Lie down and give it a chance. Lie down at once.'
'I daren't. It will only take me half-way again, and I shan't be able to get away this time. Do you know it was all I could do to come out just now? Generally I am as quick as lightning; but you had clogged my feet. I was nearly caught.'
'Oh yes, I understand. Go and lie down.'
'No, it isn't delirium; but it was an awfully mean trick to play on me. Do you know I might have died?'
As a sponge rubs a slate clean, so some power unknown to Spurstow had wiped out of Hummil's face all that stamped it for the face of a man, and he stood at the doorway in the expression of his lost innocence. He had slept back into terrified childhood.
'Is he going to die on the spot?' thought Spurstow. Then, aloud, 'All right, my son. Come back to bed, and tell me all about it. You couldn't sleep; but what was all the rest of the nonsense?'
'A place, a place down there,' said Hummil, with simple sincerity. The drug was acting on him by waves, and he was flung from the fear of a strong man to the fright of a child as his nerves gathered sense or were dulled.
'Good God! I've been afraid of it for months past, Spurstow. It has made every night hell to me; and yet I'm not conscious of having done anything wrong.'
'Be still, and I'll give you another-dose. We'll stop your nightmares, you unutterable idiot!'
'Yes, but you must give me so much that I can't get away. You must make me quite sleepy, not just a little sleepy. It's so hard to run then.'
'I know it; I know it. I've felt it myself. The symptoms are exactly as you describe.'
'Oh, don't laugh at me, confound you! Before this awful sleeplessness came to me I've tried to rest on my elbow and put a spur in the bed to sting me when I fell back. Look!'
'By Jove! the man has been rowelled like a horse! Ridden by the nightmare with a vengeance! And we all thought him sensible enough. Heaven send us understanding! You like to talk, don't you?'
'Yes, sometimes. Not when I'm frightened. Then I want to run. Don't you?'
'Always. Before I give you your second dose try to tell me exactly what your trouble is.'
Hummil spoke in broken whispers for nearly ten minutes, whilst Spurstow looked into the pupils of his eyes and passed his hand before them once or twice.
At the end of the narrative the silver cigarette-case was produced, and the last words that Hummil said as he fell back for the second time were, 'Put me quite to sleep; for if I'm caught I die, I die!'
'Yes, yes; we all do that sooner or later, thank Heaven who has set a term to our miseries,' said Spurstow, settling the cushions under the head. 'It occurs to me that unless I drink something I shall go out before my time. I've stopped sweating, and - I wear a seventeen-inch collar.' He brewed himself scalding hot tea, which is an excellent remedy against heat-apoplexy if you take three or four cups of it in time. Then he watched the sleeper.
'A blind face that cries and can't wipe its eyes, a blind face that chases him down corridors! H'm! Decidedly, Hummil ought to go on leave as soon as possible; and, sane or otherwise, he undoubtedly did rowel himself most cruelly. Well, Heaven send us understanding!'
At mid-day Hummil rose, with an evil taste in his mouth, but an unclouded eye and a joyful heart.
'I was pretty bad last night, wasn't I?' said he.
'I have seen healthier men. You must have had a touch of the sun. Look here: if I write you a swinging medical certificate, will you apply for leave on the spot?'
'Why not? You want it.'
'Yes, but I can hold on till the weather's a little cooler.'
'Why should you, if you can get relieved on the spot?'
'Burkett is the only man who could be sent; and he's a born fool.'
'Oh, never mind about the line. You aren't so important as all that. Wire for leave, if necessary.'
Hummil looked very uncomfortable.
'I can hold on till the Rains,' he said evasively.
'You can't. Wire to headquarters for Burkett.'