Mumbling meaningless things, he reached for his water-bottle and poured a mouthful of rum down his throat. It set his heart beating more firmly, and his blood was no longer like ice in a sluggish river. He replaced the stopper and resumed his watch, but every fibre of his body was craving for more of the alcohol. With set teeth he struggled for self-control, but every instinct was fighting against him. He took another sip, then a long draught of the scorching liquid, and leaned against the parapet. He pressed his hot face against the damp earth, and burrowed his fingers into it in a frenzied effort for self-mastery. Again he drank, and his mouth burned with the stuff. His head was swimming, and he could hear surf breaking on a rocky coast. The dead man was grinning at him, but death no longer held any terrors for him. He raised the bottle in a mock toast and drank greedily of the rum again.
The pounding of the waves puzzled him. He could not remember that they were near any water. But more and more distinctly he could hear the roll of surf dashed into spray against the shore. . . . It was strange. . . . Once more he pressed the bottle to his lips, and it set his very arteries on fire. Yes. Over to the left he could see the glimmer of the ocean. There was a light; some one was beside it. It was Elise! She was giving a signal. That was it—the smugglers were landing their contraband, and she was signalling that all was clear.
He looked over to the dead man. The corpse was rising to its feet. It had all been a hoax on its part—it was an excise officer. His eyes were fixed on the light, too. His men would be near, and they would capture Elise—and afterwards the smugglers, led by their great-grandfather. He would have to warn her. He couldn’t shout, for that would give everything away. He would crawl near to her first.
He finished the rum, draining the bottle to the last drop, and started to creep along the trench, his heavy, powerless limbs carrying him only inches where his imagination made it yards. He looked back once. The dead man was following him. It had become a race between himself and a corpse. He kept his eye on the light. He could see Elise quite plainly. She was looking out towards the sea.
Feeling his muscles growing weaker, and fearful that the dead man would overtake him, he struggled to his feet and clapped his hands to his mouth.
‘Elise!’ he yelled. ‘Elise!’
And with the roar of surf in his ears, he sank to the ground in a drunken stupor.
The last act of Madam Butterfly was ending. The cruel little story wound to a close with the return of Pinkerton and his sympathy-uninspiring American wife, and then the suicide of Butterfly—the logical, but comparatively unmoving, finale to the opera.
But Elise neither saw the actors nor heard the music. With her hands covering her eyes, she had been listening for the voice of Dick. She could hear it, distant and faint, growing nearer, as if he were coming towards her through a forest. There was in it a despair she had never heard before. He was in danger—where or how she could not fathom—but over the surging music of the orchestra she could hear the voice of Boy-blue crying through the infinity of space.