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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe People Of The Mist - Chapter XIX - THE END OF THE JOURNEY
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The People Of The Mist - Chapter XIX - THE END OF THE JOURNEY Post by :mik52 Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :March 2011 Read :3299

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The People Of The Mist - Chapter XIX - THE END OF THE JOURNEY

An hour later the party began the ascent of the wall of rock, which
proved to be an even more difficult business than they had
anticipated. There was no path, for those who lived beyond this
natural barrier never came down it, and few of the dwellers in the
plains had ever ventured to go up. It was possible, for Soa herself
had descended here in bygone years, and this was all that could be
said for it.

In default of a better road they followed the course of the river,
which thundered down the face of the precipice in four great
waterfalls, connected by as many sullen pools, whose cavities had been
hollowed out in the course of centuries from the rock. The second of
these ledges proved so insurmountable that at one time Leonard thought
that they would be obliged to abandon their attempt, and follow the
foot of the cliff till they found some easier route. But at last
Otter, who could climb like a cat, succeeded in passing the most
dangerous part at the risk of his life, bearing a rope with him by
means of which the rest of the party and the loads of goods were
hauled up one by one. It was evening before the height was scaled, and
they proceeded to encamp upon its summit, making a scanty meal of some
meat which they had brought with them.

That night they passed in great discomfort, for it was mid-winter and
here the climate proved to be very cold. Bitter winds swept across the
vast plain before them and searched them through, all the clothing and
blankets they had scarcely sufficing to keep them warm; indeed, the
Settlement men and Francisco, who had been bred in a southern clime,
suffered severely. Nor were matters improved when, on the breaking of
the light, they woke from a troubled sleep to find the plain hidden in
a dense mist. However, they rose, made a fire with reeds and dead wood
which they gathered on the banks of the river, and ate, waiting for
the fog to vanish.

But it did not vanish, so about nine o'clock they continued their
journey under Soa's guidance, following the east bank of the river
northwards. The ground proved easy to travel over, for, with the
exception of isolated water-worn boulders of granite, the plain was
perfectly smooth and covered with turf as fine as any that grows in
northern lands.

All that day they marched on, wandering like ghosts through the mist,
and guided in their path by the murmuring sound of the river. They met
no man, but once or twice great herds of hairy creatures thundered
past them. Leonard fired into one of these herds with an express
rifle, for they wanted meat, and a prodigious snorting and bellowing
told him that his shot had taken effect. Running to the spot whence
the sounds came, he found a huge white bull kicking in its death
struggle. The animal was covered with long white hair like that of the
British breed of wild cattle, and measured at least seventeen hands in
height. Round it stood others snorting with fear and wonder, that,
when they saw Leonard, put down their heads threateningly, tearing up
the turf with their great horns. He shouted aloud and fired another
shot, whereon they turned and disappeared into the mist.

This happened towards nightfall, so they determined to camp upon the
spot; but while they were engaged in skinning the bull an incident
occurred that did not tend to raise their spirits. At sunset the sky
cleared a little--at least the sinking sun showed red through the mist
as it does in a London fog of the third density. Against this red ball
of the sun, and some dozen yards away, suddenly there appeared the
gigantic figure of a man, for, unless the fog deceived them, he must
have been between six and seven feet high and broad in proportion. Of
his face they could see nothing, but he was clad in goat-skins, and
armed with a great spear and a bow slung upon his back.

Juanna was the first to see and point him out to Leonard with a start
of fear, as he stood watching them in solemn silence. Obeying the
impulse of the moment, Leonard stepped forward towards the vision
holding his rifle ready, but before he reached the spot where it had
stood the figure vanished.

Then he walked back again to Juanna. "I think we have heard so much of
giants that we begin to believe we see them," he said laughing.

As he spoke something clove the air between them and stuck in the
earth beyond. They went to it. It was a large arrow having a barbed
point and flighted with red feathers.

"This is a very tangible fancy at any rate," Juanna answered, drawing
the shaft out of the ground. "We have had a narrow escape."

Leonard did not speak, but raising his rifle he fired it at a venture
in the direction whence the arrow had sped. Then he ran to put their
little band in a position of defence, Juanna following him. But, as it
chanced, he might have spared himself the trouble, for nothing further
happened; indeed, the net outward and visible result of this
mysterious apparition was that they spent a miserable night, waiting
in the fog and wet--for it had come on to rain, or rather drizzle--for
an enemy who, to their intense relief, never appeared.

But the inward and spiritual consequences were much greater, for now
they knew that Soa spoke truth and that the legend of the bushmen as
to "great men covered with hair" was no mere savage invention.

At length the morning came. It was damp and wretched, and they were
all half starved with cold and oppressed by fears. Indeed some of the
Settlement men were so terrified that they openly lamented having
suffered their sense of shame and loyalty to overcome their
determination to retreat. Now they could not do so, for the
malcontents among them did not dare to retrace their steps alone;
moreover, Leonard spoke plainly on the matter, telling them that he
would drive away the first man who attempted any insubordination.

Soaked through, shivering, and miserable, they pursued their march
across the unknown plain, Soa, who seemed to grow hourly grimmer now
that she was in her own country, stalking ahead of them as guide. It
was warmer walking than sitting still, and in one respect their lot
was bettered, for a little wind stirring the mist from time to time
revealed gleams of the watery sun. All that day they journeyed on,
seeing no more of the man who had shot the arrow, or his fellows, till
at length darkness drew near again.

Then they halted, and Leonard and Otter walked to and fro searching
for a suitable place to make the camp and pitch their solitary tent.
Presently Otter shouted aloud. Leonard ran towards him, and found him
staring into the mist at something that loomed largely about a hundred
yards away.

"Look, Baas," he said, "there is a house, a house of stone with grass
growing on the roof."

"Nonsense," said Leonard, "it must be some more boulders. However, we
can soon find out."

They crept cautiously towards the object, that, as soon became
evident, was a house or a very good apology for one, built of huge
undressed boulders, bedded in turf by way of mortar, and roofed with
the trunks of small trees and a thick thatch of sods whereon the grass
grew green. This building may have measured forty feet in length by
twenty in depth, and seventeen from the ground-line to the wall-plate.
Also it had a doorway of remarkable height and two window-places, but
all these openings were unclosed, except by curtains of hide which
hung before them. Leonard called Soa and asked her what the place was.

"Doubtless the house of a herdsman," she answered, "who is set here to
watch the cattle of the king, or of the priests. It may chance that
this is the dwelling of that man who shot the arrow yesterday."

Having assured themselves that here was a human habitation, it
remained to be ascertained whether it was tenanted. After waiting
awhile to see if anyone passed in or out, Otter undertook this task.
Going down on his hands and knees he crept up to the wall, then along
it to the doorway, and after listening there awhile he lifted a corner
of the hide curtain and peeped into the interior. Presently he rose,
saying:

"All right, Baas, the place is empty."

Then they both entered and examined the dwelling with curiosity. It
was rude enough. The walls were unplastered, and the damp streamed
down them; the floor was of trodden mud, and a hole in the roof served
as a chimney; but, by way of compensation, the internal space was
divided into two apartments, one of them a living room, and the other
a sleeping chamber. It was evident that the place had not been long
deserted, for fire still smouldered on the hearth, round which stood
various earthen cooking dishes, and in the sleeping-room was a rough
bedstead of wood whereon lay wrappings made from the hides of cattle
and goats. When they had seen everything there was to be seen, they
hurried back to the others to report their discovery, and just then
the rain set in more heavily than before.

"A house!" said Juanna; "then for goodness' sake let us get into it.
We are all half dead with the cold and wet."

"Yes," answered Leonard, "I think we had better take possession,
though it may be a little awkward if the rightful owners come back."

The best that can be said for the night which they spent in this stone
shanty, undisturbed by any visit from its lawful tenant, is that it
passed a shade more comfortably than it would have done outside. They
were dry, though the place was damp, and they had a fire. Still, until
you are used to it, it is trying to sit in the company of a score of
black people and of many thousand fleas, enveloped with a cloud of
pungent smoke, according to the custom of our Norse ancestors.

Soon Juanna gave up the attempt and retired to the great bed in the
inner chamber, wondering much who had occupied it last. A herdsman,
she judged, as Soa had suggested, for in a corner of the room stood an
ox-goad hugely fashioned. But it was a bed, and she slept as soundly
in it as its numerous insect occupants would allow. The others were
not so fortunate: they had the insects indeed, but no bed.

Again the morning came, wet, miserable, and misty, and through the
mist and rain they pursued their course, whither they knew not. All
day they wandered on by the banks of the river till night fell and
they camped, this time without shelter. Now they had reached the
extreme of wretchedness, for they had little or no food left, and
could not find fuel to make a fire. Leonard took Soa aside and
questioned her, for he saw clearly that a couple more days of this
suffering would put an end to all of them.

"You say these people of yours have a city, Soa?"

"They have a city, Deliverer," she answered, "but whether they will
allow you to enter it, except as a victim for sacrifice, is another
matter."

"None of us will enter it unless we find shelter soon," he answered.
"How far is the place away?"

"It should be a day's journey, Deliverer. Were the mist gone you could
see it now. The city is built at the foot of great mountains, there
are none higher, but the fog hides everything. To-morrow, if it lifts,
you will see that I speak truth."

"Are there any houses near where we can shelter?" he asked again.

"How can I tell?" she answered. "It is forty years since I passed this
road, and here, where the land is barren, none dwell except the
herdsmen. Perhaps there is a house at hand, or perhaps there is none
for many miles. Who can say?"

Finding that Soa could give no further information, Leonard returned
to the others, and they huddled themselves together for warmth on the
wet ground as best they might, and sat out the hours in silence, not
attempting to sleep. The Settlement men were numb with cold, and
Juanna also was overcome for the first time, though she tried hard to
be cheerful. Francisco and Leonard heaped their own blankets on her,
pretending that they had found spare ones, but the wraps were wringing
wet, and gave her little comfort. Soa alone did not appear to suffer,
perhaps because it was her native climate, and Otter kept his spirits,
which neither heat, nor cold, nor hunger seemed to affect.

"While my heart is warm I am warm," he said cheerfully, when Leonard
asked him how he fared. As for Leonard himself, he sat silent
listening to the moans of the Settlement men, and reflecting that
twenty-four hours more of this misery would bring the troubles of most
of them to an end. Without food or shelter it was very certain that
few of those alive to-night would live to see a second dawn.

At last the light came and to their wonder and exceeding joy they
found that the rain had ceased and the mist was melting.

Once more they beheld the face of the sun, and rejoiced in its warmth
as only those can rejoice who for days and nights have lived in semi-
darkness, wet to the skin and frozen to the marrow.

The worst of the mist was gone indeed, but it was not until they had
breakfasted off a buck which Otter shot in the reeds by the river,
that the lingering veils of vapour withdrew themselves from the more
distant landscape. At last they had vanished, and for the first time
the wanderers saw the land through which they were travelling. They
stood upon a vast plain that sloped upwards gradually till it ended at
the foot of a mighty range of snow-capped mountains named, as they
learned in after-days, the Bina Mountains.

This range was shaped like a half-moon, or a bent bow, and the nearest
point of the curve, formed by a soaring snowy peak, was exactly
opposite to them, and to all appearance not more than five-and-twenty
miles away. On either side of this peak the unbroken line of mountains
receded with a vast and majestic sweep till the eye could follow them
no more. The plain about them was barren and everywhere strewn with
granite boulders, between which wandered herds of wild cattle, mixed
with groups of antelopes; but the lower slopes of the mountains were
clothed with dense juniper forests, and among them were clearings,
presumably of cultivated land. Otter searched the scene with his eyes,
that were as those of a hawk; then said quietly:

"Look yonder, Baas; the old hag has not lied to us. There is the city
of the People of the Mist."

Following the line of the dwarf's outstretched hand, Leonard saw what
had at first escaped him, that standing back in a wide bend at the
foot of the great mountain in front of them were a multitude of
houses, built of grey stone and roofed with green turf. Indeed, had
not his attention been called to it, the town might well have missed
observation until he was quite close to its walls, for the materials
of which it was constructed resembled those of the boulders that lay
about them in thousands, and the vivid green of its roofs gave it the
appearance of a distant space of grassy land.

"Yes, there is the kraal of the Great People," said Otter again, "and
it is a strong kraal. See, Baas, they know how to defend themselves.
The mountain is behind them that none can climb, and all around their
walls the river runs, joining itself together again on the plain
beyond. It would go ill with the 'impi' which tried to take that
kraal."

For a while they all stood still and stared amazed. It seemed strange
that they should have reached this fabled city; and now that they were
there, how would they be received within its walls? This was the
question which each one of them was asking of himself. There was but
one way to find out--they must go and see; no retreat was now
possible. Even the Settlement people felt this. "Better to die at the
hands of the Great Men," said one of them aloud, "than to perish
miserably in the mist and cold."

"Be of good cheer," Leonard answered; "you are not yet dead. The sun
shines once more. It is a happy omen."

When they had rested and dried their clothes they marched on with a
certain sense of relief. There before them was the goal they had
travelled so far to win; soon they would know the worst that could
befall, and anything was better than this long suspense.

By midday they had covered about fifteen miles of ground, and could
now see the city clearly. It was a great town, surrounded by a
Cyclopean wall of boulders, about which the river ran on every side,
forming a natural moat. The buildings within the wall seemed to be
arranged in streets, and to be build on a plan similar to that of the
house in which they had slept two nights before, the vast
conglomeration of grass-covered roofs giving the city the appearance
of a broken field of turf hillocks supported upon walls of stone.

For the rest the place was laid out upon a slope, and at its head,
immediately beneath the sheer steps of the mountain side stood two
edifices very much larger in size than any of those below. One of
these resembled the other houses in construction, and was surrounded
by a separate enclosure; but the second, which was placed on higher
ground, so far as they could judge at that distance, was roofless, and
had all the characteristics of a Roman amphitheatre. At the far end of
this amphitheatre stood a huge mass of polished rock, bearing a
grotesque resemblance to the figure of a man.

"What are those buildings, Soa?" asked Leonard.

"The lower one is the house of the king, White Man, and that above is
the Temple of Deep Waters, where the river rises from the bowels of
the mountain."

"And what is the black stone beyond the temple?"

"That, White Man, is the statue of the god who sits there for ever,
watching over the city of his people."

"He must be a great god," said Leonard, alluding to the size of the
statue.

"He /is/ great," she answered, "and my heart is afraid at the sight of
him."

After resting for two hours they marched on again, and soon it became
apparent that their movements were watched. The roadway which they
were following--if a track beaten flat by the feet of men and cattle
could be called a road--wound to and fro between boulders of rock, and
here and there standing upon the boulders were men clad in goat-skins,
each of them carrying a spear, a bow and a horn. So soon as their
party came within five or six hundred yards of one of these men, he
would shoot an arrow in their direction, which, when picked up, proved
to be barbed with iron, and flighted with red feathers like the first
that they had seen. Then the sentry would blow his horn, either as a
signal or in token of defiance, bound from the rock, and vanish. This
did not look encouraging, but there was worse to come. Presently, as
they drew near to the city, they descried large bodies of armed men
crossing the river that surrounded it in boats and on rafts, and
mustering on the hither side. At length all of them were across, and
the regiment, which appeared to number more than a thousand men,
formed up in a hollow square and advanced upon them at the double.

The crisis was at hand.

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Three months had passed since that day, when Juanna declared herunalterable determination to accompany Leonard upon his search for thetreasures of the People of the Mist.It was evening, and a party of travellers were encamped on the side ofa river that ran through a great and desolate plain. They were a smallparty, three white people, namely, Leonard, Francisco, and Juanna,fifteen of the Settlement men under the leadership of Peter--that sameheadman who had been rescued from the slave camp--the dwarf, Otter,and Juanna's old nurse, Soa.For twelve weeks they had travelled almost without intermission withSoa for their guide, steering continually northward and westward.First
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