Victoria Cross.

Five Nights online

. (page 17 of 18)
Online LibraryVictoria CrossFive Nights → online text (page 17 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


She soon fell asleep after peace was restored, but I lay awake for
hours watching the tracery of palm shadows on the wall opposite,
thrown there by the light of the square. At midnight the lamp was put
out, the room grew black, without a ray of light, and after a time I,
too, fell asleep.

I was awakened by a curious sense of a presence in the room. My
eyelids flew open, my ears strained. The room was one solid block of
blackness, there was no ray of light anywhere. I could see and hear
nothing for a moment, though I was certain another living thing had
entered the room. Then at the same instant there was a violent
vibration of the bed beneath me and a piercing scream from Suzee, a
blind, wild cry to me for protection.

Instinctively I threw my arms out to her. Her body was struggling,
writhing. I felt it as my hands shot out and gripped fiercely, in the
thick darkness, round two hard hairy arms, tense, rigid, as they held
her down.

Suzee's voice broke out suddenly as my grip possibly loosened the
pressure of those other hands upon her throat, and she was speaking in
_Chinese_. A hot breath came on my eyes, some face must have been
close to mine in the blackness; under my arms, on Suzee's wildly
heaving body, I felt something moving, warm and slow and soft, and
knew that it was blood.

"Suzee," I called to her across her clamour of terrified entreaty,
"get a light if you can."

The hot breath came nearer.

"Devil! Devil! This is your promise, your English word." The sound
came to me like the hiss of steam close to my ear, but I knew the
voice of Hop Lee - Hop Lee buried in Sitka, thousands of miles away.

The arms in my clutch struggled furiously; in their spasm of muscular
effort they tore me upwards from the bed, as the lock of my fingers
would not give way.

Suzee's voice clamoured in passionate entreaty, unintelligible to me.
Then suddenly came a terrific twist, which wrenched away one of the
arms, and a lightning stab, a deep burning in my shoulder, and
simultaneously a blaze of light. Over me hung the bent old form of Hop
Lee, his right arm, lifted up, held a long knife raised for its second
stab. His face was alight with fury. Scarlet was already running in
bright ribands over the whiteness of the bed, Suzee's blood and my
own. I threw up my left arm and caught his wrist and turned the hand
and knife upwards till it pointed to the ceiling, my own arm stretched
to the fullest length upright. Suzee gave one horrible cry of terror,
animal terror, and then there was silence beside me.

"She has fainted, has fainted," my brain muttered in itself. A
sickening fear came into it as silence fell after that one awful cry.

I had my revolver under my pillow. If I could reach it! I looked up to
the small red eyeballs of the Chinaman.

They were insane, glaring, full of the wild, unreasoning lust to kill.
Some instinct moved me to speak.

"You were dead, I heard. I never had your wife while you were alive."

"Liar! Liar! You shall pay me in blood."

His hand with the knife in it twisted itself round in my grip. I felt
my uplifted arm losing its force. What was draining my strength? That
stream coming softly from my shoulder.

I lifted myself, trying to throw him backwards. My arm suddenly bent
at the elbow and his hand with the knife in it zigzagged downwards
very near to my throat. Age and feebleness had disappeared from him.
He was strong now with the strength of insanity and of that blind
leaping fury that glared out of his distorted face. There was a sudden
struggle as he dropped on my chest, then with my hand still locked on
his wrist we rolled together onto the floor.

A moment and we were up on our feet and he had forced me backwards to
the bed. I felt my strength was going, but I still clung with a
steel-like clutch to his wrist and kept the pointed knife at bay. As
he bent me backwards on to the bed near the pillow, I took my right
hand from his arm, snatched the revolver from under the pillow, thrust
it into his face between the eyes, and fired.

He fell forwards, a great hole torn in his forehead, from which a
river of blood poured, joining the bright ribands and with them making
a sea of crimson.

I looked across him to where Suzee lay motionless.

"Suzee," I said, my breath almost dying in my throat.

She stirred slightly. I was beside her in a moment. Her eyelids opened
slowly. Then her eyes filled with terror.

"Where is he?" she muttered.

"Dead; he cannot hurt you any more. You are safe now."

"No, Treevor, I am dying; it pains me so here."

She laid one hand on her breast and I saw the blood well up between
two fingers. I tore aside the muslin veils on her bosom and found the
wound: it was not large, just one clean stab, turning purple at the
edges.

"It is deep, Treevor; so deep. And it bleeds inside me. It is drinking
my life. I have only a few minutes to tell you. Hold up my head. I
can't breathe."

I slipped my arm beneath her little neck. My heart seemed breaking
with distress; black tides of resentment, of rage went through me,
that she should be torn from me.

"Listen, Treevor. It was I that lied to you. I told you he was dead,
and the child. They were not. I ran away. I left them at Sitka. I came
to 'Frisco and took refuge with that woman. Then I wrote to you."

A sudden horror of her seemed to enfold me as I heard.

How she had lied and deceived me! And forced me to break my word!

"Because I wanted you so much and I knew you would never have me if
you thought he was still alive.... Your stupid promise. What are
promises when one loves? I wanted you, Treevor, so much! So much!"

Some of the old fire flashed out of the dying eyes, a hungry,
despairing look.

"Kiss me, Treevor. Say you forgive me."

But I could not. For the moment I was so stunned, so overwhelmed by
this sudden revelation of her deception.

A deathly physical faintness was creeping over me; a sensation like
the beginning of long-denied sleep which rolls at last like an
unconquerable tide, obliterating everything, through the exhausted
frame, was invading my whole body. I clasped one hand mechanically
round the bed-rail to support myself, the ground seemed to lift and
sway beneath my feet.

I looked down on the little oval face that had lived so near to me
through the last year. How pale it was now, framed in the crimson mist
that stretched across the bed! At the slight, exquisite body so often
held in my arms. Was I to lose them now for all time?

"I did it all for you, because I wanted you so much. Do kiss me and
say you forgive. I shall not rest through a thousand years if you will
not."

Grey shadows were collecting in her face, some unseen hand seemed
drawing the eternal veil between us. To me, life, with all its
doings, was far away. I myself was standing in the uncertain mists of
death. Wide, limitless, and grey, the great plains of the hereafter
seemed opening before me, dim, silent, and mysterious.

Life, with its glare of colour, its triumphant music, its crash of
sound, was far behind me, almost forgotten; like clouds of indefinable
tint, piled up on some distant horizon, rose the memories of its
loves, its woes, its crimes.

Her weak voice calling on me to forgive seemed to have little meaning
to me now. I leant forward, clasping her dying body to me, and kissed
her lips, murmuring some words of consolation. Then the grey mists
rose up over my eyes sealing them, and I sank slowly into the perfect
darkness.




PART FIVE

THE WHITE NIGHT




CHAPTER XII

THE FLAMES OF LIFE'S FURNACE


A large room with open windows shewing a great square of hot blue sky
and a palm branch that swayed in front of them, bright gold in the
vivid light, was before my eyes as I lay alone, stretched out on my
bed, the mosquito-curtains draped round me, and raised on the side
next the windows.

How many weary days and nights had gone slowly by since that night
which hung veiled in crimson mists in my memory! Horrible night of
anger, of struggle, of death, of blood! Would its remembrance always
cling to me like this?

Hop Lee thought I had broken my promise to him. That was the poisoned
thorn that rankled and twisted and festered within me. No wonder he
had cursed me and wanted to kill me. And Suzee - how well she had
deceived me! I remembered her as she had sat trying to weep at the
supper-table in San Francisco, telling me of the last moments of Hop
Lee, her own devotion to him, and the child in their dying sufferings!
Husband and child that she had deserted so gladly! A dull anger burnt
within me at the thought of that deception, and most fiercely at the
knowledge that she had forced me to break my word.

Yet that anger, strongly though it flamed against her, could not
wholly dry the tears that came between my lids as I thought of her.
She had loved me in her own selfish, childish way, and had risked her
own life as well as mine to come to me.

After all, was it not I who had been in the wrong from the first? I
had known she was married. Why had I ever looked at her with that
admiration which had stirred her passion for me? Morley had warned me.
Now it had ended like this and nearly cost us all our lives. But I,
the most guilty of the three, had escaped, and they were both dead.

I appeared to have broken my promise, and now, after already injuring
him so much - one who had never injured me - I had killed Hop Lee. I had
taken his wife, who, he had said, was more than his life. Not
satisfied with that, I had taken his life, too! How horrible it all
was! I felt suffocated beneath the weight of it. But surely, surely it
was Suzee who had thrown this burden on me? Yes, but I had begun the
evil far back in the sunny days at Sitka.

Truly, as I had said to Morley, "One never knows in life."

I had killed him, a poor harmless, defenceless old man who had trusted
me!

One thing after another had gradually pushed me on to this climax, all
having their origin in those careless glances exchanged in the Sitka
tea-shop.

They had thought I should die, too, all the people who had rushed into
the room and found us that night. Myself unconscious, and the others
dead.

The cold voice of a doctor had been the first I had heard as sense
came back to me with the damp night air from the window blowing on my
face:

"He's done for, I should say, you'd better take his depositions if he
can speak."

I had opened my eyes and seen some men carrying out the body of Hop
Lee and the tiny pliable form of dear little Suzee that I should never
see or clasp again.

The landlord had come up ashy-pale and shaking, with a note-book in
his hand, and had questioned and re-questioned me, and I had answered
until I fainted again.

Next, after a black gap, I came to beneath the surgeon's probe which
he was thrusting into my wound, as he would a fork into cold meat.

"He won't get through, I should think; he has too much fever," he was
saying, in the regular callous professional voice.

"But I'm going to try the effect of this new antiseptic dressing, I
want to see if it does harm or not."

I opened my eyes and looked up at his hard, thin-lipped face, and he
seemed somewhat disconcerted; but only jabbed his probe in a little
deeper and remarked jocularly:

"Ah, I see, you're tougher than I thought."

More oblivion, and when I next came to I knew that _they_ had both
been carried away from me and buried - Hop Lee, and his wife beside
him, and that that chapter in my life was, for ever and ever, closed.

Now I was in charge of a hospital nurse. A horrible creature she was,
lean and hard-faced, with a straight slit across her face for mouth,
and little grey, cruel eyes. Like a nightmare she hung round my bed,
preventing me from getting better.

All the fiendish tortures and cruelties that she had witnessed within
the hospital walls had, I suppose, made her the thing she was.

Days had passed, and very slowly a little strength had crept back into
me, enough for me to see I was not getting well as quickly as my youth
and strength would let me if there were no drawback. I drew all my
forces together to try and understand this, and then I noticed that
regularly after each dose of physic I went back a little.

More fever, more pain in my shoulder, more delusions before the brain.
Each morning when the vitality within me had struggled through the
evil effects of my medicine I was better, then came the harpy-faced
nurse to the pillow - my dose - then pain and illness again.

The look on the face of the woman as I drank it was extraordinary. A
sly, pleased look, as one sees on the face of a schoolboy dismembering
a living fly.

One day I took the glass as usual from her, but instead of raising it
to my lips, turned it upside down through the window.

The woman turned red, and then livid.

"What does that mean, sir, may I ask?"

"Simply that I am not going to take any more medicine, thank you," I
replied quietly, "as I now wish to get well."

"My orders from the doctor are that you shall take it," she said
grimly; "and I'll make you."

She poured out another glass of the medicine and approached the bed,
with the intention, it seemed, of opening my mouth and pouring it
down. But I had had no weakening, sense-destroying drug that morning,
and nature was rapidly curing me.

She forgot that. As she came up, I sprang from the bed, put my hand on
her shoulder, and forced her to the door. She shrieked and protested,
but she could not resist. I put her outside and locked the door.

Then I sank down trembling with exhaustion, for I was very weak. But I
rejoiced to know my strength had come back even that much. I crossed
to the window after a moment and looked out. In the distance
glimmered the sea, blue and joyous and beautiful. How I longed to be
out near it, in its warm salt breeze! Beside my window grew the
companion of my weary hours, the waving palm; beneath there was a
little flagged court, shut in by small buildings belonging to the
hotel. There was a well there and a banana-tree, and a man sitting
down plucking alive a struggling fowl. I called to him in Spanish:

"Send the administrador to me." And he looked up.

A frightened look came into his face as he saw who it was that called
him. Then he nodded, and carrying the unhappy bird by its feet, head
downwards, disappeared into the hotel.

People and things move slowly with the Spaniards. I waited an hour,
gazing out into the amethystine distance, wondering if Suzee's glad,
careless, irresponsible little spirit was dancing there in the
sunbeams; and then a knock came at the door.

I walked to it and said: "Who is there?"

I recognised the voice of the administrador in his answer, and
unlocked the door and bid him come in.

He did so, with an alarmed aspect.

"Have you seen the nurse?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied; "she told me you were again delirious and had
refused to take your medicine, and that she must refuse all
responsibility for you."

"I am not at all delirious, as you see," I answered; "I simply want to
get well, and each time I take their stuff I get worse; so I am going
to cease taking it. Now what I ask you to do is to keep that woman and
the doctor and the surgeon out of my room. All I want is to be left
alone, to be quiet. The surgeon took all the stitches out yesterday.
There is no need for _him_ to see me again, and the others I won't
have in here."

"But the responsibility, really, Señor," the man muttered looking all
ways at once, "and the good doctor - such an amiable man. What object
could he have in not curing the Señor quickly?"

"The object of prolonging his fees," I answered smiling, "I should
think. When I get well, his fees stop." Then it occurred to me this
man had also an object in keeping me here, since my hotel bill would
certainly stop, like the doctors' fees, when I got well; so I added:

"What day of the month is it? The twentieth? Well, listen to this. If
I am well, perfectly well by the end of the month, I will give you a
cheque for fifty pounds in addition to my bills, just to show my
good-will."

Now £50 is much to a Mexican, and over this man's face spread a look
as of one who has a glimpse of Paradise. He looked down immediately,
however, and said deprecatingly:

"How can I influence the Señor's getting well? These things are as
the good God wills. I can hire a Sister to pray for the Señor. That I
can do."

"Thank you," I said. "But if you will keep the doctor and nurse out of
my room and send me good food and water I shall get well and the fifty
pounds is yours. Do you understand, if they come into this room again
you lose it. I only wish to be alone."

The man bowed and bowed.

"As the Señor wishes, but the good amiable doctor, what should I say
to him?"

"What you please, only don't let him come near me."

"And when the Señor is well there are many little matters to settle.
The Consul and the Magistrate...."

I stopped him.

"Not now. I am to have ten days in peace, and alone, or you don't get
the money."

The man stood bowing and shuffling and muttering for some minutes.
Then the thought of the £50 came before him too dazzling to resist,
and with a final: "It shall be exactly as the Señor wishes," he
withdrew.

And so now I lay alone. Ah, what a comfort solitude is!

Freedom and solitude! Are these not two sweet Sisters of Mercy?

How few of all worldly ills and sorrows can they not either cure or
assuage? Or, rather, perhaps, ought one not to call them mates, from
which the child, Content, is born?

I lay there, weak and suffering still, but a balm seemed poured all
over me, for now I was alone.

I fell asleep after a time and did not wake till it was dark. I felt
stronger, better. Sleep had nursed me in her own way through all the
afternoon.

A lamp had been lighted on the table beside me and only needed turning
up. There was a tray of food there and a carafe of water. I took a
little of both and felt life stirring in all my veins, now that the
paralysing grip of the deadly drugs they had been giving me was lifted
off.

I lay still, gazing about the large, shadowy room and into the violet
dusk of the square beyond the window, and then gradually sleep came
over me again.

In less than an hour I started up from my bed, wide-awake. I thought I
had been with Hop Lee. I looked round the room. All was just as I had
seen it last. I sank back on my pillow. "It was only a vivid dream," I
said to myself, and then fell to wondering what the dream had been. I
could not remember. It seemed some communication had been made to my
brain while I slept, that it had received very clearly, but now that I
was awake it could not retain nor understand it, but it could, and did
remember that I had dreamed of Hop Lee, and that it was a pleasant
dream.

Yes, the man I had murdered had been with me, had spoken to me, and
the impression was that of rest, of calm, of some aching self-reproach
being appeased.

"Just a dream, of course," I said to myself; "but how odd that I
cannot remember at all what he said." An hour perhaps passed by while
I lay quiet, strangely comforted by the dream I had forgotten; and
then I lapsed back into sleep and again Hop Lee was with me, speaking,
telling me something earnestly, exhorting me gently, and again I woke
with a feeling of gratitude, of peace; but I could recall nothing of
what had been said to me.

The light burned steadily beside me, and I sat up and thought.

The feeling of tranquillity that spread through me, so different from
the feverish self-reproach that had gripped me ever since I had killed
Hop Lee was so marked, so wonderful in its effect on me that I could
not feel it was the result of a dream. No, the spirit of the old man
had been there, absolving me of my broken word, absolving me of his
murder. The fact that I could not remember, could not recall or
understand when awake my dream or his words, seemed to shew that in
sleep a mysterious message from a hidden source had been conveyed to
me, which, from its nature and the nature of my ordinary material
brain, could not be received by the latter. From that hour I began to
get well rapidly. Often and often in the long nights or the lonely
quiet days, I tried to call up a dream to me, a vision of either of
them again; often I longed to speak to Suzee once more. But never
again did any shade come to my pillow. He had come that once, of that
I was convinced. To others it would always seem as if I had dreamed
that night. I knew, by some inner sense, I had been spoken to by the
soul of the old dead Chinaman, and forgiven.

The time passed evenly in that calm solitude. Sometimes still I was
burnt with fever and racked with pain and got but poor food, and often
longed for a hand to give me water in the dark nights. And I
longed - ah, how I desired, infinitely, to send to Viola, tell her, and
ask her to come to me!

I felt she would come then, that she would fly to me once she heard I
was ill, in actual need of her.

But my pride refused to let me do this.

I had begged her to come in the name of our love, appealed to her
through our passion. I would never appeal to her pity.

Besides, I could not bear that she should see me now, wrecked in
strength, a shadow, a skeleton of myself.

Fever had reduced me to the last thin edge of existence. As I
stretched out my arms before me, they looked like some grim ghastly
stranger's, I did not recognise them. No, she should come back to me
when I had regained the full glory of my health and strength that I
knew she delighted in.

So I waited with all the patience I could command, and sleep and
Nature nursed me between them till I was quite well.

Then came long-drawn-out procedure in the Mexican courts. I had
documents to write and sign, affidavits to make out, interrogations to
answer; but finally the Law was satisfied. I was acquitted. I heard
the decision with a curious feeling. How little it seemed to matter
beside the inner knowledge of my heart, that Hop Lee himself had been
with me, and knew and understood.

One afternoon then, after the satisfying of nearly endless claims upon
me, I looked at the long, flat, rolling sea with its reefs of palms
for the last time, and took the train northwards away from Tampico.

The year was not yet over, but I was going back to be in London, or
very near it. For would she not write first to my club? and here it
took at least three weeks for my letters sent on from the club to
reach me.

I did not wish to live actually in town yet till Viola joined me, to
advertise our separation, unnecessarily, to our friends, but I thought
I would live practically hidden somewhere near, so that letters could
reach me from London the same day.

Within a month I was back in London and went first of all to call for
letters. Amongst them I recognised instantly there was not one from
Viola. And, depressed and disappointed, I went down into the country,
to work.

Work, the dear mistress of an artist's life, the one that never leaves
him but is there always waiting to receive him back to her, to console
him in her arms for all the wounds that love has made.

Month after month went by and I worked at the painting, turning into
finished pictures the many sketches life with Suzee had given me.

As I worked on some of these a wave of sad reflection would sweep over
me, of memory of her, but the recollection of the deceit and lies in
which her love for me had been always cloaked came with that memory
and blunted the poignant edge of it.

Then suddenly one morning came a letter from Viola, and my heart
seemed at the sight of it to fly upwards and forwards to the future as
a swallow let out of a darkened room flies upwards and outwards with a
swift rush to the open light.

"Bletchner's Hotel, Paris." "If you wish, you may come to me."

That was all, but it was enough. Within a few moments I was ready for
departure. For weeks a little case had stood ready packed against the
wall of my room. All else was left standing.

I went to town, caught the morning train to Dover, and crossed to
Calais.

I reached Paris finally about six and drove to a hotel. I dined in my
travelling clothes in the restaurant, and then went up to my room to
dress. What keen life I felt in all my veins! How strongly all the
power of living had come back to me! Ordinarily, when we are well we
get so accustomed to our health and strength we are hardly aware of
either, but there are times when we become supremely conscious of
both, as I was now. As I walked about my small apartment I felt a


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17

Online LibraryVictoria CrossFive Nights → online text (page 17 of 18)