At the End of
the Passage by
The sky is lead and our faces are red,
And the gates of Hell are opened and riven,
And the winds of Hell are loosened and driven,
And the dust flies up in the face of Heaven,
And the clouds come down in a fiery sheet,
Heavy to raise and hard to be borne.
And the soul of man is turned from his meat,
Turned from the trifles for which he has striven
Sick in his body, and heavy hearted,
And his soul flies up like the dust in the sheet
Breaks from his flesh and is gone and departed,
As the blasts they blow on the cholera-horn.
Four men, each entitled to 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness,' sat at a table playing whist. The thermometer marked—for
them—one hundred and one degrees of heat. The room was darkened till
it was only just possible to distinguish the pips of the cards and the
very white faces of the players. A tattered, rotten punkah of
whitewashed calico was puddling the hot air and whining dolefully at
each stroke. Outside lay gloom of a November day in London. There was
neither sky, sun, nor horizon,—nothing but a brown purple haze of
heat. It was as though the earth were dying of apoplexy.
From time to time clouds of tawny dust rose from the ground without
wind or warning, flung themselves tablecloth-wise among the tops of
the parched trees, and came down again. Then a whirling dust-devil
would scutter across the plain for a couple of miles, break, and fall
outward, though there was nothing to check its flight save a long low
line of piled railway-sleepers white with the dust, a cluster of huts
made of mud, condemned rails, and canvas, and the one squat
four-roomed bungalow that belonged to the assistant engineer in charge
of a section of the Gaudhari State line then under construction.
The four, stripped to the thinnest of sleeping-suits, played whist
crossly, with wranglings as to leads and returns. It was not the best
kind of whist, but they had taken some trouble to arrive at it.
Mottram of the Indian Survey had ridden thirty and railed one hundred
miles from his lonely post in the desert since the night before;
Lowndes of the Civil Service, on special duty in the political
department, had come as far to escape for an instant the miserable
intrigues of an impoverished native State whose king alternately
fawned and blustered for more money from the pitiful revenues
contributed by hard-wrung peasants and despairing camel-breeders;
Spurstow, the doctor of the line, had left a cholera-stricken camp of
coolies to look after itself for forty-eight hours while he associated
with white men once more. Hummil, the assistant engineer, was the
host. He stood fast and received his friends thus every Sunday if they
could come in. When one of them failed to appear, he would send a
telegram to his last address, in order that he might know whether the
defaulter were dead or alive. There are very many places in the East
where it is not good or kind to let your acquaintances drop out of
sight even for one short week.
The players were not conscious of any special regard for each
other. They squabbled whenever they met; but they ardently desired to
meet, as men without water desire to drink. They were lonely folk who
understood the dread meaning of loneliness. They were all under thirty
years of age,—which is too soon for any man to possess that
'Pilsener?' said Spurstow, after the second rubber, mopping his
'Beer's out, I'm sorry to say, and there's hardly enough soda-water
for to-night,' said Hummil.
'What filthy bad management!' Spurstow snarled.
'Can't help it. I've written and wired; but the trains don't come
through regularly yet. Last week the ice ran out,—as Lowndes knows.'
'Glad I didn't come. I could ha' sent you some if I had known,
though. Phew! it's too hot to go on playing bumblepuppy.' This with a
savage scowl at Lowndes, who only laughed. He was a hardened offender.
Mottram rose from the table and looked out of a chink in the
'What a sweet day!' said he.
The company yawned all together and betook themselves to an aimless
investigation of all Hummil's possessions,—guns, tattered novels,
saddlery, spurs, and the like. They had fingered them a score of times
before, but there was really nothing else to do.
'Got anything fresh?' said Lowndes.
'Last week's Gazette of India, and a cutting from a home paper. My
father sent it out. It's rather amusing.'
'One of those vestrymen that call 'emselves M.P.'s again, is it?'
said Spurstow, who read his newspapers when he could get them.
'Yes. Listen to this. It's to your address, Lowndes. The man was
making a speech to his constituents, and he piled it on. Here's a
sample: "And I assert unhesitatingly that the Civil Service in India
is the preserve —the pet preserve—of the aristocracy of England.
What does the democracy—what do the masses—get from that country,
which we have step by step fraudulently annexed? I answer, nothing
whatever. It is farmed with a single eye to their own interests by the
scions of the aristocracy. They take good care to maintain their
lavish scale of incomes, to avoid or stifle any inquiries into the
nature and conduct of their administration, while they themselves
force the unhappy peasant to pay with the sweat of his brow for all
the luxuries in which they are lapped."' Hummil waved the cutting
above his head. ''Ear! 'ear!' said his audience.
Then Lowndes, meditatively: 'I'd give—I'd give three months' pay
to have that gentleman spend one month with me and see how the free
and independent native prince works things. Old Timbersides'—this was
his flippant title for an honoured and decorated feudatory
prince—'has been wearing my life out this week past for money. By
Jove, his latest performance was to send me one of his women as a
'Good for you! Did you accept it?' said Mottram.
'No. I rather wish I had, now. She was a pretty little person, and
she yarned away to me about the horrible destitution among the king's
women- folk. The darlings haven't had any new clothes for nearly a
month, and the old man wants to buy a new drag from Calcutta,—solid
silver railings and silver lamps, and trifles of that kind. I've tried
to make him understand that he has played the deuce with the revenues
for the last twenty years and must go slow. He can't see it.'
'But he has the ancestral treasure-vaults to draw on. There must be
three millions at least in jewels and coin under his palace,' said
'Catch a native king disturbing the family treasure! The priests
forbid it except as the last resort. Old Timbersides has added
something like a quarter of a million to the deposit in his reign.'
'Where the mischief does it all come from?' said Mottram.
'The country. The state of the people is enough to make you sick.
I've known the tax-men wait by a milch-camel till the foal was born
and then hurry off the mother for arrears. And what can I do? I can't
get the court clerks to give me any accounts; I can't raise anything
more than a fat smile from the commander-in-chief when I find out the
troops are three months in arrears; and old Timbersides begins to weep
when I speak to him. He has taken to the King's Peg heavily,—liqueur
brandy for whisky, and Heidsieck for soda-water.'
'That's what the Rao of Jubela took to. Even a native can't last
long at that,' said Spurstow. 'He'll go out.'
'And a good thing, too. Then I suppose we'll have a council of
regency, and a tutor for the young prince, and hand him back his
kingdom with ten years' accumulations.'
'Whereupon that young prince, having been taught all the vices of
the English, will play ducks and drakes with the money and undo ten
years' work in eighteen months. I've seen that business before,' said
Spurstow. 'I should tackle the king with a light hand, if I were you,
Lowndes. They'll hate you quite enough under any circumstances.'
'That's all very well. The man who looks on can talk about the
light hand; but you can't clean a pig-stye with a pen dipped in
rose-water. I know my risks; but nothing has happened yet. My
servant's an old Pathan, and he cooks for me. They are hardly likely
to bribe him, and I don't accept food from my true friends, as they
call themselves. Oh, but it's weary work! I'd sooner be with you,
Spurstow. There's shooting near your camp.'
'Would you? I don't think it. About fifteen deaths a day don't
incite a man to shoot anything but himself. And the worst of it is
that the poor devils look at you as though you ought to save them.
Lord knows, I've tried everything. My last attempt was empirical, but
it pulled an old man through. He was brought to me apparently past
hope, and I gave him gin and Worcester sauce with cayenne. It cured
him; but I don't recommend it.'
'How do the cases run generally?' said Hummil.
'Very simply indeed. Chlorodyne, opium pill, chlorodyne, collapse,
nitre, bricks to the feet, and then—the burning-ghat. The last seems
to be the only thing that stops the trouble. It's black cholera, you
know. Poor devils! But, I will say, little Bunsee Lal, my apothecary,
works like a demon. I've recommended him for promotion if he comes
through it all alive.'
'And what are your chances, old man?' said Mottram.
'Don't know; don't care much; but I've sent the letter in. What are
you doing with yourself generally?'
'Sitting under a table in the tent and spitting on the sextant to
keep it cool,' said the man of the survey. 'Washing my eyes to avoid
ophthalmia, which I shall certainly get, and trying to make a sub-
surveyor understand that an error of five degrees in an angle isn't
quite so small as it looks. I'm altogether alone, y' know, and shall
be till the end of the hot weather.'
'Hummil's the lucky man,' said Lowndes, flinging himself into a
long chair. 'He has an actual roof—torn as to the ceiling-cloth, but
still a roof—over his head. He sees one train daily. He can get beer
and soda- water and ice 'em when God is good. He has books,
pictures,—-they were torn from the Graphic,—'and the society of the
excellent sub-contractor Jevins, besides the pleasure of receiving us
Hummil smiled grimly. 'Yes, I'm the lucky man, I suppose. Jevins is
'Yes. Went out. Last Monday.'
'By his own hand?' said Spurstow quickly, hinting the suspicion
that was in everybody's mind. There was no cholera near Hummil's
section. Even fever gives a man at least a week's grace, and sudden
death generally implied self-slaughter.
'I judge no man this weather,' said Hummil. 'He had a touch of the
sun, I fancy; for last week, after you fellows had left, he came into
the verandah and told me that he was going home to see his wife, in
Market Street, Liverpool, that evening.
'I got the apothecary in to look at him, and we tried to make him
lie down. After an hour or two he rubbed his eyes and said he believed
he had had a fit,—hoped he hadn't said anything rude. Jevins had a
great idea of bettering himself socially. He was very like Chucks in
'Then he went to his own bungalow and began cleaning a rifle. He
told the servant that he was going to shoot buck in the morning.
Naturally he fumbled with the trigger, and shot himself through the
head— accidentally. The apothecary sent in a report to my chief, and
Jevins is buried somewhere out there. I'd have wired to you, Spurstow,
if you could have done anything.'
'You're a queer chap,' said Mottram. 'If you'd killed the man
yourself you couldn't have been more quiet about the business.'
'Good Lord! what does it matter?' said Hummil calmly. 'I've got to
do a lot of his overseeing work in addition to my own. I'm the only
person that suffers. Jevins is out of it,—by pure accident, of
course, but out of it. The apothecary was going to write a long screed
on suicide. Trust a babu to drivel when he gets the chance.'
'Why didn't you let it go in as suicide?' said Lowndes.
'No direct proof. A man hasn't many privileges in this country, but
he might at least be allowed to mishandle his own rifle. Besides, some
day I may need a man to smother up an accident to myself. Live and let
live. Die and let die.'
'You take a pill,' said Spurstow, who had been watching Hummil's
white face narrowly. 'Take a pill, and don't be an ass. That sort of
talk is skittles. Anyhow, suicide is shirking your work. If I were Job
ten times over, I should be so interested in what was going to happen
next that I'd stay on and watch.'
'Ah! I've lost that curiosity,' said Hummil.
'Liver out of order?' said Lowndes feelingly.
'No. Can't sleep. That's worse.'
'By Jove, it is!' said Mottram. 'I'm that way every now and then,
and the fit has to wear itself out. What do you take for it?'
'Nothing. What's the use? I haven't had ten minutes' sleep since
'Poor chap! Spurstow, you ought to attend to this,' said Mottram.
'Now you mention it, your eyes are rather gummy and swollen.'
Spurstow, still watching Hummil, laughed lightly. 'I'll patch him
up, later on. Is it too hot, do you think, to go for a ride?'
'Where to?' said Lowndes wearily. 'We shall have to go away at
eight, and there'll be riding enough for us then. I hate a horse, when
I have to use him as a necessity. Oh, heavens! what is there to do?'
'Begin whist again, at chick points ['a chick' is supposed to be
eight shillings] and a gold mohur on the rub,' said Spurstow promptly.
'Poker. A month's pay all round for the pool,—no limit,—and
fifty- rupee raises. Somebody would be broken before we got up,' said
'Can't say that it would give me any pleasure to break any man in
this company,' said Mottram. 'There isn't enough excitement in it, and
it's foolish.' He crossed over to the worn and battered little
camp-piano,— wreckage of a married household that had once held the
bungalow,—and opened the case.
'It's used up long ago,' said Hummil. 'The servants have picked it
The piano was indeed hopelessly out of order, but Mottram managed
to bring the rebellious notes into a sort of agreement, and there rose
from the ragged keyboard something that might once have been the ghost
of a popular music-hall song. The men in the long chairs turned with
evident interest as Mottram banged the more lustily.
'That's good!' said Lowndes. 'By Jove! the last time I heard that
song was in '79, or thereabouts, just before I came out.'
'Ah!' said Spurstow with pride,' I was home in '80.' And he
mentioned a song of the streets popular at that date.
Mottram executed it roughly. Lowndes criticised and volunteered
emendations. Mottram dashed into another ditty, not of the music-hall
character, and made as if to rise.
'Sit down,' said Hummil. 'I didn't know that you had any music in
your composition. Go on playing until you can't think of anything
more. I'll have that piano tuned up before you come again. Play
Very simple indeed were the tunes to which Mottram's art and the
limitations of the piano could give effect, but the men listened with
pleasure, and in the pauses talked all together of what they had seen
or heard when they were last at home. A dense dust-storm sprung up
outside, and swept roaring over the house, enveloping it in the
choking darkness of midnight, but Mottram continued unheeding, and the
crazy tinkle reached the ears of the listeners above the flapping of
the tattered ceiling-cloth.
In the silence after the storm he glided from the more directly
personal songs of Scotland, half humming them as he played, into the
'Sunday,' said he, nodding his head.
'Go on. Don't apologise for it,' said Spurstow.
Hummil laughed long and riotously. 'Play it, by all means. You're
full of surprises to-day. I didn't know you had such a gift of
finished sarcasm. How does that thing go?'
Mottram took up the tune.
'Too slow by half. You miss the note of gratitude,' said Hummil.
'It ought to go to the "Grasshopper's Polka,"—this way.' And he
'Glory to thee, my God, this night. For all the blessings of the
That shows we really feel our blessings. How does it go on?—
'If in the night I sleepless lie, My soul with sacred thoughts
supply; May no ill dreams disturb my rest.'—
'Or powers of darkness me molest!'
'Bah! what an old hypocrite you are!'
'Don't be an ass,' said Lowndes. 'You are at full liberty to make
fun of anything else you like, but leave that hymn alone. It's
associated in my mind with the most sacred recollections——'
'Summer evenings in the country,—stained-glass window,—light
going out, and you and she jamming your heads together over one
hymn-book,' said Mottram.
'Yes, and a fat old cockchafer hitting you in the eye when you
walked home. Smell of hay, and a moon as big as a bandbox sitting on
the top of a haycock; bats,—roses,—milk and midges,' said Lowndes.
'Also mothers. I can just recollect my mother singing me to sleep
with that when I was a little chap,' said Spurstow.
The darkness had fallen on the room. They could hear Hummil
squirming in his chair.
'Consequently,' said he testily, 'you sing it when you are seven
fathom deep in Hell! It's an insult to the intelligence of the Deity
to pretend we're anything but tortured rebels.'
'Take TWO pills,' said Spurstow; 'that's tortured liver.'
'The usually placid Hummil is in a vile bad temper. I'm sorry for
his coolies to-morrow,' said Lowndes, as the servants brought in the
lights and prepared the table for dinner.
As they were settling into their places about the miserable
goat-chops, and the smoked tapioca pudding, Spurstow took occasion to
whisper to Mottram, 'Well done, David!'
'Look after Saul, then,' was the reply.
'What are you two whispering about?' said Hummil suspiciously.
'Only saying that you are a damned poor host. This fowl can't be
cut,' returned Spurstow with a sweet smile. 'Call this a dinner?'
'I can't help it. You don't expect a banquet, do you?'
Throughout that meal Hummil contrived laboriously to insult
directly and pointedly all his guests in succession, and at each
insult Spurstow kicked the aggrieved persons under the table; but he
dared not exchange a glance of intelligence with either of them.
Hummil's face was white and pinched, while his eyes were unnaturally
large. No man dreamed for a moment of resenting his savage
personalities, but as soon as the meal was over they made haste to get
away. 'Don't go. You're just getting amusing, you fellows. I hope I
haven't said anything that annoyed you. You're such touchy devils.'
Then, changing the note into one of almost abject entreaty, Hummil
added, 'I say, you surely aren't going?'
'In the language of the blessed Jorrocks, where I dines I sleeps,'
said Spurstow. 'I want to have a look at your coolies to-morrow, if
you don't mind. You can give me a place to lie down in, I suppose?'
The others pleaded the urgency of their several duties next day,
and, saddling up, departed together, Hummil begging them to come next
Sunday. As they jogged off, Lowndes unbosomed himself to Mottram—
'... And I never felt so like kicking a man at his own table in my
life. He said I cheated at whist, and reminded me I was in debt! 'Told
you you were as good as a liar to your face! You aren't half indignant
enough over it.'
'Not I,' said Mottram. 'Poor devil! Did you ever know old Hummy
behave like that before or within a hundred miles of it?'
'That's no excuse. Spurstow was hacking my shin all the time, so I
kept a hand on myself. Else I should have—'
'No, you wouldn't. You'd have done as Hummy did about Jevins; judge
no man this weather. By Jove! the buckle of my bridle is hot in my
hand! Trot out a bit, and 'ware rat-holes.'
Ten minutes' trotting jerked out of Lowndes one very sage remark
when he pulled up, sweating from every pore—
''Good thing Spurstow's with him to-night.'
'Ye-es. Good man, Spurstow. Our roads turn here. See you again next
Sunday, if the sun doesn't bowl me over.'
'S'pose so, unless old Timbersides' finance minister manages to
dress some of my food. Good-night, and—God bless you!'
'What's wrong now?'
'Oh, nothing.' Lowndes gathered up his whip, and, as he flicked
Mottram's mare on the flank, added, 'You're not a bad little chap,—
that's all.' And the mare bolted half a mile across the sand, on the
In the assistant engineer's bungalow Spurstow and Hummil smoked the
pipe of silence together, each narrowly watching the other. The
capacity of a bachelor's establishment is as elastic as its
arrangements are simple. A servant cleared away the dining-room table,
brought in a couple of rude native bedsteads made of tape strung on a
light wood frame, flung a square of cool Calcutta matting over each,
set them side by side, pinned two towels to the punkah so that their
fringes should just sweep clear of the sleepers' nose and mouth, and
announced that the couches were ready.
The men flung themselves down, ordering the punkah-coolies by all
the powers of Hell to pull. Every door and window was shut, for the
outside air was that of an oven. The atmosphere within was only 104
degrees, as the thermometer bore witness, and heavy with the foul
smell of badly-trimmed kerosene lamps; and this stench, combined with
that of native tobacco, baked brick, and dried earth, sends the heart
of many a strong man down to his boots, for it is the smell of the
Great Indian Empire when she turns herself for six months into a house
of torment. Spurstow packed his pillows craftily so that he reclined
rather than lay, his head at a safe elevation above his feet. It is
not good to sleep on a low pillow in the hot weather if you happen to
be of thick-necked build, for you may pass with lively snores and
gugglings from natural sleep into the deep slumber of heat-apoplexy.
'Pack your pillows,' said the doctor sharply, as he saw Hummil
preparing to lie down at full length.
The night-light was trimmed; the shadow of the punkah wavered
across the room, and the 'flick' of the punkah-towel and the soft
whine of the rope through the wall-hole followed it. Then the punkah
flagged, almost ceased. The sweat poured from Spurstow's brow. Should
he go out and harangue the coolie? It started forward again with a
savage jerk, and a pin came out of the towels. When this was replaced,
a tomtom in the coolie-lines began to beat with the steady throb of a
swollen artery inside some brain-fevered skull. Spurstow turned on his
side and swore gently. There was no movement on Hummil's part. The man
had composed himself as rigidly as a corpse, his hands clinched at his
sides. The respiration was too hurried for any suspicion of sleep.
Spurstow looked at the set face. The jaws were clinched, and there was
a pucker round the quivering eyelids.
'He's holding himself as tightly as ever he can,' thought Spurstow.
'What in the world is the matter with him?—Hummil!'
'Yes,' in a thick constrained voice.
'Can't you get to sleep?'
'Head hot? 'Throat feeling bulgy? or how?'
'Neither, thanks. I don't sleep much, you know.'
'Feel pretty bad?'
'Pretty bad, thanks. There is a tomtom outside, isn't there? I
thought it was my head at first.... Oh, Spurstow, for pity's sake give
me something that will put me asleep,—sound asleep,—if it's only for
six hours!' He sprang up, trembling from head to foot. 'I haven't been
able to sleep naturally for days, and I can't stand it!—I can't stand
'Poor old chap!'
'That's no use. Give me something to make me sleep. I tell you I'm
nearly mad. I don't know what I say half my time. For three weeks I've
had to think and spell out every word that has come through my lips
before I dared say it. Isn't that enough to drive a man mad? I can't
see things correctly now, and I've lost my sense of touch. My skin
aches—my skin aches! Make me sleep. Oh, Spurstow, for the love of God
make me sleep sound. It isn't enough merely to let me dream. Let me
'All right, old man, all right. Go slow; you aren't half as bad as
The flood-gates of reserve once broken, Hummil was clinging to him
like a frightened child. 'You're pinching my arm to pieces.'
'I'll break your neck if you don't do something for me. No, I
didn't mean that. Don't be angry, old fellow.' He wiped the sweat off
himself as he fought to regain composure. 'I'm a bit restless and off
my oats, and perhaps you could recommend some sort of sleeping
mixture,—bromide of potassium.'
'Bromide of skittles! Why didn't you tell me this before? Let go of
my arm, and I'll see if there's anything in my cigarette-case to suit
your complaint.' Spurstow hunted among his day-clothes, turned up the
lamp, opened a little silver cigarette-case, and advanced on the
expectant Hummil with the daintiest of fairy squirts.
'The last appeal of civilisation,' said he, 'and a thing I hate to
use. Hold out your arm. Well, your sleeplessness hasn't ruined your
muscle; and what a thick hide it is! Might as well inject a buffalo
subcutaneously. Now in a few minutes the morphia will begin working.
Lie down and wait.'
A smile of unalloyed and idiotic delight began to creep over
Hummil's face. 'I think,' he whispered,—'I think I'm going off now.
Gad! it's positively heavenly! Spurstow, you must give me that case to
keep; you—' The voice ceased as the head fell back.
'Not for a good deal,' said Spurstow to the unconscious form. 'And
now, my friend, sleeplessness of your kind being very apt to relax the
moral fibre in little matters of life and death, I'll just take the
liberty of spiking your guns.'
He paddled into Hummil's saddle-room in his bare feet and uncased a
twelve-bore rifle, an express, and a revolver. Of the first he
unscrewed the nipples and hid them in the bottom of a saddlery-case;
of the second he abstracted the lever, kicking it behind a big
wardrobe. The third he merely opened, and knocked the doll-head bolt
of the grip up with the heel of a riding-boot.
'That's settled,' he said, as he shook the sweat off his hands.
'These little precautions will at least give you time to turn. You
have too much sympathy with gun-room accidents.'
And as he rose from his knees, the thick muffled voice of Hummil
cried in the doorway, 'You fool!'
Such tones they use who speak in the lucid intervals of delirium to
their friends a little before they die.
Spurstow started, dropping the pistol. Hummil stood in the doorway,
rocking with helpless laughter.
'That was awf'ly good of you, I'm sure,' he said, very slowly,
feeling for his words. 'I don't intend to go out by my own hand at
present. I say, Spurstow, that stuff won't work. What shall I do? What
shall I do?' And panic terror stood in his eyes.
'Lie down and give it a chance. Lie down at once.'
'I daren't. It will only take me half-way again, and I shan't be
able to get away this time. Do you know it was all I could do to come
out just now? Generally I am as quick as lightning; but you had
clogged my feet. I was nearly caught.'
'Oh yes, I understand. Go and lie down.'
'No, it isn't delirium; but it was an awfully mean trick to play on
me. Do you know I might have died?'
As a sponge rubs a slate clean, so some power unknown to Spurstow
had wiped out of Hummil's face all that stamped it for the face of a
man, and he stood at the doorway in the expression of his lost
innocence. He had slept back into terrified childhood.
'Is he going to die on the spot?' thought Spurstow. Then, aloud,
'All right, my son. Come back to bed, and tell me all about it. You
couldn't sleep; but what was all the rest of the nonsense?'
'A place,—a place down there,' said Hummil, with simple sincerity.
The drug was acting on him by waves, and he was flung from the fear of
a strong man to the fright of a child as his nerves gathered sense or
'Good God! I've been afraid of it for months past, Spurstow. It has
made every night hell to me; and yet I'm not conscious of having done
'Be still, and I'll give you another dose. We'll stop your
nightmares, you unutterable idiot!'
'Yes, but you must give me so much that I can't get away. You must
make me quite sleepy,—not just a little sleepy. It's so hard to run
'I know it; I know it. I've felt it myself. The symptoms are
exactly as you describe.'
'Oh, don't laugh at me, confound you! Before this awful
sleeplessness came to me I've tried to rest on my elbow and put a spur
in the bed to sting me when I fell back. Look!'
'By Jove! the man has been rowelled like a horse! Ridden by the
nightmare with a vengeance! And we all thought him sensible enough.
Heaven send us understanding! You like to talk, don't you?'
'Yes, sometimes. Not when I'm frightened. THEN I want to run. Don't
'Always. Before I give you your second dose try to tell me exactly
what your trouble is.'
Hummil spoke in broken whispers for nearly ten minutes, whilst
Spurstow looked into the pupils of his eyes and passed his hand before
them once or twice.
At the end of the narrative the silver cigarette-case was produced,
and the last words that Hummil said as he fell back for the second
time were, 'Put me quite to sleep; for if I'm caught I die,—I die!'
'Yes, yes; we all do that sooner or later,—thank Heaven who has
set a term to our miseries,' said Spurstow, settling the cushions
under the head. 'It occurs to me that unless I drink something I shall
go out before my time. I've stopped sweating, and—I wear a
seventeen-inch collar.' He brewed himself scalding hot tea, which is
an excellent remedy against heat-apoplexy if you take three or four
cups of it in time. Then he watched the sleeper.
'A blind face that cries and can't wipe its eyes, a blind face that
chases him down corridors! H'm! Decidedly, Hummil ought to go on leave
as soon as possible; and, sane or otherwise, he undoubtedly did rowel
himself most cruelly. Well, Heaven send us understanding!'
At mid-day Hummil rose, with an evil taste in his mouth, but an
unclouded eye and a joyful heart.
'I was pretty bad last night, wasn't I?' said he.
'I have seen healthier men. You must have had a touch of the sun.
Look here: if I write you a swingeing medical certificate, will you
apply for leave on the spot?'
'Why not? You want it.'
'Yes, but I can hold on till the weather's a little cooler.'
'Why should you, if you can get relieved on the spot?'
'Burkett is the only man who could be sent; and he's a born fool.'
'Oh, never mind about the line. You aren't so important as all
that. Wire for leave, if necessary.'
Hummil looked very uncomfortable.
'I can hold on till the Rains,' he said evasively.
'You can't. Wire to headquarters for Burkett.'
'I won't. If you want to know why, particularly, Burkett is
married, and his wife's just had a kid, and she's up at Simla, in the
cool, and Burkett has a very nice billet that takes him into Simla
from Saturday to Monday. That little woman isn't at all well. If
Burkett was transferred she'd try to follow him. If she left the baby
behind she'd fret herself to death. If she came,—and Burkett's one of
those selfish little beasts who are always talking about a wife's
place being with her husband,—she'd die. It's murder to bring a woman
here just now. Burkett hasn't the physique of a rat. If he came here
he'd go out; and I know she hasn't any money, and I'm pretty sure
she'd go out too. I'm salted in a sort of way, and I'm not married.
Wait till the Rains, and then Burkett can get thin down here. It'll do
him heaps of good.'
'Do you mean to say that you intend to face—what you have faced,
till the Rains break?'
'Oh, it won't be so bad, now you've shown me a way out of it. I can
always wire to you. Besides, now I've once got into the way of
sleeping, it'll be all right. Anyhow, I shan't put in for leave.
That's the long and the short of it.'
'My great Scott! I thought all that sort of thing was dead and done
'Bosh! You'd do the same yourself. I feel a new man, thanks to that
cigarette-case. You're going over to camp now, aren't you?'
'Yes; but I'll try to look you up every other day, if I can.'
'I'm not bad enough for that. I don't want you to bother. Give the
coolies gin and ketchup.'
'Then you feel all right?'
'Fit to fight for my life, but not to stand out in the sun talking
to you. Go along, old man, and bless you!'
Hummil turned on his heel to face the echoing desolation of his
bungalow, and the first thing he saw standing in the verandah was the
figure of himself. He had met a similar apparition once before, when
he was suffering from overwork and the strain of the hot weather.
'This is bad,—already,' he said, rubbing his eyes. 'If the thing
slides away from me all in one piece, like a ghost, I shall know it is
only my eyes and stomach that are out of order. If it walks—my head
He approached the figure, which naturally kept at an unvarying
distance from him, as is the use of all spectres that are born of
overwork. It slid through the house and dissolved into swimming specks
within the eyeball as soon as it reached the burning light of the
garden. Hummil went about his business till even. When he came in to
dinner he found himself sitting at the table. The vision rose and
walked out hastily. Except that it cast no shadow it was in all
No living man knows what that week held for Hummil. An increase of
the epidemic kept Spurstow in camp among the coolies, and all he could
do was to telegraph to Mottram, bidding him go to the bungalow and
sleep there. But Mottram was forty miles away from the nearest
telegraph, and knew nothing of anything save the needs of the survey
till he met, early on Sunday morning, Lowndes and Spurstow heading
towards Hummil's for the weekly gathering.
'Hope the poor chap's in a better temper,' said the former,
swinging himself off his horse at the door. 'I suppose he isn't up
'I'll just have a look at him,' said the doctor. 'If he's asleep
there's no need to wake him.'
And an instant later, by the tone of Spurstow's voice calling upon
them to enter, the men knew what had happened. There was no need to
The punkah was still being pulled over the bed, but Hummil had
departed this life at least three hours.
The body lay on its back, hands clinched by the side, as Spurstow
had seen it lying seven nights previously. In the staring eyes was
written terror beyond the expression of any pen.
Mottram, who had entered behind Lowndes, bent over the dead and
touched the forehead lightly with his lips. 'Oh, you lucky, lucky
devil!' he whispered.
But Lowndes had seen the eyes, and withdrew shuddering to the other
side of the room.
'Poor chap! poor old chap! And the last time I met him I was angry.
Spurstow, we should have watched him. Has he—?'
Deftly Spurstow continued his investigations, ending by a search
round the room.
'No, he hasn't,' he snapped. 'There's no trace of anything. Call
They came, eight or ten of them, whispering and peering over each
'When did your Sahib go to bed?' said Spurstow.
'At eleven or ten, we think,' said Hummil's personal servant.
'He was well then? But how should you know?'
'He was not ill, as far as our comprehension extended. But he had
slept very little for three nights. This I know, because I saw him
walking much, and specially in the heart of the night.'
As Spurstow was arranging the sheet, a big straight-necked
hunting-spur tumbled on the ground. The doctor groaned. The personal
servant peeped at the body.
'What do you think, Chuma?' said Spurstow, catching the look on the
'Heaven-born, in my poor opinion, this that was my master has
descended into the Dark Places, and there has been caught because he
was not able to escape with sufficient speed. We have the spur for
evidence that he fought with Fear. Thus have I seen men of my race do
with thorns when a spell was laid upon them to overtake them in their
sleeping hours and they dared not sleep.'
'Chuma, you're a mud-head. Go out and prepare seals to be set on
the Sahib's property.'
'God has made the Heaven-born. God has made me. Who are we, to
inquire into the dispensations of God? I will bid the other servants
hold aloof while you are reckoning the tale of the Sahib's property.
They are all thieves, and would steal.'
'As far as I can make out, he died from—oh, anything; stoppage of
the heart's action, heat-apoplexy, or some other visitation,' said
Spurstow to his companions. 'We must make an inventory of his effects,
and so on.'
'He was scared to death,' insisted Lowndes. 'Look at those eyes!
For pity's sake don't let him be buried with them open!'
'Whatever it was, he's clear of all the trouble now,' said Mottram
Spurstow was peering into the open eyes.
'Come here,' said he. 'Can you see anything there?'
'I can't face it!' whimpered Lowndes. 'Cover up the face! Is there
any fear on earth that can turn a man into that likeness? It's
ghastly. Oh, Spurstow, cover it up!'
'No fear—on earth,' said Spurstow. Mottram leaned over his
shoulder and looked intently.
'I see nothing except some gray blurs in the pupil. There can be
nothing there, you know.'
'Even so. Well, let's think. It'll take half a day to knock up any
sort of coffin; and he must have died at midnight. Lowndes, old man,
go out and tell the coolies to break ground next to Jevins's grave.
Mottram, go round the house with Chuma and see that the seals are put
on things. Send a couple of men to me here, and I'll arrange.'
The strong-armed servants when they returned to their own kind told
a strange story of the doctor Sahib vainly trying to call their master
back to life by magic arts,—to wit, the holding of a little green box
that clicked to each of the dead man's eyes, and of a bewildered
muttering on the part of the doctor Sahib, who took the little green
box away with him.
The resonant hammering of a coffin-lid is no pleasant thing to
hear, but those who have experience maintain that much more terrible
is the soft swish of the bed-linen, the reeving and unreeving of the
bed-tapes, when he who has fallen by the roadside is apparelled for
burial, sinking gradually as the tapes are tied over, till the
swaddled shape touches the floor and there is no protest against the
indignity of hasty disposal.
At the last moment Lowndes was seized with scruples of conscience.
'Ought you to read the service,—from beginning to end?' said he to
'I intend to. You're my senior as a civilian. You can take it if
'I didn't mean that for a moment. I only thought if we could get a
chaplain from somewhere,—I'm willing to ride anywhere,—and give poor
Hummil a better chance. That's all.'
'Bosh!' said Spurstow, as he framed his lips to the tremendous
words that stand at the head of the burial service.
After breakfast they smoked a pipe in silence to the memory of the
dead. Then Spurstow said absently—
''Tisn't in medical science.'
'Things in a dead man's eye.'
'For goodness' sake leave that horror alone!' said Lowndes. 'I've
seen a native die of pure fright when a tiger chivied him. I know what
'The deuce you do! I'm going to try to see.' And the doctor
retreated into the bath-room with a Kodak camera. After a few minutes
there was the sound of something being hammered to pieces, and he
emerged, very white indeed.
'Have you got a picture?' said Mottram. 'What does the thing look
'It was impossible, of course. You needn't look, Mottram. I've torn
up the films. There was nothing there. It was impossible.'
'That,' said Lowndes, very distinctly, watching the shaking hand
striving to relight the pipe, 'is a damned lie.'
Mottram laughed uneasily. 'Spurstow's right,' he said. 'We're all
in such a state now that we'd believe anything. For pity's sake let's
try to be rational.'
There was no further speech for a long time. The hot wind whistled
without, and the dry trees sobbed. Presently the daily train, winking
brass, burnished steel, and spouting steam, pulled up panting in the
intense glare. 'We'd better go on on that,' said Spurstow. 'Go back to
work. I've written my certificate. We can't do any more good here, and
work'll keep our wits together. Come on.'
No one moved. It is not pleasant to face railway journeys at
mid-day in June. Spurstow gathered up his hat and whip, and, turning
in the doorway, said—
'There may be Heaven,—there must be Hell. Meantime, there is our
life here. We-ell?'
Neither Mottram nor Lowndes had any answer to the question.