Here to return to
THE night which followed, Leonard is wont to declare, proved to be the very worst that he ever spent in his life. Notwithstanding his intense weariness he could not sleep, his nerves were too shattered to allow of it. Whenever he shut his eyes, he saw himself hanging head downwards over the oubliette in the cell beneath the Idol, or flying through the air across the dreadful gap in the ice-bridge, or in some other position of terror, similar to those with which they had made such intimate acquaintance of late. Did these visions cease, from time to time he seemed to hear the voice of Francisco bidding him farewell; the yell of Soa falling to her dreadful death, or Nam raving his last defiance at them. Also his hurts, which were many, gave him great pain, and though the climate here was mild, the breeze from the snow heights chilled him through, and they had not even a match wherewith to light a fire and scare the wild beasts that roared about them.
Rarely have three human beings been in a position more desolate and desperate than that in which they found themselves this night, exhausted, unarmed, almost without food or clothing, and wandering they knew not where through the vastness of Central Africa. Unless some help found them, as Leonard was aware, they must perish of starvation, by the fangs of lions, or the spears of natives. It was impossible that they could live through another week, and the thought came into his mind that it would be well for them if they died that night and had done with it.
It would be well; yes, and it would have been better if he had been laid by the side of his brother Tom before ever he listened to Soa’s accursed tale of the People of the Mist and their treasure of rubies. Only then he would never have known Juanna, for she must have died in the slave camp.
This was the fruit of putting faith in the visions of dying men. And yet, it was strange, he had nearly got the money and ‘by the help of a woman,’ for those rubies would have sufficed to buy back Outram ten times over. But, alas! nearly is not quite. That dream was done with, and even if they escaped, it would be to find himself more utterly beggared than before, for now he would be a married beggar.
At last the night wore away and the dawn came, but Juanna did not wake until the sun was high. Leonard, who had crept to a little distance — for now he was quite unable to walk — saw her sit up and crawled back to her. She stared at him vacantly and said something about Jane Beach. Then he knew that she was wandering. There was nothing to be done. What could be done in that wilderness with a woman in delirium, except wait for death?
Accordingly Leonard and Otter waited for some hours. Then the dwarf, who was in far the best condition of the three, took the spear — Olfan’s gift — and said that he would go and seek for food, since their store was exhausted. Leonard nodded, though he knew that there was little chance of a man armed with a spear alone, being able to kill game, and Otter went.
Towards evening he returned, reporting that he had seen plenty of buck, but could not get near them, which was just what his master expected. That night they passed hungry, by turns watching Juanna, who was still delirious. At dawn Otter started out again, leaving Leonard, who had been unable to sleep as on the previous night, crouched at Juanna’s side, his face buried in his hands.
Before noon Leonard chanced to look up, and saw the dwarf reeling towards him, for he also was faint with want of food. Indeed, the great head and almost naked body, through the skin of which the misshapen bones seemed to start in every direction, presented so curious a spectacle that his master, whose brain was shaken by weakness, began to laugh.
‘Don’t laugh, Baas,’ gasped the dwarf; ‘either I am mad, or we are saved.’
‘Then I think that you must be mad, Otter, for we shall take a deal of saving,’ he answered wearily, for he had ceased to believe in good fortune. ‘What is it?’
‘This, Baas: There is a white man coming this way and more than a hundred servants with him; they are marching up the mountain slope.’
‘You are certainly mad, Otter,’ Leonard replied. ‘What in the names of Jâl and Aca is a white man doing here? I am the only one of that species who have been fool enough to penetrate these regions, I and Francisco,’ and he shut his eyes and dozed off.
Otter looked at him for a while, then he tapped his forehead significantly and started down the slope again. An hour later, Leonard, still dozing, was awakened by a sound of many voices, and by a hand that shook him not too gently.
‘Awake, Baas,’ said the dwarf, for the hand was his, ‘I have caught the white man and brought him here.’
Leonard staggered to his feet and saw before him, surrounded by gun-bearers and other attendants, an English gentleman, rather under than over middle age, with a round and kindly face tanned by the sun, and somewhat deep-set dark eyes having an eye-glass fixed in one of them, through which its wearer regarded him with much commiseration.
‘How do you do, sir?’ said the stranger in a pleasant voice. ‘So far as I can make out from your servant you seem to be in a baddish way. By George! there is a lady.’
‘How do you do?’ answered Leonard. ‘Capital sun-helmet that of yours. I envy it, but you see I have had to go bare-headed lately,’ and he ran his fingers through his matted hair. ‘Who is the maker of that eight-bore? Looks a good gun!’
‘Achmet,’ said the stranger, turning to an Arab at his side, ‘go to the first donkey and fetch this lord of the earth a pint of champagne and some oatmeal cakes; he seems to want them. Tell the bearers also to bring up my tent and to pitch it there by the water. Quick, now.’
Forty-eight hours had passed, and the benevolent stranger was sitting on a camp-stool in the door of his tent, looking at two forms that lay wrapped in blanket and comfortably asleep within it.
‘I suppose that they will wake some time,’ he murmured, dropping his eye-glass and taking the pipe from his mouth. ‘The quinine and champagne have done them a lot of good: there is nothing like quinine and champagne. But what an unconscionable liar that dwarf must be; there is only one thing he can do better, and that is eat. I never saw a chap stow away so much grub, though I must say that he looks as though he needed it. Still, allowing for all deductions, it is a precious queer story. Who are they, and what the deuce are they doing here? One thing is clear, I never saw a finer-looking man nor a prettier girl.’ And he filled his pipe again, replaced the eye-glass in his eye, and began smoking.
Ten minutes later Juanna sat up suddenly, whereupon the stranger withdrew out of sight. She looked round her wildly, then, seeing Leonard lying at the further side of the tent, she crept to him and began kissing him, saying: ‘Leonard! Thank God that you are still alive, Leonard! I dreamed that we both were dead. Thank God that you are alive!’
Then the man who had been thus adjured woke up also and returned her caresses.
‘By George! this is quite affecting,’ said the traveller. ‘I suppose that they are married; if not, they ought to be. Anyway, I had better clear out for a while.’
An hour later he returned to find that the pair had made themselves as presentable as soap and water, and some few spare garments which he had sent to Leonard, would allow, and were now sitting in the sun outside the tent. He advanced, lifting his helmet, and they rose to meet him.
‘I suppose that I had better introduce myself,’ he said with some hesitation, for he was a shy man. ‘I am an English traveller, doing a little exploring on my own account, for lack of any other occupation, and my name is Sydney Wallace.’
‘Mine is Leonard Outram,’ answered Leonard, ‘and this young lady is Miss Juanna Rodd.’
Mr. Wallace started and bowed again. So they were not married!
‘We are deeply indebted to you, sir,’ went on Leonard; ‘for you have rescued us from death.’
‘Not at all,’ answered Mr. Wallace. ‘You must thank that servant of yours, the dwarf, and not me, for if he had not seen us, I should have passed a mile or more to the left of you. The fact is that I am rather fond of mountaineering, and seeing this great peak above us — I am told that it is the highest in the Bisa-Mushinga Mountains — I thought that I might as well have a try at it before I turn homewards, via Lake Nyassa, Livingstonia, Blantyre, and Quilimane. But perhaps you will not mind telling me how you came to be here. I have heard something from the dwarf, but his tale seems a little too steep.’
‘I am afraid you will think ours rather steeper, Mr. Wallace,’ said Leonard, and he proceeded to give him a short outline of their adventures.
When he came to their arrival among the People of the Mist, and described the inauguration of Otter and Juanna as gods in the temple of the colossus, he noticed that his auditor had let the eye-glass fall from his round eye, and was regarding him with mild amazement.
‘I am afraid that all this does not interest you,’ said Leonard stiffly.
‘On the contrary, Mr. Outram, it interests me very much. I am exceedingly fond of romances, and this is rather a good one.’
‘As I thought; it is scarcely worth while to go on,’ said Leonard again. ‘Well, I cannot wonder that you do not believe me.’
‘Leonard,’ interposed Juanna quietly, ‘you still have the star ruby; show it to Mr. Wallace!’
He did so, somewhat sulkily, and then, as he seemed disinclined to say anything more, Juanna took up the tale, showing in evidence of its truth, the spear, the frayed rope, and the tattered white robe which she had worn in her character of Aca, and, indeed, still wore beneath poor Francisco’s cassock — for she had no other.
Mr. Wallace heard her out, then, without making any comment, he rose, saying that he must try to shoot some meat for the camp, and begged that they would make themselves comfortable until his return that evening.
Before sundown he reappeared, and coming straight to the tent, asked their pardon for his incredulity.
‘I have been up yonder,’ he said, ‘following your spoor backwards. I have seen the snow-bridge and the stones, and the nicks which the dwarf cut in the ice. All is just as you told me, and it only remains for me to congratulate you upon having escaped from the strangest series of dangers that ever I heard of,’ and he held out his hand, which both Leonard and Juanna shook warmly.
‘By the way,’ he added, ‘I sent men to examine the gulf for several miles, but they report to me that they found no spot where it would be possible to descend it, and I fear, therefore, that the jewels are lost for ever. I confess that I should have liked to try to penetrate into the Mist country, but my nerves are not strong enough for the ice-bridge, and if they were, stones won’t slide uphill. Besides, you must have had about enough of roughing it, and will be anxious to turn your faces towards civilisation. So after you have rested another couple of days I think that we had better start for Quilimane, which, barring accidents, is about three months’ march from here.’
Shortly afterwards they started accordingly, but with the details of their march we need not concern ourselves. An exception must be made, however, in the case of a single event which happened at the mission-station of Blantyre. That event was the wedding of Leonard and Juanna in conformance with the ceremonies of their own church.
No word of marriage had been spoken between them for some weeks, and yet the thought of it was never out of the minds of either. Indeed, had their feelings been much less tender towards each other than was the case, it would still have been desirable, in view of the extraordinary intimacy into which they had been thrown during the past months, that they should become man and wife. Leonard felt that alone as she was on the wide world, nothing short of mutual aversion would have justified him in separating from Juanna, and as it was love and not aversion that he entertained towards her, this argument came home to him with over-mastering force.
‘Juanna,’ he said to her on the day of their arrival at Blantyre, ‘you remember some words that passed between your father and myself when he lay upon his death-bed, to the effect that, should we both wish it, he trusted to my honour to re-marry you formally so soon as an opportunity might arise. Now the opportunity is here, and I ask you if you desire to take me for your husband, as, above everything in the world, I desire to make you my beloved wife.’
She coloured to her beautiful eyes and answered in a voice that was almost a whisper:
‘If you wish it and think me worthy of you, Leonard, you know that I wish it also. I have always loved you, dear, yes, even when I was behaving worst to you; but there is — Jane Beach!’
‘I have told you before, Juanna,’ he answered with some little irritation, ‘and now I tell you again, that Jane Beach and I have done with each other.’
‘I am sure that I am very glad to hear it,’ Juanna replied, still somewhat dubiously. The rest of that conversation, being of a private character, will scarcely interest the public.
When he spoke thus, Leonard little knew after what fashion Jane Beach and he had wound up their old love affair.
Two days later Leonard Outram took Juanna Rodd to wife, ‘to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death did them part,’ and their rescuer, Sydney Wallace, who by now had become their fast friend, gave her away.
Very curious were the memories that passed through Juanna’s mind, as she stood by her husband’s side in the little grass-roofed chapel of Blantyre, for was this not the third time that she had been married, and now only of her own free-will? She bethought her of that wild scene in the slave camp; of Francisco, who died to save her, and of the blessing which he had called down upon her and this very man; of that other scene in the rock prison, when, to protect Leonard’s life, she was wed according to the custom of the Children of the Mist, to that true-hearted gentleman and savage, Olfan, their king. Then she awoke with a happy sigh to know that the lover at her side could never be taken from her again until death claimed one of them.
‘We shall be dreadfully poor, Leonard,’ she said to him afterwards; ‘it would have been much better for you, dear, if I had fallen into the gulf instead of the rubies.’
‘I am not of your opinion, love,’ he answered with a smile, for he was very happy. ‘Hang the rubies! Your price is far above rubies, and no man may struggle against fate. I have always been able to make a living for myself heretofore, and I do not doubt that I shall continue to do so for both of us, and we will leave the rest to Providence. You are more to me, Juanna, than any wealth — more even than Outram.’
That evening Mr. Wallace found Otter gazing disconsolately at the little house in which Leonard and Juanna were staying.
‘Are you sad because your master is married, Otter?’ he asked.
‘No,’ answered the dwarf, ‘I am glad. For months he has been running after her and dreaming of her, and now at last he has got her. Henceforth she must dream of him and run after him, and he will have time to think about other people, who love him quite as well.’
Another month or so went by while the party journeyed in easy stages towards the coast, and never had wedded lovers a happier honeymoon, or one more unconventional, than that passed by Leonard and Juanna, though perhaps Mr. Wallace and Otter did not find the contemplation of their raptures a very exhilarating occupation.
At last they reached Quilimane in safety, and pitched their camp on some rising ground outside of the settlement, which is unhealthy. Next morning at daybreak Mr. Wallace started to the post-office, where he expected to find letters. Leonard and Juanna did not accompany him, but went for a walk before the sun grew hot. Then it was, as they walked, that a certain fact came home to them; namely, that they could not avail themselves of their host’s kindness any longer, and, further, that they were quite penniless. When one is moving slowly across the vast African wilds, and living on the abounding game, love and kisses seem an ample provision for all wants. But the matter strikes the mind in a different light after the trip is done, and civilisation with its necessities looms large in the immediate future.
‘What are we to do, Juanna?’ asked Leonard in dismay. ‘We have no money to enable us to reach Natal or anywhere, and no credit on which to draw.’
‘I suppose that we must sell the great ruby,’ she answered, with a sigh, ‘though I shall be sorry to part with it.’
‘Nobody will buy such a stone here, Juanna, and it may not be a real ruby after all. Perhaps Wallace might be willing to advance me a trifle on it, though I hate having to ask him.’
Then they went back to breakfast, which they did not find an altogether cheerful meal. As they were finishing, Mr. Wallace returned from the town.
‘I have got good news,’ he said; ‘the British India mail will be here in two days, so I shall pay off my men and go up to Aden in her, and thence home. Of course you will come too, for, like me, I expect you have had enough of Africa for the present. Here are some copies of the weekly edition of the “Times;” look through them, Mrs. Outram, and see the news while I read my letters.’
Leonard turned aside moodily and lit his pipe. How was he to find money to take even a third-class passage on the British India mail? But Juanna, obeying the instinct that prompts a woman to keep up appearances at all hazards, took one of the papers and opened it, although the tears which swam in her eyes would scarcely suffer her to see the print. Thus things went on for ten minutes or more, as she idly turned the pages of two or three issues of the ‘Weekly Times,’ trying to collect her thoughts and pick up the thread of current events.
But it is wonderful how uninteresting and far-away those events appear after the reader has been living a life to herself for a year or so, and Juanna, preoccupied as she was with her own thoughts, was about to give up the attempt as a failure, when the name of Outram started to her eyes.
A minute later her two companions heard a sharp exclamation and turned round.
‘What is the matter, Mrs. Outram?’ said Wallace. Has France declared war against Germany, or is Mr. Gladstone dead?’
‘Oh! no, something much more important than that. Listen to this advertisement, Leonard:
‘“If Leonard Outram, second son of Sir Thomas Outram, Bart., late of Outram Hall, who was last heard of in the territory to the north of Delagoa Bay, Eastern Africa; or, in the event of his death, his lawful heirs, will communicate with the undersigned, he or they will hear of something very greatly to his or their advantage. Thomson & Turner, 2 Albert Court, London, E.C.”’
‘Are you joking, Juanna?’ said Leonard after a pause. ‘Look for yourself,’ she answered.
He took the paper and read and re-read the notice.
‘Well, there is one thing certain,’ he said, that no one ever stood in greater need of hearing something to his advantage than I do at this moment, for excepting the ruby, which may not be a true stone, we haven’t a stiver to bless ourselves with in the world. Indeed, I don’t know how I am to avail myself of Messrs. Thomson & Turner’s kind invitation, unless I write them a letter and go to live in a Kaffir hut till the answer comes.’
‘Don’t let that trouble you, my dear fellow,’ said Wallace; ‘I can get plenty of cash here, and it is very much at your service.’
‘I am ashamed to take further advantage of your kindness,’ answered Leonard, flushing. ‘This advertisement may mean nothing, or perhaps a legacy of fifty pounds, though I am sure I don’t know who would leave me even that sum. And then, how should I repay you?’
‘Stuff!’ said Wallace.
‘Well,’ replied Leonard, ‘beggars must put their pride in their pockets. If you will lend me a couple of hundred pounds and take the ruby in pledge, I shall be even more grateful to you than I am at present, and that is saying a good deal.’
On this business basis the matter was ultimately arranged, though within half an hour Wallace handed back the great stone into Juanna’s keeping, bidding her ‘keep it dark’; an injunction which she obeyed in every sense of the word, for she hid the ruby where once the poison had lain — in her hair.
Two busy days went by, and on the third morning a messenger came running from the town to announce that the northward mail was in sight. Then it was that Otter, who all this while had said nothing, advanced solemnly towards Leonard and Juanna, holding his hand outstretched.
‘What is the matter, Otter?’ asked. Leonard, who was engaged in helping Wallace to pack his hunting trophies.
‘Nothing, Baas; I have come to say good-bye to you and the Shepherdess, that is all. I wish to go now before I see the Steam-fish carry you away.’
‘Go!’ said Leonard; ‘you wish to go?’
Somehow Otter had become so much a part of their lives, that, even in their preparations to leave for England, neither of them had ever thought of parting from him.
‘Why do you wish to go?’ he added.
‘Because I am an ugly, old black dog, Baas, and can be of no further use to you out yonder,’ and he nodded towards the sea.
‘I suppose you mean that you do not want to leave Africa, even for a while,’ said Leonard, with ill-concealed grief and vexation. ‘Well, it is hard to part with you like this. Also,’ he added with a little laugh, ‘it is awkward, for I owe you more than a year’s wages, and have not the money to spare to pay you. Moreover, I had taken your passage on the ship.’
‘What does the Baas say?’ asked Otter slowly; ‘that he has bought me a place in the Steam-fish?’
‘Then I beg your pardon, Baas. I thought that you had done with me and were going to throw me away like a worn-out spear.’
‘So you wish to come, Otter?’ said Leonard.
‘Wish to come!’ he answered wonderingly. ‘Are you not my father and my mother, and is not the place where you may be, my place? Do you know what I was going to do just now, Baas? I was going to climb to the top of a tree and watch the Steam-fish till it vanished over the edge of the world; then I would have taken this rope, which already has served me well among the People of the Mist, and set it about my throat and hanged myself there in the tree, for that is the best end for old dogs, Baas.’
Leonard turned away to hide the tears which started to his eyes, for the dwarf’s fidelity touched him more than he cared to show. Seeing his trouble, Juanna took up the talk to cover his confusion.
‘I fear that you will find it cold over yonder, Otter,’ she said. ‘It is a land of fog, they tell me, and there are none of your own people, no wives or Kaffir beer. Also, we may be poor and have to live hardly.’
‘Of fog I have seen something lately, Shepherdess,’ answered the dwarf; ‘and yet I was happy in the fog, because I was near the Baas. Of hard living I have seen something also, and still I was happy, because I was near the Baas. Once I had a wife and beer in plenty, more than a man could want, and then I was unhappy, because they estranged me from the Baas, and he knew that I had ceased to be Otter, his servant whom he trusted, and had become a beast. Therefore, Shepherdess, I would see no more of wives and beer.’
‘Otter, you idiot,’ broke in Leonard brusquely, ‘you had better stop talking and get something to eat, for it will be the last meal that you will wish to see for many a day.’
‘The Baas is right,’ replied the dwarf; ‘moreover, I am hungry, for sorrow has kept me from food for these two days. Now I will fill myself full, that I may have something to offer to the Black Water when he shakes me in his anger.’