“I’ve got her to lie down.”
The two women and Davidson were in the same, positions as when he had left them. They could not have moved or spoken since he went.
“I was waiting for you,” said Davidson, in a strange, distant voice. “I want you all to pray with me for the soul of our erring sister.”
He took the Bible off a shelf, and sat down at the table at which they had supped. It had not been cleared, and he pushed the tea-pot out of the way. In a powerful voice, resonant and deep, he read to them the chapter in which is narrated the meeting of Jesus Christ with the woman taken in adultery.
“Now kneel with me and let us pray for the soul of our dear sister, Sadie Thompson.”
He burst into a long, passionate prayer in which he implored God to have mercy on the sinful woman. Mrs. Macphail and Mrs. Davidson knelt with covered eyes. The doctor, taken by surprise, awkward and sheepish, knelt too. The missionary’s prayer had a savage eloquence. He was extraordinarily moved, and as he spoke the tears ran down his cheeks. Outside, the pitiless rain fell, fell steadily, with a fierce malignity that was all too human.
At last he stopped. He paused for a moment and said:
“We will now repeat the Lord’s prayer.”
They said it and then, following him, they rose from their knees. Mrs. Davidson’s face was pale and restful. She was comforted and at peace, but the Macphails felt suddenly bashful. They did not know which way to look.
“I’ll just go down and see how she is now,” said Dr. Macphail.
When he knocked at her door it was opened for him by Horn. Miss Thompson was in a rocking-chair, sobbing quietly.
“What are you doing there?” exclaimed Macphail. ” I told you to lie down.”
“I can’t lie down. I want to see Mr. Davidson.”
“My poor child, what do you think is the good of it? You’ll never move him.”
“He said he’d come if I sent for him.”
Macphail motioned to the trader.
“Go and fetch him.”
He waited with her in silence while the trader went upstairs. Davidson came in.
“Excuse me for asking you to come here,” she said, looking at him sombrely.
“I was expecting you to send for me. I knew the Lord would answer my prayer.”
They stared at one another for a moment and then she looked away. She kept her eyes averted when she spoke.
“I’ve been a bad woman. I want to repent,”
“Thank God! thank God! He has heard our prayers.”
He turned to the two men. “
“Leave me alone with her. Tell Mrs. Davidson that, our prayers have been answered.”
They went out and closed the door behind them.
“Gee whizz,” said the trader.
That night Dr. Macphail could not get to sleep till late, and when he heard the missionary come upstairs he looked at his watch. It was two o’clock. But even then he did not go to bed at once, for through the wooden partition that separated their rooms he heard him praying aloud, till he himself, exhausted, fell asleep.
When he saw him next morning he was surprised at his appearance. He was paler than ever, tired, but his eyes shone with an inhuman fire. It looked as though he were filled with an overwhelming joy.
“I want you to go down presently and see Sadie,” he said. “I can’t hope that her body is better, but her soul – her soul is transformed.”
The doctor was feeling wan and nervous.
“You were with her very late last night,” he said.
“Yes, she couldn’t bear to have me leave her.”
“You look as pleased as Punch,” the doctor said irritably.
Davidson’s eyes shone with ecstasy.
“A great mercy has been vouchsafed me. Last night I was privileged to bring a lost soul to the loving arms of Jesus.”
Miss Thompson was again in the rocking-chair. The bed had not been made. The room was in disorder. She had not troubled to dress herself, but wore a dirty dressing-gown, and her hair was tied in a sluttish knot. She had given her face a dab with a wet towel, but it was all swollen and creased with crying. She looked a drab.
She raised her eyes dully when the doctor came in. She was cowed and broken.
“Where’s Mr. Davidson?” she asked;
“He’ll come presently if you want him,” answered Macphail acidly. “I came here to see how you were.”
“Oh, I guess I’m OK. You needn’t worry about that”
“Have you had anything to eat?”
“Horn brought me some coffee.”
She looked anxiously at the door.
“D’you think he’ll come down soon? I feel as if it wasn’t so terrible when he’s with me.”
“Are you still going on Tuesday?”
“Yes, he says I’ve got to go. Please tell him to come right along. You can’t do me any good. He’s the only one as can help me now.”
“Very well,” said Dr. Macphail.
During the next three days the missionary spent almost all his time with Sadie Thompson. He joined the others only to have his meals. Dr. Macphail noticed that he hardly ate.
“He’s wearing himself out,” said Mrs. Davidson pitifully. “He’ll have a breakdown if he, doesn’t take care, but he won’t spare himself.”
She herself was white and pale. She told Mrs. Macphail that she had no sleep. When the missionary came upstairs from Miss Thompson he prayed till he was exhausted, but even then he did not sleep for long. After an hour or two he got up and dressed himself, and went for a tramp along the bay. He had strange dreams.
“This morning he told me that he’d been dreaming about the mountains of Nebraska,” said Mrs. Davidson.
“That’s curious,” said Dr. Macphail.
He remembered seeing them from the windows of the train when he crossed America. They were like huge mole-hills, rounded and smooth, an they rose from the plain abruptly. Dr. Macphail remembered how it struck him that they were like a woman’s breasts.
Davidson’s restlessness was intolerable even to himself. But he was buoyed up by a wonderful exhilaration. He was tearing out by the roots the last vestiges of sin that lurked in the hidden corners of that poor woman’s heart. He read with her and prayed with her.
“It’s wonderful,” he said to them one day at supper. “It’s a true rebirth. Her soul, which was black as night, is now pure and white like the new-fallen snow. I am humble and afraid. Her remorse for all her sins is beautiful. I am not worthy to touch the hem of her garment.”
“Have you the heart to send her back to San Francisco?” said the doctor. “Three years in an American prison. I should have thought you might have saved her from that.”
“Ah, but don’t you see? It’s necessary. Do you think my heart doesn’t bleed for her? I love her as I love my wife and my sister. All the time that she is in prison I shall suffer all the pain that she suffers.”
“Bunkum,” cried the doctor impatiently.
“You don’t understand because you’re blind. She’s sinned, and she must suffer. I know what she’ll end-dure. She’ll be starved and tortured and humiliated. I want her to accept the punishment of man as a sacrifice to God. I want her to accept it joyfully. She has an opportunity which is offered to very few of us. God is very good and very merciful.”
Davidson’s voice trembled with excitement. He could hardly articulate the words that tumbled passionately from his lips.
“All day I pray with her and when I leave her I pray again, I pray with all my might and main, so that Jesus may grant her this great mercy. I want to put in her heart the passionate desire to be punished so that at the end, even if I offered to let her go, she would refuse. I want her to feel that the bitter punishment of prison is the thank-offering that she places at the feet of our Blessed Lord, who gave his life for her.”
The days passed slowly. The whole household, intent on the wretched, tortured woman down-stairs, lived in a state of unnatural excitement. She was like a victim that was being prepared for the savage rites of a bloody idolatry. Her terror numbed her. She could not bear to let Davidson out of her sight; it was only when he was with her that she had courage, and she hung upon him with a slavish dependence. She cried a great deal, and she read the Bible, and prayed. Sometimes she was exhausted and apathetic. Then she did indeed look forward to her ordeal, for it seemed to offer an escape, direct and concrete, from the anguish she was enduring. She could not bear much longer the vague terrors which now assailed her. With her sins she had put aside all personal vanity, and she slopped about her room, unkempt and dishevelled, in her tawdry dressing-gown. She had not taken off her nightdress for four days, nor put on stockings. Her room was littered and untidy. Meanwhile the rain fell with a cruel persistence. You felt that the heavens must at last be empty of water, but still it poured down, straight and heavy, with a maddening iteration, on the iron roof. Everything was damp and clammy. There was mildew on the wail and on the boots that stood on the floor. Through the sleepless nights the mosquitoes droned their angry chant.
“If it would only stop raining for a single day it wouldn’t be so bad,” said Dr. Macphail.
They all looked forward to the Tuesday when the boat for San Francisco was to arrive from Sydney. The strain was intolerable. So far as Dr. Macphail was concerned, his pity and his resentment were alike extinguished by his desire to be rid of the unfortunate woman. The inevitable must be accepted. He felt he would breathe more freely when the ship had sailed. Sadie Thompson was to be escorted on board by a clerk in the governor’s office. This person called on the Monday evening and told Miss Thompson to be prepared at eleven in the morning. Davidson was with her.
“I’ll see that everything is ready. I mean to come on board with her myself.”
Miss Thompson did not speak.
When Dr. Macphail blew out his candle and crawled cautiously under his mosquito curtains, he gave a sigh of relief.
“Well, thank God that’s over. By this time tomorrow she’ll be gone.”
“Mrs. Davidson will be glad too. She says he’s wearing himself to a shadow,” said Mrs. Macphail. “She’s a different woman.”
“Sadie, I should never have thought it possible. It makes one humble.”
Dr. Macphail did not answer, and presently he fell asleep. He was tired out, and he slept more soundly than usual.
He was awakened in the morning by a hand placed on his arm, and, starting up, saw Horn by the side of his bed. The trader put his finger on his mouth to prevent any exclamation from Dr. Macphail and beckoned to him to come. As a rule he wore shabby ducks, but now he was barefoot and wore only the lava-lava of the natives. He looked suddenly savage, and Dr. Macphail, getting out of bed, saw that he was heavily tattooed. Horn made him a sign to come on to the verandah. Dr. Macphail got out of bed and followed the trader out.
“Don’t make a noise,” he whispered. “You’re wanted. Put on a coat and some shoes. Quick.”
Dr. Macphail’s first thought was that something had happened to Miss Thompson.
“What is it? Shall I bring my instruments?”
“Hurry, please, hurry.”
Dr. Macphail crept back into the bedroom, put on a waterproof over his pyjamas, and a pair of rubber-soled shoes. He rejoined the trader, and together they tiptoed down the stairs. The door leading out to the road was open and at it were standing half a dozen natives.
“What is it?” repeated the doctor.
“Come along with me,” said Horn.
He walked out and the doctor followed him. The natives came after them in a little bunch. They crossed the road and came on to the beach. The doctor saw a group of natives standing round some object at the water’s edge. They hurried along, a couple of dozen yards perhaps, and the natives opened out as the doctor came up. The trader pushed him forwards. Then he saw, lying half in the water and half out, a dreadful object, the body of Davidson. Dr. Macphail bent down – he was not a man to lose his head in an emergency – and turned the body over. The throat was cut from ear to ear, and in the right hand was still the razor with which the deed was done.
“He’s quite cold,” said the doctor. “He must have been dead some time.”
“One of the boys saw him lying there on his way to work just now and came and told me. Do you think he did it himself?”
“Yes. Someone ought to go for the police.”
Horn said something in the native tongue, and two youths started off.
“We must leave him here till they come,” said the doctor.
“They mustn’t take him into my house. I won’t have him in my house.”
“You’ll do what the authorities say,” replied the doctor sharply. “In point of fact I expect they’ll take him to the mortuary.”
They stood waiting where they were. The trader took a cigarette from a fold in his lava-lava and gave one to Dr. Macphail. They smoked while they stared at the corpse. Dr. Macphail could not understand.
“Why do you think he did it?” asked Horn.
The doctor shrugged his shoulders. In a little while native police came along, under the charge of a marine, with a stretcher, and immediately afterwards a couple of naval officers and a naval doctor. They managed everything in businesslike manner.
“What about the wife.” said one of the officers.
“Now that you’ve come I’ll go back to the house and get some things on. I’ll see that it’s broken to her. She’d better not see him till he’s been fixed up a little.”
“I guess that’s right,” said the naval doctor. When Dr. Macphail went back he found his wife nearly dressed.
“Mrs. Davidson’s in a dreadful state about her husband,” she said to him as soon as he appeared. “He hasn’t been to bed all night. She heard him leave Miss Thompson’s room at two, but he went out. If he’s been walking about since then he’ll be absolutely dead.”
Dr. Macphail told her what had happened and asked her to break the news to Mrs. Davidson.
“But why did he do it?” she asked, horror-stricken.
“I don’t know.”
“But I can’t. I can’t.”
She gave him a frightened look and went out He heard her go into Mrs. Davidson’s room. He waited a minute to gather himself together and then began to shave and wash. When he was dressed he sat down on the bed and waited for his wife. At last she came.
“She wants to see him,” she said.
“They’ve taken him to the mortuary. We’d better go down with her. How did she take it?”
“I think she’s stunned. She didn’t cry. But she’s trembling like a leaf.”
“We’d better go at once.”
When they knocked at her door Mrs. Davidson came out. She was very pale, but dry-eyed. To the doctor she seemed unnaturally composed. No word was exchanged, and they set out in silence down the road. When they arrived at the mortuary Mrs. Davidson spoke.
“Let me go in and see him alone.”
They stood aside. A native opened a door for her and closed it behind her. They sat down and waited. One or two white men came and talked to them in undertones. Dr. Macphail told them again what he knew of the tragedy. At last the door was quietly opened and Mrs. Davidson came out. Silence fell upon them.
“I’m ready to go back now,” she said.
Her voice was hard and steady. Dr. Macphail could not understand the look in her eyes. Her pale face was very stern. They walked back slowly, never saying a word, and at last they came round the bend on the other side of which stood the ir house. Mrs. Davidson gave a gasp, and for moment they stopped still. An incredible sound assaulted their ears. The gramophone which had been silent for so long was playing, playing ragtime loud and harsh.
“What’s that?” cried Mrs. Macphail with horror.
“Let’s go on,” said Mrs. Davidson.
They walked up the steps and entered the hall. Miss Thompson was standing at her door, chatting with a sailor. A sudden change had taken place in her. She was no longer the cowed drudge of the last days. She was dressed in all her finery, in her white dress, with the high shiny boots over which her fat legs bulged in their cotton stockings; her hair was elaborately arranged; and she wore that enormous hat covered with gaudy flowers. Her face was painted, her eyebrows were boldly black, and her lips were scarlet. She held herself erect. She was the flaunting quean that they had known at first. As they came in she broke into a loud, jeering laugh; and then, when Mrs. Davidson involuntarily stopped, she collected the spittle in her mouth and spat. Mrs. Davidson cowered back, and two red spots rose suddenly to her cheeks. Then, covering her face with her hands, she broke away and ran quickly up the stairs. Dr. Macphail was outraged. He pushed past the woman into her room.
“What the devil are you doing?” he cried. “Stop that, damned machine.”
He went up to it and tore the record off. She turned on him.
“Say, doc, you can’t do that stuff with me. What the hell are you doin’ in my room? “
“What do you mean?” he cried. “What d’you mean?”
She gathered herself together. No one could describe the scorn of her expression or the contemptuous hatred she put into her answer.
“You men! You filthy, dirty pigs! You’re all the same, all of you. Pigs! Pigs!”
Dr. Macphail gasped. He understood.