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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"'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
"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
"You can do us all a good service, I am sure," said Mr. Septimus
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
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
Dulcie shook her head decidedly.
"I? Where should I go to?"
"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
"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
"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."
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
"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
The sun was going down fast behind the trees. Dulcie Simmons sprang to her
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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.