TEXT FLY WITHIN
THE BOOK ONLY
With the aid of the
Also by Graham Greene
THE MAN WITHIN
IT'S A BATTLEFIELD
ENGLAND MADE ME
THE POWER AND THE GLORY
THIS GUN FOR HIRE
THE CONFIDENTIAL AGENT
THE MINISTRY OF FEAR
JOURNEY WITHOUT MAPS
New York The Viking Press 1948
BY GRAHAM GREENE
PUBLISHED BY THE VIKING PRESS
IN JULY 1948
SET IN CASLON AND
BASKERVILLE TYPES AND
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
BY THE COLONIAL PRESS INC.
Le pecheur est au cceur meme de chretiente.
. . . Nul n'est aussi competent que le pecheur
en matiere de chretientd. Nul, si ce n'est le saint.
JL\I O CHARACTER IN THIS BOOK IS BASED ON THAT OF
a living person. The geographical background of the story
is drawn from that part of West Africa of which I have
had personal experience that is inevitable but I want to
make it absolutely clear that no inhabitant, past or pres-
ent, of that particular colony appears in my book. Even an
imaginary colony must have its officials a commissioner
of police and a colonial secretary, for example; I have a
special reason for not wanting such characters in my book
to be identified with real people, for I remember with very
great gratitude the courtesy and consideration I received
from the Commissioner of Police and the Colonial Secre-
tary in the colony where I worked in 1942-43.
The poem quoted on pages 296-97 is from Selected Poems
of Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by J. D. Leishmann
(London: Hogarth Press, 1941).
JL. WILSON SAT ON THE BALCONY OF THE BEDFORD
Hotel with his bald pink knees thrust against the ironwork.
It was Sunday and the Cathedral bell clanged for matins.
On the other side of Bond Street, in the windows of the
High School, sat the young Negresses in dark blue gym
smocks engaged on the interminable task of trying to wave
their wirespring hair. Wilson stroked his very young mous-
tache and dreamed, waiting for his gin-and-bitters.
Sitting there, facing Bond Street, he had his face turned
to the sea. His pallor showed how recently he had emerged
from it into the port: so did his lack of interest in the
schoolgirls opposite. He was like the lagging finger of the
barometer, still pointing to Fair long after its companion
had moved to Stormy. Below him the black clerks moved
churchward, but their wives in brilliant afternoon dresses
of blue and cerise aroused no interest in Wilson. He was
alone on the balcony except for one bearded Indian in a
turban who had already tried to tell his fortune: this was
not the hour or the day for white men they would be at
the beach five miles away, but Wilson had no car. He felt
almost intolerably lonely. On either side of the school the
tin roofs sloped towards the sea, and the corrugated iron
above his head clanged and clattered as a vulture alighted.
4 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Three merchant officers from the convoy in the harbour
came into view, walking up from the quay. They were
surrounded immediately by small boys wearing school
caps. The boys' refrain came faintly up to Wilson like a
nursery rhyme: "Captain want jig jig, my sister pretty girl
schoolteacher, captain want jig jig." The bearded Indian
frowned over intricate calculations on the back of an
envelope a horoscope, the cost of living? When Wilson
looked down into the street again the officers had fought
their way free, and the schoolboys had swarmed again
round a single able-seaman; they led him triumphantly
away towards the brothel near the police station, as though
to the nursery.
A black boy brought Wilson's gin and he sipped it very
slowly because he had nothing else to do except to return
to his hot and squalid room and read a novel or a poem.
Wilson liked poetry, but he absorbed it secretly like a
drug. The Golden Treasury accompanied him wherever
he went, but it was taken at night in small doses a finger
of Longfellow, Macauiay, Mangan: Go on to tell how,
with genius wasted, Betrayed in friendship, befooled in
love . . . His taste was romantic. For public exhibition
he had his Wallace. He wanted passionately to be indis-
tinguishable on the surface from other men: he wore his
moustache like a club tie it was his highest common
factor: but his eyes betrayed him brown dog's eyes, a
setter's eyes, pointing mournfully towards Bond Street.
"Excuse me," a voice said, "aren't you Wilson? 1 '
He looked up at a middle-aged man in the inevitable
khaki shorts with a drawn face the colour of hay.
"Yes, that's me."
"May I join you? My name's Harris."
"Delighted, Mr. Harris."
"You're the new accountant at the U.A.C."
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 5
"That's me. Have a drink?"
"I'll have a lemon squash if you don't mind. Can't drink
in the middle of the day."
The Indian rose from his table and approached with
deference. "You remember me, Mr. Harris. Perhaps you
would tell your friend, Mr. Harris, of my talents. Perhaps
he would like to read my letters of recommendation ..."
The grubby sheaf of envelopes was always in his hand.
"The leaders of society."
"Go off. Beat it, you old scoundrel," Harris said.
"How did you know my name?" Wilson asked.
"Saw it on a cable. I'm a cable censor," Harris said.
"What a job. What a place."
"I can see from here, Mr. Harris, that your fortune has
changed considerably. If you would step with me for a
moment into the bathroom . . ."
"Beat it, Gunga Din."
"Why the bathroom?" Wilson asked.
"He always tells fortunes there. I suppose it's the only
private room available. I never thought of asking why."
"Been here long?"
"Eighteen bloody months."
"Going home soon?"
Harris stared over the tin roofs towards the harbour. He
said, "The ships all go the wrong way. But when I do get
home you'll never see me here again." He lowered his voice
and said with venom over his lemon squash, "I hate the
place. I hate the people. I hate the bloody niggers. Mustn't
call 'em that, you know."
"My boy seems all right."
"A man's boy's always all right. He's a real nigger but
these, look at 'em, look at that one with a feather boa down
there. They aren't even real niggers. Just West Indians,
and they rule the coast. Clerks in the stores, city council,
6 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
magistrates, lawyers my God. It's all right up in the Pro-
tectorate. I haven't anything to say against a real nigger,
God made our colours. But these my God. The Govern-
ment's afraid of them. The police are afraid of them. Look
down there," Harris said, 'look at Scobie."
A vulture flapped and shifted on the iron roof and
Wilson looked at Scobie. He looked without interest in
obedience to a stranger's direction, and it seemed to him
that no particular interest attached to the squat grey-haired
man walking alone up Bond Street. He couldn't tell that this
was one of those occasions a man never forgets: a small cic-
atrice had been made on the memory, a wound that would
ache whenever certain things combined the taste of gin
at midday, the smell of flowers under a balcony, the clang
of corrugated iron, an ugly bird flopping from perch to
"He loves 'em so much/' Harris said, "he sleeps with
"Is that the police uniform?"
"It is. Our great police force. A lost thing will they never
find you know the poem."
"I don't read poetry," Wilson said. His eyes followed
Scobie up the sun-drowned street. Scobie stopped and had
a word with a black man in a white panama: a black police-
man passed by, saluting smartly, Scobie went on.
"Probably in the pay of the Syrians too, if the truth
"This is the original Tower of Babel," Harris said.
"West Indians, Africans, real Indians, Syrians, Englishmen,
Scotsmen in the Office of Works. Irish priests, French
priests, Alsatian priests."
"What do the Syrians do?"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 7
"Make money. They run all the stores up-country and
most of the stores here. Run diamonds too.'*
"I suppose there's a lot of that."
"The Germans pay a high price/'
"Hasn't he got a wife here?
"Who? Oh, Scobie. Rather. He's got a wife. Perhaps if I
had a wife like that, I'd sleep with niggers too. You'll meet
her soon. She's the city intellectual. She likes art, poetry.
Got up an exhibition of arts for the shipwrecked seamen.
You know the kind of thing poems on exile by aircrafts-
men, water-colours by stokers, poker-work from the mis-
sion schools. Poor old Scobie. Have another gin?"
"I think I will," said Wilson.
Scobie turned up James Street past the Secretariat. With
its long balconies it had always reminded him of a hospital.
For fifteen years he had watched the arrival of a succession
of patients: periodically at the end of eighteen months
certain patients were sent home, yellow and nervy, and
others took their place colonial secretaries, secretaries of
agriculture, treasurers and directors of public works. He
watched their temperature charts every one the first out-
break of unreasonable temper, the drink too many, the sud-
den stand for principle after a year of acquiescence. The
black clerks carried their bedside mariner like doctors
down the corridors; cheerful and respectful, they put up
with any insult. The patient was always right*
Round the corner, in front of the old cotton tree, where
the earliest settlers had gathered their first day on the un-
friendly shore, stood the law courts and police station, a
great stone building like the grandiloquent boast of weak
8 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
men. Inside that massive frame the human being rattled
in the corridors like a dry kernel. No one could have been
adequate to so rhetorical a conception. But the idea in any
case was only one room deep. In the dark narrow passage
behind, in the charge-room and the cells, Scobie could
always detect the odour o human meanness and injustice
it was the smell of a zoo, of sawdust, excrement, am-
monia, and lack of liberty. The place was scrubbed daily,
but you could never eliminate the smell. Prisoners and
policemen carried it in their clothing like cigarette smoke.
Scobie climbed the great steps and turned to his right
along the shaded outside corridor to his room: a table, two
kitchen chairs, a cupboard, some rusty handcuffs hanging
on a nail like an old hat, a filing cabinet: to a stranger it
would have appeared a bare uncomfortable room but to
Scobie it was home. Other men slowly build up the sense
of home by accumulation a new picture, more and more
books, an odd-shaped paper-weight, the ash-tray bought for
a forgotten reason on a forgotten holiday; Scobie built his
home by a process of reduction. He had started out fifteen
years ago with far more than this. There had been a photo-
graph of his wife, bright leather cushions from the market,
an easy chair, a large coloured map of the port on the wall.
The map had been borrowed by younger men: it was of no
more use to him: he carried the whole coastline of the
colony in his mind's eye: from Kufa Bay to Medley was his
beat. As for the cushions and the easy chair, he had soon
discovered how comfort of that kind down in the airless
town meant heat. Where the body was touched or enclosed
it sweated. Last of all, his wife's photograph had been made
unnecessary by her presence. She had joined him the first
year of the phony war and now she couldn't get away: the
danger of submarines had made her as much a fixture as
the handcuffs on the nail. Besides, it had been a very early
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 9
photograph, and he no longer cared to be reminded of the
unformed face, the expression calm and gentle with lack
of knowledge, the lips parted obediently in the smile the
photographer had demanded. Fifteen years form a face,
gentleness ebbs with experience, and he was always aware
of his own responsibility. He had led the way: the experi-
ence that had come to her was the experience selected by
himself. He had formed her face.
He sat down at his bare table and almost immediately
his Mende sergeant clicked his heels in the doorway. "Sah?"
"Anything to report?"
"The Commissioner want to see you, sah."
"Anything on the. charge sheet?"
"Two black men fight in the market, sah."
"Miss Wilberforce want to see you, sah. I tell her you was
at church and she got to come back by an' by, but she stick.
She say she no budge."
"Which Miss Wilberforce is that, sergeant?"
"I don't know, sah. She come from Sharp Town, sah."
"Well, I'll see her after the Commissioner. But no one
"Very good, sah."
Scobie, passing down the passage to the Commissioner's
room, saw the girl sitting alone on a bench against the wall:
he didn't look twice: he caught only the vague impression
of a young black African face, a bright cotton frock, and
then she was already out of his mind, and he was wonder-
ing what he should say to the Commissioner. It had been
on his mind all that week.
"Sit down, Scobie." The Commissioner was an old man
of fifty-three one counted age by the years a man had
1O THE HEART OF THE MATTER
served in the colony. The Commissioner with twenty-two
years' service was the oldest man there, just as the Gov-
ernor was a stripling of sixty-five compared with any dis-
trict officer who had five years* knowledge behind him.
"I'm retiring, Scobie," the Commissioner said, "after
"I suppose everyone knows."
'Tve heard the men talking about it."
"And yet you are the second man I've told. Do they
say who's taking my place?"
Scobie said, "They know who isn't."
"It's damned unfair," the Commissioner said. "I can
do nothing more than I have done, Scobie. You are a won-
derful man for picking up enemies. Like Aristides the
"I don't think I'm as just as all that."
"The question is, what do you want to do? They are
sending a man called Baker from Gambia. He's younger
than you are. Do you want to resign, retire, transfer,
"I want to stay," Scobie said.
"Your wife won't like it."
"I've been here too long to go." He thought to himself:
Poor Louise, if I had left it to her, where should we be
now? and he admitted straightaway that they wouldn't be
here somewhere far better, better climate, better pay,
better position. She would have taken every opening for
improvement: she would have steered agilely up the lad-
ders and left the snakes alone. I've landed her here, he
thought, with the odd premonitory sense of guilt he always
felt, as though he were responsible for something in the
future he couldn't even foresee. He said aloud, "You know
I like the place."
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 11
"I believe you do. I wonder why."
''It's pretty in the evening," Scobie said vaguely.
"Do you know the latest story they are using against you
at the Secretariat?"
"I suppose I'm in the Syrians' pay?"
"They haven't got that far yet. That's the next stage. No,
you sleep with black girls. You know what it is, Scobie, you
ought to have flirted with one of their wives. They feel
"Perhaps I ought to sleep with a black girl. Then they
won't have to think up anything else."
"The man before you slept with dozens," the Commis-
sioner said, "but it never bothered anyone. They thought
up something different for him. They said he drank se-
cretly. It made them feel better drinking publicly. What a
lot of swine they are, Scobie."
"The Chief Assistant Colonial Secretary's not a bad
"No, the Chief Assistant Colonial Secretary's all right."
The Commissioner laughed. "You're a terrible fellow,
Scobie. Scobie the Just."
Scobie returned down the passage: the girl sat in the
dusk: her feet were bare: they stood side by side like casts
in a museum: they didn't belong to the bright smart cotton
frock. "Are you Miss Wilberforce?" Scobie asked*
"You don't live here, do you?"
"No! I live in Sharp Town, sir/'
"Well, come in." He led the way into his office and sat
down at his desk. There was no pencil laid out and he
opened his drawer. Here and here only had objects ac-
cumulated: letters, india-rubbers, a broken rosary no
pencil. "What's the trouble, Miss Wilberforce?" His eye
caught a snapshot of a bathing party at Medley Beach: his
12 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
wife, the Colonial Secretary's wife, the Director of Educa-
tion holding up what looked like a dead fish, the Colonial
Treasurer's wife. The expanse of white flesh made them
look like a gathering of albinos, and all the mouths gaped
The girl said, "My landlady she broke up my home last
night. She come in when it was dark, and she pull down
all the partition, an' she thieve my chest with all my be-
14 You got plenty lodgers?"
"Only three, sir."
He knew exactly how it all was: a lodger would take a
one-roomed shack for five shillings a week, stick up a few
thin partitions, and let the so-called rooms for half a crown
apiece a horizontal tenement. Each room would be fur-
nished with a box containing a little china and glass,
"dashed" by an employer or stolen from an employer, a bed
made out of old packing cases, and a hurricane lamp. The
glass of these lamps did not long survive, and the little open
flames were always ready to catch some spilt paraffin; they
licked at the plywood partitions and caused innumerable
fires. Sometimes a landlady would thrust her way into her
house and pull down the dangerous partitions, sometimes
she would steal the lamps of her tenants, and the ripple
of her theft would go out in widening rings of lamp thefts
until they touched the European quarter, and became a
subject of gossip at the club. "Can't keep a lamp for love
"Your landlady/' Scobie told the girl sharply, "she say
you make plenty trouble: too many lodgers: too many
"No, sir. No lamp palaver."
"Mammy palaver, eh? You bad girl?"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 1J
"Why you come here? Why you not call Corporal Lami-
nah in Sharp Town?"
"He my landlady's brother, sir."
"He is, is he? Same father, same mother?"
"No, sir. Same father."
The interview was like a ritual between priest and server:
he knew exactly what would happen when one of his men
investigated the affair. The landlady would say that she
had told her tenant to pull down the partitions and when
that failed she had taken action herself. She would deny
that there had ever been a chest of china. The corporal
would confirm this. He would turn out not to be the land-
lady's brother, but some other unspecified relation prob-
ably disreputable. Bribes which were known respectably
as dashes would pass to and fro: the storm of indignation
and anger that had sounded so genuine would subside: the
partitions would go up again: nobody would hear any
more about the chest, and several policemen would be a
shilling or two the richer. At the beginning of his service
Scobie had flung himself into these investigations: he had
found himself over and over again in the position of a
partisan, supporting as he believed the poor and innocent
tenant against the wealthy and guilty house-owner. But he
soon discovered that the guilt and innocence were as rela-
tive as the wealth. The wronged tenant turned out to be
also the wealthy capitalist, making a profit of five shillings
a week on a single room, living rent-free herself. After
that he had tried to kill these cases at birth: he would
reason with the complainant and point out that the in-
vestigation would do no good and undoubtedly cost her
time and money: he would sometimes even refuse to in-
vestigate. The result of that inaction had been stones flung
at his car window, slashed tires, the nickname of the Bad
Man that had stuck to him through all one long sad tour
14 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
< it worried him unreasonably in the heat and damp: he
couldn't take it lightly. Already he had begun to desire
these people's trust and affection. That year he had black-
water fever and was nearly invalided from the service al-
The girl waited patiently for his decision: they had an
infinite capacity for patience when patience was required
just as their impatience knew no bounds of propriety when
they had anything to gain by it. They would sit quietly all
day in a white man's back yard in order to beg for something
he hadn't the power to grant, or they would shriek and
fight and abuse to get served in a store before their neigh-
bour. He thought: How beautiful she is. It was strange to
think that fifteen years ago he would not have noticed her
beauty the small high breasts, the tiny wrists, the thrust
of the young buttocks; she would have been indistinguish-
able from her fellows a black. In those days he had
thought his wife beautiful. A white skin had not then re-
minded him of an albino. Poor Louise. He said, "Give this
chit to the sergeant at the desk."
"Thank you, sir."
"That's all right." He smiled. "Try to tell him the
He watched her go out of the dark office like fifteen
Scobie had been outmanoeuvred in the interminable war
over housing. During his last leave he had lost his bunga-
low in Cape Station, the main European quarter, to a senior
sanitary inspector called Fellowes, and had found himself
relegated to a square two-storied house, built originally for
a Syrian trader, on the flats below a piece of reclaimed
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 15
swamp which would return to swamp as soon as the rains
set in. From the windows he looked directly out to sea
over a line of Creole houses: on the other side of the road
lorries backed and churned in a military transport camp
and vultures strolled like domestic turkeys in the regimen-
tal refuse. On the low ridge of hills behind him the bunga-
lows of the station lay among the low clouds; lamps burned
all day in the cupboards, mould gathered on the boots
nevertheless these were the houses for men of his rank.
Women depended so much on pride, pride in themselves,
their husbands, their surroundings. They were seldom
proud, it seemed to him, of the invisible.
"Louise," he called, "Louise/ 1 There was no reason to
call: if she wasn't in the living-room there was nowhere
else for her to be but the bedroom (the kitchen was simply
a shed in the yard opposite the back door) ; yet it was his
habit to cry her name, a habit he had formed in the days of
anxiety and love. The less he needed Louise the more con-
scious he became of his responsibility for her happiness.
When he called her name he was crying like Canute against
a tide the tide of her melancholy, dissatisfaction, and dis-
In the old days she had replied, but she was not such a
creature of habit as he was nor so false, he sometimes told
himself. Kindness and pity had no power with her: she
would never have pretended an emotion she didn't feel,
and like an animal she gave way completely to the momen-
tary sickness and recovered as suddenly. When he found
her in the bedroom under the mosquito net she reminded
him of a dog or a cat, she was so completely "out." Her
hair was matted, her eyes closed. He stood very still like a
spy in foreign territory, and indeed he was in foreign terri-
tory now. If home for him meant the reduction of things
to a firm, friendly, unchanging minimum, home to her was
l6 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
accumulation. The dressing table was crammed with pots
and photographs himself as a young man in the curiously
dated officer's uniform of the last war: the Chief Justice's
wife whom for the moment she counted as her friend: their
only child, who had died at school in England three years
ago a little pious nine-year-old girl's face in the white
muslin of first communion: innumerable photographs of
Louise herself, in groups with nursing sisters, with the
Admiral's party at Medley Beach, on a Yorkshire moor
with Teddy Bromley and his wife. It was as if she were
accumulating evidence that she had friends like other peo-
ple. He watched her through the muslin net. Her face had
the yellow-ivory tinge of atabrine: her hair, which had once
been the colour of bottled honey, was dark and stringy
with sweat. These were the times of ugliness when he loved
her, when pity and responsibility reached the intensity of a
passion. It was pity that told him to go: he wouldn't have
woken his worst enemy from sleep leave alone Louise.
He tiptoed out and down the stairs. (The inside stairs
could be found nowhere else in this bungalow city except
in Government House, and she had tried to make them an
object of pride with stair carpets and pictures on the wall.)
In the living-room there was a bookcase full of her books,
rugs on the floor, a native mask from Nigeria, more photo-
graphs. The books had to be wiped daily to remove the
damp, and she had not succeeded very well in disguising
with flowery curtains the food-safe, which stood with each
foot in a little enamel basin of water to keep the ants out.
The boy was laying a single place for lunch.
The boy was short and squat with the broad ugly pleas-
ant face of a Temne. His bare feet flapped like empty gloves
across the floor.
"What's wrong with Missus?" Scobie asked.
"Belly humbug," AH said.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 17
Scobie took a Mende grammar from the bookcase: it
was tucked away in the bottom shelf where its old untidy
cover was least conspicuous. In the upper shelves were
the flimsy rows of Louise's authors not-quite-so-young
modern poets and the novels of Virginia Woolf . He couldn't
concentrate: it was too hot and his wife's absence was like
a garrulous companion in the room reminding him of
his responsibility. A fork fell on the floor and he watched
Ali surreptitiously wipe it on his sleeve, watched him with
affection: they had been together fifteen years a year
longer than his marriage a long time to keep a servant.
He had been * 'small boy" first, then assistant steward in
the days when one kept four servants, now he was plain
steward. After each leave Ali would be on the landing-stage
waiting to organize his luggage with three or four ragged
carriers. In the intervals of leave many people tried to
steal Ali's services, but he had never yet failed to be waiting
except once when he had been in prison. There was no
disgrace about prison; it was an obstacle that no one
could avoid for ever.
"Ticki," a voice wailed, and Scobie rose at once. "Ticki."
He went upstairs.
His wife was sitting up under the mosquito net, and for
a moment he had the impression of a joint under a meat
cover. But pity trod on the heels of the cruel image and
hustled it away. "Are you feeling better, darling?"
Louise said, "Mrs. Castle's been in."
"Enough to make anyone ill," Scobie said.
"She's been telling me about you."
"What about me?" He gave her a bright fake smile; so
much of life was a putting off of unhappiness for another
time. Nothing was ever lost by delay. He had a dim idea
that perhaps if one delayed long enough, things were taken
out of one's hands altogether by death.
l8 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"She says the Commissioner's retiring, and they Ve passed
"Her husband talks too much in his sleep."
"Is it true?"
"Yes. I've known it for weeks. It doesn't matter, dear,
Louise said, "111 never be able to show my face at the
"It's not as bad as that. These things happen, you know."
"You'll resign, won't you, Ticki?"
"I don't think I can do that, dear."
"Mrs. Castle's on our side. She's furious. She says every-
one's talking about it and saying things. Darling, you
aren't in the pay of the Syrians, are you?"
"I was so upset I came out of Mass before the end. It's
so mean of them, Ticki. You can't take it lying down.
You've got to think of me."
"Yes, I do. All the time." He sat down on the bed and
put his hand under the net and touched hers. Little beads
of sweat started where their skins touched. He said, "I
do think of you, dear. But I've been fifteen years in this
place. I'd be lost anywhere else even if they gave me an-
other job. It isn't much of a recommendation, you know,
being passed over."
"We could retire."
"The pension isn't much to live on."
"I'm sure I could make a little money writing. Mrs.
Castle says I ought to be a professional. With all this experi-
ence," Louise said, gazing through the white muslin tent
as far as her dressing table: there another face in white
muslin stared back and she looked away. She said, "If only
we could go to South Africa. I can't bear the people here."
"Perhaps I could arrange a passage for you. There haven't
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 1Q
been many sinkings that way lately. You ought to have a
"There was a time when you wanted to retire too. You
used to count the years. You made plans for all of us."
"Oh well, one changes/' he said evasively.
She said mercilessly, "You didn't think you'd be alone
with me then."
He pressed his sweating hand against hers. "What non-
sense you talk, dear. You must get up and have some
food. . . ."
"Do you love anyone, Ticki, except yourself ?"
"No, I just love myself, that's all. And Ali. I forgot Ali.
Of course I love him too. But not you," he ran on with
worn mechanical raillery, stroking her hand, smiling, sooth-
ing. . . .
"And Ali's sister?"
"Has he got a sister?"
"They've all got sisters, haven't they? Why didn't you
go to Mass today?"
"It was my morning on duty, dear. You know that.
"You could have changed it. You haven't got much faith,
have you, Ticki?"
"You've got enough for both of us, dear. Come and have
"Ticki, I sometimes think you just became a Catholic to
marry me. It doesn't mean a thing to you, does it?"
"Listen, darling, you want to come down and eat a bit
Then you want to take the car along to the Beach and have
some fresh air."
"How different the whole day would have been," she
said, staring out of her net, "if you'd come home and said,
44 'Darling, I'm going to be the Commissioner.' "
Scobie said slowly, "You know, dear, in a place like this
in war-time an important harbour the Vichy French
2O THE HEART OF THE MATTER
just across the border all this diamond smuggling from
the Protectorate they need a younger man/' He didn't
believe a word he was saying.
"I hadn't thought of that."
"That's the only reason. You can't blame anyone. It's the
"The war does spoil everything, doesn't it?"
"It gives the younger men a chance."
"Darling, perhaps I'll come down and just pick at a
little cold meat."
"That's right, dear." He withdrew his hand: it was
dripping with sweat. "I'll tell Ali."
Downstairs he shouted "Ali" out of the back door.
"Lay two places. Missus better."
The first faint breeze of the day came off the sea, blowing
up over the bushes and between the Creole huts. A vulture
flapped heavily upwards from the iron roof and down
again in the yard next door. Scobie drew a deep breath:
he felt exhausted and victorious: he had persuaded Louise
to pick a little meat. It had always been his responsibility
to maintain happiness in those he loved. One was safe now,
for ever, and the other was going to eat her lunch.
In the evening the port became beautiful for perhaps
five minutes* The laterite roads that were so ugly and clay-
heavy by day became a delicate flowerlike pink. It was the
hour of content. Men who had left the port for ever would
sometimes remember on a grey wet London evening the
bloom and glow that faded almost as soon as it was seen:
they would wonder why they had hated the coast and for a
space of a drink they would long to return.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 21
Scobie stopped his Morris at one of the great loops of
the climbing road and looked back. He was just too late.
The flower had withered upwards from the town: the white
stones that marked the edge of the precipitous hill shone
like candles in the new dusk.
"I wonder if anybody will be there, Ticki."
"Sure to be. It's library night/'
"Do hurry up, dear. It's so hot in the car. I'll be glad
when the rains come." -
"If only they just went on for a month or two and then
Scobie made the right reply. He never listened while
his wife talked. He worked steadily to the even current of
sound; but if a note of distress were struck he was aware of
it at once. Like a wireless operator with a novel open in
front of him, he could disregard every signal except the
ship's symbol and the S.O.S. He could even work better
while she talked than when she was silent, for so long as
his ear-drum registered those tranquil sounds the gossip
of the Club, comments on the sermons preached by Father
Rank, the plot of a new novel, even complaints about the
weather he knew that all was well. It* was silence that
stopped him working silence in which he might look up
and see tears waiting in the eyes for his attention.
"There's a rumour going round that the refrigerators
were all sunk last week."
He considered while she talked his line of action with
the Portuguese ship that was due in as soon as the boom
opened in the morning. The fortnightly arrival of a neutral
ship provided an outing for the junior officers: a change of
food, a few glasses of real wine, even the opportunity of
buying some small decorative object in the ship's store for
a girl. In return they had only to help the Field Security
22 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Police in the examination of passports, the searching of
the suspects' cabins: all the hard and disagreeable work
was done by the F.S.P., in the hold, sifting sacks of rice
for commercial diamonds, or in the heat of the kitchen,
plunging the hand into tins of lard, disembowelling the
stuffed turkeys. To try to find a few diamonds in a liner
of fifteen thousand tons was absurd: no malign tyrant in
a fairy story had ever set a goose girl a more impossible
task, and yet as regularly as the ships called the cipher tele-
grams came in "So-and-so travelling first class suspected
of carrying diamonds. The following members of the ship's
crew suspected . . ." Nobody ever found anything. He
thought: It's Harris's turn to go on board, and Fraser can
go with him. I'm too old for these excursions. Let the boys
have a little fun.
"Last time half the books arrived damaged."
Judging from the number of cars, he thought, there were
not many people at the Club yet. He switched off his lights
and waited for Louise to move, but she just sat there with
a clenched fist showing in the switchboard light. "Well,
dear, here we are," he said in the hearty voice that strangers
took as a mark of stupidity. Louise said, "Do you think they
all know by this time?"
"That you've been passed over."
"My dear, I thought we'd finished with all that. Look at
all the generals who've been passed over since 1940. They
won't bother about a deputy commissioner."
She said, "But they don't like me."
Poor Louise, he thought, it is terrible not to be liked,
and his mind went back to his own experience in that early
tour when the blacks had slashed his tires and written
insults on his car. "My dear, how absurd you are. I've never
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 2$
known anyone with so many friends." He ran unconvino
ingly on. "Mrs. Halifax, Mrs. Castle . . ." and then de-
cided it was better after all not to list them.
''They'll all be waiting there," she said, "just waiting
for me to walk in. ... I never wanted to come to the Club
tonight. Let's go home."
"We can't. Here's ^Irs. Castle's car arriving." He tried
to laugh. "We're trapped, Louise." He saw the fist open and
close, the damp inefficient powder lying like snow in the
ridges of the knuckles. "Oh, Ticki, Ticki," she said, "you
won't leave me ever, will you? I haven't got any friends
not since the Tom Barlows went away." He lifted the
moist hand and kissed the palm: he was bound by the
pathos of her unattractiveness.
They walked side by side like a couple of policemen on
duty into the lounge where Mrs. Halifax was dealing out
the library books. It is seldom that anything is quite so bad
as one fears: there was no reason to believe that they had
been the subject of conversation. "Goody, goody," Mrs.
Halifax called to them, "the new Clemence Dane's ar-
rived." She was the most inoffensive woman in the station:
she had long untidy hair, and one found hairpins inside the
library books where she had marked her place. Scobie felt
it quite safe to leave his wife in her company, for Mrs.
Halifax had no malice and no capacity for gossip: her
memory was too bad for anything to lodge there for long:
she read the same novels over and over again without
Scobie joined a group on the verandah. Fellowes, the
Sanitary Inspector, was talking fiercely to Reith, the Chief
Assistant Colonial Secretary, and a naval officer called Brig-
stock. "After all this is a club," he was saying, "not a rail-
way refreshment room." Ever since Fellowes had snatched
his house, Scobie had done his best to like the man it was
24 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
one of the rules by which he set his life, to be a good loser.
But sometimes he found it very hard to like Fellowes. The
hot evening had not been good to him: the thin damp
ginger hair, the small prickly moustache, the goosegog eyes,
the scarlet cheeks, and the old Lancing tie. "Quite," said
Brigstock, swaying slightly.
"What's the trouble?" Scobie asked.
Reith said, "He thinks we are not exclusive enough/' He
spoke with the comfortable irony of a man who had in his
time been completely exclusive, who had in fact excluded
from his solitary table in the Protectorate every one but
himself. Fellowes said hotly, "There are limits," fingering
for confidence the Lancing tie.
"Tha's so," said Brigstock.
"I knew it would happen/' Fellowes said, "as soon as we
made every officer in the place an honorary member. Sooner
or later they would begin to bring in undesirables. I'm
not a snob, but in a place like this you've got to draw lines
for the sake of the women. It's not like it is at home."
"But what's the trouble?" Scobie asked.
"Honorary members," Fellowes said, "should not be al-
lowed to introduce guests. Only the other day we had a
private brought in. The army can be democratic if it likes,
but not at our expense. That's another thing, there's not
enough drink to go round as it is without these fellows."
"Tha's a point," Brigstock said, swaying more violently.
"I wish I knew what it was all about," Scobie said.
"The dentist from the Forty-ninth has brought in a
civilian called Wilson, and this man Wilson wants to join
the Club. It puts everybody in a very embarrassing posi-
"What's wrong with him?"
"He's one of the U.A.C. clerks. He can join the club in
Sharp Town. What does he want to come up here for?"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER $5
"That club's not functioning/' Reith said.
"Well, that's their fault, isn't it?" Over the Sanitary
Inspector's shoulder Scobie could see the enormous range
of the night. The fireflies signalled to and fro along the
edge of the hill and the lamp of a patrol boat moving on the
bay could be distinguished only by its steadiness. "Black-
out time/' Reith said. "We'd better go in."
"Which is Wilson?" Scobie asked him.
"That's him over there. The poor devil looks lonely.
He's only been out a few days."
Wilson stood uncomfortably alone in a wilderness of
arm-chairs, pretending to look at a map on the wall. His
pale face shone and trickled like plaster. He had obviously
bought his tropical suit from a shipper who had worked
off on him an unwanted line: it was oddly striped and
liverish in colour. "You're Wilson, aren't you?" Reith
said. "I saw your name in the Col. Sec/s book today."
"Yes, that's me," Wilson said.
"My name's Reith. I'm Chief Assistant Col. Sec. This is
Scobie, the Deputy Commissioner."
"I saw you this morning outside the Bedford Hotel, sir,"
Wilson said. There was something defenceless, it seemed to
Scobie, in his whole attitude: he stood there waiting for
people to be friendly or unfriendly he didn't seem to
expect one reaction more than another. He was like a dog.
Nobody had yet drawn on his face the lines that make a
"Have a drink, Wilson."
"I don't mind if I do, sir."
"Here's my wife," Scobie said. "Louise, this is Mr,
"I've heard a lot about Mr. Wilson already," Louise
"You see, you're famous, Wilson," Scobie said. "You're
26 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
a man from the town and you've gate-crashed Cape Station
"I didn't know I was doing anything wrong. Major
Cooper invited me."
"That reminds me," Reith said, "I must make an ap-
pointment with Cooper. I think I've got an abscess." He
"Cooper was telling me about the library," Wilson said,
"and I thought perhaps . , ."
"Do you like reading?" Louise asked, and Scobie realized
with relief that she was going to be kind to the poor devil.
It was always a bit of a toss-up with Louise. Sometimes she
could be the worst snob in the station, and it occurred to
him with pity that perhaps now she believed she couldn't
afford to be snobbish. Any new face that didn't "know"
"Well," Wilson said, and fingered desperately at his
thin moustache, "well . . ," It was as if he were gathering
strength for a great confession or a great evasion.
"Detective stories?" Louise asked.
"I don't mind detective stories," Wilson said uneasily,
"Some detective stories."
"Personally," Louise said, "I like poetry."
"Poetry," Wilson said, "yes." He took his fingers reluc-
tantly away from his moustache, and something in his dog-
like look of gratitude and hope made Scobie think with
happiness: Have I really found her a friend?
"I like poetry myself," Wilson said.
Scobie moved away towards the bar: once again a load
was lifted from his mind. The evening was not spoilt: she
would come home happy, go to bed happy. During one
night a mood did not change, and happiness would survive
until he left to go on duty. He could sleep. . . .
He saw a gathering of his junior officers in the bar.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 27
Fraser was there and Tod and a new man from Palestine
with the extraordinary name of Thimblerigg. Scobie hesi-
tated to go in. They were enjoying themselves, and they
would not want a senior officer with them. "Infernal
cheek," Tod was saying. They were probably talking about
poor Wilson. Then before he could move away he heard
Eraser's voice. "He's punished for it. Literary Louise has
got him." Thimblerigg gave a small gurgling laugh, a
bubble of gin forming on a plump lip.
Scobie walked rapidly back into the lounge. He went
full tilt into an arm-chair, and came to a halt. His vision
moved jerkily back into focus, but sweat dripped into his
right eye. The fingers that wiped it free shook like a drunk-
ard's. He told himself: Be careful. This isn't a climate for
emotion. It's a climate for meanness, malice, snobbery, but
anything like hate or love drives a man off his head. He
remembered Bowers sent home for punching the Gover-
nor's A.D.C. at a party, Makin the missionary who ended
in an asylum at Chislehurst.
"It's damned hot," he said to someone who loomed
vaguely beside him.
"You look bad, Scobie. Have a drink."
"No, thank you. Got to drive round on inspection."
Beside the bookshelves Louise was talking happily to
Wilson, but he could feel the malice and snobbery of the
world padding up like wolves about her. They wouldn't
even let her enjoy her books, he thought, and his hand
began to shake again. Approaching, he heard her say in
her kindly Lady Bountiful manner, "You must come and
have dinner with us one day. I've got a lot of books that
might interest you."
"I'd love to," Wilson said.
"Just ring us up and take pot luck." Scobie thought:
What are those others worth that they have the nerve to
28 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
sneer at any human being? He knew every one of her
faults. How often he had winced at her patronage of stran-
gers. He knew each phrase, each intonation that alienated
others. Sometimes he longed to warn her don't wear that
dress, don't say that again as a mother might teach a
daughter, but he had to remain silent, aching with the fore-
knowledge of her loss of friends. The worst was when he
detected in his colleagues an extra warmth of friendliness
towards himself, as though they pitied him. What right
have you, he longed to exclaim, to criticize her? This is my
doing. This is what I've made of her. She wasn't always
He came abruptly up to them and said, "My dear, I've
got to go round the beats."
"I'll stay, dear. Mrs. Halifax will run me home."
"I wish you'd come with me."
"What? Round the beats? It's ages since I've been."
"That's why I'd like you to come." He lifted her hand
and kissed it: it was a challenge. He proclaimed to the
whole Club that he was not to be pitied, that he loved his
wife, that they were happy. But nobody that mattered
saw Mrs. Halifax was busy with the books, Reith had
gone long ago, Brigstock was in the bar, Fellowes talked too
busily to Mrs. Castle to notice anything nobody saw ex-
Louise said, "111 come another time, dear. But Mrs.
Halifax has just promised to run Mr. Wilson home by our
house. There's a book I want to lend him."
Scobie felt an immense gratitude to Wilson. "That's
fine," he said, "fine. But stay and have a drink till I get
back. I'll run you home to the Bedford. I shan't be late/'
He put a hand on Wilson's shoulder and prayed silently:
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 2Q
Don't let her patronize him too far: don't let her be absurd:
let her keep this friend at least. "I won't say good night,"
he said, "111 expect to see you when I get back."
"It's very kind of you, sir."
"You mustn't sir me. You're not a policeman, Wilson.
Thank your stars for that."
Scobie was later than he expected. It was the encounter
with Yusef that delayed him. Halfway down the hill he
found Yusef's car stuck by the roadside, with Yusef sleep-
ing quietly in the back: the light from Scobie's car lit up
the large pasty face, the lick of his white hair falling over
the forehead, just touched the beginning of the huge thighs
in their tight white drill. Yusef's shirt was open at the neck
and tendrils of black breast-hair coiled around the but-
"Can I help you?" Scobie unwillingly asked and Yusef
opened his eyes: the gold teeth fitted by his brother, the
dentist, flashed instantaneously like a torch. If Fellowes
drives by now, what a story he will have for the Secretariat
in the morning, Scobie thought. The Deputy Commis-
sioner meeting Yusef, the storekeeper, clandestinely at
night. To give help to a Syrian was only a degree less
dangerous than to receive help.
"Ah, Major Scobie," Yusef said, "a friend in need is a
"Can I do anything for you?"
"We have been stranded a half an hour," Yusef said.
"The cars have gone by, and I have thought: When will
a Good Samaritan appear?"
"I haven't any spare oil to pour into your wounds,
go THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"Ha, ha, Major Scobie. That is very good. But if you
would just give me a lift into town . . ."
Yusef settled himself into the Morris, easing a large thigh
against the brakes.
'Tour boy had better get in at the back."
"Let him stay here," Yusef said. "He will mend the car
if he knows itis the only way he can get to bed." He folded
his large fat hands over his knee and said, "You have a very
fine car, Major Scobie. You must have paid four hundred
pounds for it."
"One hundred and fifty," Scobie said.
"I would pay you four hundred."
"It isn't for sale, Yusef. Where would I get another?"
"Not now, but maybe when you leave."
"I'm not leaving."
"Oh, I had heard that you were resigning, Major Scobie."
"We shopkeepers hear so much but all of it is unreli-
"Oh, not bad. Not good/'
"What I hear is that you've made several fortunes since
the war. Unreliable gossip, of course."
"Well, Major Scobie, you know how it is. My store in
Sharp Town, that does fine because I am there to keep an
eye on it. My store in Macaulay Street that does not bad
because my sister is there. But my stores in Durban Street
and Bond Street, they do badly. I am cheated all the time.
Like all my countrymen, I cannot read or write, and every-
one cheats me."
"Gossip says you can keep all your stocks in all youi
stores in your head."
Yusef chuckled and beamed. "My memory is not bad,
But it keeps me awake at night, Major Scobie. Unless I
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 31
take a lot of whisky I keep thinking about Durban Street
and Bond Street and Macaulay Street."
"Which shall I drop you at now?"
"Oh, now I go home to bed, Major Scobie. My house in
Sharp Town, if you please. Won't you come in and have
a little whisky?"
"Sorry. I'm on duty, Yusef."
"It is very kind of you, Major Scobie, to give me this
lift. Would you let me show my gratitude by sending Mrs.
Scobie a roll of silk?"
"Just what I wouldn't like, Yusef."
"Yes, yes, I know. It's very hard, all this gossip. Just be-
cause there are some Syrians like Tallit."
"You would like Tallit out of your way, wouldn't you,
"Yes, Major Scobie. It would be for my good, but it
would also be for your good."
"You sold him some of those fake diamonds last year,
"Oh, Major Scobie, you don't really believe I'd get the
better of anyone like that. Some of the poor Syrians suffered
a great deal over those diamonds, Major Scobie. It would
be a shame to deceive your own people like that."
"They shouldn't have broken the law by buying dia-
monds. Some of them even had the nerve to complain to the
"They are very ignorant, poor fellows."
"You weren't as ignorant as all that, were you, Yusef?"
"If you ask me, Major Scobie, it was Tallit. Otherwise,
why does he pretend I sold him the diamonds?"
Scobie drove slowly. The rough street was crowded. Thin
black bodies weaved like daddy-long-legs in the dimmed
head-lights. "How long will the rice shortage go on, Yusef?"
"You know as much about that as I do, Major Scobie/'
g2 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"I know these poor devils can't get rice at the controlled
"I've heard, Major Scobie, that they can't get their share
of the free distribution unless they tip the policemen at the
It was quite true. There was a retort in this colony to
every accusation. There was always a blacker corruption
elsewhere to be pointed at. The scandalmongers of the
Secretariat fulfilled a useful purpose they kept alive the
idea that no one was to be trusted. That was better than
complacence. Why, he wondered, swerving the car to avoid
a dead pye-dog, do I love this place so much? Is it because
here human nature hasn't had time to disguise itself? No-
body here could ever talk about a heaven on earth. Heaven
remained rigidly in its proper place on the other side of
death, and on this side flourished the injustices, the cru-
elties, the meannesses, that elsewhere people so cleverly
hushed up. Here you could love human beings nearly as
God loved them, knowing the worst: you didn't love a
pose, a pretty dress, a sentiment artfully assumed. He felt
a sudden affection for Yusef. He said, "Two wrongs don't
make a right. One day, Yusef, you'll find my foot under
your fat arse."
"Maybe, Major Scobie," Yusef said, "or maybe we'll be
friends together. That is what I should like more than any-
thing in the world."
They drew up outside the Sharp Town house and Yusef 's
steward ran out with a torch to light him in. "Major
Scobie," Yusef said, "it would give me such pleasure to
give you a glass of whisky. I think I could help you a lot.
I am very patriotic, Major Scobie."
"That's why you are hoarding your cottons against a
Vichy invasion, isn't it? They will be worth more than!
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 33
"The Esperanfa is in tomorrow, isn't she?"
"What a waste of time it is searching a big ship like that
for diamonds. Unless you know beforehand exactly where
they are. You know that when the ship returns to Angola
a seaman reports where you looked. You will sift all the
sugar in the hold. You will search the lard in the kitchens
because someone once told Captain Druce that a diamond
can be heated and dropped in the middle of a tin of lard.
Of course the cabins and the ventilators and the lockers.
Tubes of toothpaste. Do you think one day you will find
one little diamond?"
"I don't either."
A hurricane lamp burned at each corner of the wooden
pyramids of crates. Across the black slow water he could
just make out the naval dep6t ship, a disused liner, where
she lay, so it was believed, on a reef of empty whisky bottles.
He stood quietly for a while breathing in the heavy smell of
the sea: within half a mile of him a whole convoy lay at
anchor, but all he could detect were the long shadow of the
dep6t ship and a scatter of small red lights as though a
street were up: he could hear nothing from the water but
the water itself, slapping against the jetties. The magic of
this place never failed him: here he kept his foothold on
the very edge of a strange continent.
Somewhere in the darkness two rats scuffled. These
waterside rats were the size of rabbits: the natives called
them pigs and ate them roasted: the name helped to distin-
guish them from the wharf rats, who were a human breed.
Walking along a light railway line Scobie made in the direc-
34 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
tion of the markets. At the corner of a warehouse he came
on two policemen.
"Anything to report?"
"Been along this way?"
"Oh yes, sah, we just come from there."
He knew that they were lying: they would never go alone
to that end of the wharf, the playground of the human rats,
unless they had a white officer to guard them. The rats were
cowards but dangerous boys of sixteen or so, armed with
razors or bits of broken bottle, they swarmed in groups
around the warehouses, pilfering if they found an easily
opened case, settling like flies around any drunken sailor
who stumbled their way, occasionally slashing a policeman
who had made himself unpopular with one of their in-
numerable relatives. Gates couldn't keep them off the
wharf: they swam round from Kru Town or the fishing
"Come on," Scobie said, "well have another look."
With weary patience the policemen trailed behind him,
half a mile one way, half a mile the other. Only the pigs
moved on the wharf, and the water slapped. One of the
policemen said self-righteously, "Quiet night, sah." They
shone their torches with self-conscious assiduity from one
side to another, lighting the abandoned chassis of a car,
an empty truck, the corner of a tarpaulin, a bottle standing
at the corner of a warehouse with palm leaves stuffed in
for a cork. Scobie said, "What's that?" One of his official
nightmares was an incendiary bomb: it was so easy to pre-
pare: every day men from Vichy territory came into town
with smuggled cattle they were encouraged to come in
for the sake of the meat supply. On this side of the border
native saboteurs were being trained in case of invasion:
why not on the other side?
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 35
"Let me see it," he said, but neither of the policemen
moved to touch it.
"Only native medicine, sah," one of them said with a
Scobie picked the bottle up. It was a dimpled Haig, and
when he drew out the palm leaves the stench of dog's pizzle
and nameless decay blew out like a gas escape. A nerve in
his head beat with sudden irritation. For no reason at all
he remembered Eraser's flushed face and Thimblerigg's
giggle. The stench from the bottle moved him with nausea,
and he felt his fingers polluted by the palm leaves. He
threw the bottle over the wharf, and the hungry mouth of
the water received it with a single belch, but the contents
were scattered on the air, and the whole windless place
smelt sour and ammoniac. The policemen were silent:
Scobie was aware of their mute disapproval. He should
have left the bottle where it stood: it had been placed there
for one purpose, directed at one person, but now that its
contents had been released it was as if the evil thought were
left to wander blindly through the air, to settle maybe on
"Good night," Scobie said, and turned abruptly on his
heel. He had not gone twenty yards before he heard their
boots scuffling rapidly away from the dangerous area.
Scobie drove up to the police station by way of Pitt
Street. Outside the brothel on the left-hand side the girls
were sitting along the pavement taking a bit of air. Within
the police station behind the black-out blinds the scent of
a monkey house thickened for the night. The sergeant on
duty took his legs off the table in the charge room and
stood to attention.
"Anything to report?"
"Five drunk and disorderly, sah. I lock them in the big
36 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"Two Frenchmen, sah, with no passes."
"Where were they found?"
"In Pitt Street, sah."
"Ill see them in the morning. What about the launch?
Is it running all right? I shall want to go out to the
"It's broken, sah. Mr. Fraser he try to mend it, sah, but
it humbug all the time."
"What time does Mr. Fraser come on duty?'
"Tell him I shan't want him to go out to the Esperanfa.
I'm going out myself. If the launch isn't ready, I'll go with
Climbing again into his car, pushing at the sluggish
starter, Scobie thought that a man was surely entitled to
that much revenge. Revenge was good for the character:
out of revenge grew forgiveness. He began to whistle,
driving back through Kru Town. He was almost happy:
he only needed to be quite certain that nothing had hap-
pened at the Club after he left, that at this moment, ten
fifty-five P.M., Louise was at ease, content. He could face
the next hour when the next hour arrived.
Before he went indoors he walked round to the seaward
side of the house to check the black-out. He could hear the
murmur of Louise's voice inside: she was probably reading
poetry. He thought: By God, what right has that young fool
Fraser to despise her for that? and then his anger moved
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 37
away again, like a shabby man, when he thought of Fraser's
disappointment in the morning no Portuguese visit, no
present for his best girl, only the hot humdrum office day.
Feeling for the handle of the back door to avoid flashing
his torch, he tore his right hand on a splinter.
He came into the lighted room and saw that his hand
was dripping with blood. "Oh, darling/' Louise said,
"what have you done?" and covered her face. She couldn't
bear the sight of blood. "Can I help you, sir?" Wilson
asked. He tried to rise, but he was sitting in a low chair at
Louise's feet and his knees were piled with books.
"It's all right," Scobie said. "It's only a scratch. I can see
to it myself. Just tell AH to bring a bottle of water." Half-
way upstairs he heard the voice resume: Louise said, "A
lovely poem about a pylon." Scobie walked into the bath-
room, disturbing a rat that had been couched on the cool
rim of the bath, like a cat on a gravestone.
Scobie sat down on the edge of the bath and let his hand
drip into the lavatory pail among the wood shavings. Just
as in his own office, the sense of home surrounded him.
Louise's ingenuity had been able to do little with this
room: the bath of scratched enamel with a single tap
which always ceased to work before the end of the dry
season: the tin bucket under the lavatory seat emptied
once a day: the fixed basin with another useless tap: bare
floorboards: drab green black-out curtains. The only im-
provements Louise had been able to impose were the cork
mat by the bath, the bright white medicine cabinet.
The rest of the room was all his own. It was like a relic of
his youth carried from house to house. It had been like
this years ago in his first house before he married. This was
the room in which he had always been alone.
Ali came in, his pink soles flapping on the floorboards,
carrying a bottle of water from the filter. "The back door
38 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
humbug me," Scobie explained. He held his hand out over
the wash-basin, while Ali poured the water over the wound.
The boy made gentle chuckling sounds of commiseration:
his hands were as gentle as a girl's. When Scobie said im-
patiently, "That's enough," Ali paid him no attention.
"Too much dirt," he said.
"Now iodine." The smallest scratch in this country
turned green if it were neglected for an hour. "Again," he
said, "pour it over," wincing at the sting. Down below out
of the swing of voices the word "beauty" detached itself and
sank back into the trough. "Now the elastoplast."
"No," Ali said, "no. Bandage better,"
"All right. Bandage then." Years ago he had taught Ali
to bandage: now he could tie one as expertly as a doctor.
"Good night, Ali. Go to bed. I shan't want you again."
"Missus want drinks/'
"No. I'll attend to the drinks. You can go to bed." Alone,
he sat down again on the edge of the bath. The wound had
jarred him a little, and anyway he was unwilling to join
the two downstairs, for his presence would embarrass Wil-
son. A man couldn't listen to a woman reading poetry in
the presence of an outsider. "I had rather be a kitten and
cry mew . . ." but that wasn't really his attitude. He did
not despise: he just couldn't understand such bare relations
of intimate feeling. And besides he was happy here, sitting
where the rat had sat, in his own world. He began to think
of the Esperanto, and of the next day's work.
"Darling," Louise called up the stairs, "are you all
right? Can you drive Mr. Wilson home?"
"I can walk, Mrs. Scobie."
"Coming," Scobie called. "Of course I'll drive you back."
When he joined them Louise took the bandaged hand
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 39
tenderly in hers. "Oh, the poor hand," she said. "Does it
hurt?" She was not afraid of the clean white bandage: it
was like a patient in a hospital with the sheets drawn tidily
up to the chin. One could bring grapes and never know
the details of the scalpel wound out of sight. She put her
lips to the bandage and left a little smear of orange lipstick.
"It's quite all right," Scobie said.
"Really, sir. I can walk."
"Of course you won't walk. Come along, get in."
The light from the dashboard lit up a patch of Wilson's
extraordinary suit. He leant out of the car and cried, "Good
night, Mrs. Scobie. It's been lovely. I can't thank you
enough." The words vibrated with sincerity: it gave them
the sound of a foreign language the sound of English
spoken in England. Here intonations changed in the course
of a few months: became high-pitched and insincere, or
flat and guarded. You could tell that Wilson was fresh from
"You must come again soon," Scobie said, remembering
Louise's happy face, as they drove down the Burnside road
towards the Bedford Hotel.
The smart of his wounded hand woke Scobie at two in
the morning. He lay coiled like a watch-spring on the out-
side of the bed, trying to keep his body away from Louise's:
wherever they touched if it were only a finger lying
against a finger sweat started. Even when they were sepa-
rated the heat trembled between them. The moonlight lay
on the dressing-table like coolness and lit the bottles of lo-
tion, the little pots of cream, the edge of a photograph
frame. At once he began to listen for Louise's breathing.
It came irregularly in jerks. She was awake. He put his
hand up and touched the hot moist hair: she lay stiffly as
40 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
though she were guarding a secret. Sick at heart, knowing
what he would find, he moved his fingers down until they
touched her lids. She was crying. He felt an enormous
tiredness, bracing himself to comfort her. "Darling," he
said, "I love you/' It was how he always began. Comfort,
like the act of sex, developed a routine.
"I know/' she said, "I know/' It was how she always
answered. He blamed himself for being heartless because
the idea occurred to him that it was two o'clock: this might
go on for hours, and at six the day's work began. He moved
the hair away from her forehead and said, "The rains will
soon be here. You'll feel better then."
"I feel all right/' she said, and began to sob.
"What is it, darling? Tell me." He swallowed. "Tell
Ticki." He hated the name she had given him, but it always
worked. She said, "Oh, Ticki, Ticki. I can't go on."
"I thought you were happy tonight."
"I was but think of being happy because a U.A.C. clerk
was nice to me. Ticki, why won't they like me?"
"Don't be silly, darling. It's just the heat: it makes you
fancy things. They all like you."
"Only Wilson," she repeated with despair and shame,
and began to sob again.
"Wilson's all right."
"They won't have him at the Club. He gate-crashed with
the dentist. They'll be laughing about him and me. Oh,
Ticki, Ticki, please let me go away and begin again."
"Of course, darling," he said, "of course," staring out
through the net and through the window to the quiet flat
infested sea. "Where to?"
"I could go to South Africa and wait until you have
leave. Ticki, you'll be retiring soon. I'll get a home ready
for you, Ticki."
He flinched a little away from her, and then hurriedly
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 41
in case she had noticed lifted her damp hand and kissed
the palm. "It will cost a lot, darling." The thought of re-
tirement set his nerves twitching and straining: he always
prayed that death would come first. He had prepared his
life insurance in that hope: it was payable only on death.
He thought of a home, a permanent home: the gay artistic
curtains, the bookshelves full of Louise's books, a pretty
tiled bathroom, no office anywhere a home for two until
death, no change any more before eternity settled in.
"Ticki, I can't bear it any longer here."
"Ill have to figure it out, darling."
"Ethel Maybury's in South Africa, and the Collinses.
We've got friends in South Africa."
"Prices are high."
"You could drop some of your silly old life insurances,
Ticki. And, Ticki, you could economize here without me.
You could have your meals at the mess and do without the
"He doesn't cost much."
"Every little helps, Ticki."
"I'd miss you," he said.
"No, Ticki, you wouldn't," she said, and surprised him
by the range of her sad spasmodic understanding. "After
all," she said, "there's nobody to save for."
He said gently, "I'll try and work something out. You
know if it's possible I'd do anything for you anything."
"This isn't just two-in-the-morning comfort, Ticki, is it?
You will do something?"
"Yes, dear. I'll manage somehow." He was surprised how
quickly she went to sleep: she was like a tired carrier who
has slipped his load. She was asleep before he had finished
his sentence, clutching one of his fingers like a child,
breathing as easily. The load lay beside him now, and he
prepared to lift it.
EIGHT IN THE MORNING ON HIS WAY TO THE
jetty Scobie called at the bank. The manager's office was
shaded and cool: a glass of iced water stood on top of a safe.
"Good morning, Robinson/'
Robinson was tall and hollow-chested and bitter because
he hadn't been posted to Nigeria. He said, "When will this
filthy weather break? The rains are late."
"They've started in the Protectorate."
"In Nigeria/' Robinson said, "one always knew where
one was. What can I do for you, Scobie?"
"Do you mind if I sit down?"
"Of course. I never sit down before ten myself. Standing
up keeps the digestion in order." He rambled restlessly
across his office on legs like stilts: he took a sip of the iced
water with distaste as though it were medicine. On his
desk Scobie saw a book called Diseases of the Urinary Tract
open at a coloured illustration. "What can I do for you?"
"Give me two hundred and fifty pounds/' Scobie said
with a nervous attempt at jocularity.
"You people always think a bank's made of money,"
Robinson mechanically jested. "How much do you really
"What's your balance at the moment?"
"I think about thirty pounds. It's the end of the month."
"We'd better check up on that." He called a clerk and
while they waited Robinson paced the little room six
paces to the wall and round again. "There and back a
hundred and seventy-six times," he said, "makes a mile.
I try and put in three miles before lunch. It keeps one
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 4g
healthy. In Nigeria I used to walk a mile and a half to
breakfast at the Club, and then a mile and a half back to
the office. Nowhere fit to walk here," he said, pivoting on
the carpet. A clerk laid a slip of paper on the desk. Robin-
son held it close to his eyes as though he wanted to smell
it. "Twenty-eight pounds fifteen and sevenpence," he said.
"I want to send my wife to South Africa."
"Oh, yes. Yes.
"I daresay," Scobie said, "I might do it on a bit less. I
shan't be able to allow her very much on my salary,
"I really don't see how . . ."
"I thought perhaps I could get an overdraft," he said
vaguely. "Lots of people have them, don't they? Do you
know, I believe I only had one once for a few weeks
for about fifteen pounds. I didn't like it. It scared me. I
always felt I owed the bank manager the money."
"The trouble is, Scobie," Robinson said, "we've had
orders to be very strict about overdrafts. It's the war, you
know. There's one valuable security nobody can offer now,
"Yes, I see that, of course. But my life's pretty good, and
I'm not stirring from here. No submarines for me. And
the job's secure, Robinson," he went on with the same in-
effectual attempt at flippancy.
"The Commissioner's retiring, isn't he?" Robinson said,
reaching the safe at the end of the room and turning.
"Yes, but I'm not."
"I'm glad to hear that, Scobie. There've been ru-
mours . . ."
"I suppose I'll have to retire one day, but that's a long
way off. I'd much rather die in my boots. There's always
my life insurance policy, Robinson. What about that for
44 E HEART OF THE MATTER
"You know you dropped one insurance three years ago/'
"That was the year Louise went home for an operation/'
"I don't think the paid-up value of the other two
amounts to much, Scobie."
"Still, they protect you in case of death, don't they?"
"If you go on paying the premiums. We haven't any
guarantee, you know."
"Of course not," Scobie said, "I see that."
"I'm very sorry, Scobie. This isn't personal. It's the
policy of the bank. If you'd wanted fifty pounds, I'd have
lent it you myself."
"Forget it, Robinson," Scobie said. "It's not important."
He gave his embarrassed laugh. "The boys at the Secre-
tariat would say I can always pick it up in bribes. How's
"She's very well, thank you. Wish I were the same."
"You read too- many of those medical books, Robinson."
"A man's got to know what's wrong with him. Going to
be at the Club tonight?"
"I don't think so. Louise is tired. You know how it is
before the rains. Sorry to have kept you, Robinson. I must
be getting along to the wharf."
He walked rapidly downhill from the bank with his
head bent. He felt as though he had been detected in a
mean action he had asked for money and had been re-
fused. Louise had deserved better of him. It seemed to him
that he must have failed in some way in manhood.
Druce had come out himself to the Esperanga with his
squad of F.S.P. men. At the gangway a steward awaited
them with an invitation to join the captain for drinks in
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 45
his cabin. The officer in charge of the naval guard was
already there before them. This was a regular part of the
fortnightly routine the establishment of friendly rela-
tions; by accepting his hospitality they tried to ease down
for the neutral the bitter pill of search; below the bridge
the search party would proceed smoothly without them.
While the first-class passengers had their passports exam-
ined, their cabins would be ransacked by a squad of the
F.S.P. Already others were going through the hold the
dreary hopeless business of sifting rice. What had Yusef
said, "Have you ever found one little diamond? Do you
think you ever will?" In a few minutes, when relations had
become sufficiently smooth after the drinks, Scobie would
have the unpleasant task of searching the captain's own
cabin. The stiff disjointed conversation was carried on
mainly by the naval lieutenant.
The captain wiped his fat yellow face and said, "Of
course for the English I feel in the heart an enormous
"We don't like doing it, you know/' the lieutenant said.
"Hard luck being a neutral/'
"My heart/' the Portuguese captain said, "is full of ad-
miration for your great struggle. There is no room for
resentment. Some of my people feel resentment. Me, none/*
The face streamed with sweat, and the eyeballs were con-
tused. The man kept on speaking of his heart, but it
seemed to Scobie that a long deep surgical operation would
have been required to find it.
"Very good of you," the lieutenant said. "Appreciate
"Another glass of port, gentlemen?"
"Don't mind if I do. Nothing like this on shore, you
know. You, Scobie?"
46 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"1 hope you won't find it necessary to keep us here to-
Scobie said, "I don't think there's any possibility of your
getting away before midday tomorrow."
"Will do our best, of course," the lieutenant said.
"On my honour, gentlemen, my hand upon my heart,
you will find no bad hats among my passengers. And the
crew I know them all."
Druce said, "It's a formality, Captain, which we have to
"Have a cigar, Captain. Throw away that cigarette. Here
is a very special box."
Druce lit the cigar, which began to spark and crackle.
The captain giggled. "Only my joke, gentlemen. Quite"
harmless. I keep the box for my friends. The English have
a wonderful sense of humour. I know you will not be
angry. A German, yes, an Englishman, no. It is quite
"Very funny," Druce said sourly, laying the cigar down
on the ash-tray the captain held out to him. The ash-tray,
presumably set off by the captain's finger, began to play a
little tinkly tune. Druce jerked again: he was overdue for
leave and his nerves were unsteady. The captain smiled
and sweated. "Swiss," he said, "A wonderful people. Neu-
One of the Field Security men came in and gave Druce
a note. He passed it to Scobie, who read, Steward, who is
under notice of dismissal, says the captain has letters con-
cealed in his bathroom.
Druce said, "I think I'd better go and make them hustle
down below. Coming, Evans? Many thanks for the port,
Scobie was left alone with the captain. This was the part
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 47
o the job he always hated: these men were not criminals:
they were merely breaking regulations enforced on the
shipping companies by the navicert system. You never knew
in a search what you would find. A man's bedroom was his
private life: prying in drawers you came on humiliations;
little petty vices were tucked out of sight like a soiled hand-
kerchief; under a pile of linen you might come on a grief
he was trying to forget. Scobie said gently, "I'm afraid,
Captain, I'll have to look around. You know it's a for-
"You must do your duty, Major," the Portuguese said.
Scobie went quickly and neatly through the cabin: he
never moved a thing without replacing it exactly: he was
like a careful housewife. The captain stood with his back
to Scobie looking out onto the bridge: it was as if he
preferred not to embarrass his guest in the odious task.
Scobie came to an end, closing the box of French letters
and putting them carefully back in the top drawer of the
locker with the handkerchiefs, the gaudy ties, and the little
bundle of dirty photographs. "All finished?" the captain
asked politely, turning his head.
"That door," Scobie said, "what would be through
"That is only the bathroom, the w.c."
"I think I'd better take a look."
"Of course, Major, but there is not much cover there
to conceal anything."
"If you don't mind . . ."
"Of course not. It is your duty."
The bathroom was bare and extraordinarily dirty. The
bath was rimmed with dry grey soap, and the tiles slopped
under the feet. The problem was to find the right place
quickly. He couldn't linger here without disclosing the
fact that he had special information. The search had got
48 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
to have all the appearances of formality neither too lax
nor too thorough. "This won't take long/' he said cheerily,
and caught sight of the fat calm face in the shaving mirror.
The information, of course, might be false, given by the
steward simply in order to cause trouble.
Scobie opened the medicine cabinet and went rapidly
through the contents: unscrewing the toothpaste, opening
the razor box, dipping his finger into the shaving cream.
He did not expect to find anything there. But the search
gave him time to think. He went next to the taps, turned
the water on, felt up each funnel with his finger. The floor
engaged his attention: there were no possibilities of con-
cealment there. The porthole: he examined the big screws
and swung the inner mask to and fro. Every time he turned
he caught sight of the captain's face in the mirror, calm,
patient, complacent. It said "Cold, cold" to him all the
while, as in a children's game.
Finally, the lavatory: he lifted up the wooden seat: noth-
ing had been laid between the porcelain and the wood.
He put his hand on the lavatory chain, and in the mirror
became aware for the first time of a tension: the brown
eyes were no longer on his face, they were fixed on some-
thing else, and following that gaze home, he saw his own
hand tighten on the chain.
Is the cistern empty of water? he wondered, and pulled.
Gurgling and pounding in the pipes, the water flushed
down. He turned away and the Portuguese said with a
smugness he was unable to conceal, "You see, Major." And
at that moment Scobie did see. I'm becoming careless, he
thought. He lifted the cap of the cistern. Fixed in the
cap with adhesive tape and clear of the water lay a letter.
He looked at the address a Frau Groener in Friedrich-
strasse, Leipzig. He repeated, "I'm sorry, Captain," and,
because the man didn't answer, he looked up and saw the
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 49
tears beginning to pursue the sweat down the hot fat cheeks.
"I'll have to take it away/' Scobie said, "and report . . ."
"Oh, this war," the captain burst out, "how I hate this
"We've got cause to hate it too, you know/' Scobie gaid.
"A man is ruined because he writes to his daughter/'
"Yes. She is Frau Groener. Open it and read. You will
"I can't do that. I must leave it to the censorship. Why
didn't you wait to write till you got to Lisbon, Captain?"
The man had lowered his bulk onto the edge of the
bath as though it were a heavy sack his shoulders could no
longer bear. He kept on wiping his eyes with the back of
his hand like a child an unattractive child, the fat boy
of the school. Against the beautiful and the clever and the
successful one can wage a pitiless war, but not against
the unattractive: then the millstone weighs on the breast.
Scobie knew he should have taken the letter and gone; he
could do no good with his sympathy.
The captain moaned, "If you had a daughter you'd un-
derstand. You haven't got one/' he accused, as though
there were a crime in sterility.
"She is anxious about me. She loves me," he said, raising
his tear-drenched face as though he must drive the un-
likely statement home. "She loves me" he repeated mourn-
"But why not write from Lisbon?" Scobie asked again.
"Why run this risk?"
"I am alone. I have no wife," the captain said. "One can-
not always wait to speak. And in Lisbon you know how
things go friends, wine. I have a little woman there too
who is jealous even of my daughter. There are rows, the
50 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
time passes. In a week I must be off again. It was always so
easy before this voyage."
Scobie believed him. The story was sufficiently irrational
to be true. Even in war-time one must sometimes exercise
the faculty of belief if it is not to atrophy. He said, "I'm
sorry. There's nothing I can do about it. Perhaps nothing
"Your authorities," the captain said, "will blacklist me.
You know what that means. The consul will not give a
navicert to any ship with me as captain. I shall starve on
"There are so many slips," Scobie said, "in these matters.
Files get mislaid. You may hear no more about it/*
"I shall pray," the man said without hope.
"Why not?" Scobie said.
"You are an Englishman. You wouldn't believe in
"I'm a Catholic, too," Scobie said.
The fat face looked quickly up at him. "A Catholic?"
he exclaimed with hope. For the first time he began to
plead. He was like a man who meets a fellow countryman
in a strange continent. He began to talk rapidly of his
daughter in Leipzig; he produced a battered pocket-book
and a yellowing snapshot of a stout young Portuguese
woman as graceless as himself. The little bathroom was
stiflingly hot and the captain repeated again and again:
"You will understand." He had discovered suddenly how
much they had in common: the plaster statues with the
swords in the bleeding heart: the whisper behind the con-
fessional curtains: the holy coats and the liquefaction of
blood: the dark side chapels and the intricate movements,
and somewhere behind it all the love of God. "And in Lis-
bon," he said, "she will be waiting, she will take me home,
she will take away my trousers so that I cannot go out
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 5!
alone: every day it will be drink and quarrels until we go
to bed. You will understand. I cannot write to my daughter
from Lisbon. She loves me so much and she waits." He
shifted his f$t thigh and said, "The pureness of that love,"
and wept. They had in common all the wide region of re-
pentance and longing.
Their kinship gave the captain courage to try another
angle. He said, "I am a poor man, but I have enough
money to spare . . ." He would never have attempted to
bribe an Englishman: it was the most sincere compliment
he could pay to their common religion.
"I'm sorry/' Scobie said.
"I have English pounds. I will give you twenty English
pounds . . . fifty." He implored. "A hundred . . . that is
all I have saved."
"It can't be done," Scobie said. He put the letter quickly
in his pocket and turned away. The last time he saw the
captain as he looked back from the door of the cabin, he
was beating his head against the cistern, the tears catching
in the folds of his cheeks. As he went down to join Druce
in the saloon he could feel the millstone weighing on his
breast. How I hate this war, he thought, in the very words
the captain had used.
The letter to the daughter in Leipzig, and a small bundle
of correspondence found in the kitchens, was the sole result
of eight hours' search by fifteen men. It could be counted
an average day. When Scobie reached the police station
he looked in to see the Commissioner, but his office was
empty, so he sat down in his own room under the hand-
cuffs and began to write his report. 'A special search was
made of the cabins and effects of the passengers named in
52 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
your telegrams . . . with no result. The letter to the
daughter in Leipzig lay on the desk beside him. Outside
it was dark. The smell of the cells seeped in under the
door, and in the next office Fraser was singing to himself
the same tune he had sung every evening since his last
What will we care for
The why and the wherefore
When you and I
Are pushing up the daisies?
It seemed to Scobie that life was immeasurably long.
Couldn't the test of man have been carried out in fewer
years? Couldn't we have committed our first major sin at
seven, have ruined ourselves for love or hate at ten, have
clutched at redemption on a fifteen-year-old death bed?
He wrote: A steward who had been dismissed for incom*
petence reported that the captain had correspondence con-
cealed in his bathroom., I made a search and found the
enclosed letter addressed to Frau Groener in Leipzig con-
cealed in the lid of the lavatory cistern. An instruction on
this hiding place might well be circulated, as it has not
been encountered before* at this station. The letter was
fixed by tape above the water line. . . .
He sat there staring at the paper, his brain confused
with the conflict that had really been decided hours ago
when Druce said to him in the saloon, "Anything?" and
he had shrugged his shoulders in a gesture he left Druce
to interpret. Had he ever intended it to mean: "The usual
private correspondence we are always finding"? Druce had
taken it for "No." Scobie put his hand against his fore-
head and shivered: the sweat seeped between his fingers,
and he thought: Am I in for a touch of fever? Perhaps it
was because his temperature had risen that it seemed to
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 5J
him he was on the verge of a new life. One felt this way
before a proposal of marriage or a first crime.
Scobie took the letter and opened it. The act was irrevo-
cable, for no one in this city had the right to open clandes-
tine mail. A microphotograph might be concealed in the
gum of an envelope. Even a simple word code would be
beyond him; his knowledge of Portuguese would take him
no further than the most surface meaning. Every letter
found however obviously innocent must be sent to the
London censors unopened. Scobie against the strictest
orders was exercising his own imperfect judgment. He
thought to himself: If the letter is suspicious, I will send
my report. I can explain the torn envelope. The captain
insisted on opening the letter to show me the contents.
But if he wrote that, he would be unjustly blackening the
case against the captain, for what better way could he have
found for destroying a microphotograph? There must be
some lie to be told, Scobie thought, but he was unaccus-
tomed to lies. With the lettei 4 in his hand, held carefully
over the white blotting pad, so that he could detect any-
thing that might fall from between the leaves, he resolved
to tell no lie. If the letter were .suspicious, he would write
a full report on all the circumstances including his own
Dear little money spider, the letter began, your father
who loves you more than anything upon earth will try to
send you a little more money this time. I know how hard
things are for you, and my heart bleeds. Little money spider,
if only I could feel your fingers running across my cheek.
How is it that a great fat father like I am should have so
tiny and beautiful a daughter? Now, little money spider,
I will tell you everything that has happened to me. We left
Lobito a week ago after only four days in port. I stayed
one night with Senor Aranjuez and I drank more wine
54 E HEART OF THE MATTER
than was good for me, but all my talk was of you. I was
good all the time I was in port because I had promised my
little money spider, and I went to Confession and Commu-
nion, so that if any thing should happen to me on the way to
Lisbon for who knows* in these terrible days? I should
not have to live, my eternity away from my little spider.
Since we left Lobito we have had good weather* Even the
passengers are not seasick. Tomorrow night, because Africa
will be at last behind us, we shall have a ship's concert,
and I shall perform on my whistle. All the time I perform
I shall remember the days when my little money spider
sat on my knee and listened. My dear, I am growing old,
and after every voyage I am fatter: I am not a good man,
and sometimes I fear that my soul in all this bulk of flesh
is no larger than a pea. You do not know how easy it is for
a man like me to commit the unforgivable despair. Then
I think of my daughter. There was just enough good in
me once for you to be fashioned. A wife shares too much
of a man's sin for perfect love. But a daughter may save
him at the last. Pray for me, little spider. If our father who
loves you more than life.
Mais que a vida. Scobie felt no doubt at all of the sin-
cerity of this letter. This was not written to conceal a pho-
tograph of the Cape Town defences or a microphotograph
report on troop movements at Durban. It should, he knew,
be tested for secret ink, examined under a microscope, and
the inner lining of the envelope exposed. Nothing should
be left to chance with a clandestine letter. But he had
committed himself to a belief. He tore the letter up, and his
own report with it, and carried the scraps out to the in-
cinerator in the yard a petrol tin standing upon two
bricks with its sides punctured to make a draught. As he
struck a match to light the papers, Fraser joined him in
the yard. What will we care for The why and the where-
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 55
fore? On the top of the scraps lay unmistakably half a
foreign envelope: one could even read part of the address
Friedrichstrasse. He quickly held the match to the up-
permost scrap as Fraser crossed the yard, striding with
unbearable youth. The scrap went up in flame, and in
the heat of the fire another scrap uncurled the name of
Groener. Fraser said cheerfully, " Burning the evidence?"
and looked down into the tin. The name had blackened:
there was nothing there surely that Fraser could see ex-
cept a brown triangle of envelope that seemed to Scobie
obviously foreign. He ground it out of existence with a
stick and looked up at Fraser to see whether he could detect
any surprise or suspicion. There was nothing to be read
in the vacuous face, blank as a school notice-board out of
term. Only his own heart-beats told him he was guilty
that he had joined the ranks of the corrupt police officers
Bailey who had kept a safe deposit in another city, Cray-
shaw who had been found with diamonds, Boyston against
whom nothing had been definitely proved and who had
been invalided out. They had been corrupted by money,
and he had been corrupted by sentiment. Sentiment was
the more dangerous, because you couldn't name its price.
A man open to bribes was to be relied upon below a certain
figure, but sentiment might uncoil in the heart at a name,
a photograph, even a smell remembered.
"What sort of day, sir?" Fraser asked, staring at the small
pile of ash. Perhaps he was thinking that it should have
been his day.
"The usual kind of a day," Scobie said.
"How about the captain?" Fraser asked, looking down
into the petrol tin, beginning to hum again his languid
"The captain?" Scobie said.
"Oh, Druce told me some fellow informed on him."
56 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"Just the usual thing/* Scobie said. "A dismissed steward
with a grudge. Didn't Druce tell you we found nothing?"
"No," Fraser said, "he didn't seem to be sure. Good
night, sir. I must be pushing off to the mess.
"Thimblerigg on duty?"
Scobie watched him go. The back was as vacuous as the
face: one could read nothing there. Scobie thought: What
a fool I have been. What a fool. He owed his duty to
Louise, not to a fat sentimental Portuguese skipper who
had broken the rules of his own company for the sake of a
daughter equally unattractive. That had been the turning-
point, the daughter. And now, Scobie thought, I must
return home: I shall put the car away in the garage, and
Ali will come forward with his torch to light me to the
door. She will be sitting there between two draughts for
coolness, and I shall read on her face the story of what she
has been thinking all day. She will have been hoping that
everything is fixed, that I shall say, "I've put your name
down at the agent's for South Africa," but she'll be afraid
that nothing so good as that will ever happen to us. She'll
wait for me to speak, and I shall try to talk about anything
under the sun to postpone seeing her misery. (It would
be waiting at the corners of her mouth to take possession
of her whole face.) He knew exactly how things would go:
it had happened so often before. He rehearsed every word,
going back into his office, locking his desk, going down to
his car. People talk about the courage of condemned men
walking to the place of execution: sometimes it needs as
much courage to walk with any kind of bearing towards
another person's habitual misery. He forgot Fraser: he for-
got everything but the scene ahead: I shall go in and I'll
say, "Good evening, sweetheart," and she'll say, "Good eve-
ning, darling. What kind of a day?" and I'll talk and talk,
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 57
but all the time I shall know I'm coming nearer to the
moment when I shall say, "What about you, darling?" and
let the misery in.
"What about you, darling?" He turned quickly away
from her and began to fix two more pink gins. There was
a tacit understanding between them that "liquor helped":
growing more miserable with every glass, one hoped for
the moment of relief.
"You don't really want to know about me! 9
"Of course I do, darling. What sort of a day have you
"Ticki, why are you such a coward? Why don't you tell
me it's all off?"
"You know what I mean the passage. You've been talk-
ing and talking since you came in about the Esperanga.
There's a Portuguese ship in once a fortnight. You don't
talk that way every time. I'm not a child, Ticki. Why don't
you say straight out .'you can't go'?"
He grinned miserably at his glass, twisting it round and
round to let the angostura cling along the curve. He said,
"That wouldn't be true. I'll find some way." Reluctantly
he had recourse to the hated nickname. If that failed, the
misery would deepen and go right on through the short
night he needed for sleep. "Trust Ticki," he said. It was
as if a ligament tightened in his brain with the suspense.
If only I could postpone the misery, he thought, until
daylight. Misery is worse in the darkness: there's nothing
to look at except the green black-out curtains, the Gov-
ernment furniture, the flying ants scattering their wings
over the table: a hundred yards away the Creoles' pye-dogs
58 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
yapped and wailed. "Look at that little beggar," he said,
pointing at the house lizard that always came out upon the
wall about this time to hunt for moths and cockroaches. He
said, "We only got the idea last night. These things take
time to fix. Ways and means, ways and means," he said
with strained humour.
"Have you been to the bank?"
"Yes," he admitted.
"And you couldn't get the money?"
"No, They couldn't manage it. Have another pink gin,
She held the glass out to him, crying dumbly: her face
reddened when she cried she looked ten years older, a
middle-aged and abandoned woman it was like the ter-
rible breath of the future on his cheek. He went down on
one knee beside her and held the pink gin to her lips as
though it were medicine. "My dear," he said, "I'll find a
way. Have a drink."
"Ticki, I can't bear this place any longer. I know I've
said it before, but I mean it this time. I shall go mad. Ticki,
I'm so lonely. I haven't a friend, Ticki."
"Let's have Wilson up tomorrow."
"Ticki, for God's sake don't always mention Wilson.
Please, please do something."
"Of course I will. Just be patient a while, dear. These
things take time."
"What will you do, Ticki?"
"I'm full of ideas, darling," he said wearily. (What a day
it had been.) "Just let them simmer for a little while."
"Tell me one idea. Just one."
His eyes followed the lizard as it pounced: then he
picked an ant wing out of his gin and drank again. He
thought to himself: what a fool I really was not to take
the hundred pounds, I destroyed the letter for nothing. I
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 59
took the risk. I might just as well . . . Louise said, "I've
known it for years. You don't love me." She spoke
with calmness: he knew that calmness it meant they had
reached the quiet centre of the storm: always in this region
at about this time they began to speak the truth at each
other. The truth, he thought, has never been of any real
value to any human being it is a symbol for mathemati-
cians and philosophers to pursue. In human relations kind-
ness and lies are worth a thousand truths. He involved
himself in what he always knew was a vain struggle to
retain the lies. "Don't be absurd, darling. Who do you
think I love if I don't love you?"
"You don't love anybody."
"Is that why I treat you so badly?" He tried to hit a
light note, and it sounded hollowly back at him.
"That's your conscience," she said sadly, "your sense of
duty. You've never loved anyone since Catherine died/'
"Except myself, of course. You always say I love myself."
"No, I don't think you do."
He defended himself by evasions: in this cyclonic centre
he was powerless to give the comforting lie. "I try all the
time to keep you happy. I work hard for that"
"Ticki, you won't even say you love me. Go on. Say it
He eyed her bitterly over the pink gin, the visible sign
of his failure: the skin a little yellow with atabrine, the
eyes bloodshot with tears. No man could guarantee love
for ever, but he had sworn fourteen years ago, at Ealing,
silently, during the horrible little elegant ceremony among
the lace and candles, that he would at least always see to
it that she was happy.
"Ticki, I've got nothing except you, and you've got
The lizard flicked across the wall and came to rest again,
6O THE HEART OF THE MATTER
the wing of a moth in his small crocodile jaws. The ants
struck tiny muffled blows at the electric globe.
"And yet you want to go away from me," he said accus-
"Yes," she said, "I know you aren't happy either. With-
out me you'll have peace."
This was what he always left out of account the accuracy
of her observation. He had nearly everything, and all he
needed was peace. Everything meant work, the daily regu-
lar routine in the little bare office, the change of seasons
in a place he loved. How often he had been pitied for the
austerity of the work, the bareness of the rewards. But
Louise knew him better than that. If he had become young
again this was the life he would have again chosen to live:
only this time he would not have expected any other per-
son to share it with him, the rat upon the bath, the lizard
on the wall, the tornado blowing open the windows at one
in the morning, and the last pink light upon the laterite
roads at sundown.
"You are talking nonsense, dear," he said and went
through the doomed motions of mixing another gin and
bitters. Again the nerve in his head tightened: unhappi-
ness had uncoiled with its inevitable routine first her
misery and his strained attempts to leave everything un-
said: then her own calm statement of truths much better
lied about, and finally the snapping of his own control
truths flung back at her as though she were his enemy.
As he embarked on this last stage, crying suddenly and
truthfully out at her while the angostura trembled in his
hand, "You can't give me peace," he already knew what
would succeed it, the reconciliation and the easy lies again
until the next scene.
"That's what I say," she said. "If I go away, you'll have
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 6l
"You haven't any conception/' he accused her angrily,
"of what peace means." It was as if she had spoken slight-
ingly of a woman he loved. For he dreamed of peace by
day and night. Once in sleep it had appeared to him as the
great glowing shoulder of the moon heaving across his
window like an iceberg, arctic and destructive in the mo-
ment before the world was struck: by day he tried to win
a few moments of its company, crouched under the rusting
handcuffs in the locked office, reading the reports from the
sub-stations. Peace seemed to him the most beautiful word
in the language: My peace I give you, my peace I leave with
you: O Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the
world, grant us thy peace. In the Mass he pressed his fingers
against his eyes to keep the tears of longing in.
Louise said with the old tenderness, "Poor dear, you
wish I were dead like Catherine. You want to be alone."
He replied obstinately, "I want you to be happy."
She said wearily, "Just tell me you love me. That helps
a little." They were through again, on the other side of the
scene: he thought coolly and collectedly, this one wasn't so
bad: we shall be able to sleep tonight. He said, "Of course
I love you, darling. And 111 fix that passage. You'll see."
He would still have made the promise even if he could
have foreseen all that would come of it. He had always been
prepared to accept the responsibility for his actions, and
he had always been half aware too, from the time he made
his terrible private vow that she should be happy, how far
this action might carry him. Despair is the price one pays
for setting oneself an impossible aim. It is, one is told,
the unforgivable sin, but it is a sin the corrupt or evil man
never practises. He always has hope. He never reaches the
freezing point of knowing absolute failure. Only the man
of good will carries always in his heart this capacity for
WILSON STOOD GLOOMILY BY HIS BED IN THE
Bedford Hotel and contemplated his cummerbund, which
lay uncoiled and ruffled like an angry snake; the small hotel
room was hot with the conflict between them. Through the
wall he could hear Harris cleaning his teeth for the fifth
time that day. Harris believed in dental hygiene. 'It's
cleaning my teeth before and after every meal that's kept
me well in this bloody climate/' he would say, raising his
pale exhausted face over an orange squash. Now he was
gargling: it sounded like a noise in the pipes.
Wilson sat down on the edge of his bed and rested. He
had left his door open for coolness and across the passage he
could see into the bathroom. The Indian with the turban
was sitting on the side of the bath fully dressed: he stared
inscrutably back at Wilson and bowed. "Just a moment,
sir," he called. "If you would care to step in here . . ."
Wilson angrily shut the door. Then he had another try
with the cummerbund.
He had once seen a film was it Bengal Lancer? in
which the cummerbund was superbly disciplined. A tur-
baned native held the coil and an immaculate officer
spun like a top, so that the cummerbund encircled him
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 63
smoothly, tightly. Another servant stood by with iced
drinks, and a punkah swayed in the background. Appar-
ently these things were better managed in India. However,
with one more effort Wilson did get the wretched thing
wrapped around him. It was too tight and it was badly
creased, and the tuck-in came too near the front, so that it
was not hidden by the jacket. He contemplated his image
with melancholy in what was left of the mirror. Somebody
tapped on the door.
"Who is it?" Wilson shouted, imagining for a moment
that the Indian had had the cool impertinence to pursue
. . . but when the door opened, it was only Harris: the
Indian was still sitting on the bath across the passage
shuffling his testimonials.
"Going out, old man?" Harris asked with disappointment.
"Everybody seems to be going out this evening. I shall
have the table all to myself." He added with gloom, "It's
the curry evening too."
"So it is. I'm sorry to miss it."
"You haven't been having it for two years, old man,
every Thursday night." He looked at the cummerbund.
"That's not right, old man."
"I know it isn't. It's the best I can do."
"I never wear one. It stands to reason that it's bad for the
stomach. They tell you it absorbs sweat, but that's not
where I sweat, old man. I'd rather wear braces, only the
elastic perishes, so a leather belt's good enough for me.
I'm no snob. Where are you dining, old man?"
"How did you meet him?"
"He came in to the office yesterday to pay his account
and asked me to dinner."
64 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"You don't have to dress for a Syrian, old man. Take it
all off again/'
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I am. It wouldn't do at all. Quite wrong/' He
added, "You'll get a good dinner, but be careful of the
sweets. The price of life is eternal vigilance. I wonder what
he wants out of you." Wilson began to undress again while
Harris talked. He was a good listener. His brain was like
a sieve through which the rubbish fell all day long. Sitting
on the bed in his pants he heard Harris "You have to be
careful of the fish: I never touch it" but the words left
no impression. Drawing up his white drill trousers over
his hairless knees he said to himself:
the poor sprite is
Imprisoned for some fault of his
In a body like a grave.
His belly rumbled and tumbled as it always did a little be-
fore the hour of dinner.
From you he only dares to crave,
For his service and his sorrow,
A smile today, a song tomorrow.
Wilson stared into the mirror and passed his fingers over
the smooth, too smooth skin. The face looked back at him,
pink and healthy, plump and hopeless. Harris went happily
on, "I said once to Scobie," and immediately the clot of
words lodged in Wilson's sieve. He pondered aloud, "I
wonder how he ever came to marry her."
"It's what we all wonder, old man. Scobie's not a bad
"Louise?" Harris exclaimed.
"Of course. Who else?"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 65
"There's no accounting for tastes. Go in and win, old
"I must be off."
"Be careful of the sweets." Harris went on with a small
spurt of energy, "God knows I wouldn't mind something
to be careful of instead of Thursday's curry. It is Thursday,
They came out into the passage and into the focus of
the Indian eyes. "You'll have to be done sooner or later,
old man," Harris said. "He does everybody once. You'll
never have peace till he does you."
"I don't believe in fortune-telling," Wilson lied.
"Nor do I, but he's pretty good. He did me the first week
I was here. Told me I'd stay here for more than two and
a half years. I thought then I was going to have leave after
eighteen months. I know better now."
The Indian watched triumphantly from the bath. He
said, "I have a letter from the Director of Agriculture.
And one from D. C. Parkes."
"All right," Wilson said. "Do me, but be quick about
"I'd better push off, old man, before the revelations
"I'm not afraid," Wilson said,
"Will you sit on the bath, sir?" the Indian invited him
courteously. He took Wilson's hand in his. "It is a very
interesting hand, sir," he said unconvincingly, weighing
it up and down.
"What are your charges?"
"According to rank, sir. One like yourself, sir, I should
charge ten shillings."
"That's a bit steep."
"Junior officers are five shillings."
66 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"I'm in the five-shilling class/' Wilson said,
"Oh, no, sir. The Director o Agriculture gave me a
"I'm only an accountant."
"That's as you say, sir. A.D.C. and Major Scobie gave me
"Oh, well," Wilson said. "Here's ten bob. Go ahead."
"You have been here one, two weeks," the Indian said.
"You are sometimes at night an impatient man. You think
you do not make enough progress."
"Who with?" Harris asked, lolling in the doorway.
"You are very ambitious. You are a dreamer. You read
Harris giggled and Wilson, raising his eyes from the
finger which traced the lines upon his palm, watched the
fortune-teller with apprehension.
The Indian went inflexibly on. His turban was bowed
under Wilson's nose and bore the smell of stale food he
probably secreted stray pieces from the larder in its folds.
He said, "You are a secret man. You do not tell your
friends about your poetry except one. One," he repeated.
"You are very shy. You should take courage. You have a
great line of success."
"Go in and win, old man," Harris repeated.
Of course the whole thing was Couism: if one believed
in it enough, it would come true. Diffidence would be con-
quered. The mistake in a reading would be covered up.
"You haven't told me ten bobs' worth," Wilson said.
"This is a five-bob fortune. Tell me something definite,
something that's going to happen." He shifted his seat un-
comfortably on the sharp edge of the bath and watched a
cockroach like a large blood-blister flattened on the wall.
The Indian bent forward over the two hands. He said, "I
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 67
see great success. The Government will be very pleased
Harris said, "II pense that you are un bureaucrat."
"Why will the Government be pleased with me?" Wilson
"You will capture your man."
"Why," Harris said, "I believe he thinks you are a new
"It looks like it," Wilson said. "Not much use wasting
any more time."
"And your private life, that will be a great success too.
You will win the lady of your heart. You will sail away.
Everything is going to be fine. For you," he added.
"A real ten-bob fortune."
"Good night, old fellow," Wilson said. "I won't write
you a recommendation on that," He got up from the bath,
and the cockroach flashed into hiding. "I can't bear those
things," Wilson said, sidling through the door. He turned
in the passage and repeated, "Good night"
"I couldn't when I first came, old man. But I evolved a
system. Just step into my room and I'll show you."
"I ought to be off."
"Nobody will be punctual at Tallit's." Harris opened
his door and Wilson turned his eyes with a kind of shame
from the first sight of its disorder. In his own room he
would never have exposed himself quite like this the
dirty tooth-glass, the towel on the bed.
"Look here, old man."
With relief he fixed his eyes on some symbols pencilled
on the wall inside: the letter H, and under it a row of
figures lined against dates as in a cash-book. Then the
letters D.D. and under them more figures. "It's my score
in cockroaches, old man. Yesterday was an average day
68 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
four. My record's nine. It makes you welcome the little
"What does D.D. stand for?"
"Down the drain, old man. That's when I knock them
into the wash-basin and they go down the waste-pipe. It
wouldn't be fair to count them as dead, would it?"
"And it wouldn't do to cheat yourself either. You'd lose
interest at once. The only thing is, it gets dull sometimes,
playing against yourself. Why shouldn't we make a match
of it, old man? It needs skill, you know. They positively
hear you coming, and they move like greased lightning. I
do a stalk every evening with a torch."
"I wouldn't mind having a try, but I've got to be off
"I tell you what I won't start hunting till you come
back from Tallit's. We'll have five minutes before bed. Just
"If you like."
'Til come down with you, old man* I can smell the curry.
You know I could have laughed when the old fool mixed
you up with the new police officer."
"He got most of it wrong, didn't he?" Wilson said. "I
mean the poetry,"
Tallit's living-room, to Wilson, seeing it for the first
time, had the appearance of a country dance-hall. The
furniture all lined the walls: hard chairs with tall uncom-
fortable backs, and in the corners the chaperons sitting out:
old women in black silk dresses, yards and yards of silk,
and a very old man in a smoking-cap. They watched him
intently in complete silence, and evading their gaze he saw
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 69
only bare walls except that at each corner sentimental
French postcards were nailed up in a montage of ribbons
and bows; young men smelling mauve flowers, a glossy
cherry shoulder, an impassioned kiss.
Wilson found there was only one other guest besides
himself: Father Rank, a Catholic priest, wearing his long
soutane. They sat in opposite corners of the room among
the chaperons, who Father Rank explained were Tallit's
grandparents and parents, two uncles, what might have
been a great-great aunt, a cousin. Somewhere out of sight
Tallit's wife was preparing little dishes, which were handed
to the two guests by his younger brother and his sister.
None of them spoke English except Tallit, and Wilson
was embarrassed by the way Father Rank discussed his
host and his host's family resoundingly across the room.
"Thank you, no/' Father Rank would say, declining a
sweet by shaking his grey tousled head. "I'd advise you to
be careful of those, Mr. Wilson. Tallit's a good fellow, but
he won't learn what a Western stomach will take. These
old people have stomachs like ostriches."
"This is very interesting to me," Wilson said, catching
the eye of a grandmother across the room and nodding and
smiling at her. The grandmother obviously thought he
wanted more sweets, and called angrily out for her grand-
daughter. "No, no," Wilson said vainly, shaking his head
and smiling at the centenarian. The centenarian lifted her
lip from a toothless gum and signalled with ferocity to
Tallit's younger brother, who hurried forward with yet
another dish. "That's quite safe," Father Rank shouted.
"Just sugar and glycerine and a little flour." All the time
their glasses were charged and recharged with whisky.
"\Vish you'd confess to me where you get this whisky
from, Tallit," Father Rank called out with the roguery of
an old elephant, and Tallit beamed and slid agilely from
>JO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
end to end of the room, a word to Wilson, a word to Father
Rank. He reminded Wilson of a young ballet dancer in his
white trousers, his plaster of black hair, and his grey
polished alien face, one glass eye like a puppet's.
"So the Esperanfa's gone out/' Father Rank shouted
across the room. "Did they find anything, do you think?"
"There was a rumour in the office/' Wilson said, "about
"Diamonds, my eye/' Father Rank said. "They'll never
find any diamonds. They don't know where to look, do
they, Tallit?" He explained to Wilson. "Diamonds are a
sore subject with Tallit. He was taken in by the false ones
last year. Yusef humbugged you, eh, Tallit, you young
rogue? Not so smart, eh? You, a Catholic, humbugged by
a Mahometan. I could have wrung your neck."
"It was a bad thing to do," Tallit said, standing midway
between Wilson and the priest.
"I've only been here a few weeks," Wilson said, "and
every one talks to me about Yusef. They say he passes false
diamonds, smuggles real ones, sells bad liquor, hoards
cottons against a French invasion, seduces the nursing
sisters from the military hospital."
"He's a dirty dog," Father Rank said, with a kind of
relish. "Not that you can believe a single thing you hear
in this place. Otherwise everybody would be living with
someone else's wife, every police officer who wasn't in
Yusef's pay would be bribed by Tallit here."
Tallit said, "Yusef is a very bad man."
"Why don't the authorities run him in?"
"I've been here for twenty-two years," Father Rank said,
"and I've never known anything proved against a Syrian
yet. Oh, often I've seen the police as pleased as Pijnch,
carrying their happy morning faces around, just going to
THE HEART OF THE MATTER ^1
pounce and I think to myself, why bother to ask them
what it's about? they'll just pounce on air."
"You ought to have been a policeman, Father."
"Ah," Father Rank said, "who knows? There are more
policemen in this town than meet the eye or so they say."
"Careful of those sweets," Father Rank said, "they are
harmless in moderation, but you've taken four already.
Look here, Tallit, Mr. Wilson looks hungry. Can't you
bring on the bakemeats?"
"The feast," Father Rank said. His joviality filled the
room with hollow sound. For twenty-two years that voice
had been laughing, joking, urging people humorously on
through the rainy and the dry months. Could its cheeriness
ever have comforted a single soul? Wilson wondered: had
it comforted even itself? It was like the noise one heard
rebounding from the tiles in a public bath: the laughs
and the splashes of strangers in the steam-heating.
"Of course, Father Rank. Immediately, Father Rank."
Father Rank without being invited rose from his chair and
sat himself down at a table which like the chairs hugged
the wall. There were only a few places laid and Wilson
hesitated. "Come on. Sit down, Mr. Wilson. Only the old
folks will be eating with us and Tallit of course."
"You were saying something about a rumour?" Wilson
"My head is a hive of rumours/' Father Rank said, mak-
ing a humorous hopeless gesture. "If a man tells me any-
thing I assume he wants me to pass it on. It's a useful func-
tion, you know, at a time like this, when everything is an
official secret, to remind people that their tongues were
made to talk with and that the truth is meant to be spoken
72 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
about. Look at Tallit now/' Father Rank went on. Tallit
was raising the corner of his black-out curtain and gazing
into the dark street "How's Yusef, you young rogue?" he
asked. " Yusef 's got a big house across the street and Tallit
wants it, don't you, Tallit? What about dinner, Tallit?
"It is here, Father, it is here," he said, coming away
from the window. He sat down silently beside the centenar-
ian, and his sister served the dishes. "You always get a good
meal in Tallit's house," Father Rank said.
"Yusef too is entertaining tonight."
"It doesn't do for a priest to be choosy," Father Rank
said, "but I find your dinner more digestible." His hollow
laugh swung through the room.
"Is it as bad as all that, being seen at Yusef's?"
"It is, Mr. Wilson. If I saw you there, I'd say to myself,
'Yusef wants some information badly about cottons what
the imports are going to be next month, say what's on the
way by sea and hell pay for his information/ If I saw a
girl go in, I'd think it was a pity, a great pity." He took a
stab at his plate and laughed again. "But if Tallit went in,
I'd wait to hear the screams for help/'
"If you saw a police officer?" Tallit asked.
"I wouldn't believe my eyes," the priest said. "None of
them are such fools after what happened to Bailey."
"The other night a police car brought Yusef home,"
Tallit said. "I saw it from here plainly."
"One of the drivers earning a bit on the side," Father
"I thought I saw Major Scobie. He was careful not to
get out. Of course I am not perfectly sure. It looked like
"My tongue runs away with me/' the priest said. "What
a garrulous fool I am. Why, if it was Scobie, I wouldn't
THE HEART OF THE MATTER fg
think twice about it." His eyes roamed the room. "Not
twice," he said. "I'd lay next Sunday's collection that every-
thing was all right, absolutely all right/' and he swung his
great empty-sounding bell to and fro, Ho, ho, ho, like a
leper proclaiming his misery.
The light was still on in Harris's room when Wilson re-
turned to the hotel. He was tired and worried and he tried
to tiptoe by, but Harris heard him. "I've been* listening
for you, old man," he said, waving an electric torch. He
wore his mosquito boots outside his pyjamas and looked
like a harassed air-raid warden*
"It's late. I thought you'd be asleep."
"I couldn't sleep until we'd had our hunt. The idea's
grown on me, old man. We might have a monthly prize.
I can see the time coming when other people will want to
Wilson said with irony, "There might be a silver cup."
"Stranger things have happened, old man. The Cock-
He led the way, walking softly on the boards, to the
middle of his room: the iron bed stood under its greying
net, the arm-chair with collapsible back, the dressing-
table littered with old Picture Posts. It shocked Wilson
once again to realize that a room could be a degree more
cheerless than his own.
"We'll draw our rooms alternate nights, old man."
"What weapon shall I use?"
"You can borrow one of my slippers." A board squeaked
under Wilson's feet and Harris turned warningly. "They
have ears like rats," he said.
"I'm a bit tired. Don't you think that tonight . . ?"
74 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"Just five minutes, old man. I couldn't sleep without a
hunt. Look, there's one over the dressing-table. You can
have first shot," but as the shadow of the slipper fell upon
the plaster wall the insect shot away.
"No use doing it like that, old man. Watch me." Harris
stalked his prey: the cockroach was halfway up the wall,
and Harris, as he moved on tiptoe across the creaking floor,
began to weave the light of his torch backwards and for-
wards over the cockroach. Then suddenly he struck, and
left a smear of blood. "One up," he said. "You have to
To and fro across the room they padded, weaving their
lights, smashing down their shoes, occasionally losing their
heads and pursuing wildly into corners: the lust of the
hunt touched Wilson's imagination. At first their manner
to each other was "sporting": they would call out, "Good
shot," or "Hard luck," but once they met together against
the wainscot over the same cockroach when the score was
even, and their tempers became frayed.
"No point in going after the same bird, old man," Har-
"I started him."
"You lost your one, old man. This was mine/'
"It was the same. He did a double turn."
"Anyway, there's no reason why I shouldn't go for the
same one. You drove it towards me. Bad play on your part."
"Not allowed in the rules," Harris said shortly.
"Perhaps not in your rules."
"Damn it all," Harris said, "I invented the game."
A cockroach sat upon the brown cake of soap in the wash-
basin. Wilson spied it and took a long shot with the shoe
from six feet away. The shoe landed smartly on the soap
and the cockroach span into the basin: Harris turned on
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 75
the tap and washed it down. "Good shot, old man," he said
placatingly. "One D.D."
"D.D. be damned/' Wilson said. "It was dead when you
turned on the tap/'
"You couldn't be sure of that. It might have been just
unconscious concussion. It's D.D. according to the rules."
"Your rules again."
"My rules are the Queensberry rules in this town."
"They won't be for long," Wilson threatened. He
slammed the door hard behind him and the walls of his
own room vibrated round him from the shock. His heart
beat with rage and the hot night: the sweat drained from
his arm-pits. But as he stood there beside his own bed, see-
ing the replica of Harris's room around him, the wash-
basin, the table, the grey mosquito net, even the cockroach
fastened on the wall, anger trickled out of him and lone-
liness took its place. It was like quarrelling with one's own
image in the glass. "I was crazy," he thought. "What made
me fly out like that? I've lost a friend."
That night it took him a long while to sleep, and when
he slept at last he dreamed that he had committed a crime,
so that he woke with the sense of guilt still heavy upon
him: on his way down to breakfast he paused outside Har-
ris's door. There was no sound. He knocked, but there
was no answer. He opened the door a little way and saw
obscurely through the grey net Harris's damp bed. He
asked softly, "Are you awake?"
"What is it, old man?"
"I'm sorry, Harris, about last night."
"My fault, old man. I've got a touch of fever. I was
sickening for it. Touchy."
"No, it's my fault. You are quite right. It was D.D."
"We'll toss up for it, old man."
"I'll come in tonight."
76 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
But after breakfast something took his mind right away
from Harris. He had been in to the Commissioner's office
on his way downtown and coming out he ran into Scobie.
"Hallo," Scobie said, "what are you doing here?"
"Been in to see the Commissioner about a pass. There
are so many passes one has to have in this town, sir. I
wanted one for the wharf."
"When are you going to call on us again, Wilson?"
"You don't want to be bothered with strangers, sir."
"Nonsense. Louise would like another chat about books.
I don't read them myself, you know, Wilson."
"I don't suppose you have much time."
"Oh, there's an awful lot of time around," Scobie said,
"in a country like this. I just don't have a taste for read-
ing, that's all. Come in to my office a moment while I ring
up Louise. She'll be glad to see you. Wish you'd call in
and take her for a walk. She doesn't get enough exercise."
"I'd love to," Wilson said, and blushed hurriedly in the
shadows. He looked around him: this was Scobie's office.
He examined it as a general might examine a battle-
ground, and yet it was difficult to regard Scobie as an en-
emy. The rusty handcuffs jangled on the wall as Scobie
leant back from his desk and dialed.
"Free this evening?"
He brought his mind sharply back, aware that Scobie
was watching him: the slightly protruding, slightly red-
dened eyes dwelt on him with a kind of speculation. "I
wonder why you came out here," Scobie said. "You aren't
"One drifts into things," Wilson lied.
"I don't," Scobie said, "I've always been a planner. You
see, I even plan for other people." He began to talk into
the telephone. His intonation changed: it was as if he were
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 77
reading a part a part which called for tenderness and pa-
tience, a part which had been read so often that the eyes
were blank above the mouth. Putting down the receiver
he said, "That's fine. That's settled, then."
"It seems a very good plan to me," Wilson said.
"My plans always start out well," Scobie said. "You two
go for a walk and when you get back I'll have a drink
ready for you. Stay to dinner/' he went on, with a hint of
anxiety. "We'll be glad of your company."
When Wilson had gone, Scobie went in to the Com-
missioner. He said, "I was just coming along to see you,
sir, when I ran into Wilson."
"Oh, yes, Wilson," the Commissioner said. "He came in
to have a word with me about one of their lightermen."
"I see." The shutters were down in the office to cut out
the morning sun. A sergeant passed through carrying with
him as well as his file a breath of the zoo behind. The day
was heavy with unshed rain: already at eight-thirty in the
morning the body ran with sweat. Scobie said, "He told me
he'd come about a pass."
"Oh, yes," the Commissioner said. "That too." He put
a piece of blotting paper under his wrist to absorb the
sweat as he wrote. "Yes, there was something about a pass
JLJL WHEN LOUISE AND WILSON CROSSED THE
river again and came into Burnside it was quite dark.
The head-lamps of a police van lit an open door, and fig-
ures moved to and fro carrying packages. " What's up now?"
Louise exclaimed, and began to run down the road. Wilson
panted after her. Ali came from the house carrying on his
head a tin bath, a folding chair, and a bundle tied up in
an old towel. "What on earth's happened, Ali?"
"Massa go on trek/' he said, and grinned happily in the
In the sitting-room Scobie sat with a drink in his hand.
"I'm glad you are back," he said. "I thought I'd have to
write a note," and Wilson saw that in fact he had already
begun one. He had torn a leaf out of his notebook, and his
large awkward writing covered a couple of lines.
"What on earth's happening, Henry?"
"I've got to get off to Bamba."
"Can't you wait for the train on Thursday?"
"Can I come with you?"
"Not this time. I'm sorry, dear. I'll have to take Ali and
leave you the small boy."
"There's trouble over young Pemberton."
"He's such a fool. It was madness to leave him there as
Scobie drank his whisky and said, "I'm sorry, Wilson.
Help yourself. Get a bottle of soda out of the ice-box. The
boys are busy packing/'
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 79
"How long will you be, darling?"
"Oh, I'll be back the day after tomorrow, with any luck.
Why don't you go and stay with Mrs. Halifax?"
"I shall be all right here, darling."
"I'd take the small boy and leave you Ali> but the small
boy can't cook."
"You'll be happier with Ali, dear. It will be like the old
days before I came out."
"I think I'll be off, sir," Wilson said. "I'm sorry I kept
Mrs. Scobie out so late."
"Oh, I didn't worry, Wilson. Father Rank came by and
told me you were sheltering in the old station. Very sen-
sible of you. He got a drenching. He should have stayed
too he doesn't want a dose of fever at his age."
"Can I fill your glass, sir? Then I'll be off."
"Henry never takes more than one."
"All the same, I think I will. But don't go, Wilson. Stay
and keep Louise company for a bit. I've got to be off after
this glass. I shan't get any sleep tonight."
"Why can't one of the young men go? You're too old,
Ticki, for this. Driving all night. Why don't you send
"The Commissioner asked me to go. It's just one of
those cases carefulness, tact, you can't let a young man
handle it." He took another drink of whisky and his eyes
moved gloomily away as Wilson watched him. "I must be
"I'll never forgive Pemberton for this."
Scobie said sharply, "Don't talk nonsense, dear. We'd
forgive most things if we knew the facts." He smiled un-
willingly at Wilson. "A policeman should be the most for-
giving person in the world if he gets the facts right."
"I wish I could be of help, sir."
"You can. Stay and have a few more drinks with Louise
8O THE HEART OF THE MATTER
and cheer her up. She doesn't often get a chance to talk
about books/' At the word books Wilson saw her mouth
tighten just as a moment ago he had seen Scobie flinch at
the name of Ticki, and for the first time he realized the
pain inevitable in any human relationship pain suffered
and pain inflicted. How foolish we were to be afraid of
"Look after Wilson. See he has enough to drink. Don't
When she kissed Scobie, Wilson stood near the door with
a glass in his hand and remembered the disused station on
the hill above and the taste of lipstick. For exactly an hour
and a half the mark of his mouth had been the last on hers.
He felt no jealousy, only the dreariness of a man who tries
to write an important letter on a damp sheet and finds the
Side by side they watched Scobie cross the road to the
police van. He had taken more whisky than he was ac-
customed to, and perhaps that was what made him stumble.
"They should have sent a younger man," Wilson said.
"They never do. He's the only one the Commissioner
trusts." They watched him climb laboriously in, and she
went sadly on, "Isn't he the typical second man? The man
who always does the work."
The black policeman at the wheel started his engine and
began to grind into gear before releasing the clutch. "They
don't even give him a good driver," she said. "The good
driver will have taken Fraser and the rest to the dance at
Cape Station." The van bumped and heaved out of the
yard. Louise said, "Well, that's that, Wilson."
She picked up the note Scobie had intended to leave for
her and read it aloud. My dear, I have had to leave for
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 8l
Bamba. Keep this to yourself. A terrible thing has hap-
pened. Poor Pemberton . . .
"Poor Pemberton," she repeated furiously.
"A little puppy of twenty-five. All spots and bounce. He
was Assistant D.C at Bamba, but when Butterworth went
sick they left him in charge. Anybody could have told them
there'd be trouble. And when trouble comes it's Henry, of
course, who has to drive all night. . . ."
"I'd better leave now, hadn't I?" Wilson said. "You'll
want to change."
"Oh, yes, you'd better go before everybody knows he's
gone and that we've been alone five minutes in a house
with a bed in it. Alone, of course, except for the small boy
and the cook and their relations and friends."
"I wish I could be of some use."
"You could be," she said. "Would you go upstairs and
see whether there's a rat in the bedroom? I don't want the
small boy to know I'm nervous. And shut the window.
They come in that way."
"It will be very hot for you."
"I don't mind."
He stood just inside the door and clapped his hands
softly, but no rat moved. Then quickly, surreptitiously, as
though he had no right to be there, he crossed to the win-
dow and closed it. There was a faint smell of face powder
in the room it seemed to him the most memorable scent
he had ever known. He stood again by the door taking the
whole room in the child's photograph, the pots of cream,
the dress laid out by AH for the evening. He had been in-
structed at home how to memorize, pick out the important
detail, collect the right evidence, but his employers had
never taught him that he would find himself in a country
so strange to him as this.
A HE POLICE VAN TOOK ITS PLACE IN THE LONG
line of army lorries waiting for the ferry: their head-
lamps were like a little village in the night: the trees
came down on either side smelling of heat and rain: and
somewhere at the end of the column a driver sang the
wailing, toneless voice rose and fell like a wind through a
keyhole. Scobie slept and woke, slept and woke. When he
woke he thought of Pemberton and wondered how he
would feel if he were his father that elderly, retired bank
manager whose wife had died in giving birth to Pember-
ton but when he slept he went smoothly back into a
dream of perfect happiness and freedom. He was walking
through a wide cool meadow with Ali at his heels: there
was nobody else anywhere in his dream, and Ali never
spoke. Birds went by far overhead, and once when he sat
down the grass was parted by a small green snake which
passed onto his hand and up his arm without fear and be-
fore it slid down into the grass again touched his cheek
with a cold friendly remote tongue.
Once when he opened his eyes Ali was standing beside
him waiting for him to awake. "Massa like bed/' he stated
gently, firmly, pointing to the camp bed he had made up
at the edge of the path with the mosquito net tied from
IHE HEART OF THE MATTER 83
the branches overhead. "Two three hours," All said.
"Plenty lorries." Scobie obeyed and lay down and was im-
mediately back in that peaceful meadow where nothing
ever happened. The next time he woke AH was still there,
this time with a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits. "One
hour/' All said.
Then at last it was the turn of the police van. They
moved down the red laterite slope onto the raft, and then
edged foot by foot across the dark Styx-like stream towards
the woods on the other side. The two ferrymen pulling on
the rope wore nothing but girdles, as though they had left
their clothes behind on the bank where life ended, and a
third man beat time to them, making do for instrument in
this between-world with an empty sardine tin. The wailing
tireless voice of the living singer shifted backwards.
This was only the first of three ferries that had to be
crossed, with the same queue forming each time. Scobie
never succeeded in sleeping properly again: his head began
to ache from the heave of the van: he ate some aspirin and
hoped for the best. He didn't want a dose of fever when he
was away from home. It was not Pemberton that worried
him now let the dead bury their dead: it was the promise
he had made to Louise. Two hundred pounds was so
small a sum: the figures ran their changes in his aching
head like a peal of bells: 200 002 020: it worried him that
he could not find a fourth combination: 002 200 020.
They had come beyond the range now of the tin-roofed
shacks and the decayed wooden settlers' huts: the villages
they passed through were bush villages of mud and thatch:
no light showed anywhere: doors were closed and shutters
were up, and only a few goats' eyes watched the head-lamps
of the convoy. 020 002 200 200 002 020. Ali squatting in
the body of the van put an arm round his shoulder, hold-
ing a mug of hot tea somehow he had boiled another
84 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
kettle in the lurching chassis. Louise was right it was
like the old days. If he had felt younger, if there had been
no problem of 200 020 002, how happy he would have
felt. Poor Pemberton's death would not have disturbed
him that was merely in the way of duty, and he had
never liked Pemberton.
"My head humbug me, Ali."
"Massa take plenty aspirin/'
"Do you remember, Ali, that two hundred 002 trek we
did twelve years ago in ten days, along the border; two of
the carriers went sick . . ."
He could see in the driver's mirror Ali nodding and
beaming. It seemed to him that this was all he needed of
love or friendship. He could be happy with no more in
the world than this the grinding van, the hot tea against
his lips, the heavy damp weight of the forest, even the ach-
ing head, the loneliness. If I could just arrange for her hap-
piness first, he thought, and in the confusing night he for-
got for the while what experience had taught him that
no human being can really understand another and no
one can arrange another's happiness.
"One hour more," Ali said, and he noticed that the
darkness was thinning. "Another mug of tea, Ali, and put
some whisky in it." The convoy had separated from them
a quarter of an hour ago, when the police van had turned
away from the main road and bumped along a by-road
farther into the bush. He shut his eyes and tried to draw
his mind away from the broken peal of figures to the dis-
tasteful job. There was only a native police sergeant at
Bamba and he would like to be clear in his own mind as
to what had happened before he received the sergeant's
illiterate report. It would be better, he considered reluc-
tantly, to go first to the Mission and see Father Clay.
Father Clay was up and waiting for him in the dismal
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 85
little mission house which had been built among the mud
huts in laterite bricks to look like a Victorian presbytery,
A hurricane lamp shone on the priest's short red hair and
his young freckled Liverpool face. He couldn't sit still for
more than a few minutes at a time, and then he would be
up, pacing his tiny room from hideous oleograph to plaster
statue and back to oleograph again. "I saw so little of him,"
he wailed, motioning with his hands as though he were at
the altar. "He cared for nothing but cards and drinking. I
don't drink and I've never played cards except demon,
you know, except demon, and that's a patience. It's ter-
"He hanged himself?"
"Yes. His boy came over to me yesterday. He hadn't
seen him since the night before, but that was quite usual
after a bout, you know, a bout. I told him to go to the po-
lice. That was right, wasn't it? There was nothing I could
do. Nothing. He was quite dead."
"Quite right. Would you mind giving me a glass of
water and some aspirin?"
"Let me mix the aspirin for you. You know, Major Sco-
bie, for weeks and months nothing happens here at all. I
just walk up and down here, up and down, and then sud-
denly out of the blue . . . it's terrible." His eyes were red
and sleepless: he seemed to Scobie one of those who are
quite unsuited to loneliness. There were no books to be
seen except a little shelf with his breviary and a few re-
ligious tracts. He was a man without resources. He began
to pace up and down again and suddenly, turning on Sco-
bie, he shot out an excited question. "Mightn't there be
a hope that it's murder?"
"Suicide," Father Clay said. "It's too terrible. It puts a
man outside mercy. I've been thinking about it all night."
86 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"He wasn't a Catholic. Perhaps that makes a difference.
Invincible ignorance, eh?"
"That's what I try to think." Halfway between oleo-
graph and statuette he suddenly started and stepped aside
as though he had encountered another on his tiny parade.
Then he looked quickly and slyly at Scobie to see whether
his act had been noticed.
"How often do you get down to the port?" Scobie asked.
"I was there for a night nine months ago. Why?"
"Everybody needs a change. Have you many converts
"Fifteen. I try to persuade myself that young Pember-
ton had time time, you know, while he died, to real-
ize . . ."
"Difficult to think clearly when you are strangling, Fa-
ther." He took a swig at the aspirin, and the sour grains
stuck in his throat. "If it was murder you'd simply change
your mortal sinner, Father," he said with an attempt at
humour which wilted between the holy picture and the
"A murderer has time . . ." Father Clay said. He added
wistfully, with nostalgia, "I used to do duty sometimes at
"Have you any idea why he did it?"
"I didn't know him well enough. We didn't get on to-
"The only white men here. It seems a pity."
"He offered to lend me some books, but they weren't
at all the kind of books I care to read love stories, nov-
els . . ."
"What do you read, Father?"
"Anything on the saints, Major Scobie. My great devo-
tion is to the Little Flower."
"He drank a lot, didn't he? Where did he get it from?"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 87
"Yusef's store, I suppose/'
"Yes. He may have been in debt?"
"I don't know. It's terrible, terrible."
Scobie finished his aspirin. "I suppose I'd better go
along." It was day now outside, and there was a peculiar
innocence about the light, gentle and clear and fresh be-
fore the sun climbed.
"I'll come with you, Major Scobie."
The police sergeant sat in a deck chair outside the D.C.'s
bungalow. He rose and raggedly saluted, then immediately
in his hollow unformed voice began to read his report.
"At three-thirty P.M. yesterday, sah, I was woken by D.C.'s
boy, who reported that D.C. Pemberton, sah . . ."
"That's all right, sergeant, I'll just go inside and have a
look round." The chief clerk waited for him just inside the
The living-room of the bungalow had obviously once
been the D.C.'s pride that must have been in Butter-
worth's day. There was an air of elegance and personal
pride in the furniture; it hadn't been supplied by the Gov-
ernment. There were eighteenth-century engravings of the
old colony on the wall and in one bookcase were the vol-
umes that Butterworth had left behind him Scobie noted
some titles and authors, Maitland's Constitutional History,
Sir Henry Maine, Bryce's Holy Roman Empire, Hardy's
poems, and the Doomsday Records of Little Withington,
privately printed. But imposed on all this were the traces of
Pemberton a gaudy leather pouf of so-called native work,
the marks of cigarette ends on the chairs, a stack of the
books Father Clay had disliked Somerset Maugham, an
Edgar Wallace, two Horlers, and, spread-eagled on the set-
tee, Death Laughs at Locksmiths. The room was not prop-
erly dusted, and Butterworth's books were stained with
88 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"The body is in the bedroom, sah," the sergeant said.
Scobie opened the door and went in: Father Clay fol-
lowed him. The body had been laid on the bed with a
sheet over the face. When Scobie turned the sheet down
to the shoulder he had the impression that he was looking
at a child in a night-shirt quietly asleep: the pimples were
the pimples of puberty and the dead face seemed to bear
the trace of no experience beyond the class-room or the
football field. "Poor child," he said aloud. The pious ejacu-
lations of Father Clay irritated him. It seemed to him that
unquestionably there must be mercy for someone so un-
formed. He asked abruptly, "How did he do it?"
The police sergeant pointed to the picture rail that But-
terworth had so meticulously fitted no Government con-
tractor would have thought of it. A picture an early native
king receiving missionaries under a State umbrella leant
against the wall, and a cord remained twisted over the brass
picture hanger. Who would have expected the flimsy con-
trivance not to collapse? He can weigh very little, he
thought, and he remembered a child's bones, light and
brittle as a bird's. His feet when he hung must have been
only fifteen inches from the ground.
"Did he leave any papers?" Scobie asked the clerk. "They
usually do." Men who are going to die are apt to become
garrulous with self-revelations.
"Yes, sah, in the office."
It needed only a casual inspection to realize how badly
the office had been kept. The filing cabinet was unlocked:
the trays on the desk were filled by papers dusty with
inattention. The native clerk had obviously followed the
same ways as his chief. "There, sah, on the pad."
Scobie read, in a handwriting as unformed as the face, a
script-writing which hundreds of his school contemporaries
must have been turning out all over the world: Dear Dad.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 89
Forgive all this trouble. There doesn't seem anything else
to do. It's a pity I'm not in the army because then I might
be killed. Don't go and pay the money I owe the fellow
doesn't deserve it. They may try and get it out of you.
Otherwise I wouldn't mention it. It's a rotten business for
you, but it can't be helped. Your loving son. The signa-
ture was Dicky. It was like a letter from school excusing
a bad report.
He handed the letter to Father Clay. "You are not going
to tell me there's anything unforgivable there, Father. If
you or I did it, it would be despair I grant you anything
with us. We'd be damned, all right, because we know, but
he doesn't know a thing."
"The Church's teaching . . ."
"Even the Church can't teach me that God doesn't pity
the young . . ." Scobie broke abruptly off. "Sergeant, see
that a grave's dug quickly before the sun gets too hot. And
look out for any bills he owed. I want to have a word with
someone about this." When he turned towards the window
the light dazzled him. He put his hand over his eyes and
said, "I wish to God my head . . ." and shivered. "I'm in
for a dose if I can't stop it. If you don't mind Ali putting
up my bed at your place, Father, I'll try and sweat it
He took a heavy dose of quinine and lay naked between
the blankets. As the sun climbed it sometimes seemed to
him that the stone walls of the small cell-like room sweated
with cold and sometimes were baked with heat. The door
was open and Ali squatted on the step just outside whit-
tling a piece of wood. Occasionally he chased away villagers
who raised their voices within the area of sickroom silence.
The peine forte et dure weighed on Scobie's forehead: oc-
casionally it pressed him into sleep.
But in this sleep there were no pleasant dreams. Pember*
go THE HEART OF THE MATTER
ton and Louise were obscurely linked. Over and over again
he was reading a letter which consisted only of variations
on the figure 200, and the signature at the bottom was
sometimes "Dicky" and sometimes "Ticki": he had the
sense of time passing and his own immobility between the
blankets there was something he had to do, someone he
had to save, Louise or Dicky or Ticki, but he was tied to
the bed and they laid weights on his forehead as you lay
weights on loose papers. Once the sergeant came to the
door and Ali chased him away: once Father Clay tiptoed
in and took a tract off a shelf: and once, but that might
have been a dream, Yusef came to the door.
About five in the evening he woke feeling dry and cool
and weak and called Ali in. "I dreamed I saw Yusef."
"Yusef come for to see you, sah."
"Tell him 111 see him now/' He felt tired and beaten
about the body: he turned to face the stone wall and was
immediately asleep. In his sleep Louise wept silently be-
side him: he put out his hand and touched the stone wall
again "Everything shall be arranged. Everything. Ticki
promises." When he awoke, Yusef was beside him.
"A touch of fever, Major Scobie. I am very sorry to see
"I'm sorry to see you at all, Yusef."
"Ah, you always make fun of me."
"Sit down, Yusef. What did you have to do with Pem-
Yusef eased his great haunches onto the hard chair and
noticing that his flies were open put down a large and hairy
hand to deal with them. "Nothing, Major Scobie."
"It's an odd coincidence that you are here just at the
moment when he commits suicide."
"I think myself it's Providence."
"He owed you money, I suppose?"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 9 1
"He owed my store-manager money."
"What sort of pressure were you putting on him, Yusef?"
"Major, you give an evil name to a dog and the dog is
finished. If the D.C. wants to buy at my store, how can my
manager stop selling to him? If he does that, what will
happen? Sooner or later there will be a first-class row. The
Provincial Commissioner will find out. The D.C. will be
sent home. If he does not stop selling, what happens then?
The D.C. runs up more and more bills. My manager be-
comes afraid of me, he asks the D.C. to pay there is a row
that way. When you have a D.C. like poor young Pember-
ton there will be a row one day whatever you do. And the
Syrian is always wrong."
"There's quite a lot in what you say, Yusef." The pain
was beginning again. "Give me that whisky and quinine,
"You are not taking too much quinine, Major Scobie?
"I don't want to be stuck up here for days. I want to
kill this at birth. I've too many things to do."
"Sit up a moment, Major, and let me beat your pillows."
"You aren't a bad chap, Yusef."
Yusef said, "Your sergeant has been looking for bills, but
he could not find any. Here are I.O.U.'s, though. From
my manager's safe." He flapped his thigh with a little sheaf
"I see. What are you going to do with them?"
"Burn them," Yusef said. He took out a cigarette lighter
and lit the corners. "There," Yusef said. "He has paid,
poor boy. There is no reason to trouble his father."
"Why did you come up here?"
"My manager was worried. I was going to propose an ar-
"One needs a long spoon to sup with you, Yusef."
gZ THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"My enemies do. Not my friends. I would do a lot for
you, Major Scobie."
"Why do you always call me a friend, Yusef?"
"Major Scobie/' Yusef said, leaning his great white head
forward, reeking of hair oil, "friendship is something in
the soul. It is a thing one feels. It is not a return for some-
thing. You remember when you put me into court ten
"Yes, yes." Scobie turned his head away from the light of
"You nearly caught me, Major Scobie, that time. It was
a matter of import duties, you remember. You could have
caught me if you had told your policemen to say something
a little different. I was quite overcome with astonishment,
Major Scobie, to sit in a police court and hear true facts
from the mouths of policemen. You must have taken a lot
of trouble to find out what was true and to make them say
it. I said to myself, Yusef, a Daniel has come to the Colonial
"I wish you wouldn't talk so much, Yusef. I'm not in-
terested in your friendship."
"Your words are harder than your heart, Major Scobie.
I want to explain why in my soul I have always felt your
friend. You have made me feel secure. You will not frame
me. You need facts, and I am sure the facts will always be
in my favour." He dusted the ashes from his white trousers,
leaving one more grey smear. "These are facts. I have
burned all the I.O.U.'s."
"I may yet find traces, Yusef, of what kind of agreement
you were intending to make with Pemberton. This station
controls one of the main routes across the border from
damnation, I can't think of names with this head."
"Cattle smugglers. I'm not interested in cattle."
"Other things are apt to go back the other way."
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 93
"You are still dreaming of diamonds, Major Scobie.
Everybody has gone crazy about diamonds since the war."
"Don't feel too certain, Yusef, that I won't find some-
thing when I go through Pemberton's office/'
"I feel quite certain, Major Scobie. You know I cannot
read or write. Nothing is ever on paper. Everything is al-
ways in my head." Even while Yusef talked, Scobie dropped
asleep into one of those shallow sleeps that last a few sec-
onds and have time only to reflect a preoccupation. Louise
was coming towards him with both hands held out and a
smile that he hadn't seen upon her face for years. She said,
"I am so happy, so happy," and he woke again to Yusef's
voice going soothingly on. "It is only your friends who do
not trust you, Major Scobie. I trust you. Even that scoun-
drel Tallit trusts you."
It took him a moment to get this other face into focus.
His brain adjusted itself achingly from the phrase "so
happy" to the phrase "do not trust." He said, "What are
you talking about, Yusef?" He could feel the mechanism
of his brain creaking, grinding, scraping, cogs failing to
connect, all with pain.
"First, there is the commissionership."
"They need a young man," he said mechanically, and
thought: If I hadn't fever I would never discuss a matter
like this with Yusef.
"Then, the special man they have sent from Lon-
"You must come back when I'm clearer, Yusef, I don't
know what the hell you are talking about."
"They have sent a special man from London to investi-
gate the diamonds they are crazy about diamonds only
the Commissioner must know about him none of the
other officers, not even you."
"What rubbish you talk, Yusef. There's no such man."
Q4 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"Everybody guesses but you. It's Wilson."
"Too absurd. You shouldn't listen to rumour, Yusef."
"And a third thing. Tallit says everywhere you visit
"TallitI Who believes what Tallit says?"
"Everybody everywhere believes what is bad."
"Go away, Yusef. Why do you want to worry me now?"
"I just want you to understand, Major Scobie, that you
can depend on me. I have friendship for you in my soul.
That is true, Major Scobie, it is true." The reek of hair
oil came closer as he bent towards the bed: the deep brown
eyes were damp with what seemed to be emotion. "Let me
pat your pillow, Major Scobie."
"Oh, for goodness' sake, keep away," Scobie said.
"I know how things are, Major Scobie, and if I can help
... I am a well-off man."
"I'm not looking for bribes, Yusef," he said wearily, and
turned his head away to escape the scent.
"I am not offering you a bribe, Major Scobie. A loan at
any time on a reasonable rate of interest f our per cent per
annum. No conditions. You can arrest me next day if you
have facts. I want to be your friend, Major Scobie. You
need not be my friend. There is a Syrian poet who wrote,
'Of two hearts one is always warm and one is always cold:
the cold heart is more precious than diamonds: the warm
heart has no value and is thrown away/ "
"It sounds a very bad poem to me. But I'm no judge."
"It is a happy coincidence for me that we should be here
together. In the town there are so many people watching.
But here, Major Scobie, I can be of real help to you. May I
fetch you more blankets?"
"No, no, just leave me alone."
"I hate to see a man of your characteristics, Major
Scobie, treated badly."
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 95
"I don't think the time's ever likely to come, Yusef,
when I shall need your pity. If you want to do something
for me, though, go away and let me sleep."
But when he slept the unhappy dreams returned. Up-
stairs Louise was crying, and he sat at a table writing his
last letter. Ifs a rotten business for you, but it can't be
helped* Your loving husband, Dicky, and then, as he
turned to look for a weapon or a rope, it suddenly occurred
to him that this was an act he could never do. Suicide was
for ever out of his power he couldn't condemn himself
for eternity no cause was important enough. He tore up
his letter and ran upstairs to tell Louise that after all
everything was all right, but she had stopped crying and
the silence welling out from inside the bedroom terrified
him. He tried the door and the door was locked. He called
out, "Louise, everything's all right. I've booked your pas-
sage," but there was no answer. He cried again, "Louise,"
and then a key turned and the door slowly opened with a
sense of irrecoverable disaster, and he saw standing just
inside Father Clay, who said to him, "The teaching of the
Church . . ." Then he woke again to the small stone room
like a tomb.
He was away for a week, for it took three days for the
fever to run its course and another two days before he was
fit to travel. He did not see Yusef again.
It was past midnight when he drove into town. The
houses were white as bones in the moonlight; the quiet
streets stretched out on either side like the arms of a skele-
ton, and the faint sweet smell of flowers lay on the air.
If he had been returning to an empty house he knew
that he would have been contented. He was tired and
96 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
he didn't want to break the silence it was too much to
hope that Louise would be asleep, too much to hope that
things would somehow have become easier in his absence
and that he would see her free and happy as she had been
in one of his dreams.
The small boy waved his torch from the door: the frogs
croaked from the bushes, and the pye-dogs wailed at the
moon. He was home. Louise threw her arms round him:
the table was laid for a late supper, the boys ran to and fro
with his boxes: he smiled and talked and kept the bustle
going. He talked of Pemberton and Father Clay and men-
tioned Yusef, but he knew that sooner or later he would
have to ask how things had been with her. He tried to eat,
but he was too tired to taste the food.
"Yesterday I cleared up his office and wrote my report
and that was that/' He hesitated "That's all my news"
and went reluctantly on, "How have things been here?" He
looked quickly up at her face and away again. There had
been one chance in a thousand that she would have smiled
and said vaguely, "Not so bad/' and then passed on to other
things, but he knew from her mouth that he wasn't so lucky
as that. Something fresh had happened.
But the outbreak, whatever it was to be, was delayed. She
said, "Oh, Wilson's been attentive."
"He's a nice boy."
"He's too intelligent for his job. I can't think why he's
out here as just a clerk/'
"He told me he drifted."
"I don't think I've spoken to anybody else since you've
been away, except the small boy and the cook. Oh, and
Mrs. Halifax." Something in her voice told him that the
danger point was reached. Always, hopelessly, he tried to
evade it. He stretched and said, "My God, I'm tired. The
fever's left me limp as a rag. I think I'll go to bed. It's
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 97
nearly half past one, and I've got to be at the station at
She said, "Ticki, have you done anything at all?"
"How do you mean, dear?"
"About the passage."
"Don't worry. Ill find a way, dear."
"You haven't found one yet?"
"No. I've got several ideas I'm working on. It's just a
question of borrowing." 200, 020, 002 rang in his brain.
"Poor dear," she said, "don't worry," and put her hand
against his cheek. "You're tired. You've had fever. I'm
not going to bait you now." Her hand, her words broke
through every defence: he had expected tears, but he found
them now in his own eyes. "Go on up to bed, Henry," she
"Aren't you coming up?"
"There are just one or two things I want to do."
He lay on his back under the net and waited for her. It
occurred to him as it hadn't occurred to him, for years, that
she loved him: poor dear, she loved him: she was someone
of human stature with her own sense of responsibility, not
simply the object of his care and kindness. The sense of
failure deepened round him. All the way back from Bamba
he had faced one fact that there was only one man in the
city capable of lending him, and willing to lend him, the
two hundred pounds, and that was a man he must not bor-
row from. It would have been safer to accept the Portu-
guese captain's bribe. Slowly and drearily he had reached
the decision to tell her that the money simply could not be
found, that for the next six months at any rate, until his
leave, she must stay. If he had not felt so tired he would
have told her when she asked him and it would have been
over now, but he had flinched away and she had been
kind, and it would be harder now than it had ever been to
98 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
disappoint her. There was silence all through the little
house, but outside the half-starved pye-dogs yapped and
whined. He listened, leaning on his elbow; he felt oddly
unmanned, lying in bed alone waiting for Louise to join
him. She had always been the one to go first to bed. He felt
uneasy, apprehensive, and suddenly his dream came to
mind, how he had listened outside the door and knocked,
and there was no reply. He struggled out from under the
net and ran downstairs barefooted.
Louise was sitting at the table with a pad of note-paper
in front of her, but she had written nothing but a name.
The winged ants beat against the light and dropped their
wings over the table. Where the light touched her head he
saw the grey hairs.
"What is it, dear?"
"Everything was so quiet," he said, "I wondered whether
something had happened. I had a bad dream about you
the other night. Pemberton's suicide upset me."
"How silly, dear. Nothing like that could ever happen
with us. We're Catholics."
"Yes, of course. I just wanted to see you/' he said, put-
ting his hand on her hair. Over her shoulder he read the
only words she had written, ''Dear Mrs. Halifax . . ."
"You haven't got your shoes on," she said. "You'll be
"I just wanted to see you," he repeated, and wondered
whether the stains on the paper were sweat or tears.
"Listen, dear," she said. "You are not to worry any more.
I've baited you and baited you. It's like fever, you know.
It comes and goes. Well, now it's gone for a while. I
know you can't raise the money. It's not your fault. If it
hadn't been for that stupid operation . . . It's just the
way things are, Henry."
"What's it all got to do with Mrs, Halifax?"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 99
"She and another woman have a two-berth cabin in the
next ship and the other woman's fallen out. She thought
perhaps I could slip in if her husband spoke to the
"That's in about a fortnight/' he said.
"Darling, give up trying. It's better just to give up. Any-
way, I had to let Mrs. Halifax know tomorrow. And I'm
letting her know that I shan't be going."
He spoke rapidly he wanted the words out beyond re-
call. "Write and tell her that you can go."
"Ticki," she said, "what do you mean?" Her face hard-
ened. "Ticki, please don't promise something which can't
happen. I know you're tired and afraid of a scene. But
there isn't going to be a scene. I mustn't let Mrs. Halifax
"You won't. I know where I can borrow the money/'
"Why didn't you tell me when you came back?"
"I wanted to give you your ticket. A surprise."
She was not so happy as he would have expected: she
always saw a little further than he hoped. "And you are
not worrying any more?" she asked.
"I'm not worrying any morel Are you happy?"
"Oh, yes," she said in a puzzled voice, "I'm happy, dear."
The liner came in on a Saturday evening: from the bed-
room window they could see its long grey form steal past
the boom, beyond the palms. They watched it with a sink-
ing of the heart happiness is never really so welcome as
changelessness; hand in hand they watched their separation
anchor in the bay. "Well," Scobie said, "that means tomor-
"Darling," she said, "when this time is over, I'll be good
1OO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
to you again. I just couldn't stand this life any more."
They could hear a clatter below-stairs as AH, who had
also been watching the sea, brought out the trunks and
boxes. It was as if the house were tumbling down around
them, and the vultures took off from the roof rattling the
corrugated iron as though they felt the tremor in the walls.
Scobie said, "While you are sorting your things upstairs,
I'll pack your books." It was as if they had been playing
these last two weeks at infidelity, and now the process of
divorce had them in its grasp: the division of one life into
two: the sharing out of the sad spoils.
"Shall I leave you this photograph, Ticki?" He took a
quick sideways glance at the first-communion face and said,
"No. You have it."
"I'll leave you this one of us with the Ted Bromleys."
"Yes, leave that." He watched her for a moment laying
out her clothes and then he went downstairs. One by one
he took out the books and wiped them with a cloth: the
Oxford Verse, the Woolfs, the younger poets. Afterwards
the shelves were almost empty: his own books took up so
Next day they went to Mass together early. Kneeling
together at the Communion rail they seemed to claim that
this was not separation. He thought: I've prayed for peace
and now I'm getting it. It's terrible the way prayer is an-
swered. It had better be good, I've paid a high enough
price for it. As they walked back he asked anxiously, "You
"Yes, Ticki, and you?"
"I'm happy as long as you are happy."
"It will be all right when I've got on board and settled
down. I expect I shall drink a bit tonight. Why don't you
have someone in, Ticki?"
"Oh, I prefer being alone."
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 1O1
4 'Write to me every week."
"And, Ticki, you won't be lazy about Mass? You'll go
when I'm not there?"
Wilson came up the road: his face shone with sweat and
anxiety. He said, "Are you really off? Ali told me at the
house that you are going on board this afternoon."
"She's off," Scobie said.
"You never told me it was close like this."
"I forgot," Louise said, "there was so much to do."
"I never thought you'd really go. I wouldn't have known
if I hadn't run into Halifax at the agent's."
"Oh, well," Louise said, "you and Henry will have to
keep an eye on each other."
"It's incredible," Wilson said, kicking the dusty road.
He hung there, between them and the house, not stirring
to let them by. He said, "I don't know a soul but you
and Harris, of course."
"You'll have to start making acquaintances," Louise
said. "You'll have to excuse us now. There's so much to
They walked round him because he didn't move, and
Scobie looking back gave him a kindly wave he looked
so lost and unprotected and out of place on the blistered
road. "Poor Wilson," he said, "I think he's in love with
"He thinks he is."
"It's a good thing for him you are going. People like that
become a nuisance in this climate. Ill be kind to him
while you are away."
"Ticki," she said, "I shouldn't see too mucji of him. I
wouldn't trust him. There's something phony about him."
"He's young and romantic."
1O2 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"He's too romantic. He tells lies. Why does he say he
doesn't know a soul?*'
"I don't think he does."
"He knows the Commissioner. I saw him going up there
the other night at dinner time."
"It's just a way of talking."
Neither of them had any appetite for lunch, but the
cook, who wanted to rise to the occasion, produced an
enormous curry which filled a washing-basin in the middle
of the table: round it were ranged the too many small
dishes that went with it the fried bananas, red peppers,
ground nuts, pawpaw, orange slices, chutney. They seemed
to be sitting miles apart separated by a waste of dishes. The
food chilled on their plates and there seemed nothing to
talk about except "I'm not hungry," "Try and eat a little,"
"I can't touch a thing," "You ought to start off with a good
meal"~-ran endless friendly bicker about food. AH came in
and out to watch them: he was like a figure on a clock
that records the striking of the hours. It seemed horrible to
both of them that now they would be glad when the separa-
tion was complete: they could settle down when once this
ragged leave-taking was over to a different life which again
would exclude change.
"Are you sure you've got everything?" This was another
variant which enabled them to sit there not eating but oc-
casionally picking at something easily swallowed, going
through all the things that might have been forgotten.
"It's lucky there's only one bedroom. They'll have to let
you keep the house to yourself."
"They may turn me out for a married couple."
"You'll write every week?"
Sufficient time had elapsed: they could persuade them-
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
selves that they had lunched. "If you can't eat any more I
may as well drive you down. The sergeant's organized car-
riers at the wharf." They could say nothing now which
wasn't formal: unreality cloaked their movements: al-
though they could touch each other it was as if the whole
coast line of a continent was already between them: their
words were like the stilted sentences of a bad letter-
It was a relief to be on board and no longer alone to-
gether. Halifax, of the Public Works Department, bubbled
over with false bonhomie., He cracked risky jokes and told
the two women to drink plenty of gin. "It's good for the
bow-wows," he said. "First thing to go wrong on board ship
are the bow-wows. Plenty of gin at night and what will
cover a sixpence in the morning." The two women took
stock of their cabin: they stood there in the shadow like
cave-dwellers: they spoke in undertones that the men
couldn't catch: they were no longer wives they were
sisters belonging to a different race. "You and I are not
wanted, old man," Halifax said. "They'll be all right now.
Me for the shore."
"I'll come with you." Everything had been unreal, but
this suddenly was real pain, the moment of death. Like a
prisoner he had not believed in the trial: it had been a
dream: the condemnation had been a dream and the truck
ride, and then suddenly here he was with his back to the
blank wall and everything was true. One steeled oneself
to end courageously. They went to the end of the passage,
leaving the Halifaxes the cabin.
"Good-bye. Ticki, you'll write every . . ."
"I'm an awful deserter."
1O4 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"No, no. This isn't the place for you/'
"It would have been different if they'd made you Com-
"Ill come down for my leave. Let me know if you run
short of money before then. I can fix things."
"You've always fixed things for me. Ticki, you'll be glad
to have no more scenes."
"Do you love me, Ticki?"
"What do you think?"
"Say it. One likes to hear it even if it isn't true."
"I love you, Louise. Of course it's true."
"If I can't bear it down there alone, Ticki, I'll come
They kissed and went up on deck. From here the port
was always beautiful: the thin layer of houses sparkled in
the sun like quartz or lay in the shadow of the great green
swollen hills. "You are well escorted," Scobie said: the
destroyers and the corvettes sat around like dogs: signal
flags rippled and a helio flashed. The fishing boats rested
on the broad bay under their brown butterfly sails.
"Look after yourself, Ticki."
Halifax came booming up behind them. "Who's for
shore? Got the police launch, Scobie? Mary's down in the
cabin, Mrs. Scobie, wiping off the tears and putting on the
powder for the passengers/'
"Good-bye." That was the real good-bye, the handshake
with Halifax watching and the passengers from England
looking curiously on. As the launch moved away she was
almost at once indistinguishable: perhaps she had gone
down to the cabin to join Mrs. Halifax. The dream had
finished: change was over: life had begun again.
"I hate these good-byes," Halifax said. "Glad when it's
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 105
all over. Think 111 go up to the Bedford and have a glass of
beer. Join me?"
"Sorry. I have to go on duty."
"I wouldn't mind a nice little black girl to look after me
now I'm alone," Halifax said. "However, faithful and true,
old fidelity, that's me," and, as Scobie knew, it was.
In the shade of a tarpaulined dump Wilson stood, look-
ing out across the bay. Scobie paused. He was touched by
the plump sad boyish face. "Sorry we didn't see you," he
said, and lied harmlessly: "Louise sent her love."
It was nearly one in the morning before he returned: the
light was out in the kitchen quarters and AH was dozing on
the step of the house until the head-lamps woke him, pass-
ing across his sleeping face. He jumped up and lit the way
from the garage with his torch.
"All right, Ali. Go to bed."
He let himself into the empty house he had forgotten
the deep tones of silence. Many a time he had come in late,
after Louise was asleep, but there had never then been
quite this quality of security and impregnability in the
silence: his ears had listened for, even though they could
not catch, the faint rustle of another person's breath, the
tiny movement. Now there was nothing to listen for. He
went upstairs and looked into the bedroom. Everything
had been tidied away: there was no sign of Louise's de-
parture or presence: Ali had even removed the photograph
and put it in a drawer. He was indeed alone. In the bath-
room a rat moved, and once the iron roof crumpled as a
late vulture settled for the night.
Scobie sat down in the living-room and put his feet
up on another chair. He felt unwilling yet to go to bed, but
1O6 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
he was sleepy: it had been a long day. Now that he was
alone he could indulge in the most irrational act: sleep in
a chair instead of a bed. The sadness was peeling off his
mind, leaving contentment. He had done his duty: Louise
was happy. He closed his eyes.
The sound of a car driving in off the road, head-lamps
moving across the window, woke him. He imagined it was
a police car that night he was the responsible officer and
he thought that some urgent and probably unnecessary
telegram had come in. He opened the door and found
Yusef on the step.
"Forgive me, Major Scobie, I saw your light as I was
passing and I thought . . ."
"Come in," he said, "I have whisky, or would you prefer
a little beer . . ."
Yusef said with surprise, "This is very hospitable of you,
"If I know a man well enough to borrow money from
him, surely I ought to be hospitable."
"A little beer then, Major Scobie."
"The Prophet doesn't forbid it?"
"The Prophet had no experience of bottled beer or
whisky, Major Scobie. We have to interpret his words in a
modern light." He watched Scobie take the bottles from
the ice chest. "Have you no refrigerator, Major Scobie?"
"No. Mine's waiting for a spare part it will go on
waiting till the end of the war, I imagine."
"I must not allow that. I have several spare refrigerators.
Let me send one up to you."
"Oh, I can manage all right, Yusef. I've managed for two
years. So you were just passing by."
"Well, not exactly, Major Scobie. That was a way of
speaking. As a matter of fact I waited until I knew your
boys were asleep, and I borrowed a car from a garage. My
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 1O7
own car is so well-known. And I did not bring a chauffeur.
I didn't want to embarrass you, Major Scobie."
"I repeat, Yusef, that I shall never deny knowing a man
from whom I have borrowed money."
"You do keep harping on that so, Major Scobie. That
was just a business transaction. Four per cent is a fair in-
terest. I ask for more only when I have doubt of the secu-
rity. I wish you would let me send you a refrigerator."
"What did you want to see me about?"
"First, Major Scobie, I wanted to ask after Mrs. Scobie.
Has she got a comfortable cabin? Is there anything she re-
quires? The ship calls at Lagos, and I could have anything
she needs sent on board there. I would telegraph to my
"I think she's quite comfortable."
"Next, Major Scobie, I wanted to have a few words with
you about diamonds."
Scobie put two more bottles of beer on the ice. He said
slowly and gently, "Yusef, I don't want you to think I am
the kind of man who borrows money one day and insults
his creditor the next to reassure his ego."
"Never mind. Self-esteem. What you like. I'm not going
to pretend that we haven't in a way become colleagues in a
business, but my duties are strictly confined to paying you
four per cent."
"I agree, Major Scobie. You have said all this before and
I agree. I say again that I am never dreaming to ask you to
do one thing for me. I would rather do things for you."
"What a queer chap you are, Yusef. I believe you do like
"Yes, I do like you, Major Scobie." Yusef sat on the edge
of his chair, which cut a sharp edge in his great expanding
thighs: he was ill at ease in any house but his own. "And
1O8 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
now may I talk to you about diamonds, Major Scobie?"
'Tire away, then/'
"You know, I think the Government is crazy about dia-
monds. They waste your time, the time of the Security
Police: they send special agents down the coast: we even
have one here you know who, though nobody is supposed
to know but the Commissioner: he spends money on every
black or poor Syrian who tells him stories. Then he tele-
graphs it to England and all down the coast. And after all
this, do they catch a single diamond?''
"This has got nothing to do with us, Yusef."
"I want to talk to you as a friend, Major Scobie. There
are diamonds and diamonds and Syrians and Syrians. You
people hunt the wrong men. You want to stop industrial
diamonds going to Portugal and then to Germany, or across
the border to the Vichy French. But all the time you are
chasing people who are not interested in industrial dia-
monds, people who just want to get a few gem stones in a
safe for when peace comes again."
"In other words, you?"
"Six times this month police have been into my stores
making everything untidy. They will never find any in-
dustrial diamonds that way. Only small men are interested
in industrial diamonds. Why, for a whole matchbox full of
them, you would only get two hundred pounds. I call them
gravel collectors," he said with contempt.
Scobie said slowly, "Sooner or later, Yusef, I felt sure
that you'd want something out of me. But you are going
to get nothing but four per cent. Tomorrow I am giving a
full confidential report of our business arrangement to the
Commissioner, Of course he may ask for my resignation,
but I don't think so. He trusts me." A memory pricked
him. "I think he trusts me."
"Is that a wise thing to do, Major Scobie?"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 1OQ
"I think it's very wise. Any kind of secret between us two
would go bad in time."
"Just as you like, Major Scobie. But I don't want any-
thing from you, I promise. I would like to give you things
always. You will not take a refrigerator, but I thought you
would perhaps take advice, information."
"I'm listening, Yusef/'
"Tallit's a small man. He is a Christian. Father Rank
and other people go to his house. They say, 'If there's such
a thing as an honest Syrian, then Tallit's the man/ Tallit's
not very successful, and that looks just the same as hon-
"Tallit's cousin is sailing in the next Portuguese boat.
His luggage will be searched, of course, and nothing will be
found. He will have a parrot with him in a cage. My advice,
Major Scobie, is to let Tallit's cousin go and keep his
"Why let the cousin go?"
"You do not want to show your hand to Tallit. You can
easily say the parrot is suffering from disease and must stay.
He will not dare to make a fuss."
"You mean the diamonds are in its crop?"
"Has that trick been used before on the Portuguese
"It looks to me as if we'll have to buy an aviary."
"Will you act on that information, Major Scobie?"
"You give me information, Yusef. I don't give you in-
Yusef nodded and smiled. Raising his bulk with some
care, he touched Scobie's sleeve quickly and shyly. "You
are quite right, Major Scobie. Believe me, I never want to
HO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
do you any harm at all. I shall be careful, and you be care-
ful too, and everything will be all right/' It was as if they
were in a conspiracy together to do no harm: even inno-
cence in Yusef 's hands took on a dubious colour. He said,
"If you were to say a good word to Tallit sometimes it
would be safer. The agent visits him."
"I don't know of any agent."
"You are quite right, Major Scobie*" Yusef hovered like
a fat moth on the edge of the light. He said, "Perhaps if
you were writing one day to Mrs. Scobie you would give
her my best wishes. Oh, no, letters are censored. You can-
not do that. You could say, perhaps no, better not. As
long as you know, Major Scobie, that you have my best
Stumbling on the narrow path he made for his car.
When he had turned on his lights he pressed his face
against the glass: it showed up in the illumination of the
dashboard, wide, pasty, untrustworthy, sincere: he made a
tentative shy sketch of a wave towards Scobie where he
stood alone in the doorway of the quiet and empty house.
. THEY STOOD ON THE VERANDAH OF THE D.C. S
bungalow at Pende and watched the torches move on the
other side of the wide passive river. "So that's France/'
Druce said, using the native term for it.
Mrs. Perrot said, "Before the war we used to picnic in
Perrot joined them from the bungalow, a drink in either
hand: bandy-legged, he wore his mosquito boots outside
his trousers like riding boots, and gave the impression of
having only just got off a horse. "Here's yours, Scobie." He
said, "Of course ye know I find it hard to think of the
French as enemies. My family came over with the Hugue-
nots. It makes a difference, ye know/' His lean long yellow
face cut in two by a nose like a wound was all the time
arrogantly on the defensive: the importance of Perrot
was an article of faith with Perrot doubters would be
repelled, persecuted if he had the chance * . . the faith
would never cease to be proclaimed.
Scobie said, "If they ever joined the Germans, I suppose
this is one of the points where they'd attack/'
"Don't I know it," Perrot said, "I was moved here in
1939. The Government had a shrewd idea of what was
114 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
coming. Everything's prepared, ye know. Where's the doc-
"I think he's taking a last look at the beds," Mrs. Perrot
said. "You must be thankful your wife's arrived safely,
Major Scobie. Those poor people over there. Forty days in
the boats. It shakes one up to think of it."
"It's the damned narrow channel between Dakar and
Brazil that does it every time," Perrot said.
The doctor came gloomily out onto the verandah.
Everything over the river was still and blank again: the
torches were all out. The light burning on the small jetty
below the bungalow showed a few feet of dark water slid-
ing by. A piece of wood came out of the dark and floated
so slowly through the patch of light that Scobie counted
twenty before it went into darkness again.
"The Froggies haven't behaved too badly this time/'
Druce said gloomily, picking a mosquito out of his glass.
"They've only brought the women, the old men, and the
dying," the doctor said, pulling at his beard. "They could
hardly have done less."
Suddenly like an invasion of insects the voices whined
and burred upon the farther bank. Groups of torches
moved like fire-flies here and there: Scobie lifting his
binoculars caught a black face momentarily illuminated:
a hammock pole: a white arm: an officer's back. "I think
they've arrived," he said. A long line of lights was dancing
along the water's edge. "Well," Mrs. Perrot said, "we may
as well go in now." The mosquitoes whirred steadily
around them like sewing-machines: Druce exclaimed and
struck his hand.
"Come in," Mrs. Perrot said. "The mosquitoes here are
all malarial." The windows of the living-room were netted
to keep them out: the stale air was heavy with the coming
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 115
"The stretchers will be across at six A.M.," the doctor
said. "I think we are all set, Perrot. There's one case of
black water, and a few cases of fever, but most are just ex-
haustion the worst disease of all. It's what most of us die
of in the end/'
"Scobie and I will see the walking cases," Druce said.
"You'll have to tell us how much interrogation they can
stand, Doctor. Your police will look after the carriers, Per-
rot, I suppose see that they all go back the way they
"Of course," Perrot said. "We're stripped for action
here. Have another drink?" Mrs. Perrot turned the nob of
the radio and the organ of the Orpheum Cinema, Clap-
ham, sailed to them over three thousand miles. From across
the river the excited voices of the carriers rose and fell.
Somebody knocked on the verandah door. Scobie shifted
uncomfortably in his chair: the music of the Wurlitzer
organ moaned and boomed. It seemed to him outrageously
immodest. The verandah door opened and Wilson came
"Hello, Wilson," Druce said. "I didn't know you were
"Mr. Wilson's up to inspect the U.A.C. store," Mrs. Per-
rot explained. "I hope the rest-house at the store is all
right. It's not often used."
"Oh, yes, it's very comfortable," Wilson said. "Why,
Major Scobie, I didn't expect to see you."
"I don't know why you didn't," Perrot said. "I told you
he'd be here. Sit down and have a drink." Scobie remem-
bered what Louise once had said to him about Wilson
phony, she had called him. He looked across at Wilson
and saw the blush at Perrot's betrayal fading from the boy-
ish face, and the little wrinkles that gathered round the
eyes and gave the lie to his youth.
Il6 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"Have you heard from Mrs. Scobie, sir?"
"She arrived safely last week/'
"I'm glad. I'm so glad."
"Well," Perrot said, "what are the scandals from the big
city?" The words "big city" came out with a sneer Per-
rot couldn't bear the thought that there was a place where
people considered themselves important and where he
was not regarded. Like a Huguenot imagining Rome, he
built up a picture of frivolity, viciousness, and corrup-
tion. "We bush-folk," Perrot went heavily on, "live very
quietly." Scobie felt sorry for Mrs. Perrot: she had heard
these phrases so often: she must have forgotten long ago
the time of courtship when she had believed in them. Now
she sat close up against the radio with the music turned
low, listening or pretending to listen to the old Viennese
melodies, while her mouth stiffened in the effort to ignore
her husband in his familiar part. "Well, Scobie, what are
our superiors doing in the city?"
"Oh," said Scobie vaguely, watching Mrs. Perrot with
pity, "nothing very much has been happening. People are
too busy with the war ..."
"Oh, yes," Perrot said, "so many files to turn over in the
Secretariat. I'd like to see them growing rice down here.
They'd know what work was."
"I suppose the greatest excitement recently/* Wilson
said, "would be the parrot, sir, wouldn't it?"
"Tallit's parrot?" Scobie asked.
"Or Yusef's, according to Tallit," Wilson said. "Isn't
that right, sir, or have I got the story wrong?"
"I don't think we'll ever know what's right/' Scobie
"But what is the story? We're out of touch with the
great world of affairs here. We have only the French to
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 117
"Well, about three weeks ago Tallit's cousin was leav-
ing for Lisbon on one of the Portuguese ships. We searched
his baggage and found nothing, but I'd heard rumours that
sometimes diamonds had been smuggled in a bird's crop,
so I kept the parrot back, and sure enough there were
about a hundred pounds' worth of industrial diamonds in^
side. The ship hadn't sailed, so we fetched Tallit's cousin
back on shore. It seemed a perfect case."
"But it wasn't?"
"You can't beat a Syrian," the doctor said.
"Tallit's cousin's boy swore that it wasn't Tallit's cous-
in's parrot and so of course did Tallit's cousin. Their
story was that the small boy had substituted another bird to
"On behalf of Yusef, I suppose," the doctor said.
"Of course. The trouble was the small boy disappeared.
Of course there are two explanations of that perhaps
Yusef had given him his money and he'd cleared off, or
just as possibly Tallit had given him money to throw the
blame on Yusef."
"Down here," Perrot said, "I'd have had 'em both in
"Up in town," Scobie said, "we have to think about the
Mrs. Perrot turned the nob of the radio and a voice
shouted with unexpected vigour, "Kick him in the pants."
"I'm for bed," the doctor said. "Tomorrow's going to
be a hard day."
Sitting up in bed under his mosquito net Scobie opened
his diary. Night after night for more years than he could re-
member he had kept a record the barest possible record
of his days. If anyone argued a date with him he could
check up; if he wanted to know which day the rains had
begun in any particular year, when the last-but-one Di-
Il8 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
rector of Public Works had been transferred to East Africa,
the facts were all there, in one of the volumes stored in the
tin box under his bed at home. Otherwise he never opened
a volume particularly that volume where the barest fact
of all was contained: C. died. He couldn't have told him-
self why he stored up this record it was certainly not for
posterity. Even if posterity were to be interested in the life
of an obscure policeman in an unfashionable colony, it
would have learned nothing from these cryptic entries.
Perhaps the reason was that forty years ago at a preparatory
school he had been given a prize a copy of Allan Quater-
main for keeping a diary throughout one summer holi-
day, and the habit had simply stayed. Even the form the
diary took had altered very little. Had sausages for break-
fast. Fine day. Walk in morning. Riding lesson in after-
noon. Chicken for lunch. Treacle roll. Almost impercep-
tibly this record had changed into Louise left. Y. called in
the evening. First typhoon 2 a.m. His pen was powerless
to convey the importance of any entry: only he himself, if
he had cared to read back, could have seen in the last
phrase but one the enormous breach pity had blasted
through his integrity. Y., not Yusef.
Scobie wrote: May 5. Arrived Pende to meet survivors
of s.s. 43. He used the code number for security. Druce
with me. He hesitated for a moment and then added,
Wilson here. He closed the diary and lying flat on his
back under the net he began to pray. This also was a habit.
He said the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and then, as sleep
began to clog his lids, he added an Act of Contrition. It was
a formality not because he felt himself free from serious sin
but because it had never occurred to him that his life was
important enough one way or another. He didn't drink, he
didn't fornicate, he didn't even lie, but he never regarded
this absence of sin as virtue. When he thought about it at
THE HEART OF THE MATTER lig
all, he regarded himself as a man in the ranks, the member
of an awkward squad, who had no opportunity to break the
more serious military rules. "I missed Mass yesterday for
insufficient reason. I neglected my evening prayers." This
was no more than admitting what every soldier did that
he had avoided a fatigue when the occasion offered. "O
God, bless " but before he could mention names he was
They stood on the jetty next morning: the first light lay
in cold strips along the eastern sky. The huts in the village
were still shuttered with silver. At two that morning there
had been a typhoon a wheeling pillar of black cloud driv-
ing up from the coast, and the air was cold yet with the
rain. They stood with coat collars turned up watching the
French shore, and the carriers squatted on the ground
behind them. Mrs. Perrot came down the path from the
bungalow wiping the white sleep from her eyes, and from
across the water very faintly came the bleating of a goat.
"Are they late?" Mrs. Perrot asked.
"No, we are early." Scobie kept his glasses focussed on
the opposite shore. He said, "They are stirring/ 1
"Those poor souls," Mrs. Perrot said, and shivered with
the morning chill.
"They are alive," the doctor said.
"In my profession we have to consider that important."
"Does one ever get over a shock like that? Forty days in
"If you survive at all," the doctor said, "you get over it.
It's failure people don't get over, and this, you see, is a kind
12O THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"They are fetching them out o the huts/' Scobie said.
"I think I can count six stretchers. The boats are being
"We were told to prepare for nine stretcher cases, and
four walking ones," the doctor said. "I suppose there've
been some more deaths."
"I may have counted wrong. They are carrying them
down now. I think there are seven stretchers. I can't dis-
tinguish the walking cases."
The flat cold light, too feeble to clear the morning haze,
made the distance across the river longer than it would
seem at noon. A native dugout canoe bearing, one sup-
posed, the walking cases came blackly out of the haze: it
was suddenly very close to them. On the other shore they
were having trouble with the motor of a launch: they could
hear the irregular putter, like an animal out of breath.
First of the walking cases to come on shore was an elderly
man with an arm in a sling. He wore a dirty white topee,
and a native cloth was draped over his shoulders: his free
hand tugged and scratched at the white stubble on his face.
He said in an unmistakably Scotch accent, "Ah'm Loder,
"Welcome home, Mr. Loder," Scobie said. "Will you
step up to the bungalow and the doctor will be with you in
a few minutes?"
"Ah have no need of doctors."
"Sit down and rest. Ill be with you soon/*
"Ah want to make ma report to a proper official/'
"Would you take him up to the house, Perrot?"
"I'm the District Commissioner/' Perrot said. "You can
make your report to me."
"What are we waitin* for then?" the engineer said. "It's
nearly two months since the sinkin'. There's an awful lot
of responsibility on me, for the captain's dead." As they
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
moved up the hill to the bungalow, the persistent Scotch
voice, as regular as the pulse of a dynamo, came back to
them. "Ah'm responsible to the owners."
The other three had come on shore, and across the river
the tinkering in the launch went on: the sharp crack of a
chisel, the clank of metal, and then again the spasmodic
putter. Two of the new arrivals were the cannon fodder of
all such occasions: elderly men with the appearance of
plumbers who might have been brothers if they had not
been called Forbes and Newall, uncomplaining men with-
out authority, to whom things simply happened: one had
a crushed foot and walked with a crutch; the other had his
hand bound up with shabby strips of tropical shirt. They
stood on the jetty with as natural a lack of interest as they
would have stood at a Liverpool street corner waiting for
the local to open. A stalwart grey-headed woman in mos-
quito boots followed them out of the canoe.
"Your name, madam?" Druce asked, consulting a list.
"Are you Mrs. Rolt?"
"I am not Mrs. Rolt. I am Miss Malcott."
"Will you go up to the house? The doctor . . ."
"The doctor has far more serious cases than me to attend
Mrs. Perrot said, "You'd like to lie down/'
"It's the last thing I want to do," Miss Malcott said. "I
am not in the least tired." She shut her mouth between
every sentence. "I am not hungry. I am not nervous. I want
to get on."
"To Lagos. To the Educational Department."
"I'm afraid there will be a good many delays."
"I've been delayed two months. I can't stand delay. Work
won't wait." Suddenly she lifted her face towards the sky
and howled like a dog.
122 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
The doctor took her gently by the arm and said, "Well
do what we can to get you there right away. Come up to the
house and do some telephoning."
"Certainly/' Miss Malcott said, "there's nothing that
can't be straightened on a telephone."
The doctor said to Scobie, "Send those other two chaps
up after us. They are all right. If you want to do some
questioning, question them."
Druce said, "111 take them along. You stay here, Scobie,
in case the launch arrives. French isn't my language."
Scobie sat down on the rail of the jetty and looked across
the water. Now that the haze was lifting, the other bank
came closer: he could make out now with the naked eye
the details of the scene: the white warehouse, the mud huts,
the brasswork of the launch glittering in the sun: he could
see the red fezzes of the native troops. He thought: Just
such a scene as this and I might have been waiting for
Louise to appear on a stretcher or perhaps not waiting.
Somebody settled himself on the rail beside him, but
Scobie didn't turn his head.
"A penny for your thoughts, sir."
"I was just thinking that Louise is safe, Wilson."
"I was thinking that too, sir/'
"Why do you always call me sir, Wilson? You are not in
the police force. It makes me feel very old,"
"I'm sorry, Major Scobie."
"What did Louise call you?"
"Wilson. I don't think she liked my Christian name."
"I believe they've got that launch to start at last, Wilson.
Be a good chap and warn the doctor."
A French officer in a stained white uniform stood in the
bow: a soldier flung a rope and Scobie caught and fixed it.
"Bon jour" he said, and saluted.
The French officer returned his salute & drained-out
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 123
figure with a twitch in the left eyelid. He said in English,
"Good morning. I have seven stretcher cases for you here/*
"My signal says nine."
"One died on the way and one last night. One from
blackwater and one from from, my English is bad, do you
"That is it."
"If you will let my labourers come on board they will
get the stretchers off." Scobie said to the carriers, "Very
softly. Go very softly." It was an unnecessary command: no
white hospital attendants could lift and carry more gently.
"Won't you stretch your legs on shore?" Scobie asked, "or
come up to the house and have some coffee?"
"No. No coffee, thank you. I will just see that all is right
here." He was courteous and unapproachable, but all the
time his left eyelid flickered a message of doubt and distress.
"I have some English papers if you would like to see
"No, no thank you. I read English with difficulty."*
"You speak it very well."
"That is a different thing."
"Have a cigarette?"
"Thank you, no. I do not like American tobacco."
The first stretcher came on shore the sheets were drawn
up to the man's chin and it was impossible to tell from the
stiff vacant face what his age might be. The doctor came
down the hill to meet the stretcher and led the carriers
away to th$ Government rest-house where the beds had
"I used to come over to your side," Scobie said, "to shoot
with your police chief. A nice fellow called Durand a
"He is not here any longer," the officer said.
124 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"He's in prison at Dakar," the French officer replied,
standing like a figure-head in the bows, but the eye twitch-
ing and twitching. The stretchers slowly passed Scobie and
turned up the hill: a boy who couldn't have been more
than ten, with a feverish face and a twiglike arm thrown
out from his blanket: an old lady with grey hair falling
every way who twisted and turned and whispered: a man
with a bottle nose a nob of scarlet and blue on a yellow
face. One by one they turned up the hill, the carriers' feet
moving with the certainty of mules. "And Pre Brule?"
Scobie said. "He was a good man."
"He died last year of blackwater."
"He was out here twenty years without leave, wasn't he?
He'll be hard to replace."
"He has not been replaced," the officer said. He turned
and gave a short savage order to one of his men. Scobie
looked at the next stretcher load and looked away again.
A small girl she couldn't have been more than six lay
on it. She was deeply and unhealthily asleep; her fair hair
was tangled and wet with sweat; her open mouth was dry
and cracked, and she shuddered regularly and spasmodi-
cally. "It's terrible," Scobie said.
"What is terrible?"
"A child like that."
"Yes. Both parents were lost. But it is all right. She will
Scobie watched the bearers go slowly up the hill, their
bare feet very gently flapping the ground. He thought: It
would need all Father Brule's ingenuity to explain that.
Not that the child would die: that needed no explanation.
Even the pagans realized that the love of God might mean
an early death, though the reason they ascribed was differ-
ent; but that the child should have been allowed to survive
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 125
the forty days and nights in the open boat that was the
mystery, to reconcile that with the love of God.
And yet he could believe in no God who was not human
enough to love what he had created. "How on earth did
she survive till now?" he wondered aloud.
The officer said gloomily, "Of course they looked after
her on the boat* They gave up their own share of the water
often. It was foolish, of course, but one cannot always be
logical. And it gave them something to think about." It
was like the hint of an explanation too faint to be grasped.
He said, "Here is another who makes one angry."
The face was ugly with exhaustion: the skin looked as
though it were ?bout to crack over the cheekbones: only
the absence of lines showed that it was a young face. The
French officer said, "She was just married before she
sailed. Her husband was lost. Her passport says she is nine-
teen. She may live. You see, she still has some strength."
Her arms as thin as a child's lay outside the blanket, and
her fingers clasped a book firmly. Scobie could see the wed-
ding-ring loose on her dried-up finger.
"What is it?"
"Timbres," the French officer said. He added bitterly,
"When this damned war started, she must have been still
Scobie always remembered how she was carried into his
life on a stretcher, grasping a stamp-album, with her eyes
In the evening they gathered together again for drinks,
but they were subdued; even Perrot was no longer trying to
impress them. Druce said, "Well, tomorrow I'm off. You
126 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"I suppose so."
Mrs. Perrot said, "You got all you wanted?"
"All I needed. That chief engineer was a good fellow. He
had it ready in his head. I could hardly write fast enough.
When he stopped he went flat out. That was what was
keeping him together 'ma responsibility.' You know,
they'd walked the ones that could walk five days to get
Wilson said, "Were they sailing without an escort?"
"They started out in convoy, but they had some engine
trouble and you know the rule of the road nowadays: no
waiting for lame ducks. They were twelve hours behind
the convoy and were trying to pick up, when they were
sniped. The submarine commander surfaced and gave
them direction. He said he would have given them a tow,
but there was a naval patrol out looking for him. You see,
you can really blame nobody for this sort of thing," and this
sort of thing came at once to Scobie's mind's eye the child
with the open mouth, the thin hands holding the stamp-
album. He said, "I suppose the doctor will look in when
he gets a chance?"
He went restlessly out onto the verandah, closing the
netted door carefully behind him, and a mosquito immedi-
ately droned towards his ear. The skirring went on all the
time, but when they drove to the attack they had the deeper
tone of dive-bombers. The lights were showing in the tem-
porary hospital, and the weight of all that misery lay on his
shoulders. It was as if he had shed one responsibility only
to take on another. This was a responsibility he shared with
all human beings, but there was no comfort in that, for it
sometimes seemed to him that he was the only one who
recognized it. In the Cities of the Plain a single soul might
have changed the mind of God.
The doctor came up the steps onto the verandah. "Hallo,
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 127
Scobie," he said in a voice as bowed as his shoulders, "tak-
ing the night air? It's not healthy in this place."
. "How are they?" Scobie asked.
"There'll be only two more deaths, I think. Perhaps
"She'll be dead by morning," the doctor said abruptly.
"Is she conscious?"
"Never completely. She asks for her father sometimes:
she probably thinks she's in the boat still. They'd kept it
from her there said her parents were in one of the other
boats. But of course they'd signalled to check up."
"Won't she take you for her father?"
"No, she won't accept the beard."
Scobie said, " How's the schoolteacher?"
"Miss Malcott? She'll be all right. I've given her enough
bromide to put her out of action till morning. That's all
she needs and the sense of getting somewhere. You
haven't got room for her in your police van, have you?
She'd be better out of here."
"There's only just room for Druce and me with our boys
and kit. We'll be sending propet transport as soon as we
get back. The walking cases all right?"
"Yes, they'll manage."
"The boy and the old lady?"
"They'll pull through."
"Who is the boy?"
"He was at a prep school in England. His parents in
South Africa thought he'd be safer there."
Scobie said reluctantly, "That young woman with the
stamp-album?" It was the stamp-album and not the face
that haunted his memory, for no reason that he could
understand, and the wedding-ring loose on the finger, as
though a child had dressed up.
128 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"I don't know," the doctor said. "If she gets through to-
night . . . perhaps . . ."
"You're dead tired, aren't you? Go in and have a drink."
"Yes. I don't want to be eaten by mosquitoes." The
doctor opened the verandah door, and a mosquito struck
at Scobie's neck. He didn't bother to guard himself. Slowly,
hesitatingly, he retraced the route the doctor had taken,
down the steps onto the tough rocky ground. The loose
stones turned under his boots. He thought of Pemberton.
What an absurd thing it was to expect happiness in a world
so full of misery. He had cut down his own needs to a
minimum, photographs were put away in drawers, the
dead were put out of mind: a razor strop, a pair of rusty
handcuffs for decoration: but one still has one's eyes, he
thought, one's ears. Point me out the happy man and I
will point you out either egotism, selfishness, evil or else
an absolute ignorance.
Outside the rest-house he stopped again. The lights
inside would have given an extraordinary impression of
peace if one hadn't known, just as the stars on this clear
night gave also an impression of remoteness, security, free-
dom. If one knew, he wondered, the facts, would one have
to feel pity even for the planets? if one reached what they
called the heart of the matter?
"Well, Major Scobie?" It was the wife of the local mis-
sionary speaking to him. She was dressed in white like a
nurse, and her flint-grey hair lay back from her forehead
in ridges like wind erosion. "Have you come to look on?"
she asked forbiddingly.
"Yes," he said. He had no other idea of what to say: he
couldn't describe to Mrs. Bowles the restlessness, the haunt-
ing images, the terrible impotent feeling of responsibility
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 139
"Come inside/' Mrs. Bowles said, and he followed her
obediently like a boy. There were three rooms in the rest-
house. In the first the walking cases had been put: heavily
dosed, they slept peacefully, as though they had been tak-
ing healthy exercise. In the second room were the stretcher
cases for whom there was reasonable hope: the third room
was a small one and contained only two beds divided by a
screen: the six-year-old girl with the dry mouth, the young
woman lying unconscious on her back, still grasping the
stamp-album. A night-light burned in a saucer and cast
thin shadows between the beds. "If you want to be useful,"
Mrs. Bowles said, "stay here a moment. I want to go to
"The cook-house. One has to make the best of things."
Scobie felt cold and strange. A shiver moved his shoul-
ders. He said, "Can't I go for you?"
Mrs. Bowles said, "Don't be absurd. Are you qualified
to dispense? I'll only be away a few minutes. If the child
shows signs of going, call me." If she had given him time,
he would have thought of some excuse, but she was already
out of the room and he sat heavily down in the only chair.
When he looked at the child, he saw a white communion
veil over her head: it was a trick of the light on the pillow
and a trick of his own mind. He put his head in his hands
and wouldn't look. He had been in Africa when his own
child died. He had always thanked God that he had missed
that. It seemed after all that one never really missed a
thing. To be a human being one had to drink the cup. If
one were lucky on one day, or cowardly on another, it was
presented on a third occasion. He prayed silently into his
hands, "O God, don't let anything happen before Mrs.
Bowles comes back." He could hear the heavy uneven
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
breathing of the child. It was as if she were carrying a
weight with great effort up a long hill: it was an inhuman
situation not to be able to carry it for her. He thought:
This is what parents feel year in and year out, and I am
shrinking from a few minutes of it. They see their chil-
dren dying slowly every hour they live. He prayed again,
"Father, look after her. Give her peace." The breathing
broke, choked, began again with terrible effort. Looking be-
tween his fingers he could see the six-year-old face con-
vulsed like a navvy's with labour. "Father," he prayed,
"give her peace. Take away my peace for ever, but give her
peace." The sweat broke out on his hands. "Father . . ."
He heard a small scraping voice repeat, "Father," and
looking up he saw the blue and bloodshot eyes watching
him. He thought with horror: this is what I thought I'd
missed. He would have called Mrs. Bowles, only he hadn't
the voice to call with. He could see the breast of the child
struggling for breath to repeat the heavy word; he came
over to the bed and said, "Yes, dear. Don't speak, I'm
here." The nightlight cast the shadow of his clenched fist
on the sheet and it caught the child's eye. An effort to laugh
convulsed her, and he moved his hand away. "Sleep, dear,"
he said, "you are sleepy. Sleep." A memory that he had care-
fully buried returned, and taking out his handkerchief he
made the shadow of a rabbit's head fall on the pillow
beside her. "There's your rabbit," he said, "to go to sleep
with. It will stay until you sleep. Sleep." The sweat poured
down his face and tasted in his mouth as salt as tears.
"Sleep." He moved the rabbit's ears up and down, up and
down. Then he heard Mrs. Bowies' voice, speaking low
just behind him. "Stop that," she said harshly, "the child's
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
In the morning he told the doctor that he would stay
till proper transport arrived: Miss Malcott could have his
place in the police van. It was better to get her moving, for
the child's death had upset her again, and it was by no
means certain that there would not be other deaths. They
buried the child next day, using the only coffin they could
get: it had been designed for a tall man. In this climate
delay was unwise. Scobie did not attend the funeral serv-
ice, which was read by Mr. Bowles, but the Perrots were
present, Wilson, and some of the court messengers: the
doctor was busy in the rest-house. Instead Scobie walked
rapidly through the rice fields, talked to the Agricultural
Officer about irrigation, kept away. Later, when he had
exhausted the possibilities of irrigation, he went into the
store and sat in the dark among all the tins, the tinned jams
and the tinned soups, the tinned butter, the tinned biscuits,
the tinned milk, the tinned potatoes, the tinned choc-
olates, and waited for Wilson. But Wilson didn't come:
perhaps the funeral had been too much for all of them
and they had returned to the D.C.'s bungalow for drinks.
Scobie went down to the jetty and watched the sailing
boats move down towards the sea. Once he found himself
saying aloud as though to a man at his elbow, "Why didn't
you let her drown?" A court messenger looked at him
askance and he moved on, up the hill.
Mrs. Bowles was taking the air outside the rest-house:
taking it literally, in doses like medicine. She stood there
with her mouth opening and closing, inhaling and expel-
ling. She said, "Good afternoon," stiffly, and took another
dose. "You weren't at the funeral, Major?"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"Mr. Bowles and I can seldom attend a funeral together.
Except when we're on leave."
"Are there going to be any more funerals?"
"One more, I think. The rest will be all right in time."
"Which of them is dying?"
"The old lady. She took a turn for the worse last night.
She had been getting on well."
He felt a merciless relief. He said, "The boy's all
"And Mrs. Rolt?"
"She's not out of danger, but I think she'll do. She's
"Does she know her husband's dead?"
"Yes." Mrs. Bowles began to swing her arms, up and
down, from the shoulder. Then she stood on tiptoe six
times. He said, "I wish there was something I could do to
"Can you read aloud?" Mrs. Bowles asked, rising on
"I suppose so. Yes."
"You can read to the boy. He's getting bored, and
boredom's bad for him."
"Where shall I find a book?"
"There are plenty at the Mission. Shelves of them."
Anything was better than doing nothing. He walked up
to the Mission and found, as Mrs. Bowles said, plenty of
books. He wasn't much used to books, but even to his eye
these hardly seemed a bright collection for reading to a
sick boy. Damp-stained and late Victorian, the bindings
bore titles like Twenty Years in the Mission Field, Lost
and Found, The Narrow Way, The Missionary's Warning.
Obviously at some time there had been an appeal for books
for the Mission library, and here were the scrapings of
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
many pious shelves at home. The Poems of John Oxenham,
Fishers of Men. He took a book at random out of the shelf
and returned to the rest-house. Mrs. Bowles was in her
dispensary mixing medicines.
"You are safe with any of those books/' Mrs. Bowles
said. "They are censored by the committee before they
come out. Sometimes people try to send the most unsuit-
able books. We are not teaching the children here to read
in order that they can read well, novels."
"No, I suppose not."
"Let me see what you've chosen."
He looked at the title himself for the first time: A Bishop
Among the Bantus.
"That should be interesting," Mrs. Bowles said. He
"You know where to find him. You can read to him for a
quarter of an hour not more."
The old lady had been moved into the innermost room
where the child had died, the man with the bottle-nose had
been shifted into what Mrs. Bowles now called the con-
valescent ward, so that the middle room could be given up
to the boy and Mrs. Rolt. Mrs. Rolt lay facing the wall
with her eyes closed. They had apparently succeeded in
removing the album from her clutch, and it lay on a
chair beside the bed. The boy watched Scobie come with
the bright intelligent gaze of fever.
"My name's Scobie. What's yours?"
Scobie said nervously, "Mrs. Bowles asked me to read
"What are you? A soldier?"
"No, a policeman."
134 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
4 'Is it a murder story?"
"No. I don't think it is." He opened the book at random
and came on a photograph of the bishop sitting in his robes
on a hard drawing-room chair outside a little tin-roofed
church: he was surrounded by Bantus, who grinned at the
"I'd like a murder story. Have you ever been in a
"Not what you'd call a real murder, with clues and a
"What sort of a murder then?"
"Well, people get stabbed sometimes fighting." He
spoke in a low voice so as not to disturb Mrs. Rolt. She lay
with her fist clenched on the sheet a fist not much bigger
than a tennis-ball.
"What's the name of the book you've brought? Perhaps
I've read it. I read Treasure Island on the boat. I wouldn't
mind a pirate story. What's it called?"
Scobie said dubiously, "A Bishop Among the Bantus"
"What does that mean?"
Scobie drew a long breath. "Well, you see, Bishop is the
name of the hero."
"But you said 'a bishop.' "
"Yes. His name was Arthur."
"It's a soppy name."
"Yes, but he's a soppy hero." Suddenly, avoiding the
boy's eyes, he noticed that Mrs. Rolt was not asleep: she
was staring at the wall, listening. He went wildly on, "The
real heroes are the Bantus."
"What are Bantus?"
"They are a peculiarly ferocious lot of pirates who
haunted the West Indies and preyed on all the shipping in
that part of the Atlantic."
"Does Arthur Bishop pursue them?"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 135
"Yes. It's a kind of detective story too because he's a
secret agent of the British Government. He dresses up as
an ordinary seaman and sails on a merchantman so that he
can be captured by the Bantus. You know they always give
the ordinary seamen a chance to join them. If he'd been
an officer they would have made him walk the plank any-
way. Then he discovers all their secret passwords and hid-
ing-places and their plans of raids, of course, so that he can
betray them when the time is ripe."
"He sounds a bit of a swine," the boy said.
"Yes, and he falls in love with the daughter of the cap-
tain of the Bantus and that's when he turns soppy. But that
comes near the end and we won't get as far as that. There
are a lot of fights and murders before then."
"It sounds all right. Let's begin."
"Well, you see, Mrs. Bowles told me I was only to stay
a short time today, so I've just told you about the book, and
we can start it tomorrow."
"You may not be here tomorrow. There may be a mur-
der or something."
"But the book will be here. I'll leave it with Mrs. Bowles.
It's her book. Of course it may sound a bit different when
she reads it."
"Just begin it," the boy pleaded.
"Yes, begin it," said a low voice from the other bed, so
low that he would have discounted it as an illusion if
he hadn't looked up and seen her watching him, the eyes
large as a child's in the starved face.
Scobie said, "I'm a very bad reader."
"Go on," the boy said impatiently. "Anyone can read
Scobie found his eyes fixed on an opening paragraph
which stated: "I shall never forget my first glimpse of the
continent where I was to labour for thirty of the best years
136 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
of my life." He said slowly, "From the moment that they
left Bermuda the low lean rakehelly craft had followed in
their wake. The captain was evidently worried, for he
watched the strange ship continually through his spy-glass.
When night fell it was still on their trail, and at dawn it
was the first sight that met their eyes. Can it be, Arthur
Bishop wondered, that I am about to meet the object of my
quest, Blackbeard, the leader of the Bantus himself, or his
bloodthirsty lieutenant . . ." He turned a page and was
temporarily put out by a portrait of the bishop in whites
with a clerical collar and a topee, standing before a wicket
and blocking a ball a Bantu had just bowled him.
"Go on/' the boy said.
". . . Batty Davis, so called because of his insane rages
when he would send a whole ship's crew to the plank? It
was evident that Captain Buller feared the worst, for he
crowded on all canvas and it seemed for a time that he
would show the strange ship a clean pair of heels. Sud-
denly over the water came the boom of a gun, and a cannon-
ball struck the water twenty yards ahead of them. Captain
Buller had his glass to his eye and called down from the
bridge to Arthur Bishop, 'The Jolly Roger, by God/ He
was the only one of the ship's company who knew the
secret of Arthur's strange quest."
Mrs. Bowles came briskly in. "There, that will do. Quite
enough for the day. And what's he been reading you,
"Bishop Among the Bantus."
"I hope you enjoyed it."
"You're a very sensible boy," Mrs. Bowles said approv-
"Thank you," a voice said from the other bed, and
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 137
Scobie turned again reluctantly to take in the young devas-
tated face. "Will you read again tomorrow?"
"Don't worry Major Scobie, Helen," Mrs. Bowles re-
buked her. "He's got to get back to the port. They'll all be
murdering each other without him/'
"You a policeman?"
"I knew a policeman once ... in our town . . /' the
voice trailed off into sleep. He stood a minute looking
down at her face. Like a fortune-teller's cards it showed
unmistakably the past a voyage, a loss, a sickness. In the
next deal perhaps it would be possible to see the future.
He took up the stamp-album and opened it at the fly-leaf:
it was inscribed: "Helen, from her loving father on her
fourteenth birthday/' Then it fell open at Paraguay, full
of the decorative images of parakeets the kind of picture
stamps a child collects. "We'll have to find her some new
stamps," he said sadly.
Wilson was waiting for him outside. He said, "I've been
looking for you, Major Scobie, ever since the funeral,"
"I've been doing good works," Scobie said.
"How's Mrs. Rolt?"
"They think she'll pull through and the boy too."
"Oh, yes, the boy." Wilson kicked a loose stone in the
path and said, "I want your advice, Major Scobie. I'm a bit
"You know I've been down here checking up on our
store. Well, I find that our manager has been buying mili-
tary stuff. There's a lot of tinned food that never came
from our exporters."
138 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"Isn't the answer fairly simple sack him?"
"It seems a pity to sack the small thief if he could lead
one to the big thief, but of course that's your job. That's
why I wanted to talk to you," Wilson paused, and that ex-
traordinary tell-tale blush spread over his face. He said,
"You see, he got the stuff from Yusef's man."
"I could have guessed that."
"Yes, but you see Yusef's man is not the same as Yusef.
It's easy for him to disown a country storekeeper. In fact,
for all we know Yusef may be innocent. It's unlikely, but
not impossible. Your own evidence would point to it. After
all, you've only just learned yourself what your storekeeper
"If there were clear evidence," Wilson said, "would the
Scobie came to a standstill. "What's that?"
Wilson blushed and mumbled. Then with a venom that
took Scobie completely by surprise he said, "There are
rumours going about that Yusef is protected."
"You've been here long enough to know what rumours
"They are all round the town."
"Spread by Tallit or Yusef himself."
"Don't misunderstand me," Wilson said. "You've been
very kind to me and Mrs. Scobie has too. I thought you
ought to know what's being said."
"I've been here fifteen years, Wilson."
"Oh, I know," Wilson said, "this is impertinent. But
people are worried about Tallit's parrot. They say he was
framed because Yusef wants him run out of town."
"Yes, I've heard that."
"They say that you and Yusef are on visiting terms. It's
a lie, of course, but . . ."
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 139
"It's perfectly true. I'm also on visiting terms with the
Sanitary Inspector, but it wouldn't prevent my prosecuting
him . . ." He stopped abruptly. He said, "I have no inten-
tion of defending myself to you, Wilson."
Wilson repeated, "I just thought you ought to know."
"You are too young for your job, Wilson."
"Whatever it is."
For the second time Wilson took him by surprise, break-
ing out with a crack in his voice, "Oh, you are unbearable.
You are too damned honest to live." His face was aflame,
even his knees seemed to blush with rage, shame, self-
"You ought to wear a hat, Wilson," was all Scobie said.
They stood facing each other on the stony path between
the D.C.'s bungalow and the rest-house: the light lay flat
across the rice-fields below them, and Scobie was conscious
of how prominently they were silhouetted to the eyes of
any watcher. "You sent Louise away," Wilson said, "be-
cause you were afraid of me."
Scobie laughed gently. "This is sun, Wilson, just sun.
We'll forget about it in the morning."
"She couldn't stand your stupid, unintelligent . . . You
don't know what a woman like Louise thinks."
"I don't suppose I do. Nobody wants another person to
know that, Wilson."
Wilson said, "I kissed her that evening . . ."
"It's the colonial sport, Wilson." He hadn't meant to
madden the young man: he was only anxious to let the oc-
casion pass lightly, so that in the morning they could be-
have naturally to each other. It was just a touch of sun, he
told himself: he had seen this happen times out of mind
during fifteen years.
Wilson said, "She's too good for you."
140 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"For both of us."
"How did you get the money to send her away? That's
what I'd like to know. You don't earn all that. I know. It's
printed in the Colonial Office List." If the young man had
been less absurd, Scobie might have been angered and they
might have ende4 friends. It was his serenity that stoked
the flames. He said now, "Let's talk about it tomorrow.
We've all been upset by that child's death. Come up to the
bungalow and have a drink." He made to pass Wilson, but
Wilson barred the way: a Wilson scarlet in the face with
tears in the eyes. It was as if he had gone so far that he
realized the only thing to do was to go further there was
no return the way he had come. He said, "Don't think I
haven't got my eye on you."
The absurdity of the phrase took Scobie off his guard.
"You watch your step/' Wilson said, "and Mrs.
Rolt . . ."
"What on earth has Mrs. Rolt got to do with it?"
"Don't think I don't know why you've stayed behind,
haunted the hospital . . . While we were all at the fu-
neral, you slunk down here . . ."
"You really are crazy, Wilson," Scobie said.
Suddenly Wilson sat down: it was as if he had been
folded up by some large invisible hand. He put his head in
his hands and wept.
"It's the sun," Scobie said. "Just the sun. Go and lie
down," and taking off his hat he put it on Wilson's head.
Wilson looked up at him between his fingers at the man
who had seen his tears with hatred.
1 JL THE SIRENS WERE WAILING FOR A TOTAL BLACK-
out, wailing through the rain which fell in interminable
tears; the boys scrambled into the kitchen quarters, and
bolted the door as though to protect themselves from some
devil of the bush. Without pause the hundred and forty-
four inches of water continued its steady and ponderous
descent upon the roofs of the port. It was incredible to
imagine that any human beings, let alone the dispirited
fever-soaked defeated of Vichy territory, would open an
assault at this time of the year, and yet of course one re-
membered the Heights of Abraham. ... A single feat of
daring can alter the whole conception of what is possible.
Scobie went out into the dripping darkness holding his
big striped umbrella: a mackintosh was too hot to wear.
He walked all round his quarters; not a light showed, the
shutters of the kitchen were closed, and the Creole houses
were invisible behind the rain. A torch gleamed momen-
tarily in the transport park across the road, but when he
shouted it went out: a coincidence: no one there could
have heard his voice above the hammering of the water
on the roof. Up in Cape Station the officers' mess was shin-
ing wetly towards the sea, but that was not his responsi-
bility. The head-lamps of the military lorries ran like a
chain of beads along the edge of the hills, but that too was
someone else's affair.
Up the road behind the transport park a light went sud-
denly on in one of the Nissen huts where the minor offi-
cials lived; it was a hut that had been unoccupied the day
before, and presumably some visitor had just moved in.
Scobie considered getting his car from the garage, but the
hut was only a couple of hundred yards away, and he
142 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
walked. Except for the sound of the rain, on the road, on
the roofs, on the umbrella, there was absolute silence: only
the dying moan of the sirens continued for a moment or
two to vibrate within the ear. It seemed to Scobie later that
this was the ultimate border he had reached in happiness:
being in darkness, alone, with the rain falling, without
love or pity.
He knocked on the door of the Nissen hut, loudly be-
cause of the blows of the rain on the black roof like a tun-
nel: he had to knock twice before the door opened. The
light for a moment blinded him. He said, "I'm sorry to
bother you. One of your lights is showing."
A woman's voice said, "Oh, I'm sorry. It was care-
His eyes cleared, but for a moment he couldn't put a
name to the intensely remembered features. He knew
every one in the colony. This was something that had
come from outside ... a river . . . early morning . . .
a dying child. "Why," he said, "it's Mrs, Rolt, isn't it? I
thought you were in hospital?"
"Yes. Who are you? Do I know you?"
"I'm Major Scobie of the police. I saw you at Pende."
"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't remember a thing that
"Can I fix your light?"
"Of course. Please." He came in and drew the curtains
close and shifted a table lamp. The hut was divided in two
by a curtain: on one side a bed, a makeshift dressing-table:
on the other a table, a couple of chairs the few sticks of
furniture of the pattern allowed to junior officials with
salaries under five hundred pounds a year. He said, "They
haven't done you very proud, have they? I wish I'd known,
I could have helped." He took her in closely now: the
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 143
young worn-out face, with the hair gone dead . . . The
pyjamas she was wearing were too large for her: the body
was lost in them: they fell in ugly folds. He looked to see
whether the ring was still loose upon her finger, but it had
"Everybody's been very kind," she said. "Mrs. Carter
gave me a lovely pouf."
His eyes wandered: there was nothing personal any-
where: no photographs, no books, no trinkets of any kind,
but then he remembered that she had brought nothing out
of the sea except herself and a stamp-album.
"Is there any danger?" she asked anxiously.
"Oh, none at all. These are just alarms. We get about
one a month. Nothing ever happens." He took another
long look at her. "They oughtn't to have let you out of
hospital so soon. It's not six weeks . . ."
"I wanted to go. I wanted to be alone. People kept on
coming to see me."
"Well. Ill be going now myself. Remember if you ever
want anything I'm just down the road. The two-storied
white house beyond the transport park sitting in a s\vamp."
"Won't you stay till the rain stops?" she asked.
"I don't think I'd better," he said. "You see, it goes on
until September," and won out of her a stiff unused smile.
"The noise is awful."
"You get used to it in a few weeks. Like living beside
a railway. But you won't have to. They'll be sending you
home very soon. There's a boat in a fortnight."
"Would you like a drink? Mrs. Carter gave me a bottle
of gin as well as the pouf."
'Td better help you to drink it then." He noticed when
144 THE HEART QF THE MATTER
she produced the bottle that nearly half had gone. "Have
you any limes?"
"They've given you a boy, I suppose?"
"Yes, but I don't know what to ask him for. And he
never seems to be around."
"You've been drinking it neat?"
"Oh, no, I haven't touched it The boy upset it that
was his story."
"Ill talk to your boy in the morning," Scobie said. "Got
"Yes, but the boy can't get me any ice." She sat weakly
down in a chair. "Don't think me a fool. I just don't know
where I am. I've never been anywhere like this."
"Where do you come from?"
'''Bury St. Edmunds. In Suffolk. I was there eight weeks
"Oh, no, you weren't. You were in that boat."
"Yes. I forgot the boat."
"They oughtn't to have pushed you out o the hospital
all alone like this."
"I'm all right. They had to have my bed. Mrs. Carter
said she'd find room for me, but I wanted to be alone. The
doctor told them to do what I wanted."
Scobie said, "I can understand you wouldn't want to
be with Mrs. Carter, and you've only got to say the word
and I'll be off too."
"I'd rather you waited till the All Clear. I'm a bit rattled,
you know." The stamina of women had always amazed
Scobie. This one had survived forty days in an open boat
and she talked about being rattled. He remembered the
casualties in the report the chief engineer had made: the
third officer and two seamen who had died, and the stoker
who had gone off his head as a result of drinking sea water
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 145
and drowned himself. When it came to strain it was always
the man who broke. Now she lay back on her weakness as
on a pillow.
He said r "Have you thought out things? Shall you go
back to Bury?"
"I don't know. Perhaps I'll get a job/'
"Have you had any experience?"
"No," she confessed, looking away front him. "You see,
I only left school a year ago."
"Did they teach you anything?" It seemed to him that
what she needed more than anything else was just talk,
silly aimless talk. She thought that she wanted to be alone,
but what she was afraid of was the awful responsibility of
receiving sympathy. How could a child like that act the
part of a woman whose husband had been drowned more
or less before her eyes? As well expect her to act Lady
Macbeth. Mrs. Carter would have had no sympathy with
her inadequacy. Mrs. Carter of course would have known
how to behave, having buried one husband and three chil-
She said, "I was best at netball," breaking in on his
"Well," he said, "you haven't quite the figure for a gym
instructor. Or have you, when you are well?"
Suddenly and without warning she began to talk: it was
as if by the inadvertent use of a password he had induced
a door to open: he couldn't tell now which word he had used.
Perhaps it was "gym instructor/' for she began rapidly to
tell him about the netball (Mrs. Carter, he thought, had
probably talked about forty days in an open boat and a
three-weeks'-old husband). She said, "I was in the school
team for two years," leaning forward excitedly with her
chin on her hand and one bony elbow upon a bony knee.
With her white skin unyellowed yet by atabrine or sun-
146 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
light he was reminded of a bone the sea has washed and
cast up. "A year before that I was in the second team. I
would have been captain if I'd stayed another year. In
1940 we beat Roedean and tied with Cheltenham/'
He listened with the intense interest one feels in a
stranger's life, the interest the young mistake for love. He
felt the security of his age sitting there listening with a
glass of gin in his hand and the rain coming down. She
told him her school was on the downs just behind Seaport:
they had a French mistress called Mile. Dupont who had
a vile temper. The headmistress could read Greek just like
English Virgil . . .
"I always thought Virgil was Latin/'
"Oh, yes. I meant Homer. I wasn't any good at Classics/'
"Were you good at anything besides netball?" *
"I think I was next best at Maths, but I was never any
good at trigonometry." In summer they went into Seaport
and bathed, and every Saturday they had a picnic on the
downs sometimes a paper chase on ponies, and once a
disastrous affair on bicycles which spread out over the
whole coiinty, and two girls didn't return till one in the
morning. He listened fascinated, revolving the heavy gin
in his glass without drinking. The sirens squealed the
All Clear through the rain, but neither of them paid any
attention. He said, "And then in the holidays you went
back to Bury?"
Apparently her mother had died ten years ago, and her
father was a clergyman attached in some way to the Cathe-
dral. They had a very small house on Angel Hill. Perhaps
she had not been as happy at Bury as at school, for she
tacked back at the first opportunity to discuss the games
mistress, whose name was the same as her own Helen,
and for whom the whole of her year had an enormous
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 147
schwarmerei. She laughed now at this passion in a superior
way: it was the only indication she gave him that she was
grown up, that she was or rather had been a married
She broke suddenly off and said, "What nonsense it is
telling you all this."
"I like it."
"You haven't once asked me about you know "
He did know, for he had read the report. He knew
exactly the water ration for each person in the boat a
cupful twice a day which had been reduced after twenty-
one days to half a cupful. That had been maintained until
within twenty-four hours of the rescue mainly because the
deaths had left a small surplus. Behind the school buildings
of Seaport, the totem pole of the netball game, he was
aware of the intolerable surge, lifting the boat and drop-
ping it again, lifting it and dropping it. "I was miserable
when I left it was the end of July. I cried in the taxi all
the way to the station." Scobie counted the months July
to April: nine months: the period of gestation, and what
had been born was a husband's death and the Atlantic
pushing them like wreckage towards the long flat African
beach and the sailor throwing himself over the side. He
said, "This is more interesting. I can guess the other."
"What a lot I've talked. Do you know, I think I shall
"Haven't you been sleeping?"
"It was the breathing all round me at the hospital. Peo-
ple turning and breathing and muttering. When the light
was out, it was just like you know."
"You'll sleep quietly here. No need to be afraid of any-
thing. There's a watchman always on duty. I'll have a word
148 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"You've been so kind," she said. "Mrs. Carter and the
others they've all been kind." She lifted her worn frank
childish face and said, "I like you so much."
"I like you too/' he said gravely. They both had an im-
mense sense of security: they were friends who could never
be anything else than friends they were safely divided by
a dead husband, a living wife, a father who was a clergy-
man, a games mistress called Helen, and years and years
of experience. They hadn't got to worry about what they
should say to each other.
He said, "Good night. Tomorrow I'm going to bring you
some stamps for your album."
"How did you know about my album?"
"That's my job. I'm a policeman."
He walked away, feeling an extraordinary happiness, but
this he would not remember as happiness, as he would re-
member setting out in the darkness, in the rain, alone.
From eight-thirty in the morning until eleven he dealt
with a case of petty larceny: there were six witnesses to
examine, and he didn't believe a word that any of them
said. In European cases there are words one believes and
words one distrusts: it is possible to draw a speculative
line between the truth and the lies: at least the cui bono
principle to some extent operates, and it is usually safe to
assume, if the accusation is theft and there is no question
of insurance, that something has at least been stolen. But
here one could make no such assumption: one could draw
no lines. He had known police officers whose nerves broke
down in the effort to separate a single grain of incontest-
able truth: they ended, some of them, by striking a witness,
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 149
they were pilloried in the local Creole papers and were in-
valided home or transferred. It woke in some men a viru-
lent hatred of a black skin, but Scobie had long ago, dur-
ing his fifteen years, passed through the dangerous stages:
now lost in the tangle of lies he felt an extraordinary af-
fection for these people who paralyzed an alien form of
justice by so simple a method.
At last the office was clear again: there was nothing
further on the charge sheet, and taking out a pad and plac-
ing some blotting paper under his wrist to catch the sweat,
he prepared to write to Louise. Letter-writing never came
easily to him. Perhaps because of his police training, he
could never put even a comfortable lie upon paper over
his signature. He had to be accurate: he could comfort only
by omission. So now, writing the two words My dear
upon the paper, he prepared to omit. He wouldn't write
that he missed her, but he would leave out any phrase that
told unmistakably that he was content. My dear, you must
forgive a short letter again. You know I'm not much hand
at letter-writing. I got your third letter yesterday, the one
telling me that you were staying with Mrs. Halifax's friend
for a week outside Durban. Here everything is quiet. We
had an alarm last night, but it turned out that an American
pilot had mistaken a school of porpoises for submarines.
The rains have started, of course. The Mrs. Rolt I told
you about in my last letter is out of hospital and they've
put her to wait for a boat in one of the Nissen huts behind
the transport park. I'll do what I can to make her com-
fortable. The boy is still in hospital but all right. I really
think that's about all the news. The Tallit affair drags on
7 don't think anything will come of it in the end. All had
to go and have a couple of teeth out the other day. What a
fuss he made! I had to drive him to the hospital or he'd
never have gone. He paused: he hated the idea of the
15O THE HEART OF THE MATTER
censors who happened to be Mrs. Carter and Galloway
reading these last phrases of affection. Look after your-
self, my dear, and don't worry about me. As long as you
are happy, I'm happy. In another nine months I can take
my leave and we'll be together. He was going to write,
"You are ill my mind always/ 1 but that was not a statement
he could sign. He wrote instead, You are in my mind so
often during the day, and then pondered the signature.
Reluctantly, because he believed it would please her, he
wrote Your Ticki. Ticki for a moment he was reminded
of that other letter signed " Dicky* ' which had come back
to him two or three times in dreams.
The sergeant entered, marched to the middle of the
floor, turned smartly to face him, saluted. He had time to
address the envelope while all this was going on. "Yes,
"The Commissioner, sah, he ask you to see him."
The Commissioner was not alone. The Colonial Secre-
tary's face shone gently with sweat in the dusky room, and
beside him sat a tall bony man Scobie had not seen before
he must have arrived by air, for there had been no ship
in during the last ten days. He wore a colonel's badges as
though they didn't belong to him on his loose untidy uni-
"This is Major Scobie. Colonel Wright." He could tell
the Commissioner was worried and irritated. He said, "Sit
down, Scobie. It's about this Tallit business/' The rain
darkened the room and kept out the air. "Colonel Wright
has come up from Cape Town to hear about it."
"From Cape Town, sir?" The Commissioner moved his
legs, playing with a penknife. He said, "Colonel Wright
is the M.I.5. representative."
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
The Colonial Secretary said softly, so that everybody
had to bend their heads to hear him, "The whole thing's
been unfortunate/' The Commissioner began to whittle
the corner of his desk, ostentatiously not listening. "I don't
think the police should have acted quite in the way they
did not without consultation."
Scobie said, "I've always understood it was our duty to
In his soft obscure voice the Colonial Secretary said,
"There weren't a hundred pounds' worth of diamonds
"They are the only diamonds that have ever been
"The evidence against Tallit, Scobie, was too slender for
"He wasn't arrested. He was interrogated."
"His lawyers say he was brought forcibly to the police
"His lawyers are lying. You surely realize that much."
The Colonial Secretary said to Colonel Wright, "You see
the kind of difficulty we are up against. The Roman Cath-
olic Syrians are claiming they are a persecuted minority
and that the police are in the pay of the Moslem Syrians."
Scobie said, "The same thing would have happened the
other way round only it would have been worse. Parlia-
ment has more affection for Moslems than Catholics." He
had a sense that no one had mentioned the real purpose
of this meeting. The Commissioner flaked chip after chip
off his desk, disowning everything, and Colonel Wright sat
back on his shoulder-blades saying nothing at all.
"Personally," the Colonial Secretary said, "I would al-
ways . . ." and the soft voice faded off into inscrutable
murmurs which Wright, stuffing his fingers into one ear
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
and leaning his head sideways as though he were trying to
hear something through a defective telephone, might pos-
sibly have caught.
Scobie said, "I couldn't hear what you said/'
"I said personally I'd always take Tallit's word against
"That," Scobie said, "is because you have only been in
this colony five years/'
Colonel Wright suddenly interjected, "How many years
have you been here, Major Scobie?"
Colonel Wright grunted non-committally.
The Commissioner stopped whittling the corner of his
desk and drove his knife viciously into the top. He said,
"Colonel Wright wants to know the source of your infor-
"You know that, sir. Yusef." Wright and the Colonial
Secretary sat side by side watching him: he stood back with
lowered head, waiting for the next move. But no move
came: he knew they were waiting for him to amplify his
bald reply, and he knew too that they would take it for a
confession of weakness if he did. The silence became more
and more intolerable: it was like an accusation. Weeks
ago he had told Yusef that he intended to let the Com-
missioner know the details of his loan: perhaps he had
really had that intention: perhaps he had been bluffing:
he couldn't remember now. He only knew that now it was
too late. That information should have been given before
taking action against Tallit: it could not be an after-
thought. In the corridor behind the office Fraser passed
whistling his favourite tune: he opened the door of the
office, said, "Sorry, sir," and retreated again, leaving a whiff
of warm zoo smell behind him. The murmur of the raiji
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 153
went on and on. The Commissioner took the knife out of
the table and began to whittle again: it was as if, for a sec-
ond time, he were deliberately disowning the whole busi-
ness. The Colonial Secretary cleared his throat. "Yusef,"
Colonel Wright said, "Do you consider Yusef trust-
"Of course not, sir. But one has to act on what informa-
tion is available and this information proved correct up
to a point/'
"Up to what point?"
"The diamonds were there/*
The Colonial Secretary said, "Do you get much informa-
tion from Yusef?"
"This is the first time I've had any at all."
He couldn't catch what the Colonial Secretary said, be-
yond the word "Yusef."
"I can't hear what you say, sir."
"I said are you in touch with Yusef?"
"I don't know what you mean by that."
"Do you see him often?"
"I think in the last three months I have seen him three
no, four times."
"Not necessarily. Once I gave him a lift home when his
car had broken down. Once he came to see me when I had
fever at Bamba. Once ..."
"We are not cross-examining you, Scobie," the Commis-
"I had an idea, sir, that these gentlemen were."
Colonel Wright uncrossed his long legs and said, "Let's
boil it down to one question. Tallit, Major Scobie, has
154 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
made counter-accusations against the police, against you.
He says in effect that Yusef has given you money. Has he?"
"No, sir. Yusef has given me nothing." He felt an odd
relief that he had not yet been called upon to lie.
The Colonial Secretary said, "Naturally, sending your
wife to South Africa was well within your private means."
Scobie sat back in his chair, saying nothing. Again he was
aware of the hungry silence waiting for his words.
"You don't answer?" the Colonial Secretary said impa-
"I didn't know you had asked a question. I repeat
Yusef has given me nothing."
"He's a man to beware of, Scobie/*
"Perhaps when you have been here as long as I have
you'll realize the police are meant to deal with people who
are not received at the Secretariat."
"We don't want our tempers to get warm, do we?"
Scobie stood up. "Can I go, sir? If these gentlemen have
finished with me ... I have an appointment." The sweat
stood on his forehead: his heart jumped with fury. This
should be the moment of caution, when the blood runs
down the flanks and the red cloth waves.
"That's all right, Scobie," the Commissioner said.
Colonel Wright said, "You must forgive me for bother-
ing you. I received a report. I had to take the matter up
officially. I'm quite satisfied."
"Thank you, sir." But the soothing words came too late:
the damp face of the Colonial Secretary filled his field of
vision. The Colonial Secretary said softl/, "It's just a
matter of discretion, that's all."
"If I'm wanted for the next half an hour, sir," Scobie
said to the Commissioner, "I shall be at Yusef's,"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 155
After all they had forced him to tell a lie: he had no
appointment with Yusef. All the same he wanted a few
words with Yusef: it was just possible that he might yet
clear up, for his own satisfaction, if not legally, the Tallit
affair. Driving slowly through the rain his windscreen-
wiper had long ceased to function he saw Harris strug-
gling with his umbrella outside the Bedford Hotel.
"Can I give you a lift? I'm going your way."
"The most exciting things have been happening," Har-
ris said. His hollow face shone with rain and enthusiasm.
"I've got a house at last/*
"At least it's not a house: it's one of the huts up your
way. But it's a home," Harris said. "Ill have to share it,
but it's a home."
"Who's sharing it with you?"
"I'm asking Wilson, but he's gone away to Lagos for
a week or two. The damned elusive Pimpernel. Just when
I wanted him. And that brings me to the second exciting
thing. Do you know I've discovered we were both at Down-
"The school, of course. I went into his room to borrow
his ink while he was away, and there on his table I saw a
copy of the Old Downhamian."
"What a coincidence," Scobie said.
"And do you know it's really been a day of extraordi-
nary happenings I was looking through the magazine and
there at the end there was a page which said, 'The Secretary
of the Old Downhamian Association would like to get
into touch with the following old boys with whom we have
Ig6 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
lost touch' and there halfway down was my own name, in
print, large as life. What do you think of that?"
"What did you do?"
"Directly I got to the office I sat down and wrote before
I touched a cable, except of course the 'Most Immediates,'
but then I found I'd forgotten to put down the Secretary's
address, so back I had to go for the paper. You wouldn't
care to come in, would you, and see what I've writ-
"I can't stay long." Harris had been given an office in a
small unwanted room in the Elder Dempster Company's
premises. It was the size of an old-fashioned servant's bed-
room and this appearance was enhanced by a primitive
wash-basin with one cold tap and a gas ring. A table lit-
tered with cable forms was squashed between the wash-
basin and a window no larger than a porthole which looked
straight out onto the water-front and the grey creased bay.
An abridged version of Ivanhoe for the use of schools, and
half a loaf of bread, stood in an out-tray. "Excuse the
muddle," Harris said. "Take a chair," but there was no
"Where've I put it?" Harris wondered aloud, turning
over the cables on his desk. "Ah, I remember." He opened
Ivanhoe and fished out a folded sheet. "It's only a rough
draft," he said with anxiety. "Of course I've got to pull it
together. I think I'd better keep it back till Wilson comes.
You see, I've mentioned him."
Scobie read, Dear Secretary, It was just by chance I
came on a copy of the Old Downhamian which another
Old Downhamian, E. Wilson (1923-1928), had in his room.
I'm afraid I've been out of touch with the old place for a
great many years and I was very pleased and a bit guilty to
sec that you have been trying to get into touch with me.
Perhaps you'd like to know a bit about what I'm doing in
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 157
'the white man's grave / but as I'm a cable censor you will
understand that I can't tell you much about my work. That
will have to wait till we've won the war. We are in the
middle of the rains now and how it does rain. There's a
lot of fever about, but I've only had one dose, and E. Wil-
son has so far escaped altogether. We are sharing a little
house together, so that you can feel that Old Downhamians
even in this wild and distant part stick together. We've
even got an Old Downhamian team of two and go out
hunting together, but only cockroaches (Ha! Ha!). Well, I
must stop now and get on with winning the war. Cheerio to
all Old Downhamians from quite an old Coaster.
Scobie looking up met Harris's anxious and embarrassed
gaze. "Do you think it's on the right lines?" he asked. "I
was a bit doubtful about 'Dear Secretary/ "
'1 think you've caught the tone admirably."
"Of course you know it wasn't a very good school, and
I wasn't very happy there. In fact I ran away once."
"And now they've caught up with you."
"It makes you think, doesn't it?" said Harris. He stared
out over the grey water with tears in his bloodshot worried
eyes. "I've always envied people who were happy there,"
Scobie said consolingly, "I didn't much care for school
"To start off happy," Harris said. "It must make an
awful difference afterwards. Why, it might become a habit,
mightn't it?" He took the piece of bread out of the out-tray
and dropped it into the wastepaper basket. "I always mean
to get this place tidied up," he said.
"Well, I must be going, Harris. I'm glad about the house
and the Old Downhamian."
"I wonder if Wilson was happy there," Harris brooded.
He took Ivanhoe out of the out-tray and looked around for
Ig8 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
somewhere to put it, but there wasn't any place. He put it
back again. "I don't suppose he was," he said, "or why
should he have turned up here?"
Scobie left his car immediately outside Yusef s door: it
was like a gesture of contempt in the face of the Colonial
Secretary. He said to the steward, "I want to see your
master. I know the way."
"Then I'll wait for him." He pushed the steward to one
side and walked in. The bungalow was divided into a suc-
cession of small rooms identically furnished with sofas and
cushions and low tables for drinks like the rooms in a
brothel. He passed from one to another, pulling the cur-
tains aside, till he reached the little room where nearly two
months ago now he had lost his integrity. On the sofa
Yusef lay asleep.
He lay on his back in his white duck trousers with his
mouth open, breathing heavily. A glass was on a table at his
side, and Scobie noticed the small white grains at the bot-
tom. Yusef had taken a bromide. Scobie sat down at his
side and waited. The window was open, but the rain shut
out the air as effectively as a curtain. Perhaps it was merely
the want of air that caused the depression which now fell
on his spirits: perhaps it was because he had returned to
the scene of a crime. Useless to tell himself that he had com-
mitted no offence. Like a woman who has made a loveless
marriage he recognized in the room as anonymous as a
hotel bedroom the memory of an adultery.
Just over the window there was a defective gutter which
emptied itself like a tap, so that all the time you could hear
the two sounds of the rain the murmur and the gush.
Scobie lit a cigarette, watching Yusef. He couldn't feel any
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 159
hatred of the man. He had trapped Yusef as consciously
and as effectively as Yusef had trapped him. The marriage
had been made by both of them. Perhaps the intensity of
the watch he kept broke through the fog of bromide: the
fat thighs shifted on the sofa: Yusef grunted, murmured,
"dear chap" in his deep sleep, and turned on his side,
facing Scobie. Scobie stared again round the room, but he
had examined it already thoroughly enough when he came
here to arrange his loan: there was no change the same
hideous mauve silk cushions, the threads showing where
the damp was rotting the covers: the tangerine curtains:
even the blue siphon of soda was in the same place: they
had an eternal air like the furnishings of hell. There were
no bookshelves, for Yusef couldn't read: no desk, because
he couldn't write. It would have been useless to search for
papers papers were useless to Yusef. Everything was inside
that large Roman head.
"Why . . . Major Scobie ..." The eyes were open and
sought his: blurred with bromide, they found it difficult to
"Good morning, Yusef." For once Scobie had him at a
disadvantage: for a moment Yusef seemed about to sink
again into drugged sleep: then with an effort he got on an
"I wanted to have a word about Tallit, Yusef/'
"Tallit . , . forgive me, Major Scobie . . ."
"And the diamonds."
"Crazy about diamonds," Yusef brought out with diffi-
culty in a voice halfway to sleep. He shook his head, so that
the white lick of hair flapped: then putting out a vague
hand he stretched for the siphon.
"Did you frame Tallit, Yusef?"
Yusef dragged the siphon towards him across the table,
knocking over the bromide glass: he turned the nozzle
l6<> THE HEART OF THE MATTER
towards his face and pulled the trigger: the soda water
broke on his face and splashed all round him on the mauve
silk. He gave a sigh of relief and satisfaction, like a man
under a shower on a hot day. "What is it, Major Scobie, is
"Tallit is not going to be prosecuted."
He was like a tired man dragging himself out of the sea:
the tide followed him. He said, "You must forgive me,
Major Scobie. I have not been sleeping/' He shook his head
up and down thoughtfully as a man might shake a box to
see whether anything rattles. "You were saying something
about Tallit, Major Scobie," and he explained again, "It
is the stock-taking. All the figures. Three four stores. They
try to cheat me because it's all in my head."
"Tallit," Scobie repeated, "won't be prosecuted."
"Never mind. One day he will go too far."
"Were they your diamonds, Yusef?"
"My diamonds? They have made you suspicious of me,
"Was the small boy in your pay?"
Yusef mopped the soda-water off his face with the back
of his hand. "Of course he was, Major Scobie. That was
where I got my information."
The moment of inferiority had passed: the great head
had shaken itself free of the bromide even though the
limbs still lay sluggishly spread over the sofa. "Yusef, I'm
not your enemy. I have a liking for you."
"When you say that, Major Scobie, how my heart beats."
He pulled his shirt wider as though to show the actual
movement of the heart, and little streams of soda-water irri-
gated the black bush on his chest. "I am too fat," he said.
"I would like to trust you, Yusef. Tell me the truth.
Were the diamonds yours or Tallit's?"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER l6l
"I always want to speak the truth to you, Major Scobie.
I never told you the diamonds were Tallit's."
"They were yours?"
"Yes, Major Scobie."
"What a fool you have made of me, Yusef. If only I had
a witness here, I'd run you in/'
"I didn't mean to make a fool of you, Major Scobie. I
wanted Tallit sent away. It would be for the good of every-
body if he was sent away. It is no good the Syrians being in
two parties. If they were in one party you would be able
to come to me and say, 'Yusef, the Government wants the
Syrians to do this or that/ and I should be able to answer,
'It shall be so/ "
"And the diamond-smuggling would be in one pair of
"Oh, the diamonds, diamonds, diamonds," Yusef wearily
complained. "I tell you, Major Scobie, that I make more
money in one year from my smallest store than I would
make in three years from diamonds. You cannot under-
stand how many bribes are necessary."
"Well, Yusef, I'm taking no more information from you.
This ends our relationship. Every month, of course, I shall
send you the interest." He felt a strange unreality in his
own words: the tangerine curtains hung there immovably.
There are certain places one never leaves behind: the cur-
tains and cushions of this room joined an attic bedroom,
an ink-stained desk, a lacy altar in Ealing they would be
there so long as consciousness lasted.
Yusef put his feet on the floor and sat bolt upright. He
said, "Major Scobie, you have taken my little joke too
much to heart."
"Good-bye, Yusef, you aren't a bad chap, but good-bye."
"You are wrong, Major Scobie. I am a bad chap/' He
l62 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
said earnestly, "My friendship with you is the only good
thing in this black heart. I cannot give it up. We must stay
"I'm afraid not, Yusef."
"Listen, Major Scobie. I am not asking you to do any-
thing for me except sometimes after dark perhaps when
nobody can see to visit me and talk to me. Nothing else.
Just that. I will tell you no more tales about Tallit. I will
tell you nothing. We will sit here with the siphon and the
whisky bottle , . ."
"I'm not a fool, Yusef. I know it would be of great use to
you if people believed we were friends. I'm not giving you
Yusef put a finger in his ear and cleared it of soda water.
He looked bleakly and brazenly across at Scobie. This must
be how he looks, Scobie thought, at the store-manager who
has tried to deceive him about the figures he carries in his
head. "Major Scobie, did you ever tell the Commissioner
about our little business arrangement or was that all bluff?"
"Ask him yourself/'
"I think I will. My heart feels rejected and bitter. It
urges me to go to the Commissioner and tell him every-
"Always obey your heart, Yusef."
"I will tell him you took my money and together we
planned the arrest of Tallit. But you did not fulfil your
bargain, so I have come to him in revenge. In revenge,"
Yusef repeated gloomily, his Roman head sunk on his fat
"Go ahead. Do what you like, Yusef. We are through."
But he couldn't believe in any of this scene, however hard
he played it: it was like a lovers' quarrel. He couldn't be-
lieve in Yusef's threats and he had no belief in his own
calmness: he did not even believe in this good-bye. What
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 163
had happened in the mauve-and-orange room had been
too important to become part of the enormous equal past.
He was not surprised when Yusef, lifting his head, said,
"Of course I shall not go. One day you will come back and
want my friendship. And I shall welcome you."
Shall I be really so desperate? Scobie wondered, as
though in the Syrian's voice he had heard the genuine
accent of prophecy.
On his way home Scobie stopped his car outside the
Catholic church and went in. It was the first Saturday of
the month and he always went to Confession on that day.
Half a dozen old women, their hair bound like char-
women's in dusters, waited their turn: a nursing sister: a
private soldier with a Royal Ordnance insignia. Father
Rank's voice whispered monotonously from the box.
Scobie with his eyes fixed on the Cross prayed the Our
Father, the Hail Mary, the Act of Contrition. The awful
languor of routine fell on his spirits. He felt like a specta-
tor one of those many people round the Cross over whom
the gaze of Christ must have passed, seeking the face of a
friend or an enemy. It sometimes seemed to him that his
profession and his uniform classed him inexorably with all
those anonymous Romans keeping order in the streets a
long way off. One by one the old Kru women passed into
the box and out again, and Scobie prayed vaguely and
ramblingly for Louise, that she might be happy now at
this moment and so remain, that no evil should ever come
to her through him. The soldier came out of the box and
"In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy
Ghost." He said, "Since my last Confession a month ago I
164 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
have missed one Sunday Mass and one holy day of obliga-
"Were you prevented from going?"
"Yes, but with a little effort I could have arranged my
"All through this month I have done the minimum* I've
been unnecessarily harsh to one of my men . . ." He
paused a long time.
"Is that everything?"
"I don't know how to put it, Father, but I feel tired
of my religion. It seems to mean nothing to me. I've tried
to love God, but " he made a gesture which the priest
could not see, turned sideways through the grille. "I'm
not sure that I even believe."
"It's easy," the priest said, "to worry too much about
that. Especially here. The penance I would give to a lot
of people if I could is six months* leave. The climate gets
you down. It's easy to mistake tiredness for well, dis-
"I don't want to keep you, Father. There are other
people waiting. I know these are just fancies. But I feel
"That's sometimes the moment God chooses," the priest
said. "Now go along with you and say a decade of your
"I haven't a rosary. At least . . ."
"Well, five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys then." He
began to speak the words of Absolution, but the trouble
is, Scobie thought, there's nothing to absolve. The words
brought no sense of relief because there was nothing to
relieve. They were a formula: the Latin words hustled
together a hocus-pocus. He went out of the box and knelt
down again, and this too was part of a routine. It seemed
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 165
to him for a moment that God was too accessible. There
was no difficulty in approaching Him. Like a popular
demagogue He was open to the least of His followers at any
hour. Looking up at the Cross he thought: He even suffers
111. "I'VE BROUGHT YOU SOME STAMPS/' SCOBIE
said. "I've been collecting them for a week from every-
body. Even Mrs. Carter has contributed a magnificent para-
keet look at it from somewhere in South America. And
here's a complete set of Liberians surcharged for the Ameri-
can occupation. I got those from the Naval Observer/'
They were completely at ease: it seemed to both of them
for that very reason they were safe.
"Why do you collect stamps?" he asked. "It's an odd
thing to do after sixteen/'
"I don't know," Helen Rolt said. "I don't really collect.
I carry them round. I suppose it's habit." She opened the
album and said, "No, it's not just habit. I do love the things.
Do you see this green George V halfpenny stamp? It's the
first I ever collected. I was eight. I steamed it off an enve-
lope and stuck it in a notebook. That's why my father gave
me an album. My mother had died, so he gave me a stamp-
She tried to explain more exactly. "They are like snap-
shots. They are so portable. People who collect china they
can't carry it around with them. Or books. But you don't
have to tear the pages out like you do with snapshots/'
"You've never told me about your husband/' Scobie
"It's not really much good tearing out a page, because
you can see the place where it's been torn."
"It's easier to get over a thing," Scobie said, "if you talk
"That's not the trouble," she said. "The trouble is it's so
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 167
terribly easy to get over." She took him by surprise: he
hadn't believed she was old enough to have reached that
stage in her lessons, that particular turn of the screw. She
said, "He's been dead how long is it eight weeks yet?
and he's so dead. So completely dead. What a little bitch I
Scobie said, "You needn't feel that. It's the same with
everybody, I think. When we say to someone, 'I can't live
without you/ what we really mean is, 'I can't live feeling
you may be in pain, unhappy, in want/ That's all it is.
When they are dead our responsibility ends. There's noth-
ing more we can do about it. We can rest in peace/'
"I didn't know I was so tough," Helen said. "Horribly
"I had a child," Scobie said, "who died. I was out here.
My wife sent me two cables from Bexhill, one at five in the
evening and one at six, but they mixed up the order. You
see, she meant to break the thing gently. I got one cable
just after breakfast. It was eight o'clock in the morning
a dead time of day for any news." He had never mentioned
this before to anyone, not even to Louise. Now he brought
out the exact words of each cable, carefully. "The cable
said, Catherine died this afternoon no pain God bless you.
The second cable came at lunch time. It said, Catherine
seriously ill. Doctor has hope my diving. That was the
one sent off at five. 'Diving' was a mutilation I suppose
for 'darling/ You see there was nothing more hopeless she
could have put to break the news than 'doctor has hope/ "
"How terrible for you," Helen said.
"No, the terrible thing was that when I got the second
telegram, I was so muddled in my head, I thought: There's
been a mistake. She must be still alive. For a moment, un-
til I realized what had happened, I was disappointed.
That was the terrible thing, I thought; Now the anxiety be-
168 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
gins, and the pain, but when I realized what had happened,
then it was all right, she was dead, I could begin to forget
"Have you forgotten her?"
"I don't remember her often. You see, I escaped seeing
her die. My wife had that."
It was astonishing to him how easily and quickly they
had become friends. They came together over two deaths
without reserve. She said, "I don't know what I'd have
done without you."
"Everybody would have looked after you."
"I think they are scared of me," she said.
"They are. Flight-Lieutenant Bagster took me to the
beach this afternoon, but he was scared. Because I'm not
happy and because of my husband. Everybody on the beach
was pretending to be happy about something, and I sat
there grinning and it didn't work. Do you remember when
you went to your first party and coming up the stairs you
heard all the voices and you didn't know how to talk to
people? That's how I felt, so I sat and grinned in Mrs.
Carter's bathing dress, and Bagster stroked my leg, and I
wanted to go home."
"You'll be going home soon."
"I don't mean that home. I mean here, where I can shut
the door and not answer when they knock. I don't want
to go away yet."
"But surely you aren't happy here?"
"I'm so afraid of the sea," she said.
"Do you dream about it?"
"No. I dream of John sometimes that's worse. Because
I've always had bad dreams of him, and I still have bad
dreams of him. I mean we were always quarrelling in the
dreams and we still go on quarrelling."
THE HEART OF THE MATTER l6g
"Did you quarrel?"
"No. He was sweet to me. We were only married a
month, you know. It would be easy being sweet as long as
that, wouldn't it? When this happened I hadn't really had
time to know my way around/' It seemed to Scobie th^t
she had never known her way around at least not since
she had left her netball team, was it a year ago? Sometimes
he saw her lying back in the boat on that oily featureless
sea, day after day, with the other child near death and the
sailor going mad, and Miss Malcott, and the chief engineer
who felt his responsibility to the owners: and sometimes he
saw her carried past him on a stretcher grasping her stamp-
album, and now he saw her in the borrowed unbecoming
bathing dress grinning at Bagster as he stroked her legs,
listening to the laughter and the splashes, not knowing the
adult etiquette. . . . Sadly, like an evening tide, he felt
responsibility bearing him up the shore.
"You've written to your father?"
"Oh, yes, of course. He's cabled that he's pulling strings
about the passage. I don't know what strings he can pull
from Bury, poor dear. He doesn't know anybody at all. He
cabled too about John, of courise." She lifted a cushion
off the chair and pulled the cable out. "Read it. He's very
sweet, but of course he doesn't know a thing about me."
Scobie read: Terribly grieved for you dear child but
remember his happiness Your loving father. The date
stamp with the Bury mark made him aware of the enor-
mous distance between father and child. He said, "How
do you mean, he doesn't know a thing?"
"You see, he believes in God and heaven, all that sort
"I gave up all that when I left school. John used to pull
his leg about it, quite gently, you know. Father didn't
17O THE HEART OF THE MATTER
mind. But he never knew I felt the way John did. If you
are a clergyman's daughter there are a lot of things you
have to pretend about. He would have hated knowing that
John and I went together, oh, a fortnight before we were
Again he had that vision of someone who didn't know
her way around: no wonder Bagster was scared of her. Bag-
ster was not a man to accept responsibility, and how could
anyone lay the responsibility for any action, he thought,
on this stupid bewildered child? He turned over the little
pile of stamps he had accumulated for her and said, "I
wonder what you'll do when you get home?"
"I suppose," she said, "they'll conscript me."
He thought: If my child had lived, she too would have
been conscriptable, flung into some grim dormitory, to
find her own way. After the Atlantic, the A.T.S, or the
W.A.A.F., the blustering sergeant with the big bust, the
cook-house and the potato peelings, the Lesbian officer
with the thin lips and the tidy gold hair, and the men wait-
ing on the Common outside the camp, among the gorse
bushes . , . compared to that, surely even the Atlantic
was more a home. He said, "Haven't you got any short-
hand? Any languages?" Only the clever and the astute and
the influential escaped in war,
"No," she said, "I'm not really any good at anything."
It was impossible to think of her being saved from the
sea and then flung back like a fish that wasn't worth catch-
He said, "Can you type?"
"I can get along quite fast with one finger."
"You could get a job here, I think. We are very short
of secretaries. All the wives, you know, are working in the
Secretariat, and we still haven't enough. But it's a bad
climate for a woman."
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
'Td like to stay. Let's have a drink on it." She called,
"You are learning," Scobie said. "A week ago you were
so frightened of him . . ." The boy came in with a tray
set out with glasses, limes, water, a new gin bottle.
"This isn't the boy I talked to," Scobie said.
"No, that one went. You talked to him too fiercely."
"And this one came?"
"What's your name, boy?"
"I've seen you before, haven't I?"
"Who am I?"
"You big policeman, sah."
"Don't frighten this one away," Helen said.
"Who were you with?"
"I was with D.C. Pemberton up bush, sah. I was small
"Is that where I saw you?" Scobie said. "I suppose I did.
You look after this missus well now, and when she goes
home, I get you big job. Remember that."
"You haven't looked at the stamps," Scobie said.
"No, I haven't, have I?" A spot of gin fell upon one of
the stamps and stained it. He watched her pick it out of the
pile, taking in the straight hair falling in rats' tails over the
nape as though the Atlantic had taken the strength out of
it forever, the hollowed face. It seemed to him that he had
not felt so much at ease with another human being for
years not since Louise was young. But this case was differ-
ent, he told himself: they were safe with each other. He
was more than thirty years the older: his body in this
climate had lost the sense of lust: he watched her with
172 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
sadness and affection and enormous pity because a time
would come when he couldn't show her around in a world
where she was at sea. When she turned and the light fell on
her face she looked ugly, with the temporary ugliness of
a child. The ugliness was like handcuffs on his wrists.
He said, "That stamp's spoilt. I'll get you another."
"Oh, no," she said, "it goes in as it is. I'm not a real
He had no sense of responsibility towards the beautiful
and the graceful and the intelligent. They could find their
own way. It was the face for which nobody would go out
of his way, the face that would never catch the covert look,
the face which would soon be used to rebuffs and indiffer-
ence, that demanded his allegiance. The word "pity" is
used as loosely as the word "love": the terrible promiscuous
passion which so few experience.
She said, "You see, whenever I see that stain I'll see this
room. . . ."
"Then it's like a snapshot."
"You can pull a stamp out," she said with a terrible
youthful clarity, "and you don't know that it's ever been
there." She turned suddenly to him and said, "It's so good
to talk to you. I can say anything I like. I'm not afraid of
hurting you. You don't want anything out of me. I'm safe."
"We're both safe." The rain surrounded them, falling
regularly on the iron roof. She said suddenly, passionately,
"My God, how good you are."
She said, "I have a feeling that you'd never let me down/ 1
The words came to him like a command he would have to
obey, however difficult. Her hands were full of the absurd
scraps of paper he had brought her. She said, "I'll keep
these always. I'll never have to pull these out."
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 173
Somebody knocked on the door and a voice said,
"Freddie Bagster. It's only me. Freddie Bagster," cheerily.
"Don't answer," she whispered, "don't answer." She put
her arm in his and watched the door with her mouth a little
open as though she were out of breath. He had the sense
of an animal which had been chased to its hole.
"Let Freddie in/' the voice wheedled. "Be a sport, Helen.
Only Freddie Bagster/' The man was a little drunk.
She stood pressed against him with her hand on his side.
When the sound of Bagster's feet receded, she raised her
mouth and they kissed. What they had both thought was
safety proved to have been the camouflage of an enemy
who works in terms of friendship, trust, and pity.
The rain poured steadily down, turning the little patch
of reclaimed ground on which his house stood back into
swamp again. The window of his room blew to and fro:
at some time during the night the catch had been broken
by a squall of wind. Now the rain had blown in, his dress*
ing-table was soaking wet, and there was a pool of water on
the floor. His alarm clock pointed to four-twenty-five. He
felt as though he had returned to a house that had been
abandoned years ago. It would not have surprised him to
find cobwebs over the mirror, the mosquito net hanging
in shreds, and the dirt of mice upon the floor.
He sat down on a chair and the water drained off his
trousers and made a second pool around his mosquito boots.
He had left his umbrella behind, setting out on his walk
home with an odd jubilation, as though he had redis-
covered something he had lost, something which belonged
to his youth. In the wet and noisy darkness he had even
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
lifted his voice and tried out a line from Eraser's song,
but his voice was tuneless. Now somewhere between the
Nissen hut and home he had mislaid his joy.
At four in the morning he had woken. Her head lay in
his side and he could feel her hair against his breast. Put-
ting his hand outside the net he found the light. She lay in
the odd cramped attitude of someone who has been shot in
escaping. It seemed to him for a moment even then, before
his tenderness and pleasure awoke, that he was looking at a
bundle of cannon fodder. The first words she said when the
light had roused her were, "Bagster can go to hell."
"Were you dreaming?"
She said, "I dreamed I was lost in a marsh and Bagster
He said, "I've got to go. If we sleep now, we shan't wake
again till it's light." He began to think for both of them,
carefully. Like a criminal he began to fashion in his own
mind the undetectable crime: he planned the moves ahead:
he embarked for the first time in his life on the long legal-
istic arguments of deceit. If so-and-so . . . then what fol-
lows. He said, "What time does your boy turn up?"
"About six, I think. I don't know. He calls me at seven."
"Ali starts boiling my water about a quarter to six. I'd
better go, my dear." He looked carefully everywhere for
signs of his presence: he straightened a mat and hesitated
over an ash-tray. Then at the end of it all he had left his
umbrella standing against the wall. It seemed to him the
typical action of a criminal. When the rain reminded him
of it, it was too late to go back. He would have to hammer
on her door, and already in one hut a light had gone on.
Standing in his own room with a mosquito boot in his
hand he thought wearily and drearily. "In future I must
do better than that."
In the future that was where the sadness lay. Was it
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 175
the butterfly that died in the act of love? But human beings
were condemned to consequences. The responsibility as
well as the guilt was his he was not a Bags ten he knew
what he was about. He had sworn to preserve Louise's
happiness, and now he had accepted another and contradic-
tory responsibility. He felt tired by all the lies he would
sometime have to tell: he felt the wounds of those victims
who had not yet bled. Lying back on the pillow he stared
sleeplessly out towards the grey early morning tide. Some-
where on the face of those obscure waters moved the sense
of yet another wrong and another victim, not Louise, not
Helen. Away in the town the cocks began to crow for the
LHERE. WHAT DO YOU THINK. OF IT?" HARRIS
asked with ill-concealed pride. He stood in the doorway
of the hut while Wilson preceded him in, moving cau-
tiously forward between the brown sticks of Government
furniture like a setter through stubble.
" Better than the hotel," Wilson said cautiously, pointing
his muzzle towards a Government easy chair.
"I thought I'd give you a surprise when you got back
from Lagos." Harris had curtained the Nissen hut into
three: a bedroom for each of them and a common sitting
room. "There's only one point that worries me. I'm not
sure whether there are any cockroaches."
"Well, we only played the game to get rid of them."
"I know, but it seems almost a pity, doesn't it?"
"Who are our neighbours?"
"There's the Mrs. Rolt who was submarined, and there
are two chaps in the Department of Works, and somebody
called Clive from the Agricultural Department, Boling
who's in charge of Sewage they all seem a nice friendly
lot. And Scobie, of course, is just down the road."
Wilson moved restlessly around the hut and came to a
stop in front of a photograph which Harris had propped
THE HEART OF THE MATTER \*]*j
against a Government inkstand. It showed three long rows
of boys on a lawn: the first row sitting cross-legged on the
grass: the second on chairs, wearing high stiff collars, with
an elderly man and two women (one had a squint) in the
centre: the third row standing. Wilson said, "That woman
with the squint I could swear I'd seen her somewhere
4 'Does the name Snakey convey anything to you?"
"Why, yes, of course/' He looked closer. "So you were at
that hole too?"
"I saw the Downhamian in your room and I fished this
out to surprise you. I was in Jagger's house. Where were
"I was a Prog," Wilson said.
"Oh, well," Harris admitted in a tone of disappoint-
ment, "there were some good chaps among the Prog bugs."
He laid the photograph flat down again as though it were
something that hadn't quite come off. "I was thinking we
might have an Old Downhamian dinner."
"Whatever for?" Wilson asked. "There are only two of
"We could invite a guest each."
"I don't see the point."
Harris said bitterly, "Well, you are the real Downham-
ian, not me. I never joined the association. You get the
magazine. I thought perhaps you had an interest in the
"My father made me a life member and he always for-
wards the bloody paper," Wilson said abruptly.
"It was lying beside your bed. I thought you'd been
"I may have glanced at it"
"There was a bit about me in it. They wanted my
1^8 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"Oh, but you know why that is," Wilson said. "They
are sending out appeals to any Old Downhamian they can
rake up. The panelling in the Founders* Hall is in need of
repair. I'd keep your address quiet if I were you." He was
one of those, it seemed to Harris, who always knew what
was on: who gave advance information on extra halves:
who knew why old So-and-so had not turned up to school,
and what the row brewing at the Masters' special meeting
was about. A few weeks ago he had been a new boy whom
Harris had been delighted to befriend, to show around:
he remembered the evening when Wilson would have put
on evening dress for a Syrian's dinner party if he hadn't
been warned. But Harris from his first year at school had
been fated to see how quickly new boys grew up: one term
he was their kindly mentor the next he was discarded. He
could never progress as quickly as the newest unlicked boy.
He remembered how even in the cockroach game that he
had invented his rules had been challenged on the first
evening. He said sadly, "I expect you are right. Perhaps I
won't send a letter after all." He added humbly, "I took
the bed on this side, but I don't a bit mind which I
have . . ."
"Oh, that's all right," Wilson said.
"I've only engaged one steward. I thought we could
save a bit by sharing."
"The less boys we have knocking about here the better/'
That night was the first night of their new comradeship.
They sat reading on their twin Government chairs behind
the black-out curtains. On the table was a bottle of whisky
for Wilson and a bottle of barley water flavoured with lime
for Harris. A sense of extraordinary peace came to Harris
while the rain tingled steadily on the roof and Wilson read
a Wallace. Occasionally a few drunks from the R.A.F, mess
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
passed by, shouting or revving their cars, but this only en-
hanced the sense of peace inside the hut. Sometimes his
eyes strayed to the walls seeking a cockroach, but you
couldn't have everything.
"Have you got the Downhamian handy, old man? I
wouldn't mind another glance at it. This book's so dull."
"There's a new one unopened on the dressing-table."
"You don't mind my opening it?"
"Why the hell should I?"
Harris turned first to the Old Downhamian notes and
read again how the whereabouts of H.R. Harris (1917-
1921) was still wanted. He wondered whether it was pos-
sible that Wilson was wrong: there was no word here
about the panelling in Hall. Perhaps after all he would
send that letter, and he pictured the reply he might receive
from the secretary. My dear Harris, it would go some-
thing like that, We were t all delighted to receive your
letter from those romantic parts. Why not send us a full-
length contribution to the mag. and while I'm writing to
you, what about membership of the Old Downhamian As-
sociation? I notice you've never joined. I'm speaking for
all Old Downhamians when I say that we'll be glad to wel-
come you. He tried out "proud to welcome you" on his
tongue, but rejected that. He was a realist.
The Old Downhamian had had a fairly successful Christ-
mas term. They had beaten Harpenden by one goal, Mer-
chant Taylors by two, and had drawn with Lancing.
Ducker and Tierney were coming on well as forwards, but
the scrum was still slow in getting the ball out. He turned
a page and read how the Opera Society had given an ex-
cellent rendering of Patience in the Founders' Hall. F.J.K.,
who was obviously the English master, wrote: Lane as
Bunthorne displayed a degree of testheticism which sur-
prised all his companions of Vb. We would not hitherto
l8o THE HEART OF THE MATTER
have described his hand as medieval or associated him with
lilies, but he persuaded us that we had misjudged him. A
great performance, Lane.
Harris skimmed through the accounts of Fives Matches,
a fantasy called "The Tick of the Clock" beginning There
was once a little old lady whose most beloved posses-
sion . . . The walls of Downham the red brick laced
with yellow, the extraordinary crockets, the mid-Victorian
gargoyles rose around him: boots beat on stone stairs and
a cracked dinner bell rang to rouse him to another miser-
able day. He felt the loyalty we all feel to unhappiness
the sense that that is where we really belong. His eyes filled
with tears, he took a sip of his barley water and thought,
"I'll post that letter, whatever Wilson says." Somebody
outside shouted, "Bagster. Where are you, Bagster, you
sod?" and stumbled in a ditch. He might have been back
at Downham, except of course that they wouldn't have
used that word.
Harris turned a page or two and the title of a poem
caught his eye. It was called "West Coast" and it was dedi-
cated to "L.S." He wasn't very keen on poetry, but it
struck him as interesting that somewhere on this enormous
coast line of sand and smells there existed a third Old
Downhamian. He read,
Another Tristram on this distant coast
Raises the poisoned chalice to his lips.
Another Mark upon the palm-fringed shore
Watches his love's eclipse.
It seemed to Harris obscure: his eye passed rapidly over
the intervening verses to the initials at the foot: E.W. He
nearly exclaimed aloud, but he restrained himself in time.
In such close quarters as they now shared it was necessary
to be circumspect. There wasn't space to quarrel in. Who
THE HEART OF THE MATTER l$t
is L.S., he wondered, and thought: Surely it can't be . . .
the very idea crinkled his lips in a cruel smile. He said,
"There's not much in the mag. We beat Harpenden.
There's a poem called 'West Coast/ Another poor devil
out here, I suppose.'*
"Lovelorn," Harris said. "But I don't read poetry."
"Nor do I," Wilson lied behind the barrier of the
It had been a very narrow squeak. Wilson lay on his
back in bed and listened to the rain on the roof and the
heavy breathing of the Old Downhamian beyond the cur-
tain. It was as if the hideous years had extended through
the intervening mist to surround him again. What madness
had induced him to send that poem to the Downhamiarit
But it wasn't madness: he had long since become incapable
of anything so honest as madness: he was one of those con-
demned in childhood to complexity. He knew what he had
intended to do: to cut the poem out with no indication
of its source and to send it to Louise. It wasn't quite her
sort of poem, he knew, but surely, he had argued, she would
be impressed to some extent by the mere fact that the poem
was in print. If she asked him where it had appeared, it
would be easy to invent some convincing coterie name.
The Downhamian luckily was well printed and on good
paper. It was true, of course, that he would have to paste
the cutting on opaque paper to disguise what was printed
on the other side, but it would be easy to think up an ex-
planation of that. It was as if his profession were slowly
absorbing his whole life, just as school had done. His pro
fession was to lie, to have the quick story ready, never to
l82 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
give himself away, and his private life was taking the same
pattern. He lay on his back in a nausea of self-disgust.
The rain had momentarily stopped. It was one of those
cool intervals that were the consolation of the sleepless. In
Harris's heavy dreams the rain went on. Wilson got softly
out and mixed himself a bromide: the grains fizzed in the
bottom of the glass and Harris spoke hoarsely and turned
over behind the curtain. Wilson flashed his torch on his
watch and read two-twenty-five. Tiptoeing to the door so
as not to waken Harris, he felt the little sting of a jigger
under his toe-nail. In the morning he must get his boy to
scoop it out. He stood on the small cement pavement above
the marshy ground and let the cool air play on him with
his pyjama jacket flapping open. All the huts were in dark-
ness, and the moon was patched with the rainclouds com-
ing up. He was going to turn away when he heard someone
stumble a few yards away and he flashed his torch. It lit
on a man's bowed back moving between the huts towards
the road. "Scobie," Wilson exclaimed, and the man turned.
"Hullo, Wilson," Scobie said. "I didn't know you lived
"I'm sharing with Harris," Wilson said, watching the
man who had watched his tears.
"I've been taking a walk," Scobie said unconvincingly.
"I couldn't sleep." It seemed to Wilson that Scobie was
still a novice in the world of deceit: he hadn't lived in it
since childhood, and he felt an odd elderly envy for Scobie,
much as an old lag might envy the young crook serving his
first sentence to whom all this was new.
Wilson sat in his little stuffy room in the U.A.C. office.
Several of the firm's journals and daybooks bound in
quarter pigskin formed a barrier between him and the
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
door. Surreptitiously, like a schoolboy using a crib, Wilson
behind the barrier worked at his code books, translating
a cable. A commercial calendar showed a week-old date
June 20 and a motto: The best investments are honesty
and enterprise. William P. Cornforth. A clerk knocked
and said, "There's a nigger for you, Wilson, with a
"He says Brown/'
"Keep him a couple of minutes, there's a good chap, and
then boot him in/' However diligently Wilson practised,
the slang phrase sounded unnatural on his lips. He folded
up the cable and stuck it in the code book to keep his place:
then he put the cable and the code book in the safe and
pulled the door to. Pouring himself out a glass of water
he looked out on the street; the mammies, their heads tied
up in bright cotton clothes, passed, under their coloured
umbrellas. Their shapeless cotton gowns fell to the ankle:
one with a design of match-boxes: another with kerosene
lamps: the third the latest from Manchester covered
with mauve cigarette lighters on a yellow ground. Naked
to the waist a young girl passed gleaming through the rain
and Wilson watched her out of sight with melancholy lust.
He swallowed and turned as the door opened.
"Shut the door/'
The boy obeyed. He had apparently put on his best
clothes for this morning call: a white cotton shirt fell out-
side his white shorts. His gym shoes were immaculate in
spite of the rain except that his toes protruded.
"You small boy at Yusef s?"
"You got a message," Wilson said, "from my boy. He
tell you what I want, eh? He's your young brother, isn't
184 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"He says you good boy, honest. You want to be a steward*
"Can you read?
"You got eyes in your head? Good ears? You see every-
thing? You hear everything?"
The boy grinned a gash o white in the smooth grey
elephant-hide of his face: he had a look of sleek intelligence.
Intelligence, to Wilson, was more valuable than honesty.
Honesty was a double-edged weapon, but intelligence
looked after number one. Intelligence realized that a Syrian
might one day go home to his own land, but the English
stayed. Intelligence knew that it was a good thing to work
for government, whatever the government, "How much
you get as small boy?"
"I pay you five shillings more. If Yusef sack you I pay
you ten shillings. If you stay with Yusef one year and give
me good information true information, no lies I give
you job as steward with white man. Understand?"
"If you give me lies, then you go to prison. Maybe they
shoot you. I don't know. I don't care. Understand?"
"Every day you see your brother at meat market. You
tell him who comes to Yusef 's house. Tell him where Yusef
goes. You tell him any strange boys who come to Yusef's
house. You no tell lies, you tell truth. No humbug. If no
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 185
one comes to Yusef 's house you say no one. You no make
big lie. If you tell lie, I know it and you go to prison
straightaway." The wearisome recital went on. He was
never quite sure how much was understood. The sweat
ran off Wilson's forehead and the cool contained grey face
of the boy irritated him like an accusation he couldn't
answer. "You go to prison and you stay in prison plenty
long time." He could hear his own voice cracking with
the desire to impress: he could hear himself, like the
parody of a white man on the halls. He said, "Scobie? Do
you know Major Scobie?"
"Yes, sah. He very good man, sah." They were the first
words apart from yes and no the boy had uttered.
"You see him at your master's?"
"Once, twice, sah."
"He and your master they are friends?"
"My master he think Major Scobie very good man, sah."
The reiteration of the phrase angered Wilson. He broke
furiously out, "I don't want to hear whether he's good or
not. I want to know where he meets Yusef, see? What do
they talk about? You bring them in drinks sometime when
steward's busy? What do you hear?"
"Last time they have big palaver," the boy brought in-
gratiatingly out as if he were showing a corner of his wares.
"I bet they did. I want to know all about their palaver."
"When Major Scobie go away one time, my master he
put pillow right on his face."
"What on earth do you mean by that?"
The boy folded his arms over his eyes in a gesture of
great dignity and said, "His eyes make pillow wet."
"Good God," Wilson said, "what an extraordinary
l86 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"Then he drink plenty whisky and go to sleep ten,
twelve hours. Then he go to his store in Bond Street and
make plenty hell/'
"He say they humbug him."
"What's that got to do with Major Scobie?"
The boy shrugged. As so many times before, Wilson had
the sense of a door closed in his face: he was always on the
outside of the door.
When the boy had gone he opened his safe again, mov-
ing the nob of the combination first left to 32 his age,
secondly right to 10 the year of his birth, left again to
65 the number of his home in Western Avenue, Pinner,
and took out the code books. 32946 78523 97042. Row
after row of groups swam before his eyes. The telegram
was headed "Important," or he would have postponed the
decoding till the evening. He knew how little important it
really was the usual ship had left Lobito carrying the
usual suspects diamonds, diamonds, diamonds. When he
had decoded the telegram he would hand it to the long-
suffering Commissioner, who had already probably re-
ceived the same information or contradictory information
from M.I.5. or one of the other secret organizations which
took root on the coast like mangroves. Leave alone but
do not repeat not pinpoint P. Ferreira passenger ist class
Repeat P. Ferreira passenger ist class. Ferreira was pre-
sumably an agent his organization had recruited on board.
It was quite possible that the Commissioner would receive
simultaneously a message from Colonel Wright that P. Fer-
reira was suspected of carrying diamonds and should be
rigorously searched. 72391 87052 63847 92034. How did
one simultaneously leave alone, not repeat not pinpoint,
and rigorously search Mr. Ferreira? That, luckily, was not
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 187
his worry. Perhaps it was Scobie who would suffer any head-
ache there was.
Again he went to the window for a glass of water and
again he saw the same girl pass. Or maybe it was not the
same girl. He watched the water trickling down between
the two thin winglike shoulder-blades. He remembered
there was a time when he had not noticed a black skin. He
felt as though he had passed years and not months on this
coast, all the years between puberty and manhood.
"Going out?" Harris asked with surprise. "Where to?"
"Just into town/' Wilson said, loosening the knot round
his mosquito boots.
"What on earth can you find to do in town at this hour?"
"Business," Wilson said.
Well, he thought, it was business of a kind, the kind of
joyless business one did alone, without friends. He had
bought a second-hand car a few weeks ago, the first he had
ever owned, and he was not yet a very reliable driver. No
gadget survived the climate long and every few hundred
yards he had to wipe the windscreen with his handkerchief.
In Kru Town the hut doors were open and families sat
around the kerosene lamps waiting till it was cool enough
to sleep. A dead pye-dog lay in the gutter with the rain
running over its white swollen belly. He drove in second
gear at little more than a walking pace, for civilian head-
lamps had to be blacked out to the size of a visiting card
and he couldn't see more than fifteen paces ahead. It took
him ten minutes to reach the great cotton tree near the
police station. There were no lights on in any of the offi-
cers' rooms, and he left his car outside the main entrance.
l88 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
If anyone saw it there they would assume he was inside.
For a moment he sat with the door open hesitating. The
image of the girl passing in the rain conflicted with the
sight of Harris on his shoulder-blades reading a book with
a glass of squash at his elbow. He thought sadly, as lust
won the day, what a lot of trouble it was; the sadness of
the after-taste fell upon his spirits beforehand.
He had forgotten to bring his umbrella and he was wet
through before he had walked a dozen yards down the hill.
It was the passion of curiosity more than of lust that im-
pelled him now. Sometime or another, if one lived in a
place, one must try the local product. It was like having
a bar of chocolate shut in a bedroom drawer. Until the
box was empty it occupied the mind too much. He
thought: When this is over I shall be able to write another
poem to Louise.
The brothel was a tin-roofed bungalow halfway down
the hill on the right-hand side. In the dry season the girls
sat outside in the gutter like sparrows: they chatted with
the policeman on duty at the top of the hill. The road was
never made up, so that nobody drove by the brothel on the
way to the wharf or the Cathedral: it could be ignored.
Now it turned a shuttered silent front to the muddy street,
except where a door, propped open with a rock out of the
roadway, opened on a passage. Wilson looked quickly this
way and that and stepped inside.
Years ago the passage had been whitewashed and plas-
tered, but rats had torn holes in the plaster and human
beings had mutilated the whitewash with scrawls and pen-
cilled names. The walls were tattooed like a sailor's arm:
with initials, dates there were even a pair of hearts inter-
locked. At first it seemed to Wilson that the place was en-
tirely deserted: cm either side of the passage there were
little cells nine feet by four with curtains instead of door-
TOE HEART OF THE MATTER 189
ways and beds made out o old packing cases spread with a
native cloth. He walked rapidly to the end of the passage:
then, he told himself, he would turn and go back to the
quiet and somnolent security of the room where the Old
Downhamian dozed over his book.
He felt an awful disappointment as though he had not
found what he was looking for when he reached the end
and discovered that the left-hand cell was occupied: in the
light of an oil lamp burning on the floor he saw a girl in
a dirty shift spread out on the packing cases like a fish on
a counter: her bare pink soles dangled over the words
"Tate's Sugar." She lay there on duty, waiting for a cus-
tomer. She grinned at Wilson, not bothering to sit up, and
said, "Want jig jig, darling? Ten bob." He had a vision of
a girl with a rain-wet back moving for ever out of his sight.
"No," he said, "no," shaking his head and thinking:
What a fool I was, what a fool, to drive all the way for only
this. The girl giggled as if she understood his stupidity and
he heard the slop slop of bare feet coming up the passage
from the road: the way was blocked by an old mammy
carrying a striped umbrella. She said something to the girl
in her native tongue and received a grinning explanation.
He had the sense that all this was strange only to hi m, that
it was one of the stock situations the old woman was accus-
tomed to meet in the dark region that she ruled. He said
weakly, "I'll just go and get a drink first."
"She get drink," the mammy said. She commanded the
girl sharply in the language he couldn't understand and
the girl swung her legs off the sugar cases. "You stay here/*
the mammy said to Wilson, and mechanically, like a hostess
whose mind is elsewhere but who must make conversation
with however uninteresting a guest, she said, "Pretty girl,
jig jig, one pound." Market values here were reversed: the
price rose steadily with his reluctance.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"I'm sorry. I can't wait/' Wilson said. "Here's ten bob,"
and he made the preliminary motions of departure, but
the old woman paid him no attention at all, blocking the
way, smiling steadily like a dentist who knows what's good
for you. Here a man's colour had no value: he couldn't
bluster as a white man could elsewhere: by entering this
narrow plaster passage he had shed every racial, social, and
individual trait, he had reduced himself to human nature.
If he had wanted to hide, here was the perfect hiding place:
if he had wanted to be anonymous, here he was simply a
man. Even his reluctance, disgust, and fear were not per-
sonal characteristics: they were so common to those who
came here for the first time that the old woman knew
exactly what each move would be. First the suggestion of
a drink, then the offer of money, after that . . .
Wilson said weakly, "Let me by," but he knew that she
wouldn't move: she stood watching him, as though he were
a tethered animal on whom she was keeping an eye for its
owner. She wasn't interested in him, but occasionally she
repeated calmingly, "Pretty girl jig jig by an 1 by." He held
out a pound to her and she pocketed it and went on block-
ing the way. When he tried to push by, she thrust him back-
wards with a casual pink palm, saying, "By an' by. Jig jig."
It had all happened so many hundreds of times before.
Down the passage the girl came carrying a vinegar
bottle filled with palm wine, and with a sigh of reluctance
Wilson surrendered. The heat between the walls of rain,
the musty smell of his companion, the dim and wayward
light of the kerosene lamp, reminded him of a vault newly
opened for another body to be let down upon its floor. A
grievance stirred in him, a hatred of those who had brought
him here. In their presence he felt as though his dead veins
would bleed again.
.. HELEN SAID, I SAW YOU AT THE BEACH THIS
afternoon/ 1 Scobie looked apprehensively up from the glass
of whisky he was measuring. Something in her voice re-
minded him oddly of Louise. He said, "I had to find Rees
the Naval Intelligence man/'
"You didn't even speak to me/'
"I was in a hurry/'
"You are so careful, always/' she said, and now he real-
ized what was happening and why he had thought of Lou-
ise. He wondered sadly whether love always inevitably
took the same road. It was not only the act of love itself
that was the same. . . . How often in the last two years
he had tried to turn away at the critical moment from
just such a scene to save himself but also to save the
other victim. He laughed with half a heart and said, 'Tor
once I wasn't thinking of you. I had other things in mind."
"What other things?"
"Oh, diamonds . . ."
"Your work is much more important to you than I am/'
Helen said, and the banality of the phrase, read in how
many books, wrung his heart like the too mature remark
of a child.
"Yes," he said gravely, "but I'd sacrifice it for you."
1Q2 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"I suppose because you are a human being. One may
love a dog more than any other possession, but one
wouldn't run down even a strange child to save it."
"Oh," she said impatiently, "why do you always tell me
the truth? I don't want the truth all the time."
He put the whisky glass in her hand and said, "My dear,
you are unlucky. You are tied up with a middle-aged man.
We can't be bothered to lie all the time like the young."
"I you knew," she said, "how tired I get of all your
caution. You come here after dark and you go after dark.
It's so so ignoble."
"We always make love here. Among the junior official's
furniture. I don't believe we'd know how to do it anywhere
"Poor dear," he said.
She said furiously, "I don't want your pity." But it was
not a question of whether she wanted it she had it. Pity
smouldered like decay at his heart. He would never rid
himself of it. He knew from experience how passion died
away and how love went, but pity always stayed. Nothing
ever diminished pity. The conditions of life nurtured it.
There was only one person in the world who was unpiti-
"Can't you ever risk anything?" she asked. "You never
even write a line to me. You go away on trek for days, but
you won't leave anything behind. I can't even have a photo-
graph to make this place human."
"But I haven't got a photograph."
"I suppose you think I'd use your letters against you."
He thought wearily; If I shut my eyes it might almost be
Louise speaking the voice was younger, that was all, and
perhaps less capable of giving pain. Standing with the
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 193
whisky glass in his hand he remembered another night a
hundred yards away the glass had then contained gin.
He said gently, "You talk such nonsense, dear."
"You think I'm a child. You tiptoe in bringing me
"I'm trying to protect you."
"I don't care a bloody damn if people talk." He recog-
nized the hard swearing of the netball team.
He said, "If they talked enough, my dear, this would
come to an end."
"You are not protecting me. You are protecting your
"It comes to the same thing."
"Oh," she said, "to couple me with that woman." He
couldn't prevent the wince that betrayed him. He had
underrated her power of giving pain. He could see how she
had spotted her success: he had delivered himself into her
hands. Now she would always know how to inflict the
sharpest stab. She was like a child with a pair o dividers
who knows her power to injure. You could never trust a
child not to use her advantage.
"My dear," he said, "it's too soon to quarrel."
"That woman," she repeated, watching his eyes. "You'd
never leave her, would you?"
"We are married," he said.
"If she knew of this, you'd go back like a whipped dog.'*
No, he thought with tenderness, she hasn't read the best
books, unlike Louise.
"I don't know."
"You'll never marry me/'
"I can't. You know that. Fm a Catholic. I can't have
"It's a wonderful excuse," she said. "It doesn't stop you
sleeping with me it only stops you marrying me."
104 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"Yes," he said heavily as though he were accepting a
penance. He thought: How much older she is than she
was a month ago. She hadn't been capable of a scene then,
but she had been educated by love and secrecy: he was be-
ginning to form her. He wondered whether, if this went on
long enough, she would be indistinguishable from Louise.
In my school, he thought wearily, they learn bitterness and
frustration and how to grow old.
"Go on/' Helen said, "justify yourself."
"It would take too long," he said. "One would have to
begin with the arguments for a God."
"What a twister you are."
He felt appallingly tired and disappointed. He had
looked forward to the evening. All day in the office dealing
with a rent case and a case of juvenile delinquency he had
looked forward to the Nissen hut, the bare room, the junior
official's furniture like his own youth, everything that she
had abused. He said, "I meant well."
"What do you mean?"
"I meant to be your friend. To look after you. To make
you happier than you were."
"Wasn't I happy?" she asked, as though she were speak-
ing of years ago.
He said, "You were shocked, lonely . . ."
"I couldn't have been as lonely as I am now," she said.
"I go out to the beach with Mrs. Carter when the rain stops.
Bagster makes a pass, they think I'm frigid. I come back
here before the rain starts and wait for you ... we drink
a glass of whisky . . . you give me some stamps as though
I were your small girl ..."
"I'm sorry," Scobie said, 'I've been such a failure. . . ."
He put out his hand and covered hers: the knuckles lay
under his palm like a small backbone that had been broken.
He went slowly and cautiously on, choosing his words care-
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 1Q5
fully, as though he were pursuing a path through evacuated
country sown with booby traps: every step he took he ex-
pected the explosion. "I'm sorry about everything. I'd do
anything-r-almost anything to make you happy. I'd stop
coming here. I'd go right away retire . . ."
"You'd be so glad to be rid of me/' she said.
"It would be like the end of life."
"Go away if you want to."
"I don't want to go. I want to do what you want."
"You can go if you want to or you can stay/' she said
with contempt. "I can't move, can I?"
"If you wanted it, I'd get you on the next boat somehow/'
"Oh, how gJad you'd be if this were over/' she said,
and began to weep. He envied her the tears. When he put
out a hand to touch her she screamed at him, "Go to hell.
Go to hell. Clear out."
Til go," he said.
"Yes, go and don't come back."
Outside the door, with the rain cooling his face, running
down his hands, it occurred to him how much easier life
might be if he took her at her word. He would go into his
house and close the door and be alone again: he would
write a letter to Louise without a sense of deceit: sleep as
he hadn't slept for weeks, dreamlessly. Next day the office,
the quiet going home, the evening meal, the locked door.
. . . But down the hill, past the transport park, where
the lorries crouched under the dripping tarpaulins, the
rain fell like tears. He thought of her alone in the hut,
wondering whether the irrevocable words had been spoken:
if all the tomorrows would consist of Mrs. Carter and Bag-
ster until the boat came and she went home with nothing
to remember but misery. He thought: I would never go
back there, to the Nissen hut, if it meant that she were
happy and I suffered. But if I were happy and she suffered
ig6 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
. . . That was what he could not face. Inexorably the
other's point o view rose on the path like a murdered
innocent. She's right, he thought, who could bear my
As he opened his door a rat that had been nosing at his
food-safe retreated without haste up the stairs. This was
what Louise had hated and feared: he had at least made
her happy, and now ponderously, with planned and careful
recklessness, he set about trying to make things right for
Helen. He sat down at his table and taking a sheet of type-
writing paper official paper stamped with the Govern-
ment water-mark he began to compose a letter.
He wrote: My darling he wanted to put himself
entirely in her hands, but to leave her anonymous. He
looked at his watch and added in the right-hand corner, as
though he were making a police report, ^2:35 a.m. Burn*
side, September 5. He went carefully on, / love you more
than myself, more than my wife, more than God I think.
Please keep this letter. Don't burn it. When you are angry
with me, read it. I am trying very hard to tell the truth.
I want more than anything in the world to make you
happy. . . . The banality of the phrases saddened him:
they seemed to have no truth personal to herself: they had
been used too often. If I were young, he thought, I would
be able to find the right words, the new words, but all this
has happened to me before. He wrote again, / love you.
Forgive me> signed and folded the paper.
He put on his mackintosh and went out again in the rain.
Wounds festered in the damp, they never healed. Scratch
your finger and in a few hours there would be a little
coating of green skin. He carried a sense of corruption up
the hill. A soldier shouted something in his sleep in the
transport park a single word like a hieroglyphic on a wall
which Scobie could not interpret the men were Nigerians*
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 1 97
The rain hammered on the Nissen roofs, and he thought:
Why did I write that? Why did I write "more than God"?
She would have been satisfied with "more than Louise/'
Even if that's true, why did I write it? The sky wept end-
lessly around him: he had the sense of wounds that never
healed. He said softly aloud, "O God, I have deserted you.
Do not you desert me/' When he came to her door he
thrust the letter under it: he heard the rustle of the paper
on the cement floor but nothing else. Remembering the
childish figure carried past him on the stretcher, he was
saddened to think how much had happened, how uselessly,
to make him now say to himself with resentment: She will
never again be able to accuse me of caution.
"I was just passing by," Father Rank said, "so I thought
I'd look in." The evening rain fell in grey ecclesiastical
folds, and a lorry howled its way towards the hills.
"Come in," Scobie said. "I'm out of whisky. But there's
beer or gin."
"I saw you up at the Nissens, so I thought I'd follow you
down. You are not busy?"
"I'm having dinner with the Commissioner, but not for
Father Rank moved restlessly around the room, while
Scobie took the beer out of the ice-box. "Would you have
heard from Louise lately?" he asked.
"Not for a fortnight," Scobie said, "but there've been
some sinkings in the south."
Father Rank let himself down in the Government arm-
chair with his glass between his knees. There was no sound
but the rain scraping on the roof. Scobie cleared his throat
and then the silence came back. He had the odd sense that
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Father Rank, like one of his own junior officers, was wait-
ing there for orders.
"The rains will soon be over," Scobie said.
"It must be six months now since your wife went."
"Will you be taking your leave in South Africa?" Father
Rank asked, looking away and taking a draught of his beer.
"I've postponed my leave. The young men need it more."
"Everybody needs leave."
"You've been here twelve years without it, Father."
"Ah, but that's different," Father Rank said. He got up
again and moved restlessly down one wall and along an-
other. He turned an expression of undefined appeal to-
wards Scobie. "Sometimes," he said, "I feel as though I
weren't a working man at all." He stopped and stared and
half raised his hands, and Scobie remembered Father Clay
dodging an unseen figure in his restless walk. He felt as
though an appeal were being made to which he couldn't
find an answer. He said weakly, "There's no one works
harder than you, Father."
Father Rank returned draggingly to his chair. He said,
"It'll be good when the rains are over."
"How's the mammy out by Congo Creek? I heard she
"She'll be gone this week. She's a good woman." He
took another draught of beer and then doubled up in
the chair with his hand on his stomach. "The wind," he
said. "I get the wind badly."
"You shouldn't drink bottled beer, Father."
"The dying," Father Rank said, "that's what I'm here
for. They send for me when they are dying." He raised
eyes bleary with too much quinine and said harshly and
hopelessly, "I've never been any good to the living, Scobie/'
THE HEART OF THE MATTER igg
"You are talking nonsense, Father."
"When I was a novice, I thought that people talked to
their priests, and I thought God somehow gave the right
words. Don't mind me, Scobie, don't listen to me. It's the
rains they always get me down about this time. God
doesn't give the right words, Scobie. I had a parish once
in Northampton. They make boots there. They used to
ask me out to tea, and I'd sit and watch their hands pouring
out, and we'd talk of the Children of Mary and repairs to
the church roof. They were very generous in Northampton.
I only had to ask and they'd give.. I wasn't of any use to a
single living soul, Scobie. I thought, in Africa things will
be different. You see, I'm not a reading man, Scobie: I
never had much talent for loving God as some people do.
I wanted to be of use, that's all. Don't listen to me. It's the
rains. I haven't talked like this for five years. Except to the
mirror. If people are in trouble they'd go to you, Scobie,
not to me. They ask me to dinner to hear the gossip. And if
you were in trouble where would you go?" And Scobie
was again aware of those bleary and appealing eyes, waiting,
through the dry seasons and the rains, for something that
never happened. Could I shift my burden there, he won-
dered: Could I tell him that I love two women: that I don't
know what to do? What would be the use? I know the
answers as well as he does. One should look after one's
own soul at whatever cost to another, and that's what I
can't do, what I shall never be able to do. It wasn't he who
required the magic word, it was the priest, and he couldn't
"I'm not the kind of man to get into trouble, Father.
I'm dull and middle-aged," and looking away, unwilling
to see distress, he heard Father Rank's clapper miserably
sounding, "Ho! ho! ho!"
2OO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
On his way to the Commissioner's bungalow, Scobie
looked in at his office. A message was written in pencil on
his pad: / looked in to see you. Nothing important. Wil-
son. It struck him as odd: he had not seen Wilson for
some weeks, and if his visit had no importance why had
he so carefully recorded it? He opened the drawer of his
desk to find a packet of cigarettes and noticed at once
that something was out of order: he considered the contents
carefully: his indelible pencil was missing. Obviously Wil-
son had looked for a pencil with which to write his message
and had forgotten to put it back. But why the message?
In the charge room the sergeant said, "Mr. Wilson come
to see you, sah."
"Yes, he left a message/'
So that was it, he thought: I would have known anyway,
so he considered it best to let me know himself. He re-
turned to his office and looked again at his desk. It seemed
to him that a file had been shifted, but he couldn't be
sure. He opened his drawer, but there was nothing there
which would interest a soul. Only the broken rosary caught
his eye something which should have been mended a
long while ago. He took it out and put it in his pocket.
"Whisky?" the Commissioner asked.
"Thank you," Scobie said, holding the glass up between
himself and the Commissioner. "Do you trust me?"
"Am I the only one who doesn't know about Wilson?"
The Commissioner smiled, lying back at ease, unem-
barrassed. "Nobody knows officially except myself and
the manager of the U.A.C. that was essential, of course.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 2O1
The Governor too and whoever deals with the cables
marked 'Most Secret/ I'm glad you've tumbled to it."
"I wanted you to know that up to date of course I've
"You don't need to tell me, Scobie."
"In the case of Tallit's cousin, we couldn't have done
"Of course not."
Scobie said, "There is one thing you don't know, though.
I borrowed two hundred pounds from Yusef so that I could
send Louise to South Africa. I pay him four per cent
interest. The arrangement is purely commercial, but if you
want my head for it . . ."
"I'm glad you told me," the Commissioner said. "You
see, Wilson got the idea that you were being black-mailed.
He must have dug up those payments somehow/'
"Yusef wouldn't black-mail for money."
"I told him that."
"Do you want my head . . . ?"
"I need your head, Scobie, here. You're the only officer
I really trust."
Scobie stretched out a hand With an empty glass in it: it
Was like a handclasp,
^fen can become twins with age: the past was their com-
mon womb: the six months of rain and the six months
of sun was the period of their common gestation. They
needed only a few words and a few gestures to convey their
meaning. They had graduated through the same fevers:
they were moved by the same love and contempt.
"Derry reports there' ve been some big thefts from the
202 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"Gem stones. Is it Yusef or Tallit?"
"It might be Yusef," Scobie said. "I don't think he deals
in industrial diamonds. He calls them gravel. But of course
one can't be sure/'
"The Esperanfa will be in in a few days. We've got to
"What does Wilson say?"
"He swears by Tallit. Yusef is the villain of his piece
and you, Scobie."
"I haven't seen Yusef for a long while."
"I begin to know what these Syrians feel watched and
"He reports on all of us, Scobie. Fraser, Tod, Thimble-
rigg, myself. He thinks I'm too easygoing. It doesn't really
matter, though. Wright tears up his reports, and of course
Wilson reports on him."
"Does anybody report on Wilson?"
"I suppose so."
He walked up, at midnight, to the Nissen huts: in the
black-out he felt momentarily safe, unwatched, unreported
on: in the soggy ground his footsteps made the smallest
sounds, but as he passed Wilson's hut he was aware again
of the deep necessity for caution. An awful weariness
touched him, and he thought: I will go home: I won't
creep by to her tonight. Her last words had been "Don't
come back": couldn't one, for once, take somebody at their
word? He stood twenty yards from Wilson's hut, watching
the crack of light between the curtains. A drunken voice
shouted somewhere up the hill and the first spatter of the
returning rain licked his face. He thought: I'd go back and
go to bed, in the morning I'd write to Louise and in the
evening go to Confession: the day after that God would
return to me in a priest's hands: life would be simple
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
again. He would be at peace sitting under the handcuffs in
the office. Virtue, the good life, tempted him in the dark
like a sin. The rain blurred his eyes: the ground sucked at
his feet as they trod reluctantly towards the Nissen hut.
He knocked twice and the door immediately opened. He
had prayed between the two knocks that anger might still
be there behind the door, that he wouldn't be wanted. He
couldn't shut his eyes or his ears to any human need of him:
he was not the centurion, but a man in the ranks who had
to do the bidding of a hundred centurions, and when the
door opened, he could tell the command was going to be
given again the command to stay, to love, to accept re-
sponsibility, to lie.
"Oh, my dear," she said, "I thought you were never
coming. I bitched you so."
"I'll always come if you want me."
"Always. If I'm alive." God can wait, he thought: how
can one love God at the expense of one of his creatures?
Would a woman accept a love for which a child had to be
Carefully they drew the curtains close before turning up
the lamps: they lifted discretion between them like a
She said, "I've been afraid all day that you wouldn't
"Of course I came."
"I told you to go away. Never pay any attention to me
when I tell you to go away. Promise."
"I promise," he said, with a sense of despair, as though
he were signing away the whole future.
"If you hadn't come back . . ." she said, and became
lost in thought between the lamps. He could see her search-
ing for herself, frowning in the effort to see where she
2O4 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
would have been. ... "I don't know. Perhaps I'd have
slutted with Bagster, or killed myself, or both. I think
He said anxiously, "You mustn't think like that. I'll
always be here if you need me, as long as I'm alive."
"Why do you keep on saying as long as I'm alive?"
"There are thirty years between us."
For the first time that night they kissed. She said, "I can't
feel the years."
"Why did you think I wouldn't come?" Scobie said.
"You got my letter."
"The one I pushed under your door last night."
She said, with fear, "I never saw a letter. What did you
He touched her face and smiled to hide the danger.
"Everything. I didn't want to be cautious any longer. I
put down everything."
"Even your name?"
"I think so. Anyway, it's signed with my handwriting."
"There's a mat by the door. It must be under the mat."
But they both knew it wouldn't be there. It was as if all
along they had foreseen how disaster would come in by that
"Who would have taken it?"
He tried to soothe her nerves. "Probably your boy threw
it away, thought it was waste-paper. It wasn't in an enve-
lope. Nobody could know whom I was writing to."
"As if that mattered. Darling," she said, "I feel sick.
Really sick. Somebody's getting something on you. I wish
I'd died in that boat."
"You're imagining things. Probably I didn't push the
note far enough. When your boy opened the door in the
morning it blew away or got trampled in the mud." He
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
spoke with all the conviction he could summon: it was just
"Don't let me ever do you any harm," she implored, and
every phrase she used fastened the fetters more firmly
round his wrists. He put out his hands to her and lied
firmly, "You'll never do me harm. Don't worry about a lost
letter. I exaggerated. It said nothing really nothing that
a stranger would understand. My dear, don't worry."
"Listen, dear. Don't stay tonight. I'm nervous. I feel
watched. Say good night now and go away. But come back.
Oh, my dear, come back."
The light was still on in Wilson's hut as he passed. Open-
ing the door of his own dark house he saw a piece of
paper on the floor. It gave him an odd shock as though the
missing letter had returned, like a cat, to its old home. But
when he picked it up, it wasn't his letter, though this too
was a message of love. It was a telegram addressed to him
at police headquarters, and the signature, written in full
for the sake of censorship, Louise Scobie, was like a blow
struck by a boxer with a longer reach than he possessed.
Have written am on my way home have been a fool stop
love and then that name as formal as a seal.
He sat down and said aloud, "I've got to think": his head
swam with nausea. He thought: If I had never written that
other letter, if I had taken Helen at her word and gone
away, how easily then life could have been arranged again.
But he remembered his words in the last ten minutes: "I'll
always be here if you need me as long as I'm alive." That
constituted an oath as ineffaceable as the vow by the Ealing
altar. The wind was coming up from the sea the rains
ended, as they began, with typhoons: the curtains blew in
and he ran to the windows and pulled them to. Upstairs the
bedroom windows clattered to and fro, tearing at hinges.
Turning from closing them he looked at the bare dressing-
2O6 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
table where soon the photographs and the pots would be
back again one photograph in particular. The happy
Scobie, he thought, my one success. A child in hospital said
"Father" as the shadow of a rabbit shifted on the pillow:
a girl went by on a stretcher clutching a stamp-album
Why me, he thought, why do they need me a dull,
middle-aged police officer who had failed for promotion?
I've got nothing to give them that they can't get elsewhere:
why can't they leave me in peace? Elsewhere there was
younger and better love, more security. It sometimes
seemed to him now that all he could share with them was
Leaning back against the dressing-table, he tried to pray.
The Lord's Prayer lay as dead on his tongue as a legal
document: it wasn't his daily bread that he wanted, but
so much more. He wanted happiness for others and soli-
tude and peace for himself. "I don't want to plan any
more," he said suddenly aloud. "They wouldn't need me if
I were dead. No one needs the dead. The dead can be for-
gotten. O God, give me death before I give them unhappi-
ness." But the words sounded melodramatically in his own
ears. He told himself that he mustn't get hysterical: there
was far too much planning to do for an hysterical man, and
going downstairs again he thought three aspirins or per-
haps four were what he required in this situation this
banal situation. He took a bottle of filtered water out of the
ice-box and dissolved the aspirins. He wondered how it
would feel to drain death as simply as these aspirins which
now stuck sourly in his throat. The priests told you it was
the unforgivable sin, the final expression of an unrepent-
ant despair, and of course one accepted the Church's teach-
ing. But they taught also that God had sometimes broken
his own laws, and was it more impossible for him to put
out a hand of forgiveness into the suicidal darkness and
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 2<>7
chaos than to have woken himself in the tomb, behind the
stone? Christ had not been murdered: you couldn't mur-
der God: Christ had killed himself: he had hanged him-
self on the Cross as surely as Pemberton from the picture
He put his glass down and thought again: I must not
get hysterical. Two people's happiness were in his hands,
and he must learn to juggle with strong nerves. Calmness
was everything. He took out his diary and began to write
against the date Wednesday, September 6: Dinner with
the Commissioner. Satisfactory talk about W.- Called on
Helen for a few minutes. Telegram from Louise that she
is on the way home.
He hesitated for a moment and then wrote: Father
Rank called in for drink before dinner. A little over-
wrought. He needs leave. He read this over and scored out
the last two sentences. It was seldom in the record that he
allowed himself an expression of opinion.
. THE TELEGRAM LAY ON HIS MIND ALL DAY: OR-
dinary life the two hours in court on a perjury case had
the unreality of a country one is leaving for ever. One says,
At this hour, in that village, these people I once knew are
sitting down at table just as they did a year ago when I was
there, but one is not convinced that any life goes on the
same as ever outside the consciousness. All Scobie's con-
sciousness was on the telegram, on that nameless boat
edging its way now up the African coast line from the
south. God forgive me, he thought, when his mind lit for
a moment on the possibility that it might never arrive. In"
our hearts there is a ruthless dictator, ready to contemplate
the misery of a thousand strangers if it will ensure the
happiness of the few we love.
At the end of the perjury case Fellowes, the Sanitary
Inspector, caught him at the door. "Come to chop tonight,
Scobie. We've got a bit of real Argentine beef." It was too
much of an effort in this dream world to refuse an invita-
tion. "Wilson's coming/' Fellowes said. "To tell you the
truth, he helped us with the beef. You like him, don't
"Yes. I thought it was you who didn't."
"Oh, the Club's got to move with the times, and all
sorts of people go into trade nowadays. I admit I was hasty.
Bit boozed up, I wouldn't be surprised. He was at Down-
ham: we used to play them when I was at Lancing."
Driving out to the familiar house he had once occupied
himself on the hills Scobie thought listlessly, I must speak
to Helen soon. She mustn't learn this from someone else.
Life always repeated the same pattern: there was always,
sooner or later, bad news that had to be broken, comforting
THE HEART OF THE MATTER SCX)
lies to be uttered, pink gins to be consumed to keep misery
He came to the long bungalow living-room and there at
the end of it was Helen. With a sense of shock he realized
that never before had he seen her like a stranger in another
man's house: never before had he seen her dressed for an
evening's party. "You know Mrs. Rolt, don't you?" Fel-
lowes said. There was no irony in his voice. Scobie thought,
with a tremor of self -disgust: How clever we've been: how
successfully we've deceived the gossipers of a small colony.
It oughtn't to be possible for lovers to deceive so well.
Wasn't love supposed to be spontaneous, reckless . . . ?
"Yes," he said, "I'm an old friend of Mrs. Rolt. I was at
Pende when she was brought across." He stood by the table
a dozen feet away while Fellowes mixed the drinks, and
watched her while she talked to Mrs. Fellowes, talked
easily, naturally, as if there had been no moment in that
dark Nissen hut below the hill when she had cried out in
his arms. Would I, he wondered, if I had come in tonight
and seen her for the first time, ever have felt any love at
"Now which was yours, Mrs. Rolt?"
"A pink gin."
"I wish I could get my wife to drink them. I can't bear
her gin and orange."
Scobie said, "If I'd known you were going to be here,
I'd have called for you."
"I wish you had," Helen said. "You never come and see
me." She turned to Fellowes and said with an ease that
horrified him, "He was so kind to me in hospital at Pende,
but I think he only likes the sick."
Fellowes stroked his little ginger moustache, poured
himself out some more gin, and said, "He's scared of you,
Mrs, Rolt. All we married men are." At the phrase "mar-
21O THE HEART OF THE MATTER
tied men" Scobie could see that tired exhausted figure on
the stretcher turn away from them both as from strong
sunlight. She said with false blandness, "Do you think I
could have one more without getting tight?"
"Ah, here's Wilson/' Fellowes said, and there he was
with his pink innocent self-distrustful face and his badly
tied cummerbund. "You know everybody, don't you? You
and Mrs. Rolt are neighbours."
"We haven't met, though," Wilson said, and began auto-
matically to blush.
"I don't know what's come over the men in this place/'
said Fellowes. "You and Scobie both neighbours and nei-
ther of you see anything of Mrs. Rolt," and Scobie was
immediately aware of Wilson's gaze speculatively turned
upon him. "/ wouldn't be so bashful," Fellowes said, pour-
ing out the pink gins.
"Dr. Sykes late as usual," Mrs. Fellowes commented from
the end of the room, but at that moment, treading heavily
up the outside stairs, sensible in a dark dress and mosquito
boots, came Dr. Sykes. "Just in time for a drink, Jessie/'
Fellowes said. "What's it to be?"
"Double Scotch," Dr. Sykes said. She glared around
through her thick glasses and added, "Evening all."
As they went in to dinner Scobie said, "I've got to see
you," but catching Wilson's eye he added, "about your
"I think I could get you some extra chairs." As conspira-
tors they were much too young: they had not yet absorbed
a whole code book into their memory: he was uncertain
whether she had understood the mutilated phrase. All
through dinner he sat silent, dreading the time when he
would be alone with her, afraid to lose the least opportu-
nity; when he put his hand in his pocket for a handkerchief
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 211
the telegram crumpled in his fingers . . . have been a fool
"Of course you know more about it than we do, Major
Scobie," Dr. Sykes said.
"I'm sorry. I missed . . ."
"We were talking about the Pemberton case." So al-
ready in a few months it had become a case. When some-
thing became a case it no longer seemed to concern a
human being: there was no shame or suffering in a case:
the boy on the bed was cleaned and tidied, laid out for the
text-book of psychology.
"I was saying," Wilson said, "that Pemberton chose an
odd way to kill himself. I would have chosen a steeping
"It wouldn't be easy to get a sleeping draught in Bamba,"
Dr. Sykes said. "It was probably a sudden decision."
"I wouldn't have caused all that fuss," said Fellowes. "A
chap's got the right to take his own life, of course, but
there's no need for fuss. An overdose of sleeping draught
I agree with Wilson that's the way."
"You still have to get your prescription," Dr. Sykes said.
Scobie with his fingers on the telegram remembered
the letter signed "Dicky": the immature handwriting: the
marks of cigarettes on the chairs: the novels of Wallace:
the stigmata of loneliness. Through two thousand years, he
thought, we have discussed Christ's agony in just this dis-
"Pemberton was always a bit of a fool," Fellowes said.
"A sleeping draught is invariably tricky," Dr. Sykes said.
Her big lenses reflected the electric globe as she turned
them like a lighthouse in Scobie's direction. "Your experi-
ence will tell you how tricky. Insurance companies never
like sleeping draughts, and no coroner could lend himself
to a deliberate fraud."
31* THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"How can they tell?" Wilson asked.
"Take luminal, for instance. Nobody could really take
enough luminal by accident . . ."
Scobie looked across the table at Helen: she ate slowly,
without appetite, her eyes on her plate. Their silences
seemed to isolate them: this was a subject the unhappy
could never discuss impersonally. Again he was aware of
Wilson looking from one to another of them, and Scobie
drew desperately at his mind for any phrase that would
end their dangerous solitude. They could not even be
silent together with safety.
He said, "What's the way out you'd recommend, Dr.
"Well, there are bathing accidents but even they need
a good deal of explanation. If a man's brave enough to
step in front of a car, but it's too uncertain . . ."
"And involves somebody else," Scobie said.
"Personally," Dr. Sykes said, grinning under her glasses,
"I should have no difficulties. In my position, I should
classify myself as a false angina case and then get one of my
colleagues to prescribe . . ."
Helen said with sudden violence, "What a beastly talk
this is. You've got no business to tell . . ."
"My dear," Dr. Sykes said, revolving her malevolent
beams, "when you've been a doctor as long as I have been
you know your company. I don't think any of us are
likely . . ."
Mrs. Fellowes said, "Have another helping of fruit salad,
"Are you a Catholic, Mrs. Rolt?" Fellowes asked. "Of
course they take very strong views."
"No, I'm not a Catholic."
"But they do, don't they, Scobie?"
fHE HEART OF THE MATTER
"We are taught/ 1 Scobie said, "that it's the unforgivable
"That you'll go to hell?"
"But do you really, seriously, Major Scobie," Dr. Sykes
asked, "believe in hell?"
"Oh, yes, I do."
"In flames and torment?"
"Perhaps not quite that. They tell us it may be a perma-
nent sense o loss."
"That sort of hell wouldn't worry me," Fellowes said.
"Perhaps you've never lost anything of any importance,"
The real object of the dinner party had been the Argen-
tine beef. With that consumed there was nothing to keep
them together (Mrs. Fellowes didn't play cards) . Fellowes
busied himself about the beer, and Wilson was wedged be-
tween the sour silence of Mrs. Fellowes and Dr. Sykes'?
"Let's get a breath of air," Scobie suggested.
"It would look odd if we didn't," Scobie said.
"Going to look at the stars?" Fellowes called, pouring
out the beer. "Making up for lost time, Scobie? Take your
glasses with you."
They balanced their glasses on the rail of the verandah.
Helen said, "I haven't found your letter."
"Forget it, dear."
"Wasn't that what you wanted to see me about?"
He could see the outline of her face against the sky,
doomed to go out as the rain clouds advanced. He said,
"My dear, I've got bad news."
214 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"Oh, no, nobody knows/' He said, "Last night I had a
telegram from my wife. She's on the way home/' One of
the glasses fell from the rail and smashed in the yard.
The lips repeated bitterly the word "home" as if that
were the only word she had grasped. He said quickly,
moving his hand along the rail and failing to reach her,
"Her home. It will never be my home again."
"Oh, yes, it will. Now it will be."
He swore carefully, "I shall never again want any home
without you." The rain clouds had reached the moon and
her face went out like a candle in a sudden draught of
wind. He had the sense that he was embarking now on a
longer journey than he had ever intended: if he looked
back he knew that he would see only a ravaged country-
side. A light suddenly shone on both of them as a door
opened. He said sharply, "Mind the black-out/* and
thought: at least we were not standing together, but how,
how did our faces look? Wilson's voice said, "We thought
a fight was going on. We heard a glass break/'
"Mrs. Rolt lost all her beer."
"For God's sake call me Helen," she said drearily, "every-
body else does, Major Scobie."
"Am I interrupting something?"
"A scene of unbridled passion," Helen said. "It's left me
shaken. I want to go home."
"I'll drive you down," Scobie said. "It's getting late."
"I wouldn't trust you, and anyway Dr. Sykes is dying
to talk to you about suicide. I won't break up the party.
Haven't you got a car, Mr. Wilson?"
"Of course. I'd be delighted."
"You could always drive down and come straight back/'
"I'm an early bird myself," Wilson said.
"I'll just go in then and say good night/'
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
When he saw her face again in the light he thought: Do
I worry too much? Couldn't this for her be just the end of
an episode? He heard her saying to Mrs. Fellowes, "The
Argentine beef certainly was lovely."
"We've got Mr. Wilson to thank for it."
The phrases went to and fro like shuttlecocks. Somebody
laughed (it was Fellowes or Wilson) and said, "You're
right there/' and Dr. Sykes's spectacles made a dot dash
dot on the ceiling. He couldn't watch the car move off
without disturbing the black-out: he listened to the starter
retching and retching, the racing of the engine, and then
the slow decline to silence.
Dr. Sykes said, "They should have kept Mrs. Rolt in
hospital a while longer."
"Nerves. I could feel it when she shook hands."
He waited another half an hour and then he drove home.
As usual Ali was waiting for him, dozing uneasily on the
kitchen step. He lit Scobie to the door with his torch.
"Missus leave letter," he said, and took an envelope out of
"Why didn't you leave it on my table?"
"Massa in there."
"What massa?" But by that time the door was open and
he saw Yusef stretched in a chair, asleep, breathing so
gently that the hair lay motionless on his chest.
"I tell him go away," Ali said with contempt, "but he
"That's all right. Go to bed."
He had a sense that life was closing in on him. Yusef
had never been here since the night he came to enquire
after Louise and to lay his trap for Tallit. Quietly, so as
not to disturb the sleeping man and bring that problem
on his heels, he opened the note from Helen. She must
2l6 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
have written it immediately she got home. He read, My
darling, this is serins. I can't say this to you, so I'm putting
it on paper* Only I'll give it to Alt. You trust Alt. When I
heard your wife was coming back . . .
Yusef opened his eyes and said, "Excuse me, Major
Scobie, for intruding/'
"Do you want a drink? Beer. Gin. My whisky's finished/'
"May I send you a case?" Yusef began automatically, and
then laughed. "I always forget. I must not send you things."
Scobie sat down at the table and laid the note open in
front of him. Nothing could be so important as those next
sentences. He said, "What do you want, Yusef?" and read
on. When I heard your wife was coming back, I was angry
and bitter. It was stupid of me* Nothing is your fault. You
are a Catholic. I wish you weren't, but even if you weren't
you hate not keeping your word.
"Finish your reading, Major Scobie, I can wait/'
"It isn't really important," Scobie said, dragging his
eyes from the large immature letters, the mistake in spell-
ing which was like a pain in his heart. "Tell me what you
want, Yusef," and back his eyes went to the letter. That's
why I'm writing. Because last night you made promises
about not leaving me and I don't want you ever to be
bound to me with promises. My dear, all your promises . . .
"Major Scobie, when I lent you money, I swear it was
for friendship, just friendship. I never wanted to ask any-
thing of you, anything at all, not even the four per cent.
I wouldn't even have asked for your friendship ... I was
your friend . . . this is very confusing, words are very
complicated, Major Scobie."
"You've kept the bargain, Yusef, I don't complain about
Tallit's cousin." He read on: . . . belong to your wife.
Nothing you say to me is a promise. Please please remember
that. If you never want to see me again, don't write, don't
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 217
speak. And, dear, if you fust want to see me sometimes, see
me sometimes. I'll tell any lies you like.
"Do finish what you are reading, Major Scobie. Because
what I have to speak about is very very important."
My dear my dear leave me if you want to or have me as
your hore if you want to. He thought: She's only heard
the word, never seen it spelt: they cut it out of the school
Shakespeares. Good night. Don't worry, my darling. He
said savagely, "All right, Yusef. What is it that's so impor-
"Major Scobie, I have got after all to ask you a favour.
It has nothing to do with the money I lent you. If you can
do this for me it will be friendship, just friendship."
"It's late, Yusef, tell me what it is."
"The Esperanfa will be in the day after tomorrow. I
want a small packet taken on board for me and left with
"What's in the packet?"
"Major Scobie, don't ask. I am your friend. I would
rather have this a secret. It will harm no one at all."
"Of course, Yusef, I can't do it. You know that."
"I assure you, Major Scobie, on my word" he leant
forward in the chair and laid his hand on the black fur
of his chest "on my word as a friend, the package con-
tains nothing, nothing for the Germans. No industrial
diamonds, Major Scobie."
"Nothing for the Germans. Nothing that will hurt your
"Yusef, you can't really believe that I'd agree?"
The tight drill trousers squeezed to the edge of the
chair: for one moment Scobie thought that Yusef was going
on his knees to him. He said, "Major Scobie, I implore
you ... It is important for you as well as for me." His
2l8 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
voice broke with genuine emotion: "I want to be a friend.
I want to be a friend/ 1
Scobie said, "I'd better warn you before you say any
more, Yusef , that the Commissioner does know about our
"I daresay. I daresay, but this is so much worse. Major
Scobie, on my word of honour, this will do no harm to any-
one. Just do this one act of friendship, and 111 never ask
another. Do it of your own free will, Major Scobie. There
is no bribe. I offer no bribe."
His eye went back to the letter: My darling, this is serins.
Serius his eye this time read it as serous a slave: a
servant of the servants of God. It was like an unwise com-
mand which he had none the less to obey. He felt as though
he were turning his back on peace for ever. With his eyes
open, knowing the consequences, he entered the territory
of lies without a passport for return.
''What were you saying, Yusef? I didn't catch . . ."
"Just once more I ask you . . ."
"Major Scobie," Yusef said, sitting bolt upright in his
chair, speaking with a sudden odd formality, as though a
stranger had joined them and they were no longer alone,
"you remember Pemberton?"
"His boy came into my employ."
"Pemberton's boy?" (Clothing you say to me is a prom-
"Pemberton's boy is Mrs. Rolt's boy."
Scobie's eyes remained on the letter, but he no longer
read what he saw.
"Her boy brought me a letter. You see I asked him to
keep his eyes skinned is that the right word?"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"You have a very good knowledge of English, Yusef . Who
read it to you?"
"That doesn't matter/'
The formal voice suddenly stopped and the old Yusef
implored again: "Oh, Major Scobie, what made you write
such a letter? It was asking for trouble."
"One can't be wise all the time, Yusef. One would die
"You see, it has put you in my hands/'
"I wouldn't mind that so much. But to put three people
in your hands . . /'
"If only you would have done an act of friendship . . /'
"Go on, Yusef. You must complete your blackmail. You
can't get away with half a threat/'
"I wish I could dig a hole and put the package in it. But
the war's going badly, Major Scobie. I am doing this not
for myself, but for my father and mother, my half-brother,
my three sisters and there are cousins too."
"Quite a family."
"You see, if the English are beaten all my stores have no
value at all."
"What do you propose to do with the letter, Yusef?"
"I hear from a clerk in the cable company that your wife
is on her way back. I will have the letter handed to her as
soon as she lands."
He remembered the telegram signed Louise Scobie:
. . . have been a fool stop love. It would be a cold wel-
come, he thought.
"And if I give your package to the captain of the Espe-
"My boy will be waiting on the wharf. In return for the
captain's receipt he will give you an envelope with your
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"You trust your boy?"
"Just as you trust AIL"
"Suppose I demand the letter first and give you my
word . . ."
"It is the penalty of the black-mailer, Major Scobie, that
he has no debts of honour. You would be quite right to
"Suppose you cheat me?"
"That wouldn't be right. And formerly I was your
"You very nearly were," Scobie reluctantly admitted.
"I am the base Indian."
"The base Indian?"
"Who threw away a pearl," Yusef sadly said. "That was
in the play by Shakespeare the Ordnance Corps gave in the
Memorial Hall. I have always remembered it"
"Well," Druce said, "I'm afraid we'll have to get to work
"One more glass," the captain of the Esperanto, said.
"Not if we are going to release you before the boom
closes. See you later, Scobie."
When the door of the cabin closed the captain said
breathlessly, "I am still here."
"So I see. I told you there are often mistakes minutes
go to the wrong place, files are lost."
"I believe none of that," the captain said. "I believe you
helped me." He dripped gently with sweat in the stuffy
cabin. He added, "I pray for you at Mass, and I have
brought you this. It was all that I could find for you in
Lobito. She is a very obscure Saint" and he slid across
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
the table between them a holy medal the size of a nickel
piece. "Santa ... I don't remember her name. She had
something to do with Angola, I think/ ' the captain ex-
"Thank you/' Scobie said. The package in his pocket
seemed to him to weigh as heavily as a gun against his thigh.
He let the last drops of port settle in the well of his glass
and then drained them. He said, 'This time I have some-
thing for you" A terrible reluctance cramped his fingers,
How light the little package actually was now that it
was on the table between them. What had weighed like a
gun in the pocket might now have contained little more
than fifty cigarettes. He said, "Someone who comes on
board with the pilot at Lisbon will ask you if you have any
American cigarettes. You will give him this package."
"Is this Government business?"
"No. The Government would never pay as well as this."
He laid a packet of notes upon the table.
"This surprises me," the captain said, with an odd note
of disappointment. "You have put yourself in my hands."
"You were in mine," Scobie said.
"I don't forget. Nor will my daughter. She is married
outside the Church, but she has faith. She prays for you
"The prayers we pray then don't count, surely?"
"No, but when the moment of Grace comes they rise"
the captain raised his fat arms in an absurd and touching
gesture "all at once together like a flock of birds."
"I shall be glad of them," Scobie said.
"You can trust me, of course."
"Of course. Now I must search your cabin."
222 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"You do not trust me very far/'
"That package/' Scobie said, "has nothing to do with
"Are you sure?'*
"I am nearly sure."
He began his search. Once, pausing by a mirror, he saw
poised over his own shoulder a stranger's face, a fat sweat-
ing unreliable face. Momentarily he wondered: Who can
that be? before he realized that it was only this new un-
familiar look of pity that made it strange to him. He
thought: Am I really one of those whom people pity?
THE RAINS WERE OVER AND THE EARTH STEAMED.
Flies everywhere settled in clouds, and the hospital was
full of malaria patients. Further up the coast they were
dying of blackwater, and yet for a while there was a sense
of relief. It was as if the world had become quiet again,
now that the drumming on the iron roofs was over. In the
town the deep scent of flowers modified the zoo smell in the
corridors of the police station. An hour after the boom was
opened the liner moved in from the south unescorted.
Scobie went out in the polic boat as soon as the liner
anchored. His mouth felt stiff with welcome: he practised
on his tongue phrases which would seem warm and un-
affected, and he thought: what a long way I have travelled
to make me rehearse a welcome. He hoped he would find
Louise in one of the public rooms: it would be easier to
greet her in front of strangers, but there was no sign of her
anywhere. He had to ask at the purser's office for her cabin
Even then, of course, there was the hope that it would be
shared. No cabin nowadays held less than six passengers.
But when he knocked and the door was opened, nobody
was there but Louise. He felt like a caller at a strange
226 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
house with something to sell. There was a question-mark at
the end of his voice when he said, "Louise?"
"Henry." She added, "Come inside." When once he was
within the cabin there was nothing to do but kiss. He
avoided her mouth the mouth reveals so much, but she
wouldn't be content until she had pulled his face round
and left the seal of her return on his lips. "Oh, my dear,
here I am."
"Here you are/' he said, seeking desperately for the
phrases he had rehearsed.
"They've all been so sweet," she explained. "They are
keeping away so that I can see you alone."
"You've had a good trip?"
"I think we were chased once."
"I was very anxious," he said, and thought: That is the
first lie. I may as well take the plunge now. He said, "I've
missed you so much."
"I was a fool to go away, darling." Through the port-
hole the houses sparkled like mica in the haze of heat. The
cabin smelt closely of women, of powder, nail varnish, and
night-dresses. He said, "Let's get ashore."
But she detained him a little while yet. "Darling," she
said, "I've made a lot of resolutions while I've been away.
Everything now is going to be different. I'm not going to
rattle you any more." She repeated, "Everything will be
different," and he thought sadly that that at any rate was
the truth, the bleak truth.
Standing at the window of his house while Ali and the
small boy carried in the trunks he looked up the hill to-
wards the Nissen huts: it was as if a landslide had suddenly
put an immeasurable distance between him and them.
They were so distant that at first there was no pain, any
more than for an episode of youth remembered with the
faintest melancholy. Did my lies really start, he wondered,
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
when I wrote that letter? Can I really love her more than
Louise? Do I, in my heart of hearts, love either of them,
or is it only that this automatic terrible pity goes out to
any human need and makes it worse? Any victim de-
mands allegiance. Upstairs silence and solitude were being
hammered away: tin-tacks were being driven in: weights
fell on the floor and shook the ceiling. Louise's voice was
raised in cheerful peremptory commands. There was a rat-
tle of objects on the dressing-table. He went upstairs and
from the doorway saw the face in the white communion
veil staring back at him again: the dead too had returned.
Life was not the same without the dead. The mosquito net
hung, a grey ectoplasm, over the double bed,
"Well, AH," he said, with the phantom of a smile which
was all he could raise at this stance, "Missus back. We're
all together again." Her rosary lay in a small pool on the
dressing-table, and he thought of the broken one in his
pocket. He had always meant to get it mended: now it
hardly seemed worth the trouble.
"Darling," Louise said, "I've finished up here. AH can
do the rest. There are so many things I want to speak to
you about ..." She followed him downstairs and said at
once, "I must get the curtains washed."
"They don't show the dirt."
"Poor dear, you wouldn't notice, but I've been away."
She said, "I really want a bigger bookcase now. I've brought
a lot of books back with me."
"You haven't told me yet what made you . . ."
"Darling, you'd laugh at me. It was so silly. But suddenly
I saw what a fool I'd been to worry like that about the
commissionership. I'll tell you one day when I don't mind
your laughing." She put her hand out and tentatively
touched his arm. "You're really glad . . . ?"
"So glad," he said.
228 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"Do you know one of the things that worried me? I was
afraid you wouldn't be much of a Catholic without me
around, keeping you up to things, poor dear,"
"I don't suppose I have been."
"Have you missed Mass often?"
He said with rather forced jocularity, "I've hardly been
"Oh, Ticki." She pulled herself quickly up and said,
"Henry, darling, you'll think I'm very sentimental, but
tomorrow's Sunday and I want us to go to Communion
together. A sign that we've started again in the right way."
It was extraordinary the points in a situation one missed
this he had not considered. He said, "Of course," but his
brain momentarily refused to work.
"You'll have to go to Confession this afternoon."
"I haven't done anything very terrible."
"Missing Mass on Sunday's a mortal sin, just as much as
"Adultery's more fun," he said with attempted lightness.
"It's time I came back."
"I'll go along this afternoon after lunch. I can't con-
fess on an empty stomach," he said.
"Darling, you have changed, you know."
"I was only joking."
"I don't mind your joking* I like it* You didn't do it
much, though, before."
"You don't come back every day, darling." The strained
good humour, the jest with dry lips, went on and on: at
lunch he laid down his fork for yet another "crack." "Dear
Henry," she said, "I've never known you so cheerful." The
ground had given way beneath his feet, and all through
the meal he had the sensation of falling, the relaxed stom-
ach, the breathlessness, the despair because you couldn't
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 229
fall so far as this and survive. His hilarity was like a scream
from a crevasse.
When lunch was over (he couldn't' have told what it
was he'd eaten) he said, "I must be off."
"First I've got to look in on Wilson. He's living in one
of the Nissens now. A neighbour."
"Won't he be in town?"
"I think he comes back for lunch."
He thought as he went up the hill: What a lot of times
in future I shall have to call on Wilson. But no that
wasn't a safe alibi. It would only do this once, because he
knew that Wilson lunched in town. None the less, to make
sure, he knocked and was taken aback momentarily when
Harris opened to him. "I didn't expect to see you."
"I had a touch of fever," Harris said.
"I wondered whether Wilson was in."
"He always lunches in town," Harris said.
"I just wanted to tell him he'd be welcome to look in.
My wife's back, you know."
"I thought I saw the activity through the window."
"You must call on us too."
"I'm not much of a calling man," Harris said, drooping
in the doorway. "To tell you the truth, women scare me."
"You don't see enough of them, Harris."
"I'm not a squire of dames," Harris said with a poor
attempt at pride, and Scobie was aware of how Harris
watched him as he picked his way reluctantly towards a
woman's hut, watched with the ugly asceticism of the un-
wanted man. He knocked and felt that disapproving gaze
boring into his back. He thought: There goes my alibi: he
will tell Wilson and Wilson ... He thought: I will say
that as I was up here, I called . . . and he felt his whole
2 gO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
personality crumble with the slow disintegration of lies.
"Why did you knock?" Helen said. She lay on her bed in
the dusk of drawn curtains.
"Harris was watching me."
"I didn't think you'd come today."
"How did you know?"
"Everybody here knows everything except one thing.
How clever you are about that. I suppose it's because you
are a police officer."
"Yes." He sat down on the bed and put his hand on her
arm: immediately the sweat began to run between them.
He said, "What are you doing here? You are not ill?"
"Just a headache."
He said mechanically, without even hearing his own
words, "Take care of yourself."
"Something's worrying you, dear," she said. "Have things
"Nothing of that kind."
"Poor dear, do you remember the first night you stayed
here? We didn't worry about anything. You even left your
umbrella behind. We were happy. Doesn't it seem odd?
we were happy."
"Why do we go on like this being unhappy?"
"It's a mistake to mix up the ideas of happiness and
love," Scobie said with desperate pedantry as though if he
could turn the whole situation into a text-book case as
they had turned Pemberton peace might return to both
of them, a kind of resignation.
"Sometimes you are so damnably old," Helen said, but
immediately she expressed with a motion of her hand to-
wards him that she wasn't serious. Today, he thought with
pity, she can't afford to quarrel or so she believes. "My
dear," she added, "a penny for your thoughts."
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
One ought not to lie to two people if it could be avoided:
that way lay complete chaos, but he was tempted terribly to
lie as he watched her face on the pillow. She seemed to him
like one of those plants in nature films which you watch
age under your eye. Already she had the look of the Coast
about her. She shared it with Louise. He said: "It's just
a worry I have to think out for myself. Something I hadn't
"Tell me, dear. Two brains . . /' She closed her eyes
and he could see her mouth steady for a blow.
He said, "Louise wants me to go to Mass with her, to
Communion. I'm supposed to be on the way to Confession
"Oh, is that all?" she asked with immense relief, and
irritation at her ignorance moved like hatred unfairly in
his brain. "All?" he said. "All?" Then justice reclaimed
him. He said gently, "If I don't go to Communion, you
see, she'll know there's something wrong seriously wrong/'
"But can't you simply go?"
He said, "To me that means well, damnation. To take
my God in mortal sin."
"You don't really believe in hell?"
"That was what Fellowes asked me."
"But I simply don't understand. If you believe in hell,
why are you with me now?"
How often, he thought, lack of faith helps one to see
more clearly than faith. He said, "You are right, of course:
it ought to prevent all this. But the villagers on the slopes
of Vesuvius go on. ... And then, against all the teaching
of the Church, one has the conviction that love any kind
of love does deserve a bit of mercy. One will pay, of
course, pay terribly, but I don't believe one will pay for
ever. Perhaps one will be given time before one dies. . . /'
"A death-bed repentance," she said with contempt.
E HEART OF THE MATTER
"It wouldn't be easy/' he said, "to repent of this." He
kissed the sweat off her hand. "I can regret the lies, the
mess, the unhappiness, but if I were dying now I wouldn't
know how to repent the love."
"Well," she said with the same undertone of contempt
that seemed to pull her apart from him, in to the safety of
the shore, "can't you go and confess everything now? After
all, it doesn't mean you won't do it again."
"It's no good confessing if I don't intend to try. . . ."
"Well, then," she said triumphantly, "be hung for a
sheep. You are in mortal sin so you think now. What
difference does it make if you add just one more?"
He thought: Pious people, I suppose, would call this
the Devil speaking, but he knew that evil never spoke in
these crude answerable terms: this was innocence. He said,
"There is a difference a big difference. It's not easy to
explain. Now I'm just putting our love above well, my
safety. But the other the other's really evil. It's like the
Black Mass, the man who steals the sacrament to desecrate
it. It's striking God when he's down in my power."
She turned her head wearily away and said, "I don't
understand a thing you are saying. It's all hooey to me."
"I wish it were to me. But I believe it."
She said sharply, "I suppose you do. Or is it just a trick?
I didn't hear so much about God when we began, did I?
You aren't turning pious on me to give you an excuse . . . ?"
"My dear," Scobie said, "I'm not leaving you ever. I've
got to think, that's all."
At a quarter past six next morning Ali called them.
Scobie woke at once, but Louise remained sleeping she
had had a long day. Scobie, turning his head on the pillow,
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 233
watched her this was the face he had loved: this was the
face he loved. She was terrified of death by sea and yet she
had come back, to make him comfortable. She had borne
a child by him in one agony, and in another agony had
watched the child die. It seemed to him that he had
escaped everything. If only, he thought, I could so manage
that she never suffers again, but he knew that he had set
himself an impossible task. He could delay the suffering,
that was all, but he carried it about with him, an infection
which sooner or later she must contract. Perhaps she was
contracting it now, for she turned and whimpered in her
sleep. He put his hand against her cheek to soothe her.
He thought: If only she will go on sleeping, then I will
sleep on too, I will oversleep, we shall miss Mass, another
problem will be postponed. But as if his thoughts had been
an alarm clock she awoke.
"What time is it, darling?"
"Nearly half past six/'
"We'll have to hurry." He felt as though he were being
urged by a kindly and remorseless gaoler to dress for execu-
tion. Yet he still put off the saving lie: there was always
the possibility of a miracle. Louise gave a final dab of pow-
der (but the powder caked as it touched the skin) and
said, "Well be off now." Was there the faintest note of
triumph in her voice? Years and years ago, in the other life
of childhood, someone with his name Henry Scobie had
acted in the school play, had acted Hotspur. He had been
chosen for his seniority and his physique, but everyone
said that it had been a good performance. Now he had to
act again- surely it was as easy as the simpler verbal lie?
Scobie suddenly leant back against the wall and put his
hand on his chest He couldn't make his muscles imitate
pain, so he simply closed his eyes. Louise, looking in her
mirror, said, "Remind me to tell you about Father Davis
raE HEART OF THE MATTER
in Durban. He was a very good type of priest, much more
intellectual than Father Rank." It seemed to Scobie that
she was never going to look round and notice him. She
said, "Well, we really must be off," and dallied by the mir-
ror. Some sweat-lank hairs were out of place. Through the
curtain of his lashes at last he saw her turn and look at
him. "Come along, dear," she said, "you look sleepy."
He kept his eyes shut and stayed where he was. She said
sharply, "Ticki, what's the matter?"
"A little brandy."
"Are you ill?"
"A little brandy," he repeated sharply and when she had
fetched it for him and he felt the taste on his tongue he
had an immeasurable sense of reprieve. He sighed and re-
laxed, "That's better."
"What was it, Ticki?"
"Just a pain in my chest. It's gone now."
"Have you had it before?"
"Once or twice while you've been away."
"You must see a doctor."
"Oh, it's not worth a fuss. They'll just say overwork."
"I oughtn't to have dragged you up, but I wanted us to
have Communion together."
"I'm afraid I've ruined that with the brandy."
"Never mind, Ticki," Carelessly she sentenced him to
eternal death. "We can go any day."
He knelt in his seat and watched Louise kneel with the
other communicants at the altar rail: he had insisted on
coming to the service with her. Father Rank turning from
the altar came to them with God in his hands. Scobie
thought: God has just escaped me, but will He always es-
cape? Domine, non sum dignus . . . domine, non sum
dignus . . . domine, non sum dignus , . . His hand for-
mally, as though he were at drill, beat on a particular but-
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 235
ton of his uniform. It seemed to him for a moment cruelly
unfair of God to have exposed himself in this way, a man,
a wafer of bread, first in the Palestinian villages and now
here in the hot port, there, everywhere, allowing man to
have his will of Him. Christ had told the rich young man
to sell all and follow Him, but that was an easy rational
step compared with this that God had taken, to put Him-
self at the mercy of men who hardly knew the meaning of
the word. How desperately God must love, he thought with
shame. The priest had reached Louise in his slow inter-
rupted patrol, and suddenly Scobie was aware of the sense
of exile. Over there, where all these people knelt, was a
country to which he would never return. The sense of love
stirred in him, the love one always feels for what one has
lost, whether a child, a woman, or even pain.
WILSON TORE THE PAGE CAREFULLY OUT OF
the Downhamian and pasted a thick sheet of Colonial Of-
fice notepaper on the back of the poem. He held it up to the
light: it was impossible to read the sports results on the
other side of his verses. Then he folded the page carefully
and put it in his pocket: there it would probably stay, but
one never knew.
He had seen Scobie drive away towards the town, and
with beating heart and a sense of breathlessness, much the
same as he had felt when stepping into the brothel, even
with the same reluctance for who wanted at any given
moment to change the routine of his life? he made his
way downhill towards Scobie's house.
He began to rehearse what he considered another man
in his place would do: pick up the threads at once: kiss
her quite naturally, upon the mouth if possible, say "I've
missed you," no uncertainty. But his beating heart sent
out its message of fear which drowned thought.
"It's Wilson at last," Louise said. "I thought you'd for-
gotten me," and held out her hand. He took it like a de-
"Have a drink."
"I was wondering whether you'd like a walk."
"It's too hot, Wilson."
"I haven't been up there, you know, since . . ."
"Up where?" He realized that for those who do not love,
time never stands still.
"Up at the old station."
She said vaguely with a remorseless lack of interest, "Oh
yes . . . yes, I haven't been up there myself yet."
"That night when I got back" he could feel the awful
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 237
immature flush expanding "I tried to write some verse."
"What, you, Wilson?"
He said furiously, "Yes, me, Wilson. Why not? And it's
"I wasn't laughing. I was just surprised. Who published
"A new paper called The Circle. Of course they don't
"Can I see it?"
Wilson said breathlessly, "I've got it here." He explained,
"There was something on the other side I couldn't stand.
It was just too modern for me." He watched her with
"It's quite pretty," she said weakly.
"You see the initials?"
"I never had a poem dedicated to me before/'
Wilson felt sick: he wanted to sit down. Why, he won-
dered, does one ever begin this humiliating process: why
does one imagine that one is in love? He had read some-
where that love had been invented in the eleventh century
by the troubadours. Why had they not left us with lust?
He said with hopeless venom, "I love you." He thought:
It's a lie: the word means nothing off the printed page. He
waited for her laughter.
"Oh, no, Wilson," she said, "no. You don't. It's just
He plunged blindly: "More than anything in the world."
She said gently, "No one loves like that, Wilson."
He walked restlessly up and down, his shorts flapping,
waving the bit of paper from the Downhamian. "You
ought to believe in love. You're a Catholic. Didn't God love
"Oh, yes," she said. "He's capable of it But not many
of us are."
238 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"You love your husband. You told me so. And it's
brought you back/'
Louise said sadly, "I suppose I do. All I can. It's not
the kind of love though you want to imagine you feel. No
poisoned chalices, eternal doom, black sails. We don't die
for love, Wilson except, of course, in books. And some-
times a boy play-acting. Don't let's play-act, Wilson it's
no fun at our age."
"I'm not play-acting," he said with a fury in which he
could hear too easily the histrionic accent. He confronted
her bookcase as though it were a witness she had forgotten.
"Do they play-act?"
"Not much," she said. "That's why I like them better
than your poets."
"All the same you came back." His face lit up with
wicked inspiration. "Or was that just jealousy?"
She said, "Jealousy? What on earth have I got to be
"They've been careful," Wilson said, "but not as care-
ful as all that."
"I don't know what you are talking about."
"Your Ticki and Helen Rolt."
Louise struck at his cheek and, missing, got his nose,
which began to bleed copiously. She said, "That's for call-
ing him Ticki. Nobody's going to do that except me. You
know he hates it. Here, take my handkerchief if you
haven't got one of your own."
Wilson said, "I bleed awfully easily. Do you mind if I
lie on my back?" He stretched himself on the floor between
the table and the meat-safe, among the ants. First there had
been Scobie watching his tears at Pende, and now this.
"You wouldn't like me to put a key down your back?"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"No. No thank you/' The blood had stained the Down-
"I really am sorry. I've got a vile temper. This will cure
you, Wilson." But if romance is what one lives by, one
must never be cured of it. The world has too many spoilt
priests of this faith or that: better surely to pretend a belief
than wander in that vicious vacuum of cruelty and despair.
He said obstinately, "Nothing will cure me, Louise. I love
you. Nothing," bleeding into her handkerchief.
"How strange," she said, "it would be if it were true/'
He grunted a query from the ground.
"I mean," she explained, "if you were one of those
people who really love. I thought Henry was. It would be
strange if really it was you all the time." He felt an odd
fear that after all he was going to be accepted at his own
valuation, rather as a minor staff officer might feel during
a rout when he finds that his claim to know the handling
of the tanks will be accepted. It is too late to admit that he
knows nothing but what he has read in the technical jour-
nals O lyric love, half angel and half bird . , . Bleed-
ing into the handkerchief, he formed his lips carefully
round a generous phrase, "I expect he loves in his way."
"Who?" Louise said. "Me? This Helen Rolt you are talk-
ing about? Or just himself?"
"I shouldn't have said that."
"Isn't it true? Let's have a bit of truth, Wilson. You
don't know how tired I am of comforting lies. Is she beau-
"Oh, no, no. Nothing of that sort."
"She's young, of course, and I'm middle-aged. But surely
she's a bit worn after what she's been through."
"She's very worn."
"But she's not a Catholic. She's lucky. She's free, Wilson."
24 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Wilson sat up against the leg of the table. He said with
genuine passion, "I wish to God you wouldn't call me
"Edward Eddie. Ted. Teddy/'
"I'm bleeding again/' he said dismally, and lay back on
"What do you know about it all, Teddy?"
"I think I'd rather be Edward. Louise, I've seen him
come away from her hut at two in the morning. He was
up there yesterday afternoon."
"He was at Confession/'
"Harris saw him."
"You're certainly watching him."
"It's my belief Yusef is using him."
"That's fantastic. You're going too far/'
She stood over him as though he were a corpse: the
bloodstained handkerchief lay in his palm. They neither
of them heard the car stop or the footsteps up to the thresh-
old. It was strange to both of them, hearing a third voice
from an outside world speaking into this room which had
become as close and intimate and airless as a vault. "Is any-
thing wrong?" Scobie's voice asked.
"It's just . . /' Louise said, and made a gesture of be-
wilderment as though she were saying: where does one
start explaining? Wilson scrambled to his feet and at once
his nose began again to bleed.
"Here," Scobie said, and taking out his bundle of keys
dropped them inside Wilson's shirt-collar. "You'll see/' he
said, "the old-fashioned remedies are always best/' and sure
enough the bleeding did stop within a few seconds. "You
should never lie on your back," Scobie went reasonably
on. "Seconds use a sponge of cold water, and you certainly
look as though you'd been in a fight, Wilson/'
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 241
"I always lie on my back/' Wilson said. "Blood makes
"Have a drink?"
"No," Wilson said, "no. I must be off." He retrieved the
keys with some difficulty and left the tail of his shirt
dangling. He discovered it only when Harris pointed it
out to him on his return to the Nissen, and he thought:
That is how I looked while I walked away and they watched
side by side. He looked out over the landscape of baking
earth and bleak iron huts towards the Scobies' house as
though he were examining the scene of a battle after the
defeat. He wondered how all that dreary scene would have
appeared if he had been victorious, but in human love
there is never such a thing as victory: only a few minor
tactical successes before the final defeat of death or indif-
"What did he want?" Scobie said.
"He wanted to make love to me."
"Does he love you?"
"He thinks he does. You can't ask much more than that,
"You seem to have hit him rather hard," Scobie said,
"on the nose?"
"He made me angry. He called you Ticki. Darling, he's
spying on you."
"I know that."
"Is he dangerous?"
"He might be under some circumstances. But then it
would be my fault."
"Henry, do you never get furious at anyone? Don't you
mind him making love to me?"
24* THE HEART OF THE MATTER
He said, "I'd be a hypocrite if I were angry at that. It's
the kind of thing that happens to people. You know, quite
pleasant normal people do fall in love."
"Have you ever fallen in love?"
"Oh, yes, yes." He watched her closely while he exca-
vated his smile. "You know I have."
"Henry, did you really feel ill this morning?"
"It wasn't just an excuse?"
"Then, darling, let's go to Communion together tomor-
"If you want to," he said. It was the moment he had
known would come. With bravado, to show that his hand
was not shaking, he took down a glass. "Drink?"
"It's too early, dear," Louise said: he knew she was
watching him closely like all the others. He put the glass
down and said, "I've just got to run back to the station for
some papers. When I get back it will be time for drinks."
He drove unsteadily down the road, his eyes blurred
with nausea. O God, he thought, the decisions you force on
people, suddenly, with no time to consider. I am too tired
to think: this ought to be worked out on paper like a
problem in mathematics, and the answer arrived at without
pain. But the pain made him physically sick so that he
retched over the wheel. The trouble is, he thought, we
know the answers we Catholics are damned by our knowl-
edge. There's no need for me to work anything out there
is only one answer: to kneel down in the Confessional and
say, "Since my last confession I have committed adultery
so many times et cetera and et cetera": to hear Father Rank
telling me to avoid the occasion: never see the woman
alone (speaking in those terrible abstract terms: Helen
the woman, the occasion, no longer the bewildered child
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 243
clutching the stamp-album, listening to Bagster howling
outside the door: that moment of peace and darkness and
tenderness and pity, "adultery") . And I to make my Act
of Contrition, the promise "never more to offend thee,"
and then tomorrow the Communion: taking God in my
mouth in what they call the State of Grace. That's the
right answer there is no other answer: to save my own
soul and abandon her to Bagster and despair. One must be
reasonable, he told himself, and recognize that despair
doesn't last (is that true?) , that love doesn't last (but isn't
that the very reason that despair does?) , that in a few weeks
or months she'll be all right again. She has survived forty
days in an open boat and the death of her husband, and
can't she survive the mere death of love? As I can, as I
know I can.
He drew up outside the church and sat hopelessly at the
wheel. Death never comes when one desires it most. He
thought, Of course there's the ordinary honest wrong an-
swer: to leave Louise, forget that private vow, resign my
job. To abandon Helen to Bagster or Louise to what? I
am trapped, he told himself, catching sight of an expres-
sionless stranger's face in the driving mirror, trapped.
Nevertheless he left the car and went into the church.
While he was waiting for Father Rank to go into the Con-
fessional he knelt and prayed: the only prayer he could
rake up. Even the words of the Our Father and the Hail
M^ry deserted him. He prayed for a miracle, "O God,
convince me, help me, convince me. Make me feel that I
am more important than that child/' It was not Helen's
face he saw as he prayed but the dying child who called
him "Father": a face in a photograph staring from the
dressing-table: the face of a black girl of twelve a sailor had
raped and killed glaring blindly up at him in a yellow
paraffin light. "Make me put my own soul first. Give me
244 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
trust in your mercy to the one I abandon." He could hear
Father Rank close the door of his box, and nausea twisted
him again on his knees. "O God," he said, "if, instead, I
should abandon you, punish me, but let the others get
some happiness." He went into the box. He thought: A
miracle may still happen. Even Father Rank may for once
find the word, the right word. . . . Kneeling in the space
of an upturned coffin he said, "Since my last confession I
have committed adultery."
"How many times?"
*'I don't know, Father, many times."
"Are you married?"
"Yes." He remembered that evening when Father Rank
had nearly broken down before him, admitting his failure
to help. . . . Was he, even while he was struggling to re-
tain the complete anonymity of the Confessional, remem-
bering it too? He wanted to say, "Help me, Father. Con-
vince me that I would do right to abandon her to Bagster.
Make me believe in the mercy of God," but he knelt si-
lently waiting: he was unaware of the slightest tremor of
hope. Father Rank said, "Is it one woman?"
"You must avoid seeing her. Is that possible?"
He shook his head.
"If you must see her, you must never be alone with her.
Do you promise to do that, promise God, not me?" He
thought: How foolish it was of me to expect the magic
word. This is the formula used so many times on so many
people. Presumably people promised and went away and
came back and confessed again. Did they really believe they
were going to try? He thought: I am cheating human
beings every day I live, I am not going to try to cheat my-
self or God. He replied, "It would be no good my promis-
ing that. Father/'
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 45
"You must promise. You can't desire the end without
desiring the means/'
Ah, but one can, he thought, one can: one can desire the
peace of victory without desiring the ravaged towns.
Father Rank said, "I don't need to tell you surely that
there's nothing automatic in the Confessional or in Absolu-
tion. It depends on your state of mind whether you are
forgiven. It's no good coming and kneeling here unpre-
pared. Before you come here you must know the wrong
"I do know that."
"And you must have a real purpose of amendment. We
are told to forgive our brother seventy times seven and
we needn't fear that God will be any less forgiving than we
are, but nobody can begin to forgive the uncontrite. It's
better to sin seventy times and repent each time than sin
once and never repent." He could see Father Rank's hand
go up to wipe the sweat out of his eyes: it was like a gesture
of weariness. He thought: What is the good of keeping him
in this discomfort? He's right, of course, he's right. I was a
fool to imagine that somehow in this airless box I would
find a conviction. . . . He said, "I think I was wrong to
"I don't want to refuse you absolution, but I think if
you would just go away and turn things over in your mind,
you'd come back in a better frame of mind/'
"I will pray for you."
When he came out of the box it seemed to Scobie that for
the first time his footsteps had taken him out of sight of
hope. There was no hope anywhere he turned his eyes: the
dead figure of the God upon the Cross, the plaster Virgin,
the hideous Stations, representing a series of events that
had happened a long time ago. It seemed to him that he
246 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
had left for his exploration only the territory of despair.
He drove down to the station, collected a file, and re-
turned home. "You've been a long time," Louise said. He
didn't even know the lie he was going to tell before it was
on his lips. "That pain came back," he said, "so I waited
for a while/'
"Do you think you ought to have a drink?"
"Yes, until anybody tells me not to."
"And you'll see a doctor?"
That night he dreamed that he was in a boat drifting
down just such an underground river as his boyhood hero
Allan Quatermain had taken towards the lost city of
Milosis. But Quatermain had companions, while he was
alone, for you couldn't count the dead body on the
stretcher as a companion. He felt a sense of urgency, for he
told himself that bodies in this climate kept for a very
short time, and the smell of decay was already in his nos-
trils. Then, sitting there guiding the boat down the mid-
stream, he realized that it was not the dead body that smelt
but his own living one. He felt as though his blood had
ceased to run: when he tried to lift his arm it dangled use-
lessly from his shoulder. He woke, and it was Louise who
had lifted his arm. She said, "Darling, it's time to be off."
"Off?" he asked.
"We're going to Mass together," and again he was aware
of how closely she was watching him. What was the good of
yet another delaying lie? He wondered what Wilson had
said to her. Could he go on lying week after week, finding
some reason of work, of health, of forgetfulness, for avoid-
ing the issue at the altar rail? He thought hopelessly: I am
damned already I may as well go the whole length of my
chain. "Yes," he said, "of course. I'll get up," and was sud-
denly surprised by her putting the excuse into his mouth,
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 247
giving him his chance. "Darling," she said, "if you aren't
well, stay where you are. I don't want to drag you to Mass."
But the excuse it seemed to him was also a trap. He
could see where the turf had been replaced over the hidden
stakes. If he took the excuse she offered he would have all
but confessed his guilt. Once and for all now, at whatever
eternal cost, he was determined that he would clear himself
in her eyes and give her the reassurance she needed. He said,
"No, no. I will come with you." When he walked beside
her into the church it was as if he had entered this build-
ing for the first time a stranger. An immeasurable dis-
tance already separated him from these people who knelt
and prayed and would presently receive God in peace. He
knelt and pretended to pray.
The words of the Mass were like an indictment. "I will
go in unto the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my
youth." But there was no joy anywhere. He looked up
from between his hands, and the plaster images of the
Virgin and the Saints seemed to be holding out hands to
everyone, on either side, beyond him. He was the unknown
guest at a party who is introduced to no one. The gentle
painted smiles were unbearably directed elsewhere. When
the Kyrie Eleison was reached he again tried to pray.
"Lord, have mercy . . . Christ, have mercy . . . Lord,
have mercy . . ." but the fear and the shame of the act
he was going to commit chilled his brain. Those ruined
priests who presided at a Black Mass, consecrating the
Host over the naked body of a woman, consuming God in
an absurd and horrifying ritual, were at least performing
the act of damnation with an emotion larger than human
love: they were doing it from hate of God or some odd
perverse devotion to God's enemy. But he had no love of
evil or hate of God: how was he to hate this God who of
His own accord was surrendering Himself into his power?
248 THE HEART OF THE JV1ATTER
He was desecrating God because he loved a woman was it
even love, or was it just a feeling of pity and responsibility?
He tried again to excuse himself: "You can look after
yourself. You survive the Cross every day. You can only
suffer. You can never be lost. Admit that you must come
second to these others/' And myself, he thought, watching
the priest pour the wine and water into the chalice, his
own damnation being prepared like a meal at the altar, I
must come last: I am the Deputy Commissioner of Police:
a hundred men serve under me: I am the responsible man.
It is my job to look after the others. I am conditioned to
Sanctus. Sanctus. Sanctus. The Canon of the Mass had
started: Father Rank's whisper at the altar hurried re-
morselessly towards the consecration. "To order our days
in thy peace . . . that we be preserved from eternal dam-
nation . . ." Pax, pads, pacem: all the declinations of the
word "peace" drummed on his ears through the Mass. He
thought: I have left even the hope of peace for ever. I am
the responsible man. I shall soon have gone too far in my
design of deception ever to go back. Hoc est enim Corpus:
the bell rang, and Father Rank raised God in his fingers
this God as light now as a wafer whose coming lay on
Scobie's heart as heavily as lead. Hie est enim Galix San-
guinis and the second bell.
Louise touched his hand. "Dear, are you well?" He
thought: Here is the second chance. The return of my pain.
I can go out. And who indeed is in pain if I am not in pain?
But if he went out of church now, he knew that there
would be only one thing left to do to follow Father
Rank's advice, to settle his affairs, to desert, to come back
in a few days' time and take God with a clear conscience
and a knowledge that he had pushed innocence back where
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 249
it properly belonged under the Atlantic surge. Inno-
cence must die young if it isn't to kill the souls of men.
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.
"I'm all right," he said, the old longing pricking at the
eyeballs, and looking up towards the Cross on the altar he
thought savagely: Take your sponge of gall. You made me
what I am. Take the spear thrust. He didn't need to open
his Missal to know how this prayer ended. "May the re-
ceiving of Thy Body, O Lord Jesus Christ, which I un-
worthy presume to take, turn not to my judgment and con-
demnation." He shut his eyes and let the darkness in. Mass
rushed towards its end: Domine, non sum dignus . . .
Domine, non sum dignus . . . Domine, non sum dignus.
... At the foot of the scaffold he opened his eyes and saw
the old black women shuffling up towards the altar rail, a
few soldiers, an aircraft mechanic, one of his own police-
men, a clerk from the bank: they moved sedately towards
peace, and Scobie felt an envy of their simplicity, their
goodness. Yes, now at this moment of time they were good.
"Aren't you coming, dear?" Louise asked, and again the
hand touched him: the kindly firm detective hand. He rose
and followed her and knelt by her side like a spy in a
foreign land who i^ias been taught the customs and to speak
the language like a native. Only a miracle can save me now,
Scobie told himself, watching Father Rank at the altar
opening the tabernacle, but God would never work a
miracle to save Himself. I am the Cross, he thought: He
will never speak the word to save Himself from the Cross,
but if only wood were made so that it didn't feel, if only
the nails were senseless as people believe.
Father Rank came down the steps from the altar bearing
God. The saliva had dried in Scobie's mouth: it was as
though his veins had dried. He couldn't look up: he saw
25O THE HEART OF THE MATTER
only the priest's skirt like the skirt of the mediaeval war-
horse bearing down upon him: the flapping of feet: the
charge of God. If only the archers would let fly from am-
bush: and for a moment he dreamed that the priest's steps
had indeed faltered: perhaps after all something may yet
happen before he reaches me: some incredible interposi-
tion. . . But with open mouth (the time had come) he
made one last attempt at prayer, "O God, I offer up my
damnation to you. Take it. Use it for them/' and was aware
of the pale papery taste of his eternal sentence on the
THE BANK MANAGER TOOK A SIP OF ICED
water and exclaimed with more than professional warmth,
"How glad you must be to have Mrs. Scobie back well in
time for Christmas."
"Christmas is a long way off still," Scobie said.
"Time flies when the rains are over," the bank manager
went on with his novel cheerfulness. Scobie had never
before heard in his voice this note of optimism. He re-
membered the storklike figure pacing to and fro, pausing
at the medical books, so many hundred times a day.
"I came along . . ." Scobie began.
"About your life insurance or an overdraft, would it
"Well, it wasn't either this time."
"You know I'll always be glad to help you, Scobie, what-
ever it is." How quietly Robinson sat at his desk, Scobie
said with wonder, "Have you given up your daily exercise?"
"Ah, that was all stuff and nonsense," the manager said.
"I had read too many books."
"I wanted to look in your medical encyclopaedia," Scobie
"You'd do much better to see a doctor," Robinson sur-
prisingly advised him. "It's a doctor who's put me right,
not the books. The time I would have wasted ... I tell
you, Scobie, the new young fellow they've got at the Argyll
Hospital's the best man they've sent to this colony since
they discovered it."
"And he's put you right?"
"Go and see him. His name's Travis. Tell him I sent
"All the same, if I could just have a look . . ."
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"You'll find it on the shelf. I keep 'em there still because
they look important. A bank manager has to be a reading
man. People expect him to have solid books around/'
"I'm glad your stomach's cured."
The manager took another sip of water. He said, "I'm
not bothering about it any more. The truth of the matter
is, Scobie, I'm ..."
Scobie looked up from the encyclopaedia. "Yes?"
"Oh, I was just thinking aloud."
Scobie had opened the encyclopaedia at the word Angina
and now he read on: Character of the Pain. This is usually
described as being "gripping" "as though the^ chest were
in a vice." The pain is situated in the middle of the chest
and under the sternum. It may run down either arm, per-
haps more commonly the left, or up into the neck or down
into the abdomen. It lasts a few seconds^ or at the most a
minute or so. The Behaviour of the Patient. This is charac-
teristic. He holds himself absolutely still in whatever cir-
cumstances he may find himself . . . Scobie's eye passed
rapidly down the cross-headings: Cause of the Pain. Treat-
ment. Termination of the Disease. Then he put the book
back on the shelf. "Well," he said, "perhaps I'll drop in on
your Doctor Travis. I'd rather see him than Doctor Sykes.
I hope he cheers me up as he's done you."
"Well, my case," the manager said evasively, "had pe-
"Mine looks straightforward enough."
"You seem pretty well."
"Oh, I'm all right bar a bit of pain now and then and
"Your responsibilities do that for you."
It seemed to Scobie that he had sowed enough against
what harvest? He couldn't himself have told. He said
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 253
good-bye and went out into the dazzling street. He carried
his helmet and let the sun strike vertically down upon his
thin greying hair. He offered himself for punishment all
the way to the police station and was rejected. It had
seemed to him these last three weeks that the damned must
be in a special category: like the young men destined for
some unhealthy foreign post in a trading company, they
were reserved from their humdrum fellows, protected from
the daily task, preserved carefully at special desks, so that
the worst might happen later. Nothing now ever seemed to
go wrong. The sun would not strike, the Colonial Secretary
asked him to dinner . . . He felt rejected by misfortune.
The Commissioner said, "Come in, Scobie. I've got good
news for you/' and Scobie prepared himself for yet another
"Baker is not coming here. They need him in Palestine.
They've decided after all to let the right man succeed me."
Scobie sat down on the window ledge and watched his
hand tremble on his knee. He thought: So all this need not
have happened. If Louise had stayed I should never have
loved Helen: I would never have been black-mailed by Yu-
sef, never have committed that act of despair. I would have
been myself still the same self that lay stacked in fifteen
years of diaries, not this broken cast. But, of course, he told
himself, it's only because I have done these things that suc-
cess comes. I am of the Devil's party. He looks after his
own in this world. I shall go now from damned success to
damned success, he thought with disgust.
"I think Colonel Wright's word was the deciding factor.
You impressed him, Scobie."
"It's come too late, sir."
"Why too late?"
"I'm too old for the job. It needs a younger man."
"Nonsense. You're only just fifty."
254 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"My health's not good."
"It's the first I've heard of it."
"I was telling Robinson at the bank today. I've been
getting pains, and I'm sleeping badly." He talked rapidly,
beating time on his knee. "Robinson swears by Travis. He
seems to have worked wonders with him/'
"He's been given two years to live. That's in confidence,
Human beings never cease to surprise: so it was the
death-sentence that had cured Robinson of his imaginary
ailments, his medical books, his daily walk from wall to
wall. I suppose, Scobie thought, that is what comes of
knowing the worst one is left alone with the worst, and
it's like peace. He imagined Robinson talking across the
desk to his solitary companion. "I hope we all die as
calmly," he said. "Is he going home?"
"I don't think so. I suppose presently he'll have to go to
Scobie thought: I wish I had known what I had been
looking at: Robinson was exhibiting the most enviable pos-
session a man can own a happy death. This tour would
bear a high proportion of deaths or perhaps not so high
when you counted them and remembered Europe. First
Pemberton, then the child at Pende, now Robinson . . .
no, it wasn't many, but of course he hadn't counted the
blackwater cases in the military hospital.
"So that's how matters stand," the Commissioner said.
"Next tour you will be Commissioner. Your wife will be
I must endure her pleasure, Scobie thought, without
anger. I am the guilty man, and I have no right to criticize,
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 255
to show vexation ever again. He said, "I'll be getting
Ali stood by his car, talking to another boy who slipped
quietly away when he saw Scobie approach. "Who was that,
''My small brother, sah," Ali said.
"I don't know him, do I? Same mother?"
"No, sah, same fathet."
"What does he do?" Ali worked at the starting handle,
his face dripping with sweat, saying nothing.
"Who does he work for, Ali?"
"I said who does he work for?"
"For Mr. Wilson, sah."
The engine started and Ali climbed into the back seat.
"Has he ever made you a proposition, Ali? I mean has he
asked you to report on me for money?" He could see Ali's
face in the driving mirror, set, obstinate, closed and rocky
like a cave mouth. "No, sah."
"Lots of people are interested in me and pay good money
for reports. They think me bad man, Ali."
Ali said, "I'm your boy," staring back through the me-
dium of the mirror. It seemed to Scobie one of the qualities
of deceit that you lost the sense of trust. If I can lie and
betray, so can others. Wouldn't many people gamble on
my honesty and lose their stake? Why should I lose my stake
on Ali? I have not been caught and he has not been caught,
that's all. An awful depression weighed his head towards
the wheel. He thought: I know that Ali is honest: I have
known that for fifteen years: I am just trying to find a
companion in this region of lies. Is the next stage the stage
of corrupting others?
Louise was not in when they arrived: presumably some-
256 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
one had called and taken her out perhaps to the beach.
She hadn't expected him back before sundown. He wrote a
note for her, Taking some furniture up to Helen. Will be
back early with good news for you, and then he drove up
alone to the Nissen huts through the bleak empty middle
day. Only the vultures were about gathering round a
dead chicken at the edge of the road, stooping their old
men's necks over the carrion, their wings like broken um-
brellas sticking out this way and that.
"I've brought you another table and a couple of chairs.
Is your boy about?"
"No, he's at market."
They kissed as formally now when they met as a brother
and sister. When the damage was done adultery became as
unimportant as friendship. The flame had licked them and
gone on across the clearing: it had left nothing standing
except a sense of responsibility and a sense of loneliness.
Only if you trod barefooted did you notice the heat in the
grass. Scobie said, "I'm interrupting your lunch."
"Oh no. I've about finished. Have some fruit salad."
"It's time you had a new table. This one wobbles." He
said, "They are making me Commissioner after all."
"It will please your wife," Helen said.
"It doesn't mean a thing to me."
"Oh, of course it does," she said briskly. This was
another convention of hers that only she suffered. He
would for a long time resist, like Coriolanus, the exhibi-
tion of his wounds, but sooner or later he would give way:
he would dramatize his pain in words until even to him-
self it seemed unreal. Perhaps, he would think, she is right
after all: perhaps I don't suffer. She said, "Of course the
Commissioner must be above suspicion, mustn't he, like
Caesar." (Her sayings, as well as her spelling, lacked accu-
racy.) "This is the end of us, I suppose."
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 257
"You know there is no end to us."
"Oh, but the Commissioner can't have a mistress hidden
away in a Nissen hut/' The sting, of course, was in the
"hidden away/ 1 but how could he allow himself to feel
the least irritation, remembering the letter she had written
to him, offering herself as a sacrifice any way he liked, to
keep or to throw away? Human beings couldn't be heroic
all the time: those who surrendered everything for God
or love must be allowed sometimes in thought to take
back their surrender. So many had never committed the
heroic act however rashly. It was the act that counted. He
said, "If the Commissioner can't keep you, then I shan't
be the Commissioner."
"Don't be silly. After all," she said with fake reasonable-
ness, and he recognized this as one of her bad days, "what
do we get out of it?"
"I get a lot," he said, and wondered: Is that a lie for the
sake of comfort? There were so many lies nowadays he
couldn't keep track of the small, the unimportant ones.
"An hour or two every other day perhaps when you can
slip away. Never so much as a night."
He said hopelessly, "Oh, I have plans."
He said, "They are too vague still."
She said with all the acid she could squeeze out, "Well,
let me know in time. To fall in with your wishes, I
"My dear, I haven't come here to quarrel."
"I sometimes wonder what you do come here for."
"Well, today I brought some furniture."
"Oh, yes, the furniture."
"I've got the car here. Let me take you to the beach."
"Oh, we can't be seen there together."
"That's nonsense. Louise is there now, I think."
258 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"For God's sake," Helen said, "keep that smug woman
out of my sight."
"All right, then. Ill take you for a run in the car."
"That would be safer, wouldn't it?"
Scobie took her by the shoulders and said, "I'm not al-
ways thinking of safety."
"I thought you were."
Suddenly he felt his resistance give way and he shouted
at her, "The sacrifice isn't all on your side." With despair
he could see from a distance the scene coming up on both
of them: like the tornado before the rains, that wheeling
column of blackness which would soon cover the whole
"Of course work must suffer," she said with childish
sarcasm. "All these snatched half-hours."
"I've given up hope," he said.
"What do you mean?"
"I've given up the future. I've damned myself."
"Don't be so melodramatic," she said. "I don't know
what you are talking about. Anyway, you've just told me
about the future the commissionership."
"I mean the real future the future that goes on."
She said, "If there's one thing I hate it's your Catholi-
cism. I suppose it comes of having a pious wife. It's so
bogus. If you really believed you wouldn't be here."
"But I do believe and I am here." He said with be-
wilderment, "I can't explain it, but there it is. My eyes are
open. I know what I'm doing. When Father Rank came
down to the rail carrying the sacrament . . ."
Helen exclaimed with scorn and impatience, "You've
told me all that before. You are trying to impress me. You
don't believe in hell any more than I do."
He took her wrists and held them furiously. He said,
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 359
"You can't get out of it that way. I believe, I tell you. I
believe that I'm damned for all eternity unless a miracle
happens. I'm a policeman. I know what I'm saying. What
I've done is far worse than murder that's an act, a blow,
a stab, a shot: it's over and done, but I'm carrying my cor-
ruption around with me. It's the coating of my stomach. I
can never void it." He threw her wrists aside like seeds
towards the stony floor. "Never pretend I haven't shown
"Love for your wife, you mean. You were afraid she'd
Anger drained out of him. He said, "Love for both of
you. If it were just for her there'd be an easy straight way."
He put his hands over his eyes, feeling hysteria beginning
to mount again. He said, "I can't bear to see suffering, and
I cause it all the time. I want to get out, get out."
Hysteria and honesty receded: cunning came back across
the threshold like a mongrel dog. He said, "Oh, I just mean
take a holiday." He added, "I'm not sleeping well. And
I've been getting an odd pain."
"Darling, are you ill?" The pillar had wheeled on its
course: the storm was involving others now: it had passed
beyond them. Helen said, "Darling, I'm a bitch. I get tired
and fed up with things but it doesn't mean anything.
Have you seen a doctor?"
"I'll see Travis at the Argyll some time soon."
"Everybody says Dr. Sykes is better."
"No, I don't want to see Dr. Sykes." Now that the anger
and hysteria had passed he could see her exactly as she was
that first evening when the sirens blew. He thought, O
God, I can't leave her. Or Louise. You don't need me as
they need me. You have your good people, your Saints,
260 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
all the company of the blessed. You can do without me. He
said, "I'll take you for a spin now in the car. It will do us
In the dusk of the garage he took her hands again and
kissed her. He said, "There are no eyes here . . . Wilson
can't see us. Harris isn't watching. Yusef 's boys . . ."
"My dear, I'd leave you tomorrow if it would help."
"It wouldn't help." He said, "You remember when I
wrote you a letter which got lost. I tried to put down
everything there, plainly, in black and white. So as not to
be cautious any more. I wrote that I loved you more than
my wife . . ." He hesitated. "More than God," and as he
spoke he heard another's breath behind his shoulder, be-
side the car. He said, sharply, "Who's that?"
"Somebody's here." He came round to the other side of
the car and said sharply, "Who's there? Come out."
"It's AH," Helen said.
"What are you doing here, Ali?"
"Missus sent me," Ali said. "I wait here for Massa tell
him Missus back." He was hardly visible in the shadow.
"Why were you waiting here?"
"My head humbug me," Ali said. "I go for sleep, small
"Don't frighten him," Helen said. "He's telling the
"Go along home, Ali," Scobie told him, "and tell Missus
I come straight down." He watched him pad out into the
hard sunlight between the Nissen huts. He never looked
"Don't worry about him," Helen said. "He didn't un-
derstand a thing."
"I've had Ali for fifteen years," Scobie said. It was the
first time he had been ashamed before him in all those
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 26 1
years. He remembered Ali the night after Pemberton's
death, cup of tea in hand, holding him up against the
shaking lorry, and then he remembered Wilson's boy
slinking off along the wall by the police station.
"You can trust him anyway/*
"I don't know how," Scobie said. 'I've lost the trick of
Louise was asleep upstairs, and Scobie sat at the table
with his diary open. He had written down against the
date October 31: Commissioner told me this morning I
am to succeed him.. Took some furniture to H.R. Told
Louise news, which pleased her. The other life bare and
undisturbed and built of facts lay like Roman founda-
tions under his hand. This was the life he was supposed
to lead: no one reading this record would visualize the ob-
scure shameful scene in the garage, the interview with the
Portuguese captain, Louise striking out blindly with the
painful truth, Helen accusing him of hypocrisy . . . He
thought: This is how it ought to be: I am too old for emo-
tion. I am too old to be a cheat. Lies are for the young.
They have a lifetime of truth to recover in. He looked at
his watch eleven-forty-five and wrote: Temperature at
2 p.m. 92. The lizard pounced upon the wall, the tiny
jaws clamping on a moth. Something scratched outside the
door a pye-dog? He laid his pen down again and loneli-
ness sat across the table opposite him. No man surely was
less alone, with his wife upstairs and his mistress little
more than five hundred yards away up the hill, and yet it
was loneliness that seated itself like a companion who
doesn't need to speak. It seemed to him that he had never
been so alone before.
262 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
There was nobody now to whom he could speak the
truth. There were things the Commissioner must not
know, Louise must not know, there were even limits to
what he could tell Helen, for what was the use, when he
had sacrificed so much in order to avoid pain, of inflicting
it needlessly? As for God, he could speak to Him only as
one speaks to an enemy there was bitterness between
them. He moved his hand on the table, and it was as though
his loneliness moved too and touched the tips of his fingers.
"You and I," his loneliness said, "you and I," It occurred
to him that the outside world, if they knew the facts, might
envy him: Bagster would envy him Helen, and Wilson,
Louise. What a hell of a quiet dog, Fraser would exclaim
with a lick of the lips. They would imagine, he thought
with amazement, that I get something out of it, but it
seemed to him that no man had ever got less. Even self-pity
was denied him because he knew so exactly the extent of his
guilt. He felt as though he had exiled himself so deeply in
the desert that his skin had taken on the colour of the sand.
The door creaked gently open behind him. Scobie did
not move. The spies, he thought, are creeping in. Is this
Wilson, Harris, Pemberton's boy, Ali . . . ? "Massa," a
voice whispered, and a bare foot slapped the concrete floor.
"Who are you?" Scobie asked, not turning round. A pink
palm dropped a small ball of paper on the table and went
out of sight again. The voice said, "Yusef say come very
quiet nobody see."
"What does Yusef want now?"
"He send you dash small small dash." Then the door
closed again and silence was back. Loneliness said, "Let
us open this together, you and I."
Scobie picked up the ball of paper: it was light, but it
had a small hard centre. At first he didn't realize what it
was: he thought it was a pebble put in to keep the paper
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 863
steady and he looked for writing, which, of course, was not
there, for whom would Yusef trust to write for him? Then
he realized what it was a diamond, a gem stone. He knew
nothing about diamonds, but it seemed to him that it was
probably worth at least as much as his debt to Yusef. Pre-
sumably Yusef had information that the stones he had sent
by the Esperanfa had reached their destination safely. This
was a mark of gratitude not a bribe, Yusef would explain,
the fat hand upon his sincere and shallow heart.
The door burst open and there was Ali. He had a boy by
the arm who whimpered. Ali said, "This stinking Mende
boy he go all round the house. He try doors."
"Who are you?" Scobie said.
The boy broke out in a mixture of fear and rage, "I
Yusef's boy. I bring Massa letter/' and he pointed at the
table where the pebble lay in the screw of paper. Ali's eyes
followed the gesture. Scobie said to his loneliness, "You
and I have to think quickly." He turned on the boy and
said, "Why you not come here properly and knock on the
door? Why you come like a thief?"
He had the thin body and the melancholy soft eyes of all
Mendes. He said, "I not a thief," with so slight an emphasis
on the first word that it was just possible he was not im-
pertinent. He went on, "Massa tell me to come very quiet/'
Scobie said, "Take this back to Yusef and tell him I
want to know where he gets a stone like that. I think he
steals stones and I find out by an' by. Go on. Take it. Now,
Ali, throw him out/' Ali pushed the boy ahead of him
through the door, and Scobie could hear the rustle of their
feet on the path. Were they whispering together? He went
to the door and called out after them, "Tell Yusef I call on
him one night soon and make hell of a palaver/' He
slammed the door again and thought, what a lot Ali knows,
and he felt distrust of his boy moving again like fever with
264 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
the bloodstream. He could ruin me, he thought: he could
He poured himself out a glass of whisky and took a
bottle of soda out of his ice-box. Louise called from up-
"Is it twelve yet?"
"Close on, I think."
"You won't drink anything after twelve, will you? You
remember tomorrow?" and of course he did remember,
draining his glass: it was November the first All Saints'
Day, and this Allhallows Eve. What ghost would pass over
the whisky's surface? "You are coming to Communion,
aren't you, dear?" and he thought wearily: There is no end
to this: why should I draw the line now? one may as well
go on damning oneself until the end. His loneliness was the
only ghost his whisky could invoke, nodding across the
table at him, taking a drink out of his glass. "The next oc-
casion/ 1 loneliness told him, "will be Christmas the Mid-
night Mass you won't be able to avoid that, you know,
and no excuse will serve you on that night, and after that"
. . . the long chain of feast days, of early Masses in spring
and summer, unrolled themselves like a perpetual calen-
dar. He had a sudden picture before his eyes of a bleeding
face, of eyes closed by the continuous shower of blows: the
punch-drunk head of God reeling sideways.
"You are coming, Ticki?" Louise called with what
seemed to him a sudden anxiety, as though perhaps sus-
picion had momentarily breathed on her again and he
thought again: Can Ali really be trusted? and all the stale
Coast wisdom of the traders and the remittance-men told
him, "Never trust a black. They'll let you down in the end.
Had my boy fifteen years . . ." The ghosts of distrust
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 265
came out on All Souls' Night and gathered around his
"Oh, yes, my dear, I'm coming."
"You have only to say the word," he addressed God, "and
legions of angels . . ." and he struck with his ringed hand
under the eye and saw the bruised skin break. He thought:
And again at Christmas, thrusting the Child's face into the
filth of the stable. He cried up the stairs, "What's that you
"Oh, only that we've got so much to celebrate tomorrow.
Being together and the commissionership. Life is so happy,
And that, he told his loneliness with defiance, is my re-
ward, splashing the whisky across the table, defying the
ghosts to do their worst, watching God bleed.
1 V HE COULD TELL THAT YUSEF WAS WORKING
late in his office on the quay. The little white two-storied
building stood beside the wooden jetty on the edge of
Africa, just beyond the army dumps of petrol, and a line of
light showed under the curtains in the landward window.
A policeman saluted Scobie as he picked his way between
the crates. "All quiet, corporal?"
"All quiet, sah."
"Have you patrolled at the Kru Town end?"
"Oh, yes, sah. All quiet, sah." He could tell from the
promptitude of the reply how untrue it was.
"The wharf rats out, eh?"
"Oh, no, sah. All very quiet like the grave." The stale
literary phrase showed that the man had been educated at
a mission school.
"Well, good night."
"Good night, sah."
Scobie went on. It was many weeks now since he had seen
Yusef not since the night of the black-mail, and now he
felt an odd yearning towards his tormentor. The little
white building magnetized him, as though concealed there
was his only companionship, the only man he could trust.
At least his black-mailer knew him as no one else did: he
could sit opposite that fat absurd figure and tell the whole
truth. In this new world of lies his black-mailer was at
home: he knew the paths: he could advise: even help. . . .
Round the corner of a crate came Wilson. Scobie's torch lit
his face like a map.
"Why, Wilson," Scobie said, "you are out late."
"Yes," Wilson said; and Scobie thought uneasily, how he
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 267
"You've got a pass for the quay?"
"Keep away from the Kru Town end. It's not safe there
alone. No more nose-bleedmg?"
"No," Wilson said. He made no attempt to move: it
seemed always his way to stand blocking a path: a man
one had to walk round.
"Well, I'll be saying good night, Wilson. Look in any
time. Louise . . ."
Wilson said, "I love her, Scobie."
"I thought you did," Scobie said. "She likes you, Wil-
"I love her," Wilson repeated. He plucked at the tar-
paulin over the crate and said, "You wouldn't know what
"Love. You don't love anybody except yourself, your
"You are overwrought, Wilson. It's the climate. Go and
"You wouldn't act as you do if you loved her." Over the
black tide, from an invisible ship, came the sound of a
gramophone playing some popular heart-rending tune. A
sentry challenged, by the Field. Security post, and some-
body replied with a password. Scobie lowered his torch till
it lit only Wilson's mosquito boots. He said, "Love isn't
as simple as you think it is, Wilson. You read too much
"What would you do if I told her everything about
Mrs. Rolt?" .
"But you have told her, Wilson. What you believe. But
she prefers my story."
"One day 111 ruin you, Scobie."
"Would that help Louise?"
68 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"I could make her happy," Wilson claimed ingenuously,
with a breaking voice that took Scobie back over fifteen
years to a much younger man than this soiled specimen
who listened to Wilson at the sea's edge, hearing under the
words the low sucking of water against wood. He said
gently, "You'd try. I know you'd try. Perhaps . . ." but he
had no idea himself how that sentence was supposed to
finish, what vague comfort for Wilson had brushed his
mind and gone again. Instead an irritation took him
against the gangling romantic figure by the crate who was
so ignorant and yet knew so much. He said, "I wish mean-
while you'd stop spying on me/*
"It's my job," Wilson admitted, and his boots moved in
"The things you find out are so unimportant." He left
Wilson beside the petrol dump and walked on. As he
climbed the steps to Yusef's office he could see, looking
back, an obscure thickening of the darkness where Wilson
stood and watched and hated. He would go home and
draft a report. "At 11:25 I observed Major Scobie going
obviously by appointment . . ."
Scobie knocked and walked right in where Yusef half
lay behind his desk, his legs upon it, dictating to a black
clerk. Without breaking his sentence "five hundred rolls
match-box design, seven hundred and fifty bucket and
sand, six hundred poker dot artificial silk" he looked
up at Scobie with hope and apprehension. Then he said
sharply to the clerk, "Get out. But come back. Tell my boy
that I see no one." He took his legs from the desk, rose and
held out a flabby hand "Welcome, Major Scobie" then
let it fall like an unwanted piece of material. "This is the
first time you have ever honoured my office, Major Scobie."
"I don't know why I've come here now, Yusef."
"It is a long time since we have seen each other." Yusef
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 269
sat down and rested his great head wearily on a palm like
a dish. "Time goes so differently for two people fast or
slow. According to their friendship/'
"There's probably a Syrian poem about that/'
"There is, Major Scobie/' he said eagerly.
"You should be friends with Wilson, not me, Yusef. He
reads poetry. I have a prose mind."
"A whisky, Major Scobie?"
"I wouldn't say no." He sat down on the other side of
the desk and the inevitable blue siphon stood between
"And how is Mrs. Scobie?"
"Why did you send me that diamond, Yusef?"
"I was in your debt, Major Scobie."
"Oh, no, you weren't. You paid me off in full with a bit
"I try so hard to forget that that was the way. I tell my-
self it was really friendship at bottom it was friendship."
"It's never any good lying to oneself, Yusef. One sees
through the lie too easily."
"Major Scobie, if I saw more of you, I should become a
better man." The soda hissed in the glasses and Yusef
drank greedily. He said, "I can feel in my heart, Major
Scobie, that you are anxious, depressed ... I have always
wished that you would come to me in trouble."
Scobie said, "I used to laugh at the idea that I should
ever come to you."
"In Syria we have a story of a lion and a mouse . . /'
"We have the same story, Yusef. But I've never thought
of you as a mouse, and I'm no lion. No lion."
"It is about Mrs. Rolt you are troubled. And your wife,
"You do not need to be ashamed with me, Major Scobie.
27 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
I have had much woman trouble in my life. Now it is bet-
ter because I have learned the way. The way is not to care
a damn, Major Scobie. You say to each of them, 1 do not
care a damn. I sleep with whom I please. You take me or
leave me. I do not care a damn/ They always take you,
Major Scobie/' He sighed into his whisky. "Sometimes I
have wished they would not take me/'
"I've gone to great lengths, Yusef, to keep things from
"I know the lengths you have gone, Major Scobie."
"Not the whole length. The business with the diamonds
was very small compared , . /'
"You wouldn't understand. Anyway, somebody else
knows now AIL"
"But you trust Ali?"
"I think I trust him. But he knows about you too. He
came in last night and saw the diamond there. Your boy
was very indiscreet/'
The big broad hand shifted on the table. "I will deal
with my boy presently."
"All's half-brother is Wilson's boy. They see each other/'
"That is certainly bad," Yusef said.
He had told all his worries now all except the worst.
He had the odd sense of having for the first time in his life
shifted a burden elsewhere. And Yusef carried it he ob-
viously carried it. He raised himself from his chair now
and moved his great haunches to the window, staring at
the green black-out curtain as though it were a landscape,
A hand went up to his mouth and he began to bite his
nails snip, snip, snip, his teeth closed on each nail in
turn. Then he began on the other hand. "I don't suppose
it's anything to worry about, really," Scobie said. He was
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 271
touched by uneasiness as though he had accidentally set in
motion a powerful machine he couldn't control.
"It is a bad thing not to trust/' Yusef said. "One must
always have boys one trusts. You must always know more
about them than they do about you." That, apparently,
was his conception of trust. Scobie said, "I used to trust
Yusef looked at his trimmed nails and took another bite.
He said, "Do not worry. I will not have you worry. Leave
everything to me, Major Scobie. I will find out for you
whether you can trust him." He made the startling claim,
"I will look after you."
"How can you do that?" I feel no resentment, he thought
with weary surprise: I am being looked after and a kind
of nursery peace descended.
"You mustn't ask me questions, Major Scobie. You must
leave everything to me just this once. I understand the
way." Moving from the window Yusef turned on Scobie
eyes like closed telescopes, blank and brassy. He said with
a soothing nurse's gesture of the broad wet palm, "You
will just write a little note to your boy, Major Scobie, ask-
ing him to come here. I will talk to him. My boy will take
it to him."
"But Ali can't read."
"Better still then. You will send some token with my
boy to show that he comes from you. Your signet ring."
"What are you going to do, Yusef?"
"I am going to help you, Major Scobie. That is all."
Slowly, reluctantly, Scobie drew at his ring. He said, "He's
been with me fifteen years. I always have trusted him until
"You will see," Yusef said. "Everything will be all right."
He spread out his palm to receive the ring and their hands
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
touched: it was like a pledge between conspirators. "Just
a few words."
"The ring won't come off," Scobie said. He felt an odd
unwillingness. "It's not necessary, anyway. He'll come if
your boy tells him that I want him."
"I do not think so. They do not like to come to the
wharf at night."
"He will be all right. He won't be alone. Your boy will
be with him."
"Oh, yes, yes, of course. But I still think if you would
just send something to show well, that it is not a trap.
Yusef 's boy is no more trusted, you see, than Yusef."
"Let him come tomorrow, then."
"Tonight is better," Yusef said.
Scobie felt in his pockets: the broken rosary grated on
his nails. He said, "Let him take this, but it's not neces-
sary . . ." and fell silent, staring back at those blank eyes.
"Thank you," Yusef said. "This is most suitable." At
the door he said, "Make yourself at home, Major Scobie.
Pour yourself another drink. I must give my boy instruc-
He was away a very long time. Scobie poured himself a
third whisky and then, because the little office was so air-
less, he drew the seaward curtains after turning out the
light and let what wind there was trickle in from the bay.
The moon was rising and the naval depot ship glittered
like grey ice. Restlessly he made his way to the other win-
dow that looked up the quay towards the sheds and lumber
of the native town. He saw Yusef 's clerk coming back from
there, and he thought how Yusef must have the wharf rats
well under control if his clerk could pass alone through
their quarters. I came for help, he told himself, and I am
being looked after how, and at whose cost? This was the
Day of All Saints, and he remembered how mechanically,
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
almost without fear or shame, he had knelt at the rail this
second time and watched the priest come. Even that act of
damnation could become as unimportant as a habit. He
thought: My heart has hardened, and he pictured the fos-
silized shells one picks up on a beach: the stony convolu-
tions like arteries. One can strike God once too often.
After that, does one care what happens? It seemed to him
that he had rotted so far that it was useless to make any
effort. God was lodged in his body, and his body was cor-
rupting outwards from that seed.
"It was too hot?" Yusef s voice said, "Let us leave the
room dark. With a friend the darkness is kind."
"You have been a very long time."
Yusef said with what must have been deliberate vague-
ness, "There was much to see to." It seemed to Scobie that
now or never he must ask what was Yusef's plan, but the
weariness of his corruption halted his tongue. "Yes, it's
hot," he said, "let's try and get a cross-draught," and he
opened the side window onto the quay. "I wonder if Wil-
son has gone home."
"He watched me come here."
"You must not worry, Major Scobie. I think your boy
can be made quite trustworthy."
He said with relief and hope, "You mean you have a
hold on him?"
"Don't ask questions. You will see." The hope and the
relief both wilted. He said, "Yusef, I must know . . ." but
Yusef said, "I have always dreamed of an evening just like
this with two glasses by our side and darkness and time to
talk about important things, Major Scobie. God. The fam-
ily. Poetry. I have great appreciation of Shakespeare. The
Royal Ordnance Corps have very fine actors and they have
made me appreciate the gems of English literature. I am
274 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
crazy about Shakespeare. Sometimes because of Shakespeare
I would like to be able to read, but I am too old to learn.
And I think perhaps I would lose my memory. That would
be bad for business, and though I do not live for business
I must do business to live. There are so many subjects I
would like to talk to you about. I should like to hear the
philosophy of your life."
"I have none."
"The piece of cotton you hold in your hand in the
4 'I've lost my way."
"Not a man like you, Major Scobie. I have such an ad-
miration for your character. You are a just man."
"I never was, Yusef. I didn't know myself, that's all.
There's a proverb, you know, about the end is the begin-
ning. When I was born I was sitting here with you drink-
ing whisky, knowing . . ."
"Knowing what, Major Scobie?"
Scobie emptied his glass. He said, "Surely your boy must
have got to my house now."
"He has a bicycle."
"Then they should be on their way back."
"We must not be impatient. We may have to sit a long
time, Major Scobie. You know what boys are."
"I thought I did." He found his left hand was trembling
on the desk and he put it between his knees to hold it still.
He remembered the long trek beside the border: innu-
merable lunches in the forest shade, with Ali cooking in
an old sardine tin, and again that last drive to Bamba came
to mind the long wait at the ferry, the fever coming down
on him, and Ali always at hand. He wiped the sweat off his
forehead and he thought for a moment: This is just a sick-
ness, a fever. I shall wake soon. The record of the last six
months the first night in the Nissen hut, the letter which
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 2 75
said too much, the smuggled diamonds, the lies, the sacra-
ment taken to put a woman's mind at ease seemed as in-
substantial as shadows over a bed cast by a hurricane lamp.
He said to himself: I am waking up, and heard the sirens
blowing the alert just as on that night, that night . . . He
shook his head and came awake to Yusef sitting in the dark
on the other side of the desk, to the taste of the whisky, and
the knowledge that everything was the same. He said wea-
rily, "They ought to be here by now."
Yusef said, H You know what boys are. They get scared
by the siren and they take shelter. We must sit here and
talk to each other, Major Scobie. It is a great opportunity
for me. I do not want the morning ever to come."
"The morning? I am not going to wait till morning for
"Perhaps he will be frightened. He will know you have
found him out and he will run away. Sometimes boys go
back to bush ..."
"You are talking nonsense, Yusef."
"Another whisky, Major Scobie?"
"All right. All right." He thought: Am I taking to drink
too? It seemed to him that he had no shape left, nothing
you could touch and say: This is Scobie.
"Major Scobie, there are rumour* that after all justice is
to be done and that you are to be Commissioner."
He said with care, "I don't think it will ever come to
"I just wanted to say, Major Scobie, that you need not
worry about me. I want your good, nothing so much as
that. I will slip out of your life, Major Scobie. I will not be
a millstone. It is enough for me to have had tonight this
long talk in the dark on all sorts of subjects. I will remem-
ber tonight always. You will not have to worry. I will see to
that." Through the window behind Yusef 's head, from
276 E HEART OF THE MATTER
somewhere among the jumble of huts and warehouses, a
cry came: pain and fear: it swam up like a drowning ani-
mal for air, and fell again into the darkness of the room,
into the whisky, under the desk, into the basket of waste-
paper, a discarded finished cry.
Yusef said too quickly, "A drunk man." He yelped ap-
prehensively, "Where are you going, Major Scobie? It's not
safe alone/ 9 That was the last Scobie ever saw of Yusef, a
silhouette stuck stiffly and crookedly on the wall, with the
moonlight shining on the siphon and the two drained
glasses. At the bottom of the stairs the clerk stood, staring
down the wharf. The moonlight caught his eyes: like road
studs they showed the way to turn.
There was no movement in the empty warehouses on
either side or among the sacks and crates as he moved his
torch: if the wharf rats had been out, that cry had driven
them back to their holes. His footsteps echoed between the
sheds, and somewhere a pye-dog wailed. It would have been
quite possible to have searched in vain in this wilderness
of litter until morning: what was it that brought him so
quickly and unhesitatingly to the body, as though he had
himself chosen the scene of the crime? Turning this way
and that down the avenues of tarpaulin and wood, he was
aware of a nerve in his forehead that beat out the where-
abouts of Ali.
The body lay coiled and unimportant like a broken
watchspring under a pile of empty petrol drums: it looked
as though it had been shovelled there to wait for morning
and the scavenger birds. Scobie had a moment of hope be-
fore he turned the shoulder over, for after all two boys had
been together on the road. The seal-grey neck had been
slashed and slashed again. Yes, he thought, I can trust him
now. The yellow eyeballs stared up at him like a stranger's
flecked with red. It was as if this body had cast him off,
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 277
disowned him "I know you not." He swore aloud, hys-
terically, "By God, I'll get the man who did this," but
under that anonymous stare insincerity withered. He
thought: I am the man. Didn't I know all the time in
Yusef 's room that something was planned? Couldn't I have
pressed for an answer? A voice said, "Sah?"
"Corporal Laminah, sah."
"Can you see a broken rosary anywhere around? Look
"I can't see nothing, sah."
Scobie thought: If only I could weep, if only I could feel
pain; have I really become so evil? Unwillingly he looked
down at the body. The fumes of petrol lay all around in
the heavy night and for a moment he saw the body as some-
thing very small and dark and a long way away like a
broken piece of the rosary he looked for: a couple of black
beads and the image of God coiled at the end of it. O God,
he thought, I've killed you: you've served me all these years
and I've killed you at the end of them. God lay there under
the petrol drums and Scobie felt the tears in his mouth, salt
in the cracks of his lips. You served me and I did this to
you. You were faithful to me, and I wouldn't trust you.
"What is it, sah?" the corporal whispered, kneeling by
"I loved him," Scobie said.
. AS SOON AS HE HAD HANDED OVER HIS WORK TO
Fraser and closed his office for the day, Scobie started out
for the Nissen. He drove with his eyes half closed, looking
straight ahead: he told himself, Now, today, I am going to
clean up, whatever the cost. Life is going to start again:
this nightmare of love is finished. It seemed to him that it
had died for ever the previous night under the petrol
drums. The sun blazed down on his hands which were
sealed to the wheel by sweat.
His mind was so concentrated on what had to come the
opening of a door, a few words, and closing a door again
for ever that he nearly passed Helen on the road. She
was walking down the hill towards him, hatless. She didn't
even see the car. He had to run after her and catch her up.
When she turned it was the face he had seen at Pende
carried past him defeated, broken, as ageless as a smashed
"What are you doing here? In the sun, without a hat.
She said vaguely, "I was looking for you/ 1 standing
there, dithering on the laterite.
"Come back to the car. You'll get sunstroke." A look of
cunning came into her eyes. "Is it as easy as all that?" she
asked, but she obeyed him.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 279
They sat side by side in the car. There seemed to be no
object in driving further: one could say good-bye here as
easily as there. She said, "I heard this morning about Ali.
Did you do it?"
"I didn't cut his throat myself," he said. "But he died
because I existed."
"Do you know who did?"
"I don't know who held the knife. A wharf rat, I suppose.
Yusef 's boy who was with him has disappeared. Perhaps he
did it or perhaps he's dead too. We will never prove any-
thing. I doubt if Yusef intended it."
"You know," she said, "this is the end for us. I can't
go on ruining you any more. Don't speak. Let me speak. I
never thought it would be like this. Other people seem to
have love affairs which start and end and are happy, but
with us it doesn't work. It seems to be all or nothing. So
it's got to be nothing. Please don't speak. I've been think-
ing about this for weeks. I'm going to go away right
"I told you not to speak. Don't ask questions." He could
see in the windscreen a pale reflexion of her desperation.
It seemed to him as though he were being torn apart. "My
dear," she said, "don't think it's easy. I've never done any-
thing so hard. It would be so much easier to die. You
come into everything. I can never again see a Nissen hut
or a Ford car. Or taste pink gin. See a black face. Even a
bed . . . one has to sleep in a bed. I don't know where I'll
get away from you. It's no use saying in a year it will be all
right. It's a year I've got to get through. All the time know-
ing you are somewhere. I could send a telegram or a letter
and you'd have to read it, even if you didn't reply." He
thought: How much easier it would be for her if I were
dead. "But I mustn't write," she said. She wasn't crying:
28O THE HEART OF THE MATTER
her eyes when he took a quick glance were dry and red, as
he remembered them in hospital, exhausted. "Waking up
will be the worst. There's always a moment when one for-
gets that everything's different/'
He said, "I came up here to say good-bye too. But there
are things I can't do."
"Don't talk, darling. I'm being good. Can't you see I'm
being good? You don't have to go away from me I'm
going away from you. You won't ever know where to. I
hope I won't be too much of a slut."
"No," he said, "no."
"Be quiet, darling. You are going to be all right. You'll
see. You'll be able to clean up. You'll be a Catholic again
that's what you really want, isn't it, not a pack of women?"
"I want to stop giving pain," he said.
"You want peace, dear. You'll have peace. You'll see.
Everything will be all right." She put her hand on his knee
and began at last to weep in this effort to comfort him. He
thought: Where did she pick up this heart-breaking ten-
derness? Where do they learn to be so old so quickly?
"Look, dear. Don't come up to the hut. Open the car
door for me. It's stiff. Well say good-bye here, and you'll
just drive home or to the office if you'd rather. That's so
much easier. Don't worry about me. I'll be all right." He
thought: I missed that one death and now I'm having them
all. He leant over her and wrenched at the car door: her
tears touched his cheek. He could feel the mark like a burn.
"There's no objection to a farewell kiss, dear. We haven't
quarrelled. There hasn't been a scene. There's no bitter-
ness." As they kissed he was aware of pain under his mouth
like the beating of a bird's heart They sat still, silent, and
the door of the car lay open. A few black labourers pass-
ing down the hill looked curiously in.
She said, "I can't believe that this is the last time: that
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 28 1
111 get out and you'll drive away, and we won't see each
other again ever. I won't go outside more than I can help
till I get right away. Ill be up here and youll be down
there. Oh, God, I wish I hadn't got the furniture you
"It's just official furniture."
"The cane is broken in one of the chairs where you sat
down too quickly."
"Darling, darling, this isn't the way."
"Don't speak, dear. I'm really being quite good, but I
can't say these things to another living soul. In books
there's always a confidant. But I haven't got a confidant.
I must say them all once." He thought again: If I were
dead, she would be free of me: one forgets the dead quite
quickly; one doesn't wonder about the dead what is he
doing now, who is he with? This for her is the hard way.
"Now, dear, I'm going to do it. Shut your eyes. Count
three hundred slowly, and I won't be in sight. Turn the
car quickly, dear, and drive like hell. I don't want to see
you go. And 111 stop my ears. I don't want to hear you
change gear at the bottom of the hill. Cars do that a hun-
dred times a day. I don't want to hear you change gear."
O God, he prayed, his hands dripping over the wheel,
kill me now, now. My God, you'll never have more com-
plete contrition. What a mess I am. I carry suffering with
me like a body smell. Kill me. Put an end to me. Vermin
don't have to exterminate themselves. Kill me. Now. Now.
Now* Before I hurt you again.
"Shut your eyes, dear. This is the end. Really the end."
She said hopelessly, "It seems so silly, though."
He said, "I won't shut my eyes. I won't leave you. I
"You aren't leaving me. I'm leaving you."
"It won't work, darling. We love each other. It won't
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
work. I'd be up this evening to see how you were. I
couldn't sleep . . ."
"You can always sleep. I've never known such a sleeper.
Oh, my dear, look. I'm beginning to laugh at you again
just as though we weren't saying good-bye/ 1
"We aren't. Not yet."
"But I'm only ruining you. I can't give you any happi-
"Happiness isn't the point."
"I'd made up my mind."
"So had I."
"But, dear, what do we do?" She surrendered com-
pletely. "I don't mind going on as we are. I don't mind the
"Just leave it to me. I've got to think." He leant over her
and closed the door of the car. Before the lock had clicked
he had made his decision.
Scobie watched the small boy as he cleared away the
evening meal, watched him come in and go out, watched
the bare feet flap the floor. Louise said, "I know it's a ter-
rible thing, darling, but you've got to put it behind you. You
can't help Ali now." A new parcel of books had come from
England and he watched her cutting the leaves of a volume
of verse. There was more grey in her hair than when she
had left for South Africa, but she looked, it seemed to him,
years younger because she was paying more attention to
make-up: her dressing table was littered with the pots and
bottles and tubes she had brought back from the south.
Ali's death meant little to her: why should it? It was the
sense of guilt that made it so important. Otherwise one
didn't grieve for a death. When he was young, he had
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 283
thought love had something to do with understanding, but
with age he knew that no human being understood another.
Love was the wish to understand, and presently with con-
stant failure the wish died, and love died too perhaps or
changed into this painful affection, loyalty, pity. . . . She
sat there, reading poetry, and she was a thousand miles
away from the torment that shook his hand and dried his
mouth. She would understand, he thought, if I were in a
book, but would I understand her if she were just a charac-
ter? I don't read that sort of book.
"Haven't you anything to read, darling?"
"I'm sorry. I don't feel much like reading."
She closed her book, and it occurred to him that after
all she had her own effort to make: she tried to help. Some-
times he wondered with horror whether perhaps she knew
everything, whether that complacent face she had worn
since her return after all masked misery. She said, "Let's
talk about Christmas."
"It's still a long way off," he said quickly.
"Before you know, it will be on us. I was wondering
whether we couldn't give a party. We've always been out
to dinner: it would be fun to have people here. Perhaps on
"Just what you like."
"We could all go on then to Midnight Mass. Of course
you and I would have to remember to drink nothing after
ten but the others could do as they pleased."
He looked up at her with momentary hatred as she sat
so cheerfully there, so smugly it seemed to him, arranging
his further damnation. He was going to be Commissioner.
She had what she wanted her sort of success, everything
was all right with her now. He thought: It was the hyster-
ical woman who felt the world laughing behind her back
that I loved. I love failure: I can't love success. And how
284 E HEART OF THE MATTER
successful she looks, sitting there: one of the saved and he
saw laid across that wide face like a news-screen the body
of AH under the black drums, the exhausted eyes of Helen,
and all the faces of the lost, his companions in exile, the
unrepentant thief, the soldier with the sponge. Thinking
of what he had done and was going to do, he thought, with
love, even God is a failure.
"What is it, Ticki? Are you still worrying . . . ?"
But he couldn't tell her the entreaty that was on his lips:
Let me pity you again, be disappointed, unattractive, be a
failure so that I can love you once more without this bitter
gap between us. Time is short. I want to love you too at the
end. He said slowly, "It's the pain. It's over now. When it
comes" he remembered the phrase of the text-book
"it's like a vice."
"You must see the doctor, Ticki."
"I'll see him tomorrow. I was going to anyway because
of my sleeplessness."
"Your sleeplessness? But, Ticki, you sleep like a log/'
"Not the last week,"
"You're imagining it."
"No. I wake up about two and can't sleep again till
just before we are called. Don't worry. I'll get some tablets."
"I hate drugs."
"I won't go on long enough to form a habit."
"We must get you right for Christmas, Ticki."
"I'll be all right by Christmas." He came stiffly across the
room to her, imitating the bearing of a man who fears that
pain may return again, and put his hand against her breast.
"Don't worry." Hatred went out of him at the touch she
wasn't as successful as all that: she would never be married
to the Commissioner of Police.
After she had gone to bed he took out his diary. In this
record at least he had never lied. At the worst he had
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 385
omitted. He had checked his temperatures as carefully as a
sea captain making up his log. He had never exaggerated or
minimized, and he had never indulged in speculation. All
he had written here was facts. November i.. Early Mass
with Louise. Spent morning on larceny case at Mrs.
Onoko's. Temperature 91 at 2. Saw Y. at his office. All
found murdered. The statement was as plain and simple
as that other time when he had written: C. died.
November 2. He sat a long while with that date in
front of him, so long that presently Louise called down to
him. He replied carefully, "Go to sleep, dear. If I sit up
late, I may be able to sleep properly." But already, ex-
hausted by the day and by all the plans that had to be laid,
he was near to nodding at the table. He went to his ice-box,
and, wrapping a piece of ice in his handkerchief, rested it
against his forehead until sleep receded. November 2.
Again he picked up his pen: This was his death-warrant he
was signing. He wrote: Saw Helen for a few minutes.
(It was always safer to leave no facts for anyone else to
unearth.) Temperature at 2 } 92. In the evening, return
of pain. Fear angina. He looked up the pages of the entries
for a week back and added an occasional note. Slept very
badly. Bad night. Sleeplessness continues. He read the en-
tries over carefully: they would be read later by the coro-
ner, by the insurance inspectors. They seemed to him
to be in his usual manner. Then he put the ice back on
his forehead to drive sleep away. It was still only half after
midnight: it would be better not to go to bed before two.
"IT GRIPS ME," SCOBIE SAID, "LIKE A VICE/*
"And what do you do then?"
"Why, nothing. I stay as still as I can until the pain
"How long does it last?"
"It's difficult to tell, but I don't think more than a min-
The stethoscope followed like a ritual. Indeed there
was something clerical in all that Dr. Travis did: an ear-
nestness, almost a reverence. Perhaps because he was young
he treated the body with great respect: when he rapped the
chest he did it slowly, carefully, with his ear bowed close as
though he really expected somebody or something to rap
back. Latin words came softly onto his tongue as though
in the Mass sternum instead of pacem.
"And then," Scobie said, "there's the sleeplessness/'
The young man sat back behind his desk and tapped
with an indelible pencil: there was a mauve smear at the
corner of his mouth*which seemed to indicate that some-
times off guard he sucked it. "That's probably nerves,"
Dr. Travis said, "apprehension of pain. Unimportant."
"It's important to me. Can't you give me something to
take? I'm all right when once I get to sleep, but I lie awake
for hours, waiting . . . Sometimes I'm hardly fit for work.
And a policeman, you know, needs his wits."
"Of course," Dr. Travis said. "I'll soon settle you. Evi-
pan's the stuff for you." It was as easy as all that. "Now as
for the pain" he began his tap, tap, tap, with the pencil.
He said, "It's impossible to be certain, of course. I want
you to note carefully the circumstances of every attack . . .
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 287
what seems to bring it on. Then it will be quite possible to
regulate it, avoid it almost entirely."
"But what's wrong?"
Dr. Travis said, "There are some words that always
shock the layman. I wish we could call cancer by a symbol
like H 2 O. People wouldn't be nearly so disturbed. It's the
same with the word angina."
"You think it's angina?"
"It has all the characteristics. But men can live for years
with angina even work in reason. We have to see exactly
how much you can do."
"Should I tell my wife?"
"There's no point in not telling her. I'm afraid this will
"Is that all?"
"You may die of a lot of things before angina gets you
"On the other hand, I suppose it might happen any
"I can't guarantee anything, Major Scobie. I'm not even
absolutely satisfied that this is angina."
"Ill speak to the Commissioner then on the quiet. I
don't want to alarm my wife until we are certain."
"If I were you, I'd tell her what I've said. It will pre-
pare her. But tell her you may live for years with care."
"And the sleeplessness?"
"This will make you sleep/'
Sitting in the car with the little package on the seat be-
side him, he thought, I have only now to choose the date.
He didn't start his car for quite a while: he was touched
by a feeling of awe as if he had in fact been given his death-
sentence by the doctor. His eyes dwelt on the neat blob of
sealing-wax like a dried wound. He thought, I have still
g88 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
got to be careful, so careful. If possible no one must even
suspect. It was not only the question of his life insurance:
the happiness of others had to be protected. It was not so
easy to forget a suicide as a middle-aged man's death from
He unsealed the package and studied the directions. He
had no knowledge of what a fatal dose might be, but surely
if he took ten times the correct amount he would be safe.
That meant every night for nine nights removing a dose
and keeping it secretly for use on the tenth night. More
evidence must be invented in his diary, which must be
written right up to the end November 12. He must make
engagements for the following week. In his behaviour there
must be no hint of farewells. This was the worst crime a
Catholic could commit it must be a perfect one.
First the Commissioner . . . He drove down towards
the police station and stopped his car outside the church.
The solemnity of the crime lay over his mind almost like
happiness: it was action at last he had fumbled and mud-
dled too long. He put the package for safekeeping into
his pocket and went in, carrying his death. An old mammy
was lighting a candle before the Virgin's statue: another
sat with her market basket beside her and her hands folded,
staring up at the altar. Otherwise the church was empty.
Scobie sat down at the back: he had no inclination to pray
what was the good? If one was a Catholic, one had all
the answers: no prayer was effective in a state of mortal
sin but he watched the other two with sad envy. They
were still inhabitants of the country he had left. This was
what human love had done to him it had robbed him
of love for eternity. It was no use pretending as a young
man might that the price was worth while.
If he couldn't pray he could at least talk, sitting there
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 289
at the back, as far as he could get from Golgotha. He said,
God, I am the only guilty one because I've known the
answers all the time. I've preferred to give you pain rather
than give pain to Helen or my wife because I can't observe
your suffering. I can only imagine it. But there are limits
to what I can do to you or them. I can't desert either of
them while I'm alive, but I can die and remove myself
from their blood-stream. They are ill with me and I can
cure them. And you too, God you are ill with me. I can't
go on, month after month, insulting you. I can't face com-
ing up to the altar at Christmas your birthday feast and
taking your body and blood for the sake of a lie. I can't do
that. You'll be better off if you lose me once and for all.
1 know what I'm doing. I'm not pleading for mercy. I am
going to damn myself, whatever that means. I've longed
for peace and I'm never going to know peace again. But
you'll be at peace when I am out of your reach. It will be
no use then sweeping the floor to find me or searching for
me over the mountains. You'll be able to forget me, God,
for eternity. One hand clasped the package in his pocket
like a promise,
No one can speak a monologue for long "alone: another
voice will always make itself heard: every monologue
sooner or later becomes a discussion. So now he couldn't
keep the other voice silent: it spoke from the cave of his
body: it was as if the sacrament which had lodged there for
his damnation gave tongue: You say you love me, and yet
you'll do this to me rob me of you for ever. I made you
with love. I've wept your tears. I've saved you from more
than you will ever know; I planted in you this longing for
peace only so that one day I could satisfy your longing and
watch your happiness. And now you push me away, you
put me out of your reach. There are no capital letters to
2QO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
separate us when we talk together. I am not Thou but
simply you, when you speak to me; I am humble as any
other beggar. Can't you trust me as you'd trust a faithful
dog? I have been faithful to you for two thousand years.
All you have to do now is ring a bell, go into a box, confess
. . . the repentance is already there, straining at your
heart. It's not repentance you lack, just a few simple ac-
tions: to go up to the Nissen hut and say good-bye. Or if
you must, continue rejecting me but without lies any
more. Go to your house and say good-bye to your wife and
live with your mistress. If you live you will come back to
me sooner or later. One of them will suffer, but can't you
trust me to see that the suffering isn't too great?
The voice was silent in the cave and his own voice re-
plied hopelessly: No. I don't trust you. I love you, but I've
never trusted you. If you made me, you made this feeling of
responsibility that I've always carried about like a sack of
bricks. I'm not a policeman for nothing responsible for
order, for seeing justice is done. There was no other pro-
fession for a man of my kind. I can't shift my responsibility
to you. If I could, I would be someone else. I can't make
one of them suffer so as to save myself. I'm responsible
and I'll see it through the only way I can. A sick man's
death means to them only a short suffering everybody
has to die. We are all of us resigned to death: it's life we
aren't resigned to.
So long as you live, the voice said, I have hope. There's
no human hopelessness like the hopelessness of God. Can't
you just go on, as you are doing now? the voice pleaded,
lowering the terms every time it spoke, like a dealer in a
market. It explained: There are worse acts. But No, he
said, No. That's impossible. I love you and I won't go on
insulting you at your own altar. You see, it's an impasse,
God, an impasse, he said, clutching the package in his
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 2Q1
pocket. He got up and turned his back on the altar and
went out. Only when he saw his face in the driving mirror
did he realize that his eyes were bruised with suppressed
tears. He drove on towards the police station and the Com-
111. November 5. Yesterday I told the Com-
missioner that angina had been diagnosed and that I
should have to retire as soon as a successor could be found.
Temperature at 2 p.m. 91. Much better night as the result
November 4. Went with Louise to 7:30 Mass, but pain
threatening to return did not wait for Communion. In the
evening told Louise that I should have to retire before end
of tour. Did not mention angina but spoke of strained
heart. Another good night as result of evipan. Tempera-
ture at 2 p.m. 89.
November 5. Lamp thefts in Wellington Street. Spent
long morning at Azikawe*s store checking story of fire in
storeroom. Temperature at 2 p.m. 90. Drove Louise to
Club for library night.
November 6-10. First time I've failed to keep up daily
entries. Pain has become more frequent and unwilling to
take on any extra exertion. Like a vice. Lasts about one
minute. Liable to come on if I walk more than half a mile.
Last night or two have slept badly in spite of evipan^ I
think from the apprehension of pain.
November n. Saw Travis again. There seems to be no
doubt now that it is angina* Told Louise tonight, but also
that with care I may live for years. Discussed with Commis-
sioner an early passage home. In any case can't go for
another month as too many cases I want to see through the
courts in the next week or two. Agreed to dine with Pel-
lowes on ijth^ Commissioner on ijth. Temperature at
2 p.m. 88*.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Scobie laid down his pen and wiped his wrist on the
blotting paper. It was just six o'clock on November 12,
and Louise was out at the beach. His brain was clear, but
the nerves tingled from his shoulder to his wrist. He
thought: I have come to the end. What years had passed
since he walked up through the rain to the Nissen hut,
while the sirens wailed: the moment of happiness. It was
time to die after so many years.
But there were still deceptions to be practised, just as
though he were going to live through the night, good-byes
to be said with only himself knowing that they were good-
byes. He walked very slowly up the hill in case he was ob-
served wasn't he a sick man? and turned off by the Nis-
sens. He couldn't just die without some word what word?
O God, he prayed, let it be the right word, but when he
knocked there was no reply, no words at all. Perhaps she
was at the beach with Bagster.
The door was not locked and he went in. Years had
passed in his brain, but here time had stood still. It might
have been the same bottle of gin from which the boy had
stolen how long ago? The junior official's chairs stood
stiffly around, as though on a film set: he couldn't believe
they had ever moved, any more than the pouf presented by
was it Mrs. Carter? On the bed the pillow had not been
shaken after the siesta, and he laid his hand on the warm
mould of a skull. O God, he prayed, I'm going away from
all of you for ever: let her come back in time: let me see
her once more but the hot day cooled around him and
nobody came. At six-thirty Louise would be back from the
beach. He couldn't wait any longer.
I must leave some kind of a message, he thought, and
294 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
perhaps before I have written it she will have come. He
felt a constriction in his breast worse than any pain he had
ever invented to Travis. I shall never touch her again. I
shall leave her mouth to others for the next twenty years.
Most lovers deceived themselves with the idea of an eternal
union beyond the grave, but he knew all the answers: he
went to an eternity of deprivation. He looked for paper and
couldn't find so much as a torn envelope: he thought he
saw a writing case, but it was the stamp-album that he un-
earthed, and opening it at random for no reason, he felt
fate throw another shaft, for he remembered that partic-
ular stamp and how it came to be stained with gin. She
will have to tear it out, he thought, but that won't matter:
she had told him that you can't see where a stamp has been
torn out. There was no scrap of paper even in his pockets,
and in a sudden rush of jealousy he lifted up the little
green image of George VI and wrote in ink beneath it: /
love you. She can't take that out, he thought with cruelty
and disappointment, that's indelible. For a moment he felt
as though he had laid a mine for an enemy, but this was no
enemy. Wasn't he clearing himself out of her path like a
piece of dangerous wreckage? He shut the door behind him
and walked slowly down the hill she might yet come.
Everything he did now was for the last time an odd sen-
sation. He would never come this way again, and five min-
utes later, taking a new bottle of gin from his cupboard, he
thought: I shall never open another bottle. The actions
which could be repeated became fewer and fewer. Pres-
ently there would be only one unrepeatable action left, the
act of swallowing. He stood with the gin bottle poised and
thought: Then hell will begin, and they'll be safe from
me. Helen, Louise . . . and you.
At dinner he talked deliberately of the week to come: he
blamed himself for accepting Fellowes' invitation and ex-
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 295
plained that dinner with the Commissioner the next day
was unavoidable there was much to discuss.
4 'Is there no hope, Ticki, that after a rest, a long
rest . . . ?"
"It wouldn't be fair to carry on to them or you. I might
break down at any moment/'
"It's really retirement?"
She began to discuss where they were to live: he felt tired
to death: it needed all his will to show interest in this fic-
titious village or that: in the kind of house he knew they
would never inhabit. "I don't want a suburb," Louise said.
"What I'd really like would be a weather-board house in
Kent, so that one can get up to town quite easily."
He said, "Of course it will depend on what we can afford.
My pension won't be very large."
"I shall work," Louise said. "It will be easy in war-time."
"I hope we shall be able to manage without that."
"I wouldn't mind."
Bed-time came, and he felt a terrible unwillingness to
let her go. There was nothing to do when she had once
gone but die. He didn't know how to keep her they had
talked about all the subjects they had in common. He said,
"I shall sit here a while. Perhaps I shall feel sleepy if I
stay up half an hour longer. I don't want to take the evipan
if I can help it."
"I'm very tired after the beach. I'll be off."
When she's gone, he thought, I shall be alone for ever.
His heart beat and he was held in the nausea of an awful
unreality. I can't believe that I'm going to do this. Pres-
ently I shall get up and go to bed, and life will begin again.
Nothing, nobody, can force me to die. Though the voice
was no longer speaking from the cave of his belly, it was as
though fingers, imploring fingers, touched him, signalled
2g6 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
their mute messages of distress, tried to hold him. . . .
"What is it, Ticki? You look ill. Come to bed too."
"I wouldn't sleep," he said obstinately.
"Is there nothing I can do?" Louise asked. "My dear, I'd
do anything . . ." Her love was like a death-sentence. He
said to those scrabbling desperate fingers, O God, it's better
that a millstone ... I can't give her pain, or the other
pain, and I can't go on giving you pain. O God, if you
love me as I know you do, help me to leave you. Dear God,
forget me. But the weak fingers kept their feeble pressure.
He had never known before so clearly the weakness of
"There's nothing, dear/' he said. "I mustn't keep you
up." But so soon as she turned towards the stairs he spoke
again. "Read me something," he said, "you got a new book
today. Read me something."
"You wouldn't like it, Ticki. It's poetry."
"Never mind. It may send me to sleep." He hardly lis-
tened while she read: people said you couldn't love two
women, but what was this emotion if it were not love? This
hungry absorption of what he was never going to see again?
The greying hair, the line of nerves upon the face, the
thickening body, held him as her beauty never had. She
hadn't put on her mosquito boots, and her slippers were
badly in need of mending. It isn't beauty that we love, he
thought, it's failure the failure to stay young for ever, the
failure of nerves, the failure of the body. Beauty is like
success: we can't love it for long. He felt a terrible desire
to protect but that's what I'm going to do, I am going to
protect her from myself for ever. Some words she was read-
ing momentarily caught at him:
We are all falling. This hand's falling too
all have this falling sickness none withstands.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 2Q7
And yet there's always One whose gentle hands
this universal falling can't fall through.
They sounded like Truth, but he rejected them. Comfort
can come too easily: he thought, Those hands will never
hold my fall: I slip between the fingers, I am greased with
falsehood, treachery: trust was a dead language of which
he had forgotten the grammar.
"Dear, you are half asleep."
'Tor a moment/'
"111 go up now. Don't stay long. Perhaps you won't need
your evipan tonight."
He watched her go: the lizard lay still upon the wall, but
before she had reached the stairs he called her back. "Say
good night, Louise, before you go. You may be asleep."
She kissed him perfunctorily on the forehead and he
gave her hand a casual caress. There must be nothing
strange on this last night, and nothing she would remem-
ber with regret. "Good night, Louise. You know I love
you," he said with careful lightness.
"Of course, and I love you."
"Yes. Good night, Louise."
"Good night, Ticki."
It was the best he could do with safety.
As soon as he heard the door close above, he took out
the cigarette carton in which he kept the ten doses of evi-
pan. He added two more doses for greater certainty to
have exceeded by two doses in ten days could not, surely,
be regarded as suspicious. After that he took a long drink
of whisky and sat still and waiting for courage with the
tablets like seeds in the palm of his hand. Now, he thought,
I am absolutely alone", this was freezing point.
But he was wrong. Solitude itself has a voice. It said to
him, Throw away those tablets. You'll never be able to
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
collect enough again. You'll be saved. Give up play-acting.
Mount the stairs to bed and have a good night's sleep. In
the morning you'll be woken by your boy, and you'll drive
down to the police station for a day's ordinary work. The
voice dwelt on the word * 'ordinary" as it might have dwelt
on the word "happy" or "peaceful."
"No," Scobie said aloud, "no." He pushed the tablets in
his mouth, six at a time, and drank them down in two
draughts. Then he opened his diary and wrote against
November 12: Called on H.R. out; temperature at 2
p.m. . . . and broke abruptly off as though at that mo-
ment he had been gripped by the final pain. Afterwards
he sat bolt upright and waited what seemed a long while
for any indication at all of approaching death: he had no
idea how it would come to him. He tried to pray, but the
Hail Mary evaded his memory, and he was aware of his
heart-beats like a clock striking the hour. He tried out an
Act of Cotitrition, but when he reached, "I am sorry and
beg pardon," a cloud formed over the door and drifted
down over the whole room and he couldn't remember what
it was that he had to be sorry for. He had to hold himself
upright with both hands, but he had forgotten the reason
why he so held himself. Somewhere far away he thought he
heard the sounds of pain. "A storm," he said aloud, "there's
going to be a storm," as the cloud grew, and he tried to get
up to close the windows. "Ali," he called, "Ali." It seemed
to him as though someone outside the room were seeking
him, calling him, and he made a last effort to indicate that
he was here. He got on his feet and heard the hammer of
his heart beating out a reply. He had a message to convey,
but the darkness and the storm drove it back within the
case of his breast, and all the time outside the house, out-
side the world that drummed like hammer blows within
his ear, someone wandered, seeking to get in, someone ap-
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
pealing for help, someone in need of him. And automati-
cally at the call of need, at the cry of a victim, Scobie strung
himself to act. He dredged his consciousness up from an
infinite distance in order to make some reply. He said
aloud, "Dear God, I love . . ." but the effort was too great
and he did not feel his body when it struck the floor or hear
the small tinkle of the medal as it span like a coin under
the ice-box the saint whose name nobody could remem-
WlLSON SAID, "l HAVE KEPT AWAY AS LONG AS I
could, but I thought perhaps I could be of some help/'
"Everybody," Louise said, "has been very kind."
"I had no idea that he was so ill."
"Your spying didn't help you there, did it?"
"That was my job," Wilson said. "And I love you."
"How glibly you use that word, Wilson."
"You don't believe me?"
"I don't believe in anybody who says love, love, love. It
means self, self, self."
"You won't marry me then?"
"It doesn't seem likely, does it, but I might, in time. I
don't know what loneliness may do. But don't let's talk
about love any more. It was his favourite lie."
"To both of you."
"How has she taken it, Wilson?"
"I saw her on the beach this afternoon with Bagster. And
I hear she was a bit pickled last night at the Club."
"She hasn't any dignity."
"I never knew what he saw in her. I'd never betray you,
"You know he even went up to see her the day he died."
"How do you know?"
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"It's all written there. In his diary. He never lied in his
diary. He never said things he didn't mean like love."
Three days had passed since Scobie had been hastily
buried. Dr. Travis had signed the death certificate angina
pectoris: in that climate a post mortem was impracticable,
and in any case unnecessary, though Dr. Travis had taken
the precaution of checking up on the evipan.
"Do you know," Wilson said, "when my boy told me he
had died suddenly in the night, I thought it was suicide?"
"It's odd how easily I can talk about him," Louise said,
"now that he's gone. Yet I did love him, Wilson. I did love
him, but he seems so very very gone."
It was as if he had left nothing behind him in the house
but a few suits of clothes and a Mende grammar: at the
police station a drawerful of odds and ends and a pair of
rusting handcuffs. And yet the house was no different: the
shelves were as full of books: it seemed to Wilson that it
must always have been her house, not his. Was it just im-
agination then that made their voices ring a little hollowly
as though the house were empty?
"Did you know all the time about her?" Wilson asked.
"It's why I came home. Mrs. Carter wrote to me. She
said everybody was talking. Of course he never realized
that. He thought he'd been so clever. And he nearly con-
vinced me that it was finished. Going to Communion
the way he did."
"How did he square that with his conscience?"
"Some Catholics do, I suppose. Go to Confession and
start over again. I thought he was more honest, though.
When a man's dead, one begins to find out."
"He took money from Yusef."
"I can believe it now."
Wilson put his hand on Louise's shoulder and said, "I'm
straight, Louise. I love you."
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
"I really believe you do." They didn't kiss: it was too
soon for that, but they sat in the hollow room, holding
hands, listening to the vultures clambering on the iron
"So that's his diary/' Wilson said.
"He was writing in it when he died oh, nothing in-
teresting, just the temperatures. He always kept the tem-
peratures. He wasn't romantic. God knows what she saw in
him to make it worth while/'
"Would you mind if I looked at it?"
"If you want to," she said. "Poor Ticki, he hasn't any
"His secrets were never very secret." He turned a page
and read and turned a page. He said, "Had he suffered
from sleeplessness very long?"
"I always thought that he slept like a log whatever hap-
Wilson said, "Have you noticed that he's written in
pieces about sleeplessness afterwards?"
"How do you know?"
"You've only to compare the colour of the ink. And all
these records of taking his evipan it's very studied, very
careful. But above all, the colour of the ink." He said, "It
makes one think."
She interrupted him with horror: "Oh no, he couldn't
have done that. After all, in spite of everything, he was a
"Just let me come in for one little drink," Bagster
"We had four at the beach."
"Just one little one .more/*
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 303
"All right/' Helen said. There seemed to be no reason
so far as she could see to deny anyone anything any more
Bagster said, "You know, it's the first time you've let
me come in. Charming little place youVe made of it.
Who'd have thought a Nissen hut could be so homey?"
Flushed and smelling of pink gin, both of us, we are a pair,
she thought. Bagster kissed her wetly on her upper lip
and looked around again. "Ha ha," he said, "the good old
bottle." When they had drunk one more gin he took off
his uniform jacket and hung it carefully on a chair. He
said, "Let's take our back hair down and talk of love."
"Need we?" Helen said. "Yet?"
"Lighting-up time," Bagster said. "The dusk. So we'll
let George take over the controls ..."
"The automatic pilot, of course. You've got a lot to
"For God's sake, teach me some other time."
"There's no time like the present for a prang," Bagster
said, moving her firmly towards the bed. Why not? she
thought: Why not ... if he wants it? Bagster is as good
as anyone else. There's nobody in the world I love, and out
of it doesn't count, so why not let them have their prangs
(it was Bagster's phrase) if they want them enough. She
lay back mutely on the bed and shut her eyes and was aware
in the darkness of nothing at all. I'm alone, she thought
without self-pity, stating it as a fact as an explorer might
after his companions have died from exposure.
"By God, you aren't enthusiastic," Bagster said. "Don't
you love me a bit, Helen?" and his ginny breath fanned
through her darkness.
"No," she said, "I don't love anyone."
304 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
He said furiously, "You loved Scobie," and added
quickly, "Sorry. Rotten thing to say/'
"I don't love anyone," she repeated. "You can't love
the dead, can you? They don't exist, do they? It would be
like loving the dodo, wouldn't it?" questioning him as if
she expected an answer, even from Bagster. She kept her
eyes shut because in the dark she felt nearer to death, the
death which had absorbed him. The bed trembled a little
as Bagster shuffled his weight from off it, and the chair
creaked as he took away his jacket. He said, "I'm not all
that of a bastard, Helen. You aren't in the mood. See you
"I expect so." There was no reason to deny anyone any-
thing, but she felt an immense relief because nothing after
all had been required.
"Good night, old girl," Bagster said, "I'll be seeing you."
She opened her eyes and saw a stranger in dusty blue
pottering round the door. One can say anything to a
stranger they pass on and forget like beings from another
world. She asked, "Do you believe in a God?"
"Oh, well, I suppose so," Bagster said, feeling at his
"I wish I did," she said, "I wish I did."
"Oh, well, you know," Bagster said, "a lot of people do.
Must be off now. Good night."
She was alone again in the darkness behind her lids, and
the wish struggled in her body like a child: her lips moved,
but all she could think of to say was, "For ever and ever,
Amen ..." The rest she had forgotten. She put her hand
out beside her and touched the other pillow, as though
perhaps after all there was one chance in a thousand that
she was not alone, and if she were not alone now she would
never be alone again.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER 305
"I should never have noticed it, Mrs. Scobie," Father
"Somehow I can't like a man who's quite so observant!"
"It's his job."
Father Rank took a quick look at her. "As an account-
She said drearily, "Father, haven't you any comfort to
give me?" Oh, the conversations, he thought, that go on in
a house after a death, the turnings over, the discussions, the
questions, the demands so much noise round the edge of
"You've been given an awful lot of comfort in your life,
Mrs. Scobie. If what Wilson thinks is true, it's he who
needs our comfort."
"Do you know all that I know about him?"
"Of course I don't, Mrs. Scobie. You've been his wife,
haven't you, for fifteen years. A priest only knows the un-
"Oh, I mean the sins," he said impatiently. "A man
doesn't come to us and confess his virtues/'
"I expect you know about Mrs. Rolt. Most people did."
"I don't see why."
"I'm sorry for anyone happy and ignorant who gets
mixed up in that way with one of us."
"He was a bad Catholic."
"That's the silliest phrase in common use," Father Rank
306 THE HEART OF THE MATTER
4 'And at the end, this horror. He must have known
that he was damning himself/'
"Yes, he knew that all right. He never had any trust in
mercy except for other people."
"It's no good even praying . . ."
Father Rank clapped the cover of the diary to and said,
furiously, 'Tor goodness* sake, Mrs. Scobie, don't imagine
you or I know a thing about God's mercy."
"The Church says . . ."
"I know the Church says. The Church knows all the
rules. But it doesn't know what goes on in a single human
"You think there's some hope then?" she wearily asked.
"Are you so bitter against him?"
"I haven't any bitterness left."
"And do you think God's likely to be more bitter than
a woman?" he said with harsh insistence, but she winced
away from the arguments of hope.
"Oh why, why, did he have to make such a mess of
Father Rank said, "It may seem an odd thing to say
when a man's as wrong as he was but I think, from what I
saw of him, that he really loved God."
She had denied just now that she felt any bitterness, but
a little more of it drained out now like tears from ex-
hausted ducts. "He certainly loved no one else," she said.
"And you may be in the right of it there, too," Father