Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The Man In The Green Hat
by [?]

“Alas, monsieur, in spite of our fine courtesies, the conception of justice by one race must always seem outlandish to another!”

It was on the terrace of Sir Henry Marquis’ villa at Cannes. The members of the little party were in conversation over their tobacco – the Englishman, with his brier-root pipe; the American Justice, with a Havana cigar; and the aged Italian, with his cigarette. The last was speaking.

He was a very old man, but he gave one the impression of incredible, preposterous age. He was bald; he had neither eyebrows nor eyelashes. A wiry mustache, yellow with nicotine, alone remained. Great wrinkles lay below the eyes and along the jaw, under a skin stretched like parchment over the bony protuberances of the face.

These things established the aspect of old age; but it was the man’s expression and manner that gave one the sense of incalculable antiquity. The eyes seemed to look out from a window, where the man behind them had sat watching the human race from the beginning. And his manners had the completion of one whose experience of life is comprehensive and finished.

“It seems strange to you, monsieur” – he was addressing, in French, the American Justice – “that we should put our prisoners into an iron cage, as beasts are exhibited in a circus. You are shocked at that. It strikes you as the crudity of a race not quite civilized.

“You inquire about it with perfect courtesy; but, monsieur, you inquire as one inquires about a custom that his sense of justice rejects.”

He paused.

“Your pardon, monsieur; but there are some conceptions of justice in the law of your admirable country that seem equally strange to me.”

The men about the Count on the exquisite terrace, looking down over Cannes into the arc of the sea, felt that the great age of this man gave him a right of frankness, a privilege of direct expression, they could not resent. Somehow, at the extremity of life, he seemed beyond pretenses; and he had the right to omit the digressions by which younger men are accustomed to approach the truth.

“What is this strange thing in our law, Count?” said the American.

The old man made a vague gesture, as one who puts away an inquiry until the answer appears.

“Many years ago,” he continued, “I read a story about the red Indians by your author, Cooper. It was named ‘The Oak Openings,’ and was included, I think, in a volume entitled Stories of the Prairie. I believe I have the names quite right, since the author impressed me as an inferior comer with an abundance of gold about him. In the story Corporal Flint was captured by the Indians under the leadership of Bough of Oak, a cruel and bloodthirsty savage.

“This hideous beast determined to put his prisoner to the torture of the saplings, a barbarity rivaling the crucifixion of the Romans. Two small trees standing near each other were selected, the tops lopped off and the branches removed; they were bent and the tops were lashed together. One of the victim’s wrists was bound to the top of each of the young trees; then the saplings were released and the victim, his arms wrenched and dislocated, hung suspended in excruciating agony, like a man nailed to a cross.

“It was fearful torture. The strain on the limbs was hideous, yet the victim might live for days. Nothing short of crucifixion – that beauty of the Roman law – ever equaled it.”

He paused and flicked the ashes from his cigarette.

“Corporal Flint, who seemed to have a knowledge of the Indian character, had endeavored so to anger the Indians by taunt and invective that some brave would put an arrow into his heart, or dash his brains out with a stone ax.

“In this he failed. Bough of Oak controlled his braves and Corporal Flint was lashed to the saplings. But, as the trees sprang apart, wrenching the man’s arms out of their sockets, a friendly Indian, Pigeonwing, concealed in a neighboring thicket, unable to rescue his friend and wishing to save him from the long hours of awful torture, shot Corporal Flint through the forehead.