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- The People Of The Mist - 30/80 -


"Ah! her father. Tell me, was she very beautiful?"

"She was the loveliest woman that I ever saw--except one who is sitting at my side," he added to himself.

"And do you love her very much?"

"Yes, I loved her very much."

If Juanna heard the change of tense she took no note of it; it was such a little thing, only one letter. And yet what a vast gulf there is between /love/ and /loved/! It is measureless. Still, most people have crossed it in their lives, some of them more than once. He told her the exact truth, but after a woman's fashion she added to the truth. He said that he had loved Jane Beach, and she did not doubt that he still loved her more than ever. How was she to know that the image of this faraway and hateful Jane was fading from his mind, to be replaced by that of a certain present Juanna? She took it all for granted, and filled in the details with a liberal hand and in high colours.

Juanna took it all for granted. Again she shivered, and her lips turned grey with pain. She understood now that she had loved him ever since the night when they first met in the slave camp. It was her love, as yet unrecognised, which, transforming her, had caused her to behave so badly. It had been dreadful to her to think that she should be thrust upon this man in a mock marriage; it was worse to know that he had entered on her rescue not for her own sake, but in the hope of winning wealth. In the moment of her loss Juanna learned for the first time what she had gained. She had played and lost, and she could never throw those dice again; it was begun and finished.

So Juanna thought and felt. A little more experience of the world might have taught her differently. But she had no experience, and in such novels as she had read the hero seldom varied in the pursuit of his first love, or turned to look upon /another/. Ah! if all heroes and heroines acted up to this golden rule, what an uncommonly dull world it would be!

Juanna gathered her energies, and spoke in a low steady voice. "Mr. Outram," she said, "I am so much obliged to you for telling me all this. It interests me a great deal, and I earnestly hope that Soa's tale of treasure will turn out to be true, and that you may win it by my help. It will be some slight return for all that you have done for me. Yes, I hope that you will win it, and buy back your home, and after your years of toil and danger live there in honour, and happiness, and--love, as you deserve to do. And now I ask you to forgive me my behaviour, my rudeness, and my bitter speeches. It has been shameful, I know; perhaps you will make some excuse for me when you remember all that I have gone through. My nerves were shaken, I was not myself--I acted like a half-wild minx. There, that is all."

As she spoke Juanna began to draw the signet-ring from her left hand. But she never completed the act. It was his gift to her, the only outward link between her and the man whom she had lost--why should she part with it? It reminded her of so much. She knew now that this mock marriage was in a sense a true one; that is, so far as she was concerned, for from that hour she had indeed given her spirit into his keeping--not herself, but her better half and her love; and those solemn words over her in that dreadful place and time had consecrated the gift. It was nothing, it meant nothing; yet on her it should be binding, though not on him. Yes, all her life she would remain as true to him in mind and act as though she had indeed become his wife on that night of fear. To do so would be her only happiness, she thought, though it is strange that in her sorrow she should turn for comfort to this very event, the mere mention of which had moved her to scorn and bitterness. But so it was, and so let it be.

Leonard saw the look upon her face; he had never seen anything quite like it before. With astonishment he heard her gentle words, and something of the meaning of the look and words came home to him; at any rate he understood that she was suffering. She was changed in his sight, he no longer felt bitter towards her. He loved her; might it not be that she also loved him, and that here was the key to her strange conduct? Once and for all he would settle the matter; he would tell her that Jane Beach had ceased to be more than a tender memory to him, and that she had become all.

"Juanna," he said, addressing her by her Christian name for the first time.

But there, as it was fated, the sentence began and ended, for at that moment a canoe shot alongside of them, and Francisco's voice was heard hailing them through the fog.

"Peter says that you have passed the camping place, senora. He did not stop you because he thought that you knew it well."

"It was the mist, Father," Juanna answered with a little laugh. "We have lost ourselves in a mist."

A few minutes and they were on the bank, and Leonard's declaration remained unspoken. Nor did he make any attempt to renew it. It seemed to him that Juanna had built a wall between them which he could not climb. From that evening forward her whole attitude towards him changed. She no longer angered him by bitter words; indeed, she was gentleness itself, and nothing could be kindlier or more friendly and open than her manner, but there it began and ended. Once or twice, indeed, he attempted some small advance, with the result that instantly she seemed to freeze--to become cold and hard as marble. He could not understand her, he feared her somewhat, and his pride took alarm. At the least he could keep his feelings to himself, he need not expose them to be trampled upon by this incomprehensible girl.

So, although they were destined to live side by side for months, rarely out of each other's sight or thoughts, he went his way and she went hers. But the past and secret trouble left its mark on both. Leonard became sterner, more silent, watchful, and suspicious. Juanna grew suddenly from a girl into a woman of presence and great natural dignity. She did not often laugh during those months as had been her wont, she only smiled, sadly enough at times. Her thoughts would not let her laugh, for they were of what her life might have been had no such person as Jane Beach existed, and of what it must be because of Jane Beach. Indeed this unknown Jane took a great hold of her mind-- she haunted her. Juanna pictured her in a dozen different shapes of beauty, endowed with many varying charms, and hated each phantasm worse than the last.

Still, for a while she would set it up as a rival, and try to outmatch its particular fancied grace or loveliness--a strange form of jealousy which at length led Otter to remark that the Shepherdess was not one woman but twenty women, and, therefore, bewitched and to be avoided. But these fits only took her from time to time. For the most part she moved among them a grave and somewhat stately young lady, careful of many things, fresh and lovely to look upon, a mystery to her white companions, and to the natives little short of a goddess.

But wherever Juanna moved two shadows went with her--her secret passion and the variable image of that far-off English lady who had robbed her of its fruit.

CHAPTER XVII

THE DEATH OF MAVOOM

One more day's journeying brought the party to the ruined Settlement, which they found in much the same condition as the Arabs had left it a few weeks before. Fortunately the destruction was not nearly so great as it appeared. The inside of the house, indeed, was burnt out, but its walls still remained intact, also many of the huts of the natives were still standing.

Messengers who left the canoes at dawn had spread the news of the rescue and return of the Shepherdess among the people of the neighbouring kraals, who flocked by scores to the landing-place. With these were at least a hundred of Mr. Rodd's own people, who had escaped the clutches of the slaver-traders by hiding, absence, and various other accidents, and now returned to greet his daughter and their own relatives as they would have greeted one risen from the grave. Indeed the welcome accorded to Juanna was most touching. Men, women, and children ran to her, the men saluting her with guttural voices and uplifted arms, the women and children gesticulating, chattering, and kissing her dress and hand.

Waving them aside impatiently, Juanna asked the men if anything had been seen or heard of her father. They answered, "No." Some of their number had started up the river to search for him on the same day when she was captured, but they had not returned, and no tidings had come from them or him.

"Do not be alarmed," said Leonard, seeing the distress and anxiety written on her face; "doubtless he has gone further than he anticipated, and the men have not been able to find him."

"I fear that something has happened to him," she answered; "he should have been back by now: he promised to return within the fortnight."

By this time the story of the capture and destruction of the slave camp was spread abroad among the people by the rescued men, and the excitement rose to its height. Otter, seeing a favourable opportunity to trumpet his master's fame, swaggered to and fro through the crowd shaking a spear and chanting Leonard's praises after the Zulu fashion.

"/Wow!/" he said, "/wow!/ Look at him, ye people, and be astonished.

"Look at him, the White Elephant, and hear his deeds.

"In the night he fell upon them.

"He fell upon them, the armed men in a fenced place.

"He did it alone: no one helped him but a black monkey and a woman with a shaking hand.

"He beguiled them with a tongue of honey, he smote them with a spear of iron.

"He won the Shepherdess from the midst of them to be a wife to him.

"He satisfied the Yellow Devil, he satisfied him with gold.

"The praying man prayed over them, then strife arose.

"Their greatest warrior gave him battle, he broke him with his fist.

"Then the Monkey played his tricks, and the Shaking Hand made a great noise, a noise of thunder.


The People Of The Mist - 30/80

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