The conversation had already become general; and, under cover of it, I was addressing some tender small talk
to my sweetheart when I was aware that at the further end of the table a short red-whiskered man was
describing with much broidery his encounter with a mad unknown that evening. A few sentences convinced
me that he was repeating the incident of half an hour ago. In the middle of the story he looked round for
applause, as professional story-tellers do, caught my eye, and straightway collapsed. There was a moment's
awkward silence, and the red-whiskered man muttered something to the effect that he had 'forgotten the rest';
thereby sacrificing a reputation as a good story-teller which he had built up for six seasons past. I blessed him
from the bottom of my heart and--went on with my fish.
In the fullness of time that dinner came to an end; and with genuine regret I tore myself away from Kitty--as
certain as I was of my own existence that It would be waiting for me outside the door. The red-whiskered
man, who had been introduced to me as Dr. Heatherlegh of Simla, volunteered to bear me company as far as
our roads lay together. I accepted his offer with gratitude.
My instinct had not deceived me. It lay in readiness in the Mall, and, in what seemed devilish mockery of our
ways, with a lighted head-lamp. The red-whiskered man went to the point at once, in a manner that showed he
had been thinking over it all dinner time.
'I say, Pansay, what the deuce was the matter with you this evening on the Elysium road?' The suddenness of
the question wrenched an answer from me before I was aware.
'That!' said I, pointing to It.
'That may be either D.T. or eyes for aught I know. Now you don't liquor. I saw as much at dinner, so it can't
be D.T. There's nothing whatever where you're pointing, though you're sweating and trembling with fright like
a scared pony. Therefore, I conclude that it's eyes. And I ought to understand all about them. Come along
home with me. I'm on the Blessington lower road.'
To my intense delight the 'rickshaw instead of waiting for us kept about twenty yards ahead--and this, too,
whether we walked, trotted, or cantered. In the course of that long night ride I had told my companion almost
as much as I have told you here.
'Well, you've spoilt one of the best tales I've ever laid tongue to,' said he, 'but I'll forgive you for the sake of
what you've gone through. Now come home and do what I tell you; and when I've cured you, young man, let
this be a lesson to you to steer clear of women and indigestible food till the day of your death.'
The 'rickshaw kept steadily in front; and my red-whiskered friend seemed to derive great pleasure from my
account of its exact whereabouts.
'Eyes, Pansay--all eyes, brain and stomach; and the greatest of these three is stomach. You've too much
conceited brain, too little stomach, and thoroughly unhealthy eyes. Get your stomach straight and the rest
follows. And all that's French for a liver pill. I'll take sole medical charge of you from this hour; for you're too
interesting a phenomenon to be passed over.'
By this time we were deep in the shadow of the Blessington lower road and the 'rickshaw came to a dead stop
under a pine-clad, overhanging shale cliff. Instinctively I halted too, giving my reason. Heatherlegh rapped
out an oath.
'Now, if you think I'm going to spend a cold night on the hillside for the sake of a
stomach-cum-brain-cum-eye illusion . . . . Lord ha' mercy! What's that?'
There was a muffled report, a blinding smother of dust just in front of us, a crack, the noise of rent boughs,
and about ten yards of the cliffside--pines, undergrowth, and all--slid down into the road below, completely
blocking it up. The uprooted trees swayed and tottered for a moment like drunken giants in the gloom, and
then fell prone among their fellows with a thunderous crash. Our two horses stood motionless and sweating
with fear. As soon as the rattle of falling earth and stone had subsided, my companion muttered: 'Man, if we'd
gone forward we should have been ten feet deep in our graves by now! 'There are more things in heaven and
earth' . . . Come home, Pansay, and thank God. I want a drink badly.'
We retraced our way over the Church Ridge, and I arrived at Dr. Heatherlegh's house shortly after midnight.