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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe People Of The Mist - Chapter XXVI - THE LAST OF THE SETTLEMENT MEN
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The People Of The Mist - Chapter XXVI - THE LAST OF THE SETTLEMENT MEN Post by :commish Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :March 2011 Read :2193

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The People Of The Mist - Chapter XXVI - THE LAST OF THE SETTLEMENT MEN

On that day of the vanishing of the three Settlement men, Nam paid his
weekly visit to "do honour to the gods," and Leonard, who by this time
could make himself understood in the tongue of the People of the Mist,
attacked him as to the whereabouts of their lost servants.

When he had finished, the priest answered with a cruel smile that he
knew nothing of the matter. "Doubtless," he said, "the gods had
information as to the fate of their own servants--it was not for him
to seek those whom the gods had chosen to put away."

Then turning the subject, he went on to ask when it would please the
Mother to intercede with the Snake that he might cause the sun to
shine and the corn to spring, for the people murmured, fearing a
famine in the land.

Of course Juanna was able to give no satisfactory answer to the
priest's questions, and after this the quarters of the Settlement men
were changed, and for a few days the survivors slept in safety. On the
third night, however, two more of them were taken in the same
mysterious manner, and one of those who remained swore that, hearing
something stir, he woke and saw the floor open and a vision of great
arms dragging his sleeping companions through the hole in it, which
closed again instantly. Leonard hurried to the spot and made a
thorough examination of the stone blocks of the pavement, but could
find no crack in them. And yet, if the man had dreamed, how was the
mystery to be explained?

After this, with the exception of Otter, who, sure of the fate that
awaited them, took little heed of how or when it might fall, none of
the party could even sleep because of their terror of the unseen foe
who struck in silence and in darkness, dragging the victim to some
unknown awful end. Leonard and Francisco took it in turns to watch
each other's slumbers, laying themselves to rest outside the curtain
of Juanna's room. As for the survivors of the Settlement men, their
state can scarcely be described. They followed Leonard about,
upbraiding him bitterly for leading them into this evil land and
cursing the hour when first they had seen his face. It would have been
better, they said, that he should have left them to their fate in the
slave camp than have brought them here to die thus; the Yellow Devil
was at least a man, but these people were sorcerers and lost spirits
in human shape.

Nor did the horror stop here, for at last the headman Peter, a man
whom they all liked and respected, went mad with fear and ran to and
fro in the palace yard while the guards and women watched him with
curious eyes as he shrieked out curses upon Juanna and Leonard. This
shocking scene continued for some hours, for his companions would not
interfere with him, vowing that he was possessed by a spirit, till at
length he put a period to it by suddenly committing suicide. In vain
did Leonard caution the survivors to keep their heads and watch at
night. They flew to the beer which was supplied to them in plenty, and
drank till they were insensible. And still one by one they vanished
mysteriously, till at length all were gone.

Never might Leonard forget his feelings when one day at dawn, in the
fifth week of their incarceration, he hurried as usual to the chamber
where the last two of the unfortunate men were accustomed to sleep,
and found them not. There were their blankets, there was the place
where they had been, and on it, laid carefully in the form of a St.
Andrew's cross by some unknown hand, shone two huge sacrificial knives
such as the priests wore at their girdles.

Sick and faint with fear he staggered back to the throne-room.

"Oh! what is it now?" said Juanna, who, early as it was, had risen
already, looking at him with terrified eyes and trembling lips.

"Only this," he answered hoarsely; "the last two have been taken, and
here is what was left in the place of them," and he cast down the
knives on to the pavement.

Then at last Juanna gave way. "Oh! Leonard, Leonard," she said,
weeping bitterly, "they were my father's servants whom I have known
since I was a child, and I have brought them to this cruel end. Cannot
you think of any way of getting out of this place? If not, I shall die
of fear. I can sleep no more. I feel that I am watched at night,
though I cannot tell by whom. Last night I thought that I heard some
one moving near the curtain where you and Francisco lie, though Soa
declares that it is fancy."

"It is impossible," said Leonard; "Francisco was on guard. Ah! here he
comes."

As he spoke Francisco entered the room with consternation written on
his face.

"Outram," he gasped, "some one must have been in the throne chamber
where we slept last night. All the rifles have gone, ours and those of
the Settlement men also."

"Great heavens!" said Leonard, "but you were watching."

"I suppose that I must have dozed for a few moments," answered the
priest; "it is awful, awful; they are gone and we are weaponless."

"Oh! can we not escape?" moaned Juanna.

"There is no hope of it," answered Leonard gloomily. "We are
friendless here except for Olfan, and he has little real power, for
the priests have tampered with the captains and the soldiers who fear
them. How can we get out of this city? And if we got out what would
become of us, unarmed and alone? All that we can do is to keep heart
and hope for the best. Certainly they are right who declare that no
good comes of seeking after treasure; though I believe that we shall
live to win it yet," he added.

"What! Deliverer," said a satirical voice behind him, "do you still
desire the red stones, who whose heart's blood shall soon redden a
certain stone yonder? Truly the greed of the white man is great."

Leonard looked round. It was Soa who spoke, Soa who had been listening
to their talk, and she was glaring at him with an expression of
intense hate in her sullen eyes. A thought came into his mind. Was it
not possible that this woman had something to do with their
misfortunes? How came it about that the others were taken while she
was left?"

"Who gave you leave, Soa," he said, looking her fixedly in the face,
"to hearken to our words and thrust yourself into our talk?"

"You have been glad enough of my counsels hitherto, White Man," she
answered furiously. "Who told you the tale of this people? And who led
you to their land? Was it I or another?"

"You, I regret to say," said Leonard coolly.

"Yes, White Man, I led you here that you might steal the treasure of
my people like a thief. I did it because the Shepherdess my mistress
forced me to the deed, and in those days her will was my law. For her
and you I came here to my death, and what has been my reward? I am put
away from her, she has no kind word for me now; you are about her
always, you hold her counsel, but to me her mind is as a shut door
that I can no longer open. Ay! you have poisoned her against me, you
and that black swine whom they call a god.

"Moreover, because she has learned to love you, white thief, wanderer
without a kraal as you are, at your bidding she has also learned to
hate me. Beware, White Man, I am of this people, and you know their
temper, it is not gentle; when they hate they find a means to be
revenged," and she ceased, gasping with rage.

Indeed, at that moment Soa would have made no bad model for a statue
of one of the furies of Greek mythology.

Then Juanna attempted to interfere, but Leonard waved her back.

"So," he said, "as I thought, you are at the bottom of all this
business. Perhaps you will not mind telling us what has become of your
friends, the Settlement men, or, if you feel a delicacy on that point,
how it is that you have escaped while they have vanished."

"I know nothing of the Settlement men," answered the Fury, "except
that they have been taken and sacrificed as was their meed, and as yet
I have lifted no hand and said no word against you, though a breath
from me would have swept you all to doom. Hitherto I have been spared
for the same reason that you and Bald-pate yonder have been spared--
because we are the body-servants of the false gods, and are reserved
to perish with them when the lie is discovered; or perhaps to live
awhile, set in cages in the market-place, to be mocked by the passers-
by and to serve as a warning to any whose monkey hearts should dare to
plot sacrilege against the divinity of Aca and Jal.

"Now, Shepherdess, take your choice. As you know well, I have loved
you from a babe and I love you yet, though you have scorned me for
this man's sake. Take your choice, I say; cling to me and trust me,
giving the Deliverer to the priests, and I will save you. Cling to
him, and I will bring shame and death upon you all, for my love shall
turn to hate."

At this juncture Leonard quietly drew his revolver, though at the time
nobody noticed it except Francisco. Indeed by now Juanna was almost as
angry as Soa herself.

"How dare you speak to me thus?" she said, stamping her foot, "you
whom from a child I have thought good and have trusted. What do you
say? That I must give him who saved me from death over to death, in
order that I may buy back your love and protect myself. You evil
woman, I tell you that first I will die as I would have died yonder in
the slave camp," and she ceased, for her indignation was too great to
allow her to say more.

"So be it, Shepherdess," said Soa solemnly, "I hear you. It was to be
expected that you would prefer him whom you love to her who loves you.
Yet, Shepherdess, was it not I after all who saved you yonder in the
slave camp? Doubtless I dream, but it seems to me that when those men
who are dead deserted you, running this way and that in their fear--
and, Shepherdess, it is for this that I am glad they are dead, and
lifted no hand to save them--I followed you alone. It seems to me
that, having followed you far till I could walk no more for hunger and
weariness, I used my wit and bribed a certain white man, of the sort
who would sell their sisters and blaspheme their mothers for a reward,
to attempt your rescue.

"I bribed him with a gem of great price--had there been ten of them,
that gem would have bought them all--and with the gem I told him the
secret of the treasure which is here. He took the bribe, and being
brave and desperate, he drew you out of the clutches of the Yellow
Devil, though in that matter also I had some part; and then you loved
him. Ah! could I have foreseen it, Shepherdess, I had left you to die
in the slave camp, for then you had died loving me who now hate me and
cast me off for the sake of this white thief."

Leonard could bear it no longer, and in the interests of their common
safety he came to a desperate resolve. With an exclamation, he lifted
the pistol and covered Soa. Both Francisco and Juanna saw the act and
sprang to him, the latter exclaiming, "Oh! what are you going to do?"

"I propose to kill this woman before she kills us, that is all," he
answered coldly.

"No! no!" cried Juanna, "she has been faithful to me for many years. I
cannot see her shot."

"Let the butcher do his work," mocked Soa; "it shall avail him little.
Doubtless he is angry because I have spoken the truth about him," and
she folded her arms upon her breast, awaiting the bullet.

"What is to be done?" said Leonard desperately. "If I do not shoot
her, she will certainly betray us."

"Then let her betray," said Francisco; "it is written that you shall
do no murder."

"If you fear to shoot a woman, send for your black dog, White Man,"
mocked Soa. "He would have killed my father, and doubtless this task
also will be to his liking."

"I can't do it. Get a rope and tie her up, Francisco," said Leonard.
"We must watch her day and night; it will be a pleasant addition to
our occupations. After all it is only one more risk, which is no great
matter among so many. I fancy the game is about played out, anyhow."

Francisco went for the rope and presently returned accompanied by
Otter. A month of furious dissipation had left its mark even on the
dwarf's iron frame. His bright black eyes were bloodshot and unsteady,
his hand shook, and he did not walk altogether straight.

"You have been drinking again, you sot," said Leonard. "Go back to
your drink; we are in sorrow here and want no drunkards in our
company. Now then, Francisco, give me that rope."

"Yes, Baas, I have been drinking," answered the dwarf humbly; "it is
well to drink before one dies, since we may not drink afterwards and I
think that the hour of death is at hand. Oh! Shepherdess of the
heavens, they said down yonder at the Settlement that you were a great
rain-maker: now if you can make the rain to fall, can you not make the
sun to shine? Wind and water are all very well, but we have too much
of them here."

"Hearken," said Leonard, "while you revelled, the last of Mavoom's men
vanished, and these are left in their place," and he pointed to the
knives.

"Is it so, Baas?" answered Otter with a hiccough. "Well, they were a
poor lot, and we shall not miss them. And yet I wish I were a man
again and had my hands on the throat of that wizard Nam. /Wow!/ but I
would squeeze it."

"It is your throat that will be squeezed soon, Otter," said Leonard.
"Look here, god or no god, get you sober or I will beat you."

"I am sober, Baas, I am indeed. Last night I was drunk, to-day nothing
is left but a pain here," and he tapped his great head. "Why are you
tying up that old cow Soa, Baas?"

"Because she threatens to use her horns, Otter. She says that she will
betray us all."

"Indeed, Baas! Well, it is in my mind that she has betrayed us
already. Why do you not kill her and have done?"

"Because the Shepherdess here will have none of it," answered Leonard;
"also I do not like the task."

"I will kill her if you wish, Baas," said Otter with another hiccough.
"She is wicked, let her die."

"I have told you that the Shepherdess will have none of it. Listen: we
must watch this woman; we will guard her to-day and you must take your
turn to-night--it will keep you from your drink."

"Yes, Baas, I will watch, though it would be better to kill her at
once, for thus we should be spared trouble."

Then they bound Soa securely and set her in a corner of the throne
chamber, and all that day Leonard and Francisco mounted guard over her
alternately. She made no resistance and said nothing; indeed it seemed
as if a certain lassitude had followed her outbreak of rage, for she
leaned her head back and slept, or made pretence to sleep.

The day passed uneventfully. Olfan visited them as usual, and told
them that the excitement grew in the city. Indeed the unprecedented
prolongation of the cold weather was driving the people into a state
of superstitious fury that must soon express itself in violence of one
form or another, and the priests were doing everything in their power
to foment the trouble. No immediate danger was to be apprehended,
however.

After sundown Leonard and Francisco went out into the courtyard to
inspect the weather according to their custom. There was no sign of a
change; the wind blew as bitterly as ever from the mountains, the sky
was ashen, and the stars seemed far off and cold.

"Will it never break?" said Leonard with a sigh, and re-entered the
palace, followed by Francisco.

Then, having solemnly cautioned Otter to keep a strict guard over Soa,
they wrapped themselves up in their blankets in order to get some
rest, which both of them needed sadly. Juanna had retired already,
laying herself to sleep immediately on the other side of the curtain,
for she feared to be alone; indeed they could see the tips of her
fingers appearing beneath the bottom of the curtain.

Very soon they were asleep, for even terror must yield at last to the
necessities of rest, and a dense silence reigned over the palace,
broken only by the tramp of the sentries without.

Once Leonard opened his eyes, hearing something move, and instantly
stretched out his hand to assure himself of Juanna's safety. She was
there, for in her sleep her fingers closed instinctively upon his own.
Then he turned round and saw what had disturbed him. In the doorway of
the chamber stood the bride of the Snake, Saga, a lighted torch in one
hand and a gourd in the other, and very picturesque that handsome
young woman looked with her noble figure illumined by the glare of the
torchlight.

"What is the matter?" said Leonard.

"It is all right, Baas," answered Otter; "the old woman here is as
safe as a stone statue yonder and quite as quiet. Saga brings me some
water, that is all. I bade her do so because of the fire that rages
inside me and the pain in my head. Fear not, Baas, I do not drink beer
when I am on guard."

"Beer or water, I wish you would keep your wife at a distance,"
answered Leonard; "come, tell her to be off."

Then he looked at his watch, the hands of which he could just
distinguish by the distant glare of the torch, and went to sleep
again. This took place at ten minutes past eleven. When he awoke again
dawn was breaking and Otter was calling to him in a loud, hoarse
voice.

"Baas," he said, "come here, Baas."

Leonard jumped up and ran to him, to find the dwarf on his feet and
staring vacantly at the wall against which Soa had been sitting. She
was gone, but there on the floor lay the ropes with which she had been
tied.

Leonard sprang at Otter and seized him by the shoulders.

"Wretched man!" he cried, "you have been sleeping, and now she has
escaped and we are lost."

"Yes, Baas, I have been sleeping. Kill me if you wish, for I deserve
it. And yet, Baas, never was I more wide-awake in my life until I
drank that water. I am not wont to sleep on guard, Baas."

"Otter," said Leonard, "that wife of yours has drugged you."

"It may be so, Baas. At least the woman has gone, and, say, whither
has she gone?"

"To Nam, her father," answered Leonard.

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