A NIGHT IN HELL—AND NEXT DAY
There are few men, Douglas had once read, who have not spent one night of their lives in hell. When morning came he knew that he at least was amongst the majority. Sleep had never once touched his eyelids—his most blessed respite had been a few moments of deadly stupor, when the red fires had ceased to play before his eyes, and the old man’s upturned face had faded away into the chill mists. Yet when at last he rose he asked himself, with a sudden passionate eagerness, whether after all it might not have been a terrible dream. He gazed around eagerly looking for a latticed window with dimity curtains, a blue papered wall hung with texts, and a low beamed ceiling. Alas! Before him was a white-shrouded river, around him a wilderness of houses, and a long row of faintly-burning lights stretched from where he sat all along the curving embankment. He was wearing unfamiliar clothes, and a doubled-up newspaper was in his pockets. It was all true then, the flight across the moor, the strange ride to town, the wild exhilaration of spirits, and the dull, crushing blow. The girl with the roses—ah, she had been with him—had brought him here. He remembered the look in her eyes when she had refused his money. At least he had ridded himself of that. He tried to stretch himself. He was stiff and sore all over. His head was throbbing like a steam engine, and he sank back upon the seat in the throes of a cold, ghastly sickness. He remembered then that he had not touched food for hours. He remembered too that he had not a penny in the world.
For an hour or more he lay there partially unconscious. Physically he was almost unable to move—his brain, however, was gradually clearing. After all, perhaps the boldest course was the safest. He would go and say, “Here am I, Douglas Guest—what do you want with me? It is true that I took money from the old man, but it was my own. As to his death, what do I know of that? Who heard me threaten him? Who saw me strike him? There is no one.”
He staggered up to his feet. The morning had come now, and people had begun to stir. A few market waggons went rumbling by. There were milk-carts in the streets, and sleepy-looking servants in print dresses were showing their heads above the area steps. Douglas moved on with unsteady footsteps. He passed a policeman who looked at him curiously, and of whom he felt more than half inclined to ask the way to the nearest police-station, then walked up into the square, where before him hung a red lamp from a tall, red brick house with barred windows. He peered in at the window. A fat sergeant was sitting at the table yawning, the walls were hung with police bills, the room itself was the quintessence of discomfort. The place repelled him strongly. He did not like the look of the sergeant nor his possible quarters. After all, why need he hurry? The day was young, and it was very unlikely that he would be recognised. He strolled away with his hands in his pockets, lighter-hearted with every step which took him away from those barred windows.