The Man Who Couldn’t Get Drunk
"YES: she's a beautiful woman. There's no doubt about that. What did you say her name was?" "I haven't mentioned her name," I returned. "But there's no secret about it. She is Lady Sylvia Clavering." "Ah! Sylvia. Of course, I remember now." He drained his glass of brandy, anti sat barb in his chair, while his eyes followed one of the most beautiful women in London as she threaded her way through the tables toward tlte entrance of the restaurant. An ob sequious head-waiter bent almost double as she pass€'d her exit, as usual, befitted one of the most he-photograph ed women of Society Anti it was not until the doors had swung to behind her and her escort that the man 1 had heen dining with spoke again. "1 guess tlsat little how she gave as she tiassed here was yours, not mine," he said, with the suspirion of a smile. ``Presumably,'' I answered, a little curtly. ``Unless you happen to know her. I have that privilege." Bis smile grew a trifle nsore pronounced, though his eyes were set and steady. "Know her." I-fe herkoised to the waiter for more brandy. "No, I can't say I know
“SAPPER” H. C. McNEILE
her. In fact my Dole claim to acquaintanceship is that I carried her for three miles in the dark one night, slung over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. But I don’t know her.”
“You did what?” I cried, staring at him in amazement.
“Sounds a bit over the odds, I admit.” He was carefully cutting the end off his cigar. “Nevertheless it stands.”
Now when any man states that he has carried a woman for three miles, whether it be in the dark or not, and has followed up such an introduction so indifferently that the woman fails even to recognize him afterwards, there would seem to be the promise of a story. But when the woman is one of the Lady Sylvia Claverings of this world and the man is of the type of my dinner companion the promise resolves itself into a certainty.
Merton was one of those indefinable characters who defy placing. You felt that if you landed in Yokohama,
and he was with you, you would instinctively rely on him for information as to the best thing to do and the best way to do it. There seemed to be no part of the globe, from the South Sea Islands going westward to Alaska, with which he was not as well acquainted as the ordinary man is with his native village. At the time I did not know him well. The dinner was only our third meeting, and during the meal we confined ourselves to the business which had been the original cause of our running across one another at all. But even in that short time I had realised that Billy Merton was a white man. And not only was he straight, but he was essentially a useful person to have at one’s side in a tight corner.
“Are you disposed to elaborate your somewhat amazing statement?” I asked after a pause.
For a moment or two he hesitated, and his eyes became thoughtful.
“I don’t suppose there’s any reason why I shouldn’t,” he answered slowly. “It’s ancient history now—ten years
“That was just about the time she was married,” I remarked.
He nodded. “She was on her honeymoon, when it happened. Well, if you want to hear the yarn, come round to my club. There’s only one thing: I must ask you not to pass it on.”
“Why, certainly,’’ I said, beckoning for the bill. “Let’s get on at once: I’m curious.”
DO YOU know Africa at all?” he asked me, as we pulled our chairs up to the fire. We had the room almost to ourselves; a gentle snoring from the other fireplace betokened the only other occupant.
“Egypt,” I answered. “Parts of South Africa. The usual thing: nothing out of the ordinary.”
He nodded. “It was up the West Coast that it happened," he began, after his pipe was going to his satisfaction. “And though I’ve been in many God-forsaken spots in my life, I’ve never yet struck anything yet to compare with that place. Nwambi it was called—just a few shacks stretching in from the sea, along a straggling dusty street—one so-called shop and a bar. It called itself an hotel, but Lord help the person who tried to put up there. It was a bar pure and simple, though no one could call the liquor that. Lukewarm gin, some vile substitute for whiskey, the usual short drinks and some local poisons formed the stock: I ought to know—I was
“For about three miles inland there stretched a belt of stinking swamp—one vast malaria hot-bed; and over this belt the straggling street meandered toward the low foothills beyond. At times it almost lost itself; but if you didn’t give up hope, or expire from the stench, and cast about you’d generally find it again leading you on to where you felt you might get a breath of God’s fresh air in the hills. As a matter of fact you didn’t; the utmost one can say is that it wasn’t quite so appalling as in the swamp itself. Mosquitoes! Heavens—they had to be seen to be believed. I’ve watched ’em there literally like a grey cloud.”
Merton smiled reminiscently.
“That—and the eternal boom of the sea on the bar half a mile out, made up Nwambi. How any white man ever got through alive if he had to stop there any length of time is beyond me: to be accurate very few did. It was a grave, that place, and only the down-and-outers went there. At the time I was one myself.
“The sole reason for its existence at all was that the water alongside the quay was deep enough for good-sized boats to come in, and most of the native produce from the district inland found its way down to Nwambi for shipment. Once over the belt of swamp and a few miles into the hills, the climate was much better; and halfa-dozen traders in a biggish way had bungalows there. They were Dagos most of them—it wasn’t a British part of the West Coast—and I frankly admit that my love for the Dago has never been very great. But there was one Scotchman, McAndrew, amongst them—and he was the first fellow who came into the bar after I’d taken over the job. He was down for the night about some question of freight.
“ ‘You’re new,’ he remarked, leaning against the coun-~ ter. ‘What’s happened to the other fellow? Is he dead?’
“ ‘Probably,’ I returned,. ‘What do you want?’
“ ‘Gin—double tot. What’s your name?’
“I told him, and he pondered the matter while he finished his drink.
“ ‘Well,’ he said at length, T warned your predecessor, and I’ll warn you. Don’t fall foul of my manager down here. Name of Mainwaring—I do not think. Don’t give him advice about keeping off the drink, or he’ll kill you. He’s killing himself but that’s his business. I’m tough—you look tough, but he’s got us beat to a frazzle. And take cover if he ever gets mixed up with any of the Dagos—the place isn’t healthy.’
“It was just at that moment that the door swung open, and a tall, lean fellow lounged in. He’d got an eyeglass screwed into one eye, and a pair of perfectly fitting polo boots with some immaculate white breeches encased his legs. His shirt was silk, his sun-helmet spotless: in fact he looked like the typical English dude of fiction.
“ ‘My manager, Mainwaring,’ said McAndrew by way of introduction.
“Mainwaring stared at me for a moment or twothen he shrugged his shoulders.
“ ‘You look sane: however if you come here you can’t be. Double gin—and one for yourself.’
“He spoke with a faint, almost affected drawl, and as I poured out the drinks I watched him covertly. When he first came in I had thought him a young man—now I wasn’t so sure. It was his eyes that made one wonder as tö his age—they were so utterly tired. If he was indeed drinking himself to death there were no traces of it as yet on his face, and his hand as he lifted his glass was perfectly steady. But those eyes of his—I can see them now. The cynical bitterness, the concentrated weariness of all Hell was in them. And it’s not good for any man to look like that, certainly not a man of thirty-five as I afterwards discovered his age to be.”
Merton paused and sipped his whiskey and soda, while from the other side of the room came indications that the sleeper still slept.
”1 never found out what his real ruime was,” he continued, thoughtfully, “incidentally it doesn't much matter. We knew him as Mainwaring. and the.!, which preceded it in his signature was assumed to stand for .James or Jimmy. Anyway he answered to it, which was the main point. As far as I know he never received a letter and he never read a paper, arid 1 goes. 1 got to know him better than anyone else in that accursed hole. Every morning, punctual to the second at eleven o’clock, he’d stroll into the bar, and have three double gins. Sometimes he'd talk in his faint, rather pleasant drawl more often he’d sit silently at one of the rickety tables, staring out to sea with his long legs stretched out in front of him. But whichever he did - whatever morning it was you could always see your face in his boots.
“I remember once after I’d been thereabout a month, I started to pull his leg about those boots of his.
“ ‘Take the devil of a long time cleaning them in the morning, don’t you, Jimmy?’ 1 asked, as he lounged up to the bar for his third gin.
“ ‘Yes,’ he answ.ered leaning over the counter so that his face was close to mine. ‘Got anything further to say about my appearance?’
“ ‘Jimmy,’ I replied, ‘your appearance deosn’t signify one continental damn to me. But as the only two regular British habitués of this first-class American bar, don’t let’s quarrel.’
“He grinned—a sort of slow, lazy grin.
“ ‘Think not?’ he said. ‘Might amuse one. However, perhaps you’re right.’
“And so it went on—one sweltering day after another, until one could have gone mad with the hideous boredom of it. I used to stand behind the bar there sometimes, and curse weakly and foolishly like a child, but I never heard Mainwaring do it. What happened during those steamy nights in the privacy of his own room, when he— like the rest of us—was fighting for sleep, is another matter. During the day he never varied. Cold, cynical, immaculate, he seemed a being apart—above our little worries, and utterly contemptuous of them. Maybe he was right—maybe the'thing that had downed him was too big for foolish cursing. Knowing what I do now a good many things are clear which one didn’t realize at the time.
“/''\NLY once, I think, did I ever get in the slightest degree intimate with him. ... It was latish one evening—an ' the bar was empty save for us two. I’d been railing against the fate that had landed me penniless in such an accursed spot, and after a while he chipped in in his lazy drawl.
“ ‘Would a thousand be any good to you?’
“I looked at him speechless. ‘A thousand pounds?’ I stammered
“ ‘Yes: I think I can raise that for you.’ He was staring in front of him as he spoke. ‘And yet, I don’t know. I’ve got more or less used to you, and you’ll have to stop a bit longer. Then we’ll see about it.’
‘But Good Heavens! man,’ I almost shouted, ‘do you mean to say that you stop here when you can lay your hand on a thousand pounds?’
“ ‘It appears so, doesn’t it?’ He rose and stalked over to the bar. ‘It doesn’t much matter where you stop, Merton, when you can’t be in the one place where you’d sell your hopes of Heaven to be. And it’s best perhaps to choose a place where the end will come quickly.’
“With that he turned on his heel, and I watched him, with a sort of dazed amazement, as he sauntered down the dusty road, white in the tropical moon, toward his own .shack. A thousand pounds! The thought of it rang in my head all though the night. A thousand pounds! A fortune! and because, out in death spots like that, men are apt to think strange thoughts—thoughts that look ugly by the light of day—I found myself wondering how long he could last at the rate he was going. Two— sometimes three bottles of gin a day: it couldn’t be long. And then—who knew. . . . It would be quick, the breakup: all the quicker because there was not a trace of it
now. And perhaps when it came, he’d remember about that thousand. Or I could remind him.”
Merton laughed grimly.
"Yes, we’re pretty average swine, even the best of us, when we’re up against it, and I lay no claims to be a plaster saint. But Fate had decreed that Jimmy Mainwaring was to find the end which he craved for quicker than he had anticipated. Moreover—and that’s what I've always been glad about—it had decreed that he was to find it before drink had rotted that iron constitution of his: while his boots still shone, and his silk shirts remained spotless. It had decreed that he was to find it in the way of all others that he would have chosen, had sui-h a wild improbability ever suggested itself. Which is going ahead a bit fast with the yarn—but no matter.
"It was after I’d been there about three months that the incident happened which was destined to be the indirect cause of his death. I told you, didn’t I, that Hiere were several Dago traders, who lived up in the foothills, and on the night in question three of them
had come down to Nwambi on business of some sort— amongst them one Pedro Salvas, who was as unpleasant a specimen of humanity as I have ever met. A crafty, orange-skinned brute, who indulged, according to common knowledge, in every known form of vice, and a good many unknown ones too. The three of them were sitting at a table near the door, when Mainwaring lounged in—and McAndrew’s words came back to me. The Dagos had been drinking: Jimmy looked in his most
uncompromising mood. He paused at the door, and stared at each of them in turn through his eyeglass: then he turned his back on them and came over to me.
‘T glanced over his shoulder at the three men, and realized there was trouble coming. They’d been whispering and muttering together the whole evening, though at the time I had paid no attention. But now, Pedro Salvas, with an ugly flush on his ugly face, had risen and was coming toward the bar.
‘If one so utterly unworthy as I,’ he snarled, ‘may venture to speak to the so very exclusive Englishman, I would suggest that he does not throw pictures of his lady-loves about the streets.’
“He was holding something in his hand, and Jimmy swung round like a panther. His hand went to his breast pocket: then I saw what the Dago was holding out. It was the miniature of a girl. And after that I didn’t see much more: I didn’t even have time to take cover.
It seemed to me that the lightning movement of Jimmy’s left hand, as he grabbed the miniature, and the terrific upper-cut with his right were simultaneous. Anyway the next second he was putting the picture back in his breast pocket, and the Dago, snarling like amad dog, was picking himself out of a medley of broken bottles. That was phase one. Phase two was equally rapid and left me blinking. There was the crack of a revolver, and at the same moment a knife stuck out quivering in the wall behind my head. Then there was a silence, and I collected my scattered wits.
‘ TP HE revolver, still smoking, was in Jimmy’s hand:
Salvas, his right arm dripping with blood, was standing by the door, while his two pals were crouching behind the table, looking for all the world like three wild beasts waiting to spring.
“ ‘Next time,’ said Jimmy, T shoot to kill.’
“And he meant it. He was a bit white round the nostrils which is a darned dangerous sign in a man, especially if he’s got a gun and you’re looking down the business end of it. And no one knew it better than those three Dagos. They went on snarling, but not one of them moved an eyelid.
‘Put your knives on that table, you scum,’ ordered
“The other two obeyed, and he laughed contemptuously.
“ ‘Now clear out. You pollute the air.’
“For a moment or two they hesitated: then Salvas with a prodigious effort regained his self control.
“ ‘You are brave, Señor Mainwaring, when you have a revolver, and we are unarmed,’ he said with a sneer.
“In two strides Jimmy was at the table, where the knives were lying. He picked one up, threw me his gun, and pointed to the other knife.
"I’ll fight you now, Salvas,’ he answered, quietly. ‘Knife to knife and to a finish.’ ; - -
“But the Dago wasn’t taking any, and ’pon my soul I hardly blamed him. For if ever a man was mad, Jimmy Mainwaring was mad that night: mad with the madness that knows no fear, and is absolutely blind to consequences.
T do not brawl in bars with drunken Englishmen,’ he remarked, turning on his heel.
“A magnificent utterance, but ill-advised with Jimmy as he was. He gave a short laugh, and took a running kick, and Don Pedro Salvas disappeared abruptly into the night. And the other two followed with celerity.
“ ‘You’ll be getting into trouble, old man,’ I said as he came back to the bar, ‘if you start that sort of game with the Dagos.’
‘Thé bigger the trouble, the more I’ll like it,’ he answered shortly. ‘Give me another drink. Don’t you understand yet, Merton, that I’m beyond caring?’ “And thinking it over since, I’ve come to the conclusion that he spoke the literal truth. It’s a phrase often used, and very rarely meant: in this case it was the plain, unvarnished truth. Rightly or wrongly he had got into such a condition that he cared not one fig whether he lived or died: if anything he preferred the latter:! And falling foul of the Dago colony was a better way than most of obtaining his preference.
“Of course, the episode that night had shown me one thing: it was a woman who was at the bottom of it all.
I didn’t ask any questions: he wasn’t a man who took
kindly to cross-examination. But I realized pretty forcibly that if the mere handling of her picture by a Dago had produced such a result, the matter must be serious. Who she was, I hadn’t any idea,, or what was the trouble
between them—and as I say I didn’t ask......
“And then one day a few weeks later I got the answer
to the first question. Someone left a month-old Taller in the bar, and I was glancing through it, when Mainwaring came in. I reached up for the gin bottle to give him his usual drink and when I turned round to hand it to him, he was staring at one of the pictures with the look of a dead man on his face. I can see him now with his knuckles gleaming white through the sunburn of his hands, and his great powerful chest showing under his shirt. He stood like that maybe for five minutes— motionless: then without a word, he swung round and left the bar. And I picked up the paper.’’
Merton paused, and drained his glass.
“Lady Sylvia’s wedding?’’ I asked unnecessarily, and he nodded.
“CO THE first part of the riddle was solved,’’ he continued quietly. “And when two days passed by without a sign of Mainwaring, I began to be afraid that he had solved his own riddle in his own way. But'he hadn’t : he came into the bar at ten o’clock at night, and leaned up against the counter in his usual way.
“ ‘What have you been doing with yourself?’ I asked, lightly.
“ ‘I’ve been trying to get drunk,’ he answered, slowly, letting one of his hands fall on my arm with a grip like steel. ‘And, dear God!—I can’t.’
“It doesn’t sound much— told like this in the smokingroom of a London club. But though I’ve seen and heard many things in my life that have impressed me— horrible, dreadful things that I shall never forget—the moment of all others that is most indeliblystamped on my brain is that moment when, leaning across the bar, I looked into the depths of the soul of the man who called himself Jimmy Mainwaring—the man who could not get
Once again he paused, and this time I did not interrupt him. He was back in that steaming night, with the smell of stale spirits in his nostrils, and the sight of strange things in his eyes. And I felt that I too could visualize that tall, immaculate Englishman leaning against the counter—the man who was beyond caring.
“But I must get on with it,” continued Merton after a while. “The club will be filling up soon, and I’ve only got the finish to tell you now. And by one of those extraordinary coincidences which happen far more frequently in life than people will allow, the finish proved a worthy
“It was about two days later. I was in the bar polishing the glasses, when the door swung open, and two men came in. They were obviously English, and both of them were dressed as if they were going to a garden party.
“ ‘Thank Heavens! Tommy! here’s a bar at any rate,’ said one of them. T say, barman, what have you got?’
“Well, I had a bit of a liver, and I disliked being called barman.
“ ‘Several bottles of poison’, I answered,
‘and the hell of a temper.’
“The second one laughed, and after a moment or two the other joined in.
“ T don’t wonder at the latter commodity,’ he said. ‘This is a ghastly hole.’
“ T wouldn’t deny it,’ I answered.
‘What,if I may ask, has brought you here?’
“ ‘Oh! we’ve had a small break-down, and the Skipper came in here to repair it.
We’ve just come ashore to have a look
“I glanced through the window, and noticed for the first time that a steam yacht was lying off the shore. She was a real beauty—, looked about a thousand tons—and I gave a sigh of envy.
“ ‘You’re not in want of a barman, by any chance, are you?’
I said. ‘If so, I’ll swim out and chance the sharks.’
“ ‘ ’Fraid we’ve got everything inthat line,’ he answer? ‘But select the least deadly of your poison and join us.’ “And it was as I was pulling down the gin arg rmouth that Jimmy Mainwaring came into the 1 He got about half-way across the floor, and then he >ped dead in his tracks. And I guess during the next tv. j seconds you could have heard a pin drop.
“ ‘So this is where you’ve hidden yourself,’ said the smaller of the two men—the one who had done most of the talking. T don’t think we’ll trouble you for those drinks, barman.’
WITHOUT another word he walked out of the place—and after a moment or two the other man started to follow him. He hesitated as he got abreast of Jimmy, and then for the first time Mainwaring spoke:
“ ‘Is she here?’
“ ‘Yes,’ answered the other. ‘On board the yacht. There’s a whole party of us.’
“And with that he stepped into the street and joined his pal. With a perfectly inscrutable look on his face Jimmy watched them as they walked through the glaring sun and got into the small motor boat that was waiting alongside the quay. Then he came up to the bar.
“ ‘An artistic touch doubtless on the part of Fate,’ he remarked quietly, ‘but a little unnecessary.’
“And I guess I metaphorically took off my hat to him at that moment. What he’d done, why he was there I neither knew nor cared: all that mattered to me was the way he took that last rotten twist of the surgeon’s knife. Not by the quiver of an eyelid would you have known that anything unusual had happened: he drank his three double gins at exactly the same rate as every other morning. And then he too swung out of the bar, and went back to his office in McAndrew’s warehouse, leaving me to lie down on my bed, and sweat under the mosquito curtains, while I wondered at the inscrutable working out of things. Was it blind—the Fate that moved the pieces: or was there some definite pattern beyond our ken? At the moment it seemed pretty blind and senseless: later oh—well, you’ll be able to form your own opinion.
“You know how quickly darkness falls in those latitudes. And it was just before sunset that I saw a boat shoot away from the side of the yacht, and come full speed for the shore. I remember I wondered casually who was the wag who would leave a comfortable yacht for Nwambi, especially after the report of it that must have been given by our two morning visitors. And then it struck me that whoever it might be, he was evidently in the deuce of a hurry. Almost before the boat came alongside, a man sprang out and scrambled up the steps. Then at a rapid double he came sprinting towards me as I stood at the door of the bar. It was the smaller of the two men who had been ashore that morning, and, something was evidently very much amiss.
“ ‘Where is she?’ he shouted, as soon as he came within earshot. ‘Where’s my wife, you damned scoundrel?’ “Seeing that he was quite beside himself with worry and alarm I let the remark go by.
“ ‘Steady,’ I said, as he came gasping up to me. 'I haven’t got your wife: I haven’t even seen her.’
“ ‘It’s that cursed card-sharper!’ he cried. ‘By God! I’ll shoot him like a dog, if he’s tried any monkey-tricks.’ “ 'Dry up, and pull yourself together,’ I said, angrily. ‘If you’re alluding to Jimmy Mainwaring. . . . ’
“And at that moment Jimmy himself stepped out of his office and strolled across the road.
“ ‘You swine: you cursed card-cheat—where’s Sylvia?’ “ ‘What the devil are you talking about?’ said Jimmy, and his voice was tense.
“ ‘She came ashore this afternoon, saying she would return in an hour,’ said the other man. T didn’t know it at the time, Mr.—er—-Mainwaring, I believe you call yourself. The boat came back for her, and she was not there. That was four hours ago. Where is she?’
“He was covering Jimmy with his revolver as he spoke. “ ‘Four hours ago, Clavering! Good Heavens.' manput down your gun. This isn’t a time for amateur theatricals.’ He brushed past him as if he was non-existent, and came up to me. ‘Did you see Lady Clavering?’
“ ‘Not a trace,’ I answered, and the same fear was in both of us.
“ ‘Did she say what she was coming on shore for?’ He swung round on the husband.
“ ‘To have a look round,’ answered Clavering, and his voice had altered. No longer was he the outraged husband: he was a frightened man relying instinctively on a bigger personality than himself....
‘If she’s not about here, she must have gone inland,’ said Jimmy, staring at me. ‘And it’ll be dark in five minutes.’
“ ‘My God!’ cried Clavering, ‘what are we to do? She can’t be left alone for the night. Lost—in this cursed country. She may have hurt herself—sprained her ankle.’
FOR a moment neither of us answered him. Even more than he did we realized the hideous danger of a white woman alone in the bush inland. There were worse dangers than snakes and wild animals to be feared. And it was as we were standing there staring at one another, and afraid to voice our thoughts, that one of McAndrew’s native boys came down the street. He was running, and out of breath, and the instant he saw Jimmy he rushed up to him, and started gabbling in the local patois. He spoke too fast for me to follow him, and Clavering, of course, couldn’t understand a word. But we both guessed instinctively what he was talking about— and we both watched Jimmy’s face. And as we watched it, I heard Clavering catch his breath sharply.
“At last the boy finished, and Jimmy turned and looked at me. On his face was a look of such cold malignant fury that the question which was trembling on my lips died away, and I stared at him speechlessly.
“ ‘The Dagos have got her,’ he said very softly. ‘Don Pedros Salvas is, I fear, a foolish man.’
“Clavering gave a sort of hoarse cry, and Jimmy’s face soft-
“ 'Poor devil,’ he said. ‘Your job is going to be harder than mine. Go back to your yacht—get all your men on shore that you can spare— and if I’m not back in four hours, wait for dawn and then strike inland over the swamp. Find Pedro Salvas’ house—a n d hang him on the highest tree you can find.’ “Without another word he swung on his heel and went up the street at a longsteady lope. Twice Clavering called after him, but he never turned his head, or altered his stride—and then he himself started to follow. It was I who stopped him. Continued on pope 51
The Man Who Couldn’t Get Drunk
Continued from paje 11
and he cursed me like a child—almost weeping.
“ ‘Do what he told you,’ I said. ‘You’d never find your way: you’d be worse than useless. I’ll go with him: you get back and bring your men ashore.’
“And with that I followed Jimmy. At times I could see him, a faint white figure in the darkness, as he dodged through that fever-laden swamp: at times I found myself marvelling at the condition of the man, bearing in mind his method of living. Steadily, tirelessly, he forged ahead, and when we came to the foothills I hadn’t gained a yard on him.
“And then I began wondering what was going to happen when he reached Salvas’s bungalow, and by what strange mischance the girl had met the owner. That it was revenge I was certain: he had recognized her from the picture and I remember thinking how bitter must have been his hatred of Mainwaring to have induced him to run such an appalling risk. For the risk was appalling, even in that country of strange happenings. . . .
“I don’t think that Jimmy troubled his head over any such speculations. In his mind there was room for only one thought—an all-sufficient thought—to get his hands on Pedro Salvas. I don’t think he even knew that I was behind him, until after it was over, and the curtain was falling on the play. And then he had no time for me.”
*0 Merton gave a short laugh, that had in it a touch of sadness.
“A good curtain it was too,” he continued quietly. “I remember I made a frantic endeavour to overtake him as he raced up to the house, and then because I just couldn’t help myself, I stopped and watched—fascinated. The window of the big living room was open, and the light blazed out. I suppose they had never anticipated pursuit that night. Leaning up against the wall .was the girl, with a look, of frozen horror on her face, while seated at the table were Pedro Salvas and three of his pals. And they were drinking.
“TT ALL happened very quickly. For
1 one second I saw Jimmy Mainwaring framed in the window—then he began shooting. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that he could shoot the pip out of the ace
of diamonds nine times out of ten at twenty yards, and his madness did not interfere with his aim. And that night he was stark, staring mad. I heard three shots—so close together that only an artist could have fired them out of the same revolver and taken aim: I saw the three friends of Pedro Salvas collapse limply in their chairs. And then there was a pause: I think Jimmy wanted to get at him with his hands.
“But it was not to be. Just for a moment the owner of the bungalow had been so stupefied at the sudden appearance of the man he hated, that he had simply sat still staring: but only for a moment. The movement of his arm was so quick that I hardly saw it: I only noticed what seemed to be a streak of light which shot across the room. And then I heard Jimmy’s revolver again—the tenth, the hundredth of a second too late. He’d drilled Pedro Salvas through the heart all right—I watched the swine crumple and fall with the snarl still on his face—but this time the knife wasn’t sticking in the wall....
“She got to him first,” went on Merton thoughtfully. “His knees were sagging just as I got to the window, and she was trying to hold him up in her arms. And then between us we laid him down, and I saw that the end was very near. There was nothing I could do: the knife was clean into his chest. The finish of the journey had come to the man who could not get drunk. And so I left them together, while I mounted guard by the window with a gun in each hand. It was not a house to take risks in.....
“He lived, I think, for five minutes,and of those five minutes I would rather not speak. There are things which a man may tell, and things which he may not. Sufficient be it to say that he may have cheated at cards or he may not—she loved him. If, indeed, he had committed the unforgiveable sin amongst gentlemen all the world over—he atoned for it. And she loved him. Let us leave it at that.
“And when it was over, and the strange bitter spirit of the man who called himself Jimmy Mainwaring had gone out on the unknown road, I touched her on the shoulder. She rose blindly, and stumbled out into the darkness at my side. I don’t think I spoke a word to her, beyond telling
her to t ake my arm. And after a while she grew heavier and heavier on it, until at last she slipped down—a little unconscious heap of sobbing girlhood.”
Merton paused and lit a cigarette with
8B.geih.t is how it was ordained that I should carry the Lady Sylvia Clavering for three miles, slung over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. I remember staggering into the village to find myself surrounded by men from the yacht. I handed her over to her distracted husband and then I rather think I fainted myself. I know I found myself in my own bar, with people pouring whiskey down my throat. And after a while they cleared off leaving Clavering alone with me. He began to stammer out his thanks, and I cut him short.
“ ‘No thanks are due to me, 1 said. ‘They’re due to another man whom you called a card cheat—but w'ho was a bigger man than either you or I are ever likely to be.’
“ ‘Was?’ he said, staring at me. ;
“ ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘He’s dead.’
‘‘He stood there silently for a moment or two: then with a queer look on his face he took off his hat.
“ ‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘He was a bigger man than I.’ ”
Merton got up and pressed the bell.
“I’ve never seen him from that day to this,” he said thoughtfully. “I never saw his wife again until tonight. And I’ve never filled in the gaps in the story. Moreover I don’t know that I want to.”