The Lost Road (collection)/The Men of Zanzibar
THE MEN OF ZANZIBAR
WHEN his hunting trip in Uganda was over, Hemingway shipped his specimens and weapons direct from Mombasa to New York, but he himself journeyed south over the few miles that stretched to Zanzibar.
On the outward trip the steamer had touched there, and the little he saw of the place had so charmed him that all the time he was on safari he promised himself he would not return home without revisiting it. On the morning he arrived he had called upon Harris, his consul, to inquire about the hotel; and that evening Harris had returned his call and introduced him at the club.
One of the men there asked Hemingway what brought him to Africa, and when he answered simply and truthfully that he had come to shoot big game, it was as though he had said something clever, and every one smiled. On the way back to the hotel, as they felt their way through the narrow slits in the wall that served as streets, he asked the consul why every one had smiled.
The consul laughed evasively.
"It's a local joke," he explained. "A lot of men come here for reasons best kept to themselves, and they all say what you said, that they've come to shoot big game. It's grown to be a polite way of telling a man it is none of his business."
"But I didn't mean it that way," protested Hemingway. "I really have been after big game for the last eight months."
In the tone one uses to quiet a drunken man or a child, the consul answered soothingly.
"Of course," he assented—"of course you have." But to show he was not hopelessly credulous, and to keep Hemingway from involving himself deeper, he hinted tactfully: "Maybe they noticed you came ashore with only one steamer trunk and no gun-cases."
"Oh, that's easily explained," laughed Hemingway. "My heavy luggage——"
The consul had reached his house and his "boy" was pounding upon it with his heavy staff.
"Please don't explain to me," he begged. "It's quite unnecessary. Down here we're so darned glad to see any white man that we don't ask anything of him except that he won't hurry away. We judge them as they behave themselves here; we don't care what they are at home or why they left it."
Hemingway was highly amused. To find that he, a respectable, sport-loving Hemingway of Massachusetts, should be mistaken for a gun-runner, slave-dealer, or escaping cashier greatly delighted him.
"All right!" he exclaimed. "I'll promise not to bore you with my past, and I agree to be judged by Zanzibar standards. I only hope I can live up to them, for I see I am going to like the place very much."
Hemingway kept his promise. He bored no one with confidences as to his ancestors. Of his past he made a point never to speak. He preferred that the little community into which he had dropped should remain unenlightened, should take him as they found him. Of the fact that a college was named after his grandfather and that on his father's railroad he could travel through many States, he was discreetly silent.
The men of Zanzibar asked no questions. That Hemingway could play a stiff game of tennis, a stiffer game of poker, and, on the piano, songs from home was to them sufficient recommendation. In a week he had become one of the most popular members of Zanzibar society. It was as though he had lived there always. Hemingway found himself reaching out to grasp the warmth of the place as a flower turns to the sun. He discovered that for thirty years something in him had been cheated. For thirty years he had believed that completely to satisfy his soul all he needed was the gray stone walls and the gray-shingled cabins under the gray skies of New England, that what in nature he most loved was the pine forests and the fields of goldenrod on the rock-bound coast of the North Shore. But now, like a man escaped from prison, he leaped and danced in the glaring sunlight of the equator, he revelled in the reckless generosity of nature, in the glorious confusion of colors, in the "blooming blue" of the Indian Ocean, in the Arabian nights spent upon the housetops under the purple sky, and beneath silver stars so near that he could touch them with his hand.
He found it like being perpetually in a comic opera and playing a part in one. For only the scenic artist would dare to paint houses in such yellow, pink, and cobalt-blue; only a "producer" who had never ventured farther from Broadway than the Atlantic City boardwalk would have conceived costumes so mad and so magnificent. Instinctively he cast the people of Zanzibar in the conventional rôles of musical comedy.
His choruses were already in waiting. There was the Sultan's body-guard in gold-laced turbans, the merchants of the bazaars in red fezzes and gowns of flowing silk, the Malay sailors in blue, the black native police in scarlet, the ladies of the harems closely veiled and cloaked, the market women in a single garment of orange, or scarlet, or purple, or of all three, and the happy, hilarious Zanzibari boys in the color God gave them.
For hours he would sit under the yellow-and-green awning of the Greek hotel and watch the procession pass, or he would lie under an umbrella on the beach and laugh as the boatmen lifted their passengers to their shoulders and with them splash through the breakers, or in the bazaars for hours he would bargain with the Indian merchants, or in the great mahogany hall of the Ivory House, to the whisper of a punka and the tinkle of ice in a tall glass, listen to tales of Arab raids, of elephant poachers, of the trade in white and black ivory, of the great explorers who had sat in that same room—of Emin Pasha, of Livingstone, of Stanley. His comic opera lacked only a heroine and the love interest.
When he met Mrs. Adair he found both. Polly Adair, as every one who dared to do so preferred to call her, was, like himself, an American and, though absurdly young, a widow. In the States she would have been called an extremely pretty girl. In a community where the few dozen white women had wilted and faded in the fierce sun of the equator, and where the rest of the women were jet black except their teeth, which were dyed an alluring purple, Polly Adair was as beautiful as a June morning. At least, so Hemingway thought the first time he saw her, and each succeeding time he thought her more beautiful, more lovely, more to be loved.
He met her, three days after his arrival, at the residence of the British agent and consul-general, where Lady Firth was giving tea to the six nurses from the English hospital and to all the other respectable members of Zanzibar society.
"My husband's typist," said her ladyship as she helped Hemingway to tea, "is a copatriot of yours. She's such a nice gell; not a bit like an American. I don't know what I'd do in this awful place without her. Promise me," she begged tragically, "you will not ask her to marry you."
Unconscious of his fate, Hemingway promised.
"Because all the men do," sighed Lady Firth, "and I never know what morning one of the wretches won't carry her off to a home of her own. And then what would become of me? Men are so selfish! If you must fall in love," suggested her ladyship, "promise me you will fall in love with"—she paused innocently and raised baby-blue eyes, in a baby-like stare—"with some one else."
Again Hemingway promised. He bowed gallantly. "That will be quite easy," he said.
Her ladyship smiled, but Hemingway did not see the smile. He was looking past her at a girl from home, who came across the terrace carrying in her hand a stenographer's note-book.
Lady Firth followed the direction of his eyes and saw the look in them. She exclaimed with dismay:
"Already! Already he deserts me, even before the ink is dry on the paper."
She drew the note-book from Mrs. Adair's fingers and dropped it under the tea-table.
"Letters must wait, my child," she declared.
"But Sir George—" protested the girl.
"Sir George must wait, too," continued his wife; "the Foreign Office must wait, the British Empire must wait until you have had your tea."
The girl laughed helplessly. As though assured her fellow countryman would comprehend, she turned to him.
"They're so exactly like what you want them to be," she said—"I mean about their tea!"
Hemingway smiled back with such intimate understanding that Lady Firth glanced up inquiringly.
"Have you met Mrs. Adair already?" she asked.
"No," said Hemingway, "but I have been trying to meet her for thirty years."
Perplexed, the Englishwoman frowned, and then, with delight at her own perspicuity, laughed aloud.
"I know," she cried, "in your country you are what they call a 'hustler'! Is that right?" She waved them away. "Take Mrs. Adair over there," she commanded, "and tell her all the news from home. Tell her about the railroad accidents and 'washouts' and the latest thing in lynching."
The young people stretched out in long wicker chairs in the shade of a tree covered with purple flowers. On a perch at one side of them an orang-outang in a steel belt was combing the whiskers of her infant daughter; at their feet what looked like two chow puppies, but which happened to be Lady Firth's pet lions, were chewing each other's toothless gums; and in the immediate foreground the hospital nurses were defying the sun at tennis while the Sultan's band played selections from a Gaiety success of many years in the past. With these surroundings it was difficult to talk of home. Nor on any later occasions, except through inadvertence, did they talk of home.
For the reasons already stated, it amused Hemingway to volunteer no confidences. On account of what that same evening Harris told him of Mrs. Adair, he asked none.
Harris himself was a young man in no way inclined to withhold confidences. He enjoyed giving out information. He enjoyed talking about himself, his duties, the other consuls, the Zanzibaris, and his native State of Iowa. So long as he was permitted to talk, the listener could select the subject. But, combined with his loquacity, Hemingway had found him kind-hearted, intelligent, observing, and the call of a common country had got them quickly together.
Hemingway was quite conscious that the girl he had seen but once had impressed him out of all proportion to what he knew of her. She seemed too good to be true. And he tried to persuade himself that after eight months in the hinterland among hippos and zebras any reasonably attractive girl would have proved equally disturbing.
But he was not convinced. He did not wish to be convinced. He assured himself that had he met Mrs. Adair at home among hundreds of others he would have recognized her as a woman of exceptional character, as one especially charming. He wanted to justify this idea of her; he wanted to talk of Mrs. Adair to Harris, not to learn more concerning her, but just for the pleasure of speaking her name.
He was much upset at that, and the discovery that on meeting a woman for the first time he still could be so boyishly and ingenuously moved greatly pleased him. It was a most delightful secret. So he acted on the principle that when a man immensely admires a woman and wishes to conceal that fact from every one else he can best do so by declaring his admiration in the frankest and most open manner. After the tea-party, as Harris and himself sat in the consulate, he so expressed himself.
"What an extraordinary nice girl," he exclaimed, "is that Mrs. Adair! I had a long talk with her. She is most charming. However did a woman like that come to be in a place like this?"
Judging from his manner, it seemed to Hemingway that at the mention of Mrs. Adair's name he had found Harris mentally on guard, as though the consul had guessed the question would come and had prepared for it.
"She just dropped in here one day," said Harris, "from no place in particular. Personally, I always have thought from heaven."
"It's a good address," said Hemingway.
"It seems to suit her," the consul agreed. "Anyway, if she doesn't come from there, that's where she's going—just on account of the good she's done us while she's been here. She arrived four months ago with a typewriting-machine and letters to me from our consuls in Cape Town and Durban. She had done some typewriting for them. It seems that after her husband died, which was a few months after they were married, she learned to make her living by typewriting. She worked too hard and broke down, and the doctor said she must go to hot countries, the 'hotter the better.' So she's worked her way half around the world typewriting. She worked chiefly for her own consuls or for the American commission houses. Sometimes she stayed a month, sometimes only over one steamer day. But when she got here Lady Firth took such a fancy to her that she made Sir George engage her as his private secretary, and she's been here ever since."
In a community so small as was that of Zanzibar the white residents saw one another every day, and within a week Hemingway had met Mrs. Adair many times. He met her at dinner, at the British agency; he met her in the country club, where the white exiles gathered for tea and tennis. He hired a launch and in her honor gave a picnic on the north coast of the island, and on three glorious and memorable nights, after different dinner-parties had ascended to the roof, he sat at her side and across the white level of the housetops looked down into the moonlit harbor.
What interest the two young people felt in each other was in no way discouraged by their surroundings. In the tropics the tender emotions are not winter killed. Had they met at home, the conventions, his own work, her social duties would have kept the progress of their interest within a certain speed limit. But they were in a place free of conventions, and the preceding eight months which Hemingway had spent in the jungle and on the plain had made the society of his fellow man, and of Mrs. Adair in particular, especially attractive.
Hemingway had no work to occupy his time, and he placed it unreservedly at the disposition of his countrywoman. In doing so it could not be said that Mrs. Adair encouraged him. Hemingway himself would have been the first to acknowledge this. From the day he met her he was conscious that always there was an intangible barrier between them. Even before she possibly could have guessed that his interest in her was more than even she, attractive as she was, had the right to expect, she had wrapped around herself an invisible mantle of defence.
There were certain speeches of his which she never heard, certain tones to which she never responded. At moments when he was complimenting himself that at last she was content to be in his company, she would suddenly rise and join the others, and he would be left wondering in what way he could possibly have offended.
He assured himself that a woman, young and attractive, in a strange land in her dependent position must of necessity be discreet, but in his conduct there certainly had been nothing that was not considerate, courteous, and straightforward.
When he appreciated that he cared for her seriously, that he was gloriously happy in caring, and proud of the way in which he cared, the fact that she persistently held him at arm's length puzzled and hurt. At first when he had deliberately set to work to make her like him he was glad to think that, owing to his reticence about himself, if she did like him it would be for himself alone and not for his worldly goods. But when he knew her better he understood that if once Mrs. Adair made up her mind to take a second husband, the fact that he was a social and financial somebody, and not, as many in Zanzibar supposed Hemingway to be, a social outcast, would make but little difference.
Nor was her manner to be explained by the fact that the majority of women found him unattractive. As to that, the pleasant burden of his experience was to the contrary. He at last wondered if there was some one else, if he had come into her life too late. He set about looking for the man and so, he believed, he soon found him.
Of the little colony, Arthur Fearing was the man of whom Hemingway had seen the least. That was so because Fearing wished it. Like himself, Fearing was an American, young, and a bachelor, but, very much unlike Hemingway, a hermit and a recluse.
Two years before he had come to Zanzibar looking for an investment for his money. In Zanzibar there were gentlemen adventurers of every country, who were welcome to live in any country save their own.
To them Mr. Fearing seemed a heaven-sent victim. But to him their alluring tales of the fortunes that were to rise from buried treasures, lost mines, and pearl beds did not appeal. Instead he conferred with the consuls, the responsible merchants, the partners in the prosperous trading houses. After a month of "looking around" he had purchased outright the good-will and stock of one of the oldest of the commission houses, and soon showed himself to be a most capable man of business. But, except as a man of business, no one knew him. From the dim recesses of his warehouse he passed each day to the seclusion of his bungalow in the country. And, although every one was friendly to him, he made no friends.
It was only after the arrival of Mrs. Adair that he consented to show himself, and it was soon noted that it was only when she was invited that he would appear, and that on these occasions he devoted himself entirely to her. In the presence of others, he still was shy, gravely polite, and speaking but little, and never of himself; but with Mrs. Adair his shyness seemed to leave him, and when with her he was seen to talk easily and eagerly. And, on her part, to what he said, Polly Adair listened with serious interest.
Lady Firth, who, at home, was a trained and successful match-maker, and who, in Zanzibar, had found but a limited field for her activities, decided that if her companion and protegée must marry, she should marry Fearing.
Fearing was no gentleman adventurer, remittance-man, or humble clerk serving his apprenticeship to a steamship line or an ivory house. He was one of the pillars of Zanzibar society. The trading house he had purchased had had its beginnings in the slave-trade, and now under his alert direction was making a turnover equal to that of any of its ancient rivals. Personally, Fearing was a most desirable catch. He was well-mannered, well-read, of good appearance, steady, and, in a latitude only six degrees removed from the equator, of impeccable morals.
It is said that it is the person who is in love who always is the first to discover his successful rival. It is either an instinct or because his concern is deeper than that of others.
And so, when Hemingway sought for the influence that separated him from Polly Adair, the trail led to Fearing. To find that the obstacle in the path of his true love was a man greatly relieved him. He had feared that what was in the thoughts of Mrs. Adair was the memory of her dead husband. He had no desire to cross swords with a ghost. But to a living rival he could afford to be generous.
For he was sure no one could care for Polly Adair as he cared, and, like every other man in love, he believed that he alone had discovered in her beauties of soul and character that to the rest of mankind were hidden. This knowledge, he assured himself, had aroused in him a depth of devotion no one else could hope to imitate, and this depth of devotion would in time so impress her, would become so necessary to her existence, that it would force her at last into the arms of the only man who could offer it.
Having satisfied himself in this fashion, he continued cheerfully on his way, and the presence of a rival in no way discouraged him. It only was Polly Adair who discouraged him. And this, in spite of the fact that every hour of the day he tried to bring himself pleasantly to her notice. All that an idle young man in love, aided and abetted by imagination and an unlimited letter of credit, could do, Hemingway did. But to no end.
The treasures he dug out of the bazaars and presented to her, under false pretenses as trinkets he happened at that moment to find in his pockets, were admired by her at their own great value, and returned also under false pretenses, as having been offered her only to examine.
"It is for your sister at home, I suppose," she prompted. "It's quite lovely. Thank you for letting me see it."
After having been several times severely snubbed in this fashion, Hemingway remarked grimly as he put a black pearl back into his pocket:
"At this rate sister will be mighty glad to see me when I get home. It seems almost a pity I haven't got a sister."
The girl answered this only with a grave smile.
On another occasion she admired a polo pony that had been imported for the stable of the boy Sultan. But next morning Hemingway, after much diplomacy, became the owner of it and proudly rode it to the agency. Lady Firth and Polly Adair walked out to meet him arm in arm, but at sight of the pony there came into the eyes of the secretary a look that caused Hemingway to wish himself and his mount many miles in the jungle. He saw that before it had been proffered, his gift-horse had been rejected. He acted promptly.
"Lady Firth," he said, "you've been so awfully kind to me, made this place so like a home to me, that I want you to put this mare in your stable. The Sultan wanted her, but when he learned I meant to turn her over to you, he let her go. We both hope you'll accept."
Lady Firth had no scruples. In five minutes she had accepted, had clapped a side-saddle on her rich gift, and was cantering joyously down the Pearl Road.
Polly Adair looked after her with an expression that was distinctly wistful. Thus encouraged, Hemingway said:
"I'm glad you are sorry. I hope every time you see that pony you'll be sorry."
"Why should I be sorry?" asked the girl.
"Because you have been unkind," said Hemingway, "and it is not your character to be unkind. And that you have shown lack of character ought to make you sorry."
"But you know perfectly well," said Mrs. Adair, "that if I were to take any one of these wonderful things you bring me, I wouldn't have any character left."
She smiled at him reassuringly. "And you know," she added, "that that is not why I do not take them. It isn't because I can't afford to, or because I don't want them, because I do; but it's because I don't deserve them, because I can give you nothing in return."
"As the copy-book says," returned Hemingway, "'the pleasure is in the giving.' If the copy-book don't say that, I do. And to pretend that you give me nothing, that is ridiculous!"
It was so ridiculous that he rushed on vehemently. "Why, every minute you give me something," he exclaimed. "Just to see you, just to know you are alive, just to be certain when I turn in at night that when the world wakes up again you will still be a part of it; that is what you give me. And its name is—Happiness!"
He had begun quite innocently; he had had no idea that it would come. But he had said it. As clearly as though he had dropped upon one knee, laid his hand over his heart and exclaimed: "Most beautiful of your sex, I love you! Will you marry me?" His eyes and the tone of his voice had said it. And he knew that he had said it, and that she knew.
Her eyes were filled with sudden tears, and so wonderful was the light in them that for one mad moment Hemingway thought they were tears of happiness. But the light died, and what had been tears became only wet drops of water, and he saw to his dismay that she was most miserable.
The girl moved ahead of him to the cliff on which the agency stood, and which overhung the harbor and the Indian Ocean. Her eyes were filled with trouble. As she raised them to his they begged of him to be kind.
"I am glad you told me," she said. "I have been afraid it was coming. But until you told me I could not say anything. I tried to stop you. I was rude and unkind——"
"You certainly were," Hemingway agreed cheerfully. "And the more you would have nothing to do with me, the more I admired you. And then I learned to admire you more, and then to love you. It seems now as though I had always known and always loved you. And now this is what we are going to do."
He wouldn't let her speak; he rushed on precipitately.
"We are first going up to the house to get your typewriting-machine, and we will bring it back here and hurl it as far as we can off this cliff. I want to see the splash! I want to hear it smash when it hits that rock. It has been my worst enemy, because it helped you to be independent of me, because it kept you from me. Time after time, on the veranda, when I was pretending to listen to Lady Firth, I was listening to that damned machine banging and complaining and tiring your pretty fingers and your dear eyes. So first it has got to go. You have been its slave, now I am going to be your slave. You have only to rub the lamp and things will happen. And because I've told you nothing about myself, you mustn't think that the money that helps to make them happen is 'tainted.' It isn't. Nor am I, nor my father, nor my father's father. I am asking you to marry a perfectly respectable young man. And, when you do——"
Again he gave her no opportunity to interrupt, but rushed on impetuously: "We will sail away across that ocean to wherever you will take me. To Ceylon and Tokio and San Francisco, to Naples and New York, to Greece and Athens. They are all near. They are all yours. Will you accept them and me?" He smiled appealingly, but most miserably. For though he had spoken lightly and with confidence, it was to conceal the fact that he was not at all confident. As he had read in her eyes her refusal of his pony, he had read, even as he spoke, her refusal of himself. When he ceased speaking the girl answered:
"If I say that what you tell me makes me proud, I am saying too little." She shook her head firmly, with an air of finality that frightened Hemingway. "But what you ask—what you suggest is impossible."
"You don't like me?" said Hemingway.
"I like you very much," returned the girl, "and, if I don't seem unhappy that it can't be, it is because I always have known it can't be——"
"Why can't it be?" rebelled Hemingway. "I don't mean that I can't understand your not wanting to marry me, but if I knew your objection, maybe, I could beat it down."
Again, with the same air of finality, the girl moved her head slowly, as though considering each word; she began cautiously.
"I cannot tell you the reason," she said, "because it does not concern only myself."
"If you mean you care for some one else," pleaded Hemingway, "that does not frighten me at all." It did frighten him extremely, but, believing that a faint heart never won anything, he pretended to be brave.
"For you," he boasted, "I would go down into the grave as deep as any man. He that hath more let him give. I know what I offer. I know I love you as no other man——"
The girl backed away from him as though he had struck her. "You must not say that," she commanded.
For the first time he saw that she was moved, that the fingers she laced and unlaced were trembling. "It is final!" exclaimed the girl. "I cannot marry—you, or any one. I—I have promised. I am not free."
"Nothing in the world is final," returned Hemingway sharply, "except death." He raised his hat and, as though to leave her, moved away. Not because he admitted defeat, but because he felt that for the present to continue might lose him the chance to fight again. But, to deliver an ultimatum, he turned back.
"As long as you are alive, and I am alive," he told her, "all things are possible. I don't give up hope. I don't give up you."
The girl exclaimed with a gesture of despair. "He won't understand!" she cried.
Hemingway advanced eagerly.
"Help me to understand," he begged.
"You won't understand," explained the girl, "that I am speaking the truth. You are right that things can change in the future, but nothing can change the past. Can't you understand that?"
"What do I care for the past?" cried the young man scornfully. "I know you as well as though I had known you for a thousand years and I love you."
The girl flushed crimson.
"Not my past," she gasped. "I meant——"
"I don't care what you meant," said Hemingway. "I'm not prying into your little secrets. I know only one thing—two things, that I love you and that, until you love me, I am going to make your life hell!"
He caught at her hands, and for an instant she let him clasp them in both of his, while she looked at him.
Something in her face, other than distress and pity, caused his heart to leap. But he was too wise to speak, and, that she might not read the hope in his eyes, turned quickly and left her. He had not crossed the grounds of the agency before he had made up his mind as to the reason for her repelling him.
"She is engaged to Fearing!" he told himself. "She has promised to marry Fearing! She thinks that it is too late to consider another man!" The prospect of a fight for the woman he loved thrilled him greatly. His lower jaw set pugnaciously.
"I'll show her it's not too late," he promised himself. "I'll show her which of us is the man to make her happy. And, if I am not the man, I'll take the first outbound steamer and trouble them no more. But before that happens," he also promised himself, "Fearing must show he is the better man."
In spite of his brave words, in spite of his determination, within the day Hemingway had withdrawn in favor of his rival, and, on the Crown Prince Eitel, bound for Genoa and New York, had booked his passage home.
On the afternoon of the same day he had spoken to Polly Adair, Hemingway at the sunset hour betook himself to the consulate. At that hour it had become his custom to visit his fellow countryman and with him share the gossip of the day and such a cocktail as only a fellow countryman could compose. Later he was to dine at the house of the Ivory Company and, as his heart never ceased telling him, Mrs. Adair also was to be present.
"It will be a very pleasant party," said Harris. "They gave me a bid, too, but it's steamer day to-morrow, and I've got to get my mail ready for the Crown Prince Eitel. Mrs. Adair is to be there."
Hemingway nodded, and with pleasant anticipation waited. Of Mrs. Adair, Harris always spoke with reverent enthusiasm, and the man who loved her delighted to listen. But this time Harris disappointed him.
"And Fearing, too," he added.
Again Hemingway nodded. The conjunction of the two names surprised him, but he made no sign. Loquacious as he knew Harris to be, he never before had heard his friend even suggest the subject that to Zanzibar had become of acute interest.
Harris filled the two glasses, and began to pace the room. When he spoke it was in the aggrieved tone of one who feels himself placed in a false position.
"There's no one," he complained suddenly, "so popularly unpopular as the man who butts in. I know that, but still I've always taken his side. I've always been for him." He halted, straddling with legs apart and hands deep in his trousers pockets, and frowned down upon his guest.
"Suppose," he began aggressively, "I see a man driving his car over a cliff. If I tell him that road will take him over a cliff, the worst that can happen to me is to be told to mind my own business, and I can always answer back: 'I was only trying to help you.' If I don't speak, the man breaks his neck. Between the two, it seems to me, sooner than have any one's life on my hands, I'd rather be told to mind my own business."
Hemingway stared into his glass. His expression was distinctly disapproving, but, undismayed, the consul continued.
"Now, we all know that this morning you gave that polo pony to Lady Firth, and one of us guesses that you first offered it to some one else, who refused it. One of us thinks that very soon, to-morrow, or even to-night, at this party you may offer that same person something else, something worth more than a polo pony, and that if she refuses that, it is going to break you all up, is going to hurt you for the rest of your life."
Lifting his eyes from his glass, Hemingway shot at his friend a glance of warning. In haste, Harris continued:
"I know," he protested, answering the look, "I know that this is where Mr. Buttinsky is told to mind his business. But I'm going right on. I'm going to state a hypothetical case with no names mentioned and no questions asked, or answered. I'm going to state a theory, and let you draw your own deductions."
He slid into a chair, and across the table fastened his eyes on those of his friend. Confidently and undisturbed, but with a wry smile of dislike, Hemingway stared fixedly back at him.
"What," demanded Harris, "is the first rule in detective work?"
Hemingway started. He was prepared for something unpleasant, but not for that particular form of unpleasantness. But his faith was unshaken, and he smiled confidently. He let the consul answer his own question.
"It is to follow the woman," declared Harris. "And, accordingly, what should be the first precaution of a man making his get-away? To see that the woman does not follow. But suppose we are dealing with a fugitive of especial intelligence, with a criminal who has imagination and brains? He might fix it so that the woman could follow him without giving him away, he might plan it so that no one would suspect. She might arrive at his hiding-place only after many months, only after each had made separately a long circuit of the globe, only after a journey with a plausible and legitimate object. She would arrive disguised in every way, and they would meet as total strangers. And, as strangers under the eyes of others, they would become acquainted, would gradually grow more friendly, would be seen more frequently together, until at last people would say: 'Those two mean to make a match of it.' And then, one day, openly, in the sight of all men, with the aid of the law and the church, they would resume those relations that existed before the man ran away and the woman followed."
There was a short silence.
Hemingway broke it in a tone that would accept no denial.
"You can't talk like that to me," he cried. "What do you mean?"
Without resentment, the consul regarded him with grave solicitude. His look was one of real affection, and, although his tone held the absolute finality of the family physician who delivers a sentence of death, he spoke with gentleness and regret.
"I mean," he said, "that Mrs. Adair is not a widow, that the man she speaks of as her late husband is not dead; that that man is Fearing!"
Hemingway felt afraid. A month before a rhinoceros had charged him and had dropped at his feet. At another time a wounded lioness had leaped into his path and crouched to spring. Then he had not been afraid. Then he had aimed as confidently as though he were firing at a straw target. But now he felt real fear: fear of something he did not comprehend, of a situation he could not master, of an adversary as strong as Fate. By a word something had been snatched from him that he now knew was as dear to him as life, that was life, that was what made it worth continuing. And he could do nothing to prevent it; he could not help himself. He was as impotent as the prisoner who hears the judge banish him into exile. He tried to adjust his mind to the calamity. But his mind refused. As easily as with his finger a man can block the swing of a pendulum and halt the progress of the clock, Harris with a word had brought the entire world to a full stop.
And then, above his head, Hemingway heard the lazy whisper of the punka, and from the harbor the raucous whistle of the Crown Prince Eitel, signalling her entrance. The world had not stopped; for the punka-boy, for the captain of the German steamer, for Harris seated with face averted, the world was still going gayly and busily forward. Only for him had it stopped.
In spite of the confident tone in which Harris had spoken, in spite of the fact that unless he knew it was the truth, he would not have spoken, Hemingway tried to urge himself to believe there had been some hideous, absurd error. But in answer came back to him snatches of talk or phrases the girl had last addressed to him: "You can command the future, but you cannot change the past. I cannot marry you, or any one! I am not free!"
And then to comfort himself, he called up the look he had surprised in her eyes when he stood holding her hands in his. He clung to it, as a drowning man will clutch even at a piece of floating seaweed.
When he tried to speak he found his voice choked and stifled, and that his distress was evident, he knew from the pity he read in the eyes of Harris.
In a voice strange to him, he heard himself saying: "Why do you think that? You've got to tell me. I have a right to know. This morning I asked Mrs. Adair to marry me."
The consul exclaimed with dismay and squirmed unhappily. "I didn't know," he protested. "I thought I was in time. I ought to have told you days ago, but——"
"Tell me now," commanded Hemingway.
"I know it in a thousand ways," began Harris.
Hemingway raised his eyes hopefully.
But the consul shook his head. "But to convince you," he went on, "I need tell you only one. The thousand other proofs are looks they have exchanged, sentences I have chanced to overhear, and that each of them unknown to the other has told me of little happenings and incidents which I found were common to both. Each has described the house in which he or she lived, and it was the same house. They claim to come from different cities in New England, they came from the same city. They claim——"
"That is no proof," cried Hemingway, "either that they are married, or that the man is a criminal."
For a moment Harris regarded the other in silence. Then he said: "You're making it very hard for me. I see I've got to show you. It's kindest, after all, to cut quick." He leaned farther forward, and his voice dropped. Speaking quickly, he said:
"Last summer I lived outside the town in a bungalow on the Pearl Road. Fearing's house was next to mine. This was before Mrs. Adair went to live at the agency, and while she was alone in another bungalow farther down the road. I was ill that summer; my nerves went back on me. I couldn't sleep. I used to sit all night on my veranda and pray for the sun to rise. From where I sat it was dark and no one could see me, but I could see the veranda of Fearing's house and into his garden. And night after night I saw Mrs. Adair creep out of Fearing's house, saw him walk with her to the gate, saw him in the shadow of the bushes take her in his arms, and saw them kiss." The voice of the consul rose sharply. "No one knows that but you and I, and," he cried defiantly, "it is impossible for us to believe ill of Polly Adair. The easy explanation we refuse. It is intolerable. And so you must believe as I believe; that when she visited Fearing by night she went to him because she had the right to go to him, because already she was his wife. And now when every one here believes they met for the first time in Zanzibar, when no one will be surprised if they should marry, they will go through the ceremony again, and live as man and wife, as they are, as they were before he fled from America!"
Hemingway was seated with his elbows on the table and his face in his hands. He was so long silent that Harris struck the table roughly with his palm.
"Well," he demanded, "why don't you speak? Do you doubt her? Don't you believe she is his wife?"
"I refuse to believe anything else!" said Hemingway. He rose, and slowly and heavily moved toward the door. "And I will not trouble them any more," he added. "I'll leave at sunrise on the Eitel."
Harris exclaimed in dismay, but Hemingway did not hear him. In the doorway he halted and turned back. From his voice all trace of emotion had departed. "Why," he asked dully, "do you think Fearing is a fugitive? Not that it matters to her, since she loves him, or that it matters to me. Only I would like to think you were wrong. I want her to have only the best."
Again the consul moved unhappily.
"I oughtn't to tell you," he protested, "and if I do I ought to tell the State Department, and a detective agency first. They have the call. They want him, or a man damned like him." His voice dropped to a whisper. "The man wanted is Henry Brownell, a cashier of a bank in Waltham, Mass., thirty-five years of age, smooth-shaven, college-bred, speaking with a marked New England accent, and—and with other marks that fit Fearing like the cover on a book. The department and the Pinkertons have been devilling the life out of me about it for nine months. They are positive he is on the coast of Africa. I put them off. I wasn't sure."
"You've been protecting them," said Hemingway.
"I wasn't sure," reiterated Harris. "And if I were, the Pinkertons can do their own sleuthing. The man's living honestly now, anyway, isn't he?" he demanded; "and she loves him. At least she's stuck by him. Why should I punish her?"
His tone seemed to challenge and upbraid.
"Good God!" cried the other, "I'm not blaming you! I'd be proud of the chance to do as much. I asked because I'd like to go away thinking she's content, thinking she's happy with him."
"Doesn't it look as though she were?" Harris protested. "She's followed him—followed him half around the globe. If she'd been happier away from him, she'd have stayed away from him."
So intent had been the men upon their talk that neither had noted the passing of the minutes or, what at other times was an event of moment, that the mail steamer had distributed her mail and passengers; and when a servant entered bearing lamps, and from the office the consul's clerk appeared with a bundle of letters from the Eitel, both were taken by surprise.
"So late?" exclaimed Hemingway. "I must go. If I'm to sail with the Eitel at daybreak, I've little time!"
But he did not go.
As he advanced toward Harris with his hand outstretched in adieu, the face of the consul halted him. With the letters, the clerk had placed upon the table a visiting-card, and as it lay in the circle of light from the lamp the consul, as though it were alive and menacing, stared at it in fascination. Moving stiffly, he turned it so that Hemingway could see. On it Hemingway read, "George S. Sheyer," and, on a lower line, "Representing William L. Pinkerton."
To the woman he loved the calamity they dreaded had come, and Hemingway, with a groan of dismay, exclaimed aloud:
"It is the end!"
From the darkness of the outer office a man stepped softly into the circle of the lamp. They could see his figure only from the waist down; the rest of him was blurred in shadows.
"'It is the end'?" he repeated inquiringly. He spoke the phrase with peculiar emphasis, as though to impress it upon the memory of the two others. His voice was cool, alert, authoritative. "The end of what?" he demanded sharply.
The question was most difficult. In the silence the detective moved into the light. He was tall and strongly built, his face was shrewd and intelligent. He might have been a prosperous man of business.
"Which of you is the consul?" he asked. But he did not take his eyes from Hemingway.
"I am the consul," said Harris. But still the detective did not turn from Hemingway.
"Why," he asked, "did this gentleman, when he read my card, say, 'It is the end'? The end of what? Has anything been going on here that came to an end when he saw my card?"
Disconcerted, in deep embarrassment, Harris struggled for a word. But his distress was not observed by the detective. His eyes, suspicious and accusing, still were fixed upon Hemingway, and under their scrutiny Harris saw his friend slowly retreat, slowly crumple up into a chair, slowly raise his hands to cover his face. As though in a nightmare, he heard him saying savagely:
"It is the end of two years of hell, it is the end of two years of fear and agony! Now I shall have peace. Now I shall sleep! I thank God you've come! I thank God I can go back!"
Harris broke the spell by leaping to his feet. He sprang between the two men.
"What does this mean?" he commanded.
Hemingway raised his eyes and surveyed him steadily.
"It means," he said, "that I have deceived you, Harris—that I am the man you told me of, I am the man they want." He turned to the officer.
"I fooled him for four months," he said. "I couldn't fool you for five minutes."
The eyes of the detective danced with sudden excitement, joy, and triumph. He shot an eager glance from Hemingway to the consul.
"This man," he demanded; "who is he?"
With an impatient gesture Hemingway signified Harris.
"He doesn't know who I am," he said. "He knows me as Hemingway. I am Henry Brownell, of Waltham, Mass." Again his face sank into the palms of his hands. "And I'm tired—tired," he moaned. "I am sick of not knowing, sick of running away. I give myself up."
The detective breathed a sigh of relief that seemed to issue from his soul.
"My God," he sighed, "you've given me a long chase! I've had eleven months of you, and I'm as sick of this as you are." He recovered himself sharply. As though reciting an incantation, he addressed Hemingway in crisp, emotionless notes.
"Henry Brownell," he chanted, "I arrest you in the name of the commonwealth of Massachusetts for the robbery, on October the eleventh, nineteen hundred and nine, of the Waltham Title and Trust Company. I understand," he added, "you waive extradition and return with me of your own free will?"
With his face still in his hands, Hemingway murmured assent. The detective stepped briskly and uninvited to the table and seated himself. He was beaming with triumph, with pleasurable excitement.
"I want to send a message home, Mr. Consul," he said. "May I use your cable blanks?"
Harris was still standing in the centre of the room looking down upon the bowed head and shoulders of Hemingway. Since, in amazement, he had sprung toward him, he had not spoken. And he was still silent.
Inside the skull of Wilbur Harris, of Iowa, U. S. A., American consul to Zanzibar, East Africa, there was going forward a mighty struggle that was not fit to put into words. For Harris and his conscience had met and were at odds. One way or the other the fight must be settled at once, and whatever he decided must be for all time. This he understood, and as his sympathies and conscience struggled for the mastery the pen of the detective, scratching at racing speed across the paper, warned him that only a few seconds were left him in which to protest or else to forever after hold his peace.
So realistic had been the acting of Hemingway that for an instant Harris himself had been deceived. But only for an instant. With his knowledge of the circumstances he saw that Hemingway was not confessing to a crime of his own, but drawing across the trail of the real criminal the convenient and useful red herring. He knew that already Hemingway had determined to sail the next morning. In leaving Zanzibar he was making no sacrifice. He merely was carrying out his original plan, and by taking away with him the detective was giving Brownell and his wife at least a month in which to again lose themselves.
What was his own duty he could not determine. That of Hemingway he knew nothing, he could truthfully testify. And if now Hemingway claimed to be Henry Brownell, he had no certain knowledge to the contrary. That through his adventure Hemingway would come to harm did not greatly disturb him. He foresaw that his friend need only send a wireless from Nantucket and at the wharf witnesses would swarm to establish his identity and make it evident the detective had blundered. And in the meanwhile Brownell and his wife, in some settlement still further removed from observation, would for the second time have fortified themselves against pursuit and capture. He saw the eyes of Hemingway fixed upon him in appeal and warning.
The brisk voice of the detective broke the silence.
"You will testify, if need be, Mr. Consul," he said, "that you heard the prisoner admit he was Henry Brownell and that he surrendered himself of his own free will?"
For an instant the consul hesitated, then he nodded stiffly.
"I heard him," he said.
Three hours later, at ten o' clock of the same evening, the detective and Hemingway leaned together on the rail of the Crown Prince Eitel. Forward, in the glare of her cargo lights, to the puffing and creaking of derricks and donkey engines, bundles of beeswax, of rawhides, and precious tusks of ivory were being hurled into the hold; from the shore-boats clinging to the ship's sides came the shrieks of the Zanzibar boys, from the smoking-room the blare of the steward's band and the clink of glasses. Those of the youth of Zanzibar who were on board, the German and English clerks and agents, saw in the presence of Hemingway only a purpose similar to their own; the desire of a homesick exile to gaze upon the mirrored glories of the Eitel's saloon, at the faces of white men and women, to listen to home-made music, to drink home-brewed beer. As he passed the smoking-room they called to him, and to the stranger at his elbow, but he only nodded smiling and, avoiding them, ascended to the shadow of the deserted boat-deck.
"You are sure," he said, "you told no one?"
"No one," the detective answered. "Of course your hotel proprietor knows you're sailing, but he doesn't know why. And, by sunrise, we'll be well out at sea."
The words caught Hemingway by the throat. He turned his eyes to the town lying like a field of snow in the moonlight. Somewhere on one of its flat roofs a merry dinner-party was laughing, drinking, perhaps regretting his absence, wondering at his excuse of sudden illness. She was there, and he with the detective like a shadow at his elbow, was sailing out of her life forever. He had seen her for the last time: that morning for the last time had looked into her eyes, had held her hands in his. He saw the white beach, the white fortress-like walls, the hanging gardens, the courtesying palms, dimly. It was among those that he who had thought himself content, had found happiness, and had then seen it desert him and take out of his life pleasure in all other things. With a pain that seemed impossible to support, he turned his back upon Zanzibar and all it meant to him. And, as he turned, he faced, coming toward him, across the moonlit deck, Fearing.
His instinct was to cry out to the man in warning, but his second thought showed him that through his very effort to protect the other, he might bring about his undoing. So, helpless to prevent, in agitation and alarm, he waited in silence. Of the two men, Fearing appeared the least disturbed. With a polite but authoritative gesture he turned to the detective. "I have something to say to this gentleman before he sails," he said; "would you kindly stand over there?"
He pointed across the empty deck at the other rail.
In the alert, confident young man in the English mess-jacket, clean-shaven and bronzed by the suns of the equator, the detective saw no likeness to the pale, bearded bank clerk of the New England city. This, he guessed, must be some English official, some friend of Brownell's who generously had come to bid the unfortunate fugitive Godspeed.
Assured of this, the detective also bowed politely, and, out of hearing, but with his prisoner in full view, took up a position against the rail opposite.
Turning his back upon the detective, and facing Hemingway with his eyes close to his, Fearing began abruptly. His voice was sunk to a whisper, but he spoke without the slightest sign of trepidation, without the hesitation of an instant.
"Two years ago, when I was indicted," he whispered, "and ran away, Polly paid back half of the sum I stole. That left her without a penny; that's why she took to this typewriting. Since then, I have paid back nearly all the rest. But Polly was not satisfied. She wanted me to take my punishment and start fresh. She knew they were watching her so she couldn't write this to me, but she came to me by a roundabout way, taking a year to get here. And all the time she's been here, she's been begging me to go back and give myself up. I couldn't see it. I knew in a few months I'd have paid back all I took, and I thought that was enough. I wanted to keep out of jail. But she said I must take my medicine in our own country, and start square with a clean slate. She's done a lot for me, and whether I'd have done that for her or not, I don't know. But now, I must! What you did to-night to save me, leaves me no choice. So, I'll sail——"
With an exclamation of anger, Hemingway caught the other by the shoulder and dragged him closer.
"To save you!" he whispered. "No one's thinking of you. I didn't do it for you. I did it, that you both could escape together, to give you time——"
"But I tell you," protested Fearing, "she doesn't want me to escape. And maybe she's right. Anyway, we're sailing with you at——"
"We?" echoed Hemingway.
That again he was to see the woman he loved, that for six weeks through summer seas he would travel in her company, filled him with alarm, with distress, with a wonderful happiness.
"We?" he whispered, steadying his voice. "Then—then your wife is going with you?"
Fearing gazed at him as though the other had suddenly gone mad.
"My wife!" he exclaimed. "I haven't got a wife! If you mean Polly—Mrs. Adair, she is my sister! And she wants to thank you. She's below——"
He was not allowed to finish. Hemingway had flung him to one side, and was racing down the deck.
The detective sprang in pursuit.
"One moment, there!" he shouted.
But the man in the white mess-jacket barred his way.
In the moonlight the detective saw that the alert, bronzed young man was smiling.
"That's all right," said Fearing. "He'll be back in a minute. Besides, you don't want him. I'm the man you want."