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People of the Mist
THE END OF THE ADVENTURE
Six weeks or so had passed when a four-wheeled cab drew up at the door of 2 Albert Court, London, E.C.
The progress of this vehicle had excited some remark among the more youthful and lighter-minded denizens of the City, for on its box, arrayed in an ill-fitting suit of dittoes and a brown hat some sizes too small for him, sat a most strange object, whose coal-black countenance, dwarfed frame and enormous nose and shoulders attracted their ribald observation.
‘Look at him, Bill,’ said one youth to an acquaintance, ‘he’s escaped from Madame Tussaud’s, he has. Painted hisself over with Day & Martin’s best, and bought a second-hand Guy Fawkes nose.’
Just then his remarks were cut short, for Otter, having they been made to understand by the driver that they had arrived at their destination, descended from the box in a manner so original, that it is probably peculiar to the aborigines of Central Africa, and frightened that boy away.
From the cab emerged Leonard and Juanna, looking very much the better for their sea journey. Indeed, having recovered her health and spirits, and being very neatly dressed in a grey frock, with a wide black hat trimmed with ostrich feathers, Juanna looked what she was, a very lovely woman. Entering an outer office Leonard asked if Messrs. Thomson & Turner were to be seen.
‘Mr. Turner is within, sir,’ answered a clerk of venerable appearance. ‘Mr. Thomson’ — here his glance fell upon Otter and suddenly he froze up, then added with a jerk — ‘has been dead a hundred years! Thomson, sir,’ he explained, recovering his dignity, but with his eyes still fixed on otter, ‘was the founder of this firm; he died in the time of George III. That is his picture over the door — the person with a hare lip and a snuff-box.’
‘Indeed,’ said Leonard. ‘As Mr. Thomson is not available, perhaps you will tell Mr. Turner that a gentleman would like to speak to him.’
‘Certainly, sir,’ said the old clerk, still staring fixedly at Otter, whose aspect appeared to fascinate him much as that worthy had been fascinated by the eyes of the Water Dweller. ‘Have you an appointment, sir?’
‘No,’ answered Leonard. ‘Tell him that it is in reference to an advertisement which his firm inserted in the “Times” some months ago.’
The clerk started, wondering if this could be the missing Mr. Outram. That much sought-for individual was understood to have resided in Africa, which is the home of dwarfs and other oddities. Once more he stared at Otter and vanished through a swing door.
Presently he returned. ‘Mr. Turner will see you, sir, if you and the lady will please to step in. Does this — gentleman — wish to accompany you?’
‘No,’ said Leonard, ‘he can stop here.’
Thereupon the clerk handed Otter a tall stool, on which the dwarf perched himself disconsolately. Then he opened the swing door and ushered Leonard and his wife into Mr. Turner’s private room.
‘Whom have I the pleasure of addressing?’ said a bland, stout gentleman, rising from before a table strewn with papers. ‘Pray be seated, madam.’
Leonard drew from his pocket a copy of the ‘Weekly Times’ and handed it to him, saying:
‘I understand that you inserted this advertisement.’
‘Certainly we did,’ answered the lawyer after glancing at it. ‘Do you bring me any news of Mr. Leonard Outram?’
‘Yes, I do. I am he, and this lady is my wife.’
The lawyer bowed politely. ‘This is most fortunate,’ he said; ‘we had almost given up hope — but, of course, some proofs of identity will be required.’
‘I think that they can be furnished to your satisfaction,’ answered Leonard briefly. ‘Meanwhile, for the sake of argument, perhaps you will assume that I am the person whom I state myself to be, and inform me to what this advertisement refers.’
‘Certainly,’ answered the lawyer, ‘there can be no harm in that. Sir Thomas Outram, the late baronet, as you are doubtless aware, had two sons, Thomas and Leonard. Leonard, the second son, as a young man was engaged to, or rather had some love entanglement with a lady — really I forget her maiden name, but perhaps you can inform me of it —’
‘Do you happen to mean Miss Jane Beach?’ said Leonard quietly.
At this point Juanna turned in her chair and became extraordinarily, indeed almost fiercely interested, in the conversation.
‘Quite so, Beach was the name. You must excuse my forgetfulness. Well, Sir Thomas’s affairs fell into confusion, and after their father’s death, Mr. Leonard Outram with his elder brother Thomas, emigrated to South Africa. In that same year Miss Jane — eh — Beach married a client of ours, Mr. Cohen, whose father had purchased the estate of Outram from the trustees in bankruptcy.’
‘Indeed!’ said Leonard.
‘Shortly afterwards,’ went on the lawyer, ‘Mr. Cohen, or rather Sir Jonas Cohen, succeeded to the estate on the death of his father. Two years ago he died leaving all his property, real and personal, to his only child, a daughter named Jane, with reversion to his widow in fee simple. Within a month of his death the child Jane died also, and nine months later her mother, Lady Cohen, née Jane Beach, followed her to the grave.’
‘Yes,’ said Leonard in a dull voice, and hiding his face in his hand, ‘go on, sir.’
‘Lady Cohen made a somewhat peculiar will. Under the terms of that will she bequeaths the mansion house and estates of Outram, together with most of her personal property, amounting in all to something over a hundred thousand pounds, to her old friend, Leonard Outram and the heirs of his body, with reversion to her brother. This will has not been disputed, therefore if you are Leonard Outram, I may congratulate you upon being once more the owner of your ancestral estate and a considerable fortune in cash.’
For a while Leonard was too agitated to speak.
‘I will prove to you,’ he said at last, ‘that I am this person, that is I will prove it prima facie, afterwards you can satisfy yourself of the truth of my statements by the usual methods.’ And he proceeded to adduce a variety of evidence as to his identity which need not be set out here. The lawyer listened in silence, taking a note from time to time.
‘I think,’ he said when Leonard had finished, ‘that, subject to those inquiries, of which you yourself have pointed out the necessity in so grave a matter, I may accept it as proved that you are none other than Mr. Leonard Outram, or rather,’ he added, correcting himself, ‘if, as I understand, your elder brother Thomas is dead, than Sir Leonard Outram. Indeed you have so entirely convinced me that this is the case, that I have no hesitation in placing in your hands a letter addressed to you by the late Lady Cohen, and deposited with me together with the executed will; though when you have read it, I shall request you to leave that letter with me for the present.
‘By the way, it may interest you to learn,’ Mr. Turner added, as he went to a safe built into the wall and unlocked its iron door, ‘that we have been hunting for you for a year or more. We even sent a man to South Africa, and he tracked you to a spot in some mountains somewhere north of Delagoa Bay, where it was reported that you, with your brother Thomas and two friends, were digging for gold. He reached the spot on the night of the ninth of May last year.’
‘The very day that I left it,’ broke in Leonard.
‘And found the site of your camp and three graves. At first our representative thought that you were all dead, but afterwards he fell in with a native who appears to have deserted from your service, and who told him that one of the brothers was dying when he left the camp, but one was still in good health, though he did not know where he had gone.’
‘My brother Thomas died on the first of May — this day year,’ said Leonard.
‘After that all trace of you was lost, but I still kept on advertising, for missing people have a wonderful way or turning up to claim fortunes, and you see the result. Here is the letter, Sir Leonard.’
Leonard took the document and looked at it, while strange feelings crowded into his mind. This was the first letter that he had ever received from Jane Beach, also it was the last that he ever could receive.
‘Before I open this, Mr. Turner,’ he said, ‘for my own satisfaction I may as well ask you to compare the handwriting of the address with another specimen of it that chances to be in my possession’; and producing the worn prayer-book from his pocket — Jane’s parting gift — he opened it at the fly-leaf, and pointed out the inscription to the lawyer, placing the envelope beside it.
Mr. Turner took a reading-glass and examined first one writing and then the other.
‘These words appear to have been written by the same hand,’ he said presently. ‘Lady Cohen’s writing was peculiar, and it is difficult to be mistaken on the point, though I am no expert. To free you from responsibility, with your consent I myself will open this letter,’ and he slit the envelope at the top with an ivory paper-knife, and, drawing out its contents, he handed them to Leonard. They ran thus:
‘My dearest Leonard, — For so I, who am no longer a wife, may call you without shame, seeing that you are in truth the dearest to my heart, whether you be still living, or dead like my husband and my child.
‘The will which I am to sign to-morrow, will prove to you if you are yet alive, as I believe to be the case, how deep is my anxiety that you should re-enter into possession of the ancestral home of which fortune has deprived you. It is with the greatest pleasure that I make you this bequest, and I can do so with a clear conscience, for my late husband has left everything at my absolute disposal — being himself without near relations — in the sad event which has occurred, of the death of his daughter, our only child.
‘May you live long to enjoy the lands and fortune which I am enabled thus to return to your family, and may your children and their descendants sit at Outram for many a generation to come.
And now I will talk no more of this matter, for I have an explanation to make and a pardon to ask.
It may well be, Leonard, that when your eyes fall upon these lines, you will have forgotten me — most deservedly — and have found some other woman to love you. No, as I set this down I feel that it is not true; you will never forget me altogether, Leonard — your first love — and no other woman will ever be quite the same to you as I have been; or, at least, so I believe in my foolishness and vanity.
You will ask what explanation is possible after the way in which I have treated you, and the outrage that I have done to my own love. Such as it is, however, I offer it to you.
I was driven into this marriage, Leonard, by my late father, who could be very cruel when he chose. To admit this is, as I know, a proof of weakness. So be it, I have never concealed from myself that I am weak. Yet, believe me, I struggled while I could; I wrote to you even, but they intercepted my letter; and I told all the truth to Mr. Cohen, but he was self-willed and passionate, and would take no heed of my pleading. So I married him, Leonard, and was fairly happy with him, for he was kindness itself to me, but from that hour I began to die.
And now more than six years have passed since the night of our parting in the snow, and the end is at hand, for I am really dying. It has pleased God to take my little daughter, and this last shock proved more than I can bear, and so I go to join her and to wait with her till such time as I shall once more see your unforgotten face.
‘This is all that I have to say, dear Leonard.
‘Pardon me, and I am selfish enough ,to add — do not forget me.
‘P. S. — Why is it that an affection like ours, which has never borne fruit even, should in the end prove stronger than any other earthly tie? Heaven knows and Heaven alone, how passionately I loved and love my dead child; and yet, now that my own hour is at hand, it is of you that I think the most, you who are neither child nor husband. I suppose that I shall understand ere long, but O Leonard, Leonard, Leonard, if, as I believe, my nature is immortal, I swear that such love as mine for you, however much it be dishonoured and betrayed, is still the most immortal part of it! — J.’
Leonard put down the letter on the table, and again he covered his face with his hand to hide his emotion, for his feelings overcame him as a sense of the depth and purity of this dead woman’s undying love sank into his heart.
‘May I read that letter, Leonard?’ asked Juanna in a quiet voice.
‘Yes, I suppose so, dear, if you like,’ he answered, feeling dully that it was better to make a clean breast of the matter at once, and thus to prevent future misunderstandings.
Juanna took the letter and perused it twice, by which time she knew it as well as she did the Lord’s Prayer, nor did she ever forget a single word of it. Then she handed it back to the lawyer, saying nothing.
‘I understand,’ said Mr. Turner, breaking in on a silence which he felt to be painful, ‘that you will be able to produce the necessary proofs of identity within the next few days, and then we can get the will proved in the usual form. Meanwhile, you must want money, which I will take the risk of advancing you,’ and he wrote a cheque for a hundred pounds and gave it to Leonard.
Half an hour later Leonard and Juanna were alone in a room at their hotel, but as yet scarcely a word had passed between them since they left the lawyer’s office.
Don’t you see, Leonard,’ his wife said almost fiercely, ‘it is most amusing, you made a mistake. Your brother’s dying prophecy was like a Delphic oracle, it could be taken two ways, and, of course, you adopted the wrong interpretation. You left Grave Mountain a day too soon. It was by Jane Beach’s help that you were to recover Outram, not by mine,’ and she laughed sadly.
‘Don’t talk, like that, dear,’ said Leonard in a sad voice, ‘it pains me.’
‘How else am I to talk after reading that letter?’ she answered, ‘for what woman can hold her own against a dead rival? Now also I must be indebted to her bounty all my days. Oh! if I had not lost the jewels — if only I had not lost the jewels!’
History does not relate how Leonard dealt with this unexpected and yet natural situation.
A week had passed and Leonard, with Juanna at his side, found himself once more in the great hall at Outram, where, on a bygone night, many years ago, he and his dead brother had sworn their oath. All was the same, for in this hall nothing had been changed — Jane had seen to that. There chained to its stand was the Bible, upon which they had registered their vow; there were the pictures of his ancestors gazing down calmly upon him, as though they cared little for the story of his struggles and of his strange triumph over fortune ‘by the help of a woman.’ There was the painted window, with its blazoned coats of arms and its proud mottoes — ‘For Heart, Home and Honour,’ and ‘Per ardea ad astra.’ He had won the heart and home, and he had kept his honour and his oath. He had endured the toils and dangers, and the crown of stars was his.
And yet, was Leonard altogether happy as he stood looking on these familiar things? Perhaps not quite, for yonder in the churchyard there was a grave, and within the church a monument in white marble, that was wonderfully like one who had loved him and whom he had loved, though time and trouble had written a strange difference on her face. Also, he had failed: he had kept his oath indeed and fought on till the end was won, but himself he had not won it. What now was his had once belonged to his successful rival, who doubtless little dreamed of the payment that would be exacted from him by the decree of fate.
And was Juanna happy? She knew well that Leonard loved her truly; but oh! it was cruel that she who had shared the struggles should be deprived of her reward — that it should be left to another, who if not false had at least been weak, to give to her husband that which she had striven so hard to win — that which she had won — and lost. And harder still was it that in this ancient place which would henceforth be her home, by day and by night she must feel the presence of the shadow of a woman, a woman sweet and pale, who, as she believed, stood between her and that which she desired above all things — the complete and absolute possession of her husband’s heart.
Doubtless she over-rated the trouble; men and women do not spend their lives in brooding upon the memories of their first loves — if they did, this would be a melancholy world. But to Juanna it was real enough, and remained so for some years. And if a thing is true to the heart, it avails little that reason should give it the lie.
In short, now in the hour of their full prosperity, Leonard and Juanna were making acquaintance with the fact that fortune never gives with both hands, as the French say, but loves to rob with the one while she bestows with the other. To few is it allowed to be completely miserable, to none to be completely happy. Their good luck had been so overwhelming in many ways, that it would have partaken of the unnatural, and might well have excited their fears for the future, had its completeness been unmarred by these drawbacks which, such as they were, probably they learned to disremember as the years passed over them bringing them new trials and added blessings.
Perhaps a peep into the future will tell us the rest of the story of Leonard and Juanna Outram better and more truly than any further chronicling of events.
Ten years or so have gone by and Sir Leonard, now a member of Parliament and the Lord-Lieutenant of his county, comes out of church on the first Sunday in May accompanied by his wife, the stateliest matron in the countryside, and some three or four children, boys and girls together, as healthy as they are handsome. After a glance at a certain grave that lies near to the chancel door, they walk homewards across the budding park in the sweet spring afternoon, till, a hundred yards or more from the door of Outram Hall, they pause at the gates of a dwelling known as “The Kraal,” shaped like a bee-hive, fashioned of straw and sticks, and built by the hands of Otter alone.
Basking in the sunshine in front of this hut sits the dwarf himself, cutting broom-sticks with a knife out of the straightest of a bundle of ash saplings that lie beside him. He is dressed in a queer mixture of native and European costume, but otherwise time has wrought no change in him.
‘Greeting, Baas,’ he says as Leonard comes up. ‘Is Baas Wallace here yet?’
‘No, he will be down in time for dinner. Mind that you are there to wait, Otter.’
‘I shall not be late, Baas, on this day of all days.’
‘Otter,’ cries a little maid, ‘you should not make broomsticks on Sunday, it is very wrong.’
The dwarf grins by way of answer, then speaks to Leonard in a tongue that none but he can understand.
‘What did I tell you many years ago, Baas?’ he says. ‘Did I not tell you that by this way or by that, you should win the wealth, and that the great kraal across the water should be yours again, and that the children of strangers should wander there no more? See, It has come true,’ and he points to the happy group of youngsters. ‘Wow! I, Otter, who am a fool in most things, have proved to be the best of prophets. Yet I will rest content and prophesy no more, lest I should lose my name for wisdom.’
A few hours later and dinner is over in the larger hall. All the servants have gone except Otter, who dressed in a white smock stands behind his master’s chair. There is no company present save Mr. Wallace, who has just returned from another African expedition, and sits smiling and observant, his eye-glass fixed in his eye as of yore. Juanna is arrayed in full evening dress, however, and a great star ruby blazes upon her breast.
‘Why have you got the red stone on to-night, Mother?’ asks her eldest son Thomas, who with his two sisters has come down to dessert.
‘Hush, dear,’ she answers, as Otter advances to that stand on which the Bible is chained, holding a glass filled with port in his hand.
‘Deliverer and Shepherdess,’ he says, speaking in Sisutu, ‘on this day eleven years gone Baas Tom died out yonder; I, who drink wine but once a year, drink to the memory of Baas Tom, and to our happy meeting with him in the gold House of the Great-Great’; and swallowing the port with a single gulp Otter throws the glass behind him, shattering it on the floor.
‘Amen,’ says Leonard. ‘Now, love, your toast.’
‘I drink to the memory of Francisco who died to save me,’ says Juanna in a low voice.
‘Amen,’ repeats her husband.
For a moment there is silence, for Leonard gives no toast; then the boy Thomas lifts his glass and cries:
‘And I drink to Olfan, the king of the People of the Mist, and to Otter, who killed the Snake-god, and whom I love the best of all of them. Mother, may Otter get the spear and the rope and tell us the story of how he dragged you and Father up the ice-bridge?’