By F. Hopkinson Smith
Dinner was over, and Mme. Constantin and her guests were seated under the
lighted candles in her cosey salon.
With the serving of the coffee and cigarettes, pillows had been adjusted
to bare shoulders, stools moved under slippered feet, and easy lounges
pushed nearer the fire. Greenough, his long body aslant, his head on the
edge of a chair, his feet on the hearth rug, was blowing rings to the
ceiling. Bayard, the African explorer, and the young Russian Secretary,
Ivan Petrovski, had each the end of a long sofa, with pretty Mme.
Petrovski and old Baron Sleyde between them, while Mme. Constantin lay
nestled like a kitten among the big and little cushions of a divan.
The dinner had been a merry one, with every brain at its best; this
restful silence was but another luxury. Only the Baron rattled on. A duel
of unusual ferocity had startled Paris, and the old fellow knew its every
detail. Mme. Petrovski was listening in a languid way:
"Dead, isn't he?" she asked in an indifferent tone, as being the better
way to change the subject. Duels did not interest the young bride.
"No," answered the Baron, flicking the ashes from his cigarette—"going
to get well, so Mercier, who operated, told a friend of mine to-day."
"Where did they fight?" she asked, as she took a fresh cigarette from her
case. "Ivan told me, but I forgot."
"At Surenne, above the bridge. You know the row of trees by the water; we
walked there the day we dined at the Cycle."
"Both of them fools!" cried the Russian from the depths of his seat. "La
Clou wasn't worth it—she's getting fat."
Greenough drew his long legs back from the fender and, looking toward the
young Secretary, said in a decided tone:—
"I don't agree with you, Ivan. Served the beggar right; the only pity is
that he's going to get well."
"But she wasn't his wife," remarked Mme. Petrovski with increased
interest, as she lighted her cigarette.
"No matter, he loved her," returned the Englishman, straightening in his
seat and squaring his broad shoulders.
"And so did the poor devil whom Mercier sewed up," laughed the old Baron,
his eyes twinkling.
Mme. Constantin raised her blonde head from the edge of the divan.
"Is there any wrong, you dear Greenough, you would forgive where a woman
"Plenty. Any wrong that you would commit, my dear lady, for instance; but
not the kind the Baron refers to."
"But why do you Englishmen always insist on an eye for an eye and a tooth
for a tooth? Can't you make some allowance for the weakness of human
nature?" she asked, smiling.
"But why only Englishmen?" demanded Greenough. "All nationalities feel
alike where a man's honor and the honor of his home are concerned. It is
only the punishment that differs. The Turk, for instance, bowstrings you
or tries to, for peeping under his wife's veil; the American shoots you at
sight for speaking slightingly of his daughter. Both are right in a way. I
am not brutal; I am only just, and I tell you there is only one way of
treating a man who has robbed you dishonestly of the woman you love, and
that is to finish him so completely that the first man called in will be
the undertaker—not the surgeon. I am not talking at random—I
know a case in point, which always sets me blazing when I think of it. He
was at the time attached to our embassy at Berlin. I hear now that he has
returned to England and is dying—dying, remember, of a broken heart—won't
live the year out. He ought to have shot the scoundrel when he had a
chance. Not her fault, perhaps—not his fault—fault of a man he
trusted—that both trusted, that's the worst of it."
Bayard sat gazing into the fire, its glow deepening the color of his
bronze cheek and bringing into high relief a body so strong and well knit
that it was difficult to believe that scarcely a year had passed since he
dragged himself, starving and half dead, from the depths of an African
So far he had taken no part in the discussion. Mme. Constantin, who knew
his every mood, had seen his face grow grave, his lips straighten, and a
certain subdued impatience express itself in the opening and shutting of
his hands, but no word of comment had followed.
"Come, we are waiting, Bayard," she said at last, with a smile. "What do
you think of Greenough's theory?"
The traveller pushed his cup from him, shook the ashes from his cigar, and
"That there is something stronger than vengeance, Louise—something
"You mean mercy?"
"Something infinitely more powerful—the Primeval."
The Baron twisted his short neck and faced the speaker. Greenough rose to
his feet, relighted his cigar at the silver lamp, and said with some
"I don't understand your meaning, Bayard; make it clear, will you?"
"You don't understand, Greenough, because you have not suffered—not
as some men I know, not as one man I have in mind."
Mme. Constantin slipped from her cushions, crossed to where Bayard sat,
and nestled on a low ottoman beside him.
"Is it something you haven't told me, Bayard?" she asked, looking up into
his face. These two had been friends for years. Sometimes in his
wanderings the letters came in bunches; at other times the silence
continued for months.
"Yes, something I haven't told you, Louise—not all of it. I remember
writing you about his arrival at Babohunga, and what a delightful fellow
he was, but I couldn't tell you the rest of it. I will now, and I want
Greenough to listen.
"He was, I think, the handsomest young fellow that I ever saw—tall,
broad shouldered, well built, curly hair cut close to his head, light,
upturned mustache, white teeth, clear, fair skin—really you'd hardly
meet another such young fellow anywhere. He had come up from Zanzibar and
had pushed on to my camp, hoping, he said, to join some caravan going into
the interior. He explained that he was an officer in the Belgian army,
that he had friends further up, near Lake Mantumba, and that he came for
sport alone. I, of course, was glad to take him in—glad that year to
take anybody in who was white, especially this young fellow, who was such
a contrast to the customary straggler—escaped convict, broken-down
gambler, disgraced officer, Arab trader, and other riffraff that
occasionally passed my way.
"And then, again, his manners, his smile, the easy grace of his movements—even
his linen, bearing his initials and a crown—something he never
referred to—all showed him to be a man accustomed to the refinements
of society. Another reason was his evident inexperience with the life
about him. His ten days' march from the landing below to my camp had been
a singularly lucky one. They generally plunge into the forest in perfect
health, only to crawl back to the river—those who live to crawl—their
bones picked clean by its merciless fingers. To push on now, with the
rainy season setting in, meant certain death.
"The second day he paid the price and fell ill. He complained of his feet—the
tramp had knocked him out, he said. I examined his toes, cut out some
poisonous wood ticks that had buried themselves under the skin, and put
him to bed. Fever then set in, and for two days and nights I thought he
would go under. During the delirium he kept repeating a woman's name,
begging her to give him a drink, to lift his head so he could look into
her eyes. Once I had to hold him by main force to keep him from following
this fancy of his brain into the forest. When he began to hobble about
once more he again wanted to push on, but I determined to hold onto him. I
was alone at the time—that is, without a white companion, Judson
having gone down to Zanzibar with some despatches for the company—and
his companionship was a godsend.
"What seemed to worry him most after he got well was his enforced use of
my wardrobe and outfit. He had brought little of his own except his
clothes and some blankets, and no arms of any kind but the revolver he
carried around his waist in a holster. All his heavier luggage, he
explained, was at a landing below. This objection I met by promising to
send for it by the first band of carriers after the rainy season was over.
In the meantime he must, I insisted, use my own guns and ammunition, or
anything else that my kit afforded.
"Up to this time he had never mentioned his home or the names of any of
his people, nor had he offered any explanation of his choice of Africa as
a hunting ground, nor did he ever seek to learn my own impressions
regarding his self-imposed exile (it was really exile, for he never hunted
a single day while he was with me), except to ask me one morning in a
casual way, whether anything he had said in his delirium had made me think
the less of him—all of which I laughed at, never mentioning, of
course, what I had been obliged to hear.
"One night, when a tropical storm of unusual severity was passing, I found
him sealing a letter at my table with the aid of a lantern held close.
Presently he got up and began pacing the floor, seemingly in great
agitation; then he reached over, picked up the letter from the table,
lighted one end of it in the blaze of the lantern, dropped it to the
floor, waited until it was entirely consumed, and then put his foot on the
"'Rather a waste of time, wasn't it?' I said with a laugh.
"'Yes, all of it has been a waste of time—and my life with it. Now
and then I write these letters. They're always burned in the end. No use—nothing
to gain. Yes, waste of time. There are some things in the world that no
man ought ever to ask forgiveness for.' He threw himself into a chair and
"'You never went crazy mad over a woman, did you? No—you're not
built that way. I am. She was different from the women I had met. She was
not of my people—she was English. We met first in Brussels; then I
followed her to Vienna. For six months she was free to do as she pleased.
We lived the life—well, you know! Then her husband returned.'
"'Oh, she was married!' I remarked casually.
"'Yes, and to a man you would have thought she would have been true to,
although he was nearly twice her age. I knew all this—knew when I
started in to make her love me—as a matter of pride first—as a
boy walks on thin ice, believing he can cross in safety. Perhaps she had
some such idea about me. Then the crust gave way, and we were both in the
depths. The affair had lasted about six months—all the time her
husband was gone. Then I either had to face the consequences or leave
Vienna. To have done the first meant ruin to her; the last meant ruin to
me. It had not been her fault—it had been mine. He sent me word that
he would shoot me at sight, and he meant it. But the madness had not
worked out of me yet. She clung to me like a frightened child in her
agony, begging me not to leave her—not to meet her husband; to go
somewhere—suddenly, as if I had been ordered away by my government;
to make no reply to her husband, who, so far, could prove nothing—somewhere,
later on, when he was again on a mission, we could meet.
"'You have known me now for some time—the last month intimately. Do
I look like a coward and a cur? Well, I am both. That very night I saw him
coming toward my quarters in search of me. Did I face him? No. I stooped
down behind a fence and hid until he passed.
"'That summer, some months later, we met in Lucerne. She had left him in
Venice and he was to meet her in Paris. Two days later he walked into the
small hotel where she had stopped and the end came.
"'But I took her with me this time. One of the porters who knew him and
knew her helped; and we boarded the night train for Paris without his
finding us. I had then given up about everything in life; I was away
without leave, had lost touch with my world—with everybody—except
my agents, who sent me money. Then began a still hunt, he following us and
we shifting from place to place, until we hid ourselves in a little town
in Northern Italy.
"'Two years had now passed, I still crazy mad—knowing nothing,
thinking nothing—one blind idolatry! One morning I found a note on
my table; she was going to Venice. I was not to follow until she sent for
me. She never sent—not a line—no message. Then the truth came
out—she never intended to send—she was tired of it all!'
"The young fellow rose from his seat and began pacing the dirt floor
again. He seemed strangely stirred. I waited for the sequel, but he kept
"'Is this why you came here?' I asked.
"'Yes and no. I came here because one of my brother officers is at one of
the stations up the river, and because here I could be lost. You can
explain it as you will, but go where I may I live in deadly fear of
meeting the man I wronged. Here he can't hunt me, as he has done all over
Europe. If we meet there is but one thing left—either I must kill
him or he will kill me. I would have faced him at any time but for her.
Now I could not harm him. We have both suffered from the same cause—the
loss of a woman we loved. I had caused his agony and it is for me to make
amends, but not by sending him to his grave. Here he is out of my way and
I out of his. You saw me burn that letter; I have destroyed dozens of
them. When I can stand the pressure no longer I sit down and ask his
pardon; then I tear it up or burn it. He couldn't understand—wouldn't
understand. He'd think I was afraid to meet him and was begging for my
life. Don't you see how impossible it all is—how damnably I am
Mme. Constantin and the others had gathered closer to where Bayard sat.
Even the wife of the young secretary had moved her chair so she could look
into the speaker's face. All were absorbed in the story. Bayard went on:—
"One of the queer things about the African fever is the way it affects the
brain. The delirium passes when the temperature goes down, but certain
hallucinations last sometimes for weeks. How much of the queer story was
true, therefore, and how much was due to his convalescence—he was by
no means himself again—I could not decide. That a man should lose
his soul and freedom over a woman was not new, but that he should bury
himself in the jungle to keep from killing a man whose pardon he wanted to
ask for betraying his wife was new.
"I sympathized with him, of course, telling him he was too young to let
the world go by; that when the husband got cool he would give up the chase—had
given it up long ago, no doubt, now that he realized how good for nothing
the woman was—said all the things, of course, one naturally says to
a man you suspect to be slightly out of his head.
"The next night Judson returned. He brought newspapers and letters, and
word from the outside world; among other things that he had met a man at
the landing below who was on his way to the camp above us. He had offered
to bring him with him, but he had engaged some Zanzibari of his own and
intended to make a shorter route to the north of our camp and then join
one of the bands in charge of an Arab trader-some of Tippu-Tib's men
really. He knew of the imminence of the rainy season and wanted, to return
to Zanzibar before it set in in earnest. Judson's news—all his
happenings, for that matter—interested the young Belgian even more
than they did me, and before the week was out the two were constantly
together—a godsend in his present state of mind—saved him in
fact from a relapse, I thought—Judson's odd way of looking at
things, as well as his hard, common sense, being just what the high-strung
young fellow needed most.
"Some weeks after this—perhaps two, I can't remember exactly—a
party of my men whom I sent out for plantains and corn (our provisions
were running low) returned to camp bringing me a scrap of paper which a
white man had given them. They had found him half dead a day's journey
away. On it was scrawled in French a request for food and help. I started
at once, taking the things I knew would be wanted. The young Belgian
offered to go with me—he was always ready to help—but Judson
had gone to a neighboring village and there was no one to leave in charge
but him. I had now not only begun to like him but to trust him.
"I have seen a good many starving men in my time, but this lost stranger
when I found him was the most miserable object I ever beheld. He lay
propped up against a tree, with his feet over a pool of water, near where
my men had left him. His eyes were sunk in his head, his lips parched and
cracked, his voice almost gone. A few hours more and he would have been
beyond help. He had fainted, so they told me, after writing the scrawl,
and only the efforts of my men and the morsel of food they could spare him
brought him back to life. When I had poured a few drops of brandy down his
throat and had made him a broth and warmed him up his strength began to
come back. It is astonishing what a few ounces of food will do for a
"He told me he had been deserted by his carriers, who had robbed him of
all he had—food, ammunition, everything—and since then he had
wandered aimlessly about, living on bitter berries and fungi. He had, it
appears, been sent to Zanzibar by his government to straighten out some
matters connected with one of the missions, and, wishing to see something
of the country, he had pushed on, relying on his former experiences—he
had been on similar excursions in Brazil—to pull him through.
"Then followed the story of the last few weeks—the terrors of the
long nights, as he listened to the cries of prowling animals; his hunger
and increasing weakness—the counting of the days and hours he could
live; the indescribable fright that overpowered him when he realized he
must die, alone, and away from his people. Raising himself on his elbow—he
was still too weak to stand on his feet—he motioned to me to come
nearer, and, as I bent my head he said in a hoarse whisper, as if he were
in the presence of some mighty spirit who would overhear:—
"'In these awful weeks I have faced the primeval. God stripped me naked—naked
as Adam, and like him, left me alone. In my hunger I cried out; in my
weakness I prayed. No answer—nothing but silence—horrible,
overpowering silence. Then in my despair I began to curse—to strike
the trees with my clenched fists, only to sink down exhausted. I could not—I
would not die! Soon all my life passed in review. All the mean things I
had done to others; all the mean things they had done to me. Then love,
honor, hatred, revenge, official promotion, money, the good opinion of my
fellows—all the things we value and that make our standards—took
form, one after another, and as quickly vanished in the gloom of the
jungle. Of what use were they—any of them? If I was to live I must
again become the Homo—the Primeval Man—eat as he ate, sleep as
he slept, be simple, brave, forgiving, obedient, as he had been. All I had
brought with me of civilization—my civilization—the one we men
make and call life—were as nothing, if it could not bring me a cup
of water, a handful of corn or a coal of fire to warm my shivering body.'
"I am not giving you his exact words, Louise, not all of them, but I am
giving you as near as I can the effect untamed, mighty, irresistible
nature produced on his mind. Lying there, his shrivelled white face
supported on one shrunken hand, his body emaciated so that the bones of
his knees and elbows protruded from his ragged clothes, he seemed like
some prophet of old, lifting his voice in the wilderness, proclaiming a
new faith and a new life.
"Nor can I give you any idea of the way the words came, nor of the glassy
brilliance of his eyes, set in a face dry as a skull, the yellow teeth
chattering between tightly stretched lips. Oh! it was horrible—horrible!
"The second day he was strong enough to stand, but not to walk. The rain,
due now every hour, comes without warning, making the swamps impassable,
and there was no time to lose. I left two men to care for him, and hurried
back to camp to get some sort of a stretcher on which to bring him out.
"That night, sitting under our lamp—we were alone at the time, my
men being again away—I gave the young Belgian the details of my
trip, telling him the man's name and object in coming into the wilderness,
describing his sufferings and relating snaps of his talk. He listened with
a curious expression on his face, his eyes growing strangely bright, his
fingers twitching like those of a nervous person unused to tales of
suffering and privation.
"'And he will live?' he said, with a smile, as I finished.
"'Certainly; all he wanted was something in his stomach; he's got that.
He'll be here to-morrow.'
"For some time he did not speak; then he rose from his seat, looked at me
steadily for a moment, grasped my hand, and with a certain tenderness in
his voice, said:
"'For what?' I asked in surprise.
"'For being kind. I'll go to the spring and get a drink, and then I'll go
to sleep. Good night!'
"I watched him disappear into the dark, wondering at his mood. Hardly had
I regained my seat when a pistol shot rang out. He had blown the top of
his head off.
"That night I buried him in the soft ooze near the spring, covering him so
the hyenas could not reach his body.
"The next morning my men arrived, carrying the stranger. He had been
plucky and had insisted on walking a little, and the party arrived earlier
than I expected. When he had thanked me for what I had done, he began an
inspection of my rude dwelling and the smaller lean-to, even peering into
the huts connected with my bungalow—new in his experience.
"'And you are all alone except for your black men?' he asked in an eager
"'No, I have Mr. Judson with me. He is away this week—and a young
"'Yes, I remember Mr. Judson,' he interrupted. 'I met him at the landing
below. I should have taken his advice and joined him. And the young
officer—has he been long with you?'
"'About two months.'
"'He is the same man who left some of his luggage at the landing below, is
"'Yes, I think so,' I answered.
"'A young man with light curly hair and upturned mustache, very strong,
quick in his movements, shows his teeth when he speaks—very white
"'He was smiling—a strange smile from one whose lips were still
"'Yes,' I replied.
"'Can I see him?'
"'No, he is dead!'
"Had I not stretched out my hand to steady him he would have fallen.
"'Dead!' he cried, a look of horror in his eyes. 'No! You don't mean—not
starved to death! No, no, you don't mean that!' He was trembling all over.
"'No, he blew out his brains last night. His grave is outside. Come, I
will show it to you.'
"I had almost to carry him. For an instant he leaned against a tree
growing near the poor fellow's head, his eyes fixed on the rude mound.
Then he slowly sank to his knees and burst into tears, sobbing:
"'Oh! If I could have stopped him! He was so young to die.'
"Two days later he set out on his return to the coast."
With the ending of the story, Bayard turned to Mme. Constantin:
"There, Louise, you have the rest of it. You understand now what I meant
when I said there was something stronger than revenge;—the
Greenough, who had sat absorbed, drinking in every word, laid his hand on
"You haven't told us their names."
"Do you want them?"
"Yes, but write them on this card."
Bayard slipped his gold pencil from its chain and traced two names. "My
God, Bayard! That's the same man I told you is dying of a broken heart."
"Yes—that's why I told you the story, Greenough. But his heart is
not breaking for the woman he loved and lost, but for the man he hunted—the
man I buried."