and no negative grounds except the fact that I was receiving no
letters. But I gave him j. full history of my boy's case, described
THE LAST CONFESSION 375
each stage of it in the past, foretold its probable developments in
the future, indicated with elaborate care the treatment necessary
at every point, and foreshadowed the contingencies under which
it might in the end become malignant and even deadly unless
stopped by the operation that I had myself, after years of labor,
found the art of making.
I spent an afternoon in the writing of this letter, and when it
was done I felt as if a burden that had been on my back for ages
had suddenly been lifted away. Then I went out alone to post it.
The time was close to evening prayers, and as I walked through
the streets the Talebs and tradesmen, with their prayer-mats under
their arms, were trooping into the various mosques. Going by the
Karueein Mosque I observed that the Good Muslimeen were enter-
ing it by hundreds. "Some special celebration," I thought. My
heart was light, my eyes were alert, and my step was quick. For
the first time since my coming to the city, Fez seemed to me a
beautiful place. The witchery of the scenes of the streets took
hold of me. To be thus transported into a world of two thousand
years ago gave me the delight of magic.
When I reached the English post-office I found it shut up. On
its shutters behind its iron grating a notice-board was hung out,
saying that the office was temporarily closed for the sorting of an
incoming mail and the despatch of an outgoing one. There was
a little crowd of people waiting in front chiefly Moorish servants
of English visitors for the window to open again, and near by
stood the horses of the postal couriers pawing the pavement. I
dropped my letter into the slit in the window, and then stood aside
to see if the mail had brought anything for me at last.
The window was thrown up, and two letters were handed to
me through the grating over the heads of the Moors, who were
crushing underneath. I took them with a sort of fear, and
half wished at the first moment that they might be from strangers.
They were from home; one was from my wife I knew the
envelope before looking at the handwriting the other was from
I read Wenman's letter first. Good or bad, the news must be
broken to me gently. Hardly had I torn the sheet open when I
saw what it contained. My little Noel had been ill; he was still
so, but not seriously, and I was not to be alarmed. The silence
on their part which I had complained of so bitterly had merely
been due to their fear of giving me unnecessary anxiety. For his
part (Wenman's) he would have written before, relying on my
manliness and good sense, but my wife had restrained him, saying
376 THE LAST CONFESSION
she knew me better. There was no cause for apprehension ; the
boy was going along as well as could be expected, etc., etc., etc.,
Not a word to indicate the nature and degree of the attack.
Such an insufficient epistle must have disquieted the veriest nin-
compoop alive. To send a thing like that to me to me of all men !
Was there ever so gross a mistake of judgment?
I knew in an instant what the fact must be my boy was down
with that old congenital infirmity of the throat. Surely my wife
had told me more. She had. Not by design, but unwittingly she
had revealed the truth to me. Granville Wenman had written to
me, she said, explaining everything, and I was not to worry and
bother. All that was possible was being done for our darling, anrd
if I were there I could do no more. The illness had to have its
course, so I must be patient. All this is the usual jargon of the
surgery I knew that Wenman had dictated it and then a true
line or two worth all the rest from my dear girl's own bleeding
mother's heart. Our poor Noel was this, and that, he complained
of so-and-so, and first began to look unwell in such and such
It was clear as noonday. The attack of the throat which I had
foreseen had come. Five years I had looked for it. Through five
long years I had waited and watched to check it. I had labored
day and night that when it should come I might meet it. My own
health I had wasted and for what? For fame, for wealth, for
humanity, for science? No, no, no, but for the life of my boy.
And now when his enemy was upon him at length, where was I
I who alone in all this world of God could save him? I was thir-
teen hundred miles from home.
Oh, the irony of my fate! My soul rose in rebellion against
it. Staggering back through the darkening streets, the whole city
seemed dead and damned.
How far I walked in this state of oblivion I do not know, but
presently out of the vague atmosphere wherein all things had been
effaced I became conscious, like one awakening after a drug, of an
unusual commotion going on around. People were running past
me and across me in the direction of the Karueein Mosque. From
that place a loud tumult was rising into the air. The noise was
increasing with every moment, and rising to a Babel of human
I did not very much heed the commotion. What were the
paltry excitements of life to me now? I was repeating to myself
the last words of my poor wife's letter: "How I miss you, and
THE LAST CONFESSION 377
wish you were with me !" "I will go back," I was telling myself,
"I will go back."
In the confusion of my mind I heard snatches of words spoken
by the people as they ran by me. "Nazarene !" "Christian !"
"Cursed Jew !" These were hissed out at each other by the Moors
as they were scurrying past. At length I heard a Spaniard shout
up to a fellow-countryman who was on a house-top: "Englishman
caught in the mosque."
At that my disordered senses recovered themselves, and sud-
denly I became aware that the tumult was coming in my direc-
tion. The noise grew deeper, louder, and more shrill at every
step. In another moment it had burst upon me in a whirlpool
Round the corner of the narrow lane that led to the Karueein
Mosque a crowd of people came roaring like a torrent. They were
Moors, Arabs, and Berbers, and they were shouting, shrieking,
yelling, and uttering every sound that the human voice can make.
At the first instant I realized no more than this, but at the next
I saw that the people were hunting a man as hounds hunt a wolf.
The man was flying before them ; he was coming toward me : in the
gathering darkness I could see him ; his dress, which was Moorish,
was torn into shreds about his body; his head was bare; his chest
was bleeding ; I saw his face it was the face of the American, my
companion of the voyage.
He saw me too, and at that instant he turned about and
faced full upon his pursuers. What happened then I dare not
Father, he was a brave man, and he sold his life dearly. But he
fell at last. He was but one to a hundred. The yelping human
dogs trod him down like vermin.
I am a coward. I fled and left him. When I got back to my
lodgings I called for my guide, for I was resolved to leave Fez
without an hour's delay. The guide was not to be found, and I
had to go in search of him. When I lighted on him, at length, he
was in a dingy coffee-house, squatting on the ground by the side
of another Moor, an evil-looking scoundrel, who was reciting some
brave adventure to a group of admiring listeners.
I called my man out and told him of my purpose. He lifted
his hands in consternation. "Leave Fez to-night?" he said. "Im-
possible, my sultan, impossible ! My lord has not heard the
"What order?" I asked. I was alarmed. Must I be a prisoner
in Morocco while my child lay dying in England?
378 THE LAST CONFESSION
"That the gates be closed and no Christian allowed to leave
the city until the morning. It is the order of the Kaleefa, my
sultan, since the outrage of the Christian in the mosque this
I suspected the meaning of this move in an instant, and the
guide's answer to my questions ratified my fears. One man, out
of madness or thirst for revenge, had led the attack upon the
American, and a crowd of fanatics had killed him giving him no
chance of retreat with his life, either by circumcision or the pro-
fession of Islam. But cooler heads had already found time to
think of the penalty of shedding Christian blood. That penalty was
twofold : first, the penalty of disgrace which would come of the
idea that the lives of Christians were not safe in Morocco, and
next, the penalty of hard dollars to be paid to the American Min-
ister at Tangier.
To escape from the double danger the outrage was to be hushed
up. Circumstances lent themselves to this artifice. True, that
passage of the American across country had been known in
every village through which he had passed; but at the gates
of Fez he had himself cut off all trace of his identity. He
had entered the city alone, or in disguise. His arrival as a
stranger had not been notified at any of the "clubs" or bazaars.
Only one man had recognized him: that man was Larby, his
The body was to be buried secretly, no Christian being allowed
to see it. Then the report was to be given out that the dead man
had been a Moorish subject, that he had been killed in a blood-
fued, and that the rumor that he was a Christian caught in the
act of defying the mosque was an error, without the shadow of
truth in it. But until all this had been done no Christian should
be allowed to pass through the gates. As things stood at present
the first impulse of a European would be to fly to the Consul with
the dangerous news.
I knew something of the Moors and their country by this time,
and I left Fez that night, but it cost me fifty pounds to get out of
it. There was a bribe for the kaid, a bribe for the Kaleefa, and
bribes for every ragged Jack of the underlings down to the porter
at the gate.
With all my horror and the fever of my anxiety, I could have
laughed in the face of the first of these functionaries. Between
his greedy desire of the present I was offering him, his suspicion
that I knew something of the identity of the Christian who had
been killed, his misgivings as to the reasons of my sudden flight,
THE LAST CONFESSION 379
and his dread that I would discover the circumstances of the
American's death, the figure he cut was a foolish one. But why
should I reproach the man's duplicity? I was practising the like
of it myself. Too well I knew that if I betrayed any knowledge
of what had happened it would be impossible that I should be al-
lowed to leave Fez.
So I pretended to know nothing. It was a ridiculous inter-
On my way back from it I crossed a little company of Moors,
leading, surrounding, and following a donkey. The donkey was
heavily laden with what appeared to be two great panniers of
rubbish. It was dusk, but my sight has always been keen, and I
could not help seeing that hidden tinder the rubbish there was an-
other burden on the donkey's back. It was the body of a dead
man. I had little doubt of who the dead man must be; but I
hastened on and did not look again. The Moors turned into a
garden as I passed them. I guessed what they were about to do
there, but my own danger threatened me, and I wished to see and
know no more.
As I was passing out of the town in the moonlight an hour
before midnight, with my grumbling tentmen and muleteers at my
heels, a man stepped out of the shadow of the gateway arch and
leered in my face, and said in broken English, "So your Chris-
tian friend is corrected by Allah !"
Moorish English, my son, or Spanish?
It was the scoundrel whom I had seen in the coffee-house. I
knew he must be Larby, and that he had betrayed his master at
last. Also, I knew that he was aware that I had seen all. At that
moment, looking down from my horse's back into the man's evil
face my whole nature changed. I remembered the one opportu-
nity which the American had lost out of a wandering impulse of
human tenderness of saving his own life by taking the life of him
that threatened it, and I said in my heart of hearts, "Now God in
heaven keep me from the like temptation."
Ah ! father, do not shrink from me ; think of it, only think of
it ! I was fifteen hundred miles from home, and I was going back
to my dying boy.
God keep you, indeed, my son. Your feet were set in a slippery
place. El Arby, you say? A man of your ozvn age? Dark?
Sallow? It must be the same. Long ago I knew the man you
fpeak of. It was under another name, and in another country.
380 THE LAST CONFESSION
Yes, lie was all you say. God forgive him, God forgive him ! Poor
wrecked and bankrupt soul. His evil angel was alzvays at his
hand, and his good one far away. He brought his father to shame,
and his mother to the grave. There was a crime and conviction,
then banishment, and after that his father fled from the world.
But the Church is peace; he took refuge with her, and all is well.
Go on now.
THE LAST CONFESSION 381
FATHER, I counted it up. Every mile of the distance I counted
it. And I reckoned every hour since my wife's letter had been writ-
ten against the progress and period of my boy's disease. So many
days since the date of the letter, and Noel had been ailing and ill
so many days before that. The gross sum of those days was
so much, and in that time the affection, if it ran the course I looked
for, must have reached such and such a stage. While I toiled along
over the broad wastes of that desolate land, I seemed to know at
any moment what the condition must be at the utmost and best of
my boy in his bed at home.
Then I reckoned the future as well as the past. So many days
it would take me to ride to Tangier, so many hours to cross from
Tangier to Cadiz, so many days and nights by rail from Cadiz to
London. The grand total of time past since my poor Noel first
became unwell, and of time to come before I could reach his side,
would be so much. What would his condition be then ? I knew
that also. It would be so and so.
Thus, step by step I counted it all up. The interval would be
long, very long, between the beginning of the attack and my get-
ting home, but not too long for my hopes. All going well with me,
I should still arrive in time. If the disease had taken an evil turn,
my boy might perhaps be in its last stages. But then 7 would be
there, and I could save him. The operation which I had spent
five years of my life to master would bring him back from the
gates of death itself.
Father, I had no doubt of that, and I had no doubt of my
calculations. Lying here now it seems as if the fiends themselves
must have shrieked to see me in that far-off land gambling like a
fool in the certainty of the life I loved, and reckoning nothing
of the hundred poor chances that might snuff it out like a candle.
Call it frenzy, call it madness, nevertheless it kept my heart alive,
and saved me from despair.
But, oh ! the agony of my impatience ! If anything should stop
me now ! Let me be one day later only one and what might not
occur ! Then, how many were the dangers of delay ! First, there
382 THE LAST CONFESSION
was the possibility of illness overtaking me. My health was not
better, but worse, than when I left home. I was riding from sun-
rise to sunset, and not sleeping at nights. No matter ! I put all
fear from that cause away from me. Though my limbs refused to
bear me up, and under the affliction of my nerves my muscles lost
the power to hold the reins, yet if I could be slung on to the back
of my horse I should still go on.
But then there was the worse danger of coming into collision
with the fanaticism of the people through whose country I had
to pass. I did not fear the fate of the American, for I could not
be guilty of his folly. But I remembered the admission of the
English Consul at Tangier that a stranger might offend the super-
stitions of the Moslems unwittingly ; I recalled his parting words of
counsel, spoken half in jest, "Keep out of a Moorish prison"; and
the noisome dungeon into which the young Berber had been cast
arose before my mind in visions of horror.
What precautions I took to avoid these dangers of delay would
be a long and foolish story. Also, it would be a mean and abject
one, and I should be ashamed to tell it. How I saluted every scurvy
beggar on the way with the salutation of his faith and country;
how I dismounted as I approached a town or a village, and only re-
turned to the saddle when I had gone through it : how I uncovered
my head in ignorance of Eastern custom as I went by a saint's
house, and how at length (remembering the Jewish banker who
was beaten) I took off my shoes and walked barefoot as I passed
in front of a mosque.
Yes, it was I who paid all this needless homage ; I whose pride
has always been my bane ; I who could not bend the knee to be
made a knight ; I who had felt humility before no man. Even so it
was. In my eagerness, my impatience, my dread of impediment
on my journey home to my darling who waited for me there, I was
studying the faces and groveling at the feet of that race of ignorant
But the worst of my impediments were within my own camp.
The American was right. The Moor can not comprehend a disin-
terested action. My foolish homage to their faith awakened the
suspicions of my men. When they had tried in vain to fathom the
meaning of it, they agreed to despise me. I did not heed their
contempt, but I was compelled to take note of its consequences.
From being my servants, they became my masters. When it
pleased them to encamp I had to rest, though my inclination was
to go on, and only when it suited them to set out again could I
resume my journey. In vain did I protest, and plead, and threaten.
THE LAST CONFESSION 383
The Moor is often a brave man, but these men were a gang of
white-livered poltroons, and a blow would have served to subdue
them. With visions of a Moorish prison before my eyes I dared
not raise my hand. One weapon alone could I, in my own cow-
ardice, employ against them bribes, bribes, bribes. Such was the
sole instrument with which I combated their laziness, their duplic-
ity, and their deceit.
Father, I was a pitiful sight in my weakness and my impatience.
We had not gone far out of Fez when I observed that the man
Larby was at the heels of our company. This alarmed me, and I
called to my guide.
"Alee," I said, "who is that evil-looking fellow?"
Alee threw up both hands in amazement. "Evil-looking fel-
low !" he cried. "God be gracious to my father ! Who does my
lord mean ? Not Larby ; no, not Larby. Larby is a good man. He
lives in one of the mosque houses at Tangier. The Nadir leased
it to him, and he keeps his shop on the Sok de Barra. Allah bless
Larby. Should you want musk, should you want cinnamon, Larby
is the man to sell to you. But sometimes he guides Christians to
(Fez, and then his brother keeps his shop for him."
"But why is the man following us?" I asked.
"My sultan," said Alee, "am I not telling you? Larby is re-
turning home. The Christian he took to Fez, where is he ?"
"Yes," I said, "where is he?"
Alee grinned, and answered: "He is gone southward, my
"Why should you lie to me like that ?" I said. "You know the
Christian is dead, and that this Larby was the means of killing
"Shoo! What is my lord saying?" cried Alee, lifting his fat
hands with a warning gesture. "What did my lord tell the
Basha? My lord must know nothing nothing. It would not
Then with glances of fear toward Larby, and dropping his voice
to a whisper, Alee added, "It is true the Christian is dead; he died
last sunset. Allah corrected him. So Larby is going back alone,
going back to his shop, to his house, to his wives, to his little
daughter Hoolia. Allah send Larby a safe return. Not following
us, Sidi. No, no; Larby is going back the same way that is
The answer did not content me, but I could say no more.
Nevertheless, my uneasiness at the man's presence increased hour
by hour. I could not think of him without thinking also of the
384 THE LAST CONFESSION
American and of the scene of horror near to the Karueein Mosque.
I could not look at him but the blood down my back ran cold. So
I called my guide again, and said, "Send that man away; I will
not have him in our company."
Alee pretended to be deeply wounded. "Sidi," he said, "ask
anything else of me. What will you ask? Will you ask me to
die for you? I am ready, I am willing, I am satisfied. But
Larby is my friend. Larby is my brother, and this thing you
ask of me I can not do. Allah has not written it Sidi, it
can not be."
With such protestations the common cant of the country
I had need to be content. But now the impression fixed itself upon
my mind that the evil-faced scoundrel who had betrayed the Amer-
ican to his death was not only following us but me. Oh! the
torment of that idea in the impatience of my spirit and the rack-
ing fever of my nerves ! To be dogged day and night as by a
bloodhound, never to raise my eyes without the dread of encounter-
ing the man's watchful eye the agony of the incubus was un-
My first thought was merely that the rascal meant robbery.
However far I might ride ahead of my own people in the daytime
he was always close behind me, and as surely as I wandered away
from the camp at nightfall I was overtaken by him or else I met
him face to face.
"Alee," I said at last, "that man is a thief."
Of course Alee was horrified. "Ya Allah !" he cried. "What is
my lord saying? The Moor is no thief. The Moor is true, the
Moor is honest. None so true and honest as the Moor. Where-
fore should the Moor be a thief? To be a thief in Barbary is to
be a fool. Say I rob a Christian. Good. I kill him and take all
he has and bury him in a lonely place. All right. What happens ?
Behold, Sidi, this is what happens. Your Christian Consul says,
'Where is the Christian you took to Fez ?' I can not tell. I lie,
I deceive, I make excuses. No use. Your Christian Consul goes
to the Kasbah, and says to the Basha : 'Cast that Moor into prison,
he is a robber and a murderer!' Then he goes to the Sultan at
Marrakesh, in the name of your Queen, who lives in the country
of the Nazarenes. over the sea. 'Pay me twenty thousand dollars,'
he says, 'for the life of my Christian who is robbed and murdered.'
Just so. The Sultan Allah preserve our Mulai Hassan ! he
pays the dollars. Good, all right, just so. But is that all, Sidi?
No, Sidi, that is not all. The Sultan God prolong the life of
our merciful lord he then comes to my people, to my Basha, to
THE LAST CONFESSION 385
my bashalic, and he says, 'Pay me back my forty thousand dollars'
do you hear me, Sidi, forty thousand ! 'for the Nazarene who is
dead.' All right. But we can not pay. Good. The Sultan Allah
save him ! he comes, he takes all we have, he puts every man of
my people to the sword. We are gone, we are wiped out. Did I
not say, Sidi, to be a thief in Barbary is to be a fool?"
It was cold comfort. That the man Larby was following me I
was confident, and that he meant to rob me I was at first convinced.
Small solace, therefore, in the thought that if the worst befell me,
and my boy at home died for want of his father, who lay robbed
and murdered in those desolate wastes, my Government would
exact a claim in paltry dollars.
My next thought was that the man was merely watching me out
of the country. That he was aware that I knew his secret was only
too certain; that he had betrayed my knowledge to the authorities
at the capital after I had parted from them was more than probable,
and it was not impossible that the very men who had taken bribes
of me had in their turn bribed him that he might follow me and see
that I did not inform the Ministers and Consuls of foreign countries
of the murder of the American in the streets of Fez.
That theory partly reconciled me to the man's presence: Let
him watch. His constant company was in its tormenting way my
best security. I should go to no Minister, and no Consul should
see me. I had too much reason to think of my own living affairs
to busy myself with those of the dead American.
But such poor unction as this reflection brought me was dissi-
pated by a second thought. What security for the man himself,
or for the authorities who might have bribed him or perhaps
menaced him to watch me would lie in the fact that I had passed
out of the country without revealing the facts of the crime which
I had witnessed? Safely back in England, I might tell all with
safety. Once let me leave Morocco with their secret in my breast,
and both the penalties these people dreaded might be upon them.