Book III
Chapter XIX. To-Morrow . . . Prepare!
 

Krool did not sleep. What he read in a letter he had found in a hallway, what he knew of those dark events in South Africa, now to culminate in a bitter war, and what, with the mysterious psychic instinct of race, he divined darkly and powerfully, all kept his eyes unsleeping and his mind disordered. More than any one, he knew of the inner story of the Baas' vrouw during the past week and years; also he had knowledge of what was soon to empty out upon the groaning earth the entrails of South Africa; but how he knew was not to be discovered. Even Rudyard, who thought he read him like a book, only lived on the outer boundaries of his character. Their alliance was only the durable alliance of those who have seen Death at their door, and together have driven him back.

Barry Whalen had regarded Krool as a spy; all Britishers who came and went in the path to Rudyard's door had their doubts or their dislike of him; and to every servant of the household he was a dark and isolated figure. He never interfered with the acts of his fellow-servants, except in so far as those acts affected his master's comfort; and he paid no attention to their words except where they affected himself.

"When you think it's a ghost, it's only Krool wanderin' w'ere he ain't got no business," was the angry remark of the upper-housemaid, whom his sudden appearance had startled in a dim passage one day.

"Lor'! what a turn you give me, Mr. Krool, spookin' about where there's no call for you to be," she had said to him, and below stairs she had enlarged upon his enormities greatly.

"And Mrs. Byng, she not like him better as we do," was the comment of Lablanche, the lady's maid. "A snake in the grass--that is what Madame think."

Slowly the night passed for Krool. His disturbed brain was like some dark wood through which flew songless birds with wings of night; through which sped the furtive dwellers of the grass and the earth-covert. The real and the imaginative crowded the dark purlieus. He was the victim of his blood, his beginnings off there beyond the Vaal, where the veld was swept by the lightning and the storm, the home of wild dreams, and of a loneliness terrible and strange, to which the man who once had tasted its awful pleasures returned and returned again, until he was, at the last, part of its loneliness, its woeful agitations and its reposeless quiet.

It was not possible for him to think or be like pure white people, to do as they did. He was a child of the kopje, the spruit, and the dun veld, where men dwelt with weird beings which were not men--presences that whispered, telling them of things to come, blowing the warnings of Destiny across the waste, over thousands and thousands of miles. Such as he always became apart and lonely because of this companionship of silence and the unseen. More and more they withdrew themselves, unwittingly and painfully, from the understanding and companionship of the usual matter-of-fact, commonplace, sensible people--the settler, the emigrant, and the British man. Sinister they became, but with the helplessness of those in whom the under-spirit of life has been working, estranging them, even against their will, from the rest of the world.

So Krool, estranged, lonely, even in the heart of friendly, pushing, jostling London, still was haunted by presences which whispered to him, not with the old clearness of bygone days, but with confused utterances and clouded meaning; and yet sufficient in dark suggestion for him to know that ill happenings were at hand, and that he would be in the midst of them, an instrument of Fate. All night strange shapes trooped past his clouded eyes, and more than once, in a half-dream, he called out to his master to help him as he was helped long ago when that master rescued him from death.

Long before the rest of the house was stirring, Krool wandered hither and thither through the luxurious rooms, vainly endeavouring to occupy himself with his master's clothes, boots, and belongings. At last he stole into Byng's room and, stooping, laid something on the floor; then reclaiming the two cables which Rudyard had read, crumpled up, and thrown away, he crept stealthily from the room. His face had a sombre and forbidding pleasure as he read by the early morning light the discarded messages with their thunderous warnings--"To-morrow . . . Prepare!"

He knew their meaning well enough. "To-morrow" was here, and it would 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.