With a cry Jasmine staggered to her feet. Ian Stafford was beside her in an instant.
“The Baas—the Baas!” said Krool, insistently, painfully. “I have the horses—come.”
There had been an explosion in the Glencader Mine, and twenty men had been imprisoned in the stark solitude of the underground world. Or was it that they lay dead in that vast womb of mother-earth which takes all men of all time as they go, and absorbs them into her fruitful body, to produce other men who will in due days return to the same great mother to rest and be still? It mattered little whether malevolence had planned the outrage in the mine, or whether accident alone had been responsible; the results were the same. Wailing, woebegone women wrung their hands, and haggard, determined men stood by with bowed heads, ready to offer their lives to save those other lives far down below, if so be it were possible.
The night was serene and quiet, clear and cold, with glimmering stars and no moon, and the wide circle of the hills was drowsy with night and darkness. All was at peace in the outer circle, but at the centre was travail and storm and outrage and death. What nature had made beautiful, man had made ugly by energy and all the harsh necessities of progress. In the very heart of this exquisite and picturesque country-side the ugly, grim life of the miner had established itself, and had then turned an unlovely field of industrial activity into a cock-pit of struggle between capital and labour. First, discontent, fed by paid agitators and scarcely steadied by responsible and level-headed labour agents and leaders; then active disturbance and threatening; then partial strike, then minor outrages, then some foolishness on the part of manager or man, and now tragedy darkening the field, adding bitterness profound to the discontent and strife.
Rudyard Byng had arrived on the scene in the later stages of the struggle, when a general strike with all its attendant miseries, its dangers and provocations, was hovering. Many men in his own mine in South Africa had come from this very district, and he was known to be the most popular of all the capitalists on the Rand. His generosity to the sick and poor of the Glencader Mine had been great, and he had given them a hospital and a club with adequate endowment. Also, he had been known to take part in the rough sports of the miners, and had afterwards sat and drunk beer with them—as much as any, and carying it better than any.