364 THE LAST CONFESSION
a terrible illustration of his words. With my guide and interpreter,
a Moorish soldier lent to me by the authorities in return for two
pesetas (one shilling and ninepence) a day, I strolled into the
greater Sok, the market-place outside the walls. It was Friday,
the holy day of the Moslems, somewhere between one and two
o'clock in the afternoon, when the body of the Moors having newly
returned from their one-hour observances in the mosques, had re-
sumed, according to their wont, their usual occupations. The
day was fine and warm, a bright sun was shining, and the Sok
at the time when we entered it was a various and animated
Dense crowds of hooded figures, clad chiefly in white soiled or
dirty white men in jellabs, women enshrouded in blankets, bare-
footed girls, boys with shaven polls, water-carriers with their
tinkling bells, snake-charmers, story-tellers, jugglers, preachers,
and then donkeys, nosing their way through the throng, mules lift'
ing their necks above the people's heads, and camels munching oats
and fighting it was a wilderness of writhing forms and a babel of
With my loquacious Moor I pushed my way along past booths
and stalls until I came to a whitewashed structure with a white flag
floating over it, that stood near the middle of the market-place.
It was a roofless place, about fifteen feet square, and something like
a little sheepfold, but having higher walls. Through the open door-
way I saw an inner enclosure, out of which a man came forward.
He was a wild-eyed creature in tattered garments, and dirty, di-
sheveled, and malevolent of face.
"See," said my guide, "see, my lord, a Moorish saint's house.
Look at the flag. So shall my lord know a saint's house. Here rest
the bones of Sidi Gali, and that is the saint that guards them. A
holy man, yes, a holy man. Moslems pay him tribute. Sacred
place, yes, sacred. No Nazarene may enter it. But Moselms, yes,
Moslems may fly here for sanctuary. Life to the Moslem, death
to the Nazarene. So it is."
My soldier was rattling on in this way when I saw coming in
the sunlight down the hillside of which the Sok is the foot a com-
pany of some eight or ten men, whose dress and complexion were
unlike those of the people gathered there. They were a band of
warlike persons, swarthy, tall, lithe, sinewy, with heads clean
shaven save for one long lock that hung from the crown, each
carrying a gun with barrel of prodigious length upon his shoulder,
and also armed with a long naked Reefian knife stuck in the scarf
that served him for a belt.
THE LAST CONFESSION 365
They were Berbers, the descendants of the race that peopled
Barbary before the Moors set foot in it, between whom and the
Moors there is a long-continued, suppressed, but ineradicable en-
mity. From their mountain homes these men had come to the town
that day on their pleasure or their business, and as they entered it
they were at no pains to conceal their contempt for the townspeople
and their doings.
Swaggering along with long strides, they whooped and laughed
and plowed their way through the crowd over bread and vegetables
spread out on the ground, and the people fell back before them with
muttered curses until they were come near to the saint's house,
beside which I myself with my guide was standing. Then I saw
that the keeper of the saint's house, the half-distraught creature
whom I had just observed, was spitting out at them some bitter and
Clearly they all heard him, and most of them laughed derisively
and pushed on. But one of the number a young Berber with eyes
of fire drew up suddenly and made some answer in hot and rapid
words. The man of the saint's house spoke again, showing his
teeth as he did so in a horrible grin ; and at the next instant, almost
quicker than my eyes could follow the swift movement of his
hands, the Berber had plucked his long knife from his belt and
plunged it into the keeper's breast.
I saw it all. The man fell at my feet, and was dead in an in-
stant. In another moment the police of the market had laid hold
of the murderer, and he was being hauled off to his trial. "Come,"
whispered my guide, and he led me by short cuts through the nar-
row lanes to the Kasbah.
In an open alcove of the castle I found two men in stainless blue
jellabs and spotless white turbans, squatting on rush mats at either
foot of the horse-shoe arch. These were the judges, the Kadi and
his Khalifa, sitting in session in the hall of justice.
There was a tumult of many voices and of hurrying feet; and
presently the police entered, holding their prisoner between them,
and followed by a vast concourse of townspeople. I held my
ground in front of the alcove ; the Berber was brought up near to
my side, and I saw and heard all.
"This man," said one of the police, "killed so-and-so, of Sidi
Gali's saint's house."
"When?" said the Kadi.
"This moment," said the police.
"How?" said the Kadi.
"With this knife," said the police.
366 THE LAST CONFESSION
The knife, stained, and still wet, was handed to the judge. He
shook it, and asked the prisoner one question : "Why ?"
Then the Berber flung himself on his knees his shaven head
brushed my hand and began to plead extenuating circumstances.
"It is true, my lord, I killed him, but he called me dog and infidel,
and spat at me "
The Kadi gave back the knife and waved his hand. "Take him
away," he said.
That was all, as my guide interpreted it. "Come," he whis-
pered again, and he led me by a passage into a sort of closet where
a man lay on a mattress. This was the porch to the prison, and the
man on the mattress was the jailer. In one wall there was a low
door, barred and clamped with iron, and having a round peephole
At the next instant the police brought in their prisoner. The
jailer rattled a big key in the lock, the low door swung open, I *aw
within a dark den full of ghostly figures dragging chains at their
ankles; a foul stench came out of it, the prisoner bent his head
and was pushed in, the door slammed back and that was the
end. Everything occurred in no more time than it takes to
"Is that all his trial ?" I asked.
"All," said my guide.
"How long will he lie there?"
"But," I said, "I have heard that a Kadi of your country may
be bribed to liberate a murderer."
"Ah, my lord is right," said my guide, "but not the murderer
of a saint."
Less than five minutes before I had seen the stalwart young
Berber swaggering down the hillside in the afternoon sunshine.
Now he was in the gloom of the noisome dungeon, with no hope of
ever again looking upon the light of day, doomed to drag out an
existence worse than death, and all for what? For taking life?
No, no, no life in that land is cheap, cheaper than it ever was in
the Middle Ages but for doing dishonor to a superstition of the
faith of Islam.
I remembered the American, and shuddered at the sight of this
summary justice. Next morning, as my tentmen and muleteers
were making ready to set out for Fez, my soldier-guide brought me
a letter which had come by the French steamer by way of Malaga.
It was from home ; a brief note from my wife, with no explanation
of her prolonged silence, merely saying that all was as usual at
THE LAST CONFESSION 367
Wimpole Street, and not mentioning our boy at all. The omission
troubled me, the brevity and baldness of the message filled me
with vague concern, and I had half a mind to delay my inland
jourirey. Would that I had done so! Would that I had! Oh,
would that I had !
Terrible, my son, terrible! A blighted and desolated land. But
even worse than its own people are the renegades it takes from
mine. Ah, I knew one such long ago. An outcast, a pariah, a
shedder of blood, an apostate. But go on, go on.
368 THE LAST CONFESSION
FATHER, what voice was it that rang in my ears and cried,
"Stay, do not travel ; all your past from the beginning until to-day,
all your future from to-day until the end, hangs on your action now ;
go, and your past is a waste, your fame a mockery, your success
a reproach; remain, and your future is peace and happiness and
content!" What voice, father, what voice?
I shut my ears to it, and six days afterward I arrived at Fez.
My journey had impressed two facts upon my mind with startling
vividness; first, that the Moor would stick at nothing in his jeal-
ousy of the honor of his faith, and next, that I was myself a
changed and coarsened man. I was reminded of the one when in
El Kassar I saw an old Jew beaten in the open streets because
he had not removed his slippers and walked barefoot as he passed
the front of a mosque ; and again in Wazzan, when I witnessed the
welcome given to the Grand Shereef on his return from his home
in Tangier to his house in the capital of his province. The Jew
was the chief usurer of the town, and had half the Moorish in-
habitants in his toils; yet his commercial power had counted for
nothing against the honor of Islam. "I," said he to me that night
in the Jewish inn, the Fondak, "I, who could clap every man of
them in the Kasbah, and their masters with them, for moneys they
owe me, I to be treated like a dog by these scurvy sons of Ishmael
God of Jacob!" The Grand Shereef was a drunkard, a game-
ster, and worse. There was no ordinance of Mohammed which
he had not openly outraged, yet because he stood to the people as
the descendant of the Prophet, and the father of the faith, they
groveled on the ground before him and kissed his robes, his knees,
his feet, his stirrups, and the big hoofs of the horse that carried
him. As for myself, I realized that the atmosphere of the country
had corrupted me, when I took out from my baggage a curved
knife in its silver-mounted sheath, which I had bought of a hawker
at Tangier, and fixed it prominently in the belt of my Norfolk
The morning after my arrvial in Fez I encountered my Amer-
ican companion of the voyage. Our meeting was a strange one.
THE LAST CONFESSION 369
I had rambled aimlessly with my guide through the new town into
the old until I had lighted by chance upon the slave market in
front of the ruins of the ancient Grand Mosque, and upon a human
auction which was then proceeding. No scene so full of shame had
I ever beheld, but the fascination of the spectacle held me, and I
stood and watched and listened. The slave being sold was a
black girl, and she was beautiful according to the standard
of her skin, bareheaded, barefooted, and clad as lightly over
her body as decency allowed, so as to reveal the utmost of
"Now, brothers," cried the salesman, "look, see" (pinching the
girl's naked arms and rolling his jeweled fingers from her chin
downward over her bare neck on to her bosom), "sound of wind
and limb, and with rosy lips, fit for the kisses of a king how
"A hundred dollars," cried a voice out of the crowd. I thought
I had heard the voice before, and looked up to see who had spoken.
It was a tall man with haik over his turban, and blue selam on
top of a yellow kaftan.
"A hundred dollars offered," cried the salesman, "only a hun-
dred. Brothers, now's the chance for all true believers."
"A hundred and five," cried another voice.
"A hundred and ten."
"A hundred and fifteen."
"A hundred and fifteen for this jewel of a girl," cried the sales-
man. "It's giving her away, brothers. By the prophets, if you are
not quick I'll keep her for myself. Come, look at her, Sidi. Isn't
she good enough for a sultan? The Prophet (God rest him) would
have leaped at her. He loved sweet women as much as he loved
sweet odors. Now, for the third and last time how much? Re-
member, I guarantee her seventeen years of age, sound, strong,
plump, and sweet."
"A hundred and twenty," cried the voice I had heard first. I
looked up at the speaker again. It was the American in his Moor-
I could bear no more of the sickening spectacle, and as I turned
aside with my interpreter, I was conscious that my companion of
the voyage was following me. When we came to some dark arches
that divided Old Fez from New Fez the American spoke, and I sent
my interpreter ahead.
"You see I am giving myself full tether in this execrable land,"
"Indeed you are," I answered.
370 THE LAST CONFESSION
"Well, as the Romans in Rome, you know it was what I came
for," he said.
"Take care," I replied. "Take care."
He drew up shortly and said, "By the way, I ought to be
ashamed to meet you."
I thought he ought, but for courtesy I asked him why.
"Because," he said, "I have failed to act up to my prin-
"In what?" I inquired.
"In saving the life of a scoundrel at the risk of my own," he
Then he told me his story. "I left Tangier," he said, "with four
men in my caravan, but it did not suit me to bring them into Fez,
so I dismissed them a day's ride from here, paying in full for the
whole journey and making a present over. My generosity was a
blunder. The Moor can not comprehend an act of disinterested
kindness, and I saw the ruffians lay their heads together to find out
what it could mean. Three of them gave it up and went off home,
but the fourth determined to follow the trace. His name was
Larby! El Arby, my son? Did you say El Arby? Of Tan-
gier, too? A Moor? Or was he a Spanish renegade turned Mus-
lim? But no matter no matter.
"He was my guide," said the American, "and a most brazen
hypocrite, always cheating me. I let him do so, it amused me
always lying to my face, and always fumbling his beads 'God for-
give me ! God forgive me' an appropriate penance, you know the
way of it. 'Peace, Sidi !' said the rascal : 'Farewell ! Allah send
we meet in Paradise.' But the devil meant that we should meet
before that. We have met. It was a hot moment. Do you know
the Hamadsha Mosque? It is a place in a side street sacred to the
preaching of a fanatical follower of one Sidi AH bin Hamdoosh,
and to certain wild dances executed in a glass and fire eating
frenzy. I thought I should like to hear a Moorish D. L. Moody,
and one day I went there. As I was going in I met a man coming
out. It was Larby. 'Beeba !' he whispered, with a tragic start
that was his own name for me on the journey. 'Keep your tongue
between your teeth/ I whispered back. 'I was Beeba yesterday,
to-day I'm Sidi Mohammed.' Then I entered, I spread my prayer-
mat, chanted my first Sura, listened to a lusty sermon, and came
out. There, as I expected, in the blind lane leading from the
THE LAST CONFESSION 371
Hamadsha to the town was Larby waiting for me. 'Beeba/ said
he, with a grin, 'you play a double hand of cards.' 'Then/ said I,
'take care I don't trump your trick.' The rascal had thought I
might bribe him, and when he knew that I would not I saw murder
in his face. He had conceived the idea of betraying me at the next
opportunity. At that moment he was as surely aiming at my life as
if he had drawn his dagger and stabbed me. It was then that I
disgraced my principles."
"How? how?" I said, though truly I had little need to ask.
"We were alone, I tell you, in a blind lane," said the American ;
"but I remembered stories the man had told me of his children.
'Little Hoolia,' he called his daughter, a pretty, black-eyed mite of
six, who always watched for him when he was away."
I was breaking into perspiration. "Do you mean," I said, "that
you should have "
"I mean that I should have killed the scoundrel there and then !"
said the American.
"God forbid it!" I cried, and my hair rose from my scalp in
"Why not?" said the American. "It would have been an act
of self-defense. The man meant to kill me. He will kill me still
if I give him the chance. What is the difference between murder
in a moment and murder after five, ten, fifteen, twenty days ? Only
that one is murder in hot blood and haste and the other is murder
in cold blood and by stealth. Is it life that you think so pre-
cious? Then why should I value his life more than I value
I shivered, and could say nothing.
"You think me a monster," said the American, "but remember,
since we left England the atmosphere has changed."
"Remember, too," I said, "that this man can do you no
harm unless you intrude yourself upon his superstitions again.
Leave the country immediately; depend upon it, he is following
"That's not possible," said the American, "for 7 am following
him. Until I come up with him I can do nothing, and my exist-
ence is not worth a pin's purchase."
I shuddered, and we parted. My mind told me that he was
right, but my heart clamored above the voice of reason and said,
"You could not do it, no, not to save a hundred lives."
Ah, father, how little we know ourselves how little, oh, how
little ! When I think that he shrank back he who held life so
cheap while 7 I who held it so dear, so sacred, so god-like
372 THE LAST CONFESSION
Bear with me ; I will tell all.
I met the American at intervals during the next six days. We
did not often speak, but as we passed in the streets he alone, I
always with my loquacious interpreter I observed with dread the
change that the shadow of death hanging over a man's head can
bring to pass in his face and manner. He grew thin and sallow and
wild-eyed. One day he stopped me, and said: "I know now what
your Buckshot Forster died of," and then he went on without an-
But about ten days after our first meeting in the slave market
he stopped me again, and said, quite cheerfully : "He has gone home
I'm satisfied of that now."
"Thank God!" I answered involuntarily.
"Ah," he said, with a twinkle of the eye, "who says that a man
must hang up his humanity on the peg with his hat in the hospital
hall when he goes to be a surgeon? If the poet Keats had got over
the first shock to his sensibilities, he might have been the greatest
surgeon of his day."
"You'll be more careful in future," I said, "not to cross the
fanaticism of these fanatics?"
He smiled, and asked -if I knew the Karueein Mosque. I told
him I had seen it.
"It is the greatest in Morocco," he said. "The Moors say the
inner court stands on eight hundred pillars. I don't believe them,
and I mean to see for myself."
I found it useless to protest, and he went his way, laughing at
my blanched and bewildered face. "That man," I thought, "is fit
to be the hero of a tragedy, and he is wasting himself on a
Meanwhile, I had a shadow over my own life which would not
lift. That letter which I had received from home at the moment
of leaving Tangier had haunted me throughout the journey. Its
brevity, its insufficiency, its delay, and above all its conspicuous
omission of all mention of our boy had given rise to endless specu-
lation. Every dark possibility that fancy could devise had risen
before me by way of explanation. I despised myself for such weak-
ness, but self-contempt did nothing to allay my vague fears.
The child was ill; I knew it; I felt it; I could swear to it as
certainly as if my ears could hear the labored breathing in his
Nevertheless I went on ; so much did my philosophy do for me.
But when I got to Fez I walked straightway to the English post-
office to see if there was a letter awaiting me. Of course there was
THE LAST CONFESSION 373
no letter there. I had not reflected that I had come direct from
the port through which the mails had to pass, and that if the postal
courier had gone by me on the road I must have seen him, which
I had not.
I was ashamed before my own consciousness, but all the same
the post-office saw me every day. Whatever the direction that I
took with my interpreter, it led toward that destination in the end.
And whatever the subject of his ceaseless gabble a very deluge
of words it was forced to come round at last to the times and
seasons of the mails from England. These were bi-weekly, with
various possibilities of casual arrivals besides.
Fez is a noble city, the largest and finest Oriental city I had yet
seen, fit to compare in its own much different way of beauty and of
splendor with the great cities of the West, the great cities of the
earth, and of all time ; but for me its attractions were overshadowed
by the gloom of my anxiety. The atmosphere of an older world,
the spirit of the East, the sense of being transported to Bible times,
the startling interpretations which the Biblical stories were receiv-
ing by the events of every day these brought me no pleasure. As
for the constant reminders of the presence of Islam every hour,
at every corner, the perpetual breath of prayer and praise, which
filled this land that was corrupt to the core, they gave me pain
more poignant than disgust. The call of the mueddin in the early
morning was a daily agony. I slept three streets from the Karueein
minarets, but the voice seemed to float into my room in the dark-
ness, and coil round my head and ring in my ears. Always I was
awakened at the first sound of the stentorian "Allah-u-Kabar," or,
if I awoke in the silence and thought with a feeling of relief, "It
is over, I have slept through it," the howling wail would suddenly
break in upon my thanksgiving.
There was just one fact of life in Fez that gave me a kind of
melancholy joy. At nearly every turn of a street my ears were
arrested by the multitudinous cackle, the broken, various-voiced
sing-song of a children's school. These Moorish schools inter-
ested me. They were the simplest of all possible institutes, con-
sisting usually of a rush-covered cellar, two steps down from the
street, with the teacher, the Taleb, often a half-blind old man,
squatting in the middle of the floor, and his pupils seated about him,
and all reciting together some passages of the Koran, the only text-
book of education. One such school was close under my bedroom
window; I heard the drone of it as early as seven o'clock every
morning, and as often as I went abroad I stood for a moment and
looked in at the open doorway. A black boy sat there with a
374 THE LAST CONFESSION
basket for the alms of passers-by. He was a bright-eyed little fel-
low, six or seven years of age, and he knew one English phrase
only: "Come on," he would say, and hold up the basket and smile.
What pathetic interest his sunny face had for me, how he would
cheer and touch me, with what strange memories his voice and
laugh would startle me, it would be pitiful to tell.
Bear with me! I was far from my own darling, I was in a
strange land, I was a weak man for all that I was thought so strong,
and my one besetting infirmity more consuming than a mother's
love was preyed upon by my failing health, which in turn was
preying upon it.
And if the sights of the streets brought me pain, or pleasure
that was akin to pain, what of the sights, the visions, the dreams
of my- own solitary mind ! I could not close my eyes in the dark-
ness but I saw my boy. His little child-ghost was always with me.
He never appeared as I had oftenest seen him laughing, romping,
and kicking up his legs on the hearth-rug. Sometimes he came as
he would do at home after he committed some childish trespass and
I had whipped him opening the door of my room and stepping one
pace in, quietly, nervously, half fearfully, to say good-night and kiss
me at his bedtime, and I would lift my eyes and see, over the shade
of my library lamp, his little sober red-and- white face just dried of
its recent tears. Or, again, sometimes I myself would seem in these
dumb dramas of the darkness to go into his room when he was
asleep, that I might indulge my hungry foolish heart with looks of
fondness that the reproving parent could not give, and find him
sleeping with an open book in his hands, which he had made be-
lieve to read. And then for sheer folly of love I would pick up
his wee knickerbockers and turn out its load at either side, to see
what a boy's pockets might be like, and discover a curiosity shop
of poor little treasures a knife with a broken blade, a nail, two
marbles, a bit of brass, some string, a screw, a crust of bread, a
cork, and a leg of a lobster.
While I was indulging this weakness the conviction was deep-
ening in my mind that my boy was ill. So strong did this assur-
ance become at length, that, though I was ashamed to give way
to it so far as to set my face toward home, being yet no better for
my holiday, I sat down at length to write a letter to Wenman I
had written to my wife by every mail that I might relieve my
pent-up feelings. I said nothing to him of my misgivings, for I
was loth to confess to them, having no positive reasons whatever,