A Little Foot

WHEN I opened my eyes again I found myself lying on a skin mat not far from the fire round which we had been gathered for that dreadful feast. Near me lay Leo, still apparently in a swoon, and over him was bending the tall form of the girl Ustane, who was washing a deep spear wound in his side with cold water preparatory to binding it up with linen. Leaning against the wall of the cave behind her was Job, apparently uninjured, but bruised and trembling. On the other side of the fire, tossed about this way and that, as though they had thrown themselves down to sleep in some moment of absolute exhaustion, were the bodies of those whom we had killed in our frightful struggle for life. I counted them: there were twelve beside the woman, and the corpse of poor Mahomed, who had died by my hand, which, the fire-stained pot at its side, was placed at the end of the irregular line. To the left a body of men were engaged in binding the arms of the survivors of the cannibals behind them, and then fastening them two and two. The villains were submitting with a look of sulky indifference upon their faces which accorded ill with the baffled fury that gleamed in their sombre eyes. In front of these men, directing the operations, stood no other than our friend Billali, looking rather tired, but particularly patriarchal with his flowing beard, and as cool and unconcerned as though he were superintending the cutting up of an ox.

Presently he turned, and perceiving that I was sitting up advanced to me, and with the utmost courtesy said that he trusted that I felt better. I answered that at present I scarcely knew how I felt, except that I ached all over.

Then he bent down and examined Leo's wound.

`It is a nasty cut,' he said, `but the spear has not pierced the entrails. He will recover.'

`Thanks to thy arrival, my father,' I answered. `In another minute we should all have been beyond the reach of recovery, for those devils of thine would have slain us as they would have slain our servant,' and I pointed towards Mahomed.

The old man ground his teeth, and I saw an extraordinary expression of malignity light up his eyes.

`Fear not, my son,' he answered. `Vengeance shall be taken on them such as would make the flesh twist upon the bones merely to hear of it. To She shall they go, and her vengeance shall be worthy of her greatness. That man,' pointing to Mahomed, `I tell thee that man would have died a merciful death to the death these hyaena-men shall die. Tell me, I pray of thee, how it came about.'

In a few words I sketched what had happened.

`Ah, so,' he answered. `Thou seest, my son, here there is a custom that if a stranger comes into this country he may be slain by "the pot," and eaten.'

`It is hospitality turned upside down,' I answered feebly. `In our country we entertain a stranger, and give him food to eat. Here ye eat him, and are entertained.'

`It is a custom,' he answered, with a shrug. `Myself I think it an evil one; but then,' he added by an after- thought, `I do not like the taste of strangers, especially after they have wandered through the swamps and lived on wildfowl. When She-who-must-be-obeyed sent orders that ye were to be saved alive she said naught of the black man, therefore, being hyaenas, these men lusted after his flesh, and the woman it was, whom thou didst rightly slay, who put it into their evil hearts to hot-pot him. Well, they will have their reward. Better for them would it be if they had never seen the light than that they should stand before She in her terrible anger. Happy are those of them who died by your hands.

`Ah,' he went on, `it was a gallant fight that ye fought. Knowest thou, that thou, long-armed old baboon that thou art, hast crushed in the ribs of those two who are laid out there as though they were but as the shell on an egg? And the young one, the lion, it was a beautiful stand that he made--one against so many--three did he slay outright, and that one there'--and he pointed to a body that was still moving a little--`will die anon, for his head is cracked across, and others of those who are bound are hurt. It was a

  By PanEris using Melati.

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