I read the thought of the man's face as by a flash of light.
"Good, Sidi, good ! You have done my work as well as my mas-
ter's. You are a dead man ; no one will know, and I need never to
lift my hand to you."
At the next instant the face was gone. In the moment follow-
ing I lived a lifetime. My brain did not think; it lightened. I
remembered the death of the American in the streets of Fez.
I recalled the jeering crowd at the top of the alley. I reflected
that Larby was gone to tell the mob that I had dishonored one
of their sanctuaries. I saw myself dragged out, trampled under
foot, torn to pieces, and then smuggled away in the dusk on a
donkey's back under panniers of filth. My horses ready, my men
waiting, my boy dying for want of me, and myself dead in a
"Great Jehovah, lend me Thy strength!" I cried, as I rushed
out into the alley. Larby was stealing away with rapid steps.
I overtook him; I laid hold of him by the hood of his jellab. He
turned upon me. All my soul was roused to uncontrollable fury.
THE LAST CONFESSION 397
I took the man in both my arms, I threw him off his xeet, I lifted
him by one mighty effort high above my shoulders and flung him
to the ground.
He began to cry out, and I sprang upon him again and laid hold
of his throat. I knew where to grip, and not a sound could he
utter. We were still in the alley, and I put my left hand into the
neck of his kaftan and dragged him back into the saint's house.
He drew his dagger and lunged at me. I parried the thrust with
my foot and broke his arm with my heel. Then there was a
moment of horrible bedazzlement. Red flames flashed before me.
My head grew dizzy. The whole universe seemed to reel beneath
my feet. The man was doubled backward across my knee. I
had drawn my knife I knew where to strike and "For my boy,
my boy !" I cried in my heart.
It was done. The man died without a groan. His body col-
lapsed in my hands, rolled from my knee, and fell at my feet
doubled up, the head under the neck, the broken arm under the
trunk in a heap, a heap.
Oh! oh! Ldrby! Larby!
Then came an awful revulsion of feeling. For a moment I
stood looking down, overwhelmed with the horror of my act In
a sort of drunken stupor I gazed at the wide-open eyes, and the
grimacing face fixed in its hideousness by the convulsion of death.
God ! O God ! what had I done ! what had I done !
But I did not cry out In that awful moment an instinct of
self-preservation saved me. The fatal weapon dropped from my
hand, and I crept out of the place. My great strength was all
gone now. I staggered along, and at every step my limbs grew
more numb and stiff.
But in the alley I looked around. I knew no way back to my
people except that way by which I came. Down the other alley
and through the crowd of idlers I must go. Would they be there
still? If so, would they see in my face what I had done?
I was no criminal to mask my crime. In a dull, stupid, drowsy,
comatose state I tottered down the alley and through the crowd.
They saw me; they recognized me; I knew that they were jeering
at me, but I knew no more.
"SkaTri!" shouted one, and Sham!" shouted another, and as
1 staggered away they all shouted "Skairi !" together.
Father, they called me a drunkard. I was a drunkard indeed,
but I was drunk with blood.
The sun had set by this time. Its last rays were rising off the
gilded top of the highest minaret in a golden mist that looked like
398 THE LAST CONFESSION
flame leaping out of a kiln. I saw that, as I saw everything,
through a palpitating haze.
When at length I reached the place where I had left my peo-
ple I found the horses saddled, the mules with their burdens packed
on their panniers, the men waiting, and everything ready. Full
well I knew that I ought to leap to my seat instantly and be gone
without delay; but I seemed to have lost all power of prompt
action. I was thinking of what I wanted to do, but I could not
do it. The men spoke to me, and I know that I looked vacantly
into their faces and did not answer. One said to another, "Sidi is
The other touched his forehead and grinned.
I was fumbling with the stirrup of my saddle when the English
Consul came up and hailed me with cheerful spirits. By an effort
that was like a spasm I replied.
"Allow me, doctor," he said, and he offered his knee that I
"Ah, no, no," I stammered, and I scrambled to my seat.
While I was fumbling with my double rein I saw that he was
looking at my hand.
"You've cut your fingers, doctor," he said.
There was blood on them. The blood was not mine, but a
sort of mechanical cunning came to my relief. I took out my
handkerchief and made a pretense to bind it about my hand.
Alee, the guide, was at my right side settling my lumbering
foot in my stirrup. I felt him touch the sheath of my knife, and
then I remembered that it must be empty.
"Sidi has lost his dagger," he said. "Look!"
The Consul, who had been on my left, wheeled round by the
horse's head, glanced at the useless sheath that was stuck in the
belt of my jacket, and then looked back into my stupid face.
"Sidi is ill," he said quietly; "ride quickly, my men, lose no
time, get him out of the country without delay !"
I heard Alee answer, "Right all right!"
Then the Consul's servant rode up he was a Berber and
took his place at the head of our caravan.
"All ready?" asked the Consul, in Arabic.
"Ready," the men answered.
"Then away, as if you were flying for your lives !"
The men put spurs to their mules, Alee gave the lash to my
horse, and we started.
"Good-by, doctor," cried the Consul; "may you find your little
son better when you reach home !"
THE LAST CONFESSION 399
I shouted some incoherent answers in a thick, loud voice, and
fn a few minutes more we were galloping across the plain outside
The next two hours are a blank in my memory. In a kind of
drunken stupor I rode on and on. The gray light deepened into
the darkness of night, and the stars came out. Still we rode and
rode. The moon appeared in the southern sky and rose into the
broad whiteness of the stars overhead. Then consciousness came
back to me, and with it came the first pangs of remorse. Through
the long hours of that night ride one awful sight stood up con-
stantly before my eyes. It was the sight of that dead body, stark
and cold, lying within that little sanctuary behind me, white now
with the moonlight, and silent with the night.
Larby, Larby! You shamed me. You drove me from the
world. You brought down your mother to the grave. And yet,
and yet must I absolve your murder erf
Father, I reached my home at last. At Gibraltar I telegraphed
that I was coming, and at Dover I received a telegram in reply.
Four days had intervened between the despatch of my message and
the receipt of my wife's. Anything might have happened in that
time, and my anxiety was feverish. Stepping on to the Admiralty
Pier, I saw a telegraph boy bustling about among the passengers
from the packet with a telegram in his hand.
"What name?" I asked.
He gave one that was not my own and yet sounded like it.
1 looked at the envelope. Clearly the name was intended for
mine. I snatched the telegram out of the boy's hand. It ran:
"Welcome home; boy very weak, but not beyond hope."
I think I read the words aloud, amid all the people, so
tremendous was my relief, and so overwhelming my joy. The
messenger got a gold coin for himself and I leaped into the
At Charing Cross I did not wait for my luggage, but gave a
foolish tip to a porter and told him to send my things after me.
Within half a minute of my arrival I was driving out of the
What I suffered during those last moments of waiting before I
reached my house no tongue of man could tell. I read my wife's
telegram again, and observed for the first time that it was now six
hours old. Six hours ! They were like six days to my tortured
From the moment when we turned out of Oxford Street until
we drew up at my own door in Wimpole Street I did not once draw
400 THE LAST CONFESSION
breath. And being here I dared hardly lift my eyes to the window
lest the blinds should be down.
I had my latch-key with me, and I let myself in without ring-
ing. A moment afterward I was in my darling's room. My be-
loved wife was with our boy, and he was unconscious. That did
not trouble me at all, for I saw at a glance that I was not too late.
Throwing off my coat, I sent to the surgery for my case, dis-
missed my dear girl with scant embraces, drew my darling's cot
up to the window, and tore down the curtains that kept out the
light, for the spring day was far spent.
Then, being alone with my darling, I did my work. I had
trembled like an aspen leaf until I entered his room, but when
the time came my hand was as firm as a rock and my pulse beat
like a child's.
I knew I could do it, and I did it. God had spared me to come
home, and I had kept my vow. I had traveled ten days and nights
to tackle the work, but it was a short task when once begun.
After I had finished I opened the door to call my wife back to
the room. The poor soul was crouching with the boy's nurse on
the threshold, and they were doing their utmost to choke their sobs.
"There !" I cried, "there's your boy ! He'll be all right now."
The mischief was removed, and I had never a doubt of the
My wife flung herself on my breast, and then I realized the
price I had paid for so much nervous tension. All the nerves of
organic life seemed to collapse in an instant.
"I'm dizzy; lead me to my room," I said.
My wife brought me brandy, but my hand could not lift the
tumbler to my mouth, and when my dear girl's arms had raised
my own, the glass rattled against my teeth. They put me to bed;
I was done done.
God will forgive him. Why should not If
Father, that was a month ago, and I am lying here still. It is
not neurasthenia of the body that is killing me, but neurasthenia of
the soul. No doctor's drug will ever purge me of that. It is here
like fire in my brain, and here like ice in my heart. Was my
awful act justifiable before God? Was it right in the eyes of
Him who has written in the tables of His law, Thou shalt do no
murder? Was it murder? Was it crime? If I outraged the let-
ter of the holy edict, did I also wrong its spirit?
Speak, speak, for pity's sake, speak. Have mercy upon me,
as you hope for mercy. Think where I was and what fate was
before me. Would I do it again in spite of all? Yes, yes, a thou-
THE LAST CONFESSION 401
sand, thousand times, yes. I will go to God with that word on
my lips, and He shall judge me.
And yet I suffer these agonies of doubt. Life was always a
sacred thing to me. God gave it, and only God should take it
away. He who spilt the blood of his fellow-man took the govern-
ment of the world out of God's hands. And then and then-
father, have I not told you all ?
Yes, yes, the Father of all fathers will pardon him.
On the day when I arrived at Tangier from Fez I had some
two hours to wait for the French steamer from Malaga that was to
take me to Cadiz. In order to beguile my mind of its impatience,
I walked through the town as far as the outer Sok the Sok de
It was market day, Thursday, and the place was the same ani-
mated and varied scene as I had looked upon before. Crushing my
way through the throng, I came upon the saint's house near the
middle of the market. The sight of the little white structure with
its white flag brought back the tragedy I saw enacted there, and
the thought of that horror was now made hellish to my conscience
by the memory of another tragedy at another saint's house.
I turned quickly aside, and stepping up to the elevated cause-
way that runs in front of the tents of the brassworkers, I stood
awhile and watched the Jewish workmen hammering the designs
on their trays.
Presently I became aware of a little girl who was sitting on a
bundle of rushes and plaiting them into a chain. She was a tiny
thing, six years of age at the utmost, but with the sober look
of a matron. Her sweet face was the color of copper, and her
quiet eyes were deep blue. A yellow gown of some light fabric
covered her body, but her feet were bare. She worked at her
plaiting with steady industry, and as often as she stopped to draw
a rush from the bundle beneath her she lifted her eyes and looked
with a wistful gaze over the feeding-ground of the camels, and
down the lane to the bridge, and up by the big house on the hill-
side to where the sandy road goes off to Fez.
The little demure figure, amid so many romping children, in-
terested and touched me. This was noticed by a Jewish brass-
worker before whose open booth I stood and he smiled and nodded
his head in the direction of the little woman.
"Dear little Sobersides," I said ; "does she never play with other
"No," said the Jew, "she sits here every day, and all day long-
that is, when her father is away."
402 THE LAST CONFESSION
"Whose child is she?" I asked. An awful thought had struck
"A great rascal's" the Jew answered, "though the little one is
such an angel. He keeps a spice shop over yonder, but he is a
guide as well as a merchant, and when he is out on a journey the
child sits here and waits and watches for his coming home again.
She can catch the first sight of travelers from this place and she
knows her father at any distance. See ! do you know where she's
looking now ? Over the road by El Minzah that's the way from
Fez. Her father has gone there with a Christian."
The sweat was bursting from my forehead.
"What's his name?" I asked.
"The Moors call him Larby," said the Jew, "and the Christians
nickname him Ananias. They say he is a Spanish renegade, es-
caped from Ceuta, who witnessed to the Prophet and married a
Moorish wife. But he's everything to the little one bless her
innocent face ! Look ! do you see the tiny brown dish at her side ?
That's for her drinking water. She bringes it full every day, and
also a little cake of bread for her dinner.
"She's never tired of waiting, and if Larby does not come home
to-night she'll be here in the morning. I do believe that if any-
thing happened to Larby she would wait until doomsday."
My throat was choking me, and I could not speak. The Jew
saw my emotion, but he showed no surprise. I stepped up to the
little one and stroked her glossy black hair.
"Hoolia?" I said.
She smiled back into my face and answered, "lyyeh" yes.
"I could say no more; I dare not look into her trustful eyes
and think that he whom she waited for would never come again.
I stooped and kissed the child, and then fled away.
God show me my duty. The Priest or the Man which?
"Listen ! do you hear him ? That's the footstep of my boy over-
head. My darling ! He is well again now. My little sunny laddie !
He came into my bedroom this morning with a hop, skip, and a
jump a gleam of sunshine. Poor innocent, thoughtless boy.
They will take him into the country soon, and he will romp in
the lanes and tear up the flowers in the garden.
My son, my son ! He has drained my life away ; he has taken
all my strength. Do I wish that I had it back? Yes, but only
yes, only that I might give it him again. Hark ! That's his voice,
that's his laughter. How happy he is ! When I think how soon
how very soon when I think that I
God sees all. He is looking down on little Hoolia waiting,
THE LAST CONFESSION 403
waiting, waiting where the camels come over the hills, and on my
little Noel laughing and prancing in the room above us.
Father, I have told you all at last. There are tears in your
eyes, father. You are crying. Tell me, then, what hope is left?
You know my sin, and you know my suffering. Did I do wrong?
Did I do right?
My son, God's law ^vas made for man, not man for His law.
If the spirit has been broken where the letter has been kept, the
spirit may be kept where the letter has been broken. Your earthly
father dare not judge you. To your Heavenly Father he must leave
both the deed and the circumstance. It is for Him to justify or
forgive. If you are innocent, He will place your hand in the hand
of him who slew the Egyptian and yet looked on the burning bush.
'And if you are guilty, He will not shut His ears to the cry of your
He has gone. I could not tell him. It would have embittered
his parting hour; it would have poisoned the wine of the sacrament-
O, Larby! Larby! flesh of my flesh, my sorrow, my shame, my
'prodigal my son.
END OF "THE LAST CONFESSION'