The Reverend John Creedy


"On Sunday next, the 14th inst., the Reverend John Creedy, B.A., of

Magdalen College, Oxford, will preach in Walton Magna Church, on behalf

of the Gold Coast Mission." Not a very startling announcement that, and

yet, simple as it looks, it stirred Ethel Berry's soul to its inmost

depths. For Ethel had been brought up by her Aunt Emily to look upon

foreign missions as the one thing on earth worth living
for and thinking

about, and the Reverend John Creedy, B.A., had a missionary history of

his own, strange enough even in these strange days of queer

juxtapositions between utter savagery and advanced civilization.

"Only think," she said to her aunt, as they read the placard on the

schoolhouse-board, "he's a real African negro, the vicar says, taken

from a slaver on the Gold Coast when he was a child, and brought to

England to be educated. He's been to Oxford and got a degree; and now

he's going out again to Africa to convert his own people. And he's

coming down to the vicar's to stay on Wednesday."

"It's my belief," said old Uncle James, Aunt Emily's brother, the

superannuated skipper, "that he'd much better stop in England for ever.

I've been a good bit on the Coast myself in my time, after palm oil and

such, and my opinion is that a nigger's a nigger anywhere, but he's a

sight less of a nigger in England than out yonder in Africa. Take him to

England, and you make a gentleman of him: send him home again, and the

nigger comes out at once in spite of you."

"Oh, James," Aunt Emily put in, "how can you talk such unchristianlike

talk, setting yourself up against missions, when we know that all the

nations of the earth are made of one blood?"

"I've always lived a Christian life myself, Emily," answered Uncle

James, "though I have cruised a good bit on the Coast, too, which is

against it, certainly; but I take it a nigger's a nigger whatever you do

with him. The Ethiopian cannot change his skin, the Scripture says, nor

the leopard his spots, and a nigger he'll be to the end of his days; you

mark my words, Emily."

On Wednesday, in due course, the Reverend John Creedy arrived at the

vicarage, and much curiosity there was throughout the village of Walton

Magna that week to see this curious new thing, a coal-black parson. Next

day, Thursday, an almost equally unusual event occurred to Ethel Berry,

for, to her great surprise, she got a little note in the morning

inviting her up to a tennis party at the vicarage the same afternoon.

Now, though the vicar called on Aunt Emily often enough, and accepted

her help readily for school feasts and other village festivities of the

milder sort, the Berrys were hardly up to that level of society which is

commonly invited to the parson's lawn tennis parties. And the reason why

Ethel was asked on this particular Thursday must be traced to a certain

pious conspiracy between the vicar and the secretary of the Gold Coast

Evangelistic Society. When those two eminent missionary advocates had

met a fortnight before at Exeter Hall, the secretary had represented to

the vicar the desirability of young John Creedy's taking to himself an

English wife before his departure. "It will steady him, and keep him

right on the Coast," he said, "and it will give him importance in the

eyes of the natives as well." Whereto the vicar responded that he knew

exactly the right girl to suit the place in his own parish, and that by

a providential conjunction she already took a deep interest in foreign

missions. So these two good men conspired in all innocence of heart to

sell poor Ethel into African slavery; and the vicar had asked John

Creedy down to Walton Magna on purpose to meet her.

That afternoon Ethel put on her pretty sateen and her witching little

white hat, with two natural dog-roses pinned on one side, and went

pleased and proud up to the vicarage. The Reverend John Creedy was

there, not in full clerical costume, but arrayed in tennis flannels,

with only a loose white tie beneath his flap collar to mark his newly

acquired spiritual dignity. He was a comely looking negro enough,

full-blooded, but not too broad-faced nor painfully African in type; and

when he was playing tennis his athletic quick limbs and his really

handsome build took away greatly from the general impression of an

inferior race. His voice was of the ordinary Oxford type, open,

pleasant, and refined, with a certain easy-going air of natural

gentility, hardly marred by just the faintest tinge of the thick negro

blur in the broad vowels. When he talked to Ethel--and the vicar's wife

took good care that they should talk together a great deal--his

conversation was of a sort that she seldom heard at Walton Magna. It was

full of London and Oxford, of boat-races at Iffley and cricket matches

at Lord's; of people and books whose very names Ethel had never

heard--one of them was a Mr. Mill, she thought, and another a Mr.

Aristotle--but which she felt vaguely to be one step higher in the

intellectual scale than her own level. Then his friends, to whom he

alluded casually, not like one who airs his grand acquaintances, were

such very distinguished people. There was a real live lord, apparently,

at the same college with him, and he spoke of a young baronet whose

estate lay close by, as plain "Harrington of Christchurch," without any

"Sir Arthur"--a thing which even the vicar himself would hardly have

ventured to do. She knew that he was learned, too; as a matter of fact

he had taken a fair second class in Greats at Oxford; and he could talk

delightfully of poetry and novels. To say the truth, John Creedy, in

spite of his black face, dazzled poor Ethel, for he was more of a

scholar and a gentleman than anybody with whom she had ever before had

the chance of conversing on equal terms.

When Ethel turned the course of talk to Africa, the young parson was

equally eloquent and fascinating. He didn't care about leaving England

for many reasons, but he would be glad to do something for his poor

brethren. He was enthusiastic about missions; that was a common

interest; and he was so anxious to raise and improve the condition of

his fellow-negroes that Ethel couldn't help feeling what a noble thing

it was of him thus to sacrifice himself, cultivated gentleman as he was,

in an African jungle, for his heathen countrymen. Altogether, she went

home from the tennis-court that afternoon thoroughly overcome by John

Creedy's personality. She didn't for a moment think of falling in love

with him--a certain indescribable race-instinct set up an impassable

barrier against that--but she admired him and was interested in him in a

way that she had never yet felt with any other man.

As for John Creedy, he was naturally charmed with Ethel. In the first

place, he would have been charmed with any English girl who took so much

interest in himself and his plans, for, like all negroes, he was

frankly egotistical, and delighted to find a white lady who seemed to

treat him as a superior being. But in the second place, Ethel was really

a charming, simple English village lassie, with sweet little manners and

a delicious blush, who might have impressed a far less susceptible man

than the young negro parson. So, whatever Ethel felt, John Creedy felt

himself truly in love. And after all, John Creedy was in all essentials

an educated English gentleman, with the same chivalrous feelings towards

a pretty and attractive girl that every English gentleman ought to have.

On Sunday morning Aunt Emily and Ethel went to the parish church, and

the Reverend John Creedy preached the expected sermon. It was almost his

first--sounded like a trial trip, Uncle James muttered--but it was

undoubtedly what connoisseurs describe as an admirable discourse. John

Creedy was free from any tinge of nervousness--negroes never know what

that word means--and he spoke fervently, eloquently, and with much power

of manner about the necessity for a Gold Coast Mission. Perhaps there

was really nothing very original or striking in what he said, but his

way of saying it was impressive and vigorous. The negro, like many other

lower races, has the faculty of speech largely developed, and John

Creedy had been noted as one of the readiest and most fluent talkers at

the Oxford Union debates. When he enlarged upon the need for workers,

the need for help, the need for succour and sympathy in the great task

of evangelization, Aunt Emily and Ethel forgot his black hands,

stretched out open-palmed towards the people, and felt only their hearts

stirred within them by the eloquence and enthusiasm of that appealing


The end of it all was, that instead of a week John Creedy stopped for

two months at Walton Magna, and during all that time he saw a great deal

of Ethel. Before the end of the first fortnight he walked out one

afternoon along the river-bank with her, and talked earnestly of his

expected mission.

"Miss Berry," he said, as they sat to rest awhile on the parapet of the

little bridge by the weeping willows, "I don't mind going to Africa, but

I can't bear going all alone. I am to have a station entirely by myself

up the Ancobra river, where I shall see no other Christian face from

year's end to year's end. I wish I could have had some one to accompany


"You will be very lonely," Ethel answered. "I wish indeed you could have

some companionship."

"Do you really?" John Creedy went on. "It is not good for man to live

alone; he wants a helpmate. Oh, Miss Ethel, may I venture to hope that

perhaps, if I can try to deserve you, you will be mine?"

Ethel started in dismay. Mr. Creedy had been very attentive, very kind,

and she had liked to hear him talk and had encouraged his coming, but

she was hardly prepared for this. The nameless something in our blood

recoiled at it. The proposal stunned her, and she said nothing but "Oh,

Mr. Creedy, how can you say such a thing?"

John Creedy saw the shadow on her face, the unintentional dilatation of

her delicate nostrils, the faint puckering at the corner of her lips,

and knew with a negro's quick instinct of face-reading what it all

meant. "Oh, Miss Ethel," he said, with a touch of genuine bitterness in

his tone, "don't you, too, despise us. I won't ask you for any answer

now; I don't want an answer. But I want you to think it over. Do think

it over, and consider whether you can ever love me. I won't press the

matter on you. I won't insult you by importunity, but I will tell you

just this once, and once for all, what I feel. I love you, and I shall

always love you, whatever you answer me now. I know it would cost you a

wrench to take me, a greater wrench than to take the least and the

unworthiest of your own people. But if you can only get over that first

wrench, I can promise earnestly and faithfully to love you as well as

ever woman yet was loved. Don't say anything now," he went on, as he saw

she was going to open her mouth again: "wait and think it over; pray it

over; and if you can't see your way straight before you when I ask you

this day fortnight "yes or no," answer me "no," and I give you my word

of honour as a gentleman I will never speak to you of the matter again.

But I shall carry your picture written on my heart to my grave."

And Ethel knew that he was speaking from his very soul.

When she went home, she took Aunt Emily up into her little bedroom, over

the porch where the dog-roses grew, and told her all about it. Aunt

Emily cried and sobbed as if her heart would break, but she saw only one

answer from the first. "It is a gate opened to you, my darling," she

said: "I shall break my heart over it, Ethel, but it is a gate opened."

And though she felt that all the light would be gone out of her life if

Ethel went, she worked with her might from that moment forth to induce

Ethel to marry John Creedy and go to Africa. Poor soul, she acted

faithfully up to her lights.

As for Uncle James, he looked at the matter very differently. "Her

instinct is against it," he said stoutly, "and our instincts wasn't put

in our hearts for nothing. They're meant to be a guide and a light to us

in these dark questions. No white girl ought to marry a black man, even

if he is a parson. It ain't natural: our instinct is again it. A white

man may marry a black woman if he likes: I don't say anything again him,

though I don't say I'd do it myself, not for any money. But a white

woman to marry a black man, why, it makes our blood rise, you know,

'specially if you've happened to have cruised worth speaking of along

the Coast."

But the vicar and the vicar's wife were charmed with the prospect of

success, and spoke seriously to Ethel about it. It was a call, they

thought, and Ethel oughtn't to disregard it. They had argued themselves

out of those wholesome race instincts that Uncle James so rightly

valued, and they were eager to argue Ethel out of them too. What could

the poor girl do? Her aunt and the vicar on the one hand, and John

Creedy on the other, were too much between them for her native feelings.

At the end of the fortnight John Creedy asked her his simple question

"yes or no," and half against her will she answered "yes." John Creedy

took her hand delicately in his and fervidly kissed the very tips of her

fingers; something within him told him he must not kiss her lips. She

started at the kiss, but she said nothing. John Creedy noticed the

start, and said within himself, "I shall so love and cherish her that I

will make her love me in spite of my black skin." For with all the

faults of his negro nature, John Creedy was at heart an earnest and

affectionate man, after his kind.

And Ethel really did, to some extent, love him already. It was such a

strange mixture of feeling. From one point of view he was a gentleman by

position, a clergyman, a man of learning and of piety; and from this

point of view Ethel was not only satisfied, but even proud of him. For

the rest, she took him as some good Catholics take the veil, from a

sense of the call. And so, before the two months were out, Ethel Berry

had married John Creedy, and both started together at once for

Southampton, on their way to Axim. Aunt Emily cried, and hoped they

might be blessed in their new work, but Uncle James never lost his

misgivings about the effect of Africa upon a born African. "Instincts is

a great thing," he said, with a shake of his head, as he saw the West

Coast mail steam slowly down Southampton Water, "and when he gets among

his own people his instincts will surely get the better of him, as safe

as my name is James Berry."


The little mission bungalow at Butabue, a wooden shed neatly thatched

with fan palms, had been built and garnished by the native catechist

from Axim and his wife before the arrival of the missionaries, so that

Ethel found a habitable dwelling ready for her at the end of her long

boat journey up the rapid stream of the Ancobra. There the strangely

matched pair settled down quietly enough to their work of teaching and

catechizing, for the mission had already been started by the native

evangelist, and many of the people were fairly ready to hear and accept

the new religion. For the first ten or twelve months Ethel's letters

home were full of praise and love for dear John. Now that she had come

to know him well, she wondered she had ever feared to marry him. No

husband was ever so tender, so gentle, so considerate. He nursed her in

all her little ailments like a woman; she leaned on him as a wife leans

on the strong arm of her husband. And then he was so clever, so wise, so

learned. Her only grief was that she feared she was not and would never

be good enough for him. Yet it was well for her that they were living so

entirely away from all white society at Butabue, for there she had

nobody with whom to contrast John but the half-clad savages around them.

Judged by the light of that startling contrast, good John Creedy, with

his cultivated ways and gentle manners, seemed like an Englishman


John Creedy, for his part, thought no less well of his Ethel. He was

tenderly respectful to her; more distant, perhaps, than is usual between

husband and wife, even in the first months of marriage, but that was due

to his innate delicacy of feeling, which made him half unconsciously

recognize the depth of the gulf that still divided them. He cherished

her like some saintly thing, too sacred for the common world. Yet Ethel

was his helper in all his work, so cheerful under the necessary

privations of their life, so ready to put up with bananas and cassava

balls, so apt at kneading plantain paste, so willing to learn from the

negro women all the mysteries of mixing agadey, cankey, and koko

pudding. No tropical heat seemed to put her out of temper; even the

horrible country fever itself she bore with such gentle resignation.

John Creedy felt in his heart of hearts that he would willingly give up

his life for her, and that it would be but a small sacrifice for so

sweet a creature.

One day, shortly after their arrival at Butabue, John Creedy began

talking in English to the catechist about the best way of setting to

work to learn the native language. He had left the country when he was

nine years old, he said, and had forgotten all about it. The catechist

answered him quickly in a Fantee phrase. John Creedy looked amazed and


"What does he say?" asked Ethel.

"He says that I shall soon learn if only I listen; but the curious thing

is, Ethie, that I understand him."

"It has come back to you, John, that's all. You are so quick at

languages, and now you hear it again you remember it."

"Perhaps so," said the missionary, slowly, "but I have never recalled a

word of it for all these years. I wonder if it will all come back to


"Of course it will, dear," said Ethel; "you know, things come to you so

easily in that way. You almost learned Portuguese while we were coming

out from hearing those Benguela people."

And so it did come back, sure enough. Before John Creedy had been six

weeks at Butabue, he could talk Fantee as fluently as any of the natives

around him. After all, he was nine years old when he was taken to

England, and it was no great wonder that he should recollect the

language he had heard in his childhood till that age. Still, he himself

noticed rather uneasily that every phrase and word, down to the very

heathen charms and prayers of his infancy, came back to him now with

startling vividness and without an effort.

Four months after their arrival John saw one day a tall and ugly negro

woman, in the scanty native dress, standing near the rude market-place

where the Butabue butchers killed and sold their reeking goat-meat.

Ethel saw him start again, and with a terrible foreboding in her heart,

she could not help asking him why he started. "I can't tell you, Ethie,"

he said, piteously; "for heaven's sake don't press me. I want to spare

you." But Ethel would hear. "Is it your mother, John?" she asked


"No, thank heaven, not my mother, Ethie," he answered her, with

something like pallor on his dark cheek, "not my mother; but I remember

the woman."

"A relative?"

"Oh, Ethie, don't press me. Yes, my mother's sister. I remember her

years ago. Let us say no more about it." And Ethel, looking at that

gaunt and squalid savage woman, shuddered in her heart and said no more.

Slowly, as time went on, however, Ethel began to notice a strange shade

of change coming over John's ideas and remarks about the negroes. At

first he had been shocked and distressed at their heathendom and

savagery, but the more he saw of it the more he seemed to find it

natural enough in their position, and even in a sort of way to

sympathize with it or apologize for it. One morning, a month or two

later, he spoke to her voluntarily of his father. He had never done so

in England. "I can remember," he said, "he was a chief, a great chief.

He had many wives, and my mother was one. He was beaten in War by Kola,

and I was taken prisoner. But he had a fine palace at Kwantah, and many

fan-bearers." Ethel observed with a faint terror that he seemed to speak

with pride and complacency of his father's chieftaincy. She shuddered

again and wondered. Was the West African instinct getting the upper hand

in him over the Christian gentleman?

When the dries were over, and the koko-harvest gathered, the negroes

held a grand feast. John had preached in the open air to some of the

market people in the morning, and in the evening he was sitting in the

hut with Ethel, waiting till the catechist and his wife should come in

to prayers, for they carried out their accustomed ceremony decorously,

even there, every night and morning. Suddenly they heard the din of

savage music out of doors, and the noise of a great crowd laughing and

shouting down the street. John listened, and listened with deepening

attention. "Don't you hear it, Ethie?" he cried. "It's the tom-toms. I

know what it means. It's the harvest battle-feast!"

"How hideous!" said Ethel, shrinking back.

"Don't be afraid, dearest," John said, smiling at her. "It means no

harm. It's only the people amusing themselves." And he began to keep

time to the tom-toms rapidly with the palms of his hands.

The din drew nearer, and John grew more evidently excited at every step.

"Don't you hear, Ethie?" he said again. "It's the Salonga. What

inspiriting music! It's like a drum and fife band; it's like the

bagpipes; it's like a military march. By Jove, it compels one to dance!"

And he got up as he spoke, in English clerical dress (for he wore

clerical dress even at Butabue), and began capering in a sort of

hornpipe round the tiny room.

"Oh, John, don't," cried Ethel. "Suppose the catechist were to come in!"

But John's blood was up. "Look here," he said excitedly, "it goes like

this. Here you hold your matchlock out; here you fire; here you charge

with cutlasses; here you hack them down before you; here you hold up

your enemy's head in your hands, and here you kick it off among the

women. Oh, it's grand!" There was a terrible light in his black eyes as

he spoke, and a terrible trembling in his clenched black hands.

"John," cried Ethel, in an agony of horror, "it isn't Christian, it

isn't human, it isn't worthy of you. I can never, never love you if you

do such a thing again."

In a moment John's face changed and his hand fell as if she had stabbed

him. "Ethie," he said in a low voice, creeping back to her like a

whipped spaniel, "Ethie, my darling, my own soul, my beloved; what have

I done! Oh, heavens, I will never listen to the accursed thing again.

Oh, Ethie, for heaven's sake, for mercy's sake, forgive me!"

Ethel laid her hand, trembling, on his head. John sank upon his knees

before her, and bowed himself down with his head between his arms, like

one staggered and penitent. Ethel lifted him gently, and at that moment

the catechist and his wife came in. John stood up firmly, took down his

Bible and Prayer-book, and read through evening prayer at once in his

usual impressive tone. In one moment he had changed back again from the

Fantee savage to the decorous Oxford clergyman.

It was only a week later that Ethel, hunting about in the little

storeroom, happened to notice a stout wooden box carefully covered up.

She opened the lid with some difficulty, for it was fastened down with a

native lock, and to her horror she found inside it a surreptitious keg

of raw negro rum. She took the keg out, put it conspicuously in the

midst of the storeroom, and said nothing. That night she heard John in

the jungle behind the yard, and looking out, she saw dimly that he was

hacking the keg to pieces vehemently with an axe. After that he was even

kinder and tenderer to her than usual for the next week, but Ethel

vaguely remembered that once or twice before, he had seemed a little odd

in his manner, and that it was on those days that she had seen gleams of

the savage nature peeping through. Perhaps, she thought, with a shiver,

his civilization was only a veneer, and a glass of raw rum or so was

enough to wash it off.

Twelve months after their first arrival, Ethel came home very feverish

one evening from her girls' school, and found John gone from the hut.

Searching about in the room for the quinine bottle, she came once more

upon a rum-keg, and this time it was empty. A nameless terror drove her

into the little bedroom. There, on the bed, torn into a hundred shreds,

lay John Creedy's black coat and European clothing. The room whirled

around her, and though she had never heard of such a thing before, the

terrible truth flashed across her bewildered mind like a hideous dream.

She went out, alone, at night, as she had never done before since she

came to Africa, into the broad lane between the huts which constituted

the chief street of Butabue. So far away from home, so utterly solitary

among all those black faces, so sick at heart with that burning and

devouring horror! She reeled and staggered down the street, not knowing

how or where she went, till at the end, beneath the two tall date-palms,

she saw lights flashing and heard the noise of shouts and laughter. A

group of natives, men and women together, were dancing and howling round

a dancing and howling negro. The central figure was dressed in the

native fashion, with arms and legs bare, and he was shouting a loud song

at the top of his voice in the Fantee language, while he shook a

tom-tom. There was a huskiness as of drink in his throat, and his steps

were unsteady and doubtful. Great heavens! could that reeling, shrieking

black savage be John Creedy?

Yes, instinct had gained the day over civilization; the savage in John

Creedy had broken out; he had torn up his English clothes and, in West

African parlance, "had gone Fantee." Ethel gazed at him, white with

horror--stood still and gazed, and never cried nor fainted, nor said a

word. The crowd of negroes divided to right and left, and John Creedy

saw his wife standing there like a marble figure. With one awful cry he

came to himself again, and rushed to her side. She did not repel him, as

he expected; she did not speak; she was mute and cold like a corpse, not

like a living woman. He took her up in his strong arms, laid her head on

his shoulder, and carried her home through the long line of thatched

huts, erect and steady as when he first walked up the aisle of Walton

Magna church. Then he laid her down gently on the bed, and called the

wife of the catechist. "She has the fever," he said in Fantee. "Sit by


The catechist's wife looked at her, and said, "Yes; the yellow fever."

And so she had. Even before she saw John the fever had been upon her,

and that awful revelation had brought it out suddenly in full force. She

lay unconscious upon the bed, her eyes open, staring ghastlily, but not

a trace of colour in her cheek nor a sign of life upon her face.

John Creedy wrote a few words on a piece of paper, which he folded in

his hand, gave a few directions in Fantee to the woman at the bedside,

and then hurried out like one on fire into the darkness outside.


It was thirty miles through the jungle, by a native trackway, to the

nearest mission station at Effuenta. There were two Methodist

missionaries stationed there, John Creedy knew, for he had gone round by

boat more than once to see them. When he first came to Africa he could

no more have found his way across the neck of the river fork by that

tangled jungle track than he could have flown bodily over the top of the

cocoa palms; but now, half naked, barefooted, and inspired with an

overpowering emotion, he threaded his path through the darkness among

the creepers and lianas of the forest in true African fashion. Stooping

here, creeping on all fours there, running in the open at full speed

anon, he never once stopped to draw breath till he had covered the whole

thirty miles, and knocked in the early dawn at the door of the mission

hut at Effuenta.

One of the missionaries opened the barred door cautiously. "What do you

want?" he asked in Fantee of the bare-legged savage, who stood crouching

by the threshold.

"I bring a message from Missionary John Creedy," the bare-legged savage

answered, also in Fantee. "He wants European clothes."

"Has he sent a letter?" asked the missionary.

John Creedy took the folded piece of paper from his palm. The missionary

read it. It told him in a few words how the Butabue people had pillaged

John's hut at night and stolen his clothing, and how he could not go

outside his door till he got some European dress again.

"This is strange," said the missionary. "Brother Felton died three days

ago of the fever. You can take his clothes to Brother Creedy, if you


The bare-limbed savage nodded acquiescence. The missionary looked hard

at him, and fancied he had seen his face before, but he never even for a

moment suspected that he was speaking to John Creedy himself.

A bundle was soon made of dead Brother Felton's clothes, and the

bare-limbed man took it in his arms and prepared to run back again the

whole way to Butabue.

"You have had nothing to eat," said the lonely missionary. "Won't you

take something to help you on your way?"

"Give me some plantain paste," answered John Creedy. "I can eat it as I

go." And when they gave it him he forgot himself for the moment, and

answered, "Thank you" in English. The missionary stared, but thought it

was only a single phrase that he had picked up at Butabue, and that he

was anxious, negro-fashion, to air his knowledge.

Back through the jungle, with the bundle in his arms, John Creedy wormed

his way once more, like a snake or a tiger, never pausing or halting on

the road till he found himself again in the open space outside the

village of Butabue. There he stayed awhile, and behind a clump of wild

ginger, he opened the bundle and arrayed himself once more from head to

foot in English clerical dress. That done, too proud to slink, he walked

bold and erect down the main alley, and quietly entered his own hut. It

was high noon, the baking high noon of Africa, as he did so.

Ethel lay unconscious still upon the bed. Tho negro woman crouched, half

asleep after her night's watching, at the foot. John Creedy looked at

his watch, which stood hard by on the little wooden table. "Sixty miles

in fourteen hours," he said aloud. "Better time by a great deal than

when we walked from Oxford to the White Horse, eighteen months since."

And then he sat down silently by Ethel's bedside.

"Has she moved her eyes?" he asked the negress.

"Never, John Creedy," answered the woman. Till last night she had always

called him "Master."

He watched the lifeless face for an hour or two. There was no change in

it till about four o'clock; then Ethel's eyes began to alter their

expression. He saw the dilated pupils contract a little, and know that

consciousness was gradually returning.

In a moment more she looked round at him and gave a little cry. "John,"

she exclaimed, with a sort of awakening hopefulness in her voice, "where

on earth did you get those clothes?"

"These clothes?" he answered softly. "Why, you must be wandering in

your mind, Ethie dearest, to ask such a question now. At Standen's, in

the High at Oxford, my darling." And he passed his black hand gently

across her loose hair.

Ethel gave a great cry of joy. "Then it was a dream, a horrid dream,

John, or a terrible mistake? Oh, John, say it was a dream!"

John drew his hand across his forehead slowly. "Ethie darling," he said,

"you are wandering, I'm afraid. You have a bad fever. I don't know what

you mean."

"Then you didn't tear them up, and wear a Fantee dress, and dance with a

tom-tom down the street? Oh, John!"

"Oh, Ethel! No. What a terrible delirium you must have had!"

"It is all well," she said. "I don't mind if I die now." And she sank

back exhausted into a sort of feverish sleep.

"John Creedy," said the black catechist's wife solemnly, in Fantee, "you

will have to answer for that lie to a dying woman with your soul!"

"My soul!" cried John Creedy passionately, smiting both breasts with

his clenched fists. "My soul! Do you think, you negro wench, I

wouldn't give my poor, miserable, black soul to eternal torments a

thousand times over, if only I could give her little white heart one

moment's forgetfulness before she dies?"

For five days longer Ethel lingered in the burning fever, sometimes

conscious for a minute or two, but for the most part delirious or drowsy

all the time. She never said another word to John about her terrible

dream, and John never said another word to her. But he sat by her side

and tended her like a woman, doing everything that was possible for her

in the bare little hut, and devouring his full heart with a horrible

gnawing remorse too deep for pen or tongue to probe and fathom. For

civilization with John Creedy was really at bottom far more than a mere

veneer; though the savage instincts might break out with him now and

again, such outbursts no more affected his adult and acquired nature

than a single bump supper or wine party at college affects the nature of

many a gentle-minded English lad. The truest John Creed of all was the

gentle, tender, English clergyman.

As he sat by her bedside sleepless and agonized, night and day for five

days together, one prayer only rose to his lips time after time: "Heaven

grant she may die!" He had depth enough in the civilized side of his

soul to feel that that was the only way to save her from a lifelong

shame. "If she gets well," he said to himself, trembling, "I will leave

this accursed Africa at once. I will work my way back to England as a

common sailor, and send her home by the mail with my remaining money. I

will never inflict my presence upon her again, for she cannot be

persuaded, if once she recovers, that she did not see me, as she did see

me, a bare-limbed heathen Fantee brandishing a devilish tom-tom. But I

shall get work in England--not a parson's; that I can never be

again--but clerk's work, labourer's work, navvy's work, anything! Look

at my arms: I rowed five in the Magdalen eight: I could hold a spade as

well as any man. I will toil, and slave, and save, and keep her still

like a lady, if I starve for it myself, but she shall never see my face

again, if once she recovers. Even then it will be a living death for

her, poor angel! There is only one hope--Heaven grant she may die!"

On the fifth day she opened her eyes once. John saw that his prayer was

about to be fulfilled. "John," she said feebly--"John, tell me, on your

honour, it was only my delirium."

And John, raising his hand to heaven, splendide mendax, answered in a

firm voice, "I swear it."

Ethel smiled and shut her eyes. It was for the last time.

Next morning, John Creedy--tearless, but parched and dry in the mouth,

like one stunned and unmanned--took a pickaxe and hewed out a rude grave

in the loose soil near the river. Then he fashioned a rough coffin from

twisted canes with his own hands, and in it he reverently placed the

sacred body. He allowed no one to help him or come near him--not even

his fellow-Christians, the catechist and his wife: Ethel was too holy a

thing for their African hands to touch. Next he put on his white

surplice, and for the first and only time in his life he read, without a

quaver in his voice, the Church of England burial service over the open

grave. And when he had finished he went back to his desolate hut, and

cried with a loud voice of utter despair, "The one thing that bound me

to civilization is gone. Henceforth I shall never speak another word of

English. I go to my own people." So saying, he solemnly tore up his

European clothes once more, bound a cotton loin-cloth round his waist,

covered his head with dirt, and sat fasting and wailing piteously, like

a broken-hearted child, in his cabin.

* * * * *

Nowadays, the old half-caste Portuguese rum-dealer at Butabue can point

out to any English pioneer who comes up the river which one, among a

crowd of dilapidated negroes who lie basking in the soft dust outside

his hut, was once the Reverend John Creedy, B.A., of Magdalen College,