by F. Hopkinson Smith
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
No, answered the Baron, flicking the ashes from his
cigarettegoing 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 itshe'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 is concerned?
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 undertakernot the
surgeon. I am not talking at randomI 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 dyingdying, remember, of a broken heartwon't live the year
out. He ought to have shot the scoundrel when he had a chance. Not her
fault, perhapsnot his faultfault of a man he trustedthat 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
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 answered slowly:
That there is something stronger than vengeance, Louisesomething
You mean mercy?
Something infinitely more powerfulthe 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
I don't understand your meaning, Bayard; make it clear, will you?
You don't understand, Greenough, because you have not sufferednot
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, Louisenot 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 sawtall,
broad shouldered, well built, curly hair cut close to his head, light,
upturned mustache, white teeth, clear, fair skinreally 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
inglad that year to take anybody in who was white, especially this
young fellow, who was such a contrast to the customary
stragglerescaped 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
movementseven his linen, bearing his initials and a crownsomething
he never referred toall 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 riverthose who
live to crawltheir 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
feetthe 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 timethat
is, without a white companion, Jud-son having gone down to Zanzibar
with some despatches for the companyand his companionship was a
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 himall 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 ashes.
'Rather a waste of time, wasn't it?' I said with a laugh.
'Yes, all of it has been a waste of timeand my life with it. Now
and then I write these letters. They're always burned in the end. No
usenothing 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 went on:
'You never went crazy mad over a woman, did you? Noyou're not
built that way. I am. She was different from the women I had met. She
was not of my peopleshe 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 lifewell, 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 thisknew when I
started in to make her love meas a matter of pride firstas 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 monthsall 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 faultit 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 hernot to meet her husband; to go
somewheresuddenly, as if I had been ordered away by my government; to
make no reply to her husband, who, so far, could prove
nothingsomewhere, later on, when he was again on a mission, we could
'You have known me now for some timethe 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 worldwith
everybodyexcept 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 madknowing nothing,
thinking nothingone 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 sentnot a lineno message. Then the truth came
outshe never intended to sendshe 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
'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 lefteither 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
causethe 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
understandwouldn'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
ishow damnably I am placed?'
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
convalescencehe was by no means himself againI 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 chasehad given it up long ago, no doubt, now that he realized how
good for nothing the woman wassaid 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
newsall his happenings, for that matterinterested the young Belgian
even more than they did me, and before the week was out the two were
constantly togethera godsend in his present state of mindsaved him
in fact from a relapse, I thoughtJudson'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 thisperhaps two, I can't remember exactlya
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 mehe was always ready to helpbut 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 starving man.
He told me he had been deserted by his carriers, who had robbed him
of all he hadfood, ammunition, everythingand 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
experienceshe had been on similar excursions in Brazilto pull him
Then followed the story of the last few weeksthe terrors of the
long nights, as he listened to the cries of prowling animals; his
hunger and increasing weaknessthe 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 elbowhe was still too weak to stand on his feethe 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
'In these awful weeks I have faced the primeval. God stripped me
nakednaked as Adam, and like him, left me alone. In my hunger I cried
out; in my weakness I prayed. No answernothing but silencehorrible,
overpowering silence. Then in my despair I began to curseto strike
the trees with my clenched fists, only to sink down exhausted. I could
notI 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 fellowsall the things we value and that make our
standardstook form, one after another, and as quickly vanished in the
gloom of the jungle. Of what use were theyany of them? If I was to
live I must again become the Homothe Primeval Maneat as he ate,
sleep as he slept, be simple, brave, forgiving, obedient, as he had
been. All I had brought with me of civilizationmy civilizationthe
one we men make and call lifewere as nothing, if it could not bring
me a cup of water, a handful of corn or a coal of fire to warm my
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
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 lampwe were alone at the time, my
men being again awayI 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 bungalownew in his
'And you are all alone except for your black men?' he asked in an
'No, I have Mr. Judson with me. He is away this weekand 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 officerhas he been long with you?'
'About two months.'
'He is the same man who left some of his luggage at the landing
below, is he not?'
'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 speaksvery
'He was smilinga 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
meannot 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 Bayard's shoulder.
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
Yesthat'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
huntedthe man I buried.