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The Reverend Bernard Simmons, B.D. by A. E. W. Mason

 

DAVID SWAINE worked for more than eight hours a day and from a man became a master. He had his offices in Gracechurch Street and in this, his thirty-eighth year, a seat in the House of Commons; and up till now he had enjoyed a reasonable contentment. But for no particular reason, the monotonous industry of his life began to be disturbed. Pictures of strange rivers and exotic cities drifted across the pages of his ledgers on dusty and sunlit afternoons. The air of the House of Commons, filtered up through fold upon fold of cotton-wool, became to his senses or imagination faded and sickly. He wanted a holiday. He wanted fresh air. He wanted colour.

He proposed to himself a rush round the world, and he certainly did get as far as Ceylon. He landed at Colombo and did all the right things. He bought tortoise-shell at Galle and saw the Great Tooth in the Temple at Kandy. He climbed Adam's Peak and watched the sun rise and the huge Shadow launch itself across the mists. He played a round of golf in the English climate of Nuwara Eliya, and visited the Rock Temple at Dhamballa. And finally, still revelling in the green and glistening radiance of the island, he came by some Stroke of Fate to Anuradhapura, the old dead city, dug after so many centuries out of its overgrowth of jungle.

Swaine wrote his name in the hotel book, left a letter of introduction at the house of the Commissioner of the District, and set enthusiastically out in search of tank and moonstone, temple and sacred tree. He was walking back in the late afternoon from those serried lines of low square stone pillars which pass by the name of the Brazen Palace, lost in an effort to shoot himself back into the age when High Priests and monks and a comparatively unimportant King actually lived in the Palace above the stones, when the most ancient and modern thing in the world happened. A woman called to him.

He had been vaguely aware that someone had passed him. He had been vaguely conscious too that this someone had stopped and turned. But the call swung him round; for it was his Christian name which was used. He saw a middle-aged woman of a stout coarse build with a round red face which seemed to him swollen. Little red veins disfigured the whites of her eyes.

"She drinks," he said to himself, "but how the dickens does she know my name?"

And the call came again, "David," but this time upon a note of reproach. David walked slowly towards her, frowning in his perplexity. He saw a look of fear leap into her eyes.

"You surely know me again, don't you, David?" and ever so little her voice shook.

So she had not always looked the round barrel of a woman she looked now, and in her heart she knew it, but dreaded to have to recognize it.

"Of course I know you again," he said quickly, and was rewarded by a smile of relief.

"Then tell me my name," she continued, with a dreadful archness which sat upon her monstrously.

Now that was not fair. She should have given him a lead. She was asking for the very answer she dreaded; and but for the flash of fear which had shone so distinctly in her eyes she would have got it. It gave him no pleasure, however, to wound for the sake of wounding. Obviously he had once known this woman. He reflected and by some subconscious message of his memory, her name suddenly stood out. There was certainly nothing in her appearance, no accent in her husky voice to remind him of the pretty slender girl to whom years ago he had once made love in the country lanes between Dulwich and Forest Hill.

"You are Dulcie Elverton," he said with a smile, and he held out his hand.

"Yes, that's it," she exclaimed with relief. "'Ow, you gave me quite a turn when I thought you didn't remember me—such sweethearts as we were too."

She slipped her hand inside his arm and walked on beside him.

"Fancy meetin' you in Ceylon, David! Well, you've got on in the world, haven't you? I see your name in the papers regular. That wouldn't have happened if we'd run away and got married at nineteen, as we talked of," she added shrewdly, and was silent for a moment. Then the archness returned to her and she nudged him in the ribs.

"D'you remember the laburnum tree, David?"

"Could I forget it?" he asked uncomfortably.

"Well, I don't know. Men are that queer. You never do know."

The laburnum tree had overhung the high garden wall of the Elverton's house and a couple kissing underneath it were hidden even from the topmost windows. The picture flashed back now into Swaine's memory—of himself waiting under the cover of the wall, of Dulcie stealing out to him, of the stolen passionate kisses, nineteen years crying hungrily to eighteen years, of the hurried partings a little way from the house—for the Elvertons were wholesale people in the leather trade and David Swaine was merely a clerk on an office stool without any prospects whatever. David Swaine remembered now, remembered even the tragic emotions with which they parted, he to his advancement in Liverpool.

"You never once wrote to me, David. No doubt you were right," she said. "It all seemed pretty hopeless. But I was fairly heartbroken."

One thing Swaine couldn't remember—the Cockney accent which she used now, which gave to her sentimental recollections a quite pathetic vulgarity. But she herself unconsciously supplied the explanation.

"I knew you were going up and up," she said in a voice of pride: and he remembered that he had been put to the greatest pains to get rid of a Cockney accent himself. He had taken lessons in elocution; he had watched himself and the faces of the people to whom he talked to make sure of his lapses, and correct them. He had gone up. Dulcie Elverton had stood still—there was the explanation.

"Yes, it's always been a pride to me that I was right about you," she resumed. "I was modern, wasn't I?"

David Swaine laughed. He had not recollected that quality of hers until she mentioned the familiar word.

"Of course you were," he said.

Dulcie Elverton had been all for the latest movements. Her last word of contempt had been "Mid-Victorian." She had dared to smoke a cigarette, she had even dared to mention Oscar Wilde, she had been the very impersonation of the Forward Movement in her little suburban circle.

"Yes, I always had courage, hadn't I?"—and suddenly her voice rang with a sudden note of despair, which made the embarrassed David look sharply into her face.

"Have things gone wrong with you, Dulcie?" he asked lamely—foolishly. For looking at her now and comparing her with the dainty slip of a girl she had been, he knew there was no need to ask that question.

"No, no, not a bit," she replied bravely. But she sent a quick glance of fear to this side and that like a criminal with the police on his track, and she added in a low hurried voice: "I must go. I must go."

She drew her hand away from Swaine's arm, and then seized it again and clung to it.

"I'd have bolted with you, David, in a sec. if you'd asked me. Oh, why didn't you?"

Swaine had never in his life heard a regret so pitiful. He began confusedly to stammer a few incoherencies. It wouldn't have been fair to her...He had no position, no security to offer to her...It would have meant poverty made poorer perhaps by children...Dulcie cut quickly into his explanations.

"It doesn't matter now," she said. "But I'm awfully proud of you, David. Do you remember what I used to call you? You've forgotten. You were my beau ideal;" and with that piece of banality she turned away. They were standing in a broad road in the native city and he saw her disappear into the darkness between two shops gaudily lit by petrol lamps.

It is uncomfortable to meet unexpectedly your first love and to find that she has swollen into a mountainous ruin. You begin to speculate whether you, though you cannot see it, are something of a ruin yourself. It becomes still more uncomfortable if you are made to realize that you are in some way responsible for the ruin. This was David Swaine's position as he walked back to his hotel with all his eager enjoyment quenched.

A hundred torturing questions, which he had never asked, which Dulcie Elverton had determined that he should not ask, presented themselves to him now, demanding answers. Why was Dulcie in Ceylon at all? Was she living there, or a tourist like himself? Why had she suddenly turned away from him and disappeared—as if—yes, as if she feared to be seen with him even in the native bazaar? What had happened to bring her down from her status as a suburban heiress to that of a lone disfigured creature driven to try to warm her hands at the cold ashes of a boy and girl romance?

David Swaine walked back to the hotel set in a sort of park of turf and red-flowered rain trees and was very uncomfortable indeed. Therefore he was grateful for a curious little incident which distracted his thoughts.

In the lobby of the hotel, a man in a suit of khaki drill was examining the visitors' book; his back was turned towards Swaine, and all that Swaine noticed at first was that he wore a soft flat clerical hat. But he noticed something else immediately afterwards. The native clerk behind the desk touched the man in the clerical hat quickly with the butt of his pen; and the man sprang up and turned round. He was undoubtedly a Cingalese too, but he wore the stiff white stock and black silk breastplate which are the trade-marks of the English clergyman.

"A missionary," said Swaine to himself, and he politely raised his hat.

The missionary, if such he was, returned the bow with a singular obsequiousness, so marked indeed that it had all the appearance of a sneer. Swaine passed on and upstairs and along the corridor to his room, which had a balcony overlooking the park and just to the right of the porch. On the table was a polite letter from the Commissioner bidding him to dinner that evening at eight. Swaine scribbled an acceptance—he might find an answer to some at all events of his hundred questions at the Commissioner's dinner- table—and, after ringing the bell, sent his letter off by a messenger. Then he lit a cigarette and stepped out upon his balcony, and he saw on the sandy drive beneath him the missionary. The missionary was looking up with a frown at the facade of the hotel, and made a little movement as Swaine appeared. Swaine had an impression that the man had been waiting for his appearance, and that, now that he had appeared, he was fixing in his mind the exact location of his room. Of course it was fancy, he argued; but none the less the missionary walked off now along the drive to the white entrance gates with the air of a man who had found out just what he wanted to find out and had nothing more to do there.

Now Swaine was of the type which objects to moving amongst mysteries. He liked people in a category and things which could be exactly defined, so that he could choose his ground and deal with them. Therefore this curious little encounter remained in his mind, remained indeed uppermost in his mind throughout dinner and as soon as the Commissioner's wife and his daughter had left the table, he returned to it.

"Do you know a native clergyman or missionary here?" he asked.

"Do I not," replied Mr. Septimus Gordon, the Commissioner. He was a tall, thin, grey, tired man grown cynical with his years of service. "The Reverend Bernard Simmons, M.A., of Balliol College, Oxford, B.D. He is going to give me more trouble than all the rest of the district put together."

"Why?" asked Swaine.

"First, he married a white woman and brought her out here. And that always means trouble."

Swaine jumped in his chair. Dulcie Elverton had prided herself on her modernity, her freedom from prejudice and convention. Was it to this that her modernity had brought her?

"Secondly, he drinks," continued Mr. Gordon in a drawl, "and he has taught his wife to drink too. Poor creature, I am not surprised. What else could she do?"

So Dulcie was the wife. No wonder she had cried out against Swaine for not taking his courage in his hands and running away with her. Swaine twiddled the stem of his liqueur glass between his fingers and his thumb and wished to goodness that he had never come to Ceylon. The room with the faded air was better than this. For the first lesson to be learnt in that room was to cease to reproach yourself for any breaches of faith. He shifted his legs uncomfortably and looked up to find Mr. Gordon watching him with a hint of amusement in his eyes. However, he merely continued his catalogue.

"Thirdly, the Reverend Bernard Simmons, M.A., B.D., is backsliding. Yes, that's quite the natural thing to happen."

"Backsliding?" inquired Swaine.

"Well, it depends upon your point of view," answered Gordon. "Most people would call it backsliding, though for my part between Buddhism and Christianity there isn't the thickness of a six-penny bit."

In that statement Mr. Septimus Gordon was wrong. There is one point of difference, a point which was to prove of enormous importance to David Swaine. Gordon was generalizing hastily with his thoughts rather upon the Reverend Bernard Simmons, B.D., and the trouble that man was going to give him. He gave Swaine a sketch of his history as far as he knew it.

"He was a scholar with a sort of facile cleverness common enough amongst his type. He seems to have been swept rather off his feet by some Revivalist Meetings in the East End of London. He even changed his name, which is really Mahinda Bahu, to mark his complete severance from his old creed and its associations, and finally he took orders. Somehow he managed to marry some girl bored to death with her suburban surroundings and with her head full of ignorance and dreams. There's some obscure sex-instinct too at the bottom of these marriages, no doubt." Mr. Gordon shrugged his shoulders. "Some expectation of more than sane and normal..."—he hesitated upon the word pleasure, and chose the more decent and comprehensive—"happiness. Anyway he married her and the good people at home put the lid on the whole unfortunate business. They sent him back here as a missionary."

"It has been a failure?" Swaine asked miserably. He was disturbed by the uneasy suspicion which comes to all men, however successful they may be, at some time or another, that there is something wickedly, irretrievably wrong in the very make-up of the world. Here were two well-meaning young people, himself and Dulcie Elverton, and between them they had made the most dreadful hash of the girl's life. Here were two very good qualities, ambition on his side, and a freedom from prejudice on hers, and together they had produced wreckage.

"A complete failure," replied Mr. Gordon. "How in the world could you with a house, and a servant, and an English wife, and a frock-coat and a clerical choker, expect to convert people whose priests go about in a fold of saffron cloth with a beggar bowl? It isn't reasonable. And why should you try?"

Once more Mr. Septimus Gordon overlooked the point of enormous difference with which David Swaine was to become acquainted.

"Anyway, the Reverend Bernard Simmons, M.A., Oxford, B.D., alias Mahinda Bahu, isn't trying any more," he resumed. "He's amongst his own people. Disappointment, drink, quarrels with his wife, who is of course bitterly handicapped by her marriage, are driving him back to the old beliefs and—worse—to the old superstitions. Yes, that's the really bad thing. But it was bound to be, wasn't it? Extreme left goes extreme right, and doesn't oscillate gently in the middle."

Mr. Septimus Gordon suddenly broke off and switched his chair round to face Swaine.

"I have told you all this for a reason. You can do a good thing. You can persuade Dulcie Simmons to get out of this place and go back to her own people."

"She has probably quarrelled with them," said Swaine slowly, "if they are still alive. I never knew the parents, but I should think that they had wiped her off the family."

He was the more sure of it the more clearly he recollected them, a stiff-necked couple who uttered the responses in church louder than anyone else, looked upon "business" as something peculiarly righteous, and the wealthiest families in their residential suburb as the greatest leaders of Society. Then he looked at Mr. Septimus Gordon in surprise.

"How do you know that Mrs. Simmons is a friend of mine?"

Mr. Gordon laughed outright.

"Everybody within miles knows that you are a friend of hers. Everybody within miles knows that you are here staying at this hotel. I don't wonder that the Reverend Simmons was hanging about to have a look at you. She talks about you:

"'From morn to afternoon— From afternoon to night—'"

he quoted, from 'The Yeomen of the Guard.' "Do you know what you are to Dulcie Simmons? You are her beau ideal."

Words could not describe the languid mockery with which Mr. Gordon pronounced that dreadful phrase. David Swaine flushed to the roots of his hair.

"I'll see what I can do," he answered uncomfortably. "I'll call on her to-morrow if you will give me her address."

"Yes," said Mr. Gordon. "They live in the native quarter, of course;" and he wrote the address down, whilst more and more David Swaine wished that he had booked a passage straight on to Australia, Burma, Penang, Singapore—to anywhere in the world which avoided a prolonged stoppage at Ceylon.

"You can do us all a good service, I am sure," said Mr. Septimus Gordon.

II

David Swaine, however, did not after all call upon Mrs. Simmons. He started out with that object certainly in the afternoon of the next day, but as he closed the white gate of the drive behind him, she called to him again from a clump of trees at the side of the road; and she called in a low and agitated voice.

"David!"

He turned on to the turf and found her holding her hand against her heart and her lips trembling.

"Oh, I thought you were never goin' to come out of the hotel," she said. "I've been waitin' for you the whole afternoon. I've got to talk to you."

She turned and hurried by a path through the trees until she came to an open space where a temple on a raised platform above a terrace and a neatly kept garden of flowers was built against a tall rock. In front of it slept a tank overshadowed on one side by high trees, and over its smooth water kingfishers flitted with a glint of gold and vivid blue. Dulcie Elverton sank down upon a garden seat on the edge of the tank and quite in the open.

"We shall be safe here," she said. "Tourists are always coming to this temple. So he wouldn't come near it."

There was no doubt in Swaine's mind who "he" must be.

"But I should have thought," he rejoined, "that with his Oxford training he would have welcomed—"

"White people," interrupted Dulcie. "Not he! All that was veneer. He has gone back to his own people—angrily."

"Then you ought to leave him," said Swaine, obeying Mr. Septimus Gordon's instructions.

Dulcie shook her head decidedly.

"I? Where should I go to?"

"Home."

"There's no such place for me, my dear," she returned, with half an attempt at a smile which ended in a complete sob. "I quarrelled once and for all with my people over—over—Bernard. They'd never have me back again, and if they would, I wouldn't go. What would I look like, creeping back—looking," and her voice sank to a whisper, "looking as I do look. I who am remembered at all events as a pretty girl. You were very kind to me yesterday, David, pretending to remember me. But you didn't really. No, I couldn't go back;" and then seizing fast hold of a purpose which she had clean forgotten, she exclaimed: "But you! You must. That's what I waited by the gate to tell you! You must go, David! You must pack your bag and hire a car and get away. I am afraid whilst you're here. You can reach Colombo to-night in a car if you start off at once. As long as you're here I'm frightened, desperately frightened."

Her large red face had a mottled look, the hands she held out to him beseechingly shook and in her eyes there was so urgent a prayer that Swaine was shocked by it.

"But, Dulcie," he exclaimed. "He daren't hurt you! He's here, in the open—" and suddenly he stopped. For all the fear in her face had turned to perplexity.

"Me?" she cried. "I'm not in danger. It's you—don't you understand that? Of course it's you! You see, I have talked of you—yes, more than I ought to have done—when we quarrelled at night. I've held you up against him. I've said that I could have married you and had a fine home in England, if I had chosen. Yes, I've said that over and over. He hates you, and he's gone back to Buddhism—yes," and she nodded her head at him. "Don't you see what a difference that makes?"

"No, I don't," replied Swaine stoutly, although a troublesome recollection of the Reverend Bernard Simmons, B.D., standing in the drive and locating the exact position of his bedroom window did recur to him. He recollected the man, however, too, a little square creature, sturdy enough no doubt, but not one to inspire terror.

"I don't understand what difference his going back to Buddhism can make to me. Why, only last night the Commissioner told me there wasn't the breadth of a sixpence between Buddhism and Christianity."

Dulcie Simmons could hardly let him finish, so immense was her contempt.

"He told you that!" she cried scathingly, and in one dreadful sentence she put the difference clear and stark before her companion. "If you hate enough. Buddhism makes murder worth while."

"Murder!"

Swaine had come up from Colombo, a mere law-abiding globe-trotting tourist to see a buried city of olden times, and he was confronted suddenly with a threat of violent death. He was not going to believe it—no!—there was a police force in Ceylon—yet a chill even in that bright sunlight crept into his flesh and his bones and set him shivering.

"Yes, murder," she went on eagerly. "Don't you see, David?" and she beat her fist upon her knee in her anger at the obtuseness of men.

"If he's tried, if he's hanged, what does it matter? You think he's dead. He knows better. He's going to live again, perhaps as an animal, yes, perhaps as the lowest sort of animal, since he has a crime to expiate; but he's going to work up again. In a few generations—and what are a few generations?—he'll be not the Reverend Bernard Simmons again, no, he won't make that mistake, but Mahinda Bahu getting nearer and nearer to the final blissful extinction."

She looked around suddenly and though no one was within earshot and only a few tourists were on the terrace of the great Dagoba, she lowered her voice.

"I know he's planning mischief. For he made a wax image last night and stabbed it through the heart."

Swaine's common sense revolted.

"My dear Dulcie, sorcerers did that sort of thing in the Middle Ages."

"And natives of Ceylon who hate enough, do that sort of thing still," she rejoined stubbornly.

The sun was going down fast behind the trees. Dulcie Simmons sprang to her feet.

"I must go," she exclaimed. "He's certain to imagine that I am with you, if I don't get back. No, don't come with me, please! Only go, David! Promise me!"

He took her trembling hand in his.

"I was going to-morrow morning anyway, Dulcie. I'll keep to my arrangement. I can't run away, you know. But I'll go early."

He made that concession. It was the most his pride would let him do. After all, he, David Swaine, M.P., was not going to turn tail before a missionary, whatever murderous designs that missionary might be nursing in his heart. Dulcie shrugged her shoulders. She knew the uselessness of arguing in favour of the things that aren't done.

"Very well. Only to-night, David, take care! Oh, take good care! Good-bye!" and she wrung his hand and hurried off in a stumbling run as if she could hardly see whether she kept the path or no. But she disappeared amongst the rain trees at last, a grotesque ambling ruin of a woman blinded with tears.

Swaine walked back towards his hotel courageously enough to begin with. For he could not associate the appearance of Dulcie Simmons with violent events. She was so utterly in keeping with the ordinary humdrum world where nothing happens to-day which did not happen yesterday. But as he walked, the sun dropped behind the trees suddenly, and the gold was off the world. It sank like a ship, a burning ship, into a cold sea, and a chill breath of wind made gooseflesh of his back. "Somebody's walking over my grave," he said to himself inadvertently, and was troubled by the inadvertence. "Nonsense," he said, now correcting himself, and he quickened his pace. But Dulcie Simmons' appearance was fading from his memories, as quickly as the light was disappearing out of the sky. On the other hand, something frantic in her gestures, the terror which winged her words, the contempt with which she had torn through and through the Commissioner's tolerant philosophy, asserted themselves and re-asserted themselves. "Yes, men labour over books and theories and experiments and observations," he argued, "and women pluck the truth out of things by a sure instinct."

He was passing through the trees now, and he began to run a little until his pride came to his help, and forced him to dawdle. But he dawdled in a rising fear. "It is ridiculous that—anything of the kind"—even in his thoughts he could not bring himself to be more precise than that—"should happen to me," he exclaimed, with at the same time an amazed helpless consciousness that after all just that thing might happen to him. He came to the white gate with a gasp of relief. He flung it open and passed through, and the clink of the latch, repeated and repeated as it swung backwards and forwards behind him, comforted him with a sound which was homely and familiar.

But a little way ahead of him the facade and the porch of the hotel rose, the lower windows ablaze with light, the upper ones shuttered and dark; and as he stood watching it, his momentary sense of comfort oozed out of him.

"Take care to-night! Take care!"

The trees about him began to whisper the warning and he realized with an exaggerated sense of desolation that he was in a strange land amongst a strange people. How could he take care when he didn't know what to take care against? The squat sturdy figure of the missionary under his clerical hat became ominous and sinister. Swaine stepped off the hard surface of the drive on to the turf, so that his footsteps might not be heard. Standing in the darkness outside he peered into the lighted lounge. It was empty. He walked in. Beyond the lounge on the right side facing the staircase was an office-desk at which sat a Cingalese clerk. Swaine stepped up to the desk and ordered a motor-car for the next morning to take him into Colombo.

"You are leaving us so soon, Mister Swaine M.P.!" said the clerk with a polite smile.

"I must be on board before four o'clock," said Swaine. Already he felt the breeze as his steamer put out between the enormous breakwaters to the open sea. "So I should like to start at eight in the morning. Can you arrange for that?"

"Of course, Mister Swaine," said the clerk, and—was it the dim light of the electric lamp in the office, or some passing shadow—his smile all at once seemed secret. Swaine began to interpret it. "You won't leave here tomorrow morning at all, Mister Swaine M.P. The motorcar will be on the bill, but you won't be in the motor-car—no, no, Mister Swaine M.P."

He turned away abruptly and went upstairs. Outside his door, his bearer was waiting, the door was open, the light burning within, and his change of clothes laid out for him.

"You will have to pack this evening," said Swaine.

"Everything packed already, sir," said the bearer, lifting the lid of the suit-case. "Just night things and clothes for the morning left out."

Swaine experienced another of his alternations, this time from doubt to confidence. The company of others in the dining-room, like himself seeing the world, confirmed his courage. He drank half a bottle of champagne and felt himself again. A missionary from Balliol and a Bachelor of Divinity must be a civilized person. Swaine scoffed at his folly in allowing himself to be frightened.

Yes, he admitted it now—now that it was all over. He had actually been frightened—actually he—and in the midst of a conversation on the history of moonstones, which he was having with an erudite American, he sprang up from his chair, his face white, his eyes staring.

"What has happened?" asked his companion.

"I thought that I saw someone flit by the open door."

"I saw no one," the American assured him.

"A shadow, no doubt," said Swaine. But he remained on his feet staring out through the open door of the dining-room, through the lounge beyond and into the darkness of the park. For the momentary chill of sunset had been followed by a stifling heat and every door stood open.

Swaine turned back towards the American, who was regarding him with the oddest look.

"The fact is," Swaine explained, "I expected someone to-night, a missionary, and if he doesn't come I shall miss him altogether. For I am leaving early to-morrow."

Even whilst he made the explanation, he had a feeling that he was tempting God to send the missionary to him, as an answer and retort to the regret he had tried to force into his voice. But though his eyes searched the darkness, there was not a movement, not a flicker.

"It was my fancy," he said, sinking down again into his chair.

"A touch of liver, I should think," returned the American, and he resumed his discourse.

But Swaine was no longer in the mood to listen. His confidence had gone for good with the flitting of that shadow across the open doorway. Apparently he listened, but—in his mind he saw as on a board written up in fiery letters—

"It makes murder worth while. To-night take care!"

After all, he had got the best part of his life in front of him. He was only thirty-seven and he had progressed so far already that all the rewards were in his reach. It wouldn't do for him to die in Anuradhapura to satisfy the insane jealousy of a Cingalee. He relit his cigar and stood up.

"It's hot in here. Shall we go outside?"

"That's a fine idea," said his companion sympathetically. "I am from the Santa Fe valley and I expect I feel the heat less than you do."

Swaine was very glad to have a companion with him and the two men paced the drive together for an hour. No one passed them. On the top of the porch which made a big common balcony for the guests of the hotel, some of the visitors were sitting. Swaine's room was next to the porch, and as he looked up to its shuttered window, he drew some relief from the contiguity of those visitors.

"Well, I shall go to bed. Good night, sir," said the American.

"I am coming too," replied Swaine quickly, and he threw the butt of his cigar away. He would have someone with him as he went up the stairs, and there would still be his door and—made sure that it was a shadow which had flitted across his vision—a shadow of his own disordered thoughts. None the less he flung his door open violently and held it pressed back with all the force of his right arm whilst he groped for the switch of the electric light with his left hand. It seemed ages before he found it.

He left the door open after he had entered. The room was bare and clean as befitted the climate. A strip of carpet on the boards beside the bed, a chest of drawers, a chair and an arm-chair, a washing stand, a dressing-table, and a wardrobe with a glass door, a high bed without valance or flounce, shrouded in its mosquito curtain—that was all the furniture which the room contained. Swaine crossed the room and jerked open the door of the wardrobe—it was empty and it was the only place in the room where a man could hide. The windows stood open, their white flimsy curtains were drawn apart, the shutters were barred. There was no cupboard in the walls. The space beneath the bed was bare. Satisfied that his room harboured no assailant, Swaine at last closed the door. There was a key in the lock, and below the lock a strong bolt. He turned the key and shot the bolt. He was safe till daylight came, as safe as in a fortress.

But he made up his mind to leave the light burning. If anyone thought of getting in, in spite of the lock and the bolt and the shutter-bars, he would see under the sill of the door or through the slats of the shutters that the light was on, that Swaine was still awake. He undressed, slipped under his mosquito curtain and nestled down in his bed. But at once he became uneasy. The light was outside the mosquito curtain. He could not see the room any longer as clearly as he wanted to see, as clearly as he ought to see. The white veil of the curtain hindered his vision. On the other hand, he lying inside the net was visible. That would not do. That would not do at all. He raised the mosquito curtain on both sides and flung it up to lie in a bundle on the top of the high bed frame. That was very much better. He leaned up on his elbow. He could see the whole room now—every inch and corner of it, and above all the door of that wardrobe, empty though it was—empty though it undoubtedly was.

The tiny "ping" of a mosquito close to his face determined him to smoke a pipe of tobacco. He had a copy of Great Expectations on the table by his bed. Swaine had always cherished a fondness for that book because of its title. When in due course he had a title, Great Expectations was to be his motto. He filled his pipe, once more swinging back to a mood of ease. In the company of Pip and Joe Gargery and Miss Haversham, he could pass the hours very pleasantly till morning came.

He struck a match and as the flame spurted, the electric light went out. The management of the hotel had principles of economy which were not shared by David Swaine. It was time for all good people to be asleep. Swaine held the lighted match until the flame burnt his fingers—his mouth open, his eyes set and staring like a man who has had a stroke. There was no candle in the room, and only some half a dozen matches left in the box. Those he must nurse; but so many voices whispered in his ear "Take care to-night," so many stealthy footsteps approached his bed, that every one of them had been used before half the night was over. Then after all, the door of the wardrobe creaked, and he heard the hinges whine as it swung slowly open. He lay now in a stark panic, a bead of sweat trickled suddenly down his cheek, he could hear nothing for the throbbing of his heart, loud as a drum to which soldiers march.

And some time or another, from sheer exhaustion he fell asleep. For he heard a loud knocking upon his door and, starting up, saw the daylight filtering through the lattices of the shutters. He had actually been asleep, he realized with amazement.

"Who's there?" he cried, and the voice of his bearer replied to him;

"Time, sir. Motor-car coming soon."

Swaine sprang out of bed and flung back the shutters. The little park was spread out before him, the coolness of the morning bathed and refreshed him. He unlocked the door and drew the bolt back.

"Get me my bath," he said; and looking at his servant with his long hair fixed with a great tortoise-shell comb on the top of his head and the curious femininity of his bust which he had remarked in so many of the Cingalese, he was astounded that he should ever have been afraid.

"Bath all ready, eh? And water very hot?" he asked jovially.

"Water very hot, sir," said the bearer, as he put the bath slippers by the bed and arranged the dressing-gown over the foot. Swaine slipped on the dressing-gown and thrust his feet into the slippers.

"Get the chota-hazri, John, and then finish packing," said Swaine. "We'll get off as soon as we can."

He took up his big sponge on the palm of one hand and his cake of soap in the other, and went down the passage to the bathroom, where a great tub full of steaming water awaited him. He set the sponge and the soap down by the side of the bath, and stripped. A great earthenware ewer filled with cold water stood by the side of the bath. Swaine, with a sense of luxury dipped his sponge into it, raised the sponge high above his head and with an "Ah!" of anticipation squeezed and squeezed hard. Then he screamed and flung the sponge from him.

It fell into the steaming bath and suddenly came to life. It bubbled and sank and rose again. It spun and twisted in frantic convulsions, and rocked on the water like a boat in a storm. Swaine watched it stupidly, with a face the colour of putty, whilst his left hand gripped his right forearm like a vice. Then out of the sponge a little snake of greenish-yellow colour, with a startling black band across its back, darted like a bullet and lashed the water in its agony like a whipcord. Once more Swaine screamed and then tumbled with a crash on to the floor of the bathroom.

"A curious thing," said the doctor afterwards to Mr. Septimus Gordon—the Commissioner. "It was a snake from the Gulf of Manar. Deadly enough of course. No doubt the bite would have killed him. But it didn't. I saw his face. He died of fear."

The Commissioner nodded.

"He didn't know the rule of the East—to throw your sponge into the bath before you use it. A snake from the Gulf of Manar. There's a snake-charmer giving performances at that hotel. I'll round him up."

He sat for a little time in thought, and his thoughts went straight to the Reverend Bernard Simmons, M.A., Oxon., B.D.

"I wonder," he said, less to the doctor than to himself.

 
 
 

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