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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe People Of The Mist - Chapter XXX - FRANCISCO'S EXPIATION
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The People Of The Mist - Chapter XXX - FRANCISCO'S EXPIATION Post by :Edo_Rajh Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :March 2011 Read :2946

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The People Of The Mist - Chapter XXX - FRANCISCO'S EXPIATION

When they had finished their meal, which was about as sad an
entertainment as can well be conceived, they began to talk.

"Do you see any hope?" asked Juanna of the other three.

Leonard shook his head and answered:

"Unless the sun shines at dawn to-morrow, we are dead men."

"Then there is little chance of that, Baas," groaned Otter, "for the
night is as the nights have been for these five weeks. No wonder that
this people are fierce and wicked who live in such a climate."

Juanna hid her face in her hands for a while, then spoke:

"They did not say that any harm was to come to you, Leonard, or to
Francisco, so perhaps you will escape."

"I doubt it," he answered; "besides, to be perfectly frank, if you are
going to die, I would rather die with you."

"Thank you, Leonard," she said gently, "but that will not help either
of us much, will it? What will they do with us? Throw us from the head
of the statue?" and she shuddered.

"That seems to be their amiable intention, but at any rate we need
none of us go through with it alive. How long does your medicine take
to work, Juanna?"

"Half a minute at the outside, I fancy, and sometimes less. Are you
sure that you will take none, Otter? Think; the other end is
dreadful."

"No, Shepherdess," said the dwarf, who now in the presence of imminent
danger was as he had been before he sought comfort in the beer-pot,
brave, ready, and collected, "it is not my plan to suffer myself to be
hurled into the pit. Nay, when the time comes I shall spring there of
my own free will, and if I am not killed--and an otter knows how to
leap into a pool--then if I cannot avoid him I will make a fight for
it with that great dweller in the water. Yes, and I go to make ready
that with which I will fight," and he rose and departed to his
sleeping-place.

Just then Francisco followed his example, seeking a quiet place in
which to pursue his devotions, and thus Leonard and Juanna were left
alone.

For some minutes he watched her as she sat beside him in her white
temple dress, her beautiful face looking stern and sad against the
dusky background of the torchlight, and a great shame and pity filled
his heart. The blood of this girl was on his hands, and he could do
nothing to help her. His selfishness had dragged her into this
miserable enterprise, and now its inevitable end was at hand and he
was her murderer, the murderer of the woman who was all the world to
him, and who had been entrusted to his care with her father's dying
breath.

"Forgive me," he said at length with something like a sob, and laying
his hand upon hers.

"What have I to forgive, Leonard?" she replied gently. "Now that it is
all finished and I look back upon the past few months, it seems to me
that it is you who should forgive, for I have often behaved badly to
you."

"Nonsense, Juanna, it was my wicked folly that led you into this, and
now you are about to be cut off in the beginning of your youth and in
the flower of your beauty. I am your murderer, Juanna," and dropping
his voice he hesitated, then added: "It may as well out now, for time
is short, though I have often sworn that nothing should make me say
it: I love you."

She did not start or even stir at his words, but sat staring as before
into the darkness: only a pink flush grew upon the pallor of her neck
and cheek as she answered:

"You love me, Leonard? You forget--Jane Beach!"

"It is perfectly true, Juanna, that I was once attached to Jane Beach,
and it is true that I still think of her with affection, but I have
not seen her for many years, and I am certain that she has thrown me
over and married another man. Most man pass through several affairs of
the heart in their early days; I have had but one, and it is done
with.

"When first I saw you in the slave camp I loved you, Juanna, and I
have gone on loving you ever since, even after I became aware from
your words and conduct that you did not entertain any such affection
for myself. I know that your mind has not changed upon the matter, for
had it done so, you would scarcely have spoken to me as you did to-day
after Olfan left us. Indeed, I do not altogether understand why I have
told you this, since it will not interest you very much and may
possibly annoy you in your last hours. I suppose it was because I
wished to make a clean breast of it before I pass to where we lose all
our loves and hopes."

"Or find them," said Juanna, still looking before her.

Then there was silence for a minute or more, till Leonard, believing
that he had got his answer, began to think that he would do well to
leave her for a while. Just as he was about to rise Juanna made a
gentle movement; slowly, very slowly, she turned herself, slowly she
stretched out her arms towards him, and laid her head upon his breast.

For a moment Leonard was astounded; he could scarcely believe the
evidence of his senses. Then recovering himself, he kissed her
tenderly.

Presently Juanna slipped from his embrace and said, "Listen to me,
Leonard: are men all blind, I wonder, or are you an exception? I don't
know and don't want to know, but certainly it does seem strange that
what has been so painfully patent to myself for the last five or six
months, should have been invisible to you. Leonard, you were not the
only one who fell in love yonder in the slave camp. But you quickly
checked my folly by telling me the story of Jane Beach, and of course
after that, whatever my thoughts may have been, I did my utmost to
hide them from you, with more success, it seems, than I expected.
Indeed I am not sure that I am wise to let you see them now, for
though you declare that Jane is dead and buried, she might re-arise at
any moment. I do not believe that men forget their first loves,
Leonard, though they may persuade themselves to the contrary--when
they are a long way from them."

"Don't you think that we might drop Jane, dear?" he answered with some
impatience, for Juanna's words brought back to his mind visions of
another love-scene that had taken place amid the English snows more
than seven years before.

"I am sure that I am quite ready to drop her now and for ever. But do
not let us begin to spar when so little time is left to us. Let us
talk of other things. Tell me that you love me, love me, love me, for
those are the words that I would hear ringing in my years before they
become deaf to this world and its echoes, and those are the words with
which I hope that you will greet me some few hours hence and in a
happier land. Leonard, tell me that you love me for to-day and for
to-morrow, now and for ever."

So he told her that and much more, speaking to her earnestly,
hopefully, and most tenderly, as a man might speak to the woman whom
he worshipped and with whom is about to travel to that shore of which
we know nothing, though day and night we hear the waves that bear us
forward break yonder on its beach. They talked for long, and ever
while they talked Juanna grew gentler and more human, as the barriers
of pride melted in the fire of her passion and the shadow of death
gathered thicker upon her and the man she loved. At length her
strength gave way utterly and she wept upon Leonard's breast like some
frightened child, and from weeping sank into deep slumber or swoon, he
knew not which. Then he kissed her upon the forehead, and, carrying
her to her bed, laid her down to rest awhile before she died,
returning himself to the throne-room.

Here he found Francisco and Otter.

"Look, Baas," said the dwarf, producing from beneath his goat-skin
cloak an article which he had employed the last hour in constructing.
It was a fearful and a wonderful instrument, made out of the two
sacrificial knives that had been left by the priests on the occasion
of the kidnapping of the last of the Settlement men. The handles of
these knives Otter had lashed together immovably with strips of hide,
forming from them a weapon two feet or more in length, of which the
curved points projected in opposite directions.

"What is that for, Otter?" said Leonard carelessly, for he was
thinking of other things.

"This is for the Crocodile to eat, Baas; I have seen his brothers
caught like that before in the marshes of the Zambesi," replied the
dwarf with a grin. "Doubtless he thinks to eat me, but I have made
another food ready for him. Ah! of one thing I am sure, that if he
comes out there will be a good fight, whoever conquers in the end."

Then he proceeded to fix a hide rope to the handles of the knives, and
having made it fast about his body with a running noose, he coiled its
length, which may have measured some thirty feet, round and round his
middle, artfully concealing its bulk together with the knives beneath
his cloak and /moocha/.

"Now I am a man again, Baas," the dwarf said grimly. "I have done with
drink and such follies to which I took in my hours of idleness, for
the time has come to fight. Ay, and I shall win, Baas; the waters are
my home, and I do not fear crocodiles however big--no, not one bit;
for, as I told you, I have killed them before. You will see, you will
see."

"I am afraid that I shall do nothing of the sort, Otter," answered
Leonard sadly, "but I wish you luck, my friend. If you get out of this
mess, they will think you a god indeed, and should you only find the
sense to avoid drink, you may rule here till you die of old age."

"There would be no pleasure in that, Baas, if you were dead," answered
the dwarf with a heavy sigh. "Alas! my folly has helped to bring you
into this trouble, but this I swear, that if I live--and my spirit
tells me that I shall not die to-night--it will be to avenge you. Fear
not, Baas; when I am a god again, one by one I will kill them all, and
when they are dead, then I will kill myself and come to look for you."

"It is very kind of you, Otter, I am sure," said Leonard with
something like a laugh, and at that moment the curtains swung aside
and Soa stood before them accompanied by four armed priests.

"What do you want, woman?" exclaimed Leonard, springing towards her as
though by instinct.

"Go back, Deliverer!" she said, holding up her hand and addressing him
in the Sisutu tongue, which of course those with her did not
understand. "I am guarded, and my death would be quickly followed by
your own. Moreover, it would avail you little to kill me, since I come
to bring you hope for the life of her you love and for your own.
Listen: the sun will not shine to-morrow at the dawn; already the mist
gathers thick and it will hold, therefore the Shepherdess and the
Dwarf will be hurled from the head of the statue, while you and the
Bald-pate, having witnessed their end, will be kept alive till the
autumn sacrifice, then to be offered up with the other victims."

"Why do you come to tell us all this, woman?" said Leonard, "seeing
that we knew it already--that is, except the news of the postponement
of our own fate, which I for one do not desire. What hope is there in
this story? If you have nothing better to say, get you gone,
traitress, and let us see your hateful face no more."

"I have something more to say, Deliverer. I still love the Shepherdess
as you love her, and," she added with emphasis, "as Bald-pate yonder
also loves her. Now this is my plan: two must die at dawn, but of
those two the Shepherdess need not be one. The morning will be misty,
the statue of the god is high, and but few of the priests will see the
victim shrouded in her black robe. What if a substitute can be found
so like to her in shape and height and feature that, in the twilight
and beneath the shadow of the hood, none shall know them apart?"

Leonard started. "Who can be found?"

Slowly Soa raised her thin hand and pointed to Francisco.

"/There stands the man!/" she said. "Were he wrapped in the cloak of
Aca, who would know him from the Shepherdess? The pool and the Snake
do not give back that which they have swallowed."

If Leonard had started before, now he fairly recoiled, as the full
meaning of this terrible proposition possessed his mind. He looked at
Francisco, who stood by wondering, for the priest did not understand
the Sisutu dialect.

"Tell him," she said.

"Wait awhile," he answered hoarsely; "supposing that this were carried
out, what would happen to the Shepherdess?"

"She would be concealed in the dungeons of the temple, in his dress
and under his name," and again she pointed to Francisco, "until such
time as a chance could be found for her to escape, or to return to
rule this people unquestioned and with honour. My father alone knows
of this plot, and because of his love for me he suffers me to try it,
desperate as it seems. Also, for I will tell you all the truth, he is
himself in danger, and he believes that by means of the Shepherdess--
who, when she reappears having survived the sacrifice, will be held by
the people to be immortal--he may save his life when the day of his
own trial comes."

"And do you think," said Leonard, "that I will trust her alone to you,
wicked and forsworn as you are, and to the tender mercies of your
father? No, it is better that she should die and have done with her
fears and torments."

"I did not ask you to do so, Deliverer," said Soa quietly. "You will
be taken with her, and if she lives you will live also. Is that not
enough? These men here come to bear you and Bald-pate to the dungeons:
they will bear you and the Shepherdess, knowing no difference, that is
all. Now tell him; perchance he may not be willing to accept."

"Francisco, come here," said Leonard in a low voice, speaking in
Portuguese. Then he told him all, while Soa watched them with her
glittering eyes. As the tale went on the priest turned ashen pale and
trembled violently, but before it was finished he ceased to tremble,
and Leonard, looking at his face, saw that it was alight as with a
glory.

"I accept," he said in a clear voice, "for thus will it be given to me
to save the life of the Senora, and to atone for my offence. Come, let
me make ready."

"Francisco," muttered Leonard, for his emotion would not suffer him to
speak aloud, "you are a saint and a hero. I wish that I could go
through this in your stead, for most gladly would I do so, but it is
not possible."

"It seems then that there are two saints and heroes," replied the
priest gently. "But why talk thus? It is the bounden duty of either or
both of us to die for her, yet it is far better that I should die
leaving you alive to love and comfort her."

Leonard thought a moment. "I suppose it must be so," he said, "but
Heaven knows, it is a terrible alternative. How can I trust that woman
Soa? And yet if I do not trust her Juanna will be killed at once."

"You must take the chance of it," answered Francisco; "after all she
is fond of her mistress, and it was because she grew jealous that she
fled to Nam and betrayed us."

"There is another thing," said Leonard; "how are we to get Juanna
away? If once she suspects the plot, there will be an end of it. Soa,
come thither."

She came, and he put this question to her, telling her at the same
time that Francisco consented to the scheme and that Juanna slept
behind the curtain and might awake at any moment.

"I have that with me which shall overcome the difficulty, Deliverer,"
answered Soa, "for I foresaw it. See here," and she drew a small gourd
from her dress, "this is that same water of which Saga gave your black
dog to drink when I escaped you. Now mix it with some spirit, go to
the Shepherdess, awake her, and bid her drink this to comfort her. She
will obey, and immediately deep sleep will take her again that shall
hold her fast for six hours."

"It is not a poison?" asked Leonard suspiciously.

"No, it is not a poison. What need would there be to poison one who
must die at dawn?"

Then Leonard did as she told him. Taking a tin pannikin, one of their
few possessions, he emptied the sleeping-draught into it and added
enough native brandy to colour the water.

Next he went into Juanna's room and found her lying fast asleep upon
the great bed. Going up to her he touched her gently on the shoulder,
saying, "Wake, my love." She raised herself and opened her eyes.

"Is that you, Leonard?" she said. "I was dreaming that I was a girl
again and at school at Durban, and that it was time to get up for
early service at the church. Oh! I remember now. Is it dawn yet?"

"No, dear, but it soon will be," he answered; "here, drink this, it
will give you courage."

"How horrid that spirit tastes!" she said, then sank back slowly on
the cushion and in another minute fell sound asleep again. The draught
was strong and it worked quickly.

Leonard went to the curtain and beckoned to Soa and the others. They
all entered except the priests, who remained clustered together near
the doorway of the great chamber talking in low tones and apparently
taking no notice of what passed.

"Take off that robe, Bald-pate," said Soa; "I must give you another."

He obeyed, and while Soa was engaged in clothing Juanna's senseless
form in the gown of the priest, Francisco drew his diary from the
pocket in his vest where he kept it. Rapidly he wrote a few lines on a
blank page, then shutting the book he handed it to Leonard together
with his rosary, saying:

"Let the Senora read what I have written here, after I am dead, not
before, and give her these beads in memory of me. Many is the time
that I have prayed for her upon them. Perhaps she will wear them after
I am gone, and, although she is a Protestant, sometimes offer up a
prayer for me."

Leonard took the book and the rosary and placed them in an inner
pocket. Then he turned to Otter and rapidly explained to him the
meaning of all that was being done.

"Ah, Baas," said the dwarf, "put no faith in that she-devil. And yet
perhaps she will try to save the Shepherdess, for she loves her as a
lioness loves her young. But I am afraid for you, Baas, for you she
hates."

"Never mind about me, Otter," answered Leonard. "Listen: they are
going to hide us in the dungeons of the temple; if by any chance you
escape, seek out Olfan and try to rescue us. If not, farewell, and may
we meet again in another place."

"Oh! Baas, Baas," said Otter with a deep sob, "for myself I care
nothing, nor whether I live or die, but it is sad to think that you
will perish alone, and I not with you. Oh! why did Baas Tom dream that
evil dream? Had it not been for him, we might have been transport-
riding in Natal to-day. I would that I had been a better servant to
you, Baas, but it is too late now." And as he spoke Leonard felt a
great tear fall upon his hand.

"Never mind the servant, Otter," he answered; "you are the best
friend, black or white, that ever I had, and Heaven reward you for it.
If you can help the Baas yonder at the last, do so. At the least see
that he swallows the medicine in time, for he is weak and gentle and
not fitted to die such a death," and he turned away.

By this time Soa had arrayed Francisco in the black robe of Aca. The
white dress worn in the temple ceremonies he did not put on, for it
remained upon Juanna, completely hidden from sight, however, by the
priest's gown.

"Who would know them apart now?" asked Soa triumphantly, then added,
handing Leonard the great ruby which she had taken from Juanna's
forehead, "Here, Deliverer, this belongs to you; do not lose the
stone, for you have gone through much to win it."

Leonard took the gem and at first was minded to dash it into the old
woman's sneering face, but remembering the uselessness of such a
performance, he thrust it into his pocket together with the rosary.

"Come, let us be going," said Soa. "You must carry the Shepherdess,
Deliverer; I will say that it is Bald-pate who has fainted with fear.
Farewell, Bald-pate; after all you are a brave man, and I honour you
for this deed. Keep the hood well about your face, and if you would
preserve the Shepherdess alive, be silent, answering no word whoever
addresses you, and uttering no cry however great your fear."

Francisco went to the bed where Juanna lay, and holding out his hand
above her as though in blessing, he muttered some words of prayer or
farewell. Then turning, he clasped Leonard in his arms, kissed him and
blessed him also.

"Good-bye, Francisco," said Leonard in a choking voice; "surely the
Kingdom of Heaven is made up of such as you."

"Do not weep, my friend," answered the priest, "for there in that
kingdom I hope to greet you and her."

And so these friends parted.

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Juanna had scarcely restored the remainder of her deadly medicine toits hiding-place, when the curtains were drawn and Nam entered. Afterhis customary salutations, which on this occasion were more copiousthan usual, he remarked blandly that the moon had risen in a clearsky."Which means, I suppose, that it is time for us to start," saidLeonard gruffly.Then they set out, Juanna in her monk-like robe, and Otter in his redfringe and a goat-skin cape which he insisted upon wearing."I may as well die warm as cold, Baas," he explained, "for of cold Ishall know enough when I am dead."At the palace gate Olfan
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