The Works of Rudyard Kipling One Volume Edition
Part 15 out of 18
Maisie was crying more subduedly, for the first time in her life glad that she
had something to lean against. Dick patted her on the shoulder tenderly but
clumsily, for he was not quite sure where her shoulder might be.
She drew herself out of his arms at last and waited, trembling and most
unhappy. He had felt his way to the window to put the width of the room between
them, and to quiet a little the tumult in his heart.
"Are you better now?" he said.
"Yes, but--don't you hate me?"
"I hate you? My God! I?"
"Isn't--isn't there anything I could do for you, then? I'll stay here in
England to do it, if you like. Perhaps I could come and see you sometimes."
"I think not, dear. It would be kindest not to see me any more, please. I don't
want to seem rude, but--don't you think--perhaps you had almost better go now."
He was conscious that he could not bear himself as a man if the strain
continued much longer.
"I don't deserve anything else. I'll go, Dick. Oh, I'm so miserable."
"Nonsense. You've nothing to worry about; I'd tell you if you had. Wait a
moment, dear. I've got something to give you first. I meant it for you ever
since this little trouble began. It's my Melancolia; she was a beauty when I
last saw her. You can keep her for me, and if ever you're poor you can sell
her. She's worth a few hundreds at any state of the market." He groped among
his canvases. "She's framed in black. Is this a black frame that I have my hand
on? There she is. What do you think of her?"
He turned a scarred formless muddle of paint towards Maisie, and the eyes
strained as though they would catch her wonder and surprise. One thing and one
thing only could she do for him.
The voice was fuller and more rounded, because the man knew he was speaking of
his best work. Maisie looked at the blur, and a lunatic desire to laugh caught
her by the throat. But for Dick's sake--whatever this mad blankness might mean-
-she must make no sign. Her voice choked with hard-held tears as she answered,
still gazing at the wreck--"Oh, Dick, it is good!"
He heard the little hysterical gulp and took it for tribute. "Won't you have
it, then? I'll send it over to your house if you will."
"I? Oh yes--thank you. Ha! ha!" If she did not fly at once the laughter that
was worse than tears would kill her. She turned and ran, choking and blinded,
down the staircases that were empty of life to take refuge in a cab and go to
her house across the Parks. There she sat down in the dismantled drawing-room
and thought of Dick in his blindness, useless till the end of life, and of
herself in her own eyes. Behind the sorrow, the shame, and the humiliation, lay
fear of the cold wrath of the red-haired girl when Maisie should return. Maisie
had never feared her companion before. Not until she found herself saying,
"Well, he never asked me," did she realise her scorn of herself.
And that is the end of Maisie.
* * * * * *
For Dick was reserved more searching torment. He could not realise at first
that Maisie, whom he had ordered to go had left him without a word of farewell.
He was savagely angry against Torpenhow, who had brought upon him this
humiliation and troubled his miserable peace. Then his dark hour came and he
was alone with himself and his desires to get what help he could from the
darkness. The queen could do no wrong, but in following the right, so far as it
served her work, she had wounded her one subject more than his own brain would
let him know.
"It's all I had and I've lost it," he said, as soon as the misery permitted
clear thinking. "And Torp will think that he has been so infernally clever that
I shan't have the heart to tell him. I must think this out quietly."
"Hullo!" said Torpenhow, entering the studio after Dick had enjoyed two hours
of thought. "I'm back. Are you feeling any better?"
"Torp, I don't know what to say. Come here." Dick coughed huskily, wondering,
indeed, what he should say, and how to say it temperately.
"What's the need for saying anything? Get up and tramp." Torpenhow was
They walked up and down as of custom, Torpenhow's hand on Dick's shoulder, and
Dick buried in his own thoughts.
"How in the world did you find it all out?" said Dick, at last.
"You shouldn't go off your head if you want to keep secrets, Dickie. It was
absolutely impertinent on my part; but if you'd seen me rocketing about on a
half-trained French troop-horse under a blazing sun you'd have laughed. There
will be a charivari in my rooms tonight. Seven other devils----"
"I know--the row in the Southern Soudan. I surprised their councils the other
day, and it made me unhappy. Have you fixed your flint to go? Who d'you work
"Haven't signed any contracts yet. I wanted to see how your business would turn
"Would you have stayed with me, then, if--things had gone wrong?" He put his
"Don't ask me too much. I'm only a man."
"You've tried to be an angel very successfully."
"Oh ye--es! . . . Well, do you attend the function tonight? We shall be half
screwed before the morning. All the men believe the war's a certainty."
"I don't think I will, old man, if it's all the same to you. I'll stay quiet
"And meditate? I don't blame you. You observe a good time if ever a man did."
That night there was a tumult on the stairs. The correspondents poured in from
theatre, dinner, and music-hall to Torpenhow's room that they might discuss
their plan of campaign in the event of military operations becoming a
certainty. Torpenhow, the Keneu,, and the Nilghai had bidden all the men they
had worked with to the orgy; and Mr. Beeton, the housekeeper, declared that
never before in his checkered experience had he seen quite such a fancy lot of
gentlemen. They waked the chambers with shoutings and song; and the elder men
were quite as bad as the younger. For the chances of war were in front of them,
and all knew what those meant.
Sitting in his own room a little perplexed by the noise across the landing,
Dick suddenly began to laugh to himself.
"When one comes to think of it the situation is intensely comic. Maisie"s quite
right--poor little thing. I didn't know she could cry like that before; but now
I know what Torp thinks, I'm sure he'd be quite fool enough to stay at home and
try to console me--if he knew. Besides, it isn't nice to own that you've been
thrown over like a broken chair. I must carry this business through alone--as
usual. If there isn't a war, and Torp finds out, I shall look foolish, that's
all. If there is a way I mustn't interfere with another man's chances. Business
is business, and I want to be alone--I want to be alone. What a row they're
Somebody hammered at the studio door.
"Come out and frolic, Dickie," said the Nilghai.
"I should like to, but I can't. I'm not feeling frolicsome."
"Then, I'll tell the boys and they'll drag you like a badger."
"Please not, old man. On my word, I'd sooner be left alone just now."
"Very good. Can we send anything in to you? Fizz, for instance. Cassavetti is
beginning to sing songs of the Sunny South already."
For one minute Dick considered the proposition seriously.
"No, thanks, I've a headache already."
"Virtuous child. That's the effect of emotion on the young. All my
congratulations, Dick. I also was concerned in the conspiracy for your
"Go to the devil--oh, send Binkie in here."
The little dog entered on elastic feet, riotous from having been made much of
all the evening. He had helped to sing the choruses; but scarcely inside the
studio he realised that this was no place for tail-wagging, and settled himself
on Dick's lap till it was bedtime. Then he went to bed with Dick, who counted
every hour as it struck, and rose in the morning with a painfully clear head to
receive Torpenhow's more formal congratulations and a particular account of the
last night's revels.
"You aren't looking very happy for a newly accepted man," said Torpenhow.
"Never mind that--it's my own affair, and I'm all right. Do you really go?"
"Yes. With the old Central Southern as usual. They wired, and I accepted on
better terms than before."
"When do you start?"
"The day after tomorrow--for Brindisi."
"Thank God." Dick spoke from the bottom of his heart.
"Well, that's not a pretty way of saying you're glad to get rid of me. But men
in your condition are allowed to be selfish."
"I didn't mean that. Will you get a hundred pounds cashed for me before you
"That's a slender amount for housekeeping, isn't it?"
"Oh, it's only for--marriage expenses."
Torpenhow brought him the money, counted it out in fives and tens, and
carefully put it away in the writing table.
"Now I suppose I shall have to listen to his ravings about his girl until I go.
Heaven send us patience with a man in love!" he said to himself.
But never a word did Dick say of Maisie or marriage. He hung in the doorway of
Torpenhow's room when the latter was packing and asked innumerable questions
about the coming campaign, till Torpenhow began to feel annoyed.
"You're a secretive animal, Dickie, and you consume your own smoke, don't you?"
he said on the last evening.
"I--I suppose so. By the way, how long do you think this war will last?"
"Days, weeks, or months. One can never tell. It may go on for years."
"I wish I were going."
"Good Heavens! You're the most unaccountable creature! Hasn't it occurred to
you that you're going to be married--thanks to me?"
"Of course, yes. I'm going to be married--so I am. Going to be married. I'm
awfully grateful to you. Haven't I told you that?"
"You might be going to be hanged by the look of you," said Torpenhow.
And the next day Torpenhow bade him good-bye and left him to the loneliness he
had so much desired.
Yet at the last, ere our spearmen had found him,
Yet at the last, ere a sword-thrust could save,
Yet at the last, with his masters around him,
He of the Faith spoke as master to slave;
Yet at the last, tho' the Kafirs had maimed him,
Broken by bondage and wrecked by the reiver,--
Yet at the last, tho' the darkness had claimed him,
He called upon Allah and died a believer.--Kizzilbashi.
"Beg your pardon, Mr. Heldar, but--but isn'tn othin" going to happen?" said Mr.
"No!" Dick had just waked to another morning of blank despair and his temper
was of the shortest.
"'Tain't my regular business, 'o course, sir; and what I say is, 'Mind your own
business and let other people mind theirs;' but just before Mr. Torpenhow went
away he give me to understand, like, that you might be moving into a house of
your own, so to speak--a sort of house with rooms upstairs and downstairs where
you'd be better attended to, though I try to act just by all our tenants. Don't
"Ah! That must have been a mad-house. I shan't trouble you to take me there
yet. Get me my breakfast, please, and leave me alone."
"I hope I haven't done anything wrong, sir, but you know I hope that as far as
a man can I tries to do the proper thing by all the gentlemen in chambers--and
more particular those whose lot is hard--such as you, for instance, Mr. Heldar.
You likes soft-roe bloater, don't you? Soft-roe bloaters is scarcer than hard-
roe, but what I says is, 'Never mind a little extra trouble so long as you give
satisfaction to the tenants.'"
Mr. Beeton withdrew and left Dick to himself. Torpenhow had been long away;
there was no more rioting in the chambers, and Dick had settled down to his new
life, which he was weak enough to consider nothing better than death.
It is hard to live alone in the dark, confusing the day and night; dropping to
sleep through sheer weariness at mid-day, and rising restless in the chill of
the dawn. At first Dick, on his awakenings, would grope along the corridors of
the chambers till he heard some one snore. Then he would know that the day had
not yet come, and return wearily to his bedroom.
Later he learned not to stir till there was a noise and movement in the house
and Mr. Beeton advised him to get up. Once dressed--and dressing, now that
Torpenhow was away, was a lengthy business, because collars, ties, and the like
hid themselves in far corners of the room, and search meant head-beating
against chairs and trunks--once dressed, there was nothing whatever to do
except to sit still and brood till the three daily meals came. Centuries
separated breakfast from lunch and lunch from dinner, and though a man prayed
for hundreds of years that his mind might be taken from him, God would never
hear. Rather the mind was quickened and the revolving thoughts ground against
each other as millstones grind when there is no corn between; and yet the brain
would not wear out and give him rest. It continued to think, at length, with
imagery and all manner of reminiscences. It recalled Maisie and past success,
reckless travels by land and sea, the glory of doing work and feeling that it
was good, and suggested all that might have happened had the eyes only been
faithful to their duty. When thinking ceased through sheer weariness, there
poured into Dick's soul tide on tide of overwhelming, purposeless fear--dread
of starvation always, terror lest the unseen ceiling should crush down upon
him, fear of fire in the chambers and a louse's death in red flame, and agonies
of fiercer horror that had nothing to do with any fear of death. Then Dick
bowed his head, and clutching the arms of his chair fought with his sweating
self till the tinkle of plates told him that something to eat was being set
Mr. Beeton would bring the meal when he had time to spare, and Dick learned to
hang upon his speech, which dealt with badly fitted gas-plugs, waste-pipes out
of repair, little tricks for driving picture-nails into walls, and the sins of
the charwoman or the housemaids. In the lack of better things the small gossip
of a servants' hall becomes immensely interesting, and the screwing of a washer
on a tap an event to be talked over for days.
Once or twice a week, too, Mr. Beeton would take Dick out with him when he went
marketing in the morning to haggle with tradesmen over fish, lamp-wicks,
mustard, tapioca, and so forth, while Dick rested his weight first on one foot
and then on the other and played aimlessly with the tins and string-ball on the
counter. Then they would perhaps meet one of Mr. Beeton's friends, and Dick,
standing aside a little, would hold his peace till Mr. Beeton was willing to go
The life did not increase his self-respect. He abandoned shaving as a dangerous
exercise, and being shaved in a barber's shop meant exposure of his infirmity.
He could not see that his clothes were properly brushed, and since he had never
taken any care of his personal appearance he became every known variety of
sloven. A blind man cannot deal with cleanliness till he has been some months
used to the darkness. If he demand attendance and grow angry at the want of it,
he must assert himself and stand upright. Then the meanest menial can see that
he is blind and, therefore, of no consequence. A wise man will keep his eyes on
the floor and sit still. For amusement he may pick coal lump by lump out of the
scuttle with the tongs and pile it in a little heap in the fender, keeping
count of the lumps, which must all be put back again, one by one and very
carefully. He may set himself sums if he cares to work them out; he may talk to
himself or to the cat if she chooses to visit him; and if his trade has been
that of an artist, he may sketch in the air with his forefinger; but that is
too much like drawing a pig with the eyes shut. He may go to his bookshelves
and count his books, ranging them in order of their size; or to his wardrobe
and count his shirts, laying them in piles of two or three on the bed, as they
suffer from frayed cuffs or lost buttons.
Even this entertainment wearies after a time; and all the times are very, very
Dick was allowed to sort a tool-chest where Mr. Beeton kept hammers, taps and
nuts, lengths of gas-pipes, oil-bottles, and string.
"If I don't have everything just where I know where to look for it, why, then,
I can't find anything when I do want it. You've no idea, sir, the amount of
little things that these chambers uses up," said Mr. Beeton.
Fumbling at the handle of the door as he went out: "It's hard on you, sir, I do
think it's hard on you. Ain't you going to do anything, sir?"
"I'll pay my rent and messing. Isn't that enough?"
"I wasn't doubting for a moment that you couldn't pay your way, sir; but I 'ave
often said to my wife, 'It's 'ard on 'im because it isn't as if he was an old
man, nor yet a middle-aged one, but quite a young gentleman. That's where it
comes so 'ard.'"
"I suppose so," said Dick, absently. This particular nerve through long
battering had ceased to feel--much.
"I was thinking," continued Mr. Beeton, still making as if to go, "that you
might like to hear my boy Alf read you the papers sometimes of an evening. He
do read beautiful, seeing he's only nine."
"I should be very grateful," said Dick. "Only let me make it worth his while."
"We wasn't thinking of that, sir, but of course it's in your own 'ands; but
only to 'ear Alf sing 'A Boy's best Friend is 'is Mother!' Ah!"
"I'll hear him sing that too. Let him come this evening with the newspapers."
Alf was not a nice child, being puffed up with many school-board certificates
for good conduct, and inordinately proud of his singing. Mr. Beeton remained,
beaming, while the child wailed his way through a song of some eight eight-line
verses in the usual whine of a young Cockney, and, after compliments, left him
to read Dick the foreign telegrams. Ten minutes later Alf returned to his
parents rather pale and scared.
"'E said "e couldn't stand it no more," he explained.
"He never said you read badly, Alf?" Mrs. Beeton spoke.
"No. 'E said I read beautiful. Said 'e never 'eard any one read like that, but
'e said 'e couldn't abide the stuff in the papers."
"P'raps he's lost some money in the Stocks. Were you readin' him about Stocks,
"No; it was all about fightin' out there where the soldiers is gone--a great
long piece with all the lines close together and very hard words in it. 'E give
me 'arf a crown because I read so well. And 'e says the next time there's
anything 'e wants read 'e'll send for me."
"That's good hearing, but I do think for all the half-crown--put it into the
kicking-donkey money-box, Alf, and let me see you do it--he might have kept you
longer. Why, he couldn't have begun to understand how beautiful you read."
"He's best left to hisself--gentlemen always are when they"re downhearted,"
said Mr. Beeton.
Alf's rigorously limited powers of comprehending Torpenhow"s special
correspondence had waked the devil of unrest in Dick. He could hear, through
the boy's nasal chant, the camels grunting in the squares behind the soldiers
outside Suakin; could hear the men swearing and chaffing across the cooking
pots, and could smell the acrid wood-smoke as it drifted over camp before the
wind of the desert.
That night he prayed to God that his mind might be taken from him, offering for
proof that he was worthy of this favour the fact that he had not shot himself
long ago. That prayer was not answered, and indeed Dick knew in his heart of
hearts that only a lingering sense of humour and no special virtue had kept him
alive. Suicide, he had persuaded himself, would be a ludicrous insult to the
gravity of the situation as well as a weak-kneed confession of fear.
"Just for the fun of the thing," he said to the cat, who had taken Binkie's
place in his establishment, "I should like to know how long this is going to
last. I can live for a year on the hundred pounds Torp cashed for me. I must
have two or three thousand at least in the Bank--twenty or thirty years more
provided for, that is to say. Then I fall back on my hundred and twenty a year,
which will be more by that time. Let's consider.
"Twenty-five--thirty-five--a man's in his prime then, they say--forty-five--a
middle-aged man just entering politics--fifty-five 'died at the comparatively
early age of fifty-five,' according to the newspapers. Bah! How these
Christians funk death! Sixty-five--we're only getting on in years. Seventy-five
is just possible, though. Great hell, cat O! fifty years more of solitary
confinement in the dark! You"ll die, and Beeton will die, and Torp will die,
and Mai--everybody else will die, but I shall be alive and kicking with nothing
to do. I'm very sorry for myself. I should like some one else to be sorry for
me. Evidently I'm not going mad before I die, but the pain's just as bad as
ever. Some day when you're vivisected, cat O! they'll tie you down on a little
table and cut you open--but don't be afraid; they'll take precious good care
that you don't die. You'll live, and you'll be very sorry then that you weren't
sorry for me. Perhaps Torp will come back or . . . I wish I could go to Torp
and the Nilghai, even though I were in their way."
Pussy left the room before the speech was ended, and Alf, as he entered, found
Dick addressing the empty hearth-rug.
"There's a letter for you, sir," he said. "Perhaps you'd like me to read it."
"Lend it to me for a minute and I'll tell you."
The outstretched hand shook just a little and the voice was not over-steady. It
was within the limits of human possibility that--that was no letter from
Maisie. He knew the heft of three closed envelopes only too well. It was a
foolish hope that the girl should write to him, for he did not realise that
there is a wrong which admits of no reparation though the evildoer may with
tears and the heart's best love strive to mend all. It is best to forget that
wrong whether it be caused or endured, since it is as remediless as bad work
once put forward.
"Read it, then," said Dick, and Alf began intoning according to the rules of
the Board School--"'I could have given you love, I could have given you
loyalty, such as you never dreamed of. Do you suppose I cared what you were?
But you chose to whistle everything down the wind for nothing. My only excuse
for you is that you are so young.' "That's all," he said, returning the paper
to be dropped into the fire.
"What was in the letter?" asked Mrs. Beeton, when Alf returned.
"I don't know. I think it was a circular or a tract about not whistlin' at
everything when you're young."
"I must have stepped on something when I was alive and walking about and it has
bounced up and hit me. God help it, whatever it is--unless it was all a joke.
But I don't know any one who"d take the trouble to play a joke on me--Love and
loyalty for nothing. It sounds tempting enough. I wonder whether I have lost
Dick considered for a long time but could not remember when or how he had put
himself in the way of winning these trifles at a woman's hands.
Still, the letter as touching on matters that he preferred not to think about
stung him into a fit of frenzy that lasted for a day and night. When his heart
was so full of despair that it would hold no more, body and soul together
seemed to be dropping without check through the darkness.
Then came fear of darkness and desperate attempts to reach the light again. But
there was no light to be reached. When that agony had left him sweating and
breathless, the downward flight would recommence till the gathering torture of
it spurred him into another fight as hopeless as the first. Followed some few
minutes of sleep in which he dreamed that he saw. Then the procession of events
would repeat itself till he was utterly worn out and the brain took up its
everlasting consideration of Maisie and might-have-beens.
At the end of everything Mr. Beeton came to his room and volunteered to take
him out. "Not marketing this time, but we'll go into the Parks if you like."
"Be damned if I do," quoth Dick. "Keep to the streets and walk up and down. I
like to hear the people round me."
This was not altogether true. The blind in the first stages of their infirmity
dislike those who can move with a free stride and unlifted arms--but Dick had
no earthly desire to go to the Parks. Once and only once since Maisie had shut
her door he had gone there under Alf's charge. Alf forgot him and fished for
minnows in the Serpentine with some companions. After half an hour's waiting
Dick, almost weeping with rage and wrath, caught a passer-by, who introduced
him to a friendly policeman, who led him to a four-wheeler opposite the Albert
Hall. He never told Mr. Beeton of Alf's forgetfulness, but . . . this was not
the manner in which he was used to walk the Parks aforetime.
"What streets would you like to walk down, then?" said Mr. Beeton,
sympathetically. His own ideas of a riotous holiday meant picnicking on the
grass of Green Park with his family, and half a dozen paper bags full of food.
"Keep to the river," said Dick, and they kept to the river, and the rush of it
was in his ears till they came to Blackfriars Bridge and struck thence on to
the Waterloo Road, Mr. Beeton explaining the beauties of the scenery as he went
"And walking on the other side of the pavement," said he, "unless I'm much
mistaken, is the young woman that used to come to your rooms to be drawed. I
never forgets a face and I never remembers a name, except paying tenants, 'o
"Stop her," said Dick. "It's Bessie Broke. Tell her I'd like to speak to her
again. Quick, man!"
Mr. Beeton crossed the road under the noses of the omnibuses and arrested
Bessie then on her way northward. She recognised him as the man in authority
who used to glare at her when she passed up Dick"s staircase, and her first
impulse was to run.
"Wasn't you Mr. Heldar's model?" said Mr. Beeton, planting himself in front of
her. "You was. He's on the other side of the road and he'd like to see you."
"Why?" said Bessie, faintly. She remembered--indeed had never for long
forgotten--an affair connected with a newly finished picture.
"Because he has asked me to do so, and because he's most particular blind."
"No. 'Orspital blind. He can't see. That's him over there."
Dick was leaning against the parapet of the bridge as Mr. Beeton pointed him
out--a stub-bearded, bowed creature wearing a dirty magenta-coloured neckcloth
outside an unbrushed coat. There was nothing to fear from such an one. Even if
he chased her, Bessie thought, he could not follow far. She crossed over, and
Dick's face lighted up. It was long since a woman of any kind had taken the
trouble to speak to him.
"I hope you're well, Mr. Heldar?" said Bessie, a little puzzled. Mr. Beeton
stood by with the air of an ambassador and breathed responsibly.
"I'm very well indeed, and, by Jove! I'm glad to see--hear you, I mean, Bess.
You never thought it worth while to turn up and see us again after you got your
money. I don't know why you should. Are you going anywhere in particular just
"I was going for a walk," said Bessie.
"Not the old business?" Dick spoke under his breath.
"Lor, no! I paid my premium"--Bessie was very proud of that word--"for a
barmaid, sleeping in, and I'm at the bar now quite respectable. Indeed I am."
Mr. Beeton had no special reason to believe in the loftiness of human nature.
Therefore he dissolved himself like a mist and returned to his gas-plugs
without a word of apology. Bessie watched the flight with a certain uneasiness;
but so long as Dick appeared to be ignorant of the harm that had been done to
him . . .
"It's hard work pulling the beer-handles," she went on, "and they've got one of
them penny-in-the-slot cash-machines, so if you get wrong by a penny at the end
of the day--but then I don't believe the machinery is right. Do you?"
"I've only seen it work. Mr. Beeton."
"I'm afraid I must ask you to help me home, then. I'll make it worth your
while. You see." The sightless eyes turned towards her and Bessie saw.
"It isn't taking you out of your way?" he said hesitatingly. "I can ask a
policeman if it is."
"Not at all. I come on at seven and I'm off at four. That's easy hours."
"Good God!--but I'm on all the time. I wish I had some work to do too. Let's go
He turned and cannoned into a man on the sidewalk, recoiling with an oath.
Bessie took his arm and said nothing--as she had said nothing when he had
ordered her to turn her face a little more to the light. They walked for some
time in silence, the girl steering him deftly through the crowd.
"And where's--where's Mr. Torpenhow?" she inquired at last.
"He has gone away to the desert."
Dick pointed to the right. "East--out of the mouth of the river," said he.
"Then west, then south, and then east again, all along the under-side of
Europe. Then south again, God knows how far." The explanation did not enlighten
Bessie in the least, but she held her tongue and looked to Dick"s patch till
they came to the chambers.
"We'll have tea and muffins," he said joyously. "I can't tell you, Bessie, how
glad I am to find you again. What made you go away so suddenly?"
"I didn't think you'd want me any more," she said, emboldened by his ignorance.
"I didn't, as a matter of fact--but afterwards--At any rate I'm glad you've
come. You know the stairs."
So Bessie led him home to his own place--there was no one to hinder--and shut
the door of the studio.
"What a mess!" was her first word. "All these things haven't been looked after
for months and months."
"No, only weeks, Bess. You can't expect them to care."
"I don't know what you expect them to do. They ought to know what you've paid
them for. The dust's just awful. It's all over the easel."
"I don't use it much now."
"All over the pictures and the floor, and all over your coat. I'd like to speak
to them housemaids."
"Ring for tea, then." Dick felt his way to the one chair he used by custom.
Bessie saw the action and, as far as in her lay, was touched. But there
remained always a keen sense of new-found superiority, and it was in her voice
when she spoke.
"How long have you been like this?" she said wrathfully, as though the
blindness were some fault of the housemaids.
"As you are."
"The day after you went away with the check, almost as soon as my picture was
finished; I hardly saw her alive."
"Then they've been cheating you ever since, that's all. I know their nice
A woman may love one man and despise another, but on general feminine
principles she will do her best to save the man she despises from being
defrauded. Her loved one can look to himself, but the other man, being
obviously an idiot, needs protection.
"I don't think Mr. Beeton cheats much," said Dick. Bessie was flouncing up and
down the room, and he was conscious of a keen sense of enjoyment as he heard
the swish of her skirts and the light step between.
"Tea and muffins," she said shortly, when the ring at the bell was answered;
"two teaspoonfuls and one over for the pot. I don't want the old teapot that
was here when I used to come. It don't draw. Get another."
The housemaid went away scandalised, and Dick chuckled. Then he began to cough
as Bessie banged up and down the studio disturbing the dust.
"What are you trying to do?"
"Put things straight. This is like unfurnished lodgings. How could you let it
"How could I help it? Dust away."
She dusted furiously, and in the midst of all the pother entered Mrs. Beeton.
Her husband on his return had explained the situation, winding up with the
peculiarly felicitous proverb, "Do unto others as you would be done by." She
had descended to put into her place the person who demanded muffins and an
uncracked teapot as though she had a right to both.
"Muffins ready yet?" said Bess, still dusting. She was no longer a drab of the
streets but a young lady who, thanks to Dick's check, had paid her premium and
was entitled to pull beer-handles with the best. Being neatly dressed in black
she did not hesitate to face Mrs. Beeton, and there passed between the two
women certain regards that Dick would have appreciated. The situation adjusted
itself by eye. Bessie had won, and Mrs. Beeton returned to cook muffins and
make scathing remarks about models, hussies, trollops, and the like, to her
"There's nothing to be got of interfering with him, Liza," he said. "Alf, you
go along into the street to play. When he isn't crossed he's as kindly as kind,
but when he's crossed he's the devil and all. We took too many little things
out of his rooms since he was blind to be that particular about what he does.
They ain't no objects to a blind man, of course, but if it was to come into
court we'd get the sack. Yes, I did introduce him to that girl because I'm a
feelin' man myself."
"Much too feelin'!" Mrs. Beeton slapped the muffins into the dish, and thought
of comely housemaids long since dismissed on suspicion.
"I ain't ashamed of it, and it isn't for us to judge him hard so long as he
pays quiet and regular as he do. I know how to manage young gentlemen, you know
how to cook for them, and what I says is, let each stick to his own business
and then there won't be any trouble. Take them muffins down, Liza, and be sure
you have no words with that young woman. His lot is cruel hard, and if he's
crossed he do swear worse than any one I"ve ever served."
"That's a little better," said Bessie, sitting down to the tea. "You needn't
wait, thank you, Mrs. Beeton."
"I had no intention of doing such, I do assure you."
Bessie made no answer whatever. This, she knew, was the way in which real
ladies routed their foes, and when one is a barmaid at a first-class public-
house one may become a real lady at ten minutes' notice.
Her eyes fell on Dick opposite her and she was both shocked and displeased.
There were droppings of food all down the front of his coat; the mouth under
the ragged ill-grown beard drooped sullenly; the forehead was lined and
contracted; and on the lean temples the hair was a dusty indeterminate colour
that might or might not have been called gray. The utter misery and self-
abandonment of the man appealed to her, and at the bottom of her heart lay the
wicked feeling that he was humbled and brought low who had once humbled her.
"Oh! it is good to hear you moving about," said Dick, rubbing his hands. "Tell
us all about your bar successes, Bessie, and the way you live now."
"Never mind that. I'm quite respectable, as you'd see by looking at me. You
don't seem to live too well. What made you go blind that sudden? Why isn't
there any one to look after you?"
Dick was too thankful for the sound of her voice to resent the tone of it.
"I was cut across the head a long time ago, and that ruined my eyes. I don't
suppose anybody thinks it worth while to look after me any more. Why should
they?--and Mr. Beeton really does everything I want."
"Don't you know any gentlemen and ladies, then, while you was--well?"
"A few, but I don't care to have them looking at me."
"I suppose that's why you've growed a beard. Take it off, it don"t become you."
"Good gracious, child, do you imagine that I think of what becomes of me these
"You ought. Get that taken off before I come here again. I suppose I can come,
"I'd be only too grateful if you did. I don't think I treated you very well in
the old days. I used to make you angry."
"Very angry, you did."
"I'm sorry for it, then. Come and see me when you can and as often as you can.
God knows, there isn't a soul in the world to take that trouble except you and
"A lot of trouble he's taking and she too." This with a toss of the head.
"They've let you do anyhow and they haven't done anything for you. I've only to
look and see that much. I'll come, and I'll be glad to come, but you must go
and be shaved, and you must get some other clothes--those ones aren't fit to be
"I have heaps somewhere," he said helplessly.
"I know you have. Tell Mr. Beeton to give you a new suit and I'll brush it and
keep it clean. You may be as blind as a barn-door, Mr. Heldar, but it doesn't
excuse you looking like a sweep."
"Do I look like a sweep, then?"
"Oh, I'm sorry for you. I'm that sorry for you!" she cried impulsively, and
took Dick's hands. Mechanically, he lowered his head as if to kiss--she was the
only woman who had taken pity on him, and he was not too proud for a little
pity now. She stood up to go.
"Nothing 'o that kind till you look more like a gentleman. It's quite easy when
you get shaved, and some clothes."
He could hear her drawing on her gloves and rose to say good-bye. She passed
behind him, kissed him audaciously on the back of the neck, and ran away as
swiftly as on the day when she had destroyed the Melancolia.
"To think of me kissing Mr. Heldar," she said to herself, "after all he's done
to me and all! Well, I'm sorry for him, and if he was shaved he wouldn't be so
bad to look at, but . . . Oh them Beetons, how shameful they've treated him! I
know Beeton's wearing his shirt on his back today just as well as if I'd aired
it. Tomorrow, I'll see . . . I wonder if he has much of his own. It might be
worth more than the bar--I wouldn't have to do any work--and just as
respectable as if no one knew."
Dick was not grateful to Bessie for her parting gift. He was acutely conscious
of it in the nape of his neck throughout the night, but it seemed, among very
many other things, to enforce the wisdom of getting shaved.
He was shaved accordingly in the morning, and felt the better for it. A fresh
suit of clothes, white linen, and the knowledge that some one in the world said
that she took an interest in his personal appearance made him carry himself
almost upright; for the brain was relieved for a while from thinking of Maisie,
who, under other circumstances, might have given that kiss and a million
"Let us consider," said he, after lunch. "The girl can't care, and it's a toss-
up whether she comes again or not, but if money can buy her to look after me
she shall be bought. Nobody else in the world would take the trouble, and I can
make it worth her while. She's a child of the gutter holding brevet rank as a
barmaid; so she shall have everything she wants if she'll only come and talk
and look after me." He rubbed his newly shorn chin and began to perplex himself
with the thought of her not coming. "I suppose I did look rather a sweep," he
went on. "I had no reason to look otherwise. I knew things dropped on my
clothes, but it didn't matter. It would be cruel if she didn't come. She must.
Maisie came once, and that was enough for her. She was quite right. She had
something to work for. This creature has only beer-handles to pull, unless she
has deluded some young man into keeping company with her. Fancy being cheated
for the sake of a counter-jumper! We're falling pretty low."
Something cried aloud within him:--This will hurt more than anything that has
gone before. It will recall and remind and suggest and tantalise, and in the
end drive you mad.
"I know it, I know it!" Dick cried, clenching his hands despairingly; "but,
good heavens! is a poor blind beggar never to get anything out of his life
except three meals a day and a greasy waistcoat? I wish she'd come."
Early in the afternoon time she came, because there was no young man in her
life just then, and she thought of material advantages which would allow her to
be idle for the rest of her days.
"I shouldn't have known you," she said approvingly. "You look as you used to
look--a gentleman that was proud of himself."
"Don't you think I deserve another kiss, then?" said Dick, flushing a little.
"Maybe--but you won't get it yet. Sit down and let's see what I can do for you.
I'm certain sure Mr. Beeton cheats you, now that you can't go through the
housekeeping books every month. Isn't that true?"
"You'd better come and housekeep for me then, Bessie."
"Couldn't do it in these chambers--you know that as well as I do."
"I know, but we might go somewhere else, if you thought it worth your while."
"I'd try to look after you, anyhow; but I shouldn't care to have to work for
both of us." This was tentative.
"Do you remember where I used to keep my bank-book?" said he. "Torp took it to
be balanced just before he went away. Look and see."
"It was generally under the tobacco-jar. Ah!"
"Oh! Four thousand two hundred and ten pounds nine shillings and a penny! Oh
"You can have the penny. That's not bad for one year's work. Is that and a
hundred and twenty pounds a year good enough?"
The idleness and the pretty clothes were almost within her reach now, but she
must, by being housewifely, show that she deserved them.
"Yes; but you'd have to move, and if we took an inventory, I think we"d find
that Mr. Beeton has been prigging little things out of the rooms here and
there. They don't look as full as they used."
"Never mind, we'll let him have them. The only thing I"m particularly anxious
to take away is that picture I used you for--when you used to swear at me.
We'll pull out of this place, Bess, and get away as far as ever we can."
"Oh yes," she said uneasily.
"I don't know where I can go to get away from myself, but I'll try, and you
shall have all the pretty frocks that you care for. You'll like that. Give me
that kiss now, Bess. Ye gods! it's good to put one's arm round a woman's waist
Then came the fulfilment of the prophecy within the brain. If his arm were thus
round Maisie's waist and a kiss had just been given and taken between them,--
why then . . . He pressed the girl more closely to himself because the pain
whipped him. She was wondering how to explain a little accident to the
Melancolia. At any rate, if this man really desired the solace of her company--
and certainly he would relapse into his original slough if she withdrew it--he
would not be more than just a little vexed.
It would be delightful at least to see what would happen, and by her teachings
it was good for a man to stand in certain awe of his companion.
She laughed nervously, and slipped out of his reach.
"I shouldn't worrit about that picture if I was you," she began, in the hope of
turning his attention.
"It's at the back of all my canvases somewhere. Find it, Bess; you know it as
well as I do."
"But what? You've wit enough to manage the sale of it to a dealer. Women haggle
much better than men. It might be a matter of eight or nine hundred pounds to--
to us. I simply didn't like to think about it for a long time. It was mixed up
with my life so.--But we'll cover up our tracks and get rid of everything, eh?
Make a fresh start from the beginning, Bess."
Then she began to repent very much indeed, because she knew the value of money.
Still, it was probable that the blind man was overestimating the value of his
work. Gentlemen, she knew, were absurdly particular about their things. She
giggled as a nervous housemaid giggles when she tries to explain the breakage
of a pipe.
"I'm very sorry, but you remember I was--I was angry with you before Mr.
Torpenhow went away?"
"You were very angry, child; and on my word I think you had some right to be."
"Then I--but aren't you sure Mr. Torpenhow didn't tell you?"
"Tell me what? Good gracious, what are you making such a fuss about when you
might just as well be giving me another kiss?"
He was beginning to learn, not for the first time in his experience, that
kissing is a cumulative poison. The more you get of it, the more you want.
Bessie gave the kiss promptly, whispering, as she did so, "I was so angry I
rubbed out that picture with the turpentine. You aren't angry, are you?"
"What? Say that again." The man's hand had closed on her wrist.
"I rubbed it out with turps and the knife," faltered Bessie. "I thought you"d
only have to do it over again. You did do it over again, didn't you? Oh, let go
of my wrist; you're hurting me."
"Isn't there anything left of the thing?"
"N'nothing that looks like anything. I'm sorry--I didn't know you"d take on
about it; I only meant to do it in fun. You aren't going to hit me?"
"Hit you! No! Let's think."
He did not relax his hold upon her wrist but stood staring at the carpet.
Then he shook his head as a young steer shakes it when the lash of the stock-
whip cross his nose warns him back to the path on to the shambles that he would
escape. For weeks he had forced himself not to think of the Melancolia, because
she was a part of his dead life. With Bessie's return and certain new prospects
that had developed themselves, the Melancolia--lovelier in his imagination than
she had ever been on canvas--reappeared. By her aid he might have procured more
money wherewith to amuse Bess and to forget Maisie, as well as another taste of
an almost forgotten success. Now, thanks to a vicious little housemaid's folly,
there was nothing to look for--not even the hope that he might some day take an
abiding interest in the housemaid. Worst of all, he had been made to appear
ridiculous in Maisie's eyes. A woman will forgive the man who has ruined her
life's work so long as he gives her love; a man may forgive those who ruin the
love of his life, but he will never forgive the destruction of his work.
"Tck--tck--tck," said Dick between his teeth, and then laughed softly. "It's an
omen, Bessie, and--a good many things considered, it serves me right for doing
what I have done. By Jove! that accounts for Maisie's running away. She must
have thought me perfectly mad--small blame to her! The whole picture ruined,
isn't it so? What made you do it?"
"Because I was that angry. I'm not angry now--I'm awful sorry."
"I wonder.--It doesn't matter, anyhow. I'm to blame for making the mistake."
"Something you wouldn't understand, dear. Great heavens! to think that a little
piece of dirt like you could throw me out of stride!" Dick was talking to
himself as Bessie tried to shake off his grip on her wrist.
"I ain't a piece of dirt, and you shouldn't call me so! I did it 'cause I hated
you, and I'm only sorry now 'cause you're 'cause you're----"
"Exactly--because I'm blind. There's noting like tact in little things."
Bessie began to sob. She did not like being shackled against her will; she was
afraid of the blind face and the look upon it, and was sorry too that her great
revenge had only made Dick laugh.
"Don't cry," he said, and took her into his arms. "You only did what you
"I--I ain't a little piece of dirt, and if you say that I'll never come to you
"You don't know what you've done to me. I'm not angry--indeed, I'm not. Be
quiet for a minute."
Bessie remained in his arms shrinking. Dick's first thought was connected with
Maisie, and it hurt him as white-hot iron hurts an open sore.
Not for nothing is a man permitted to ally himself to the wrong woman.
The first pang--the first sense of things lost is but the prelude to the play,
for the very just Providence who delights in causing pain has decreed that the
agony shall return, and that in the midst of keenest pleasure.
They know this pain equally who have forsaken or been forsaken by the love of
their life, and in their new wives' arms are compelled to realise it.
It is better to remain alone and suffer only the misery of being alone, so long
as it is possible to find distraction in daily work. When that resource goes
the man is to be pitied and left alone.
These things and some others Dick considered while he was holding Bessie to his
"Though you mayn't know it," he said, raising his head, "the Lord is a just and
a terrible God, Bess; with a very strong sense of humour. It serves me right--
how it serves me right! Torp could understand it if he were here; he must have
suffered something at your hands, child, but only for a minute or so. I saved
him. Set that to my credit, some one."
"Let me go," said Bess, her face darkening. "Let me go."
"All in good time. Did you ever attend Sunday school?"
"Never. Let me go, I tell you; you're making fun of me."
"Indeed, I'm not. I'm making fun of myself. . . . Thus. "He saved others,
himself he cannot save." It isn't exactly a school-board text." He released her
wrist, but since he was between her and the door, she could not escape. "What
an enormous amount of mischief one little woman can do!"
"I'm sorry; I'm awful sorry about the picture."
"I'm not. I'm grateful to you for spoiling it. . . . What were we talking about
before you mentioned the thing?"
"About getting away--and money. Me and you going away."
"Of course. We will get away--that is to say, I will."
"You shall have fifty whole pounds for spoiling a picture."
"Then you won't----?"
"I'm afraid not, dear. Think of fifty pounds for pretty things all to
"You said you couldn't do anything without me."
"That was true a little while ago. I'm better now, thank you. Get me my hat."
"S'pose I don't?"
"Beeton will, and you'll lose fifty pounds. That's all. Get it."
Bessie cursed under her breath. She had pitied the man sincerely, had kissed
him with almost equal sincerity, for he was not unhandsome; it pleased her to
be in a way and for a time his protector, and above all there were four
thousand pounds to be handled by some one. Now through a slip of the tongue and
a little feminine desire to give a little, not too much, pain she had lost the
money, the blessed idleness and the pretty things, the companionship, and the
chance of looking outwardly as respectable as a real lady.
"Now fill me a pipe. Tobacco doesn't taste, but it doesn't matter, and I"ll
think things out. What's the day of the week, Bess?"
"Then Thursday's mail-day. What a fool--what a blind fool I have been! Twenty-
two pounds covers my passage home again. Allow ten for additional expenses. We
must put up at Madam Binat's for old time"s sake. Thirty-two pounds altogether.
Add a hundred for the cost of the last trip--Gad, won't Torp stare to see me!--
a hundred and thirty-two leaves seventy-eight for baksheesh--I shall need it--
and to play with. What are you crying for, Bess? It wasn't your fault, child;
it was mine altogether. Oh, you funny little opossum, mop your eyes and take me
out! I want the pass-book and the check-book. Stop a minute. Four thousand
pounds at four per cent--that's safe interest--means a hundred and sixty pounds
a year; one hundred and twenty pounds a year--also safe--is two eighty, and two
hundred and eighty pounds added to three hundred a year means gilded luxury for
a single woman. Bess, we'll go to the bank."
Richer by two hundred and ten pounds stored in his money-belt, Dick caused
Bessie, now thoroughly bewildered, to hurry from the bank to the P. and O.
offices, where he explained things tersely.
"Port Said, single first; cabin as close to the baggage-hatch as possible. What
"The Colgong," said the clerk.
"She's a wet little hooker. Is it Tilbury and a tender, or Galleons and the
"Galleons. Twelve-forty, Thursday."
"Thanks. Change, please. I can't see very well--will you count it into my
"If they all took their passages like that instead of talking about their
trunks, life would be worth something," said the clerk to his neighbour, who
was trying to explain to a harassed mother of many that condensed milk is just
as good for babes at sea as daily dairy. Being nineteen and unmarried, he spoke
"We are now," quoth Dick, as they returned to the studio, patting the place
where his money-belt covered ticket and money, "beyond the reach of man, or
devil, or woman--which is much more important. I"ve had three little affairs to
carry through before Thursday, but I needn't ask you to help, Bess. Come here
on Thursday morning at nine. We'll breakfast, and you shall take me down to
"What are you going to do?"
"Going away, of course. What should I stay for?"
"But you can't look after yourself?"
"I can do anything. I didn't realise it before, but I can. I've done a great
deal already. Resolution shall be treated to one kiss if Bessie doesn't
object." Strangely enough, Bessie objected and Dick laughed. "I suppose you're
right. Well, come at nine the day after tomorrow and you'll get your money."
"Shall I sure?"
"I don't bilk, and you won't know whether I do or not unless you come. Oh, but
it's long and long to wait! Good-bye, Bessie,--send Beeton here as you go out."
The housekeeper came.
"What are all the fittings of my rooms worth?" said Dick, imperiously.
"'Tisn't for me to say, sir. Some things is very pretty and some is wore out
"I'm insured for two hundred and seventy."
"Insurance policies is no criterion, though I don't say----"
"Oh, damn your longwindedness! You've made your pickings out of me and the
other tenants. Why, you talked of retiring and buying a public-house the other
day. Give a straight answer to a straight question."
"Fifty," said Mr. Beeton, without a moment's hesitation.
"Double it; or I'll break up half my sticks and burn the rest."
He felt his way to a bookstand that supported a pile of sketch-books, and
wrenched out one of the mahogany pillars.
"That's sinful, sir," said the housekeeper, alarmed.
"It's my own. One hundred or----"
"One hundred it is. It'll cost me three and six to get that there pilaster
"I thought so. What an out and out swindler you must have been to spring that
price at once!"
"I hope I've done nothing to dissatisfy any of the tenants, least of all you,
"Never mind that. Get me the money tomorrow, and see that all my clothes are
packed in the little brown bullock-trunk. I'm going."
"But the quarter's notice?"
"I'll pay forfeit. Look after the packing and leave me alone."
Mr. Beeton discussed this new departure with his wife, who decided that Bessie
was at the bottom of it all. Her husband took a more charitable view.
"It's very sudden--but then he was always sudden in his ways. Listen to him
There was a sound of chanting from Dick's room.
"We'll never come back any more, boys,
We'll never come back no more;
We'll go to the deuce on any excuse,
And never come back no more!
Oh say we're afloat or ashore, boys,
Oh say we're afloat or ashore;
But we'll never come back any more, boys,
We'll never come back no more!"
"Mr. Beeton! Mr. Beeton! Where the deuce is my pistol?"
"Quick, he's going to shoot himself 'avin" gone mad!" said Mrs. Beeton.
Mr. Beeton addressed Dick soothingly, but it was some time before the latter,
threshing up and down his bedroom, could realise the intention of the promises
to 'find everything tomorrow, sir.'
"Oh, you copper-nosed old fool--you impotent Academician!" he shouted at last.
"Do you suppose I want to shoot myself? Take the pistol in your silly shaking
hand then. If you touch it, it will go off, because it's loaded. It's among my
campaign-kit somewhere--in the parcel at the bottom of the trunk."
Long ago Dick had carefully possessed himself of a forty-pound weight field-
equipment constructed by the knowledge of his own experience. It was this put-
away treasure that he was trying to find and rehandle. Mr. Beeton whipped the
revolver out of its place on the top of the package, and Dick drove his hand
among the khaki coat and breeches, the blue cloth leg-bands, and the heavy
flannel shirts doubled over a pair of swan-neck spurs. Under these and the
water-bottle lay a sketch-book and a pigskin case of stationery.
"These we don't want; you can have them, Mr. Beeton. Everything else I'll keep.
Pack 'em on the top right-hand side of my trunk. When you've done that come
into the studio with your wife. I want you both. Wait a minute; get me a pen
and a sheet of notepaper."
It is not an easy thing to write when you cannot see, and Dick had particular
reasons for wishing that his work should be clear. So he began, following his
right hand with his left: ""The badness of this writing is because I am blind
and cannot see my pen." H'mph!--even a lawyer can't mistake that. It must be
signed, I suppose, but it needn't be witnessed. Now an inch lower--why did I
never learn to use a type-writer?--"This is the last will and testament of me,
Richard Heldar. I am in sound bodily and mental health, and there is no
previous will to revoke."--That's all right. Damn the pen! Whereabouts on the
paper was I?--"I leave everything that I possess in the world, including four
thousand pounds, and two thousand seven hundred and twenty eight pounds held
for me"--oh, I can't get this straight." He tore off half the sheet and began
again with the caution about the handwriting. Then: "I leave all the money I
possess in the world to"--here followed Maisie"s name, and the names of the two
banks that held the money.
"It mayn't be quite regular, but no one has a shadow of a right to dispute it,
and I've given Maisie's address. Come in, Mr. Beeton. This is my signature; I
want you and your wife to witness it. Thanks. Tomorrow you must take me to the
landlord and I'll pay forfeit for leaving without notice, and I'll lodge this
paper with him in case anything happens while I'm away. Now we're going to
light up the studio stove. Stay with me, and give me my papers as I want 'em."
No one knows until he has tried how fine a blaze a year's accumulation of
bills, letters, and dockets can make. Dick stuffed into the stove every
document in the studio--saving only three unopened letters; destroyed sketch-
books, rough note-books, new and half-finished canvases alike.
"What a lot of rubbish a tenant gets about him if he stays long enough in one
place, to be sure," said Mr. Beeton, at last.
"He does. Is there anything more left?" Dick felt round the walls.
"Not a thing, and the stove's nigh red-hot."
"Excellent, and you've lost about a thousand pounds' worth of sketches. Ho! ho!
Quite a thousand pounds' worth, if I can remember what I used to be."
"Yes, sir," politely. Mr. Beeton was quite sure that Dick had gone mad,
otherwise he would have never parted with his excellent furniture for a song.
The canvas things took up storage room and were much better out of the way.
There remained only to leave the little will in safe hands: that could not be
accomplished til tomorrow. Dick groped about the floor picking up the last
pieces of paper, assured himself again and again that there remained no written
word or sign of his past life in drawer or desk, and sat down before the stove
till the fire died out and the contracting iron cracked in the silence of the
With a heart of furious fancies,
Whereof I am commander;
With a burning spear and a horse of air,
To the wilderness I wander.
With a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney--
Ten leagues beyond the wide world's end,
Methinks it is no journey.
--Tom o' Bedlam's Song
"Goodbye, Bess; I promised you fifty. Here's a hundred--all that I got for my
furniture from Beeton. That will keep you in pretty frocks for some time.
You've been a good little girl, all things considered, but you"ve given me and
Torpenhow a fair amount of trouble."
"Give Mr. Torpenhow my love if you see him, won't you?"
"Of course I will, dear. Now take me up the gang-plank and into the cabin. Once
aboard the lugger and the maid is--and I am free, I mean."
"Who'll look after you on this ship?"
"The head-steward, if there's any use in money. The doctor when we come to Port
Said, if I know anything of P. and O. doctors. After that, the Lord will
provide, as He used to do."
Bess found Dick his cabin in the wild turmoil of a ship full of leavetakers and
weeping relatives. Then he kissed her, and laid himself down in his bunk until
the decks should be clear. He who had taken so long to move about his own
darkened rooms well understood the geography of a ship, and the necessity of
seeing to his own comforts was as wine to him.
Before the screw began to thrash the ship along the Docks he had been
introduced to the head-steward, had royally tipped him, secured a good place at
table, opened out his baggage, and settled himself down with joy in the cabin.
It was scarcely necessary to feel his way as he moved about, for he knew
everything so well. Then God was very kind: a deep sleep of weariness came upon
him just as he would have thought of Maisie, and he slept till the steamer had
cleared the mouth of the Thames and was lifting to the pulse of the Channel.
The rattle of the engines, the reek of oil and paint, and a very familiar sound
in the next cabin roused him to his new inheritance.
"Oh, it's good to be alive again!" He yawned, stretched himself vigorously, and
went on deck to be told that they were almost abreast of the lights of
Brighton. This is no more open water than Trafalgar Square is a common; the
free levels begin at Ushant; but none the less Dick could feel the healing of
the sea at work upon him already. A boisterous little cross-swell swung the
steamer disrespectfully by the nose; and one wave breaking far aft spattered
the quarterdeck and the pile of new deck-chairs. He heard the foam fall with
the clash of broken glass, was stung in the face by a cupful, and sniffing
luxuriously, felt his way to the smoking-room by the wheel. There a strong
breeze found him, blew his cap off and left him bareheaded in the doorway, and
the smoking-room steward, understanding that he was a voyager of experience,
said that the weather would be stiff in the chops off the Channel and more than
half a gale in the Bay. These things fell as they were foretold, and Dick
enjoyed himself to the utmost. It is allowable and even necessary at sea to lay
firm hold upon tables, stanchions, and ropes in moving from place to place. On
land the man who feels with his hands is patently blind. At sea even a blind
man who is not sea-sick can jest with the doctor over the weakness of his
fellows. Dick told the doctor many tales--and these are coin of more value than
silver if properly handled--smoked with him till unholy hours of the night, and
so won his short-lived regard that he promised Dick a few hours of his time
when they came to Port Said.
And the sea roared or was still as the winds blew, and the engines sang their
song day and night, and the sun grew stronger day by day, and Tom the Lascar
barber shaved Dick of a morning under the opened hatch-grating where the cool
winds blew, and the awnings were spread and the passengers made merry, and at
last they came to Port Said.
"Take me," said Dick, to the doctor, "to Madame Binat's--if you know where that
"Whew!" said the doctor, "I do. There's not much to choose between 'em; but I
suppose you're aware that that's one of the worst houses in the place. They'll
rob you to begin with, and knife you later."
"Not they. Take me there, and I can look after myself."
So he was brought to Madame Binat's and filled his nostrils with the well-
remembered smell of the East, that runs without a change from the Canal head to
Hong-Kong, and his mouth with the villainous Lingua Franca of the Levant. The
heat smote him between the shoulder-blades with the buffet of an old friend,
his feet slipped on the sand, and his coat-sleeve was warm as new-baked bread
when he lifted it to his nose.
Madame Binat smiled with the smile that knows no astonishment when Dick entered
the drinking-shop which was one source of her gains. But for a little accident
of complete darkness he could hardly realise that he had ever quitted the old
life that hummed in his ears. Somebody opened a bottle of peculiarly strong
Schiedam. The smell reminded Dick of Monsieur Binat, who, by the way, had
spoken of art and degradation.
Binat was dead; Madame said as much when the doctor departed, scandalised, so
far as a ship's doctor can be, at the warmth of Dick's reception. Dick was
delighted at it. "They remember me here after a year. They have forgotten me
across the water by this time. Madame, I want a long talk with you when you're
at liberty. It is good to be back again."
In the evening she set an iron-topped caf‚-table out on the sands, and Dick and
she sat by it, while the house behind them filled with riot, merriment, oaths,
and threats. The stars came out and the lights of the shipping in the harbour
twinkled by the head of the Canal.
"Yes. The war is good for trade, my friend; but what dost thou do here? We have
not forgotten thee."
"I was over there in England and I went blind."
"But there was the glory first. We heard of it here, even here--I and Binat;
and thou hast used the head of Yellow 'Tina--she is still alive--so often and
so well that 'Tina laughed when the papers arrived by the mail-boats. It was
always something that we here could recognise in the paintings. And then there
was always the glory and the money for thee."
"I am not poor--I shall pay you well."
"Not to me. Thou hast paid for everything." Under her breath, "Mon Dieu, to be
blind and so young! What horror!"
Dick could not see her face with the pity on it, or his own with the
discoloured hair at the temples. He did not feel the need of pity; he was too
anxious to get to the front once more, and explained his desire.
"And where? The Canal is full of the English ships. Sometimes they fire as they
used to do when the war was here--ten years ago. Beyond Cairo there is
fighting, but how canst thou go there without a correspondent's passport? And
in the desert there is always fighting, but that is impossible also," said she.
"I must go to Suakin." He knew, thanks to Alf's readings, that Torpenhow was at
work with the column that was protecting the construction of the Suakin-Berber
line. P. and O. steamers do not touch at that port, and, besides, Madame Binat
knew everybody whose help or advice was worth anything. They were not
respectable folk, but they could cause things to be accomplished, which is much
more important when there is work toward.
"But at Suakin they are always fighting. That desert breeds men always--and
always more men. And they are so bold! Why to Suakin?"
"My friend is there.
"Thy friend! Chtt! Thy friend is death, then."
Madame Binat dropped a fat arm on the table-top, filled Dick's glass anew, and
looked at him closely under the stars. There was no need that he should bow his
head in assent and say--"No. He is a man, but--if it should arrive . . .
"I blame?" she laughed shrilly. "Who am I that I should blame any one--except
those who try to cheat me over their consommations. But it is very terrible."
"I must go to Suakin. Think for me. A great deal has changed within the year,
and the men I knew are not here. The Egyptian lighthouse steamer goes down the
Canal to Suakin--and the post-boats--But even then----"
"Do not think any longer. I know, and it is for me to think. Thou shalt go--
thou shalt go and see thy friend. Be wise. Sit here until the house is a little
quiet--I must attend to my guests--and afterwards go to bed. Thou shalt go, in
truth, thou shalt go."
"As soon as may be." She was talking as though he were a child.
He sat at the table listening to the voices in the harbour and the streets, and
wondering how soon the end would come, till Madame Binat carried him off to bed
and ordered him to sleep. The house shouted and sang and danced and revelled,
Madame Binat moving through it with one eye on the liquor payments and the
girls and the other on Dick's interests. To this latter end she smiled upon
scowling and furtive Turkish officers of fellaheen regiments, and was more than
kind to camel agents of no nationality whatever.
In the early morning, being then appropriately dressed in a flaming red silk
ball-dress, with a front of tarnished gold embroidery and a necklace of plate-
glass diamonds, she made chocolate and carried it in to Dick.
"It is only I, and I am of discreet age, eh? Drink and eat the roll too. Thus
in France mothers bring their sons, when those behave wisely, the morning
chocolate." She sat down on the side of the bed whispering:--"It is all
arranged. Thou wilt go by the lighthouse boat. That is a bribe of ten pounds
English. The captain is never paid by the Government. The boat comes to Suakin
in four days. There will go with thee George, a Greek muleteer. Another bribe
of ten pounds. I will pay; they must not know of thy money. George will go with
thee as far as he goes with his mules. Then he comes back to me, for his well-
beloved is here, and if I do not receive a telegram from Suakin saying that
thou art well, the girl answers for George."
"Thank you." He reached out sleepily for the cup. "You are much too kind,
"If there were anything that I might do I would say, stay here and be wise; but
I do not think that would be best for thee." She looked at her liquor-stained
dress with a sad smile. "Nay, thou shalt go, in truth, thou shalt go. It is
best so. My boy, it is best so."
She stooped and kissed Dick between the eyes. "That is for good-morning," she
said, going away. "When thou art dressed we will speak to George and make
everything ready. But first we must open the little trunk. Give me the keys."
"The amount of kissing lately has been simply scandalous. I shall expect Torp
to kiss me next. He is more likely to swear at me for getting in his way,
though. Well, it won't last long.--Ohe, Madame, help me to my toilette of the
guillotine! There will be no chance of dressing properly out yonder."
He was rummaging among his new campaign-kit, and rowelling his hands with the
spurs. There are two ways of wearing well-oiled ankle-jacks, spotless blue
bands, khaki coat and breeches, and a perfectly pipeclayed helmet. The right
way is the way of the untired man, master of himself, setting out upon an
expedition, well pleased.
"Everything must be very correct," Dick explained. "It will become dirty
afterwards, but now it is good to feel well dressed. Is everything as it should
He patted the revolver neatly hidden under the fulness of the blouse on the
right hip and fingered his collar.
"I can do no more," Madame said, between laughing and crying. "Look at thyself-
-but I forgot."
"I am very content." He stroked the creaseless spirals of his leggings.
"Now let us go and see the captain and George and the lighthouse boat. Be
"But thou canst not be seen by the harbour walking with me in the daylight.
Figure to yourself if some English ladies----"
"There are no English ladies; and if there are, I have forgotten them. Take me
In spite of this burning impatience it was nearly evening ere the lighthouse
boat began to move. Madame had said a great deal both to George and the captain
touching the arrangements that were to be made for Dick's benefit. Very few men
who had the honour of her acquaintance cared to disregard Madame's advice. That
sort of contempt might end in being knifed by a stranger in a gambling hell
upon surprisingly short provocation.
For six days--two of them were wasted in the crowded Canal--the little steamer
worked her way to Suakin, where she was to pick up the superintendent of the
lighthouse; and Dick made it his business to propitiate George, who was
distracted with fears for the safety of his light-of-love and half inclined to
make Dick responsible for his own discomfort. When they arrived George took him
under his wing, and together they entered the red-hot seaport, encumbered with
the material and wastage of the Suakin-Berger line, from locomotives in
disconsolate fragments to mounds of chairs and pot-sleepers.
"If you keep with me," said George, "nobody will ask for passports or what you
do. They are all very busy."
"Yes; but I should like to hear some of the Englishmen talk. They might
remember me. I was known here a long time ago--when I was some one indeed."
"A long time ago is a very long time ago here. The graveyards are full. Now
listen. This new railway runs out so far as Tanai-el-Hassan--that is seven
miles. Then there is a camp. They say that beyond Tanai-el-Hassan the English
troops go forward, and everything that they require will be brought to them by
"Ah! Base camp. I see. That's a better business than fighting Fuzzies in the
"For this reason even the mules go up in the iron-train."
"It is all covered with iron, because it is still being shot at."
"An armoured train. Better and better! Go on, faithful George."
"And I go up with my mules tonight. Only those who particularly require to go
to the camp go out with the train. They begin to shoot not far from the city."
"The dears--they always used to!" Dick snuffed the smell of parched dust,
heated iron, and flaking paint with delight. Certainly the old life was
welcoming him back most generously.
"When I have got my mules together I go up tonight, but you must first send a
telegram of Port Said, declaring that I have done you no harm."
"Madame has you well in hand. Would you stick a knife into me if you had the
"I have no chance," said the Greek. "She is there with that woman."
"I see. It's a bad thing to be divided between love of woman and the chance of
loot. I sympathise with you, George."
They went to the telegraph-office unquestioned, for all the world was
desperately busy and had scarcely time to turn its head, and Suakin was the
last place under sky that would be chosen for holiday-ground. On their return
the voice of an English subaltern asked Dick what he was doing. The blue
goggles were over his eyes and he walked with his hand on George's elbow as he
replied--"Egyptian Government--mules. My orders are to give them over to the A.
C. G. at Tanai-el-Hassan. Any occasion to show my papers?"
"Oh, certainly not. I beg your pardon. I'd no right to ask, but not seeing your
face before I----"
"I go out in the train tonight, I suppose," said Dick, boldly. "There will be
no difficulty in loading up the mules, will there?"
"You can see the horse-platforms from here. You must have them loaded up
early." The young man went away wondering what sort of broken-down waif this
might be who talked like a gentleman and consorted with Greek muleteers. Dick
felt unhappy. To outface an English officer is no small thing, but the bluff
loses relish when one plays it from the utter dark, and stumbles up and down
rough ways, thinking and eternally thinking of what might have been if things
had fallen out otherwise, and all had been as it was not.
George shared his meal with Dick and went off to the mule-lines. His charge sat
alone in a shed with his face in his hands. Before his tight-shut eyes danced
the face of Maisie, laughing, with parted lips. There was a great bustle and
clamour about him. He grew afraid and almost called for George.
"I say, have you got your mules ready?" It was the voice of the subaltern over
"My man's looking after them. The--the fact is I've a touch of ophthalmia and
can't see very well.
"By Jove! that's bad. You ought to lie up in hospital for a while. I've had a
turn of it myself. It's as bad as being blind."
"So I find it. When does this armoured train go?"
"At six o"clock. It takes an hour to cover the seven miles."
"Are the Fuzzies on the rampage--eh?"
"About three nights a week. Fact is I'm in acting command of the night-train.
It generally runs back empty to Tanai for the night."
"Big camp at Tanai, I suppose?"
"Pretty big. It has to feed our desert-column somehow."
"Is that far off?"
"Between thirty and forty miles--in an infernal thirsty country."
"Is the country quiet between Tanai and our men?"
"More or less. I shouldn't care to cross it alone, or with a subaltern"s
command for the matter of that, but the scouts get through it in some
"They always did."
"Have you been here before, then?"
"I was through most of the trouble when it first broke out."
"In the service and cashiered," was the subaltern's first thought, so he
refrained from putting any questions.
"There's your man coming up with the mules. It seems rather queer----"
"That I should be mule-leading?" said Dick.
"I didn't mean to say so, but it is. Forgive me--it's beastly impertinence I
know, but you speak like a man who has been at a public school. There"s no
mistaking the tone."
"I am a public school man."
"I thought so. I say, I don't want to hurt your feelings, but you're a little
down on your luck, aren't you? I saw you sitting with your head in your hands,
and that's why I spoke."
"Thanks. I am about as thoroughly and completely broke as a man need be."
"Suppose--I mean I'm a public school man myself. Couldn't I perhaps--take it as
a loan y'know and----"
"You're much too good, but on my honour I've as much money as I want.
. . . I tell you what you could do for me, though, and put me under an
everlasting obligation. Let me come into the bogie truck of the train.
There is a fore-truck, isn't there?"
"Yes. How d'you know?"
"I've been in an armoured train before. Only let me see--hear some of the fun I
mean, and I'll be grateful. I go at my own risk as a non-combatant."
The young man thought for a minute. "All right," he said. "We're supposed to be
an empty train, and there's no one to blow me up at the other end."
George and a horde of yelling amateur assistants had loaded up the mules, and
the narrow-gauge armoured train, plated with three-eighths inch boiler-plate
till it looked like one long coffin, stood ready to start.
Two bogie trucks running before the locomotive were completely covered in with
plating, except that the leading one was pierced in front for the muzzle of a
machine-gun, and the second at either side for lateral fire.
The trucks together made one long iron-vaulted chamber in which a score of
artillerymen were rioting.
"Whitechapel--last train! Ah, I see yer kissin" in the first class there!"
somebody shouted, just as Dick was clamouring into the forward truck.
"Lordy! 'Ere's a real live passenger for the Kew, Tanai, Acton, and Ealin'
train. Echo, sir. Speshul edition! Star, sir."--"Shall I get you a foot-
warmer?" said another.
"Thanks. I'll pay my footing," said Dick, and relations of the most amiable
were established ere silence came with the arrival of the subaltern, and the
train jolted out over the rough track.
"This is an immense improvement on shooting the unimpressionable Fuzzy in the
open," said Dick, from his place in the corner.
"Oh, but he's still unimpressed. There he goes!" said the subaltern, as a
bullet struck the outside of the truck. "We always have at least one
demonstration against the night-train. Generally they attack the rear-truck,
where my junior commands. He gets all the fun of the fair."
"Not tonight though! Listen!" said Dick. A flight of heavy-handed bullets was
succeeded by yelling and shouts. The children of the desert valued their
nightly amusement, and the train was an excellent mark.
"Is it worth giving them half a hopper full?" the subaltern asked of the
engine, which was driven by a Lieutenant of Sappers.
"I should think so! This is my section of the line. They'll be playing old
Harry with my permanent way if we don't stop "em."
"Hrrmph!" said the machine gun through all its five noses as the subaltern drew
the lever home. The empty cartridges clashed on the floor and the smoke blew
back through the truck. There was indiscriminate firing at the rear of the
train, and return fire from the darkness without and unlimited howling. Dick
stretched himself on the floor, wild with delight at the sounds and the smells.
"God is very good--I never thought I'd hear this again. Give 'em hell, men. Oh,
give 'em hell!" he cried.
The train stopped for some obstruction on the line ahead and a party went out
to reconnoitre, but came back, cursing, for spades. The children of the desert
had piled sand and gravel on the rails, and twenty minutes were lost in
clearing it away. Then the slow progress recommenced, to be varied with more
shots, more shoutings, the steady clack and kick of the machine guns, and a
final difficulty with a half-lifted rail ere the train came under the
protection of the roaring camp at Tanai-el-Hassan.
"Now, you see why it takes an hour and a half to fetch her through," said the
subaltern, unshipping the cartridge-hopper above his pet gun.
"It was a lark, though. I only wish it had lasted twice as long. How superb it
must have looked from outside!" said Dick, sighing regretfully.
"It palls after the first few nights. By the way, when you've settled about
your mules, come and see what we can find to eat in my tent. I"m Bennil of the
Gunners--in the artillery lines--and mind you don't fall over my tent-ropes in
But it was all dark to Dick. He could only smell the camels, the hay-bales, the
cooking, the smoky fires, and the tanned canvas of the tents as he stood, where
he had dropped from the train, shouting for George. There was a sound of light-
hearted kicking on the iron skin of the rear trucks, with squealing and
grunting. George was unloading the mules.
The engine was blowing off steam nearly in Dick's ear; a cold wind of the
desert danced between his legs; he was hungry, and felt tired and dirty--so
dirty that he tried to brush his coat with his hands. That was a hopeless job;
he thrust his hands into his pockets and began to count over the many times
that he had waited in strange or remote places for trains or camels, mules or
horses, to carry him to his business. In those days he could see--few men more
clearly--and the spectacle of an armed camp at dinner under the stare was an
ever fresh pleasure to the eye. There was colour, light, and motion, without
which no man has much pleasure in living. This night there remained for him
only one more journey through the darkness that never lifts to tell a man how
far he has travelled. Then he would grip Torpenhow's hand again--Torpenhow, who
was alive and strong, and lived in the midst of the action that had once made
the reputation of a man called Dick Heldar: not in the least to be confused
with the blind, bewildered vagabond who seemed to answer to the same name. Yes,
he would find Torpenhow, and come as near to the old life as might be.
Afterwards he would forget everything: Bessie, who had wrecked the Melancolia
and so nearly wrecked his life; Beeton, who lived in a strange unreal city full
of tin-tacks and gas-plugs and matters that no men needed; that irrational
being who had offered him love and loyalty for nothing, but had not signed her
name; and most of all Maisie, who, from her own point of view, was undeniably
right in all she did, but oh, at this distance, so tantalisingly fair.
George's hand on his arm pulled him back to the situation.
"And what now?" said George.
"Oh yes of course. What now? Take me to the camel-men. Take me to where the
scouts sit when they come in from the desert. They sit by their camels, and the
camels eat grain out of a black blanket held up at the corners, and the men eat
by their side just like camels. Take me there!"
The camp was rough and rutty, and Dick stumbled many times over the stumps of
scrub. The scouts were sitting by their beasts, as Dick knew they would. The
light of the dung-fires flickered on their bearded faces, and the camels
bubbled and mumbled beside them at rest. It was no part of Dick's policy to go
into the desert with a convoy of supplies. That would lead to impertinent
questions, and since a blind non-combatant is not needed at the front, he would
probably be forced to return to Suakin.
He must go up alone, and go immediately.
"Now for one last bluff--the biggest of all," he said. "Peace be with you,
brethren!" The watchful George steered him to the circle of the nearest fire.
The heads of the camel-sheiks bowed gravely, and the camels, scenting a
European, looked sideways curiously like brooding hens, half ready to get to
"A beast and a driver to go to the fighting line tonight," said Dick.
"A Mulaid?" said a voice, scornfully naming the best baggage-breed that he
"A Bisharin," returned Dick, with perfect gravity. "A Bisharin without saddle-
galls. Therefore no charge of thine, shock-head."
Two or three minutes passed. Then--"We be knee-haltered for the night. There is
no going out from the camp."
"Not for money?"
"H'm! Ah! English money?"
Another depressing interval of silence.
"Twenty-five pounds English paid into the hand of the driver at my journey's
end, and as much more into the hand of the camel-sheik here, to be paid when
the driver returns."
This was royal payment, and the sheik, who knew that he would get his
commission on this deposit, stirred in Dick's behalf.
"For scarcely one night's journey--fifty pounds. Land and wells and good trees
and wives to make a man content for the rest of his days. Who speaks?" said
"I," said a voice. "I will go--but there is no going from the camp."
"Fool! I know that a camel can break his knee-halter, and the sentries do not
fire if one goes in chase. Twenty-five pounds and another twenty-five pounds.
But the beast must be a good Bisharin; I will take no baggage-camel."
Then the bargaining began, and at the end of half an hour the first deposit was
paid over to the sheik, who talked in low tones to the driver.
Dick heard the latter say: "A little way out only. Any baggage-beast will
serve. Am I a fool to waste my cattle for a blind man?"
"And though I cannot see"--Dick lifted his voice a little--"yet I carry that
which has six eyes, and the driver will sit before me. If we do not reach the
English troops in the dawn he will be dead."
"But where, in God's name, are the troops?"
"Unless thou knowest let another man ride. Dost thou know? Remember it will be
life or death to thee."
"I know," said the driver, sullenly. "Stand back from my beast. I am going to
"Not so swiftly. George, hold the camel's head a moment. I want to feel his
cheek." The hands wandered over the hide till they found the branded half-
circle that is the mark of the Biharin, the light-built riding-camel.
"That is well. Cut this one loose. Remember no blessing of God comes on those
who try to cheat the blind."
The men chuckled by the fires at the camel-driver's discomfiture. He had
intended to substitute a slow, saddle-galled baggage-colt.
"Stand back!" one shouted, lashing the Biharin under the belly with a quirt.
Dick obeyed as soon as he felt the nose-string tighten in his hand,--and a cry
went up, "Illaha! Aho! He is loose."
With a roar and a grunt the Biharin rose to his feet and plunged forward toward
the desert, his driver following with shouts and lamentation.
George caught Dick's arm and hurried him stumbling and tripping past a
disgusted sentry who was used to stampeding camels.
"What's the row now?" he cried.
"Every stitch of my kit on that blasted dromedary," Dick answered, after the
manner of a common soldier.
"Go on, and take care your throat's not cut outside--you and your dromedary"s."
The outcries ceased when the camel had disappeared behind a hillock, and his
driver had called him back and made him kneel down.
"Mount first," said Dick. Then climbing into the second seat and gently
screwing the pistol muzzle into the small of his companion's back, "Go on in
God's name, and swiftly. Goodbye, George. Remember me to Madame, and have a
good time with your girl. Get forward, child of the Pit!"
A few minutes later he was shut up in a great silence, hardly broken by the
creaking of the saddle and the soft pad of the tireless feet. Dick adjusted
himself comfortably to the rock and pitch of the pace, girthed his belt
tighter, and felt the darkness slide past. For an hour he was conscious only of
the sense of rapid progress.
"A good camel," he said at last.
"He was never underfed. He is my own and clean bred," the driver replied.
His head dropped on his chest and he tried to think, but the tenor of his
thoughts was broken because he was very sleepy. In the half doze in seemed that
he was learning a punishment hymn at Mrs. Jennett's. He had committed some
crime as bad as Sabbath-breaking, and she had locked him up in his bedroom. But
he could never repeat more than the first two lines of the hymn--
When Israel of the Lord believed
Out of the land of bondage came.
He said them over and over thousands of times. The driver turned in the saddle
to see if there were any chance of capturing the revolver and ending the ride.
Dick roused, struck him over the head with the butt, and stormed himself wide
awake. Somebody hidden in a clump of camel-thorn shouted as the camel toiled up
rising ground. A shot was fired, and the silence shut down again, bringing the
desire to sleep. Dick could think no longer. He was too tired and stiff and
cramped to do more than nod uneasily from time to time, waking with a start and
punching the driver with the pistol.
"Is there a moon?" he asked drowsily.
"She is near her setting."
"I wish that I could see her. Halt the camel. At least let me hear the desert
The man obeyed. Out of the utter stillness came one breath of wind. It rattled
the dead leaves of a shrub some distance away and ceased. A handful of dry
earth detached itself from the edge of a rail trench and crumbled softly to the
"Go on. The night is very cold."
Those who have watched till the morning know how the last hour before the light
lengthens itself into many eternities. It seemed to Dick that he had never
since the beginning of original darkness done anything at all save jolt through
the air. Once in a thousand years he would finger the nailheads on the saddle-
front and count them all carefully. Centuries later he would shift his revolver
from his right hand to his left and allow the eased arm to drop down at his
side. From the safe distance of London he was watching himself thus employed,--
watching critically. Yet whenever he put out his hand to the canvas that he
might paint the tawny yellow desert under the glare of the sinking moon, the
black shadow of a camel and the two bowed figures atop, that hand held a
revolver and the arm was numbed from wrist to collar-bone. Moreover, he was in
the dark, and could see no canvas of any kind whatever.
The driver grunted, and Dick was conscious of a change in the air.
"I smell the dawn," he whispered.
"It is here, and yonder are the troops. Have I done well?"
The camel stretched out its neck and roared as there came down wind the pungent
reek of camels in the square.
"Go on. We must get there swiftly. Go on."
"They are moving in their camp. There is so much dust that I cannot see what
"Am I in better case? Go forward."
They could hear the hum of voices ahead, the howling and the bubbling of the
beasts and the hoarse cries of the soldiers girthing up for the day.
Two or three shots were fired.
"Is that at us? Surely they can see that I am English," Dick spoke angrily.
"Nay, it is from the desert," the driver answered, cowering in his saddle.
"Go forward, my child! Well it is that the dawn did not uncover us an hour
The camel headed straight for the column and the shots behind multiplied. The
children of the desert had arranged that most uncomfortable of surprises, a
dawn attack for the English troops, and were getting their distance by snap-
shots at the only moving object without the square.
"What luck! What stupendous and imperial luck!" said Dick. "It's 'just before
the battle, mother.' Oh, God has been most good to me! Only"--the agony of the
thought made him screw up his eyes for an instant--"Maisie . . ."
"Allahu! We are in," said the man, as he drove into the rearguard and the camel
"Who the deuce are you? Despatches or what? What's the strength of the enemy
behind that ridge? How did you get through?" asked a dozen voices. For all
answer Dick took a long breath, unbuckled his belt, and shouted from the saddle
at the top of a wearied and dusty voice, "Torpenhow! Ohe, Torp! Coo-ee, Tor-
A bearded man raking in the ashes of a fire for a light to his pipe moved very
swiftly towards that cry, as the rearguard, facing about, began to fire at the
puffs of smoke from the hillocks around. Gradually the scattered white
cloudlets drew out into the long lines of banked white that hung heavily in the
stillness of the dawn before they turned over wave-like and glided into the
valleys. The soldiers in the square were coughing and swearing as their own
smoke obstructed their view, and they edged forward to get beyond it. A wounded
camel leaped to its feet and roared aloud, the cry ending in a bubbling grunt.
Some one had cut its throat to prevent confusion. Then came the thick sob of a
man receiving his death-wound from a bullet; then a yell of agony and redoubled
There was no time to ask any questions.
"Get down, man! Get down behind the camel!"
"No. Put me, I pray, in the forefront of the battle." Dick turned his face to
Torpenhow and raised his hand to set his helmet straight, but, miscalculating
the distance, knocked it off. Torpenhow saw that his hair was gray on the
temples, and that his face was the face of an old man.
"Come down, you damned fool! Dickie, come off!"
And Dick came obediently, but as a tree falls, pitching sideways from the
Bisharin's saddle at Torpenhow's feet. His luck had held to the last, even to
the crowning mercy of a kindly bullet through his head.
Torpenhow knelt under the lee of the camel, with Dick's body in his arms.
Volume VII THE STORY OF THE GADSBYS
To THE ADDRESS OF
CAPTAIN J. MAFFLIN,
Duke of Derry's (Pink) Hussars.
DEAR MAFFLIN,--You will remember that I wrote this story as an Awful Warning.
None the less you have seen fit to disregard it and have followed Gadsby's
example--as I betted you would. I acknowledge that you paid the money at once,
but you have prejudiced the mind of Mrs. Mafflin against myself, for though I
am almost the only respectable friend of your bachelor days, she has been
darwaza band to me throughout the season. Further, she caused you to invite me
to dinner at the Club, where you called me "a wild ass of the desert," and went
home at half-past ten, after discoursing for twenty minutes on the
Back to Full Books