SNAKE AND SWORD (Unabridged)
SNAKE AND SWORD (Unabridged)
The Sword and the Snake
Table of Contents
Colonel Matthew Devon De Warrenne, commanding the Queen's Own (118th) Bombay Lancers, was in good time, in his best review-order uniform, and in a terrible state of mind.
He strode from end to end of the long verandah of his bungalow with clank of steel, creak of leather, and groan of travailing soul. As the top of his scarlet, blue and gold turban touched the lamp that hung a good seven feet above his spurred heels he swore viciously.
Almost for the first time in his hard-lived, selfish life he had been thwarted, flouted, cruelly and evilly entreated, and the worst of it was that his enemy was-not a man whom he could take by the throat, but-Fate.
Fate had dealt him a cruel blow, and he felt as he would have done had he, impotent, seen one steal the great charger that champed and pawed there at the door, and replace it by a potter's donkey. Nay, worse-for he had loved Lenore, his wife, and Fate had stolen her away and replaced her by a squealing brat.
Within a year of his marriage his wife was dead and buried, and his son alive and-howling. He could hear him (curse him!).
The Colonel glanced at his watch, producing it from some mysterious recess beneath his belted golden sash and within his pale blue tunic.
Not yet time to ride to the regimental parade-ground and lead his famous corps to its place on the brigade parade-ground for the New Year Review and march-past.
As he held the watch at the length of its chain and stared, half-comprehending, his hand-the hand of the finest swordsman in the Indian Army-shook.
Lenore gone: a puling, yelping whelp in her place.... A tall, severe-looking elderly woman entered the verandah by a distant door and approached the savage, miserable soldier. Nurse Beaton.
" Will you give your son a name, Sir?" she said, and it was evident in voice and manner that the question had been asked before and had received an unsatisfactory, if not unprintable; reply. Every line of feature and form seemed to express indignant resentment. She had nursed and foster-mothered the child's mother, and-unlike the man-had found the baby the chiefest consolation of her cruel grief, and already loved it not only for its idolized mother's sake, but with the devotion of a childless child-lover.
"The christening is fixed for to-day, Sir, as I have kept reminding you, Sir," she added.
She had never liked the Colonel-nor considered him "good enough" for her tender, dainty darling, "nearly three times her age and no better than he ought to be".
"Name?" snarled Colonel Matthew Devon de Warrenne. "Name the little beast? Call him what you like, and then drown him." The tight-lipped face of the elderly nurse flushed angrily, but before she could make the indignant reply that her hurt and scandalized look presaged, the Colonel added:-
"No, look here, call him Damocles , and done with it. The Sword hangs over him too, I suppose, and he'll die by it, as all his ancestors have done. Yes-"
"It's not a nice name, Sir, to my thinking," interrupted the woman, "not for an only name-and for an only child. Let it be a second or third name, Sir, if you want to give him such an outlandish one."
She fingered her new black dress nervously with twitching hands and the tight lips trembled.
"He's to be named Damocles and nothing else," replied the Master, and, as she turned away with a look of positive hate, he added sardonically:-
"And then you can call him 'Dam' for short, you know, Nurse."
Nurse Beaton bridled, clenched her hands, and stiffened visibly. Had the man been her social equal or any other than her master, her pent-up wrath and indignation would have broken forth in a torrent of scathing abuse.
"Never would I call the poor motherless lamb Dam , Sir," she answered with restrai