed outright. In the presence of Jews like Sobieski it seemed so droll that this half-caste should talk about the God of Israel, and link Oom Paul's name with that of Christ the great liberator as partners in triumph.
In all the years Krool had been in England he had never been inside a place of worship or given any sign of that fanaticism which, all at once, he made manifest. He had seemed a pagan to all of his class, had acted as a pagan.
Barry Whalen, as well as Ian Stafford, saw the humour of the situation, while they were both confounded by the courageous malice of the traitor. It came to Barry's mind at the moment, as it came to Ian Stafford's, that Krool had some card to play which would, to his mind, serve him well; and, by instinct, both found the right clue. Barry's anger became uneasiness, and Stafford's interest turned to anxiety.
There was an instant's pause after Krool's words, and then Wolff the silent, gone wild, caught the sjambok from the hands of Barry Whalen. He made a movement towards Krool, who again suddenly shrank, as he would not have shrunk from a weapon of steel.
"Wait a minute," cried Fleming, seizing the arm of his friend. "One minute. There's something more." Turning to Wallstein, he said, "If Krool consents to leave England at once for South Africa, let him go. Is it agreed? He must either be dealt with adequately, or get out. Is it agreed?"
"I do what I like," said Krool, with a snarl, in which his teeth showed glassily against his drawn lips. "No one make me do what I not want."
"The Baas--you have forgotten him," said Wallstein.
A look combined of cunning, fear and servility crossed Krool's face, but he said, morosely:
"The Baas--I will do what I like."
There was a singular defiance and meaning in his tone, and the moment seemed critical, for Barry Whalen's face was distorted with fury. Stafford suddenly stooped and whispered a word in Wallstein's ear, and then said:
"Gentlemen, if you will allow me, I should like a few words with Krool before Mr. Byng comes. I think perhaps Krool will see the best course to pursue when we have talked together. In one sense it is none of my business, in another sense it is everybody's business. A few minutes, if you please, gentlemen." There was something almost authoritative in his tone.
"For Byng's sake--his wife--you understand," was all Stafford had said under his breath, but it was an illumination to Wallstein, who whispered to Stafford.
"Yes, that's it. Krool holds some card, and he'll play it now."
By his glance and by his word of assent, Wallstein set the cue for the rest, and they all got up and went slowly into the other room. Barry Whalen was about to take the sjambok, but Stafford laid his hand upon it, and Barry and he exchanged a look of understanding.
"Stafford's a little bit of us in a way," said Barry in a whisper to Wallstein as they left the room. "He knows, too, what a sjambok's worth in Krool's eyes."
When the two were left alone, Stafford slowly seated himself, and his fingers played idly with the sjambok.
"You say you will do what you like, in spite of the Baas?" he asked, in a low, even tone.
"If the Baas hurt me, I will hurt. If anybody hurt me, I will hurt."
"You will hurt the Baas, eh? I thought he saved your life on the Limpopo."
A flush stole across Krool's face, and when it passed again he was paler than before. "I have save the Baas," he answered, sullenly.
With a powerful effort, Stafford controlled himself. He dreaded what was now to be said, but he felt inevitably what it was.
"If that Fellowes' letter come into his hands first, yours would not matter. She would not go with you."
Stafford had far greater difficulty in staying his hand than had Barry Whalen, for the sjambok seemed the only reply to the dark suggestion. He realized how, like the ostrich, he had thrust his head into the sand, imagining that no one knew what was between himself and Jasmine. Yet here was one who knew, here was one who had, for whatever purpose, precipitated a crisis with Fellowes to prevent a crisis with himself.
Suddenly Stafford thought of an awful possibility. He fastened the gloomy eyes of the man before him, that he might be able to see any stir of emotion, and said: "It did not come out as you expected?"
"You wished to part Mr. and Mrs. Byng. That did not happen."
"The Baas is going to South Africa."
"And Mr. Fellowes?"
"He went like I expec'."
"He died--heart failure, eh?"
A look of contempt, malevolence, and secret reflection came into Krool's face. "He was kill," he said.
"Who killed him?"
Krool was about to shrug his shoulders, but his glance fell on the sjambok, and he made an ugly gesture with his lean fingers. "There was yourself. He had hurt you--you went to him.... Good! There was the Baas, he went to him. The dead man had hurt him.... Good!"
Stafford interrupted him by an exclamation. "What's that you say--the Baas went to Mr. Fellowes?"
"As I tell the vrouw, Mrs. Byng, when she say me go from the house to-day--I say I will go when the Baas send me."
"The Baas went to Mr. Fellowes--when?"
"Two hours before you go, and one hour before the vrouw, she go."
Like some animal looking out of a jungle, so Krool's eyes glowed from beneath his heavy eyebrows, as he drawled out the words.
"The Baas went--you saw him?"
"With my own eyes."
"How long was he there?"
"Mrs. Byng--you saw her go in?"
"And also come out."
"And me--you followed me--you saw me, also?"
"I saw all that come, all that go in to him."
With a swift mind Stafford saw his advantage--the one chance, the one card he could play, the one move he could make in checkmate, if, and when, necessary. "So you saw all that came and went. And you came and went yourself!"
His eyes were hard and bright as he held Krool's, and there was a sinister smile on his lips.
"You know I come and go--you say me that?" said Krool, with a sudden look of vague fear and surprise. He had not foreseen this.
"You accuse yourself. You saw this person and that go out, and you think to hold them in your dirty clutches; but you had more reason than any for killing Mr. Fellowes."
"What?" asked Krool, furtively.
"You hated him because he was a traitor like yourself. You hated him because he had hurt the Baas."
"That is true altogether, but--"
"You need not explain. If any one killed Mr. Fellowes, why not you? You came and went from his rooms, too."
Krool's face was now yellowish pale. "Not me . . . it was not me."
"You would run a worse chance than any one. Your character would damn you--a partner with him in crime. What jury in the world but would convict you on your own evidence? Besides, you knew--"
He paused to deliver a blow on the barest chance. It was an insidious challenge which, if it failed, might do more harm to others, might do great harm, but he plunged. "You knew about the needle."
Krool was cowed and silent. On a venture Stafford had struck straight home.
"You knew that Mr. Fellowes had stolen the needle from Mr. Mappin at Glencader," he added.
"How you know that?" asked Krool, in a husky, ragged voice.
"I saw him steal it--and you?"
"No. He tell me."
"What did he mean to do with it?"
A look came into Krool's eyes, malevolent and barbaric.
"Not to kill himself," he reflected. "There is always some one a man or a woman want kill."
There was a hideous commonplaceness in the tone which struck a chill to Stafford's heart.
"No doubt there is always some one you want to kill. Now listen, Krool. You think you've got a hold over me--over Mrs. Byng. You threaten. Well, I have passed through the fire of the coroner's inquest. I have nothing to fear. You have. I saw you in the street as you watched. You came behind me--"
He remembered now the footsteps that paused when he did, the figure behind his in the dark, as he watched for Jasmine to come out from Fellowes' rooms, and he determined to plunge once more.
"I recognized you, and I saw you in the Strand just before that. I did not speak at the inquest, because I wanted no scandal. If I had spoken, you would have been arrested. Whatever happened your chances were worse than those of any one. You can't frighten me, or my friends in there, or the Baas, or Mrs. Byng. Look after your own skin. You are the vile scum of the earth,"--he determined to take a strong line now, since he had made a powerful impression on the creature before him--"and you will do what the Baas likes, not what you like. He saved your life. Bad as you are, the Baas is your Baas for ever and ever, and what he wants to do with you he will do. When his eyes look into yours, you will think the lightning speaks. You are his slave. If he hates you, you will die; if he curses you, you will wither."
He played upon the superstitious element, the native strain again. It was deeper in Krool than anything else.
"Do you think you can defy them?" Stafford went on, jerking a finger towards the other room. "They are from the veld. They will have you as sure as the crack of a whip. This is England, but they are from the veld. On the veld you know what they would do to you. If you speak against the Baas, it is bad for you; if you speak against the Baas' vrouw it will be ten times worse. Do you hear?"
There was a strange silence, in which Stafford could feel Krool's soul struggling in the dark, as it were--a struggle as of black spirits in the grey dawn.
"I wait the Baas speak," Krool said at last, with a shiver.
There was no time for Stafford to answer. Wallstein entered the room hurriedly. "Byng has come. He has been told about him," he said in French to Stafford, and jerking his head towards Krool.
Stafford rose. "It's all right," he answered in the same language. "I think things will be safe now. He has a wholesome fear of the Baas."
He turned to Krool. "If you say to the Baas what you have said to me about Mr. Fellowes or about the Baas's vrouw, you will have a bad time. You will think that wild hawks are picking out your vitals. If you have sense, you will do what I tell you."
Krool's eyes were on the door through which Wallstein had come. His gaze was fixed and tortured. Stafford had suddenly roused in him some strange superstitious element. He was like a creature of a lower order awaiting the approach of the controlling power. It was, however, the door behind him which opened, and he gave a start of surprise and terror. He knew who it was. He did not turn round, but his head bent forward, as though he would take a blow from behind, and his eyes almost closed. Stafford saw with a curious meticulousness the long eyelashes touch the grey cheek.
"There's no fight in him now," he said to Byng in French. "He was getting nasty, but I've got him in order. He knows too much. Remember that, Byng."
Byng's look was as that of a man who had passed through some chamber of torture, but the flabbiness had gone suddenly from his face, and even from his figure, though heavy lines had gathered round the mouth and scarred the forehead. He looked worn and much thinner, but there was a look in his eyes which Stafford had never seen there--a new look of deeper seeing, of revelation, of realization. With all his ability and force, Byng had been always much of a boy, so little at one with the hidden things--the springs of human conduct, the contradictions of human nature, the worst in the best of us, the forces that emerge without warning in all human beings, to send them on untoward courses and at sharp tangents to all the habits of their existence and their character. In a real sense he had been very primitive, very objective in all he thought and said and did. With imagination, and a sensitive organization out of keeping with his immense physique, it was still only a visualizing sense which he had, only a thing that belongs to races such as those of which Krool had come.
A few days of continuous suffering begotten by a cataclysm, which had rent asunder walls of life enclosing vistas he had never before seen; these had transformed him. Pain had given him dignity of a savage kind, a grim quiet which belonged to conflict and betokened grimmer purpose. In the eyes was the darkness of the well of despair; but at his lips was iron resolution.
In reply to Stafford he said quietly: "All right, I understand. I know how to deal with Krool."
As Stafford withdrew, Byng came slowly down the room till he stood at the end of the table opposite to Krool.
Standing there, he looked at the Boer with hard eyes.
"I know all, Krool," he said. "You sold me and my country--you tried to sell me and my country to Oom Paul. You dog, that I snatched from the tiger death, not once but twice."
"It is no good. I am a Hottentot. I am for the Boer, for Oom Paul. I would have die for you, but--"
"But when the chance came to betray the thing I cared for more than I would twenty lives--my country--you tried to sell me and all who worked with me."
"It would be same to you if the English go from the Vaal," said the half-caste, huskily, not looking into the eyes fixed on him. "But it matter to me that the Boer keep all for himself what he got for himself. I am half Boer. That is why."
"You defend it--tell me, you defend it?"
There was that in the voice, some terrible thing, which drew Krool's eyes in spite of himself, and he met a look of fire and wrath.
"I tell why. If it was bad, it was bad. But I tell why, that is all. If it is not good, it is bad, and hell is for the bad; but I tell why."
"You got money from Oom Paul for the man--Fellowes?" It was hard for him to utter the name.
Again Krool nodded.
"And for yourself--how much?"
"Nothing for myself; no money, Baas."
"Only Oom Paul's love!"
Krool nodded again.
"But Oom Paul flayed you at Vleifontein; tied you up and skinned you with a sjambok.... That didn't matter, eh? And you went on loving him. I never touched you in all the years. I gave you your life twice. I gave you good money. I kept you in luxury--you that fed in the cattle-kraal; you that had mealies to eat and a shred of biltong when you could steal it; you that ate a steinbok raw on the Vaal, you were so wild for meat . . . I took you out of that, and gave you this."
He waved an arm round the room, and went on: "You come in and go out of my room, you sleep in the same cart with me, you eat out of the same dish on trek, and yet you do the Judas trick. Slim--god of gods, how slim! You are the snake that crawls in the slime. It's the native in you, I suppose.... But see, I mean to do to you as Oom Paul did. It's the only thing you understand. It's the way to make you straight and true, my sweet Krool."
Still keeping his eyes fixed on Krool's eyes, his hand reached out and slowly took the sjambok from the table. He ran the cruel thing through his fingers as does a prison expert the cat-o'-nine-tails before laying on the lashes of penalty. Into Krool's eyes a terror crept which never had been there in the old days on the veld when Oom Paul had flayed him. This was not the veld, and he was no longer the veld-dweller with skin like the rhinoceros, all leather and bone and endurance. And this was not Oom Paul, but one whom he had betrayed, whose wife he had sought to ruin, whose subordinate he had turned into a traitor. Oom Paul had been a mere savage master; but here was a master whose very tongue could excoriate him like Oom Paul's sjambok; whom, at bottom, he loved in his way as he had never loved anything; whom he had betrayed, not realizing the hideous nature of his deed; having argued that it was against England his treachery was directed, and that was a virtue in his eyes; not seeing what direct injury could come to Byng through it. He had not seen, he had not understood, he was still uncivilized; he had only in his veins the morality of the native, and he had tried to ruin his master's wife for his master's sake; and when he had finished with Fellowes as a traitor, he was ready to ruin his confederate--to kill him--perhaps did kill him!
"It's the only way to deal with you, Hottentot dog!"
The look in Krool's eyes only increased Byng's lust of punishment. What else was there to do? Without terrible scandal there was no other way to punish the traitor, but if there had been another way he would still have done this. This Krool understood; behind every command the Baas had ever given him this thing lay--the sjambok, the natural engine of authority.
Suddenly Byng said with a voice of almost guttural anger: "You dropped that letter on my bedroom floor--that letter, you understand? . . . Speak."
"I did it, Baas."
Byng was transformed. Slowly he laid down the sjambok, and as slowly took off his coat, his eyes meanwhile fastening those of the wretched man before him. Then he took up the sjambok again.
"You know what I am going to do with you?"
It never occurred to Byng that Krool would resist; it did not occur to Krool that he could resist. Byng was the Baas, who at that moment was the Power immeasurable. There was only one thing to do--to obey.
"You were told to leave my house by Mrs. Byng, and you did not go."
"She was not my Baas."
"You would have done her harm, if you could?"
With a low cry Byng ran forward, the sjambok swung through the air, and the terrible whip descended on the crouching half-caste.
Krool gave one cry and fell back a little, but he made no attempt to resist.
Suddenly Byng went to a window and threw it open.
"You can jump from there or take the sjambok. Which?" he said with a passion not that of a man wholly sane. "Which?"
Krool's wild, sullen, trembling look sought the window, but he had no heart for that enterprise--thirty feet to the pavement below.
"The sjambok, Baas," he said.
Once again Byng moved forward on him, and once again Krool's cry rang out, but not so loud. It was like that of an animal in torture.
In the next room, Wallstein and Stafford and the others heard it, and understood. Whispering together they listened, and Stafford shrank away to the far side of the room; but more than one face showed pleasure in the sound of the whip and the moaning.
It went on and on.
Barry Whalen, however, was possessed of a kind of fear, and presently his face became troubled. This punishment was terrible. Byng might kill the man, and all would be as bad as could be. Stafford came to him.
"You had better go in," he said. "We ought to intervene. If you don't, I will. Listen...."
It was a strange sound to hear in this heart of civilization. It belonged to the barbaric places of the earth, where there was no law, where every pioneer was his own cadi.
With set face Barry Whalen entered the room. Byng paused for an instant and looked at him with burning, glazed eyes that scarcely realized him.
"Open that door," he said, presently, and Barry Whalen opened the door which led into the big hall.
"Open all down to the street," Byng said, and Barry Whalen went forward quickly.
Like some wild beast Krool crouched and stumbled and moaned as he ran down the staircase, through the outer hall, while a servant with scared face saw Byng rain savage blows upon the hated figure.
On the pavement outside the house, Krool staggered, stumbled, and fell down; but he slowly gathered himself up, and turned to the doorway, where Byng stood panting with the sjambok in his hand.
"Baas!--Baas!" Krool said with livid face, and then he crept painfully away along the street wall.
A policeman crossed the road with a questioning frown and the apparent purpose of causing trouble, but Barry Whalen whispered in his ear, and told him to call that evening and he would hear all about it. Meanwhile a five-pound note in a quick palm was a guarantee of good faith.
Presently a half-dozen people began to gather near the door, but the benevolent policeman moved them on.
At the top of the staircase Jasmine met her husband. She shivered as he came up towards her.
"Will you come to me when you have finished your business?" she said, and she took the sjambok gently from his hand.
He scarcely realized her. He was in a dream; but he smiled at her, and nodded, and passed on to where the others awaited him.
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