Page:Hopkinson Smith--armchair at the inn.djvu/140

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“I turned sharply, walked straight into the hut, and, making the sign of peace, asked in Mabunga for a light for my pipe.

“The man started—I had completely surprised him—sprang to his feet, and, looking at me in amazement, returned my greeting in the same tongue, touching his forehead in peaceful submission as he spoke. The woman made neither salutation nor gesture. I leaned over to pick up a coal, and, to steady myself, laid my hand on the woman’s shoulder.

“It was cold and hard as wood!

“I bent closer and scanned her face.

“She was a dried mummy!

“The man’s gaze never wavered.

“Then, he said slowly: ‘She was my woman—I loved her, and I could not bury her!’”

Herbert’s dénouement had come as an astounding surprise. He looked round at the circle of faces, his eyes resting on Le Blanc’s and Lemois’ as if expecting some reply.

The older man roused himself first.

“Your story, Monsieur Herbert,” he said with a certain quaver in his voice, “has opened up such a wide field that I no longer think