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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe People Of The Mist - Chapter IX - THE YELLOW DEVIL'S NEST
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The People Of The Mist - Chapter IX - THE YELLOW DEVIL'S NEST Post by :wldcreek Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :March 2011 Read :2204

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The People Of The Mist - Chapter IX - THE YELLOW DEVIL'S NEST

Sundown came, and, as on the previous night, the three travellers
camped upon an island waiting for the moon to rise. They had caught
two flapper-ducks in some weeds, and there was a talk of lighting a
fire to cook them by. Finally Leonard negatived this idea. "It is
dangerous," he said, "for fires can be seen from afar." So they made a
wretched meal off a little dried meat and some raw duck's eggs.

It was fortunate that his caution prevailed, since, as the twilight
was dying into dark, they heard the stroke of paddles and made out the
shapes of canoes passing them. There were several canoes, each of
which towed something behind it, and the men in them shouted to one
another from time to time, now in Portuguese and now in Arabic.

"Lie still, lie still," whispered Otter, "these are the slave-men
taking back the big boats."

Leonard and Soa followed his advice to the letter, and the slavers,
paddling furiously up stream, passed within thirty feet of where they
crouched in the rushes.

"Give way, comrades," called one man to the captain of the next canoe;
"the landing-place is near, and there is rum for those who earn it."

"I hope that they will not stop here," said Leonard beneath his
breath.

"Hist!" answered Otter, "I hear them landing."

He was right; the party had disembarked about two hundred yards away.
Presently they heard them collecting reeds for burning, and in ten
minutes more two bright tongues of flame showed that they had lit
their fires.

"We had better get out of this," said Leonard; "if they discover
us----"

"They will not discover us, Baas, if we lie still," answered Otter;
"let us wait awhile. I have another plan. Listen, Baas." And he
whispered in his ear.

So they waited. From the fires below them came the sound of men eating
and drinking--especially drinking. An hour passed, and Leonard rose,
followed by Otter, who said:

"I will come too, Baas; I can move like a cat."

"Where are you going, White Man?" asked Soa.

"I am going to spy upon those men. I understand Portuguese, and wish
to hear what they say. Otter, take your knife and revolver, but no
gun."

"Good," said the woman, "but be careful. They are very clever."

"Yes, yes," put in Otter, "but the Baas is clever also, and I, I am
clever. Do not fear for us, mother."

Then they started, creeping cautiously through the reeds. When they
were within twenty yards of the fires, Leonard missed his footing and
fell into a pool of water with a splash. Some of the slave-dealers
heard the noise and sprang to their feet. Instantly Otter grunted in
exact imitation of a hippopotamus-calf.

"A sea-cow," said a man in Portuguese. "She won't hurt us. The fire
will frighten her."

Leonard and Otter waited awhile, then crept to a clump of reeds whence
they could hear every word that was spoken. The men round the fire
numbered twenty-two. One, their leader, appeared to be a pure-bred
Portugee, some of the others were Bastards and the rest Arabs. They
were drinking rum and water out of tin pannikins--a great deal of rum
and very little water. Many of them seemed half-drunk already, at any
rate their tongues were loosened.

"May a curse fall upon our father, the Devil!" said one, a half-breed;
"why did he take it into his head to send us back with the boats just
now? We shall miss the fun."

"What fun?" answered the leader of the party. "They won't cage the
birds for another three or four days; the dhows are not ready, and
there is talk of an English cruiser--may she sink to hell!--hanging
about outside the river mouth."

"No, not that," said the man who had spoken first, "there is not much
sport in driving a lot of stinking niggers on to a dhow. I mean the
auction of the white girl, the English trader's daughter, whom we
caught up the river yonder. There's a beauty for some lucky dog; I
never saw such a one. What eyes she has, and what a spirit! why, most
of the little dears would have cried themselves blind by now."

"You needn't think about her," sneered his leader; "she will go too
dear for the likes of you; besides it is foolish to spend so much on
one girl, white or black. When is the auction?"

"It was to have been the night before the dhows sail, but now the
Devil says it shall be to-morrow night. I will tell you why--he is
afraid of her. He thinks that she will bring misfortune to him, and
wants to be rid of her. Ah! he is a wag, is the old man--he loves a
joke, he does. 'All men are brothers,' he said yesterday, 'white or
black; therefore all women are sisters.' So he is going to sell her
like a nigger girl. What is good enough for them is good enough for
her. Ha! ha! pass the rum, brother, pass the rum."

"Perhaps he will put it off and we may be back in time, after all,"
said the captain. "Anyhow, here is a health to her, the love. By the
way, did some of you think to ask the password before we left this
morning? I forgot to do so, myself."

"Yes," said a Bastard, "the old word, 'the Devil.'"

"There is none better, comrades, none better," hiccoughed the leader.

Then for an hour or more their talk went on--partly about Juanna,
partly about other things. As they grew more drunk the conversation
became more and more revolting, till Leonard could scarcely listen to
it and lie still. At length it died away, and one by one the men sank
into a sound and sodden sleep. They did not set a sentry, for here on
the island they had no fear of foes.

Then Otter rose upon his hands and knees, and his face looked fierce
in the faint light.

"Baas," he whispered, "shall we----" and he drew his hand across his
throat.

Leonard thought awhile. His rage was deep, and yet he shrank from the
slaughter of sleeping men, however wicked. Besides, could it be done
without noise? Some of them would wake--fear would sober them, and
they were many.

"No," he whispered back. "Follow me, we will cut loose the boats."

"Good, good," said Otter.

Then, stealthily as snakes, they crept some thirty yards to where the
boats were tied to a low tree--three canoes and five large
flat-bottomed punts, containing the arms and provisions of the slave-
dealers. Drawing their knives they cut these loose. A gentle push set
them moving, then the current caught them, and slowly they floated
away into the night.

This done they crawled back again. Their path took them within five
paces of where that half-breed ruffian lay who had begun the talk to
which they had listened. Leonard looked at him and turned to creep
away; already Otter was five paces ahead, when suddenly the edge of
the moon showed for the first time and its light fell full upon the
slaver's face. The sleeping man awoke, sat up, and saw them.

Now Leonard dared not hesitate, or they were lost. Like a tiger he
sprang at the man's throat and had grasped it in his hand before he
could even cry aloud. Then came a struggle short and sharp, and a
knife flashed. Before Otter could get back to his side it was done--so
swiftly and so silently that none of the band had wakened, though one
or two of them stirred and muttered in their heavy sleep.

Leonard sprang up unhurt, and together they ran, rather than walked,
back to the spot where they had left Soa.

She was watching for them, and pointing to Leonard's coat, asked "How
many?"

"One," answered Otter.

"I would it had been all," Soa muttered fiercely, "but you are only
two."

"Quick," said Leonard, "into the canoe with you. They will be after us
presently."

In another minute they had pushed off and were clear of the island,
which was not more than a quarter of a mile long. They paddled across
the river, which at this spot ran rapidly and had a width of some
eight hundred yards, so as to hide in the shadow of the opposite bank.
When they reached it Otter rested on his paddles and gave vent to a
suppressed chuckle, which was his nearest approach to laughter.

"Why do you laugh, Black One?" asked Soa.

"Look yonder," he answered, and he pointed to some specks on the
surface of the river which were fast vanishing in the distance.
"Yonder go the boats of the slave-dealers, and in them are their arms
and food. We cut them loose, the Baas and I. There on the island sleep
two-and-twenty men--all save one: there they sleep, and when they wake
what will they find? They will find themselves on a little isle in the
middle of great waters, into which, even if they could, they will not
dare to swim because of the alligators. They can get no food on the
island, for they have no guns and ducks do not stop to be caught, but
outside the alligators will wait in hundreds to catch /them/. By-and-
by they will grow hungry--they will shout and yell, but none will hear
them--then they will become mad, and, falling on each other, they will
eat each other and die miserably one by one. Some will take to the
water, those will drown or be caught by the alligators, and so it
shall go on till they are all dead, every one of them, dead, dead,
dead!" and again Otter chuckled.

Leonard did not reprove him; with the talk of these wretches yet
echoing in his ears he could feel little pity for the horrible fate
which would certainly overtake them.

Hark! a faint sound stole across the quiet waters, a sound which grew
into a clamour of fear and rage. The slavers had awakened, they had
found the dead man in their midst mysteriously slain by an invisible
foe. And now the clamour gathered to a yell, for they had learned that
their boats were gone and that they were trapped.

From their shelter on the other side of the river, as they dropped
leisurely down the stream, Leonard and Otter could catch distant
glimpses of the frantic men rushing to and fro in the bright moonlight
and seeking for their boats. But the boats had departed to return no
more. By degrees the clamour lessened behind them, till at last it
died away, swallowed in the silence of the night.

Then Leonard told Soa what he had heard by the slaver's fire.

"How far is the road, Black One?" she asked when he had finished.

"By sundown to-morrow we shall be at the Yellow Devil's gates!"
answered Otter.

Two hours later they overtook the boats which they had cut adrift.
Most of them were tied together, and they floated peacefully in a
group.

"We had better scuttle them," said Leonard.

"No, Baas," answered Otter, "if we escape we may want them again.
Yonder is the place where we must land," and he pointed to a distant
tongue of marsh. "Let us go with the boats there and make them fast.
Perhaps we may find food in them, and we need food."

The advice was good, and they followed it. Keeping alongside of the
punts and directing them, when necessary, with a push of the paddles,
they reached the point just as the dawn was breaking. Here in a
sheltered bay they found a mooring-place to which they fastened all
the boats with ropes that hung ready. Then they searched the lockers
and to their joy discovered food in plenty, including cooked meat,
spirits, biscuits, bread, and some oranges and bananas. Only those who
have been forced to do without farinaceous food for days or weeks will
know what this abundance meant to them. Leonard thought that he had
never eaten a more delicious meal, or drunk anything so good as the
rum and water with which they washed it down.

They found other things also: rifles, cutlasses and ammunition, and,
better than all, a chest of clothes which had evidently belonged to
the officer or officers of the party. One suit was a kind of uniform
plentifully adorned with gold lace, having tall boots and a broad felt
hat with a white ostrich feather in it to match. Also there were some
long Arab gowns and turbans, the gala clothes of the slave-dealers,
which they took with them in order to appear smart on their return.

But the most valuable find of all was a leather bag in the breeches of
the uniform, containing the sum of the honest gains of the leader of
the party, which he had preferred to keep in his own company even on
his travels. On examination this bag was found to hold something over
a hundred English sovereigns and a dozen or fifteen pieces of
Portuguese gold.

"Now, Baas," said Otter, "this is my word, that we put on these
clothes."

"What for?" asked Leonard.

"For this reason: that should we be seen by the slave-traders they
will think us of their brethren."

The advantages of this step were so obvious that they immediately
adopted it. Thus disguised, with a silk sash round his middle and a
pistol stuck in it, Leonard might well have been mistaken for the most
ferocious of slave-traders.

Otter too looked sufficiently strange, robed as an Arab and wearing a
turban. Being a dwarf, the difficulty was that all the dresses proved
too long for him. Finally it was found necessary to cut one down by
the primitive process of laying it on a block of wood and chopping
through it with a sabre.

When this change of garments had been effected, and their own clothes
with the spare arms were hidden away in the rushes on the somewhat
remote chance that they might be useful hereafter, they prepared for a
start on foot across the marshes. By an afterthought Leonard fetched
the bag of gold and put it in his pocket. He felt few scruples in
availing himself of the money of the slave-driver, not for his own use
indeed, but because it might help their enterprise.

Now their road ran along marshes and by secret paths that none save
those who had travelled them could have found. But Otter had not
forgotten. On they went through the broiling heat of the day, since
linger they dared not. They met no living man on their path, though
here and there they found the body of some wretched slave, whose
corpse had been cast into the reeds by the roadside. But the road had
been trodden, and recently, by many feet, among which were the tracks
of two mules or donkeys.

At last, about an hour before sunset, they came to the home of the
Yellow Devil. The Nest was placed thus. It stood upon an island having
an area of ten or twelve acres. Of this, however, only about four and
a half acres were available for a living space; the rest was a morass
hidden by a growth of very tall reeds, which morass, starting from a
great lagoon on the northern and eastern sides, ran up to the low
enclosure of the buildings that, on these faces, were considered to be
sufficiently defended by the swamp and the wide waters beyond. On the
southern and western aspects of the camp matters were different, for
here the place was strongly fortified both by art and nature. Firstly,
a canal ran round these two faces, not very wide or deep indeed, but
impassable except in boats, owing to the soft mud at its bottom. On
the further side of this canal an earthwork had been constructed,
having its crest stoutly palisaded and its steep sides planted with a
natural defence of aloes and prickly-pears.

So much for the exterior of the place. Its interior was divided into
three principal enclosures. Of these three the easternmost was the
site of the Nest itself, a long low thatched building of wood, in
front and to the west of which there was an open space or courtyard,
with a hard floor. Herein were but two buildings, a shed supported on
posts and open from the eaves to the ground, where sales of slaves
were carried on, and further to the north, almost continuous with the
line of the Nest itself, but separate from it, a small erection, very
strongly built of brick and stone, and having a roof made from the tin
linings of ammunition and other cases. This was a magazine. All round
this enclosure stood rows of straw huts of a native build, evidently
occupied as a camp by the Arabs and half-breed slave-traders of the
baser sort.

The second enclosure, which was to the west of the Nest, comprised the
slave camp. It may have covered an acre of ground, and the only
buildings in it were four low sheds, similar in every respect to that
where the slaves were sold, only much longer. Here the captives lay
picketed in rows to iron bars which ran the length of the sheds, and
were fixed into the ground at either end. This camp was separated from
the Nest enclosure by a deep canal, thirty feet in width and spanned
at one point by a slender and primitive drawbridge that led across the
canal to the gate of the camp. Also it was protected on the Nest side
by a low wall, and on the slave-camp side by an earthwork, planted as
usual with prickly-pears. On this earthwork near the gate and little
guard-house a six-pounder cannon was mounted, the muzzle of which
frowned down upon the slave camp, a visible warning to its occupants
of the fate that awaited the froward. Indeed, all the defences of this
part of the island were devised as safeguards against a possible
/emeute/ of the slaves, and also to provide a second line of
fortifications should the Nest itself chance to be taken by an enemy.

Beyond the slave camp, lay the garden that could only be approached
through it. This also was fortified by water and earthworks, but not
so strongly.

Such is a brief description of what was in those days the strongest
slave-hold in Africa.

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Food was their first consideration, and to provide it Leonard badeOtter cut the lump of raw meat into strips and set them upon the rocksto dry in the broiling sun. Then they sorted their goods and selectedsuch of them as they could carry.Alas! they were but few. A blanket apiece--a spare pair of bootsapiece--some calomel and sundries from the medicine-chest--a shot gunand the two best rifles and ammunition--a compass, a water bottle,three knives, a comb, and a small iron cooking-pot made up the total--a considerable weight for two men and a woman to drag acrossmountains, untravelled plains, and swamps. This baggage
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