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- The People Of The Mist - 80/80 -


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 overrated 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 property, 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 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 country-side, 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 beehive, 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 brown-sticks 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 eyeglass 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 desert.

"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?"


The People Of The Mist - 80/80

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