|« Prev||Chapter XXXVII. THE SHADOW||Next »|
A MURMUR of pleasure from my companions roused me: they had caught sight of their fellows in the distance! The two on Lona's horse rode on to join them. They were greeted with a wavering shout—which immediately died away. As we drew near, the sound of their sobs reached us like the breaking of tiny billows.
When I came among them, I saw that something dire had befallen them: on their childish faces was the haggard look left by some strange terror. No possible grief could have wrought the change. A few of them came slowly round me, and held out their arms to take my burden. I yielded it; the tender hopelessness of the smile with which they received it, made my heart swell with pity in the midst of its own desolation. In vain were their sobs over their mother-queen; in vain they sought to entice from her some recognition of their love; in vain they kissed and fondled her as they bore her away: she would not wake! On each side one carried an arm, gently stroking it; as many as could get near, put their arms under her body; those who could not, crowded around the bearers. On a spot where the grass grew thicker and softer they laid her down, and there all the Little Ones gathered sobbing.
Outside the crowd stood the elephants, and I near them, gazing at my Lona over the many little heads between. Those next me caught sight of the princess, and stared trembling. Odu was the first to speak.
"I have seen that woman before!" he whispered to his next neighbour. "It was she who fought the white leopardess, the night they woke us with their yelling!"
"Silly!" returned his companion. "That was a wild beast, with spots!"
"Look at her eyes!" insisted Odu. "I know she is a bad giantess, but she is a wild beast all the same. I know she is the spotted one!"
The other took a step nearer; Odu drew him back with a sharp pull.
"Don't look at her!" he cried, shrinking away, yet fascinated by the hate-filled longing in her eyes. "She would eat you up in a moment! It was her shadow! She is the wicked princess!"
"That cannot be! they said she was beautiful!"
"Indeed it is the princess!" I interposed. "Wickedness has made her ugly!"
She heard, and what a look was hers!
"It was very wrong of me to run away!" said Odu thoughtfully.
"What made you run away?" I asked. "I expected to find you where I left you!"
He did not reply at once.
"I don't know what made me run," answered another. "I was frightened!"
"It was a man that came down the hill from the palace," said a third.
"How did he frighten you?"
"I don't know."
"He wasn't a man," said Odu; "he was a shadow; he had no thick to him!"
"Tell me more about him."
"He came down the hill very black, walking like a bad giant, but spread flat. He was nothing but blackness. We were frightened the moment we saw him, but we did not run away; we stood and watched him. He came on as if he would walk over us. But before he reached us, he began to spread and spread, and grew bigger end bigger, till at last he was so big that he went out of our sight, and we saw him no more, and then he was upon us!"
"What do you mean by that?"
"He was all black through between us, and we could not see one another; and then he was inside us."
"How did you know he was inside you?"
"He did me quite different. I felt like bad. I was not Odu any more—not the Odu I knew. I wanted to tear Sozo to pieces—not really, but like!"
He turned and hugged Sozo.
"It wasn't me, Sozo," he sobbed. "Really, deep down, it was Odu, loving you always! And Odu came up, and knocked Naughty away. I grew sick, and thought I must kill myself to get out of the black. Then came a horrible laugh that had heard my think, and it set the air trembling about me. And then I suppose I ran away, but I did not know I had run away until I found myself running, fast as could, and all the rest running too. I would have stopped, but I never thought of it until I was out of the gate among the grass. Then I knew that I had run away from a shadow that wanted to be me and wasn't, and that I was the Odu that loved Sozo. It was the shadow that got into me, and hated him from inside me; it was not my own self me! And now I know that I ought not to have run away! But indeed I did not quite know what I was doing until it was done! My legs did it, I think: they grew frightened, and forgot me, and ran away! Naughty legs! There! and there!"
Thus ended Odu, with a kick to each of his naughty legs.
"What became of the shadow?" I asked.
"I do not know," he answered. "I suppose he went home into the night where there is no moon."
I fell a wondering where Lona was gone, and dropping on the grass, took the dead thing in my lap, and whispered in its ear, "Where are you, Lona? I love you!" But its lips gave no answer. I kissed them, not quite cold, laid the body down again, and appointing a guard over it, rose to provide for the safety of Lona's people during the night.
Before the sun went down, I had set a watch over the princess outside the camp, and sentinels round it: intending to walk about it myself all night long, I told the rest of the army to go to sleep. They threw themselves on the grass and were asleep in a moment.
When the moon rose I caught a glimpse of something white; it was the leopardess. She swept silently round the sleeping camp, and I saw her pass three times between the princess and the Little Ones. Thereupon I made the watch lie down with the others, and stretched myself beside the body of Lona.
|« Prev||Chapter XXXVII. THE SHADOW||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version