May he be forgiven that gentle falsehood!
I looked for a moment at the wide-spread field and distant woodland, lying green in the peaceful sunshine, at the place grown so dear to me, that now whirled before my eyes. Far down the road a heavy farm-wagon creaked its way toward us, in a cloud of white dust.
“You did quite right to tell me, Wilson,” I said, turning to go. “No one shall hear of it from me.”
I looked down at the buff envelope from “——’s Magazine,” which I had crushed in my hand, and smoothed it out mechanically, as I went on in the increasing heat.
It was only August, but my summer was over.
“Of course it is very curious; but if you’ll pardon me, my dear fellow, you might as well tell me you had found a philosopher’s stone.”
Still, the rough glass phial, with odd metal bands around its neck, had a fascination for me. I picked it up again, and tilted it idly back and forth in my hand, watching the slimy brown fluid, the color of poppy-juice, slip along its sides.
Hilyard smoked on imperturbably. The color mounted under his bronzed skin up to the light rings of his hair; there was a momentary angry flash in his pale blue eyes, but it was only for an instant.
“Perhaps you would like to try it, since you are so skeptical,” he said, grimly.
“Thanks, I have no wish to poison myself, and I have no doubt it is a poison; but what I do doubt is the remarkable qualities you claim for it. How did you come across the vile stuff, anyway?”
Hilyard stretched himself comfortably in his chair, and took his beloved pipe from his handsome mouth. “Oh! well, you know,” he said, lazily, “I don’t claim to be a Stanley by any means, but I did go a good bit into Africa. I wasn’t bent on discovering anything, and I loafed around, and shot big game when there was any to shoot, and I learned some odd things from those devils of witch-doctors, as well as a few on my own account. You remember my old craze for medicine and chemistry?”
“I fell in with a tribe of savages who interested me immensely. The art of torture was brought to a perfection among them that would have made the persecutors of the Inquisition turn green with envy. It was refined torture, such as one would not expect to see save among those who possessed mental powers equal to their cruelty. No decapitations, no stranglings, among these delicate fiends, I can assure you; nor were they satisfied with a day’s torment, that should culminate in death. Captives were kept for weeks, frequently for months: the wounds made by one day’s torture were dressed at night, and stimulating drink given to keep up the strength, that they might endure for a longer period. It was the custom to deliver prisoners or offenders to the family of the chief or king for the first day’s torment; then down through the various nobles, or