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- The People Of The Mist - 6/80 -


down his pallid cheeks like tears. Then the strange understanding look passed from the wide eyes, and once more they became human, and the lips were opened.

"Water," they murmured.

Leonard gave him to drink, with one hand holding the pannikin to his brother's mouth and with the other supporting the dying head. Twice he gulped at it, then with a brusque motion of his wasted arm he knocked the cup aside, spilling the water on the earthen floor.

"Leonard," he said, "you will succeed."

"Succeed in what, Tom?"

"You will get the money and Outram--and found the family afresh--but you will not do it alone. /A woman will help you/."

Then his mind wandered a little and he muttered, "How is Jane? Have you heard from Jane?" or some such words.

At the mention of this name Leonard's face softened, then once more grew hard and anxious.

"I have not heard of Jane for years, old fellow," he said; "probably she is dead or married. But I do not understand."

"Don't waste time, Leonard," Tom answered, rousing himself from his lethargy. "Listen to me. I am going fast. You know dying men see far-- sometimes. I dreamed it, or I read it in your face. I tell you--/you/ will die at Outram. Stay here a while after I am dead. Stay a while, Leonard!"

He sank back exhausted, and at that moment a gust of wind, fiercer than any which had gone before, leapt down the mountain gorges, howling with all the voices of the storm. It caught the frail hut and shook it. A cobra hidden in the thick thatch awoke from its lethargy and fell with a soft thud to the floor not a foot from the face of the dying man--then erected itself and hissed aloud with flickering tongue and head swollen by rage. Leonard started back and seized a crowbar which stood near, but before he could strike, the reptile sank down and, drawing its shining shape across his brother's forehead, once more vanished into the thatch.

His eyes did not so much as close, though Leonard saw a momentary reflection of the bright scales in the dilated pupils and shivered at this added terror, shivered as though his own flesh had shrunk beneath the touch of those deadly coils. It was horrible that the snake should creep across his brother's face, it was still more horrible that his brother, yet living, should not understand the horror. It caused him to remember our invisible companion, that ancient enemy of mankind of whom the reptile is an accepted type; it made him think of that long sleep which the touch of such as this has no power to stir.

Ah! now he was going--it was impossible to mistake that change, the last quick quiver of the blood, followed by an ashen pallor, and the sob of the breath slowly lessening into silence. So the day had died last night, with a little purpling of the sky--a little sobbing of the wind--then ashen nothingness and silence. But the silence was broken, the night had grown alive indeed--and with a fearful life. Hark! how the storm yelled! those blasts told of torment, that rain beat like tears. What if his brother---- He did not dare to follow the thought home.

Hark! how the storm yelled!--the very hut wrenched at its strong supports as though the hands of a hundred savage foes were dragging it. It lifted--by heaven it was gone!--gone, crashing down the rocks on the last hurricane blast of the tempest, and there above them lowered the sullen blue of the passing night flecked with scudding clouds, and there in front of them, to the east and between the mountains, flared the splendours of the dawn.

Something had struck Leonard heavily, so heavily that the blood ran down his face; he did not heed it, he scarcely felt it; he only clasped his brother in his arms and, for the first time for many years, he kissed him on the brow, staining it with the blood from his wound.

The dying man looked up. He saw the glory in the East. Now it ran along the mountain sides, now it burned upon their summits, to each summit a pillar of flame, a peculiar splendour of its own diversely shaped; and now the shapes of fire leaped from earth to heaven, peopling the sky with light. The dull clouds caught the light, but they could not hold it all: back it fell to earth again, and the forests lifted up their arms to greet it, and it shone upon the face of the waters.

Thomas Outram saw--and staggering to his knees he stretched out his arms towards the rising sun, muttering with his lips.

Then he sank upon Leonard's breast, and presently all his story was told.

CHAPTER IV

THE LAST VIGIL

For a while Leonard sat by the body of his brother. The daylight grew and gathered about him, the round ball of the sun appeared above the mountains.

The storm was gone. Were it not for some broken fragments of the vanished hut, it would have been difficult to know even that it had been. Insects began to chirrup, lizards ran from the crevices of the rocks, yonder the rain-washed bud of a mountain lily opened before his eyes. Still Leonard sat on, his face stony with grief, till at length a shadow fell upon him from above. He looked up--it was cast by a vulture's wings, as they hurried to the place of death.

Grasping his loaded rifle Leonard sprang to his feet. Nearer and nearer came the bird, wheeling above him in lessening circles: it forgot the presence of the living in its desire for the dead. Leonard lifted the rifle, aimed and fired. The report rang out clearly on the silent air, and was echoed from krantz and kloof and mountain side, and from above answered the thud of the bullet. For a moment the smitten bird swayed upon its wide pinions, then they seemed to crumple beneath its weight, and it fell heavily and lay flapping and striking at the stones with its strong beak.

"I also can kill," said Leonard to himself as he watched it die. "Kill till you are killed--that is the law of life." Then he turned to the body of his brother and made it ready for burial as best he might, closing the eyes, tying up the chin with a band of twisted grass, and folding the thin toil-worn hands upon the quiet heart.

When all was finished he paused from his dreadful task, and a thought struck him.

"Where are those Kaffirs?" he said aloud--the sound of his voice seemed to dull the edge of solitude--"the lazy hounds, they ought to have been up an hour ago. Hi! Otter, Otter!"

The mountains echoed "Otter, Otter;" there was no other reply. Again he shouted without result. "I don't like to leave it," he said, "but I must go and see;" and, having covered the body with a red blanket to scare away the vultures, he started at a run round some projecting rocks that bordered the little plateau on which the hut had stood. Beyond them the plateau continued, and some fifty paces from the rocks was a hollow in the mountain side, where a softer vein of stone had been eaten away by centuries of weather.

It was here that the Kaffirs slept--four of them--and in front of this cave or grotto it was their custom to make a fire for cooking. But on that morning no fire was burning, and no Kaffirs were to be seen.

"Still asleep," was Leonard's comment as he strode swiftly towards the cave. In another moment he was in it shouting "Otter, Otter!" and saluting with a vigorous kick a prostrate form, of which he could just see the outline. The form did not move, which was strange, for such a kick should have suffered to wake even the laziest Basuto from his soundest sleep. Leonard stopped to examine it, and the next moment started back violently, exclaiming:

"Great heavens! it is Cheat, and he is dead."

At this moment a thick voice spoke from the corner of the cave in Dutch, the voice of Otter:

"I am here, Baas, but I am tied: the Baas must loosen me, I cannot stir."

Leonard advanced, striking a match as he came. Presently it burned up, and he saw the man Otter lying on his back, his legs and arms bound firmly with rimpis of hide, his face and body a mass of contusions. Drawing his hunting-knife Leonard cut the rimpis and brought the man from out the cave, carrying rather than leading him.

Otter was a knob-nosed Kaffir, that is of the Bastard Zulu race. The brothers had found him wandering about the country in a state of semi- starvation, and he had served them faithfully for some years. They had christened him Otter, his native patronymic being quite unpronounceable, because of his extraordinary skill in swimming, which almost equalled that of the animal after which he was named.

In face the man was hideous, though his ugliness was not unpleasant, being due chiefly to a great development of his tribal feature, the nose, and in body he was misshapen to the verge of monstrosity. In fact Otter was a dwarf, measuring little more than four feet in height. But what he lacked in height he made up in breadth; it almost seemed as though, intended by nature to be a man of many inches, he had been compressed to his present dimensions by art. His vast chest and limbs, indicating strength nearly superhuman, his long iron arms and massive head, all gave colour to this idea. Otter had one redeeming feature, however--his eyes, that when visible, which at this moment was not the case, were large, steady, and, like his skin, of a brilliant black.

"What has happened?" said Leonard, also speaking in Dutch.

"This, Baas! Last night those three Basuto villains, your servants, made up their minds to desert. They told me nothing, and they were so cunning that, though I watched even their thoughts, I never guessed. They knew better than to tell me, for I would have beaten them--yes, all! So they waited till I was sound asleep, then came behind me, the three of them, and tied me fast that I should not hinder them and that they might take away Baas Tom's gun which you lent me, and other things. Soon I found out their plans, and though I laughed in their faces, oh! my heart was black with rage.


The People Of The Mist - 6/80

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