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Title: Benita, an African romance
Author: Haggard, H. Rider (Henry Rider)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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BENITA--AN AFRICAN ROMANCE

By H. Rider Haggard



     NOTES

     It may interest readers of this story to know that its author
     believes it to have a certain foundation in fact.

     It was said about five-and-twenty or thirty years ago that an
     adventurous trader, hearing from some natives in the territory
     that lies at the back of Quilimane, the legend of a great treasure
     buried in or about the sixteenth century by a party of Portuguese
     who were afterwards massacred, as a last resource attempted its
     discovery by the help of a mesmerist. According to this history
     the child who was used as a subject in the experiment, when in a
     state of trance, detailed the adventures and death of the unhappy
     Portuguese men and women, two of whom leapt from the point of a
     high rock into the Zambesi. Although he knew no tongue but
     English, this clairvoyant child is declared to have repeated in
     Portuguese the prayers these unfortunates offered up, and even to
     have sung the very hymns they sang. Moreover, with much other
     detail, he described the burial of the great treasure and its
     exact situation so accurately that the white man and the mesmerist
     were able to dig for and find the place where _it had been_--for
     the bags were gone, swept out by the floods of the river.

     Some gold coins remained, however, one of them a ducat of Aloysius
     Mocenigo, Doge of Venice. Afterwards the boy was again thrown into
     a trance (in all he was mesmerized eight times), and revealed
     where the sacks still lay; but before the white trader could renew
     his search for them, the party was hunted out of the country by
     natives whose superstitious fears were aroused, barely escaping
     with their lives.

     It should be added that, as in the following tale, the chief who
     was ruling there when the tragedy happened, declared the place to
     be sacred, and that if it were entered evil would befall his
     tribe. Thus it came about that for generations it was never
     violated, until at length his descendants were driven farther from
     the river by war, and from one of them the white man heard the
     legend.



BENITA--AN AFRICAN ROMANCE



I

CONFIDENCES

Beautiful, beautiful was that night! No air that stirred; the black
smoke from the funnels of the mail steamer _Zanzibar_ lay low over the
surface of the sea like vast, floating ostrich plumes that vanished one
by one in the starlight. Benita Beatrix Clifford, for that was her full
name, who had been christened Benita after her mother and Beatrix after
her father’s only sister, leaning idly over the bulwark rail, thought
to herself that a child might have sailed that sea in a boat of bark and
come safely into port.

Then a tall man of about thirty years of age, who was smoking a cigar,
strolled up to her. At his coming she moved a little as though to make
room for him beside her, and there was something in the motion which,
had anyone been there to observe it, might have suggested that these two
were upon terms of friendship, or still greater intimacy. For a moment
he hesitated, and while he did so an expression of doubt, of distress
even, gathered on his face. It was as though he understood that a great
deal depended on whether he accepted or declined that gentle invitation,
and knew not which to do.

Indeed, much did depend upon it, no less than the destinies of both of
them. If Robert Seymour had gone by to finish his cigar in solitude, why
then this story would have had a very different ending; or, rather, who
can say how it might have ended? The dread, foredoomed event with which
that night was big would have come to its awful birth leaving certain
words unspoken. Violent separation must have ensued, and even if both of
them had survived the terror, what prospect was there that their lives
would again have crossed each other in that wide Africa?

But it was not so fated, for just as he put his foot forward to continue
his march Benita spoke in her low and pleasant voice.

“Are you going to the smoking-room or to the saloon to dance, Mr.
Seymour? One of the officers just told me that there is to be a dance,”
 she added, in explanation, “because it is so calm that we might fancy
ourselves ashore.”

“Neither,” he answered. “The smoking-room is stuffy, and my dancing days
are over. No; I proposed to take exercise after that big dinner, and
then to sit in a chair and fall asleep. But,” he added, and his voice
grew interested, “how did you know that it was I? You never turned your
head.”

“I have ears in my head as well as eyes,” she answered with a little
laugh, “and after we have been nearly a month together on this ship I
ought to know your step.”

“I never remember that anyone ever recognized it before,” he said, more
to himself than to her, then came and leaned over the rail at her side.
His doubts were gone. Fate had spoken.

For a while there was silence between them, then he asked her if she
were not going to the dance.

Benita shook her head.

“Why not? You are fond of dancing, and you dance very well. Also there
are plenty of officers for partners, especially Captain----” and he
checked himself.

“I know,” she said; “it would be pleasant, but--Mr. Seymour, will you
think me foolish if I tell you something?”

“I have never thought you foolish yet, Miss Clifford, so I don’t know
why I should begin now. What is it?”

“I am not going to the dance because I am afraid, yes, horribly afraid.”

“Afraid! Afraid of what?”

“I don’t quite know, but, Mr. Seymour, I feel as though we were all
of us upon the edge of some dreadful catastrophe--as though there were
about to be a mighty change, and beyond it another life, something
new and unfamiliar. It came over me at dinner--that was why I left the
table. Quite suddenly I looked, and all the people were different, yes,
all except a few.”

“Was I different?” he asked curiously.

“No, you were not,” and he thought he heard her add “Thank God!” beneath
her breath.

“And were you different?”

“I don’t know. I never looked at myself; I was the seer, not the seen. I
have always been like that.”

“Indigestion,” he said reflectively. “We eat too much on board ship,
and the dinner was very long and heavy. I told you so, that’s why I’m
taking--I mean why I wanted to take exercise.”

“And to go to sleep afterwards.”

“Yes, first the exercise, then the sleep. Miss Clifford, that is the
rule of life--and death. With sleep thought ends, therefore for some of
us your catastrophe is much to be desired, for it would mean long sleep
and no thought.”

“I said that they were changed, not that they had ceased to think.
Perhaps they thought the more.”

“Then let us pray that your catastrophe may be averted. I prescribe
for you bismuth and carbonate of soda. Also in this weather it seems
difficult to imagine such a thing. Look now, Miss Clifford,” he added,
with a note of enthusiasm in his voice, pointing towards the east,
“look.”

Her eyes followed his outstretched hand, and there, above the level
ocean, rose the great orb of the African moon. Lo! of a sudden all that
ocean turned to silver, a wide path of rippling silver stretched from
it to them. It might have been the road of angels. The sweet soft light
beat upon their ship, showing its tapering masts and every detail of the
rigging. It passed on beyond them, and revealed the low, foam-fringed
coast-line rising here and there, dotted with kloofs and their clinging
bush. Even the round huts of Kaffir kraals became faintly visible in
that radiance. Other things became visible also--for instance, the
features of this pair.

The man was light in his colouring, fair-skinned, with fair hair which
already showed a tendency towards greyness, especially in the moustache,
for he wore no beard. His face was clean cut, not particularly handsome,
since, their fineness notwithstanding, his features lacked regularity;
the cheekbones were too high and the chin was too small, small faults
redeemed to some extent by the steady and cheerful grey eyes. For
the rest, he was broad-shouldered and well-set-up, sealed with the
indescribable stamp of the English gentleman. Such was the appearance of
Robert Seymour.

In that light the girl at his side looked lovely, though, in fact, she
had no real claims to loveliness, except perhaps as regards her figure,
which was agile, rounded, and peculiarly graceful. Her foreign-looking
face was unusual, dark-eyed, a somewhat large and very mobile mouth,
fair and waving hair, a broad forehead, a sweet and at times wistful
face, thoughtful for the most part, but apt to be irradiated by sudden
smiles. Not a beautiful woman at all, but exceedingly attractive, one
possessing magnetism.

She gazed, first at the moon and the silver road beneath it, then,
turning, at the land beyond.

“We are very near to Africa, at last,” she said.

“Too near, I think,” he answered. “If I were the captain I should stand
out a point or two. It is a strange country, full of surprises. Miss
Clifford, will you think me rude if I ask you why you are going there?
You have never told me--quite.”

“No, because the story is rather a sad one; but you shall hear it if you
wish. Do you?”

He nodded, and drew up two deck chairs, in which they settled themselves
in a corner made by one of the inboard boats, their faces still towards
the sea.

“You know I was born in Africa,” she said, “and lived there till I was
thirteen years old--why, I find I can still speak Zulu; I did so this
afternoon. My father was one of the early settlers in Natal. His father
was a clergyman, a younger son of the Lincolnshire Cliffords. They are
great people there still, though I don’t suppose that they are aware of
my existence.”

“I know them,” answered Robert Seymour. “Indeed, I was shooting at their
place last November--when the smash came,” and he sighed; “but go on.”

“Well, my father quarrelled with his father, I don’t know what about,
and emigrated. In Natal he married my mother, a Miss Ferreira, whose
name--like mine and her mother’s--was Benita. She was one of two
sisters, and her father, Andreas Ferreira, who married an English lady,
was half Dutch and half Portuguese. I remember him well, a fine old man
with dark eyes and an iron-grey beard. He was wealthy as things went
in those days--that is to say, he had lots of land in Natal and the
Transvaal, and great herds of stock. So you see I am half English, some
Dutch, and more than a quarter Portuguese--quite a mixture of races. My
father and mother did not get on well together. Mr. Seymour, I may as
well tell you all the truth: he drank, and although he was passionately
fond of her, she was jealous of him. Also he gambled away most of her
patrimony, and after old Andreas Ferreira’s death they grew poor. One
night there was a dreadful scene between them, and in his madness he
struck her.

“Well, she was a very proud woman, determined, too, and she turned on
him and said--for I heard her--‘I will never forgive you; we have done
with each other.’ Next morning, when my father was sober, he begged her
pardon, but she made no answer, although he was starting somewhere on
a fortnight’s trek. When he had gone my mother ordered the Cape cart,
packed up her clothes, took some money that she had put away, drove to
Durban, and after making arrangements at the bank about a small private
income of her own, sailed with me for England, leaving a letter for my
father in which she said that she would never see him again, and if he
tried to interfere with me she would put me under the protection of the
English court, which would not allow me to be taken to the home of a
drunkard.

“In England we went to live in London with my aunt, who had married a
Major King, but was a widow with five children. My father often wrote to
persuade my mother to go back to him, but she never would, which I think
was wrong of her. So things went on for twelve years or more, till
one day my mother suddenly died, and I came into her little fortune of
between £200 and £300 a year, which she had tied up so that nobody can
touch it. That was about a year ago. I wrote to tell my father of her
death, and received a pitiful letter; indeed, I have had several of
them. He implored me to come out to him and not to leave him to die in
his loneliness, as he soon would do of a broken heart, if I did not. He
said that he had long ago given up drinking, which was the cause of the
ruin of his life, and sent a certificate signed by a magistrate and a
doctor to that effect. Well, in the end, although all my cousins and
their mother advised me against it, I consented, and here I am. He is to
meet me at Durban, but how we shall get on together is more than I can
say, though I long to see him, for after all he is my father.”

“It was good of you to come, under all the circumstances. You must have
a brave heart,” said Robert reflectively.

“It is my duty,” she answered. “And for the rest, I am not afraid who
was born to Africa. Indeed, often and often have I wished to be back
there again, out on the veld, far away from the London streets and fog.
I am young and strong, and I want to see things, natural things--not
those made by man, you know--the things I remember as a child. One can
always go back to London.”

“Yes, or at least some people can. It is a curious thing, Miss Clifford,
but as it happens I have met your father. You always reminded me of the
man, but I had forgotten his name. Now it comes back to me; it _was_
Clifford.”

“Where on earth?” she asked, astonished.

“In a queer place. As I told you, I have visited South Africa before,
under different circumstances. Four years ago I was out here big-game
shooting. Going in from the East coast my brother and I--he is dead now,
poor fellow--got up somewhere in the Matabele country, on the banks of
the Zambesi. As we didn’t find much game there we were going to strike
south, when some natives told us of a wonderful ruin that stood on
a hill overhanging the river a few miles farther on. So, leaving the
waggon on the hither side of the steep nek, over which it would have
been difficult to drag it, my brother and I took our rifles and a bag
of food and started. The place was farther off than we thought, although
from the top of the nek we could see it clearly enough, and before we
reached it dark had fallen.

“Now we had observed a waggon and a tent outside the wall which we
thought must belong to white men, and headed for them. There was a light
in the tent, and the flap was open, the night being very hot. Inside
two men were seated, one old, with a grey beard, and the other, a
good-looking fellow--under forty, I should say--with a Jewish face,
dark, piercing eyes, and a black, pointed beard. They were engaged
in examining a heap of gold beads and bangles, which lay on the table
between them. As I was about to speak, the black-bearded man heard or
caught sight of us, and seizing a rifle that leaned against the table,
swung round and covered me.

“‘For God’s sake don’t shoot, Jacob,’ said the old man; ‘they are
English.’

“‘Best dead, any way,’ answered the other, in a soft voice, with a
slight foreign accent, ‘we don’t want spies or thieves here.’

“‘We are neither, but I can shoot as well as you, friend,’ I remarked,
for by this time my rifle was on him.

“Then he thought better of it, and dropped his gun, and we explained
that we were merely on an archæological expedition. The end of it was
that we became capital friends, though neither of us could cotton much
to Mr. Jacob--I forget his other name. He struck me as too handy with
his rifle, and was, I gathered, an individual with a mysterious and
rather lurid past. To cut a long story short, when he found out that
we had no intention of poaching, your father, for it was he, told us
frankly that they were treasure-hunting, having got hold of some
story about a vast store of gold which had been hidden away there by
Portuguese two or three centuries before. Their trouble was, however,
that the Makalanga, who lived in the fortress, which was called
Bambatse, would not allow them to dig, because they said the place was
haunted, and if they did so it would bring bad luck to their tribe.”

“And did they ever get in?” asked Benita.

“I am sure I don’t know, for we went next day, though before we left we
called on the Makalanga, who admitted us all readily enough so long as
we brought no spades with us. By the way, the gold we saw your father
and his friend examining was found in some ancient graves outside the
walls, but had nothing to do with the big and mythical treasure.”

“What was the place like? I love old ruins,” broke in Benita again.

“Oh! wonderful. A gigantic, circular wall built by heaven knows who,
then half-way up the hill another wall, and near the top a third wall
which, I understood, surrounded a sort of holy of holies, and above
everything, on the brink of the precipice, a great cone of granite.”

“Artificial or natural?”

“I don’t know. They would not let us up there, but we were introduced
to their chief and high priest, Church and State in one, and a wonderful
old man he was, very wise and very gentle. I remember he told me he
believed we should meet again, which seemed an odd thing for him to say.
I asked him about the treasure and why he would not let the other white
men look for it. He answered that it would never be found by any man,
white or black, that only a woman would find it at the appointed time,
when it pleased the Spirit of Bambatse, under whose guardianship it
was.”

“Who was the Spirit of Bambatse, Mr. Seymour?”

“I can’t tell you, couldn’t make out anything definite about her, except
that she was said to be white, and to appear sometimes at sunrise, or in
the moonlight, standing upon the tall point of rock of which I told you.
I remember that I got up before the dawn to look for her--like an idiot,
for of course I saw nothing--and that’s all I know about the matter.”

“Did you have any talk with my father, Mr. Seymour--alone, I mean?”

“Yes, a little. The next day he walked back to our waggon with us, being
glad, I fancy, of a change from the perpetual society of his partner
Jacob. That wasn’t wonderful in a man who had been brought up at
Eton and Oxford, as I found out he had, like myself, and whatever his
failings may have been--although we saw no sign of them, for he would
not touch a drop of spirits--was a gentleman, which Jacob wasn’t. Still,
he--Jacob--had read a lot, especially on out-of-the-way subjects,
and could talk every language under the sun--a clever and agreeable
scoundrel in short.”

“Did my father say anything about himself?”

“Yes; he told me that he had been an unsuccessful man all his life,
and had much to reproach himself with, for we got quite confidential at
last. He added that he had a family in England--what family he didn’t
say--whom he was anxious to make wealthy by way of reparation for past
misdeeds, and that was why he was treasure-hunting. However, from what
you tell me, I fear he never found anything.”

“No, Mr. Seymour, he never found it and never will, but all the same
I am glad to hear that he was thinking of us. Also I should like to
explore that place, Bambatse.”

“So should I, Miss Clifford, in your company, and your father’s, but not
in that of Jacob. If ever you should go there with him, I say:--‘Beware
of Jacob.’”

“Oh! I am not afraid of Jacob,” she answered with a laugh, “although I
believe that my father still has something to do with him--at least in
one of his letters he mentioned his partner, who was a German.”

“A German! I think that he must have meant a German Jew.”

After this there was silence between them for a time, then he said
suddenly, “You have told me your story, would you like to hear mine?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“Well, it won’t take you long to listen to it, for, Miss Clifford,
like Canning’s needy knife-grinder, I have really none to tell. You
see before you one of the most useless persons in the world, an
undistinguished member of what is called in England the ‘leisured
class,’ who can do absolutely nothing that is worth doing, except shoot
straight.”

“Indeed,” said Benita.

“You do not seem impressed with that accomplishment,” he went on, “yet
it is an honest fact that for the last fifteen years--I was thirty-two
this month--practically my whole time has been given up to it, with a
little fishing thrown in in the spring. As I want to make the most of
myself, I will add that I am supposed to be among the six best shots in
England, and that my ambition--yes, great Heavens! my ambition--was to
become better than the other five. By that sin fell the poor man who
speaks to you. I was supposed to have abilities, but I neglected them
all to pursue this form of idleness. I entered no profession, I did
no work, with the result that at thirty-two I am ruined and almost
hopeless.”

“Why ruined and hopeless?” she asked anxiously, for the way in which
they were spoken grieved her more than the words themselves.

“Ruined because my old uncle, the Honourable John Seymour Seymour, whose
heir I was, committed the indiscretion of marrying a young lady who has
presented him with thriving twins. With the appearance of those twins my
prospects disappeared, as did the allowance of £1,500 a year that he
was good enough to make me on which to keep up a position as his
next-of-kin. I had something of my own, but also I had debts, and at the
present moment a draft in my pocket for £2,163 14s. 5d., and a little
loose cash, represents the total of my worldly goods, just about the sum
I have been accustomed to spend per annum.”

“I don’t call that ruin, I call that riches,” said Benita, relieved.
“With £2,000 to begin on you may make a fortune in Africa. But how about
the hopelessness?”

“I am hopeless because I have absolutely nothing to which to look
forward. Really, when that £2,000 is gone I do not know how to earn a
sixpence. In this dilemma it occurred to me that the only thing I could
do was to turn my shooting to practical account, and become a hunter of
big game. Therefore I propose to kill elephants until an elephant kills
me. At least,” he added in a changed voice, “I did so propose until half
an hour ago.”



II

THE END OF THE “ZANZIBAR.”

“Until half an hour ago? Then why----” and Benita stopped.

“Have I changed my very modest scheme of life? Miss Clifford, as you are
so good as to be sufficiently interested, I will tell you. It is because
a temptation which hitherto I have been able to resist, has during the
last thirty minutes become too strong for me. You know everything has
its breaking strain.” He puffed nervously at his cigar, threw it into
the sea, paused, then went on: “Miss Clifford, I have dared to fall in
love with you. No; hear me out. When I have done it will be quite time
enough to give me the answer that I expect. Meanwhile, for the first
time in my life, allow me the luxury of being in earnest. To me it is a
new sensation, and therefore very priceless. May I go on?”

Benita made no answer. He rose with a certain deliberateness which
characterized all his movements--for Robert Seymour never seemed to be
in a hurry--and stood in front of her so that the moonlight shone upon
her face, while his own remained in shadow.

“Beyond that £2,000 of which I have spoken, and incidentally its
owner, I have nothing whatsoever to offer to you. I am an indigent and
worthless person. Even in my prosperous days, when I could look forward
to a large estate, although it was often suggested to me, I never
considered myself justified in asking any lady to share--the prospective
estate. I think now that the real reason was that I never cared
sufficiently for any lady, since otherwise my selfishness would probably
have overcome my scruples, as it does to-night. Benita, for I will call
you so, if for the first and last time, I--I--love you.

“Listen now,” he went on, dropping his measured manner, and speaking
hurriedly, like a man with an earnest message and little time in which
to deliver it, “it is an odd thing, an incomprehensible thing, but
true, true--I fell in love with you the first time I saw your face. You
remember, you stood there leaning over the bulwark when I came on board
at Southampton, and as I walked up the gangway, I looked and my eyes met
yours. Then I stopped, and that stout old lady who got off at Madeira
bumped into me, and asked me to be good enough to make up my mind if I
were going backward or forward. Do you remember?”

“Yes,” she answered in a low voice.

“Which things are an allegory,” he continued. “I felt it so at the time.
Yes, I had half a mind to answer ‘Backward’ and give up my berth in
this ship. Then I looked at you again, and something inside of me said
‘Forward.’ So I came up the rest of the gangway and took off my hat
to you, a salutation I had no right to make, but which, I recall, you
acknowledged.”

He paused, then continued: “As it began, so it has gone on. It is always
like that, is it not? The beginning is everything, the end must follow.
And now it has come out, as I was fully determined that it should not do
half an hour ago, when suddenly you developed eyes in the back of your
head, and--oh! dearest, I love you. No, please be quiet; I have not
done. I have told you what I am, and really there isn’t much more to say
about me, for I have no particular vices except the worst of them all,
idleness, and not the slightest trace of any virtue that I can discover.
But I have a certain knowledge of the world acquired in a long course of
shooting parties, and as a man of the world I will venture to give you a
bit of advice. It is possible that to you my life and death affair is
a mere matter of board-ship amusement. Yet it is possible also that you
might take another view of the matter. In that case, as a friend and a
man of the world, I entreat you--don’t. Have nothing to do with me. Send
me about my business; you will never regret it.”

“Are you making fun, or is all this meant, Mr. Seymour?” asked Benita,
still speaking beneath her breath, and looking straight before her.

“Meant? Of course it is meant. How can you ask?”

“Because I have always understood that on such occasions people wish to
make the best of themselves.”

“Quite so, but I never do what I ought, a fact for which I am grateful
now come to think of it, since otherwise I should not be here to-night.
I wish to make the worst of myself, the very worst, for whatever I am
not, at least I am honest. Now having told you that I am, or was half
an hour ago, an idler, a good-for-nothing, prospectless failure, I ask
you--if you care to hear any more?”

She half rose, and, glancing at him for the first time, saw his face
contract itself and turn pale in the moonlight. It may be that the
sight of it affected her, even to the extent of removing some adverse
impression left by the bitter mocking of his self-blame. At any rate,
Benita seemed to change her mind, and sat down again, saying:

“Go on, if you wish.”

He bowed slightly, and said:

“I thank you. I have told you what I _was_ half an hour ago; now, hoping
that you will believe me, I will tell you what I _am_. I am a truly
repentant man, one upon whom a new light has risen. I am not very old,
and I think that underneath it all I have some ability. Opportunity
may still come my way; if it does not, for your sake I will make the
opportunity. I do not believe that you can ever find anyone who would
love you better or care for you more tenderly. I desire to live for you
in the future, more completely even than in the past I have lived for
myself. I do not wish to influence you by personal appeals, but in fact
I stand at the parting of the ways. If you will give yourself to me
I feel as though I might still become a husband of whom you could be
proud--if not, I write ‘Finis’ upon the tombstone of the possibilities
of Robert Seymour. I adore you. You are the one woman with whom I desire
to pass my days; it is you who have always been lacking to my life. I
ask you to be brave, to take the risk of marrying me, although I can see
nothing but poverty ahead of us, for I am an adventurer.”

“Don’t speak like that,” she said quickly. “We are all of us adventurers
in this world, and I more than you. We have just to consider ourselves,
not what we have or have not.”

“So be it, Miss Clifford. Then I have nothing more to say; now it is for
you to answer.”

Just then the sound of the piano and the fiddle in the saloon ceased.
One of the waltzes was over, and some of the dancers came upon deck to
flirt or to cool themselves. One pair, engaged very obviously in the
former occupation, stationed themselves so near to Robert and Benita
that further conversation between them was impossible, and there
proceeded to interchange the remarks common to such occasions.

For a good ten minutes did they stand thus, carrying on a mock quarrel
as to a dance of which one of them was supposed to have been defrauded,
until Robert Seymour, generally a very philosophical person, could have
slain those innocent lovers. He felt, he knew not why, that his chances
were slipping away from him; that sensation of something bad about to
happen, of which Benita had spoken, spread from her to him. The suspense
grew exasperating, terrible even, nor could it be ended. To ask her to
come elsewhere was under the circumstances not feasible, especially as
he would also have been obliged to request the other pair to make way
for them, and all this time, with a sinking of the heart, he felt that
probably Benita was beating down any tenderness which she might feel
towards him; that when her long-delayed answer did come the chances were
it would be “No.”

The piano began to play again in the saloon, and the young people, still
squabbling archly, at length prepared to depart. Suddenly there was a
stir upon the bridge, and against the tender sky Robert saw a man dash
forward. Next instant the engine-room bell rang fiercely. He knew the
signal--it was “Stop,” followed at once by other ringings that meant
“Full speed astern.”

“I wonder what is up?” said the young man to the young woman.

Before the words had left his lips they knew. There was a sensation as
though all the hull of the great ship had come to a complete standstill,
while the top part of her continued to travel forward; followed by
another sensation still more terrible and sickening in its nature--that
of slipping over something, helplessly, heavily, as a man slips upon ice
or a polished floor. Spars cracked, ropes flew in two with a noise as of
pistol shots. Heavy objects rushed about the deck, travelling forwards
all of them. Benita was hurled from her chair against Robert so that the
two of them rolled into the scuppers. He was unhurt and picked himself
up, but she lay still, and he saw that something had struck her upon the
head, for blood was running down her cheek. He lifted her, and, filled
with black horror and despair--for he thought her gone--pressed his hand
upon her heart. Thank God! it began to beat again--she still lived.

The music in the saloon had stopped, and for a little while there
was silence. Then of an instant there arose the horrible clamour of
shipwreck; wild-eyed people rushed to and fro aimlessly; here and there
women and children shrieked; a clergyman fell upon his knees and began
to pray.

This went on for a space, till presently the second officer appeared
and, affecting an unconcerned air, called out that it was all right, the
captain said no one was to be afraid. He added that they were not more
than six miles from the shore, and that the ship would be beached in
half an hour. Indeed, as he spoke the engines, which had been stopped,
commenced to work again, and her head swung round in a wide circle,
pointing to the land. Evidently they had passed over the rock and were
once more in deep water, through which they travelled at a good speed
but with a heavy list to starboard. The pumps got to work also with a
monotonous, clanging beat, throwing out great columns of foaming water
on to the oily sea. Men began to cut the covers off the boats, and to
swing some of them outboard. Such were the things that went on about
them.

With the senseless Benita clasped to his breast, the blood from her cut
head running down his shoulder, Robert stood still awhile, thinking.
Then he made up his mind. As it chanced, she had a deck cabin, and
thither he forced his way, carrying her tenderly and with patience
through the distracted throng of passengers, for there were five hundred
souls on board that ship. He reached the place to find that it was quite
empty, her cabinmate having fled. Laying Benita upon the lower bunk,
he lit the swinging candle. As soon as it burned up he searched for
the lifebelts and by good fortune found two of them, one of which, not
without great difficulty, he succeeded in fastening round her. Then he
took a sponge and bathed her head with water. There was a great bruise
upon her temple where the block or whatever it was had struck her, and
the blood still flowed; but the wound was not very deep or extensive,
nor, so far as he could discover, did the bone appear to be broken or
driven in. He had good hope that she was only stunned, and would revive
presently. Unable to do more for her, a thought struck him. On the floor
of the cabin, thrown by the shock from the rack, lay her writing case.
He opened it, and taking a piece of paper wrote these words hurriedly in
pencil:

“You gave me no answer, and it is more than probable that I shall
receive none in this world which one or both of us may be upon the
verge of leaving. In the latter case we can settle the matter
elsewhere--perhaps. In the former, should it be my lot to go and yours
to stay, I hope that you will think kindly of me at times as of one
who loved you truly. Should it be yours to go, then you will never read
these words. Yet if to the dead is given knowledge, be assured that as
you left me so you shall find me, yours and yours alone. Or perhaps we
both may live; I pray so.--S. R. S.”

Folding up the paper, he undid a button of Benita’s blouse and thrust
it away there, knowing that thus she would certainly find it should she
survive. Then he stepped out on to the deck to see what was happening.
The vessel still steamed, but made slow progress; moreover, the list to
starboard was now so pronounced that it was difficult to stand upright.
On account of it nearly all the passengers were huddled together upon
the port side, having instinctively taken refuge as far as possible
above the water. A man with a white, distraught face staggered towards
him, supporting himself by the bulwarks. It was the captain. For a
moment he paused as though to think, holding to a stanchion. Robert
Seymour saw his opportunity and addressed him.

“Forgive me,” he said; “I do not like interfering with other people’s
business, but for reasons unconnected with myself I suggest to you that
it would be wise to stop this ship and get out the boats. The sea is
calm; if it is not left till too late there should be no difficulty in
launching them.”

The man stared at him absently, then said:

“They won’t hold everybody, Mr. Seymour. I hope to beach her.”

“At least they will hold some,” he answered, “whereas----” And he
pointed to the water, which by now was almost level with the deck.

“Perhaps you are right, Mr. Seymour. It doesn’t matter to me, anyway. I
am a ruined man; but the poor passengers--the poor passengers!” And he
scrambled away fiercely towards the bridge like a wounded cat along
the bough of a tree, whence in a few seconds Robert heard him shouting
orders.

A minute or so afterwards the steamer stopped. Too late the captain
had decided to sacrifice his ship and save those she carried. They were
beginning to get out the boats. Now Robert returned to the cabin where
Benita was lying senseless, and wrapped her up in a cloak and some
blankets. Then, seeing the second lifebelt on the floor, by an
afterthought he put it on, knowing that there was time to spare. Next he
lifted Benita, and feeling sure that the rush would be for the starboard
side, on which the boats were quite near the water, carried her, with
difficulty, for the slope was steep, to the port-cutter, which he knew
would be in the charge of a good man, the second officer, whom he had
seen in command there at Sunday boat-drills.

Here, as he had anticipated, the crowd was small, since most people
thought that it would not be possible to get this boat down safely to
the water; or if their powers of reflection were gone, instinct told
them so. That skilful seaman, the second officer, and his appointed
crew, were already at work lowering the cutter from the davits.

“Now,” he said, “women and children first.”

A number rushed in, and Robert saw that the boat would soon be full.

“I am afraid,” he said, “that I must count myself a woman as I carry
one,” and by a great effort, holding Benita with one arm, with the other
he let himself down the falls and, assisted by a quartermaster, gained
the boat in safety.

One or two other men scrambled after him.

“Push her off,” said the officer; “she can hold no more,” and the ropes
were let go.

When they were about twelve feet from the ship’s side, from which
they thrust themselves clear with oars, there came a rush of people,
disappointed of places in the starboard boats. A few of the boldest
of these swarmed down the falls, others jumped and fell among them, or
missed and dropped into the sea, or struck upon the sides of the boat
and were killed. Still she reached the water upon an even keel, though
now much overladen. The oars were got out, and they rowed round the bow
of the great ship wallowing in her death-throes, their first idea being
to make for the shore, which was not three miles away.

This brought them to the starboard side, where they saw a hideous scene.
Hundreds of people seemed to be fighting for room, with the result that
some of the boats were overturned, precipitating their occupants into
the water. Others hung by the prow or the stern, the ropes having jammed
in the davits in the frantic haste and confusion, while from them human
beings dropped one by one. Round others not yet launched a hellish
struggle was in progress, the struggle of men, women, and children
battling for their lives, in which the strong, mad with terror, showed
no mercy to the weak.

From that mass of humanity, most of them about to perish, went up a
babel of sounds which in its sum shaped itself to one prolonged scream,
such as might proceed from a Titan in his agony. All this beneath a
brooding, moonlit sky, and on a sea as smooth as glass. Upon the ship,
which now lay upon her side, the siren still sent up its yells for
succour, and some brave man continued to fire rockets, which rushed
heavenwards and burst in showers of stars.

Robert remembered that the last rocket he had seen was fired at an
evening _fête_ for the amusement of the audience. The contrast struck
him as dreadful. He wondered whether there were any power or infernal
population that could be amused by a tragedy such as enacted itself
before his eyes; how it came about also that such a tragedy was
permitted by the merciful Strength in which mankind put their faith.

The vessel was turning over, compressed air or steam burst up the decks
with loud reports; fragments of wreckage flew into the air. There the
poor captain still clung to the rail of the bridge. Seymour could see
his white face--the moonlight seemed to paint it with a ghastly smile.
The officer in command of their boat shouted to the crew to give way
lest they should be sucked down with the steamer.

Look! Now she wallowed like a dying whale, the moonrays shone white upon
her bottom, showing the jagged rent made in it by the rock on which she
had struck, and now she was gone. Only a little cloud of smoke and steam
remained to mark where the _Zanzibar_ had been.



III

HOW ROBERT CAME ASHORE

In place of the _Zanzibar_ a great pit on the face of the ocean, in
which the waters boiled and black objects appeared and disappeared.

“Sit still, for your lives’ sake,” said the officer in a quiet voice;
“the suck is coming.”

In another minute it came, dragging them downward till the water
trickled over the sides of the boat, and backward towards the pit. But
before ever they reached it the deep had digested its prey, and, save
for the great air-bubbles which burst about them and a mixed, unnatural
swell, was calm again. For the moment they were safe.

“Passengers,” said the officer, “I am going to put out to sea--at any
rate, till daylight. We may meet a vessel there, and if we try to row
ashore we shall certainly be swamped in the breakers.”

No one objected; they seemed too stunned to speak, but Robert thought to
himself that the man was wise. They began to move, but before they had
gone a dozen yards something dark rose beside them. It was a piece
of wreckage, and clinging to it a woman, who clasped a bundle to her
breast. More, she was alive, for she began to cry to them to take her
in.

“Save me and my child!” she cried. “For God’s sake save me!”

Robert recognized the choking voice; it was that of a young married lady
with whom he had been very friendly, who was going out with her baby to
join her husband in Natal. He stretched out his hand and caught hold of
her, whereon the officer said, heavily:

“The boat is already overladen. I must warn you that to take more aboard
is not safe.”

Thereon the passengers awoke from their stupor.

“Push her off,” cried a voice; “she must take her chance.” And there was
a murmur of approval at the dreadful words.

“For Christ’s sake--for Christ’s sake!” wailed the drowning woman, who
clung desperately to Robert’s hand.

“If you try to pull her in, we will throw you overboard,” said the voice
again, and a knife was lifted as though to hack at his arm. Then the
officer spoke once more.

“This lady cannot come into the boat unless someone goes out of it. I
would myself, but it is my duty to stay. Is there any man here who will
make place for her?”

But all the men there--seven of them, besides the crew--hung their heads
and were silent.

“Give way,” said the officer in the same heavy voice; “she will drop off
presently.”

While the words passed his lips Robert seemed to live a year. Here was
an opportunity of atonement for his idle and luxurious life. An hour ago
he would have taken it gladly, but now--now, with Benita senseless on
his breast, and that answer still locked in her sleeping heart? Yet
Benita would approve of such a death as this, and even if she loved him
not in life, would learn to love his memory. In an instant his mind was
made up, and he was speaking rapidly.

“Thompson,” he said to the officer, “if I go, will you swear to take her
in and her child?”

“Certainly, Mr. Seymour.”

“Then lay to; I am going. If any of you live, tell this lady how I
died,” and he pointed to Benita, “and say I thought that she would wish
it.”

“She shall be told,” said the officer again, “and saved, too, if I can
do it.”

“Hold Mrs. Jeffreys, then, till I am out of this. I’ll leave my coat to
cover her.”

A sailor obeyed, and with difficulty Robert wrenched free his hand.

Very deliberately he pressed Benita to his breast and kissed her on the
forehead, then let her gently slide on to the bottom of the boat. Next
he slipped off his overcoat and slowly rolled himself over the gunwale
into the sea.

“Now,” he said, “pull Mrs. Jeffreys in.”

“God bless you; you are a brave man,” said Thompson. “I shall remember
you if I live a hundred years.”

But no one else said anything; perhaps they were all too much ashamed,
even then.

“I have only done my duty,” Seymour answered from the water. “How far is
it to the shore?”

“About three miles,” shouted Thompson. “But keep on that plank, or you
will never live through the rollers. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye,” answered Robert.

Then the boat passed away from him and soon vanished in the misty face
of the deep.

Resting on the plank which had saved the life of Mrs. Jeffreys, Robert
Seymour looked about him and listened. Now and again he heard a faint,
choking scream uttered by some drowning wretch, and a few hundred yards
away caught sight of a black object which he thought might be a boat. If
so, he reflected that it must be full. Moreover, he could not overtake
it. No; his only chance was to make for the shore. He was a strong
swimmer, and happily the water was almost as warm as milk. There seemed
to be no reason why he should not reach it, supported as he was by a
lifebelt, if the sharks would leave him alone, which they might, as
there was plenty for them to feed on. The direction he knew well enough,
for now in the great silence of the sea he could hear the boom of the
mighty rollers breaking on the beach.

Ah, those rollers! He remembered how that very afternoon Benita and he
had watched them through his field glass sprouting up against the cruel
walls of rock, and wondered that when the ocean was so calm they had
still such power. Now, should he live to reach them, he was doomed to
match himself against that power. Well, the sooner he did so the sooner
it would be over, one way or the other. This was in his favour: the tide
had turned, and was flowing shorewards. Indeed, he had little to do but
to rest upon his plank, which he placed crosswise beneath his breast,
and steered himself with his feet. Even thus he made good progress,
nearly a mile an hour perhaps. He could have gone faster had he swum,
but he was saving his strength.

It was a strange journey upon that silent sea beneath those silent
stars, and strange thoughts came into Robert’s soul. He wondered whether
Benita would live and what she would say. Perhaps, however, she was
already dead, and he would meet her presently. He wondered if he were
doomed to die, and whether this sacrifice of his would be allowed to
atone for his past errors. He hoped so, and put up a petition to that
effect, for himself and for Benita, and for all the poor people who had
gone before, hurled from their pleasure into the halls of Death.

So he floated on while the boom of the breakers grew ever nearer,
companioned by his wild, fretful thoughts, till at length what he took
to be a shark appeared quite close to him, and in the urgency of the
moment he gave up wondering. It proved to be only a piece of wood, but
later on a real shark did come, for he saw its back fin. However, this
cruel creature was either gorged or timid, for when he splashed upon the
water and shouted, it went away, to return no more.

Now, at length, Robert entered upon the deep hill and valley swell which
preceded the field of the rollers. Suddenly he shot down a smooth slope,
and without effort of his own found himself borne up an opposing steep,
from the crest of which he had a view of white lines of foam, and beyond
them of a dim and rocky shore. At one spot, a little to his right, the
foam seemed thinner and the line of cliff to be broken, as though here
there was a cleft. For this cleft, then, he steered his plank, taking
the swell obliquely, which by good fortune the set of the tide enabled
him to do without any great exertion.

The valleys grew deeper, and the tops of the opposing ridges were
crested with foam. He had entered the rollers, and the struggle for life
began. Before him they rushed solemn and mighty. Viewed from some safe
place even the sight of these combers is terrible, as any who have
watched them from this coast, or from that of the Island of Ascension,
can bear witness. What their aspect was to this shipwrecked man,
supported by a single plank, may therefore be imagined, seen, as he
saw them, in the mysterious moonlight and in utter loneliness. Yet his
spirit rose to meet the dread emergency; if he were to die, he would die
fighting. He had grown cold and tired, but now the chill and weariness
left him; he felt warm and strong. From the crest of one of the high
rollers he thought he saw that about half a mile away from him a little
river ran down the centre of the gorge, and for the mouth of this river
he laid his course.

At first all went well. He was borne up the seas; he slid down the seas
in a lather of white foam. Presently the rise and fall grew steeper,
and the foam began to break over his head. Robert could no longer guide
himself; he must go as he was carried. Then in an instant he was carried
into a hell of waters where, had it not been for his lifebelt and the
plank, he must have been beaten down and have perished. As it was, now
he was driven into the depths, and now he emerged upon their surface to
hear their seething hiss around him, and above it all a continuous boom
as of great guns--the boom of the breaking seas.

The plank was almost twisted from his grasp, but he clung to it
desperately, although its edges tore his arms. When the rollers broke
over him he held his breath, and when he was tossed skywards on their
curves, drew it again in quick, sweet gasps. Now he sat upon the very
brow of one of them as a merman might; now he dived like a dolphin,
and now, just as his senses were leaving him, his feet touched bottom.
Another moment and Robert was being rolled along that bottom with a
weight on him like the weight of mountains. The plank was rent from him,
but his cork jacket brought him up. The backwash drew him with it into
deeper water, where he lay helpless and despairing, for he no longer had
any strength to struggle against his doom.

Then it was that there came a mighty roller, bigger than any that he had
seen--such a one as on that coast the Kaffirs call “a father of waves.”
 It caught him in the embrace of its vast green curve. It bore him
forward as though he were but a straw, far forward over the stretch of
cruel rocks. It broke in thunder, dashing him again upon the stones
and sand of the little river bar, rolling him along with its resistless
might, till even that might was exhausted, and its foam began to return
seawards, sucking him with it.

Robert’s mind was almost gone, but enough of it remained to tell him
that if once more he was dragged into the deep water he must be lost. As
the current haled him along he gripped at the bottom with his hands,
and by the mercy of Heaven they closed on something. It may have been
a tree-stump embedded there, or a rock--he never knew. At least, it was
firm, and to it he hung despairingly. Would that rush never cease? His
lungs were bursting; he must let go! Oh! the foam was thinning; his head
was above it now; now it had departed, leaving him like a stranded fish
upon the shingle. For half a minute or more he lay there gasping, then
looked behind him to see another comber approaching through the
gloom. He struggled to his feet, fell, rose again, and ran, or rather,
staggered forward with that tigerish water hissing at his heels.
Forward, still forward, till he was beyond its reach--yes, on dry
sand. Then his vital forces failed him; one of his legs gave way, and,
bleeding from a hundred hurts, he fell heavily onto his face, and there
was still.

The boat in which Benita lay, being so deep in the water, proved
very hard to row against the tide, for the number of its passengers
encumbered the oarsmen. After a while a light off land breeze sprang
up, as here it often does towards morning; and the officer, Thompson,
determined to risk hoisting the sail. Accordingly this was done--with
some difficulty, for the mast had to be drawn out and shipped--although
the women screamed as the weight of the air bent their frail craft over
till the gunwale was almost level with the water.

“Anyone who moves shall be thrown overboard!” said the officer, who
steered, after which they were quiet.

Now they made good progress seawards, but the anxieties of those who
knew were very great, since the wind showed signs of rising, and if any
swell should spring up that crowded cutter could scarcely hope to live.
In fact, two hours later they were forced to lower the sail again and
drift, waiting for the dawn. Mr. Thompson strove to cheer them, saying
that now they were in the track of vessels, and if they could see none
when the light came, he would run along the shore in the hope of finding
a place free of breakers where they might land. If they did not inspire
hope, at least his words calmed them, and they sat in heavy silence,
watching the sky.

At length it grew grey, and then, with a sudden glory peculiar to South
Africa, the great red sun arose and began to dispel the mist from the
surface of the sea. Half an hour more and this was gone, and now the
bright rays brought life back into their chilled frames as they stared
at each other to see which of their company were still left alive. They
even asked for food, and biscuit was given to them with water.

All this while Benita remained unconscious. Indeed, one callous fellow,
who had been using her body as a footstool, said that she must be dead,
and had better be thrown overboard, as it would lighten the boat.

“If you throw that lady into the sea, living or dead,” said Mr.
Thompson, with an ominous lift of his eye, “you go with her, Mr. Batten.
Remember who brought her here and how he died.”

Then Mr. Batten held his peace, while Thompson stood up and scanned the
wide expanse of sea. Presently he whispered to a sailor near him, who
also stood up, looked, and nodded.

“That will be the other Line’s intermediate boat,” he said, and the
passengers, craning their heads round, saw far away to the right a
streak of smoke upon the horizon. Orders were given, a little corner of
sail was hoisted, with a white cloth of some sort tied above it, and the
oars were got out. Once more the cutter moved forward, bearing to the
left in the hope of intercepting the steamer.

She came on with terrible swiftness, and they who had miles of water to
cover, dared hoist no more sail in that breeze. In half an hour she was
nearly opposite to them, and they were still far away. A little more
sail was let out, driving them through the water at as quick a rate
as they could venture to go. The steamer was passing three miles or so
away, and black despair took hold of them. Now the resourceful Thompson,
without apologies, undressed, and removing the white shirt that he had
worn at the dance, bade a sailor to tie it to an oar and wave it to and
fro.

Still the steamer went on, until presently they heard her siren going,
and saw that she was putting about.

“She has seen us,” said Thompson. “Thank God, all of you, for there is
wind coming up. Pull down that sail; we shan’t need it any more.”

Half an hour later, with many precautions, for the wind he prophesied
was already troubling the sea and sending little splashes of water over
the stern of their deeply laden boat, they were fast to a line thrown
from the deck of the three thousand ton steamer _Castle_, bound for
Natal. Then, with a rattle, down came the accommodation ladder, and
strong-armed men, standing on its grating, dragged them one by one from
the death to which they had been so near. The last to be lifted up,
except Thompson, was Benita, round whom it was necessary to reeve a
rope.

“Any use?” asked the officer on the grating as he glanced at her quiet
form.

“Can’t say; I hope so,” answered Thompson. “Call your doctor.” And
gently enough she was borne up the ship’s side.

They wanted to cast off the boat, but Thompson remonstrated, and in the
end that also was dragged to deck. Meanwhile the news had spread,
and the awakened passengers of the _Castle_, clad in pyjamas,
dressing-gowns, and even blankets, were crowding round the poor
castaways or helping them to their cabins.

“I am a teetotaller,” said second officer Thompson when he had made a
brief report to the captain of the _Castle_, “but if anyone will stand
me a whiskey and soda I shall be obliged to him.”



IV

MR. CLIFFORD

Although the shock of the blow she had received upon her head was
sufficient to make her insensible for so many hours, Benita’s injuries
were not of a really serious nature, for as it happened the falling
block, or whatever it may have been, had hit her forehead slantwise, and
not full, to which accident she owed it that, although the skin was
torn and the scalp bruised, her skull had escaped fracture. Under proper
medical care her senses soon came back to her, but as she was quite
dazed and thought herself still on board the _Zanzibar_, the doctor
considered it wise to preserve her in that illusion for a while. So
after she had swallowed some broth he gave her a sleeping draught, the
effects of which she did not shake off till the following morning.

Then she came to herself completely, and was astonished to feel the pain
in her head, which had been bandaged, and to see a strange stewardess
sitting by her with a cup of beef-tea in her hand.

“Where am I? Is it a dream?” she asked.

“Drink this and I will tell you,” answered the stewardess.

Benita obeyed, for she felt hungry, then repeated her question.

“Your steamer was shipwrecked,” said the stewardess, “and a great many
poor people were drowned, but you were saved in a boat. Look, there are
your clothes; they were never in the water.”

“Who carried me into the boat?” asked Benita in a low voice.

“A gentleman, they say, Miss, who had wrapped you in a blanket and put a
lifebelt on you.”

Now Benita remembered everything that happened before the darkness
fell--the question to which she had given no answer, the young couple
who stood flirting by her--all came back to her.

“Was Mr. Seymour saved?” she whispered, her face grey with dread.

“I dare say, Miss,” answered the stewardess evasively. “But there is no
gentleman of that name aboard this ship.”

At that moment the doctor came in, and him, too, she plied with
questions. But having learned the story of Robert’s self-sacrifice from
Mr. Thompson and the others, he would give her no answer, for he guessed
how matters had stood between them, and feared the effects of the shock.
All he could say was that he hoped Mr. Seymour had escaped in some other
boat.

It was not until the third morning that Benita was allowed to learn
the truth, which indeed it was impossible to conceal any longer. Mr.
Thompson came to her cabin and told her everything, while she listened
silently, horrified, amazed.

“Miss Clifford,” he said, “I think it was one of the bravest things that
a man ever did. On the ship I always thought him rather a head-in-air
kind of swell, but he was a splendid fellow, and I pray God that he has
lived, as the lady and child for whom he offered himself up have done,
for they are both well again.”

“Yes,” she repeated after him mechanically, “splendid fellow indeed,
and,” she added, with a strange flash of conviction, “I believe that he
_is_ still alive. If he were dead I should know it.”

“I am glad to hear you say so,” said Mr. Thompson, who believed the
exact contrary.

“Listen,” she went on. “I will tell you something. When that dreadful
accident occurred Mr. Seymour had just asked me to marry him, and I was
going to answer that I would--because I love him. I believe that I shall
still give him that answer.”

Mr. Thompson replied again that he hoped so, which, being as honest and
tender-hearted as he was brave and capable, he did most earnestly; but
in his heart he reflected that her answer would not be given this side
of the grave. Then, as he had been deputed to do, he handed her the note
which had been found in the bosom of her dress, and, able to bear no
more of this painful scene, hurried from the cabin. She read it greedily
twice, and pressed it to her lips, murmuring:

“Yes, I will think kindly of you, Robert Seymour, kindly as woman can of
man, and now or afterwards you shall have your answer, if you still wish
for it. Whenever you come or wherever I go, it shall be ready for you.”

That afternoon, when she was more composed, Mrs. Jeffreys came to see
Benita, bringing her baby with her. The poor woman was still pale and
shaken, but the child had taken no hurt at all from its immersion in
that warm water.

“What can you think of me?” she said, falling on her knees by Benita.
“But oh! I did not know what I was doing. It was terror and my child,”
 and she kissed the sleeping infant passionately. “Also I did not
understand at the time--I was too dazed. And--that hero--he gave his
life for me when the others wished to beat me off with oars. Yes, his
blood is upon my hands--he who died that I and my child might live.”

Benita looked at her and answered, very gently:

“Perhaps he did not die after all. Do not grieve, for if he did it was a
very glorious death, and I am prouder of him than I could have been
had he lived on like the others--who wished to beat you off with oars.
Whatever is, is by God’s Will, and doubtless for the best. At the least,
you and your child will be restored to your husband, though it cost me
one who would have been--my husband.”

That evening Benita came upon the deck and spoke with the other ladies
who were saved, learning every detail that she could gather. But to none
of the men, except to Mr. Thompson, would she say a single word, and
soon, seeing how the matter stood, they hid themselves away from her as
they had already done from Mrs. Jeffreys.

The _Castle_ had hung about the scene of the shipwreck for thirty hours,
and rescued one other boatload of survivors, also a stoker clinging to
a piece of wreckage. But with the shore she had been unable to
communicate, for the dreaded wind had risen, and the breakers were quite
impassable to any boat. To a passing steamer bound for Port Elizabeth,
however, she had reported the terrible disaster, which by now was known
all over the world, together with the names of those whom she had picked
up in the boats.

On the night of the day of Benita’s interview with Mrs. Jeffreys, the
_Castle_ arrived off Durban and anchored, since she was too big a vessel
to cross the bar as it was in those days. At dawn the stewardess awoke
Benita from the uneasy sleep in which she lay, to tell her that an old
gentleman had come off in the tug and wished to see her; for fear of
exciting false hopes she was very careful to add that word “old.” With
her help Benita dressed herself, and as the sun rose, flooding the
Berea, the Point, the white town and fair Natal beyond with light, she
went on to the deck, and there, leaning over the bulwark, saw a thin,
grey-bearded man of whom after all these years the aspect was still
familiar.

A curious thrill went through her as she looked at him leaning there
lost in thought. After all, he was her father, the man to whom she owed
her presence upon this bitter earth, this place of terrors and delights,
of devastation and hope supernal. Perhaps, too, he had been as much
sinned against as sinning. She stepped up to him and touched him on the
shoulder.

“Father,” she said.

He turned round with all the quickness of a young man, for about him
there was a peculiar agility which his daughter had inherited. Like his
mind, his body was still nimble.

“My darling,” he said, “I should have known your voice anywhere. It has
haunted my sleep for years. My darling, thank you for coming back to me,
and thank God for preserving you when so many were lost.” Then he threw
his arms about her and kissed her.

She shrank from him a little, for by inadvertence he had pressed upon
the wound in her forehead.

“Forgive me,” she said; “it is my head. It was injured, you know.”

Then he saw the bandage about her brow, and was very penitent.

“They did not tell me that you had been hurt, Benita,” he exclaimed in
his light, refined voice, one of the stamps of that gentility of blood
and breeding whereof all his rough years and errors had been unable to
deprive him. “They only told me that you were saved. It is part of my
ill-fortune that at our first moment of greeting I should give you pain,
who have caused you so much already.”

Benita felt that the words were an apology for the past, and her heart
was touched.

“It is nothing,” she answered. “You did not know or mean it.”

“No, dear, I never knew or meant it. Believe me, I was not a willing
sinner, only a weak one. You are beautiful, Benita--far more so than I
expected.”

“What,” she answered smiling, “with this bandage round my head? Well,
in your eyes, perhaps.” But inwardly she thought to herself that the
description would be more applicable to her father, who in truth,
notwithstanding his years, was wonderfully handsome, with his quick blue
eyes, mobile face, gentle mouth with the wistful droop at the corners so
like her own, and grey beard. How, she wondered, could this be the man
who had struck her mother. Then she remembered him as he had been years
before when he was a slave to liquor, and knew that the answer was
simple.

“Tell me about your escape, love,” he said, patting her hand with his
thin fingers. “You don’t know what I’ve suffered. I was waiting at
the Royal Hotel here, when the cable came announcing the loss of the
_Zanzibar_ and all on board. For the first time for many a year I drank
spirits to drown my grief--don’t be afraid, dear--for the first time and
the last. Then afterwards came another cable giving the names of those
who were known to be saved, and--thank God, oh! thank God--yours among
them,” and he gasped at the recollection of that relief.

“Yes,” she said; “I suppose I should thank--Him--and another. Have you
heard the story about--how Mr. Seymour saved me, I mean?”

“Some of it. While you were dressing yourself, I have been talking to
the officer who was in command of your boat. He was a brave man, Benita,
and I am sorry to tell you he is gone.”

She grasped a stanchion and clung there, staring at him with a wild,
white face.

“How do you know that, Father?”

Mr. Clifford drew a copy of the _Natal Mercury_ of the previous day from
the pocket of his ulster, and while she waited in an agony he hunted
through the long columns descriptive of the loss of the _Zanzibar_.
Presently he came to the paragraph he sought, and read it aloud to her.
It ran:

“The searchers on the coast opposite the scene of the shipwreck report
that they met a Kaffir who was travelling along the seashore, who
produced a gold watch which he said he had taken from the body of a
white man that he found lying on the sand at the mouth of the Umvoli
River. Inside the watch is engraved, ‘To Seymour Robert Seymour, from
his uncle, on his twenty-first birthday.’ The name of Mr. Seymour
appears as a first-class passenger to Durban by the _Zanzibar_. He was
a member of an old English family in Lincolnshire. This was his second
journey to South Africa, which he visited some years ago with his
brother on a big-game shooting expedition. All who knew him then will
join with us in deploring his loss. Mr. Seymour was a noted shot and
an English gentleman of the best stamp. He was last seen by one of the
survivors of the catastrophe, carrying Miss Clifford, the daughter of
the well-known Natal pioneer of that name, into a boat, but as this
young lady is reported to have been saved, and as he entered the boat
with her, no explanation is yet forthcoming as to how he came to his sad
end.”

“I fear that is clear enough,” said Mr. Clifford, as he folded up his
paper.

“Yes, clear enough,” she repeated in a strained voice. “And
yet--yet--oh! Father, he had just asked me to marry him, and I can’t
believe that he is dead before I had time to answer.”

“Good Heavens!” said the old man, “they never told me that. It is
dreadfully sad. God help you, my poor child! There is nothing more to
say except that he was only one among three hundred who have gone with
him. Be brave now, before all these people. Look--here comes the tug.”


The following week was very much of a blank to Benita. When they reached
shore some old friends of her father’s took her and him to their house,
a quiet place upon the Berea. Here, now that the first excitement of
rescue and grief was over, the inevitable reaction set in, bringing with
it weakness so distressing that the doctor insisted upon her going to
bed, where she remained for the next five days. With the healing up of
the wound in her head her strength came back to her at last, but it
was a very sad Benita who crept from her room one afternoon on to the
verandah and looked out at the cruel sea, peaceful now as the sky above.

Her father, who had nursed her tenderly during these dark days, came and
sat by her, taking her hand in his.

“This is capital,” he said, glancing at her anxiously. “You are getting
quite yourself again.”

“I shall never be myself again,” she answered. “My old self is dead,
although the outside of me has recovered. Father, I suppose that it is
wrong, but I wish that I were dead too. I wish that he had taken me with
him when he jumped into the sea to lighten the boat.”

“Don’t speak like that,” he broke in hastily. “Of course I know that I
am not much to you--how can I be after all that is past? But I love you,
dear, and if I were left quite alone again----” And he broke off.

“You shall not be left alone if I can help it,” she replied, looking at
the old man with her dark and tender eyes. “We have only each other in
the world now, have we? The rest have gone, never to return.”

He threw his arms about her, and, drawing her to him, kissed her
passionately.

“If only you could learn to love me!” he said.

“I do love you,” she answered, “who now shall never love any other man
upon the earth.”

This was the beginning of a deep affection which sprang up between Mr.
Clifford and his daughter, and continued to the end.

“Is there any news?” she asked a little later.

“None--none about him. The tide took his body away, no doubt, after the
Kaffir had gone. I remember him well now. He was a fine young man, and
it comes into my mind that when I said good-bye to him above those old
ruins, I wished that I had a son like that. And to think that he went
so near to becoming a son to me! Well, the grass must bend when the wind
blows, as the natives say.”

“I am glad that you knew him,” she answered simply.

Then they began talking about other matters. He told her that all the
story had become known, and that people spoke of Robert Seymour as “the
hero”; also that there was a great deal of curiosity about her.

“Then let us get away as soon as we can,” she said nervously. “But,
Father, where are we going?”

“That will be for you to decide, love. Listen, now; this is my position.
I have been quite steady for years, and worked hard, with the result
that I and my partner have a fine farm in the Transvaal, on the high
land near Lake Chrissie, out Wakkerstroom way. We breed horses there,
and have done very well with them. I have £1,500 saved, and the farm
brings us in quite £600 a year beyond the expenses. But it is a lonely
place, with only a few Boers about, although they are good fellows
enough. You might not care to live there with no company.”

“I don’t think that I should mind,” she answered, smiling.

“Not now, but by-and-by you would when you know what it is like. Now I
might sell my share in the farm to my partner, who, I think, would buy
it, or I might trust to him to send me a part of the profits, which
perhaps he would not. Then, if you wish it, we could live in or near
one of the towns, or even, as you have an income of your own, go home to
England, if that is your will.”

“Is it your will?” she asked.

He shook his head. “No; all my life is here. Also, I have something to
find before I die--for your sake, dear.”

“Do you mean up among those ruins?” she asked, looking at him curiously.

“Yes. So you know about it?” he answered, with a flash of his blue eyes.
“Oh! of course, Seymour told you. Yes, I mean among the ruins--but I
will tell you that story another time--not here, not here. What do you
wish to do, Benita? Remember, I am in your hands; I will obey you in all
things.”

“Not to stop in a town and not to go to England,” she replied, while he
hung eagerly upon her words, “for this has become my holy land. Father,
I will go with you to your farm; there I can be quiet, you and I
together.”

“Yes,” he answered rather uneasily; “but, you see, Benita, we shall not
be quite alone there. My partner, Jacob Meyer, lives with me.”

“Jacob Meyer? Ah! I remember,” and she winced. “He is a German, is he
not--and odd?”

“German Jew, I imagine, and very odd. Should have made his fortune a
dozen times over, and yet has never done anything. Too unpractical, too
visionary, with all his brains and scheming. Not a good man, Benita,
although he suits me, and, for the matter of that, under our agreement I
cannot get rid of him.”

“How did he become your partner?” she asked.

“Oh! a good many years ago he turned up at the place with a doleful
story. Said that he had been trading among the Zulus; he was what we
call a ‘smouse’ out here, and got into a row with them, I don’t
know how. The end of it was that they burned his waggon, looted his
trade-goods and oxen, and killed his servants. They would have killed
him too, only, according to his own account, he escaped in a very queer
fashion.”

“How?”

“Well, he says by mesmerising the chief and making the man lead him
through his followers. An odd story enough, but I can quite believe
it of Jacob. He worked for me for six months, and showed himself very
clever. Then one night, I remember it was a few days after I had told
him of the story of the Portuguese treasure in Matabeleland, he produced
£500 in Bank of England notes out of the lining of his waistcoat, and
offered to buy a half interest in the farm. Yes, £500! Although for
all those months I had believed him to be a beggar. Well, as he was so
_slim_, and better than no company in that lonely place, in the end I
accepted. We have done well since, except for the expedition after the
treasure which we did not get, although we more than paid our expenses
out of the ivory we bought. But next time we shall succeed, I am sure,”
 he added with enthusiasm, “that is, if we can persuade those Makalanga
to let us search on the mountain.”

Benita smiled.

“I think you had better stick to the horsebreeding,” she said.

“You shall judge when you hear the story. But you have been brought up
in England; will you not be afraid to go to Lake Chrissie?”

“Afraid of what?” she asked.

“Oh! of the loneliness, and of Jacob Meyer.”

“I was born on the veld, Father, and I have always hated London. As for
your odd friend, Mr. Meyer, I am not afraid of any man on earth. I have
done with men. At the least I will try the place and see how I get on.”

“Very well,” answered her father with a sigh of relief. “You can always
come back, can’t you?”

“Yes,” she said indifferently. “I suppose that I can always come back.”



V

JACOB MEYER

More than three weeks had gone by when one morning Benita, who slept
upon the cartel or hide-strung bed in the waggon, having dressed herself
as best she could in that confined place, thrust aside the curtain and
seated herself upon the voorkisse, or driving-box. The sun was not yet
up, and the air was cold with frost, for they were on the Transvaal
high-veld at the end of winter. Even through her thick cloak Benita
shivered and called to the driver of the waggon, who also acted as cook,
and whose blanket-draped form she could see bending over a fire into
which he was blowing life, to make haste with the coffee.

“By and by, Missie--by and by,” he answered, coughing the rank smoke
from his lungs. “Kettle no sing yet, and fire black as hell.”

Benita reflected that popular report painted this locality red, but
without entering into argument sat still upon the chest waiting till the
water boiled and her father appeared.

Presently he emerged from under the side flap of the waggon where he
slept, and remarking that it was really too cold to think of washing,
climbed to her side by help of the disselboom, and kissed her.

“How far are we now from Rooi Krantz, Father?” she asked, for that was
the name of Mr. Clifford’s farm.

“About forty miles, dear. The waggon cannot make it to-night with these
two sick oxen, but after the midday outspan we will ride on, and be
there by sundown. I am afraid you are tired of this trekking.”

“No,” she answered. “I like it very much; it is so restful, and I sleep
sound upon that cartel. I feel as though I should like to trek on for
the rest of my life.”

“So you shall if you wish, dear, for whole months. South Africa is big,
and when the grass grows, if you still wish it, we will take a long
journey.”

She smiled, but made no answer, knowing that he was thinking of the
place so far away where he believed that once the Portuguese had buried
gold.

The kettle was singing now merrily enough, and Hans, the cook, lifting
it from the fire in triumph--for his blowing exertions had been
severe--poured into it a quantity of ground coffee from an old mustard
tin. Then, having stirred the mixture with a stick, he took a red
ember from the fire and dropped it into the kettle, a process which, as
travellers in the veld know well, has a clearing effect upon the coffee.
Next he produced pannikins, and handed them up with a pickle jar full
of sugar to Mr. Clifford, upon the waggon chest. Milk they had none, yet
that coffee tasted a great deal better than it looked; indeed, Benita
drank two cups of it to warm herself and wash down the hard biscuit.
Before the day was over glad enough was she that she had done so.

The sun was rising; huge and red it looked seen through the clinging
mist, and, their breakfast finished, Mr. Clifford gave orders that the
oxen, which were filling themselves with the dry grass near at hand,
should be got up and inspanned. The voorlooper, a Zulu boy, who had left
them for a little while to share the rest of the coffee with Hans, rose
from his haunches with a grunt, and departed to fetch them. A minute or
two later Hans ceased from his occupation of packing up the things, and
said in a low voice:

“_Kek!_ Baas”--that is “Look!”

Following the line of his outstretched hand, Benita and her father
perceived, not more than a hundred yards away from them, a great troop
of wilderbeeste, or gnu, travelling along a ridge, and pausing now and
again to indulge in those extraordinary gambols which cause the Boers to
declare that these brutes have a worm in their brains.

“Give me my rifle, Hans,” said Mr. Clifford. “We want meat.”

By the time that the Westley-Richards was drawn from its case and
loaded, only one buck remained, for, having caught sight of the waggon,
it turned to stare at it suspiciously. Mr. Clifford aimed and fired.
Down went the buck, then springing to its feet again, vanished behind
the ridge. Mr. Clifford shook his head sadly.

“I don’t often do that sort of thing, my dear, but the light is still
very bad. Still, he’s hit. What do you say? Shall we get on the horses
and catch him? A canter would warm you.”

Benita, who was tender-hearted, reflected that it would be kinder to
put the poor creature out of its pain, and nodded her head. Five minutes
later they were cantering together up the rise, Mr. Clifford having
first ordered the waggon to trek on till they rejoined it, and slipped a
packet of cartridges into his pocket. Beyond the rise lay a wide stretch
of marshy ground, bordered by another rise half a mile or more away,
from the crest of which--for now the air was clear enough--they saw the
wounded bull standing. On they went after him, but before they could
come within shot, he had moved forward once more, for he was only
lightly hurt in the flank, and guessed whence his trouble came.

Again and again did he retreat as they drew near, until at length, just
as Mr. Clifford was about to dismount to risk a long shot, the beast
took to its heels in earnest.

“Come on,” he said; “don’t let’s be beat,” for by this time the hunter
was alive in him.

So off they went at a gallop, up slopes and down slopes that reminded
Benita of the Bay of Biscay in a storm, across half-dried vleis that in
the wet season were ponds, through stony ground and patches of ant-bear
holes in which they nearly came to grief. For five miles at least the
chase went on, since at the end of winter the wilderbeeste was thin and
could gallop well, notwithstanding its injury, faster even than their
good horses. At last, rising a ridge, they found whither it was going,
for suddenly they were in the midst of vast herds of game, thousands and
tens of thousands of them stretching as far as the eye could reach.

It was a wondrous sight that now, alas! will be seen no more--at any
rate upon the Transvaal veld; wilderbeeste, blesbok, springbok, in
countless multitudes, and amongst them a few quagga and hartebeeste.
With a sound like that of thunder, their flashing myriad hoofs casting
up clouds of dust from the fire-blackened veld, the great herds
separated at the appearance of their enemy, man. This way and that they
went in groups and long brown lines, leaving the wounded and exhausted
wilderbeeste behind them, so that presently he was the sole tenant of
that great cup of land.

At him they rode till Mr. Clifford, who was a little ahead of his
daughter, drew almost alongside. Then the poor maddened brute tried its
last shift. Stopping suddenly, it wheeled round and charged head down.
Mr. Clifford, as it came, held out his rifle in his right hand and fired
at a hazard. The bullet passed through the bull, but could not stop its
charge. Its horns, held low, struck the forelegs of the horse, and next
instant horse, man, and wilderbeeste rolled on the veld together.

Benita, who was fifty yards behind, uttered a little cry of fear, but
before ever she reached him, her father had risen laughing, for he was
quite unhurt. The horse, too, was getting up, but the bull could rise
no more. It struggled to its forefeet, uttered a kind of sobbing groan,
stared round wildly, and rolled over, dead.

“I never knew a wilderbeeste charge like that before,” said Mr.
Clifford. “Confound it! I believe my horse is lamed.”

Lamed it was, indeed, where the bull had struck the foreleg, though,
as it chanced, not badly. Having tied a handkerchief to the horn of the
buck in order to scare away the vultures, and thrown some tufts of dry
grass upon its body, which he proposed, if possible, to fetch or send
for, Mr. Clifford mounted his lame horse and headed for the waggon. But
they had galloped farther than they thought, and it was midday before
they came to what they took to be the road. As there was no spoor upon
it, they followed this track backwards, expecting to find the waggon
outspanned, but although they rode for mile upon mile, no waggon could
they see. Then, realizing their mistake, they retraced their steps, and
leaving this path at the spot where they had found it, struck off again
to the right.

Meanwhile, the sky was darkening, and at about three o’clock in the
afternoon a thunderstorm broke over them accompanied by torrents of icy
rain, the first fall of the spring, and a bitter wind which chilled them
through. More, after the heavy rain came drizzle and a thick mist that
deepened as evening approached.

Now their plight was very wretched. Lost, starved, soaked to the skin,
with tired horses one of which was lame, they wandered about on the
lonely veld. Only one stroke of fortune came to them. As the sun set,
for a few moments its rays pierced the mist, telling them in what
direction they should go. Turning their horses, they headed for it,
and so rode on until the darkness fell. Then they halted a while,
but feeling that if they stood still in that horrible cold they would
certainly perish before morning, once more pushed on again. By now Mr.
Clifford’s horse was almost too lame to ride, so he led it, walking
at his daughter’s side, and reproaching himself bitterly for his
foolishness in having brought her into this trouble.

“It doesn’t matter, Father,” she answered wearily, for she was very
tired. “Nothing matters; one may as well die upon the veld as in the sea
or anywhere else.”

On they plodded, they knew not whither. Benita fell asleep upon her
saddle, and was awakened once by a hyena howling quite close to them,
and once by her horse falling to its knees.

“What is the time?” she said at last.

Her father struck a match and looked at his watch. It was ten o’clock;
they had been fifteen hours away from the waggon and without food. At
intervals Mr. Clifford, who had remounted, fired his rifle. Now there
was but one cartridge left, and having caught sight of his daughter’s
exhausted face by the light of the match, he fired this also, though in
that desperate wilderness there was little hope of its bringing succour.

“Shall we stop or go on?” he asked.

“I do not care,” she answered. “Only if I stop I think it will be for
ever. Let us go on.”

Now the rain had ceased, but the mist was as dense as before. Also
they seemed to have got among bush, for wet leaves brushed their faces.
Utterly exhausted they stumbled forward, till suddenly Benita felt her
horse stop as though a hand had seized its bridle, and heard a man’s
voice, speaking with a foreign accent, say:

“Mein Gott! Where are you going?”

“I wish I knew,” she answered, like one in a dream.

At this instant the moon rose above the mists, and Benita saw Jacob
Meyer for the first time.

In that light his appearance was not unpleasing. A man of about forty
years of age, not over tall, slight and active in build, with a pointed
black beard, regular, Semitic features, a complexion of an ivory pallor
which even the African sun did not seem to tan, and dark, lustrous eyes
that appeared, now to sleep, and now to catch the fire of the thoughts
within. Yet, weary though she was, there was something in the man’s
personality which repelled and alarmed Benita, something wild and cruel.
She felt that he was filled with unsatisfied ambitions and desires, and
that to attain to them he would shrink at nothing. In a moment he was
speaking again in tones that compelled her attention.

“It was a good thought that brought me here to look for you. No; not a
thought--what do you call it?--an instinct. I think your mind must have
spoken to my mind, and called me to save you. See now, Clifford, my
friend, where you have led your daughter. See, see!” And he pointed
downwards.

They leaned forward and stared. There, immediately beneath them, was a
mighty gulf whereof the moonlight did not reveal the bottom.

“You are no good veld traveller, Clifford, my friend; one more step of
those silly beasts, and down below there would have been two red heaps
with bits of bones sticking out of them--yes, there on the rocks five
hundred feet beneath. Ah! you would have slept soundly to-night, both of
you.”

“Where is the place?” asked Mr. Clifford in a dazed fashion. “Leopard’s
Kloof?”

“Yes; Leopard’s Kloof, no other. You have travelled along the top of the
hill, not at the bottom. Certainly that was a good thought which came to
me from the lady your daughter, for she is one of the thought senders, I
am sure. Ah! it came to me suddenly; it hit me like a stick whilst I was
searching for you, having found that you had lost the waggon. It said to
me, ‘Ride to the top of Leopard’s Kloof. Ride hard.’ I rode hard through
the rocks and the darkness, through the mist and the rain, and not one
minute had I been here when you came and I caught the lady’s bridle.”

“I am sure we are very grateful to you,” murmured Benita.

“Then I am paid back ten thousand times. No; it is I who am grateful--I
who have saved your life through the thought you sent me.”

“Thought or no thought, all’s well that ends well,” broke in Mr.
Clifford impatiently. “And thank Heaven we are not more than three miles
away from home. Will you lead the way, Jacob? You always could see in
the dark?”

“Yes, yes,” and he took hold of Benita’s bridle with his firm, white
hand. “Oh! my horse will follow, or put your arm through his rein--so.
Now come on, Miss Clifford, and be afraid no more. With Jacob Meyer you
are safe.”

So they began their descent of the hill. Meyer did not speak again;
all his attention seemed to be concentrated upon finding a safe path on
which the horses would not stumble. Nor did Benita speak; she was
too utterly exhausted--so exhausted, indeed, that she could no longer
control her mind and imagination. These seemed to loose themselves from
her and to acquire new powers, notably that of entering into the secret
thoughts of the man at her side. She saw them pass before her like
living things, and yet she could not read them. Still, something she did
understand--that she had suddenly grown important to this man, not in
the way in which women are generally important to men, but otherwise.
She felt as though she had become interwoven with the objects of his
life, and was henceforth necessary to their fulfilment, as though she
were someone whom he had been seeking for years on years, the one person
who could give him light in his darkness.

These imaginings troubled her, so that she was very thankful when they
passed away as swiftly as they had arisen, and she knew only that she
was half dead with weariness and cold; that her limbs ached and that the
steep path seemed endless.

At length they reached level ground, and after travelling along it for
a while and crossing the bed of a stream, passed through a gate, and
stopped suddenly at the door of a house with lighted windows.

“Here is your home at last, Miss Clifford,” said the musical voice of
Jacob Meyer, “and I thank the Fate which rules us that it has taught me
to bring you to it safely.”

Making no answer she slid from the saddle, only to find that she could
not stand, for she sank into a heap upon the ground. With a gentle
exclamation he lifted her, and calling to two Kaffirs who had appeared
to take the horses, led her into the house.

“You must go to bed at once,” he said, conducting her to a door which
opened out of the sitting-room. “I have had a fire lit in your chamber
in case you should come, and old Tante Sally will bring you soup with
brandy in it, and hot water for your feet. Ah! there you are, old vrouw.
Come now; help the lady, your mistress. Is all ready?”

“All, Baas,” answered the woman, a stout half-breed with a kindly face.
“Come now, my little one, and I will undress you.”

Half an hour later Benita, having drunk more brandy than ever she had
done in her life before, was wrapped up and fast asleep.

When she awoke the sun was streaming through the curtained window of her
room, and by the light of it she saw that the clock which stood upon the
mantelpiece pointed to half-past eleven. She had slept for nearly twelve
hours, and felt that, notwithstanding the cold and exposure, save for
stiffness and a certain numb feeling in her head--the result, perhaps,
of the unaccustomed brandy--she was well and, what was more, quite
hungry.

Outside on the verandah she heard the voice of Jacob Meyer, with which
she seemed already to have become familiar, telling some natives to stop
singing, as they would wake the chieftainess inside. He used the
Zulu word Inkosi-kaas, which, she remembered, meant head-lady or
chieftainess. He was very thoughtful for her, she reflected, and was
grateful, till suddenly she remembered the dislike she had taken to the
man.

Then she looked round her room and saw that it was very pretty, well
furnished and papered, with water-colour pictures on the walls of no
mean merit, things that she had not expected in this far-off place. Also
on a table stood a great bowl of arum lilies. She wondered who had put
them there; whether it were the old half-breed, Sally, or Jacob Meyer.
Also she wondered who had painted the pictures, which were all of
African scenery, and something told her that both the flowers and the
pictures came from Jacob Meyer.

On the little table by her bed was a handbell, which presently she rang.
Instantly she heard the voice of Sally calling for the coffee “quick,”
 and next minute the woman entered, bringing a tray with it, and bread
and butter--yes, and toast and eggs, which had evidently been made ready
for her. Speaking in English mixed with Dutch words, she told Benita
that her father was still in bed, but sent her his love, and wished to
know how she did. Then, while she ate her breakfast with appetite, Sally
set her a bath, and subsequently appeared carrying the contents of the
box she had used upon the waggon, which had now arrived safely at the
farm. Benita asked who had ordered the box to be unpacked, and Sally
answered that the Heer Meyer had ordered it so that she might not be
disturbed in her sleep, and that her things should be ready for her when
she woke.

“The Heer Meyer thinks a great deal about other people,” said Benita.

“Ja, ja!” answered the old half-breed. “He tink much about people when
he want to tink about them, but he tink most about himself. Baas Meyer,
he a very clever man--oh! a very clever man, who want to be a great man
too. And one day, Missee, he be a great man, great and rich--if the Heer
God Almighty let him.”



VI

THE GOLD COIN

Six weeks had gone by since the eventful evening of Benita’s arrival at
Rooi Krantz. Now the spring had fully come, the veld was emerald with
grass and bright with flowers. In the kloof behind the house trees had
put out their leaves, and the mimosas were in bloom, making the air
heavy with their scent. Amongst them the ringdoves nested in hundreds,
and on the steep rocks of the precipice the red-necked vultures fed
their young. Along the banks of the stream and round the borders of
the lake the pig-lilies bloomed, a sheet of white. All the place was
beautiful and full of life and hope. Nothing seemed dead and hopeless
except Benita’s heart.

Her health had quite come back to her; indeed, never before had she felt
so strong and well. But the very soul had withered in her breast. All
day she thought, and all night she dreamed of the man who, in cold
blood, had offered up his life to save a helpless woman and her child.
She wondered whether he would have done this if he had heard the answer
that was upon her lips. Perhaps that was why she had not been given time
to speak that answer, which might have made a coward of him. For nothing
more had been heard of Robert Seymour; indeed, already the tragedy of
the ship _Zanzibar_ was forgotten. The dead had buried their dead, and
since then worse disasters had happened in the world.

But Benita could not bury her dead. She rode about the veld, she sat
by the lake and watched the wild fowl, or at night heard them flighting
over her in flocks. She listened to the cooing of the doves, the booming
of the bitterns in the reeds, and the drumming of the snipe high in air.
She counted the game trekking along the ridge till her mind grew weary.
She sought consolation from the breast of Nature and found none; she
sought it in the starlit skies, and oh! they were very far away. Death
reigned within her who outwardly was so fair to see.

In the society of her father, indeed, she took pleasure, for he loved
her, and love comforted her wounded heart. In that of Jacob Meyer also
she found interest, for now her first fear of the man had died away,
and undoubtedly he was very interesting; well-bred also after a fashion,
although a Jew who had lost his own faith and rejected that of the
Christians.

He told her that he was a German by birth, that he had been sent to
England as a boy, to avoid the conscription, which Jews dislike, since
in soldiering there is little profit. Here he had become a clerk in a
house of South African merchants, and, as a consequence--having shown
all the ability of his race--was despatched to take charge of a branch
business in Cape Colony. What happened to him there Benita never
discovered, but probably he had shown too much ability of an oblique
nature. At any rate, his connection with the firm terminated, and for
years he became a wandering “smouse,” or trader, until at length he
drifted into partnership with her father.

Whatever might have been his past, however, soon she found that he was
an extremely able and agreeable man. It was he and no other who had
painted the water-colours that adorned her room, and he could play and
sing as well as he painted. Also, as Robert had told her, Mr. Meyer was
very well-read in subjects that are not usually studied on the veld
of South Africa; indeed, he had quite a library of books, most of them
histories or philosophical and scientific works, of which he would lend
her volumes. Fiction, however, he never read, for the reason, he told
her, that he found life itself and the mysteries and problems which
surround it so much more interesting.

One evening, when they were walking together by the lake, watching
the long lights of sunset break and quiver upon its surface, Benita’s
curiosity overcame her, and she asked him boldly how it happened that
such a man as he was content to live the life he did.

“In order that I may reach a better,” he answered. “Oh! no, not in the
skies, Miss Clifford, for of them I know nothing, nor, as I believe, is
there anything to know. But here--here.”

“What do you mean by a better life, Mr. Meyer?”

“I mean,” he answered, with a flash of his dark eyes, “great wealth,
and the power that wealth brings. Ah! I see you think me very sordid and
materialistic, but money is God in this world, Miss Clifford--money is
God.”

She smiled and answered: “I fear, then, that he is likely to prove an
invisible god on the high veld, Mr. Meyer. You will scarcely make a
great fortune out of horse-breeding, and here there is no one to rule.”

“Do you suppose, then, that is why I stop at Rooi Krantz, just to breed
horses? Has not your father told you about the great treasure hidden
away up there among the Makalanga?”

“I have heard something of it,” she answered with a sigh. “Also that
both of you went to look for it and were disappointed.”

“Ah! The Englishman who was drowned--Mr. Seymour--he spoke of it, did he
not? He found us there.”

“Yes; and you wished to shoot him--do you remember?”

“God in Heaven! Yes, because I thought he had come to rob us. Well, I
did not shoot, and afterwards we were hunted out of the place, which
does not much matter, as those fools of natives refused to let us dig in
the fortress.”

“Then why do you still think about this treasure which probably does not
exist?”

“Why, Miss Clifford, do you think about various things that probably
do not exist? Perhaps because you feel that here or elsewhere they _do_
exist. Well, that is what I feel about the treasure, and what I have
always felt. It exists, and I shall find it--now. I shall live to see
more gold than you can even imagine, and that is why I still continue
to breed horses on the Transvaal veld. Ah! you laugh; you think it is a
nightmare that I breed----”

Then suddenly he became aware of Sally, who had appeared over the fold
of the rise behind them, and asked irritably:

“What is it now, old vrouw?”

“The Baas Clifford wants to speak with you, Baas Jacob. Messengers have
come to you from far away.”

“What messengers?” he asked.

“I know not,” answered Sally, fanning her fat face with a yellow
pocket-handkerchief. “They are strange people to me, and thin with
travelling, but they talk a kind of Zulu. The Baas wishes you to come.”

“Will you come also, Miss Clifford? No? Then forgive me if I leave you,”
 and lifting his hat he went.

“A strange man, Missee,” said old Sally, when he had vanished, walking
very fast.

“Yes,” answered Benita, in an indifferent voice.

“A very strange man,” went on the old woman. “Too much in his kop,” and
she tapped her forehead. “I tink it will burst one day; but if it does
not burst, then he will be great. I tell you that before, now I tell it
you again, for I tink his time come. Now I go cook dinner.”

Benita sat by the lake till the twilight fell, and the wild geese began
to flight over her. Then she walked back to the house thinking no more
of Heer Meyer, thinking only that she was weary of this place in which
there was nothing to occupy her mind and distract it from its ever
present sorrow.

At dinner, or rather supper, that night she noticed that both her father
and his partner seemed to be suffering from suppressed excitement, of
which she thought she could guess the cause.

“Did you find your messengers, Mr. Meyer?” she asked, when the men had
lit their pipes, and the square-face--as Hollands was called in those
days, from the shape of the bottle--was set upon the rough table of
speckled buchenhout wood.

“Yes, I found them,” he answered; “they are in the kitchen now.” And he
looked at Mr. Clifford.

“Benita, my dear,” said her father, “rather a curious thing has
happened.” Her face lit up, but he shook his head. “No, nothing to do
with the shipwreck--that is all finished. Still, something that may
interest you, if you care to hear a story.”

Benita nodded; she was in a mood to hear anything that would occupy her
thoughts.

“You know something about this treasure business,” went on her father.
“Well, this is the tale of it. Years ago, after you and your mother
had gone to England, I went on a big game shooting expedition into the
interior. My companion was an old fellow called Tom Jackson, a rolling
stone, and one of the best elephant hunters in Africa. We did pretty
well, but the end of it was that we separated north of the Transvaal, I
bringing down the ivory that we had shot, and traded, and Tom stopping
to put in another season, the arrangement being that he was to join me
afterwards, and take his share of the money. I came here and bought this
farm from a Boer who was tired of it--cheap enough, too, for I only gave
him £100 for the 6,000 acres. The kitchens behind were his old house,
for I built a new one.

“A year had gone by before I saw any more of Tom Jackson, and then he
turned up more dead than alive. He had been injured by an elephant, and
lay for some months among the Makalanga to the north of Matabeleland,
where he got fever badly at a place called Bambatse, on the Zambesi.
These Makalanga are a strange folk. I believe their name means the
People of the Sun; at any rate, they are the last of some ancient
race. Well, while he was there he cured the old Molimo, or hereditary
high-priest of this tribe, of a bad fever by giving him quinine, and
naturally they grew friendly. The Molimo lived among ruins of which
there are many over all that part of South Africa. No one knows who
built them now; probably it was people who lived thousands of years ago.
However, this Molimo told Tom Jackson a more recent legend connected
with the place.

“He said that six generations before, when his great-great-great
grandfather was chief (Mambo, he called it), the natives of all
that part of South Africa rose against the white men--Portuguese, I
suppose--who still worked the gold there. They massacred them and their
slaves by thousands, driving them up from the southward, where Lobengula
rules now, to the Zambesi by which the Portuguese hoped to escape to the
coast. At length a remnant of them, not more than about two hundred men
and women, arrived at the stronghold called Bambatse, where the Molimo
now lives in a great ruin built by the ancients upon an impregnable
mountain which overhangs the river. With them they brought an enormous
quantity of gold, all the stored-up treasure of the land which they were
trying to carry off. But although they reached the river they could not
escape by it, since the natives, who pursued them in thousands, watched
day and night in canoes, and the poor fugitives had no boats. Therefore
it came about that they were shut up in this fortress which it was
impossible to storm, and there slowly perished of starvation.

“When it was known that they were all dead, the natives who had followed
them from the south, and who wanted blood and revenge, not gold, which
was of no use to them, went away; but the old priest’s forefather who
knew the secret entrance to the place, and who had been friendly to
the Portuguese, forced his way in and there, amidst the dead, found
one woman living, but mad with grief--a young and beautiful girl, the
daughter of the Portuguese lord or captain. He gave her food, but in
the night, when some strength had returned to her, she left him, and
at daybreak he found her standing on the peak that overhangs the river,
dressed all in white.

“He called some of his councillors, and they tried to persuade her to
come down from the rock, but she answered, ‘No, her betrothed and all
her family and friends were dead, and it was her will to follow them.’
Then they asked where was the gold, for having watched day and night
they knew it had not been thrown into the river. She answered that it
was where it was, and that, seek as he might, no black man would ever
find it. She added that she gave it into his keeping, and that of his
descendants, to safeguard until she came again. Also she said that if
they were faithless to that trust, then it had been revealed to her from
heaven above that those same savages who had killed her father and her
people, would kill his people also. When she had spoken thus she stood a
while praying on the peak, then suddenly hurled herself into the river,
and was seen no more.

“From that day to this the ruin has been held to be haunted, and
save the Molimo himself, who retires there to meditate and receive
revelations from the spirits, no one is allowed to set a foot in
its upper part; indeed, the natives would rather die than do so.
Consequently the gold still remains where it was hidden. This place
itself Tom Jackson did not see, since, notwithstanding his friendship
for him, the Molimo refused to allow him to enter there.

“Well, Tom never recovered; he died here, and is buried in the little
graveyard behind the house which the Boers made for some of their
people. It was shortly before his death that Mr. Meyer became my
partner, for I forgot to say that I had told him the story, and we
determined to have a try for that great wealth. You know the rest. We
trekked to Bambatse, pretending to be traders, and found the old Molimo
who knew of me as having been Tom Jackson’s friend. We asked him if the
story he had told to Jackson were true, and he answered that, surely as
the sun shone in the heavens, it was true--every word of it--for it,
and much more than he had spoken of, had been handed down from father to
son, and that they even knew the name of the white lady who had killed
herself. It was Ferreira--your mother’s name, Benita, though a common
one enough in South Africa.

“We asked him to allow us to enter the topmost stronghold, which stands
upon the hill, but he refused, saying that the curse still lay upon
him and his, and that no man should enter until the lady Ferreira came
again. For the rest the place was free to us; we might dig as we would.
So we did dig, and found some gold buried with the ancients, beads and
bangles and wire--about £100 worth. Also--that was on the day when the
young Seymours came upon us, and accounts for Meyer’s excitement, for
he thought that we were on the track of the treasure--we found a single
gold coin, no doubt one that had been dropped by the Portuguese. Here it
is.” And he threw a thin piece of gold on the table before her. “I have
shown it to a man learned in those matters, and he says that it is a
ducat struck by one of the doges of Venice.

“Well, we never found any more. The end of it was that the Makalanga
caught us trying to get in to the secret stronghold by stealth, and gave
us the choice of clearing out or being killed. So we cleared out, for
treasure is not of much use to dead men.”

Mr. Clifford ceased speaking, and filled his pipe, while Meyer helped
himself to squareface in an absent manner. As for Benita, she stared at
the quaint old coin, which had a hole in it, wondering with what scenes
of terror and of bloodshed it had been connected.

“Keep it,” said her father. “It will go on that bracelet of yours.”

“Thank you, dear,” she answered. “Though I don’t know why I should take
all the Portuguese treasure since we shall never see any more of it.”

“Why not, Miss Clifford?” asked Meyer quickly.

“The story tells you why--because the natives won’t even let you look
for it; also, looking and finding are different things.”

“Natives change their minds sometimes, Miss Clifford. That story is
not done, it is only begun, and now you shall hear its second chapter.
Clifford, may I call in the messengers?” And without waiting for an
answer he rose and left the room.

Neither Mr. Clifford nor his daughter said anything after he had gone.
Benita appeared to occupy herself in fixing the broad gold coin to a
little swivel on her bracelet, but while she did so once more that sixth
sense of hers awoke within her. As she had been afraid at the dinner on
the doomed steamer, so again she was afraid. Again death and great fear
cast their advancing shadows on to her soul. That piece of gold seemed
to speak to her, yet, alas! she could not understand its story. Only she
knew that her father and Jacob Meyer and--yes, yes, yes--Robert Seymour,
had all a part in that tragedy. Oh! how could that be when he was dead?
How could this gold link him to her? She knew not--she cared not. All
she knew was that she would follow this treasure to the edge of the
world, and if need be, over it, if only it brought her back to him
again.



VII

THE MESSENGERS

The door opened, and through it came Jacob Meyer, followed by three
natives. Benita did not see or hear them; her soul was far away. There
at the head of the room, clad all in white, for she wore no mourning
save in her heart, illuminated by the rays of the lamp that hung above
her, she stood still and upright, for she had risen; on the face and
in her wide, dark eyes a look that was very strange to see. Jacob
Meyer perceived it and stopped; the three natives perceived it also
and stopped. There they stood, all four of them, at the end of the long
sitting-room, staring at the white Benita and at her haunted eyes.

One of the natives pointed with his thin finger to her face, and
whispered to the others. Meyer, who understood their tongue, caught the
whisper. It was:

“Behold the Spirit of the Rock!”

“What spirit, and what rock?” he asked in a low voice.

“She who haunts Bambatse; she whom our eyes have seen,” answered the
man, still staring at Benita.

Benita heard the whispering, and knew it was about herself, though not
one word of it did she catch. With a sigh she shook herself free from
her visions and sat down in a chair close by. Then one by one the
messengers drew near to her, and each, as he came, made a profound
obeisance, touching the floor with his finger-tips, and staring at her
face. But her father they only saluted with an uplifted hand. She looked
at them with interest, and indeed they were interesting in their way;
tall, spare men, light coloured, with refined, mobile faces. Here was no
negro-blood, but rather that of some ancient people such as Egyptians or
Phoenicians: men whose forefathers had been wise and civilized thousands
of years ago, and perchance had stood in the courts of Pharaoh or of
Solomon.

Their salutations finished, the three men squatted in a line upon the
floor, drawing their fur karosses, or robes, about them, and waited in
silence. Jacob Meyer thought a while, then said:

“Clifford, will you translate to your daughter, so that she may be sure
she is told exactly what passes?”

Next he turned and addressed the natives.

“Your names are Tamas, Tamala, and Hoba, and you, Tamas, are the son of
the Molimo of Bambatse, who is called Mambo, and you, Tamala and Hoba,
are his initiated councillors. Is it so?”

They bowed their heads.

“Good. You, Tamas, tell the story and give again your message that this
lady, the lady Benita, may hear it, for she has a part in the matter.”

“We understand that she has a part,” answered Tamas. “We read in her
face that she has the greatest part. Doubtless it is of her that the
Spirit told my father. These, spoken by my mouth, are the words of the
Molimo, my father, which we have travelled so far to deliver.

“‘When you two white men visited Bambatse four years ago, you asked of
me, Mambo, to be admitted to the holy place, that you might look for the
treasure there which the Portuguese hid in the time of my ancestor in
the sixth generation. I refused to allow you to look, or even to enter
the holy place, because I am by birth the guardian of that treasure,
although I know not where it lies. But now I am in a great strait. I
have news that Lobengula the usurper, who is king of the Matabele, has
taken offence against me for certain reasons, among them that I did not
send him a sufficient tribute. It is reported to me that he purposes
next summer to despatch an impi to wipe me and my people out, and to
make my kraal black as the burnt veld. I have little strength to resist
him who is mighty, and my people are not warlike. From generation to
generation they have been traders, cultivators of the land, workers in
metal, and men of peace, who desire not to kill or be killed. Also they
are few. Therefore I have no power to stand against Lobengula.

“‘I remember the guns that you and your companion brought with you,
which can kill things from far away. If I had a supply of those guns
from behind my walls I might defy the impi of Lobengula, whose warriors
use the assegai. If you will bring me a hundred good guns and plenty of
powder and bullets for them, it is revealed to me that it will be lawful
for me to admit you to the secret, holy place, where you may look for
the buried gold for as long as you wish, and if you can find it, take
it all away without hindrance from me or my people. But I will be honest
with you. That gold will never be found save by the one appointed. The
white lady said so in the time of my forefather; he heard it with his
ears, and I have heard it from his descendants with my ears, and so it
shall be. Still, if you bring the guns you can come and see if either
of you is that one appointed. But I do not think that any man is so
appointed, for the secret is hid in woman. But of this you can learn for
yourselves. I do but speak as I am bidden.

“‘This is my message spoken by my mouth, Tamas, son of my body, and my
councillors who go with him will bear witness that he speaks the truth.
I, Mambo, the Molimo of Bambatse, send you greeting, and will give you
good welcome and fulfil my promise, if you come with the far-shooting
guns, ten times ten of them, and the powder, and the bullets wherewith
I may drive off the Matabele, but not otherwise. My son, Tamas, and my
councillors will drive your waggon into my country but you must bring
no strange servants. The Spirit of the white woman who killed herself
before the eyes of my forefather has been seen of late standing upon the
point of rock; also she has visited me at night in my secret place where
her companions died. I do not know all that this portends, but I think
that amongst other things she wished to tell me that the Matabele are
about to attack us. I await the decree of the Heavens. I send you two
karosses as a gift, and a little ancient gold, since ivory is too heavy
for my messengers to carry, and I have no waggon. Farewell.’”

“We have heard you,” said Meyer, when Mr. Clifford had finished
translating, “and we wish to ask you a question. What do you mean when
you say that the Spirit of the white woman has been seen?”

“I mean what I say, white man,” answered Tamas. “She was seen by all
three of us, standing upon the pinnacle at the dawn; also my father saw
and spoke with her alone in his sleep at night. This is the third time
in my father’s day that she has appeared thus, and always before some
great event.”

“What was she like?” asked Meyer.

“Like? Oh! like the lady who sits yonder. Yes, quite the same, or so it
seemed to us. But who knows? We have seen no other white women, and we
were not very near. Let the lady come and stand side by side with the
Spirit, so that we can examine them both, and we shall be able to answer
better. Do you accept the offer of the Molimo?”

“We will tell you to-morrow morning,” replied Meyer. “A hundred rifles
are many to find, and will cost much money. Meanwhile, for you there is
food and a sleeping-place.”

The three men seemed disappointed at his answer, which they evidently
believed to be preliminary to a refusal. For a moment or two they
consulted together, then Tamas put his hand into a pouch and drew from
it something wrapped in dry leaves, which he undid, revealing a quaint
and beautiful necklace, fashioned of twisted gold links, wherein were
set white stones, that they had no difficulty in recognising as uncut
diamonds of considerable value. From this necklace also hung a crucifix
moulded in gold.

“We offer this gift,” he said, “on behalf of Mambo, my father, to the
lady yonder, to whom the karosses and the rough gold are of no use.
The chain has a story. When the Portuguese lady hurled herself into the
river she wore it about her neck. As she fell into the river she struck
against a little point of rock which tore the chain away from her--see
where it is broken and mended with gold wire. It remained upon the point
of rock, and my forefather took it thence. It is a gift to the lady if
she will promise to wear it.”

“Accept it,” muttered Mr. Clifford, when he had finished translating
this, “or you will give offence.”

So Benita said: “I thank the Molimo, and accept his gift.”

Then Tamas rose, and, advancing, cast the ancient, tragic thing over her
head. As it fell upon her shoulders, Benita knew that it was a chain of
destiny drawing her she knew not where, this ornament that had last been
worn by that woman, bereaved and unhappy as herself, who could find no
refuge from her sorrow except in death. Had she felt it torn from her
breast, she wondered, as she, the living Benita of to-day, felt it fall
upon her own?

The three envoys rose, bowed, and went, leaving them alone. Jacob Meyer
lifted his head as though to address her, then changed his mind and was
silent. Both the men waited for her to speak, but she would not, and in
the end it was her father who spoke first.

“What do you say, Benita?” he asked anxiously.

“I? I have nothing to say, except that I have heard a very curious
story. This priest’s message is to you and Mr. Meyer, father, and must
be answered by you. What have I to do with it?”

“A great deal, I think, my dear, or so those men seemed to believe.
At any rate, I cannot go up there without you, and I will not take you
there against your wish, for it is a long way off, and a queer business.
The question is, will you go?”

She thought a space, while the two men watched her anxiously.

“Yes,” she answered at length, in a quiet voice. “I will go if you wish
to go, not because I want to find treasure, but because the story and
the country where it happened interest me. Indeed, I don’t believe much
in the treasure. Even if they are superstitious and afraid to look for
it themselves, I doubt whether they would allow you to look if they
thought it could be found. To me the journey does not seem a good
business speculation, also there are risks.”

“We think it good enough,” broke in Meyer decidedly. “And one does not
expect to get millions without trouble.”

“Yes, yes,” said her father; “but she is right--there are risks, great
risks--fever, wild beasts, savages, and others that one cannot foresee.
Have I a right to expose her to them? Ought we not to go alone?”

“It would be useless,” answered Meyer. “Those messengers have seen your
daughter, and mixed her up with their superstitious story of a ghost,
of which I, who know that there are no such things, believe nothing.
Without her now we shall certainly fail.”

“As for the risks, father,” said Benita, “personally I take no account
of them, for I am sure that what is to happen will happen, and if I knew
that I was to die upon the Zambesi, it would make no difference to me
who do not care. But as it chances, I think--I cannot tell you why--that
you and Mr. Meyer are in more danger than I am. It is for you to
consider whether you will take the risks.”

Mr. Clifford smiled. “I am old,” he said; “that is my answer.”

“And I am accustomed to such things,” said Meyer, with a shrug of his
shoulders. “Who would not run a little danger for the sake of such a
glorious chance? Wealth, wealth, more wealth than we can dream of,
and with it, power--power to avenge, to reward, to buy position, and
pleasure, and all beautiful things which are the heritage of the very
rich alone,” and he spread out his hands and looked upwards, as though
in adoration of this golden god.

“Except such trifles as health and happiness,” commented Benita, not
without sarcasm, for this man and his material desires disgusted her
somewhat, especially when she contrasted him with another man who
was lost to her, though it was true that _his_ past had been idle and
unproductive enough. Yet they interested her also, for Benita had never
met anyone like Mr. Meyer, so talented, so eager, and so soulless.

“Then I understand it is settled?” she said.

Mr. Clifford hesitated, but Meyer answered at once:

“Yes, settled as far as anything can be.”

She waited a moment for her father to speak, but he said nothing; his
chance had gone by.

“Very well. Now we shall not need to trouble ourselves with further
doubts or argument. We are going to Bambatse on the Zambesi, a distant
place, to look for buried gold, and I hope, Mr. Meyer, that if you find
it, the results will come up to your expectations, and bring you all
sorts of good luck. Good-night, father dear, good-night.”

“My daughter thinks it will bring us ill-luck,” said Mr. Clifford, when
the door had closed behind her. “That is her way of saying so.”

“Yes,” answered Meyer gloomily; “she thinks that, and she is one of
those who have vision. Well, she may be wrong. Also, the question is,
shall we seize our opportunity and its dangers, or remain here and breed
bad horses all our lives, while she who is not afraid laughs at us? I am
going to Bambatse.”

Again Mr. Clifford made no direct answer, only asked a question:

“How long will it take to get the guns and ammunition, and what will
they cost?”

“About a week from Wakkerstroom,” replied Meyer. “Old Potgieter,
the trader there, has just imported a hundred Martinis and a hundred
Westley-Richards falling-blocks. Fifty of each, with ten thousand rounds
of cartridges, will cost about £600, and we have as much as that in the
bank; also we have the new waggon, and plenty of good oxen and horses.
We can take a dozen of the horses with us, and sell them in the north
of the Transvaal for a fine price, before we get into the tetsefly
belt. The oxen will probably carry us through, as they are most of them
salted.”

“You have thought it all out, Jacob, I see; but it means a lot of money
one way and another, to say nothing of other things.”

“Yes, a lot of money, and those rifles are too good for Kaffirs.
Birmingham gas-pipes would have done for them, but there are none to be
had. But what is the money, and what are the guns, compared to all they
will bring us?”

“I think you had better ask my daughter, Jacob. She seems to have her
own ideas upon the subject.”

“Miss Clifford has made up her mind, and it will not change. I shall ask
her no more,” replied Meyer.

Then he, too, left the room, to give orders about the journey to
Wakkerstroom that he must take upon the morrow. But Mr. Clifford sat
there till past midnight, wondering whether he had done right, and if
they would find the treasure of which he had dreamed for years, and what
the future had in store for them.

If only he could have seen!


When Benita came to breakfast the next morning, she asked where Mr.
Meyer was, and learned that he had already departed for Wakkerstroom.

“Certainly he is in earnest,” she said with a laugh.

“Yes,” answered her father; “Jacob is always in earnest, though,
somehow, his earnestness has not brought him much good so far. If we
fail, it will not be want of thought and preparation on his part.”

Nearly a week went by before Meyer returned again, and meanwhile Benita
made ready for her journey. In the intervals of her simple preparations
also she talked a good deal, with the help of her father, to the three
sturdy-looking Makalanga, who were resting thankfully after their long
journey. Their conversation was general, since by tacit consent no
further mention was made of the treasure or of anything to do with it,
but it enabled her to form a fair opinion of them and their people. She
gathered that although they spoke a dialect of Zulu, they had none
of the bravery of the Zulus, and indeed lived in deadly terror of the
Matabele, who are bastard Zulus--such terror, in fact, that she greatly
doubted whether the hundred rifles would be of much use to them, should
they ever be attacked by that tribe.

They were what their fathers had been before them, agriculturists and
workers in metals--not fighting men. Also she set herself to learn what
she could of their tongue, which she did not find difficult, for Benita
had a natural aptitude for languages, and had never forgotten the Dutch
and Zulu she used to prattle as a child, which now came back to her
very fast. Indeed, she could already talk fairly in either of those
languages, especially as she spent her spare hours in studying their
grammar, and reading them.

So the days went on, till one evening Jacob Meyer appeared with two
Scotch carts laden with ten long boxes that looked like coffins, and
other smaller boxes which were very heavy, to say nothing of a multitude
of stores. As Mr. Clifford prophesied, he had forgotten nothing, for
he even brought Benita various articles of clothing, and a revolver for
which she had not asked.

Three days later they trekked away from Rooi Krantz upon a peculiarly
beautiful Sunday morning in the early spring, giving it out that they
were going upon a trading and shooting expedition in the north of the
Transvaal. Benita looked back at the pretty little stead and the wooded
kloof behind it over which she had nearly fallen, and the placid lake in
front of it where the nesting wildfowl wheeled, and sighed. For to her,
now that she was leaving it, the place seemed like home, and it came
into her mind that she would never see it any more.



VIII

BAMBATSE

Nearly four months had gone by when at length the waggon with which
were Mr. Clifford, Benita, and Jacob Meyer camped one night within the
country of the Molimo of Bambatse, whose name was Mambo. Or perhaps
that was his title, since (according to Tamas his son) every chief in
succession was called Mambo, though not all of them were Molimos, or
representatives and prophets of God, or the Great Spirit whom they knew
as Munwali. Thus sometimes the Molimo, or priest of Munwali, and the
Mambo or chief were different persons. For instance, he said that he,
Tamas, would be Mambo on his father’s death, but no visions were given
to him; therefore as yet, at any rate, he was not called to be Molimo.

In the course of this long journey they had met with many adventures,
such as were common to African travellers before the days of railroads;
adventures with wild beasts and native tribes, adventures with swollen
rivers also, and one that was worst, with thirst, since for three days
(owing to the failure of a pit or pan, where they expected to find
water) they were obliged to go without drink. Still, none of these
were very serious, nor had any of the three of them ever been in better
health than they were at this moment, for by good luck they had escaped
all fever. Indeed, their rough, wild life had agreed with Benita
extraordinarily well, so well that any who had known her in the streets
of London would scarcely have recognized her as the sunburnt, active and
well-formed young woman who sat that night by the camp fire.

All the horses they had brought with them had been sold, except some
which had died, and three that were “salted,” or proof against the
deadly horse sickness, which they took on with them. Their own servants
also had been sent back to Rooi Krantz in charge of a Scotch cart laden
with ivory, purchased from Boer hunters who had brought it down from the
north of the Transvaal. Therefore, for this was part of the bargain, the
three Makalanga were now their only attendants who drove and herded the
cattle, while Benita cooked the food which the two white men shot, or
sometimes bought from natives.

For days they had been passing through a country that was practically
deserted, and now, having crossed a high nek, the same on which Robert
Seymour had left his waggon, they were camped in low land which, as they
could see by the remains of walls that appeared everywhere, had once
been extensively enclosed and cultivated. To their right was a rising
mountainous ground, beyond which, said the Makalanga, ran the Zambesi,
and in front of them, not more than ten miles away, a great isolated
hill, none other than that place that they had journeyed so far to
reach, Bambatse, round which flowed the great river. Indeed, thither one
of the three Makalanga, he who was named Hoba, had gone on to announce
their approach.

They had outspanned amongst ruins, most of them circular in shape, and
Benita, studying them in the bright moonlight, guessed that once these
had been houses. That place now so solitary, hundreds or thousands of
years ago was undoubtedly the home of a great population. Thousands,
rather than hundreds, she thought, since close at hand in the middle
of one of these round houses, grew a mighty baobab tree, that could not
have seen less than ten or fifteen centuries since the seed whence it
sprang pierced the cement floor which was still visible about its giant
bole.

Tamas, the Molimo’s son, saw her studying these evidences of antiquity,
and, approaching, saluted her.

“Lady,” he said in his own language, which by now she spoke very well,
“lady”--and he waved his hand with a fine gesture--“behold the city of
my people.”

“How do you know that it was their city?” she asked.

“I do not know, lady. Stones cannot speak, the spirits are silent, and
we have forgotten. Still, I think so, and our fathers have told us that
but six or eight generations ago many folk lived here, though it was not
they who built these walls. Even fifty years ago there were many, but
now the Matabele have killed them, and we are few; to-morrow you will
see how few. Come here and look,” and he led her through the entrance
of a square cattle kraal which stood close by. Within were tufts of
rank grass, and a few bushes, and among these scores of skulls and other
bones.

“The Matabele killed these in the time of Moselikatse,” he said. “Now
do you wonder that we who remain fear the Matabele, and desire guns to
defend ourselves from them, even if we must sell our secrets, in order
to buy those guns, who have no money to pay for them?”

“No,” she answered, looking at the tall, dignified man, into whose soul
the irons of fear and slavery had burnt so deep. “No, I do not wonder.”

Next morning at daybreak they trekked on, always through these evidences
of dead, forgotten people. They had not more than ten miles to cover to
reach their long journey’s end, but the road, if so it could be called,
ran up-hill, and the oxen, whereof only fourteen were now left to drag
the heavy-laden waggon, were thin and footsore, so that their progress
was very slow. Indeed, it was past midday when at length they began to
enter what by apology might be called the town of Bambatse.

“When we go away from this, it will have to be by water, I think, unless
we can buy trek-cattle,” said Meyer, looking at the labouring oxen with
a doubtful eye.

“Why?” asked Mr. Clifford anxiously.

“Because several of those beasts have been bitten by tetsefly, like my
horse, and the poison is beginning to work. I thought so last night, but
now I am sure. Look at their eyes. It was down in that bit of bush veld
eight days ago. I said that we ought not to camp there.”

At this moment they came to the crest of the ridge, and on its further
side saw the wonderful ruins of Bambatse close at hand. In front of
them stood a hill jutting out, as it were into the broad waters of the
Zambesi river, which, to a great extent, protected it upon three sides.
The fourth, that opposite to them, except at one place where a kind of
natural causeway led into the town, was also defended by Nature, since
here for more than fifty feet in height the granite rock of the base of
the hill rose sheer and unclimbable. On the mount itself, that in all
may have covered eight or ten acres of ground, and surrounded by a deep
donga or ditch, were three rings of fortifications, set one above the
other, mighty walls which, it was evident, had been built by no modern
hand. Looking at them Benita could well understand how it came about
that the poor fugitive Portuguese had chosen this as their last place of
refuge, and were overcome at length, not by the thousands of savages who
followed and surrounded them, but by hunger. Indeed, the place seemed
impregnable to any force that was not armed with siege guns.

On the hither side of this natural fosse, which, doubtless, in ancient
times had been filled with water led from the Zambesi, stood the village
of the Bambatse Makalanga, a collection of seventy or eighty wretched
huts, round, like those of their forefathers, but built of mud and
thatch. About them lay the gardens, or square fields, that were well
cultivated, and at this season rich with ripening corn. Benita, however,
could see no cattle, and concluded, therefore, that these must be kept
on the hill for safety, and within its walls.

Down the rough road they lumbered, and through the village, where the
few women and children stared at them in a frightened way. Then they
came to the causeway, which, on its further side, was blocked with
thorns and rough stones taken from the ruins. While they waited for
these to be removed by some men who now appeared, Benita looked at the
massive, circular wall still thirty or forty feet in height, by perhaps
twenty through its base, built of granite blocks without mortar,
and ornamented with quaint patterns of other coloured stones. In
its thickness she could see grooves, where evidently had once been
portcullises, but these had disappeared long ago.

“It is a wonderful place,” she said to her father. “I am glad that I
came. Have you been all over it?”

“No; only between the first and second walls, and once between the
second and third. The old temple, or whatever it is, is on the top,
and into that they would never admit us. It is there that the treasure
lies.”

“That the treasure is supposed to lie,” she answered with a smile. “But,
Father, what guarantee have you that they will do so now? Perhaps they
will take the guns and show us the door--or rather the gate.”

“Your daughter is right, there is none; and before a box is taken off
the waggon we must get one,” said Meyer. “Oh! I know it is risky, and it
would have been better to make sure first, but it is too late to talk of
that now. Look, the stones are cleared. Trek on--trek!”

The long waggon-whip cracked, the poor, tired-out oxen strained at the
yokes, and on they went through the entrance of that fateful fortress
that was but just wide enough to admit them. Inside lay a great open
space, which, as they could see from the numerous ruins, had once been
filled with buildings that now were half hidden by grass, trees, and
creepers. This was the outer ring of the temple where, in ancient
days, the priests and captains had their home. Travelling across it for
perhaps a hundred and fifty yards, they came near the second wall, which
was like the first, only not quite so solid, and saw that on a stretch
of beaten ground, and seated in the shadow, for the day was hot, the
people of Bambatse were gathered to greet them.

When within fifty yards they dismounted from the horses, which were
left with the waggon in the charge of the Makalanga, Tamala. Then Benita
taking her position between her father and Jacob Meyer, they
advanced towards the ring of natives, of whom there may have been two
hundred--all of them adult men.

As they came, except one figure who remained seated with his back
against the wall, the human circle stood up as a token of respect, and
Benita saw that they were of the same stamp as the messengers--tall and
good-looking, with melancholy eyes and a cowed expression, wearing the
appearance of people who from day to day live in dread of slavery and
death. Opposite to them was a break in the circle, through which Tamas
led them, and as they crossed it Benita felt that all those people
were staring at her with their sad eyes. A few paces from where the
man crouched against the wall, his head hidden by a beautifully worked
blanket that was thrown over it, were placed three well-carved stools.
Upon these, at a motion from Tamas, they sat themselves down, and, as it
was not dignified for them to speak first, remained silent.

“Be patient and forgive,” said Tamas at length. “My father, Mambo, prays
to the Munwali and the spirits of his fathers that this coming of yours
may be fortunate, and that a vision of those things that are to be may
descend upon him.”

Benita, feeling nearly two hundred pairs of eyes concentrated upon her,
wished that the vision might come quickly, but after a minute or
two fell into tune with the thing, and almost enjoyed this strange
experience. Those mighty ancient walls built by hands unknown, which
had seen so much history and so much death; the silent, triple ring
of patient, solemn men, the last descendants of a cultured race, the
crouching figure hidden beneath the blanket, who imagined himself to be
communicating with his god--it was all very strange, very well worth the
seeing to one who had wearied of the monotony of civilization.

Look, the man stirred, and threw back his blanket, revealing a head
white with age, a spiritual, ascetic face, so thin that every bone
showed in it, and dark eyes which stared upwards unseeingly, like those
of a person in a trance. Thrice he sighed, while his tribesmen watched
him. Then he let his eyes fall upon the three white people seated
in front of him. First he looked at Mr. Clifford, and his face grew
troubled; then at Jacob Meyer, and it was anxious and alarmed. Lastly,
he stared at Benita, and while he did so the dark eyes became calm and
happy.

“White maiden,” he said in a soft, low voice, “for you, at least, I have
good tidings. Though Death come near to you, though you see him on your
right hand and your left, and in front of you and behind you, I say,
fear not. Here you, who have known deep sorrow, shall find happiness and
rest, O maiden, with whom goes the spirit of one pure and fair as you,
who died so long ago.”

Then, while Benita wondered at his words, spoken with such sweet
earnestness that although she believed nothing of them, they brought
a kind of comfort to her, he looked once more at her father and Jacob
Meyer, and, as it were with an effort, was silent.

“Have you no pleasant prophecy for me, old friend,” said Jacob, “who
have come so far to hear it?”

At once the aged face grew inscrutable, all expression vanished behind a
hundred wrinkles, and he answered:

“None, white man--none that I am charged to deliver. Search the skies
for yourself, you who are so wise, and read them if you can. Lords,” he
went on in another voice, “I greet you in the name and presence of my
children. Son Tamas, I greet you also; you have done your mission well.
Listen, now--you are weary and would rest and eat; still, bear with me,
for I have a word to say. Look around you. You see all my tribe, not
twenty times ten above the age of boys, we who once were countless as
the leaves on yonder trees in spring. Why are we dead? Because of the
Amandabele, those fierce dogs whom, two generations ago, Moselikatse,
the general of Chaka, brought up to the south of us, who ravish us and
kill us year by year.

“We are not warlike, we who have outlived war and the lust of slaying.
We are men of peace, who desire to cultivate the land, and to follow our
arts which have descended to us from our ancestors, and to worship
the Heavens above us, whither we depart to join the spirits of our
forefathers. But they are fierce and strong and savage, and they come
up and murder our children and old people, and take away the young women
and the maidens to be slaves, and with them all our cattle. Where are
our cattle? Lobengula, chief of the Amandabele, has them; scarce a cow
is left to give milk to the sick or to the motherless babe. And yet he
sends for cattle. Tribute, say his messengers, deliver tribute, or my
impi will come and take it with your lives. But we have no cattle--all
are gone. We have nothing left to us but this ancient mountain and the
works built thereon, and a little corn on which we live. Yes, I say
it--I, the Molimo--I whose ancestors were great kings--I who have still
more wisdom in me than all the hosts of the Amandabele,” and as he spoke
the old man’s grey head sank upon his breast and the tears ran down his
withered cheeks, while his people answered:

“Mambo, it is true.”

“Now listen again,” he went on. “Lobengula threatens us, therefore I
sent to these white men who were here before, saying that if they would
bring me a hundred guns, and powder and ball, to enable us to beat off
the Amandabele from behind these strong walls of ours, I would take them
into the secret holy place where for six generations no white man has
set a foot, and there suffer them to search for the treasure which is
hid therein, no man knows where, that treasure which they asked leave to
find four winters gone. We refused it then and drove them hence, because
of the curse laid upon us by the white maid who died, the last of the
Portuguese, who foretold her people’s fate for us if we gave up the
buried gold save to one appointed. My children, the Spirit of Bambatse
has visited me; I have seen her and others have seen her, and in my
sleep she said to me: ‘Suffer the men to come and search, for with them
is one of the blood to whom my people’s wealth is given; and great is
your danger, for many spears draw nigh.’ My children, I sent my son and
other messengers on a far journey to where I knew the men dwelt, and
they have returned after many months bringing those men with them,
bringing with them also another of whom I knew nothing--yes, her who is
appointed, her of whom the Spirit spoke.”

Then he lifted his withered hand and held it towards Benita, saying: “I
tell you that yonder she sits for whom the generations have waited.”

“It is so,” answered the Makalanga. “It is the White Lady come again to
take her own.”

“Friends,” asked the Molimo, while they wondered at his strange speech,
“tell me, have you brought the guns?”

“Surely,” answered Mr. Clifford, “they are there in the waggon, every
one of them, the best that can be made, and with them ten thousand
cartridges, bought at a great cost. We have fulfilled our share of the
bargain; now will you fulfil yours, or shall we go away again with the
guns and leave you to meet the Matabele with your assegais?”

“Say you the agreement while we listen,” answered the Molimo.

“Good,” said Mr. Clifford. “It is this: That you shall find us food and
shelter while we are with you. That you shall lead us into the secret
place at the head of the hill, where the Portuguese died, and the gold
is hidden. That you shall allow us to search for that gold when and
where we will. That if we discover the gold, or anything else of value
to us, you shall suffer us to take it away, and assist us upon our
journey, either by giving us boats and manning them to travel down the
Zambesi, or in whatever fashion may be most easy. That you shall permit
none to hurt, molest, or annoy us during our sojourn among you. Is that
our contract?”

“Not quite all of it,” said the Molimo. “There is this to add: first
that you shall teach us how to use the guns; secondly, that you shall
search for and find the treasure, if so it is appointed, without our
help, since in this matter it is not lawful for us to meddle; thirdly,
that if the Amandabele should chance to attack us while you are here,
you shall do your best to assist us against their power.”

“Do you, then, expect attack?” asked Meyer suspiciously.

“White man, we always expect attack. Is it a bargain?”

“Yes,” answered Mr. Clifford and Jacob Meyer in one voice, the latter
adding: “the guns and the cartridges are yours. Lead us now to the
hidden place. We have fulfilled our part; we trust to the honour of you
and all your people to fulfil yours.”

“White Maiden,” asked the Molimo, addressing Benita, “do you also say
that it is a bargain?”

“What my father says, I say.”

“Good,” said the Molimo. “Then, in the presence of my people, and in the
name of the Munwali, I, Mambo, who am his prophet, declare that it is so
agreed between us, and may the vengeance of the heavens fall upon those
who break our pact! Let the oxen of the white men be outspanned, their
horses fed, their waggon unloaded, that we may count the guns. Let food
be brought into the guest-house also, and after they have eaten, I, who
alone of all of you have ever entered it, will lead them to the holy
place, that there they may begin to search for that which the white
men desire from age to age--to find it if they can; if not, to depart
satisfied and at peace.”



IX

THE OATH OF MADUNA

Mr. Clifford and Meyer rose to return to the waggon in order to
superintend the unyoking of the oxen and to give directions as to their
herding, and the off-saddling of the horses. Benita rose also, wondering
when the food that had been promised would be ready, for she was hungry.
Meanwhile, the Molimo was greeting his son Tamas, patting his hand
affectionately and talking to him, when suddenly Benita, who watched
this domestic scene with interest, heard a commotion behind her. Turning
to discover its cause, she perceived three great man clad in full war
panoply, shields on their left arms, spears in their right hands, black
ostrich plumes rising from the polished rings woven in their hair, black
moochas about their middles, and black oxtails tied beneath their knees,
who marched through the throng of Makalanga as though they saw them not.

“The Matabele! The Matabele are on us!” cried a voice; while other
voices shouted, “Fly to your walls!” and yet others, “Kill them! They
are few.”

But the three men marched on unheeding till they stood before Mambo.

“Who are you, and what do you seek?” the old man asked boldly, though
the fear that had taken hold of him at the sight of these strangers was
evident enough, for his whole body shook.

“Surely you should know, chief of Bambatse,” answered their spokesman
with a laugh, “for you have seen the like of us before. We are the
children of Lobengula, the Great Elephant, the King, the Black Bull, the
Father of the Amandabele, and we have a message for your ear, little Old
Man, which, finding that you leave your gate open, we have walked in to
deliver.”

“Speak your message then, envoys of Lobengula, in my ear and in those of
my people,” said the Molimo.

“Your people! Are these all your people?” the spokesman replied
contemptuously. “Why then, what need was there for the indunas of the
King to send so large an impi under a great general against you, when a
company of lads armed with sticks would have served the turn? We thought
that these were but the sons of your house, the men of your own family,
whom you had called together to eat with the white strangers.”

“Close the entrance in the wall,” cried the Molimo, stung to fury by the
insult; and a voice answered:

“Father, it is already done.”

But the Matabele, who should have been frightened, only laughed again,
and their spokesman said:

“See, my brothers, he thinks to trap us who are but three. Well, kill
on, Old Wizard, if you will, but know that if a hand is lifted,
this spear of mine goes through your heart, and that the children of
Lobengula die hard. Know also that then the impi which waits not far
away will destroy you every one, man and woman, youth and maiden,
little ones who hold the hand and infants at the breast; none shall be
left--none at all, to say, ‘Here once lived the cowardly Makalanga of
Bambatse.’ Nay, be not foolish, but talk softly with us, so that perhaps
we may spare your lives.”

Then the three men placed themselves back to back, in such fashion that
they faced every way, and could not be smitten down from behind, and
waited.

“I do not kill envoys,” said the Molimo, “but if they are foul-mouthed,
I throw them out of my walls. Your message, men of the Amandabele.”

“I hear you. Hearken now to the word of Lobengula.”

Then the envoy began to speak, using the pronoun I as though it were the
Matabele king himself who spoke to his vassal, the Makalanga chief: “I
sent to you last year, you slave, who dare to call yourself Mambo of the
Makalanga, demanding a tribute of cattle and women, and warning you that
if they did not come, I would take them. They did not come, but that
time I spared you. Now I send again. Hand over to my messengers fifty
cows and fifty oxen, with herds to drive them, and twelve maidens to
be approved by them, or I wipe you out, who have troubled the earth too
long, and that before another moon has waned.

“Those are the words of Lobengula,” he concluded, and taking the horn
snuff-box from the slit in his ear, helped himself, then insolently
passed it to the Molimo.

So great was the old chief’s rage that, forgetting his self-control, he
struck the box from the hand of his tormentor to the ground, where the
snuff lay spilled.

“Just so shall the blood of your people be spilled through your rash
foolishness,” said the messenger calmly, as he picked up the box, and as
much of the snuff as he could save.

“Hearken,” said the Molimo, in a thin, trembling voice. “Your king
demands cattle, knowing that all the cattle are gone, that scarce a cow
is left to give drink to a motherless babe. He asks for maidens also,
but if he took those he seeks we should have none left for our young men
to marry. And why is this so? It is because the vulture, Lobengula, has
picked us to the bone; yes, while we are yet alive he has torn the flesh
from us. Year by year his soldiers have stolen and killed, till at last
nothing is left of us. And now he seeks what we have not got to give, in
order that he may force a quarrel upon us and murder us. There is nought
left for us to give Lobengula. You have your answer.”

“Indeed!” replied the envoy with a sneer. “How comes it, then, that
yonder I see a waggon laden with goods, and oxen in the yokes? Yes,”
 he repeated with meaning, “with goods whereof we have known the like
at Buluwayo; for Lobengula also sometimes buys guns from white men, O!
little Makalanga. Come now, give us the waggon with its load and the
oxen and the horses, and though it be but a small gift, we will take it
away and ask nothing more this year.”

“How can I give you the property of my guests, the white men?” asked the
Molimo. “Get you gone, and do your worst, or you shall be thrown from
the walls of the fortress.”

“Good, but know that very soon we shall return and make an end of
you, who are tired of these long and troublesome journeys to gather so
little. Go, tend your corn, dwellers in Bambatse, for this I swear in
the name of Lobengula, never shall you see it ripen more.”

Now the crowd of listening Makalanga trembled at his words, but in the
old Molimo they seemed only to rouse a storm of prophetic fury. For a
moment he stood staring up at the blue sky, his arms outstretched as
though in prayer. Then he spoke in a new voice--a clear, quiet voice,
that did not seem to be his own.

“Who am I?” he said. “I am the Molimo of the Bambatse Makalanga; I am
the ladder between them and Heaven; I sit on the topmost bough of
the tree under which they shelter, and there in the crest of the
tree Munwali speaks with me. What to you are winds, to me are voices
whispering in my spirit’s ears. Once my forefathers were great kings,
they were Mambos of all the land, and that is still my name and dignity.
We lived in peace; we laboured, we did wrong to no man. Then you Zulu
savages came upon us from the south-east and your path was red with
blood. Year after year you robbed and you destroyed; you raided our
cattle, you murdered our men, you took our maidens and our children to
be your women and your slaves, until at length, of all this pit filled
with the corn of life, there is left but a little handful. And this you
say you will eat up also, lest it should fall into good ground and grow
again. I tell you that I think it will not be so; but whether or no that
happens, I have words for the ear of your king--a message for a message.
Say to him that thus speaks the wise old Molimo of Bambatse.

“I see him hunted like a wounded hyena through the rivers, in the deep
bush, and over the mountain. I see him die in pain and misery; but his
grave I see not, for no man shall know it. I see the white man take his
land and all his wealth; yea, to them and to no son of his shall his
people give the Bayéte, the royal salute. Of his greatness and his
power, this alone shall remain to him--a name accursed from generation
to generation. And last of all I see peace upon the land and upon my
children’s children.” He paused, then added: “For you, cruel dog that
you are, this message also from the Munwali, by the lips of his Molimo.
I lift no hand against you, but you shall not live to look again upon
your king’s face. Begone now, and do your worst.”

For a moment the three Matabele seemed to be frightened, and Benita
heard one of them say to his companions:

“The Wizard has bewitched us! He has bewitched the Great Elephant and
all his people! Shall we kill him?”

But quickly shaking off his fears their spokesman laughed, and answered:

“So that is what you have brought the white people here for, old
traitor--to plot against the throne of Lobengula.”

He wheeled round and stared at Mr. Clifford and Jacob Meyer; then added:

“Good, Grey-beard and Black-Beard: I myself will put you both to such a
death as you have never heard of, and as for the girl, since she is well
favoured, she shall brew the king’s beer, and be numbered amongst the
king’s wives--unless, indeed, he is pleased to give her to me.”

In an instant the thing was done! At the man’s words about Benita,
Meyer, who had been listening to his threats and bombast unconcerned,
suddenly seemed to awake. His dark eyes flashed, his pale face turned
cruel. Snatching the revolver from his belt he seemed to point and fire
it with one movement, and down--dead or dying--went the Matabele.

Men did not stir, they only stared. Accustomed as they were to death in
that wild land, the suddenness of this deed surprised them. The contrast
between the splendid, brutal savage who had stood before them a moment
ago, and the limp, black thing going to sleep upon the ground, was
strange enough to move their imaginations. There he lay, and there, over
him, the smoking pistol in his hand, Meyer stood and laughed.

Benita felt that the act was just, and the awful punishment deserved.
Yet that laugh of Jacob’s jarred upon her, for in it she thought she
heard the man’s heart speaking; and oh, its voice was merciless! Surely
Justice should not laugh when her sword falls!

“Behold, now,” said the Molimo in his still voice, pointing at the dead
Matabele with his finger; “do I speak lies, or is it true that this
man shall not look more upon his king’s face? Well, as it was with
the servant, so it shall be with the lord, only more slowly. It is the
decree of the Munwali, spoken by the voice of his Mouth, the Molimo of
Bambatse. Go, children of Lobengula, and bear with you as an offering
this first-fruit of the harvest that the white men shall reap among the
warriors of his people.”

The thin voice died away, and there was silence so intense that Benita
thought she heard the scraping of the feet of a green lizard which crept
across a stone a yard or two away.

Then of a sudden it ended. Of a sudden the two remaining Matabele turned
and fled for their lives, and as, when dogs run, a flock of sheep will
wheel about and pursue them, so did the Makalanga. They grabbed at the
messengers with their hands, tearing their finery from them; they struck
them with sticks, they pounded them with stones, till at length two
bruised and bleeding men, finding all escape cut off, and led perhaps
by some instinct, staggered back to where Benita stood horrified at this
dreadful scene, and throwing themselves upon the ground, clutched at her
dress and prayed for mercy.

“Move a little, Miss Clifford,” said Meyer. “Three of those brutes will
not weigh heavier than one upon my conscience.”

“No, no, you shall not,” she answered. “Mambo, these men are messengers;
spare them.”

“Hearken to the voice of pity,” said the old prophet, “spoken in a place
where pity never was, and not in vain. Let them go. Give mercy to the
merciless, for she buys their lives with a prayer.”

“They will bring the others on us,” muttered Tamas, and even old Mr.
Clifford shook his head sadly. But the Molimo only said:

“I have spoken. Let them go. That which will befall must befall, and
from this deed no ill shall come that would not have come otherwise.”

“You hear? Depart swiftly,” said Benita, in Zulu.

With difficulty the two men dragged themselves to their feet, and
supporting each other, stood before her. One of them, a clever,
powerful-faced man, whose black hair was tinged with grey, addressing
himself to Benita, gasped:

“Hear me. That fool there,” and he pointed to his dead companion, “whose
boasting brought his death upon him, was but a low fellow. I, who kept
silence and let him talk, am Maduna, a prince of the royal house who
justly deserve to die because I turned my back upon these dogs. Yet I
and my brother here take life at your hands, Lady, who, now that I have
had time to think, would refuse it at theirs. For, whether I stay or
go does not matter. The impi waits; the slayers are beneath the walls.
Those things which are decreed will happen; there, yonder old Wizard
speaks true. Listen, Lady: should it chance that you have cause to
demand two lives at the hands of Maduna, in his own name and the name
of his king he promises them to you. In safety shall they pass, they
and all that is theirs, without toll taken. Remember the oath of Maduna,
Lady, in the hour of your need, and do you, my brother, bear witness to
it among our people.”

Then, straightening themselves as well as they were able, these two
sorely hurt men lifted their right arms and gave Benita the salute
due to a chieftainess. This done, taking no note of any other creature
there, they limped away to the gate that had been opened for them, and
vanished beyond the wall.

All this while Meyer had stood silent; now he spoke with a bitter smile.

“Charity, Miss Clifford, said a certain Paul, as reported in your New
Testament, covers a multitude of sins. I hope very much that it will
serve to cover our remains from the aasvogels, after we have met our
deaths in some such fashion as that brute promised us,” and he pointed
to the dead man.

Benita looked at her father in question.

“Mr. Meyer means, my dear, that you have done a foolish thing in begging
the lives of those Matabele. It would have been safer for us if they
were dead, who, as it is, have gone off burning for revenge. Of course,
I understand it was natural enough, but----” and he hesitated and
stopped.

“The chief did not say so,” broke in Benita with agitation; “besides, if
he had, I should not have cared. It was bad enough to see one man killed
like that,” and she shivered; “I could not bear any more.”

“You should not be angry at the fellow’s death, seeing that it was what
he said of you which brought it upon him,” Meyer replied with meaning.
“Otherwise he might have gone unharmed as far as I was concerned. For
the rest, I did not interfere because I saw it was useless; also I am
a fatalist like our friend, the Molimo, and believe in what is decreed.
The truth is,” he added sharply, “among savages ladies are not in
place.”

“Why did you not say that down at Rooi Krantz, Jacob?” asked Mr.
Clifford. “You know I thought so all the while, but somehow I was
over-ruled. Now what I suggest is, that we had better get out of this
place as fast as we can--instantly, as soon as we have eaten, before our
retreat is cut off.”

Meyer looked at the oxen which had been outspanned: nine were wandering
about picking up what food they could, but the five which were supposed
to have been bitten by tetsefly had lain down.

“Nine worn-out and footsore oxen will not draw the waggon,” he said;
“also in all probability the place is already surrounded by Matabele,
who merely let us in to be sure of the guns which their spies must have
told them we were carrying. Lastly, having spent so much and come so
far, I do not mean to go without what we seek. Still, if you think that
your daughter’s danger is greater within these walls than outside
of them, you might try, if we can hire servants, which I doubt. Or
possibly, if any rowers are to be had, you could go down the Zambesi in
a canoe, risking the fever. You and she must settle it, Clifford.”

“Difficulties and dangers every way one looks. Benita, what do you say?”
 asked her father distractedly.

Benita thought a moment. She wished to escape from Mr. Meyer, of whom
she was weary and afraid, and would have endured much to do so. On the
other hand, her father was tired out, and needed rest; also to turn
his back upon this venture now would have been a bitter blow to him.
Moreover, lacking cattle and men, how was it to be done? Lastly,
something within her, that same voice which had bidden her to come,
seemed to bid her to stay. Very soon she had made up her mind.

“Father, dear,” she said, “thank you for thinking of me, but as far as
I can see, we should run more risks trying to get away than we do in
stopping here. I wanted to come, though you warned me against it, and
now I must take my chance and trust to God to bring us safe through all
dangers. Surely with all those rifles the Makalanga ought to be able to
hold such a place as this against the Matabele.”

“I hope so,” answered her father; “but they are a timid folk. Still,
though it would have been far better never to have come, I think with
you that it is best to stay where we are, and trust to God.”



X

THE MOUNTAIN TOP

If our adventurers, or any of them, hoped that they were going to be
led to the secret places of the fortress that day, they were destined
to disappointment. Indeed, the remainder of it was employed arduously
enough in unpacking rifles, and a supply of ammunition; also in giving
to a few of the leading Makalanga preliminary lessons in the method of
their use, a matter as to which their ideas were of the vaguest. The
rest of the tribe, having brought their women and children into the
outer enclosure of the ancient stronghold, and with them their sheep
and goats and the few cattle which remained to them, were employed in
building up the entrance permanently with stones, a zigzag secret path
upon the river side, that could be stopped in a few minutes, being now
their only method of ingress and egress through the thickness of the
walls. A certain number of men were also sent out as spies to discover,
if possible, the whereabouts of the Matabele impi.

That there was some impi they were almost sure, for a woman who had
followed them reported that the injured captain, Maduna, and his
companion had been met at a distance of about three miles from Bambatse
by a small party of Matabele, who were hiding in some bushes, and that
these men had made litters for them, and carried them away; whither she
did not know, for she had not dared to pursue them further.

That night Benita passed in the guesthouse, which was only a hut rather
larger than the others, while the two men slept in the waggon just
outside. She was so tired that for a long while she could not rest. Her
mind kept flying back to all the events of the day: the strange words
of that mystic old Molimo, concerning herself; the arrival of the brutal
messengers and the indaba that followed; then the sudden and awful
destruction of their spokesman at the hand of Jacob Meyer. The scene
would not leave her eyes, she saw it again and yet again: the quick
transformation of Meyer’s indifferent face when the soldier began to
insult and threaten her, the lightning-like movement of his hand, the
flash, the report, the change from life to death, and the slayer’s cruel
laugh. He could be very terrible, Jacob Meyer, when his passions were
roused!

And what had roused them then? She could not doubt that it was
herself--not mere chivalry towards a woman. Even if he were capable of
chivalry, merely for that he would never have taken such risk of future
trouble and revenge. No; it was something deeper. He had never said
anything or done anything, yet long ago instinct or insight had caused
Benita to suspect the workings of his mind, and now she was sure of
them. The thought was terrible--worse than all her other dangers put
together. True, she had her father to rely on, but he had been somewhat
ailing of late; age and these arduous journeys and anxieties had told
upon him. Supposing that anything were to happen to him--if he died, for
instance, how dreadful her position might become, left alone far from
the reach of help, with savages--and Jacob Meyer.

Oh! if it had not been for that dreadful shipwreck, how different might
be her lot to-day! Well, it was the thought of the shipwreck and of him
whom she had lost therein, which had driven her on to this adventure,
that in it perhaps her suffering mind might be numbed to rest; and now
she must face its issues. God still remained above her, and she would
put her trust in Him. After all, if she died, what did it matter?

But that old Molimo had promised her that she was safe from death, that
she should find here happiness and rest, though not that of the grave.
He promised this, speaking as one who knew of all her grief, and a very
little while afterwards, in the case of the Matabele soldier, he had
proved himself a prophet of awful power. Also--she knew not how, she
knew not why--now, as before, her inmost heart seemed to bear witness
that this old dreamer’s words were true, and that for her, in some
strange manner unforeseen, there still remained a rest.

Comforted a little by this intuition, at length Benita fell asleep.

Next morning, when she came out of the hut, Benita was met by her
father, who with a cheerful countenance informed her that at any rate
as yet there was no sign of the Matabele. A few hours later, too, some
spies came in who said that for miles round nothing could be seen or
heard of them. Still the preparations for defence went on, and the
hundred best men having been furnished with the rifles, were being
drilled in the use of them by Tamas and his two companions, Tamala and
Hoba, who had learned how to handle a gun very well in the course of
their long journey. The shooting of these raw recruits, however, proved
to be execrable; indeed, so dangerous were they that when one of them
fired at a mark set upon the wall, it was found necessary to order
all the rest to lie down. As it was, a poor trek ox--luckily it was
sick--and two sheep were killed.

Foreseeing a scarcity of provisions in the event of a siege, Meyer,
provident as ever, had already decreed the death of the tetse-bitten
cattle. These were accordingly despatched, and having been skinned and
cut up, their flesh was severed into long strips to be dried in the
burning sun as biltong, which secretly Benita hoped she might never be
called upon to eat. Yet the time was to come when she would swallow that
hard, tetse-poisoned flesh with thankfulness.

At midday, after they had eaten, Mr. Clifford and Meyer went to the
Molimo, where he sat against the second wall, and, pointing to the men
with the guns, said:

“We have fulfilled our bargain. Now fulfil yours. Lead us to the holy
place that we may begin our search.”

“So be it,” he answered. “Follow me, white people.”

Then, quite unattended, he guided them round the inner wall till they
came to a path of rock not more than a yard wide, beneath which was a
precipice fifty feet or so in depth that almost overhung the river. This
giddy path they followed for about twenty paces, to find that it ended
in a cleft in the wall so narrow that only one person could walk
through it at a time. That it must have been the approach to the second
stronghold was evident, however, since it was faced on either side with
dressed stones, and even the foundation granite had been worn by the
human feet which had passed here for ages upon ages. This path zigzagged
to and fro in the thickness of the wall till it brought them finally
within its circle, a broad belt of steeply-rising ground, covered like
that below with the tumbled ruins of buildings amidst which grew bush
and trees.

“Heaven send that the gold is not buried here,” said Mr. Clifford,
surveying the scene; “for if it is, we shall never find it.”

The Molimo seemed to guess the meaning of his words from his face, for
he answered:

“I think not here. The besiegers won this place and camped in it for
many weeks. I could show you were they built their fires and tried to
undermine the last wall within which the Portuguese sat about until
hunger killed them, for they could not eat their gold. Follow me again.”

So on they went up the slope till they came to the base of the third
wall, and as before, passed round it, and reached a point above the
river. But now there was no passage, only some shallow and almost
precipitous steps cut from single stones leading from the foot of the
wall to its summit, more than thirty feet above.

“Really,” said Benita, contemplating this perilous ascent with dismay,
“the ways of treasure seekers are hard. I don’t think I can,” while her
father also looked at them and shook his head.

“We must get a rope,” said Meyer to the Molimo angrily. “How can we
climb that place without one, with such a gulf below?”

“I am old, but I climb it,” said the aged man in mild surprise, since to
him, who had trodden it all his life, it seemed not difficult. “Still,”
 he added, “I have a rope above which I use upon dark nights. I will
ascend and let it down.”

Ascend he did accordingly; indeed, it was a wondrous sight to see his
withered legs scrambling from step to step as unconcernedly as though
he were going upstairs. No monkey could have been more agile, or more
absolutely impervious to the effects of height. Soon he vanished in--or,
rather, through--the crest of the wall, and presently appeared again on
the top step, whence he let down a stout hide rope, remarking that it
was securely tied. So anxious was Meyer to enter the hidden place of
which he had dreamed so long that he scarcely waited for it to reach
his hand before he began the climb, which he accomplished safely. Then,
sitting on the top of the wall, he directed Mr. Clifford to fasten the
end of the rope round Benita’s waist, and her turn came.

It was not so bad as she expected, for she was agile, and the knowledge
that the rope would prevent disaster gave her confidence. In a very
little while she had grasped Meyer’s outstretched hand, and been drawn
into safety through a kind of aperture above the top step. Then the rope
was let down again for her father, who tied it about his middle. Well
was it that he did so, since when he was about half-way up, awkwardness,
or perhaps loss of nerve--neither of them wonderful in an old
man--caused his foot to slip, and had it not been for the rope which
Meyer and the Molimo held, he would certainly have fallen into the
river some hundreds of feet below. As it was, he recovered himself, and
presently arrived panting and very pale. In her relief Benita kissed
him, and even as she did so thought again that she had been very near to
being left alone with Jacob Meyer.

“All’s well that ends well, my dear,” he said. “But upon my word I am
beginning to wish that I had been content with the humble profits of
horse-breeding.”

Benita made no answer; it seemed too late for any useful consideration
of the point.

“Clever men, those ancients,” said Meyer. “See,” and he pointed out
to her how, by drawing a heavy stone which still lay close by over the
aperture through which they had crept, the ascent of the wall could
be made absolutely impossible to any enemy, since at its crest it was
battened outwards, not inwards, as is usual in these ancient ruins.

“Yes,” she answered, “we ought to feel safe enough inside here, and
that’s as well since I do not feel inclined to go out again at present.”

Then they paused to look about them, and this was what they saw:

The wall, built like those below, of unmortared blocks of stone,
remained in a wonderfully good state of preservation, for its only
enemies had been time, the tropical rains, and the growth of shrubs
and trees which here and there had cracked and displaced the stones. It
enclosed all the top of the hill, perhaps three acres of ground, and
on it at intervals were planted soap-stone pillars, each of them about
twelve feet in height, and fashioned at the top to a rude resemblance
of a vulture. Many of these columns, however had been blown down, or
perhaps struck by lightning, and lay broken upon the wall, or if they
had fallen inward, at its foot; but some, six or eight perhaps, were
still standing.

Benita learned afterwards that they must have been placed there by
the ancient Phoenicians, or whatever people constructed this gigantic
fortification, and had something to do with the exact recordings of the
different seasons of the year, and their sub-divisions, by means of the
shadows which they cast. As yet, however, she did not pay much attention
to them, for she was engaged in considering a more remarkable relic of
antiquity which stood upon the very verge of the precipice, the wall,
indeed, being built up to its base on either side.

It was the great cone of which Richard Seymour had told her, fifty feet
high or more, such as once was found in the Phoenician temples. But in
this case it was not built of masonry, but shaped by the hand of man out
of a single gigantic granite monolith of the sort that are sometimes to
be met with in Africa, that thousands or millions of years ago had been
left standing thus when the softer rock around it was worn away by time
and weather. On the inner side of this cone were easy steps whereby
it could be ascended, and its top, which might have been six feet in
diameter, was fashioned in the shape of a cup, probably for the purposes
of acts of worship and of sacrifice. This extraordinary monument, which,
except on the river side, could not be seen from below on account of
the slope of the hill, leaned slightly outwards, so that a stone dropped
from its crest would fall into the waters of the stream.

“Thence it was,” said the Molimo, “that my forefathers saw the last of
the Portuguese, the fair daughter of the great Captain Ferreira, hurl
herself to death after she had given the gold into our keeping, and laid
the curse upon it, until she came again. So in my dreams have I seen and
heard her also, ay, and others have seen her, but these only from by the
river far below.”

He paused awhile, looking at Benita with his queer, dreamy eyes; then
said suddenly:

“Say, Lady, do you remember nothing of that matter?”

Now Benita grew vexed, for the whole thing was uncanny and jarred upon
her.

“How can I remember,” she asked, “who was born not five and twenty years
ago?”

“I do not know,” he answered. “How should I know, who am but an ignorant
old black man, who was born not much more than eighty years ago? Yet,
Lady, tell me, for I seek your wisdom, where were you born from? Out of
the earth, or out of the heavens? What? You shake your head, you who
do not remember? Well, neither do I remember. Yet it is true that all
circles meet somewhere, and it is true that the Portuguese maiden said
she would come again; and lastly it is true that she was such an one
as you are, for she haunts this place, and I, who have seen her sitting
yonder in the moonlight, know her beauty well. Yet mayhap she comes no
more in flesh, but still her spirit comes; for, Lady, out of those eyes
of yours I see it gaze at me. Come,” he added abruptly, “let us descend
the wall, for as you cannot remember, there is more to show you. Have no
fear--the steps are easy.”

So they went down without much difficulty, since, from the accumulation
of rubbish and other causes, the wall was a great deal lower on this
side, and found themselves in the usual dense growth of vegetation and
brushwood through which ran a little path. It led them past the ruins
of buildings whereof the use and purpose were long since forgotten, for
their roofs had fallen in hundreds or thousands of years ago, to the
entrance of a cave which was placed almost at the foot of the monolithic
cone, but thirty or forty yards further from the circle of the wall.
Here the Molimo bade them stay while he lit the lamps within. Five
minutes passed and he returned, saying that all was ready.

“Be not afraid of what you may see,” he added, “for know, white people,
that save my forefathers and myself, none have entered this place since
the Portuguese perished here, nor have we, who do but come hither to
pray and receive the word of the Munwali, ever ventured to disturb it.
As it was, so it is. Come, Lady, come; she whose spirit goes with you
was the last of your white race to pass this door. It is therefore
fitting that your feet and her spirit should be the first to enter it
again.”

Benita hung back a little, for the adventure was eerie, then, determined
that she would show no fear in the presence of this old priest, took the
thin hand he stretched out to her, and walked forward with head erect.
The two men began to follow her, but the Molimo stopped them, saying:

“Not so. The maiden enters first alone with me; it is her house, and
should it please her to ask you to dwell therein, so be it. But first
she must visit her house alone.”

“Nonsense,” said Mr. Clifford angrily. “I will not have it. It will
frighten her.”

“Lady, do you trust me?” asked the Molimo.

“Yes,” she answered; adding, “Father, I think you had better let me go
alone. I am not afraid now, and it may be wisest not to thwart him. This
is a very strange business--not like anything else--and really I think
that I had better go alone. If I do not come back presently, you can
follow.”

“Those who break in upon the sleep of the dead should walk gently,
gently,” piped the old Molimo in a sing-song voice. “The maiden’s breath
is pure; the maiden’s foot is light; her breath will not offend the
dead; her step will not disturb the dead. White men, white men, anger
not the dead, for the dead are mighty, and will be revenged upon you
when you are dead; soon, very soon, when you are dead--dead in your
sorrows, dead in your sins, dead, gathered to that company of the dead
who await us here.”

And, still chanting his mystic song, he led Benita by the hand out of
the light, onward into darkness, away from life, onward into the place
of death.



XI

THE SLEEPERS IN THE CAVE

Like every other passage in this old fortress, the approach to the cave
was narrow and winding; presumably the ancients had arranged them thus
to facilitate their defence. After the third bend, however, Benita saw a
light ahead which flowed from a native lamp lit in the arched entrance.
At the side of this arch was a shell-shaped hollow, cut in the rock
about three feet above the floor. Its appearance seemed familiar to her;
why, she was soon to learn, although at the moment she did not connect
it with anything in particular. The cave beyond was large, lofty, and
not altogether natural, for its walls had evidently been shaped, or at
any rate trimmed, by man. Probably here the old Priests had established
their oracle, or place of offering.

At first Benita could not see much, since in that great cavern two lamps
of hippopotamus oil gave but little light. Presently, however, her eyes
became accustomed to the gloom, and as they advanced up its length she
perceived that save for a skin rug upon which she guessed the Molimo sat
at his solitary devotions, and some gourds and platters for water and
food, all the front part of the place appeared to be empty. Beyond, in
its centre, stood an object of some gleaming metal, that from its double
handles and roller borne upon supports of rock she took to be some kind
of winch, and rightly, for beneath it was the mouth of a great well, the
water supply of the topmost fortification.

Beyond the well was a stone altar, shaped like a truncated cone or
pyramid, and at some distance away against the far wall, as she dimly
discovered by the lamp that stood upon the altar, cut in relief upon
that wall indeed, a colossal cross to which, vigorously if rudely
executed in white stone, hung the image of Christ crucified, the crown
of thorns upon His drooping head. Now she understood. Whatever may have
been the first worship to which this place was dedicated, Christians
had usurped it, and set up here the sacred symbol of their faith,
awful enough to look upon in such surroundings. Doubtless, also, the
shell-shaped basin at the entrance had served the worshippers in this
underground chapel as a stoup for holy water.

The Molimo lifted the lamp from the altar, and having adjusted its
wick, held it up in front of the rood before which, although she was no
Catholic, Benita bowed her head and crossed herself, while he watched
her curiously. Then he lowered it, and she perceived that on the
cemented floor lay great numbers of shrouded forms that at first looked
to her like folk asleep. He stepped to one of them and touched it with
his foot, whereon the cloth which with it was covered crumbled into
dust, revealing beneath a white skeleton.

All those sleepers rested well indeed, for they had been dead at least
two hundred years. There they lay--men, women, and children, though of
the last but few. Some of them had ornaments on their bones, some were
clad in armour, and by all the men were swords, or spears, or knives,
and here and there what she took to be primitive fire-arms. Certain
of them also had turned into mummies in that dry air--grotesque and
dreadful objects from which she gladly averted her eyes.

The Molimo led her forward to the foot of the crucifix, where, upon
its lowest step and upon the cemented floor immediately beneath it
respectively, lay two shapes decorously covered with shawls of some
heavy material interwoven with gold wire, for the manufacture of which
the Makalanga were famous when first the Portuguese came into contact
with them. The Molimo took hold of the cloths that seemed almost as
good now as on the day when they were woven, and lifted them,
revealing beneath the figures of a man and woman. The features were
unrecognizable, although the hair, white in the man’s case and raven
black in that of the woman, remained perfect. They had been great
people, for orders glittered upon the man’s breast, and his sword was
gold hilted, whilst the woman’s bones were adorned with costly necklaces
and jewels, and in her hand was still a book bound in sheets of
silver. Benita took it up and looked at it. It was a missal beautifully
illuminated, which doubtless the poor lady had been reading when at
length she sank exhausted into the sleep of death.

“See the Lord Ferreira and his wife,” said the Molimo, “whom their
daughter laid thus before she went to join them.” Then, at a motion from
Benita, he covered them up again with their golden cloths.

“Here they sleep,” he went on in his chanting voice, “a hundred and
fifty and three of them--a hundred and fifty and three; and when I dream
in this place at night, I have seen the ghosts of every one of them
arise from beside their forms and come gliding down the cave--the
husband with the wife, the child with the mother--to look at me, and
ask when the maiden returns again to take her heritage and give them
burial.”

Benita shuddered; the solemn awfulness of the place and scene oppressed
her. She began to think that she, too, saw those ghosts.

“It is enough,” she said. “Let us be going.”

So they went, and the pitiful, agonized Christ upon the cross, at which
she glanced from time to time over her shoulder, faded to a white blot,
then vanished away in the darkness, through which, from generation to
generation, it kept its watch above the dead, those dead that in their
despair once had cried to it for mercy, and bedewed its feet with tears.

Glad, oh! glad was she when she had left that haunted place behind her,
and saw the wholesome light again.

“What have you seen?” asked her father and Meyer, in one breath, as they
noted her white and frightened face.

She sank upon a stone seat at the entrance of the cave, and before she
could open her lips the Molimo answered for her:

“The maiden has seen the dead. The Spirit who goes with her has given
greeting to its dead that it left so long ago. The maiden has done
reverence to the White One who hangs upon the cross, and asked a
blessing and a pardon of Him, as she whose Spirit goes with her did
reverence before the eyes of my forefathers, and asked a blessing and a
pardon ere she cast herself away.” And he pointed to the little golden
crucifix which hung upon Benita’s bosom, attached to the necklace which
Tamas, the messenger, had given her at Rooi Krantz.

“Now,” he went on, “now the spell is broken, and the sleepers must
depart to sleep elsewhere. Enter, white men; enter, if you dare, and ask
for pardon and for blessing if it may be found, and gather up the dry
bones and take the treasure that was theirs, if it may be found, and
conquer the curse that goes with the treasure for all save one, if
you can, if you can, if you can! Rest you here, maiden, in the sweet
sunshine, and follow me, white men; follow me into the dark of the dead
to seek for that which the white men love.” And once more he vanished
down the passage, turning now and again to beckon to them, while they
went after him as though drawn against their wish. For now, at the last
moment, some superstitious fear spread from him to them, and showed
itself in their eyes.

To Benita, half fainting upon the stone seat, for this experience had
shaken her to the heart, it seemed but a few minutes, though really
the best part of an hour had gone by, when her father reappeared as
white-faced as she had been.

“Where is Mr. Meyer?” she asked.

“Oh!” he answered. “He is collecting all the golden ornaments off those
poor bodies, and tumbling their bones together in a corner of the cave.”

Benita uttered an exclamation of horror.

“I know what you mean,” said her father. “But, curse the fellow! he
has no reverence, although at first he seemed almost as scared as I was
myself. He said that as we could not begin our search with all those
corpses about, they had best be got out of the way as soon as possible.
Or perhaps it was because he is really afraid of them, and wanted to
prove to himself that they are nothing more than dust. Benita,” went on
the old man, “to tell you the truth, I wish heartily that we had left
this business alone. I don’t believe that any good will come of it, and
certainly it has brought enough trouble already. That old prophet of a
Molimo has the second sight, or something like it, and he does not hide
his opinion, but keeps chuckling away in that dreadful place, and piping
out his promises of ill to be.”

“He promised me nothing but good,” said Benita with a little smile.
“Though I don’t see how it can happen. But if you dislike the thing,
father, why not give it up and try to escape?”

“It is too late, dear,” he replied passionately. “Meyer would never
come, and I can’t in honour leave him. Also, I should laugh at myself
for the rest of my life; and, after all, why should we not have the gold
if it can be found? It belongs to nobody. We do not get it by robbery,
or murder; nuggets are of no use to Portuguese who have been dead two
hundred years, and whose heirs, if they have any, it is impossible to
discover. Nor can it matter to them whether they lie about singly as
they died or were placed after death, or piled together in a corner. Our
fears were mere churchyard superstitions, which we have caught from that
ghoul of a Molimo. Don’t you agree with me?”

“Yes, I suppose so,” answered Benita, “though a fate may cling to
certain things or places, perhaps. At any rate, I think that it is of no
use turning back now, even if we had anywhere to turn, so we may as well
go through with the venture and await its end. Give me the water-bottle,
please. I am thirsty.”

A while later Jacob Meyer appeared, carrying a great bundle of precious
objects wrapped in one of the gold cere-cloths, which bundle he hid away
behind a stone.

“The cave is much tidier now,” he said, as he flicked the thick dust
which had collected on them during his unhallowed task from his hands,
and hair, and garments. Then he drank greedily, and asked:

“Have you two made any plans for our future researches?”

They shook their heads.

“Well, then, I have. I thought them out while I was bone-carting, and
here they are. It is no use our going down below again; for one thing,
the journey is too dangerous, and takes too long; and for another, we
are safer up above, where we have plenty to do.”

“But,” said Benita, “how about things to eat and sleep on, and the
rest?”

“Simple enough, Miss Clifford; we must get them up. The Kaffirs will
bring them to the foot of the third wall, and we will haul them to its
top with a rope. Of water it seems there is plenty in that well, which
is fed by a spring a hundred and fifty feet down, and the old chain
is still on the roller, so we only need a couple of buckets from the
waggon. Of wood for cooking there is plenty also, growing on the spot;
and we can camp in the cave or outside of it, as we like, according to
the state of the weather. Now, do you rest here while I go down. I will
be back in an hour with some of the gear, and then you must help me.”

So he went, and the end of it was that before nightfall they had enough
things for their immediate needs, and by the second night, working
very hard, were more or less comfortably established in their strange
habitation. The canvas flap from the waggon was arranged as a tent for
Benita, the men sleeping beneath a thick-leaved tree near by. Close at
hand, under another tree, was their cooking place. The provisions of all
sorts, including a couple of cases of square-face and a large supply
of biltong from the slaughtered cattle, they stored with a quantity of
ammunition in the mouth of the cave. Fresh meat also was brought to
them daily, and hauled up in baskets--that is, until there was none
to bring--and with it grain for bread, and green mealies to serve as
vegetables. Therefore, as the water from the well proved to be excellent
and quite accessible, they were soon set up in all things necessary, and
to these they added from time to time as opportunity offered.

In all these preparations the old Molimo took a part, nor, when they
were completed, did he show any inclination to leave them. In the
morning he would descend to his people below, but before nightfall he
always returned to the cave, where for many years it had been his custom
to sleep--at any rate several times a week, in the gruesome company of
the dead Portuguese. Jacob Meyer persuaded Mr. Clifford that his object
was to spy upon them, and talked of turning him out; but Benita, between
whom and the old man had sprung up a curious friendship and sympathy,
prevented it, pointing out that they were much safer with the Molimo,
as a kind of hostage, than they could be without him; also, that his
knowledge of the place, and of other things, might prove of great help
to them. So in the end he was allowed to remain, as indeed he had a
perfect right to do.

All this while there was no sign of any attack by the Matabele. Indeed,
the fear of such a thing was to some extent dying away, and Benita,
watching from the top of the wall, could see that their nine remaining
oxen, together with the two horses--for that belonging to Jacob Meyer
had died--and the Makalanga goats and sheep, were daily driven out to
graze; also, that the women were working in the crops upon the fertile
soil around the lowest wall. Still, a strict watch was kept, and at
night everyone slept within the fortifications; moreover, the drilling
of the men and their instruction in the use of firearms went on
continually under Tamas, who now, in his father’s old age, was the
virtual chief of the people.

It was on the fourth morning that at length, all their preparations
being completed, the actual search for the treasure began. First,
the Molimo was closely interrogated as to its whereabouts, since they
thought that even if he did not know this exactly, some traditions of
the fact might have descended to him from his ancestors. But he declared
with earnestness that he knew nothing, save that the Portuguese maiden
had said that it was hidden; nor, he added, had any dream or vision come
to him concerning this matter, in which he took no interest. If it was
there, it was there; if it was not there, it was not there--it remained
for the white men to search and see.

For no very good reason Meyer had concluded that the gold must have been
concealed in or about the cave, so here it was that they began their
investigations.

First, they bethought them of the well into which it might possibly
have been thrown, but the fact of this matter proved very difficult
to ascertain. Tying a piece of metal--it was an old Portuguese
sword-hilt--to a string, they let it down and found that it touched
water at a depth of one hundred and twenty feet, and bottom at a depth
of one hundred and forty-seven feet. Therefore there were twenty-seven
feet of water. Weighting a bucket they sank it until it rested upon this
bottom, then wound it up again several times. On the third occasion it
brought up a human bone and a wire anklet of pure gold. But this proved
nothing, except that some ancient, perhaps thousands of years ago, had
been thrown, or had fallen, into the well.

Still unsatisfied, Jacob Meyer, who was a most intrepid person,
determined to investigate the place himself, a task of no little
difficulty and danger, since proper ladders were wanting, nor, had they
existed, was there anything to stand them on. Therefore it came to this:
a seat must be rigged on to the end of the old copper chain, and be
lowered into the pit after the fashion of the bucket. But, as Benita
pointed out, although they might let him down, it was possible that they
would not be able to draw him up again, in which case his plight must
prove unfortunate. So, when the seat had been prepared, an experiment
was made with a stone weighing approximately as much as a man. This
Benita and her father let down easily enough, but, as they anticipated,
when it came to winding it up again, their strength was barely
sufficient to the task. Three people could do it well, but with two the
thing was risky. Now Meyer asked--or, rather, commanded--the Molimo to
order some of his men to help him, but this the old chief refused point
blank to do.

First, he made a number of excuses. They were all employed in drilling,
and in watching for the Matabele; they were afraid to venture here, and
so forth. At last Meyer grew furious; his eyes flashed, he ground his
teeth, and began to threaten.

“White man,” said the Molimo, when he had done, “it cannot be. I have
fulfilled my bargain with you. Search for the gold; find it and take it
away if you can. But this place is holy. None of my tribe, save he who
holds the office of Molimo for the time, may set a foot therein. Kill
me if you will--I care not; but so it is, and if you kill me, afterwards
they will kill you.”

Now Meyer, seeing that nothing was to be gained by violence, changed his
tone, and asked if he himself would help them.

“I am old, my strength is small,” he replied; “yet I will put my hand to
the chain and do my best. But, if I were you, I would not descend that
pit.”

“Still, I will descend it, and to-morrow,” said Meyer.



XII

THE BEGINNING OF THE SEARCH

Accordingly, on the next day the great experiment was made. The
chain and ancient winding gear had been tested and proved to be amply
sufficient to the strain. Therefore, nothing remained save for Meyer
to place himself in the wooden seat with an oil-lamp, and in case this
should be extinguished, matches and candles, of both of which they had a
large supply.

He did so boldly enough, and swung out over the mouth of the pit, while
the three of them clutched the handles of the winch. Then they began to
lower, and slowly his white face disappeared into the black depth. At
every few turns his descent was stopped that he might examine the walls
of the well, and when he was about fifty feet down he called to them to
hold on, which they did, listening while he struck at the rock with a
hammer, for here it sounded very hollow.

At length he shouted to them to lower away again, and they obeyed, until
nearly all the chain was out, and they knew he must be near the water.
Now Benita, peeping over the edge, saw that the star of light had
vanished. His lamp was out, nor did he appear to attempt to re-light it.
They shouted down the well to him, but no answer coming, began to wind
up as fast as they were able. It was all that their united strength
could manage, and very exhausted were they when at length Jacob
reappeared at the top. At first, from the look of him they thought that
he was dead, and had he not tied himself to the chain, dead he certainly
would have been, for evidently his senses had left him long ago. Indeed,
he had fallen almost out of the seat, over which his legs hung limply,
his weight being supported by the hide rope beneath his arms which was
made fast to the chain.

They swung him in and dashed water over his face, till, to their relief,
at last he began to gasp for breath, and revived sufficiently to enable
them to half-lead and half-carry him out into the fresh air.

“What happened to you?” asked Clifford.

“Poisoned with gases, I suppose,” Meyer answered with a groan, for
his head was aching sadly. “The air is often bad at the bottom of deep
wells, but I could smell or feel nothing until suddenly my senses left
me. It was a near thing--a very near thing.”

Afterwards, when he had recovered a little, he told them that at one
spot deep down in the well, on the river side of it, he found a place
where it looked as though the rock had been cut away for a space of
about six feet by four, and afterwards built up again with another sort
of stone set in hard mortar or cement. Immediately beneath, too, were
socket-holes in which the ends of beams still remained, suggesting that
here had been a floor or platform. It was while he was examining these
rotted beams that insensibility overcame him. He added that he thought
that this might be the entrance to the place where the gold was hidden.

“If so,” said Mr. Clifford, “hidden it must remain, since it can have no
better guardian than bad air. Also, floors like that are common in all
wells to prevent rubbish from falling into the water, and the stonework
you saw probably was only put there by the ancients to mend a fault in
the rock and prevent the wall from caving in.”

“I hope so,” said Meyer, “since unless that atmosphere purifies a good
deal I don’t think that even I dare go down again, and until one gets
there, of that it is difficult to be sure, though of course a lantern on
a string will tell one something.”

This was the end of their first attempt. The search was not renewed
until the following afternoon, when Meyer had recovered a little from
the effects of the poisoning and the chafing of the hide ropes beneath
his arms. Indeed, from the former he never did quite recover, since
thenceforward Benita, who for her own reasons watched the man closely,
discovered a marked and progressive change in his demeanour. Hitherto he
had appeared to be a reserved man, one who kept tight hand upon himself,
and, if she knew certain things about him, it was rather because she
guessed, or deduced them, than because he allowed them to be seen. On
two occasions only had he shown his heart before her--when they had
spoken together by the shores of Lake Chrissie on the day of the arrival
of the messengers, and he declared his ardent desire for wealth and
power; and quite recently, when he killed the Matabele envoy. Yet she
felt certain that this heart of his was very passionate and insurgent;
that his calm was like the ice that hides the stream, beneath which its
currents run fiercely, none can see whither. The fashion in which his
dark eyes would flash, even when his pale countenance remained unmoved,
told her so, as did other things.

For instance, when he was recovering from his swoon, the first words
that passed his lips were in German, of which she understood a little,
and she thought that they shaped themselves to her name, coupled with
endearing epithets. From that time forward he became less guarded--or,
rather, it seemed as though he were gradually losing power to control
himself. He would grow excited without apparent cause, and begin to
declaim as to what he would do when he had found the gold; how he would
pay the world back all it had caused him to suffer--how he would become
a “king.”

“I am afraid that you will find that exalted position rather lonely,”
 said Benita with a careless laugh, and next minute was sorry that she
had spoken, for he answered, looking at her in a way that she did not
like:

“Oh, no! There will be a queen--a beautiful queen, whom I shall endow
with wealth, and deck with jewels, and surround with love and worship.”

“What a fortunate lady!” she said, still laughing, but taking the
opportunity to go away upon some errand.

At other times, especially after dark, he would walk up and down in
front of the cave, muttering to himself, or singing wild old German
songs in his rich voice. Also, he made a habit of ascending the granite
pillar and seating himself there, and more than once called down to
her to come up and share his “throne.” Still, these outbreaks were so
occasional that her father, whose perceptions appeared to Benita to be
less keen than formerly, scarcely noticed them, and for the rest his
demeanour was what it had always been.

Further researches into the well being out of the question, their next
step was to make a thorough inspection of the chapel-cave itself. They
examined the walls inch by inch, tapping them with a hammer to hear if
they sounded hollow, but without result. They examined the altar, but it
proved to be a solid mass of rock. By the help of a little ladder they
had made, they examined the crucifix, and discovered that the white
figure on the cross had evidently been fashioned out of some heathen
statue of soft limestone, for at its back were the remains of draperies,
and long hair which the artist had not thought it necessary to cut away.
Also, they found that the arms had been added, and were of a slightly
different stone, and that the weight of the figure was taken partly by
an iron staple which supported the body, and partly by strong copper
wire twisted to resemble cord, and painted white, which was passed round
the wrists and supported the arms. This wire ran through loops of rock
cut in the traverse of the cross, that itself was only raised in relief
by chiselling away the solid stone behind.

Curiously enough, this part of the search was left to Mr. Clifford and
Benita, since it was one that Jacob Meyer seemed reluctant to undertake.
A Jew by birth, and a man who openly professed his want of belief in
that or any other religion, he yet seemed to fear this symbol of the
Christian faith, speaking of it as horrible and unlucky; yes, he who,
without qualm or remorse, had robbed and desecrated the dead that
lay about its feet. Well, the crucifix told them nothing; but as Mr.
Clifford, lantern in hand, descended the ladder, which Benita held,
Jacob Meyer, who was in front of the altar, called to them excitedly
that he had found something.

“Then it is more than we have,” said Mr. Clifford, as he laid down the
ladder and hurried to him.

Meyer was sounding the floor with a staff of wood--an operation which he
had only just began after the walls proved barren.

“Listen now,” he said, letting the heavy staff drop a few paces to the
right of the altar, where it produced the hard, metallic clang that
comes from solid stone when struck. Then he moved to the front of the
altar and dropped it again, but now the note was hollow and reverberant.
Again and again he repeated the experiment, till they had exactly
mapped out where the solid rock ended and that which seemed to be hollow
began--a space of about eight feet square.

“We’ve got it,” he said triumphantly. “That’s the entrance to the place
where the gold is,” and the others were inclined to agree with him.

Now it remained to put their theory to the proof--a task of no small
difficulty. Indeed, it took them three days of hard, continual work.
It will be remembered that the floor of the cave was cemented over, and
first of all this cement, which proved to be of excellent quality, being
largely composed of powdered granite, must be broken up. By the help
of a steel crowbar, which they had brought with them in the waggon,
at length that part of their task was completed, revealing the rock
beneath. By this time Benita was confident that, whatever might lie
below, it was not the treasure, since it was evident that the poor,
dying Portuguese would not have had the time or the strength to cement
it over. When she told the others so, however, Meyer, convinced that
he was on the right tack, answered that doubtless it was done by the
Makalanga after the Portuguese days, as it was well known that they
retained a knowledge of the building arts of their forefathers until
quite a recent period, when the Matabele began to kill them out.

When at length the cement was cleared away and the area swept, they
discovered--for there ran the line of it--that here a great stone was
set into the floor; it must have weighed several tons. As it was set in
cement, however, to lift it, even if they had the strength to work the
necessary levers, proved quite impossible. There remained only one thing
to be done--to cut a way through. When they had worked at this task for
several hours, and only succeeded in making a hole six inches deep,
Mr. Clifford, whose old bones ached and whose hands were very
sore, suggested that perhaps they might break it up with gunpowder.
Accordingly, a pound flask of that explosive was poured into the hole,
which they closed over with wet clay and a heavy rock, leaving a
quill through which ran an extemporized fuse of cotton wick. All being
prepared, their fuse was lit, and they left the cave and waited.

Five minutes afterwards the dull sound of an explosion reached their
ears, but more than an hour went by before the smoke and fumes would
allow them to enter the place, and then it was to find that the results
did not equal their expectations. To begin with, the slab was only
cracked--not shattered, since the strength of the powder had been
expended upwards, not downwards, as would have happened in the case of
dynamite, of which they had none. Moreover, either the heavy stone
which they had placed upon it, striking the roof of the cave, or the
concussion of the air, had brought down many tons of rock, and caused
wide and dangerous-looking cracks. Also, though she said nothing of it,
it seemed to Benita that the great white statue on the cross was leaning
a little further forward than it used to do. So the net result of the
experiment was that they were obliged to drag away great fragments of
the fallen roof that lay upon the stone, which remained almost as solid
and obdurate as before.

So there was nothing for it but to go on working with the crowbar. At
length, towards the evening of the third day of their labour, when the
two men were utterly tired out, a hole was broken through, demonstrating
the fact that beneath this cover lay a hollow of some sort. Mr.
Clifford, to say nothing of Benita, who was heartily weary of the
business, wished to postpone proceedings till the morrow, but Jacob
Meyer would not. So they toiled on until about eleven o’clock at night,
when at length the aperture was of sufficient size to admit a man. Now,
as in the case of the well, they let down a stone tied to a string, to
find that the place beneath was not more than eight feet deep. Then, to
ascertain the condition of the air, a candle was lowered, which at first
went out, but presently burnt well enough. This point settled, they
brought their ladder, whereby Jacob descended with a lantern.

In another minute they heard the sound of guttural German oaths rising
through the hole. Mr. Clifford asked what was the matter, and received
the reply that the place was a tomb, with nothing in it but an accursed
dead monk, information at which Benita could not help bursting into
laughter.

The end of it was that both she and her father went down also, and
there, sure enough, lay the remains of the old missionary in his cowl,
with an ivory crucifix about his neck, and on his breast a scroll
stating that he, Marco, born at Lisbon in 1438, had died at Bambatse in
the year 1503, having laboured in the Empire of Monomotapa for seventeen
years, and suffered great hardships and brought many souls to Christ.
The scroll added that it was he, who before he entered into religion was
a sculptor by trade, that had fashioned the figure on the cross in this
chapel out of that of the heathen goddess which had stood in the same
place from unknown antiquity. It ended with a request, addressed to all
good Christians in Latin, that they who soon must be as he was would
pray for his soul and not disturb his bones, which rested here in the
hope of a blessed resurrection.

When this pious wish was translated to Jacob Meyer by Mr. Clifford, who
still retained some recollection of the classics which he had painfully
acquired at Eton and Oxford, the Jew could scarcely contain his wrath.
Indeed, looking at his bleeding hands, instead of praying for the soul
of that excellent missionary, to reach whose remains he had laboured
with such arduous, incessant toil, he cursed it wherever it might be,
and unceremoniously swept the bones, which the document asked him not to
disturb, into a corner of the tomb, in order to ascertain whether there
was not, perhaps, some stair beneath them.

“Really, Mr. Meyer,” said Benita, who, in spite of the solemnity of the
surroundings, could not control her sense of humour, “if you are not
careful the ghosts of all these people will haunt you.”

“Let them haunt me if they can,” he answered furiously. “I don’t believe
in ghosts, and defy them all.”

At this moment, looking up, Benita saw a figure gliding out of the
darkness into the ring of light, so silently that she started, for it
might well have been one of those ghosts in whom Jacob Meyer did not
believe. In fact, however, it was the old Molimo, who had a habit of
coming upon them thus.

“What says the white man?” he asked of Benita, while his dreamy eyes
wandered over the three of them, and the hole in the violated tomb.

“He says that he does not believe in spirits, and that he defies them,”
 she answered.

“The white gold-seeker does not believe in spirits, and he defies them,”
 Mambo repeated in his sing-song voice. “He does not believe in the
spirits that I see all around me now, the angry spirits of the dead,
who speak together of where he shall lie and of what shall happen to
him when he is dead, and of how they will welcome one who disturbs their
rest and defies and curses them in his search for the riches which he
loves. There is one standing by him now, dressed in a brown robe with a
dead man cut in ivory like to that,” and he pointed to the crucifix in
Jacob’s hands, “and he holds the ivory man above him and threatens him
with sleepless centuries of sorrow, when he is also one of those spirits
in which he does not believe.”

Then Meyer’s rage blazed out. He turned upon the Molimo and reviled
him in his own tongue, saying that he knew well where the treasure was
hidden, and that if he did not point it out he would kill him and send
him to his friends, the spirits. So savage and evil did he look that
Benita retreated a little way, while Mr. Clifford strove in vain to calm
him. But although Meyer laid his hand upon the knife in his belt and
advanced upon him, the old Molimo neither budged an inch nor showed the
slightest fear.

“Let him rave on,” he said, when at length Meyer paused exhausted. “Just
so in a time of storm the lightnings flash and the thunder peals, and
the water foams down the face of rock; but then comes the sun again, and
the hill is as it has ever been, only the storm is spent and lost. I
am the rock, he is but the wind, the fire, and the rain. It is not
permitted that he should hurt me, and those spirits in whom he does not
believe treasure up his curses, to let them fall again like stones upon
his head.”

Then, with a contemptuous glance at Jacob, the old man turned and glided
back into the darkness out of which he had appeared.



XIII

BENITA PLANS ESCAPE

The next morning, while she was cooking breakfast, Benita saw Jacob
Meyer seated upon a rock at a little distance, sullen and disconsolate.
His chin was resting on his hand, and he watched her intently, never
taking his eyes from her face. She felt that he was concentrating his
will upon her; that some new idea concerning her had come into his
mind; for it was one of her miseries that she possessed the power of
interpreting the drift of this man’s thoughts. Much as she detested him,
there existed that curious link between them.

It may be remembered that, on the night when they first met at the crest
of Leopard’s Kloof, Jacob had called her a “thought-sender,” and some
knowledge of their mental intimacy had come home to Benita. From that
day forward her chief desire had been to shut a door between their
natures, to isolate herself from him and him from her. Yet the attempt
was never entirely successful.

Fear and disgust took hold of her, bending there above the fire, all
the while aware of the Jew’s dark eyes that searched her through and
through. Benita formed a sudden determination. She would implore her
father to come away with her.

Of course, such an attempt would be terribly dangerous. Of the Matabele
nothing had been seen; but they might be about, and even if enough
cattle could be collected to draw the waggon, it belonged to Meyer as
much as to her father, and must therefore be left for him. Still, there
remained the two horses, which the Molimo had told her were well and
getting fat.

At this moment Meyer rose and began to speak to her.

“What are you thinking of, Miss Clifford?” he asked in his soft foreign
voice.

She started, but answered readily enough:

“Of the wood which is green, and the kid cutlets which are getting
smoked. Are you not tired of kid, Mr. Meyer?” she went on.

He waved the question aside. “You are so good--oh! I mean it--so really
good that you should not tell stories even about small things. The wood
is not green; I cut it myself from a dead tree; and the meat is not
smoked; nor were you thinking of either. You were thinking of me, as I
was thinking of you; but what exactly was in your mind, this time I do
not know, and that is why I ask you to tell me.”

“Really, Mr. Meyer,” she answered flushing; “my mind is my own
property.”

“Ah! do you say so? Now I hold otherwise--that it is my property, as
mine is yours, a gift that Nature has given to each of us.”

“I seek no such gift,” she answered; but even then, much as she would
have wished to do so, she could not utter a falsehood, and deny this
horrible and secret intimacy.

“I am sorry for that, as I think it very precious; more precious even
than the gold which we cannot find; for Miss Clifford, it brings me
nearer you.”

She turned upon him, but he held up his hand, and went on:

“Oh! do not be angry with me, and do not fear that I am going to trouble
you with soft speeches, for I shall not, unless a time should come, as
I think that perhaps it will, when you may wish to listen to them. But I
want to point out something to you, Miss Clifford. Is it not a wonderful
thing that our minds should be so in tune, and is there not an object
in all this? Did I believe as you do, I should say that it was Heaven
working in us--no: do not answer that the working comes from lower down.
I take no credit for reading that upon your lips; the retort is too
easy and obvious. I am content to say, however, that the work is that
of instinct and nature, or, if you will, of fate, pointing out a road by
which together we might travel to great ends.”

“I travel my road alone, Mr. Meyer.”

“I know, I know, and that is the pity of it. The trouble between man and
woman is that not in one case out of a million, even if they be lovers,
do they understand each other. Their eyes may seek one another, their
hands and lips may meet, and yet they remain distinct, apart, and often
antagonistic. There is no communication of the soul. But when it chances
to be hewn from the same rock as it were--oh! then what happiness may be
theirs, and what opportunities!”

“Possibly, Mr. Meyer; but, to be frank, the question does not interest
me.”

“Not yet; but I am sure that one day it will. Meanwhile, I owe you an
apology. I lost my temper before you last night. Well, do not judge me
hardly, for I was utterly worn out, and that old idiot vexed me with his
talk about ghosts, in which I do not believe.”

“Then why did it make you so angry? Surely you could have afforded to
treat it with contempt, instead of doing--as you did.”

“Upon my word! I don’t know, but I suppose most of us are afraid lest we
should be forced to accept that which we refuse. This ancient place gets
upon the nerves, Miss Clifford; yours as well as mine. I can afford
to be open about it, because I know that you know. Think of its
associations: all the crime that has been committed here for ages and
ages, all the suffering that has been endured here. Doubtless human
sacrifices were offered in this cave or outside of it; that great burnt
ring in the rock there may have been where they built the fires. And
then those Portuguese starving to death, slowly starving to death while
thousands of savages watched them die. Have you ever thought what it
means? But of course you have, for like myself you are cursed with
imagination. God in heaven! is it wonderful that it gets upon the
nerves? especially when one cannot find what one is looking for, that
vast treasure”--and his face became ecstatic--“that shall yet be yours
and mine, and make us great and happy.”

“But which at present only makes me a scullery-maid and most unhappy,”
 replied Benita cheerfully, for she heard her father’s footstep. “Don’t
talk any more of the treasure, Mr. Meyer, or we shall quarrel. We have
enough of that during business hours, when we are hunting for it, you
know. Give me the dish, will you? This meat is cooked at last.”

Still Benita could not be rid of that treasure, since after breakfast
the endless, unprofitable search began again. Once more the cave was
sounded, and other hollow places were discovered upon which the two men
got to work. With infinite labour three of them were broken into in as
many days, and like the first, found to be graves, only this time of
ancients who, perhaps, had died before Christ was born. There they lay
upon their sides, their bones burnt by the hot cement that had been
poured over them, their gold-headed and gold-ferruled rods of office in
their hands, their gold-covered pillows of wood, such as the Egyptians
used, beneath their skulls, gold bracelets upon their arms and ankles,
cakes of gold beneath them which had fallen from the rotted pouches that
once hung about their waists, vases of fine glazed pottery that had
been filled with offerings, or in some cases with gold dust to pay the
expenses of their journey in the other world, standing round them, and
so forth.

In their way these discoveries were rich enough--from one tomb alone
they took over a hundred and thirty ounces of gold--to say nothing of
their surpassing archæological interest. Still they were not what
they sought: all that gathered wealth of Monomotapa which the fleeing
Portuguese had brought with them and buried in this, their last
stronghold.

Benita ceased to take the slightest interest in the matter; she would
not even be at the pains to go to look at the third skeleton, although
it was that of a man who had been almost a giant, and, to judge from the
amount of bullion which he took to the tomb with him, a person of
great importance in his day. She felt as though she wished never to see
another human bone or ancient bead or bangle; the sight of a street
in Bayswater in a London fog--yes, or a toy-shop window in Westbourne
Grove--would have pleased her a hundred times better than these unique
remains that, had they known of them in those days, would have sent half
the learned societies of Europe crazy with delight. She wished to escape
from Bambatse, its wondrous fortifications, its mysterious cone, its
cave, its dead, and--from Jacob Meyer.

Benita stood upon the top of her prison wall and looked with longing at
the wide, open lands below. She even dared to climb the stairs which
ran up the mighty cone of granite, and seated herself in the cup-like
depression on its crest, whence Jacob Meyer had called to her to come
and share his throne. It was a dizzy place, for the pillar leaning
outwards, its point stood almost clear of the water-scarped rock, so
that beneath her was a sheer drop of about four hundred feet to the
Zambesi bed. At first the great height made her feel faint. Her eyes
swam, and unpleasant tremors crept along her spine, so that she was glad
to sink to the floor, whence she knew she could not fall. By degrees,
however, she recovered her nerve, and was able to study the glorious
view of stream and marshes and hills beyond.

For she had come here with a purpose, to see whether it would not be
possible to escape down the river in a canoe, or in native boats such as
the Makalanga owned and used for fishing, or to cross from bank to bank.
Apparently it was impossible, for although the river beneath and
above them was still enough, about a mile below began a cataract that
stretched as far as she could see, and was bordered on either side by
rocky hills covered with forest, over which, even if they could obtain
porters, a canoe could not be carried. This, indeed, she had already
heard from the Molimo, but knowing his timid nature, she wished to judge
of the matter for herself. It came to this then: if they were to go, it
must be on the horses.

Descending the cone Benita went to find her father, to whom as yet she
had said nothing of her plans. The opportunity was good, for she knew
that he would be alone. As it chanced, on that afternoon Meyer had gone
down the hill in order to try to persuade the Makalanga to give them
ten or twenty men to help them in their excavations. In this, it will
be remembered, he had already failed so far as the Molimo was concerned,
but he was not a man easily turned from his purpose, and he thought that
if he could see Tamas and some of the other captains he might be able
by bribery, threats, or otherwise, to induce them to forget their
superstitious fears, and help in the search. As a matter of fact, he was
utterly unsuccessful, since one and all they declared that for them to
enter that sacred place would mean their deaths, and that the vengeance
of Heaven would fall upon their tribe and destroy it root and branch.

Mr. Clifford, on whom all this heavy labour had begun to tell, was
taking advantage of the absence of his taskmaster, Jacob, to sleep
awhile in the hut which they had now built for themselves beneath the
shadow of the baobab-tree. As she reached it he came out yawning, and
asked her where she had been. Benita told him.

“A giddy place,” he said. “I have never ventured to try it myself. What
did you go up there for, dear?”

“To look at the river while Mr. Meyer was away, father; for if he had
seen me do so he would have guessed my reason; indeed, I dare say that
he will guess it now.”

“What reason, Benita?”

“To see whether it would not be possible to escape down it in a boat.
But there is no chance. It is all rapids below, with hills and rocks and
trees on either bank.”

“What need have you to escape at present?” he asked eyeing her
curiously.

“Every need,” she answered with passion. “I hate this place; it is a
prison, and I loathe the very name of treasure. Also,” and she paused.

“Also what, dear?”

“Also,” and her voice sank to a whisper, as though she feared that he
should overhear her even at the bottom of the hill; “also, I am afraid
of Mr. Meyer.”

This confession did not seem to surprise her father, who merely nodded
his head and said:

“Go on.”

“Father, I think that he is going mad, and it is not pleasant for us to
be cooped up here alone with a madman, especially when he has begun to
speak to me as he does now.”

“You don’t mean that he has been impertinent to you,” said the old man,
flushing up, “for if so----”

“No, not impertinent--as yet,” and she told him what had passed between
Meyer and herself, adding, “You see, father, I detest this man; indeed,
I want to have nothing to do with any man; for me all that is over and
done with,” and she gave a dry little sob which appeared to come from
her very heart. “And yet, he seems to be getting some kind of power over
me. He follows me about with his eyes, prying into my mind, and I feel
that he is beginning to be able to read it. I can bear no more. Father,
father, for God’s sake, take me away from this hateful hill and its gold
and its dead, and let us get out into the veld again together.”

“I should be glad enough, dearest,” he answered. “I have had plenty of
this wildgoose chase, which I was so mad as to be led into by the love
of wealth. Indeed, I am beginning to believe that if it goes on much
longer I shall leave my bones here.”

“And if such a dreadful thing as that were to happen, what would become
of me, alone with Jacob Meyer?” she asked quietly. “I might even be
driven to the same fate as that poor girl two hundred years ago,” and
she pointed to the cone of rock behind her.

“For Heaven’s sake, don’t talk like that!” he broke in.

“Why not? One must face things, and it would be better than Jacob Meyer;
for who would protect me here?”

Mr. Clifford walked up and down for a few minutes, while his daughter
watched him anxiously.

“I can see no plan,” he said, stopping opposite her. “We cannot take the
waggon even if there are enough oxen left to draw it, for it is his
as much as mine, and I am sure that he will never leave this treasure
unless he is driven away.”

“And I am sure I hope that he will not. But, father, the horses are our
own; it was his that died, you remember. We can ride away on them.”

He stared at her and answered:

“Yes, we could ride away to our deaths. Suppose they got sick or lame;
suppose we meet the Matabele, or could find no game to shoot; suppose
one of us fell ill--oh! and a hundred things. What then?”

“Why, then it is just as well to perish in the wilderness as here, where
our risks are almost as great. We must take our chance, and trust
to God. Perhaps He will be merciful and help us. Listen now, father.
To-morrow is Sunday, when you and I do no work that we can help. Mr.
Meyer is a Jew, and he won’t waste Sunday. Well now, I will say that I
want to go down to the outer wall to fetch some clothes which I left
in the waggon, and to take others for the native women to wash, and
of course you will come with me. Perhaps he will be deceived, and stay
behind, especially as he has been there to-day. Then we can get the
horses and guns and ammunition, and anything else that we can carry in
the way of food, and persuade the old Molimo to open the gate for us.
You know, the little side gate that cannot be seen from up here, and
before Mr. Meyer misses us and comes to look, we shall be twenty miles
away, and--horses can’t be overtaken by a man on foot.”

“He will say that we have deserted him, and that will be true.”

“You can leave a letter with the Molimo explaining that it was my fault,
that I was getting ill and thought that I should die, and that you knew
it would not be fair to ask him to come, and so to lose the treasure,
to every halfpenny of which he is welcome when it is found. Oh! father,
don’t hesitate any longer; say that you will take me away from Mr.
Meyer.”

“So be it then,” answered Mr. Clifford, and as he spoke, hearing a
sound, they looked up and saw Jacob approaching them.

Luckily he was so occupied with his own thoughts that he never noted the
guilty air upon their faces, and they had time to compose themselves a
little. But even thus his suspicions were aroused.

“What are you talking of so earnestly?” he asked.

“We were wondering how you were getting on with the Makalanga,” answered
Benita, fibbing boldly, “and whether you would persuade them to face the
ghosts. Did you?”

“Not I,” he answered with a scowl. “Those ghosts are our worst enemies
in this place; the cowards swore that they would rather die. I should
have liked to take some of them at their word and make ghosts of
them; but I remembered the situation and didn’t. Don’t be afraid, Miss
Clifford, I never even lost my temper, outwardly at any rate. Well,
there it is; if they won’t help us, we must work the harder. I’ve got a
new plan, and we’ll begin on it to-morrow.”

“Not to-morrow, Mr. Meyer,” replied Benita with a smile. “It is Sunday,
and we rest on Sunday, you know.”

“Oh! I forgot. The Makalanga with their ghosts and you with your
Sunday--really I do not know which is the worse. Well, then, I must do
my own share and yours too, I suppose,” and he turned with a shrug of
his shoulders.



XIV

THE FLIGHT

The next morning, Sunday, Meyer went to work on his new plan. What it
was Benita did not trouble to inquire, but she gathered that it had
something to do with the measuring out of the chapel cave into squares
for the more systematic investigation of each area. At twelve o’clock he
emerged for his midday meal, in the course of which he remarked that it
was very dreary working in that place alone, and that he would be glad
when it was Monday, and they could accompany him. His words evidently
disturbed Mr. Clifford not a little, and even excited some compunction
in the breast of Benita.

What would his feelings be, she wondered, when he found that they
had run away, leaving him to deal with their joint undertaking
single-handed! Almost was she minded to tell him the whole truth;
yet--and this was a curious evidence of the man’s ascendancy over
her--she did not. Perhaps she felt that to do so would be to put an end
to their scheme, since then by argument, blandishments, threats, force,
or appeal to their sense of loyalty, it mattered not which, he would
bring about its abandonment. But she wanted to fulfil that scheme, to
be free of Bambatse, its immemorial ruins, its graveyard cave, and
the ghoul, Jacob Meyer, who could delve among dead bones and in living
hearts with equal skill and insight, and yet was unable to find the
treasure that lay beneath either of them.

So they hid the truth, and talked with feverish activity about other
things, such as the drilling of the Makalanga, and the chances of an
attack by the Matabele, which happily now seemed to be growing small;
also of the conditions of their cattle, and the prospect of obtaining
more to replace those that had died. Indeed, Benita went farther; in her
new-found zeal of deception she proceeded to act a lie, yes, even with
her father’s reproachful eyes fixed upon her. Incidentally she mentioned
that they were going to have an outing, to climb down the ladder and
visit the Makalanga camp between the first and second walls and mix with
the great world for a few hours; also to carry their washing to be done
there, and bring up some clean clothes and certain books which she had
left below.

Jacob came out of his thoughts and calculations, and listened gloomily.

“I have half a mind to come with you,” he said, words at which Benita
shivered. “It certainly is most cursed lonesome in that cave, and I seem
to hear things in it, as though those old bones were rattling, sounds
like sighs and whispers too, which are made by the draught.”

“Well, why don’t you?” asked Benita.

It was a bold stroke, but it succeeded. If he had any doubts they
vanished, and he answered at once:

“Because I have not the time. We have to get this business finished one
way or another before the wet season comes on, and we are drowned out of
the place with rain, or rotted by fever. Take your afternoon out, Miss
Clifford; every maid of all work is entitled to as much, and I am afraid
that is your billet here. Only,” he added, with that care for her safety
which he always showed in his more temperate moods, “pray be careful,
Clifford, to get back before sundown. That wall is too risky for your
daughter to climb in the dusk. Call me from the foot of it; you have the
whistle, and I will come down to help her up. I think I’ll go with you
after all. No, I won’t. I made myself so unpleasant to them yesterday
that those Makalanga can’t wish to see any more of me at present. I hope
you will have a more agreeable afternoon than I shall. Why don’t you
take a ride outside the wall? Your horses are fat and want exercise, and
I do not think that you need be afraid of the Matabele.” Then without
waiting for an answer, he rose and left them.

Mr. Clifford looked after him doubtfully.

“Oh, I know,” said Benita, “it seems horribly mean, but one must do
shabby things sometimes. Here are the bundles all ready, so let us be
off.”

Accordingly they went, and from the top of the wall Benita glanced back
to bid goodbye to that place which she hoped never to see again. Yet she
could not feel as though she looked her last upon it; to her it wore
no air of farewell, and even as she descended the perilous stairs, she
found herself making mental notes as to how they might best be climbed
again. Also, she could not believe that she had done with Mr. Meyer. It
seemed to her as though for a long while yet her future would be full of
him.

They reached the outer fortifications in safety, and there were greeted
with some surprise but with no displeasure by the Makalanga, whom they
found still drilling with the rifles, in the use of which a certain
number of them appeared to have become fairly proficient. Going to
the hut in which the spare goods from the waggon had been stored, they
quickly made their preparations. Here also, Mr. Clifford wrote a letter,
one of the most unpleasant that he had ever been called upon to compose.
It ran thus:

“Dear Meyer,

“I don’t know what you will think of us, but we are escaping from this
place. The truth is that I am not well, and my daughter can bear it no
longer. She says that if she stops here, she will die, and that hunting
for treasure in that ghastly grave-yard is shattering her nerves. I
should have liked to tell you, but she begged me not, being convinced
that if I did, you would over-persuade us or stop us in some way. As for
the gold, if you can find it, take it all. I renounce my share. We are
leaving you the waggon and the oxen, and starting down country on our
horses. It is a perilous business, but less so than staying here, under
the circumstances. If we never meet again we hope that you will forgive
us, and wish you all good fortune.--Yours sincerely and with much
regret,

“T. Clifford.”


The letter written, they saddled the horses which had been brought up
for their inspection, and were found to be in good case, and fastened
their scanty belongings, and as many cartridges as they could carry in
packs behind their saddles. Then, each of them armed with a rifle--for
during their long journeyings Benita had learned to shoot--they mounted
and made for the little side-entrance, as the main gate through which
they had passed on their arrival was now built up. This side-entrance, a
mere slit in the great wall, with a precipitous approach, was open, for
now that their fear of the Matabele had to some extent passed off, the
Makalanga used it to drive their sheep and goats in and out, since it
was so constructed with several twists and turns in the thickness of the
wall, that in a few minutes it could be effectually blocked by stones
that lay at hand. Also, the ancient architect had arranged it in such
a fashion that it was entirely commanded from the crest of the wall on
either side.

The Makalanga, who had been watching their proceedings curiously, made
no attempt to stop them, although they guessed that they might have a
little trouble with the sentries who guarded the entrances all day, and
even when it was closed at night, with whom also Mr. Clifford proposed
to leave the letter. When they reached the place, however, and had
dismounted to lead the horses down the winding passage and the steep
ascent upon its further side, it was to find that the only guard visible
proved to be the old Molimo himself, who sat there, apparently half
asleep.

But as they came he showed himself to be very much awake, for without
moving he asked them at once whither they were going.

“To take a ride,” answered Mr. Clifford. “The lady, my daughter, is
weary of being cooped up in this fortress, and wishes to breathe the air
without. Let us pass, friend, or we shall not be back by sunset.”

“If you be coming back at sunset, white man, why do you carry so
many things upon your packs, and why are your saddle-bags filled with
cartridges?” he asked. “Surely you do not speak the truth to me, and you
hope that never more will you see the sun set upon Bambatse.”

Now understanding that it was hopeless to deceive him, Benita exclaimed
boldly:

“It is so; but oh! my Father, stay us not, for fear is behind us, and
therefore we fly hence.”

“And is there no fear before you, maiden? Fear of the wilderness, where
none wander save perchance the Amandabele with their bloody spears; fear
of wild beasts and of sickness that may overtake you so that, first one
and then the other, you perish there?”

“There is plenty, my Father, but none of them so bad as the fear behind.
Yonder place is haunted, and we give up our search and would dwell there
no more.”

“It is haunted truly, maiden, but its spirits will not harm you whom
they welcome as one appointed, and we are ever ready to protect you
because of their command that has come to me in dreams. Nor, indeed, is
it the spirits whom you fear, but rather the white man, your companion,
who would bend you to his will. Deny it not, for I have seen it all.”

“Then knowing the truth, surely you will let us go,” she pleaded, “for I
swear to you that I dare not stay.”

“Who am I that I should forbid you?” he asked. “Yet I tell you that you
would do well to stay and save yourselves much terror. Maiden, have
I not said it days and day ago, that here and here only you must
accomplish your fate? Go now if you will, but you shall return again,”
 and once more he seemed to begin to doze in the sun.

The two of them consulted hastily together.

“It is no use turning back now,” said Benita, who was almost weeping
with doubt and vexation. “I will not be frightened by his vague talk.
What can he know of the future more than any of the rest of us? Besides,
all he says is that we shall come back again, and if that does happen,
at least we shall have been free for a little while. Come, father.”

“As you wish,” answered Mr. Clifford, who seemed too miserable and
depressed to argue. Only he threw down the letter upon the Molimo’s lap,
and begged him to give it to Meyer when he came to look for them.

The old man took no notice; no, not even when Benita bade him farewell
and thanked him for his kindness, praying that all good fortune might
attend him and his tribe, did he answer a single word or even look
up. So they led their horses down the narrow passage where there was
scarcely room for them to pass, and up the steep path beyond. On
the further side of the ancient ditch they remounted them while the
Makalanga watched them from the walls, and cantered away along the same
road by which they had come.

Now this road, or rather track, ran first through the gardens and then
among the countless ruined houses that in bygone ages formed the great
city whereof the mount Bambatse had been the citadel and sanctuary.
The relics of a lost civilization extended for several miles, and were
bounded by a steep and narrow neck or pass in the encircling hills, the
same that Robert Seymour and his brother had found too difficult for
their waggon at the season in which they visited the place some years
before. This pass, or port as it is called in South Africa, had been
strongly fortified, for on either side of it were the ruins of towers.
Moreover, at its crest it was so narrow and steep-sided that a few men
posted there, even if they were armed only with bows and arrows, could
hold an attacking force in check for a considerable time. Beyond it,
after the hill was descended, a bush-clad plain dotted with kopjes and
isolated granite pillars formed of boulders piled one upon another,
rolled away for many miles.

Mr. Clifford and Benita had started upon their mad journey about three
o’clock in the afternoon, and when the sun began to set they found
themselves upon this plain fifteen or sixteen miles from Bambatse, of
which they had long lost sight, for it lay beyond the intervening hills.
Near to them was a kopje, where they had outspanned by a spring of water
when on their recent journey, and since they did not dare to travel in
the dark, here they determined to off-saddle, for round this spring was
good grass for the horses.

As it chanced, they came upon some hartebeeste here which were trekking
down to drink, but although they would have been glad of meat, they were
afraid to shoot, fearing lest they should attract attention; nor for the
same reason did they like to light a fire. So having knee-haltered the
horses in such fashion that they could not wander far, and turned them
loose to feed, they sat down under a tree, and made some sort of a meal
off the biltong and cooked corn which they had brought with them. By the
time this was finished darkness fell, for there was little moon, so that
nothing remained to do except to sleep within a circle of a few dead
thorn-boughs which they had drawn about their camp. This, then, they
did, and so weary were they both, that notwithstanding all the emotions
through which they had passed, and their fears lest lions should attack
them--for of these brutes there were many in this veld--rested soundly
and undisturbed till within half an hour of dawn.

Rising somewhat chilled, for though the air was warm a heavy dew had
soaked their blankets, once more they ate and drank by starlight, while
the horses, which they had tied up close to them during the night,
filled themselves with grass. At the first break of day they saddled
them, and before the sun rose were on their road again. At length up
it came, and the sight and warmth of it put new heart into Benita. Her
fears seemed to depart with the night, and she said to her father that
this successful start was of good augury, to which he only answered that
he hoped so.

All that day they rode forward in beautiful weather, not pressing their
horses, for now they were sure that Jacob Meyer, who if he followed at
all must do so on foot, would never be able to overtake them. At noon
they halted, and having shot a small buck, Benita cooked some of it in
the one pot that they had brought with them, and they ate a good meal of
fresh meat.

Riding on again, towards sundown they came to another of their old
camping-places, also a bush-covered kopje. Here the spring of water
was more than halfway up the hill, so there they off-saddled in a green
bower of a place that because of its ferns and mosses looked like a rock
garden. Now, although they had enough cold meat for food, they thought
themselves quite safe in lighting a fire. Indeed, this it seemed
necessary to do, since they had struck the fresh spoor of lions, and
even caught sight of one galloping away in the tall reeds on the marshy
land at the foot of the hill.

That evening they fared sumptuously upon venison, and as on the previous
day lay down to rest in a little “boma” or fence made of boughs. But
they were not allowed to sleep well this night, for scarcely had they
shut their eyes when a hyena began to howl about them. They shouted
and the brute went away, but an hour or two later, they heard ominous
grunting sounds, followed presently by a loud roar, which was answered
by another roar, whereat the horses began to whinny in a frightened
fashion.

“Lions!” said Mr. Clifford, jumping up and throwing dead wood on the
fire till it burnt to a bright blaze.

After that all sleep became impossible, for although the lions did not
attack them, having once winded the horses they would not go away, but
continued wandering round the kopje, grunting and growling. This went
on till abut three o’clock in the morning, when at last the beasts took
their departure, for they heard them roaring in the distance. Now that
they seemed safe, having first made up the fire, they tried to get some
rest.

When, as it appeared to her, Benita had been asleep but a little while,
she was awakened by a new noise. It was still dark, but the starlight
showed her that the horses were quite quiet; indeed, one of them was
lying down, and the other eating some green leaves from the branches
of the tree to which it was tethered. Therefore that noise had not come
from any wild animal of which they were afraid. She listened intently,
and presently heard it again; it was a murmur like to that of people
talking somewhere at the bottom of the hill. Then she woke her father
and told him, but although once or twice they thought they heard the
sound of footsteps, nothing else could be distinguished. Still they
rose, and having saddled and bridled the horses as noiselessly as might
be, waited for the dawn.

At last it came. Up on the side of the kopje they were in clear air,
above which shone the red lights of morning, but under them lay billows
of dense, pearl-hued mist. By degrees this thinned beneath the rays of
the risen sun, and through it, looking gigantic in that light, Benita
saw a savage wrapped in a kaross, who was walking up and down and
yawning, a great spear in his hand.

“Look,” she whispered, “look!” and Mr. Clifford stared down the line of
her outstretched finger.

“The Matabele,” he said. “My God! the Matabele!”



XV

THE CHASE

The Matabele it was, sure enough; there could be no doubt of it, for
soon three other men joined the sentry and began to talk with him,
pointing with their great spears at the side of the hill. Evidently they
were arranging a surprise when there was sufficient light to carry it
out.

“They have seen our fire,” whispered her father to Benita; “now, if
we wish to save our lives, there is only one thing to do--ride for it
before they muster. The impi will be camped upon the other side of the
hill, so we must take the road we came by.”

“That runs back to Bambatse,” faltered Benita.

“Bambatse is better than the grave,” said her father. “Pray Heaven that
we may get there.”

To this argument there was no answer, so having drunk a sup of water,
and swallowing a few mouthfuls of food as they went, they crept to the
horses, mounted them, and as silently as possible began to ride down the
hill.

The sentry was alone again, the other three men having departed. He
stood with his back towards them. Presently when they were quite close
on to him, he heard their horses’ hoofs upon the grass, wheeled round at
the sound, and saw them. Then with a great shout he lifted his spear and
charged.

Mr. Clifford, who was leading, held out his rifle at arm’s length--to
raise it to his shoulder he had no time--and pulled the trigger. Benita
heard the bullet clap upon the hide shield, and next instant saw the
Matabele warrior lying on his back, beating the air with his hands and
feet. Also, she saw beyond the shoulder of the kopje, which they were
rounding, hundreds of men marching, and behind them a herd of cattle,
the dim light gleaming upon the stabbing spears and on the horns of the
oxen. She glanced to the right, and there were more men. The two wings
of the impi were closing upon them. Only a little lane was left in the
middle. They must get through before it shut.

“Come,” she gasped, striking the horse with her heel and the butt of her
gun, and jerking at its mouth.

Her father saw also, and did likewise, so that the beasts broke into a
gallop. Now from the point of each wing sprang out thin lines of men,
looking like great horns, or nippers, whose business it was to meet and
cut them off. Could they pass between them before they did meet? That
was the question, and upon its answer it depended whether or no they had
another three minutes to live. To think of mercy at the hands of these
bloodthirsty brutes, after they had just killed one of their number
before their eyes, was absurd. It was true he had been shot in
self-defence; but what count would savages take of that, or of the
fact that they were but harmless travellers? White people were not very
popular with the Matabele just then, as they knew well; also, their
murder in this remote place, with not another of their race within a
couple of hundred miles, would never even be reported, and much less
avenged. It was as safe as any crime could possibly be.

All this passed through their minds as they galloped towards those
closing points. Oh! the horror of it! But two hundred yards to cover,
and their fate would be decided. Either they would have escaped at least
for a while, or time would be done with them; or, a third alternative,
they might be taken prisoners, in all probability a yet more dreadful
doom. Even then Benita determined that if she could help it this should
not befall her. She had the rifle and the revolver that Jacob Meyer had
given her. Surely she would be able to find a moment to use one or the
other upon herself. She clenched her teeth, and struck the horse again
and again, so that now they flew along. The Matabele soldiers were
running their best to catch them, and if these had been given but
five seconds of start, caught they must have been. But that short five
seconds saved their lives.

When they rushed through them the foremost men of the nippers were not
more than twenty yards apart. Seeing that they had passed, these halted
and hurled a shower of spears after them. One flashed by Benita’s cheek,
a line of light; she felt the wind of it. Another cut her dress, and
a third struck her father’s horse in the near hind leg just above the
knee-joint, remaining fast there for a stride or two, and then falling
to the ground. At first the beast did not seem to be incommoded by this
wound; indeed, it only caused it to gallop quicker, and Benita rejoiced,
thinking that it was but a scratch. Then she forgot about it, for some
of the Matabele, who had guns, began to shoot them, and although their
marksmanship was vile, one or two of the bullets went nearer than was
pleasant. Lastly a man, the swiftest runner of them all, shouted after
them in Zulu:

“The horse is wounded. We will catch you both before the sun sets.”

Then they passed over the crest of a rise and lost sight of them for a
while.

“Thank God!” gasped Benita when they were alone again in the silent
veld; but Mr. Clifford shook his head.

“Do you think they will follow us?” she asked.

“You heard what the fellow said,” he answered evasively. “Doubtless they
are on their way to attack Bambatse, and have been round to destroy some
other wretched tribe, and steal the cattle which we saw. Yes, I fear
that they will follow. The question is, which of us can get to Bambatse
first.”

“Surely we ought to on the horses, father.”

“Yes, if nothing happens to them,” and as he spoke the words the mare
which he was riding dropped sharply upon her hind leg, the same that had
been struck with the spear; then recovered herself and galloped on.

“Did you see that?” he asked.

She nodded; then said:

“Shall we get off and look at the cut?”

“Certainly not,” he answered. “Our only chance is to keep her moving;
if once the wound stiffens, there’s an end. The sinew cannot have been
severed, or it would have come before now.”

So they pushed on.

All that morning did they canter forward wherever the ground was smooth
enough to allow them to do so, and notwithstanding the increasing
lameness of Mr. Clifford’s mare, made such good progress that by midday
they reached the place where they had passed the first night after
leaving Bambatse. Here sheer fatigue and want of water forced them to
stop a little while. They dismounted and drank greedily from the
spring, after which they allowed the horses to drink also; indeed it was
impossible to keep them away from the water. Then they ate a little, not
because they desired food, but to keep up their strength, and while
they did so examined the mare. By now her hind leg was much swollen, and
blood still ran from the gash made by the assegai. Moreover, the limb
was drawn up so that the point of the hoof only rested on the ground.

“We must get on before it sets fast,” said Mr. Clifford, and they
mounted again.

Great heavens! what was this? The mare would not stir. In his despair
Mr. Clifford beat it cruelly, whereupon the poor brute hobbled forward
a few paces on three legs, and again came to a standstill. Either an
injured sinew had given or the inflammation was now so intense that it
could not bend its knee. Understanding what this meant to them, Benita’s
nerve gave out at last, and she burst into weeping.

“Don’t cry, love,” he said. “God’s will be done. Perhaps they have given
up the hunt by now; at any rate, my legs are left, and Bambatse is
not more than sixteen miles away. Forward now,” and holding to her
saddle-strap they went up the long, long slope which led to the poort in
the hills around Bambatse.

They would have liked to shoot the mare, but being afraid to fire a
rifle, could not do so. So they left the unhappy beast to its fate, and
with it everything it carried, except a few of the cartridges. Before
they went, however, at Benita’s prayer, her father devoted a few seconds
to unbuckling the girths and pulling off the bridle, so that it might
have a chance of life. For a little way it hobbled after them on three
legs, then, the saddle still upon its back, stood whinnying piteously,
till at last, to Benita’s intense relief, a turn in their path hid it
from their sight.

Half a mile further on she looked round in the faint hope that it
might have recovered itself and followed. But no mare was to be seen.
Something else was to be seen, however, for there, three or four miles
away upon the plain behind them, easy to be distinguished in that
dazzling air, were a number of black spots that occasionally seemed to
sparkle.

“What are they?” she asked faintly, as one who feared the answer.

“The Matabele who follow us,” answered her father, “or rather a company
of their swiftest runners. It is their spears that glitter so. Now,
my love, this is the position,” he went on, as they struggled forward:
“those men will catch us before ever we can get to Bambatse; they are
trained to run like that, for fifty miles, if need be. But with this
start they cannot catch your horse, you must go on and leave me to look
after myself.”

“Never, never!” she exclaimed.

“But you shall, and you must. I am your father and I order you. As for
me, what does it matter? I may hide from them and escape, or--at least I
am old, my life is done, whereas yours is before you. Now, good-bye, and
go on,” and he let go of the saddle-strap.

By way of answer Benita pulled up the horse.

“Not one yard,” she said, setting her mouth.

Then he began to storm at her, calling her disobedient, and undutiful,
and when this means failed to move her, to implore her almost with
tears.

“Father, dear,” she said, leaning down towards him as he walked, for
now they were going on again, “I told you why I wanted to run away from
Bambatse, didn’t I?--because I would rather risk my life than stay.
Well, do you think that I wish to return there and live in that place
alone with Jacob Meyer? Also, I will tell you another thing. You
remember about Mr. Seymour? Well, I can’t get over that; I can’t get
over it at all, and therefore, although of course I am afraid, it is all
one to me. No, we will escape together, or die together; the first if we
can.”

Then with a groan he gave up the argument, and as he found breath they
discussed their chances. Their first idea was to hide, but save for a
few trees all the country was open; there was no place to cover them.
They thought of the banks of the Zambesi, but between them and the river
rose a bare, rock-strewn hill with several miles of slope. Long before
they could reach its crest, even if a horse were able to travel there,
they must be overtaken. In short, there was nothing to do except to push
for the nek, and if they were fortunate enough to reach it before the
Matabele, to abandon the horse there and try to conceal themselves among
the ruins of the houses beyond. This, perhaps, they might do when once
the sun was down.

But they did not deceive themselves; the chances were at least fifty to
one against them, unless indeed their pursuers grew weary and let them
go.

At present, however, they were by no means weary, for having perceived
them from far away, the long-legged runners put on the pace, and the
distance between them and their quarry was lessening.

“Father,” said Benita, “please understand one thing. I do not mean to be
taken alive by those savages.”

“Oh! how can I----” he faltered.

“I don’t ask you,” she answered. “I will see to that myself. Only, if I
should make any mistake----” and she looked at him.

The old man was getting very tired. He panted up the steep hillside,
and stumbled against the stones. Benita noted it, and slipping from the
horse, made him mount while she ran alongside. Then when he was a
little rested they changed places again, and so covered several miles
of country. Subsequently, when both of them were nearly exhausted, they
tried riding together--she in front and he behind, for their baggage had
long since been thrown away. But the weary beast could not carry this
double burden, and after a few hundred yards of it, stumbled, fell,
struggled to its feet again, and stopped.

So once more they were obliged to ride and walk alternately.

Now there was not much more than an hour of daylight left, and the
narrow pass lay about three miles ahead of them. That dreadful three
miles; ever thereafter it was Benita’s favourite nightmare! At the
beginning of it the leading Matabele were about two thousand yards
behind them; half-way, about a thousand; and at the commencement of the
last mile, say five hundred.

Nature is a wonderful thing, and great are its resources in extremity.
As the actual crisis approached, the weariness of these two seemed to
depart, or at any rate it was forgotten. They no longer felt exhausted,
nor, had they been fresh from their beds, could they have climbed or run
better. Even the horse seemed to find new energy, and when it lagged
Mr. Clifford dug the point of his hunting knife into its flank. Gasping,
panting, now one mounted and now the other, they struggled on towards
that crest of rock, while behind them came death in the shape of those
sleuth-hounds of Matabele. The sun was going down, and against its
flaming ball, when they glanced back they could see their dark forms
outlined; the broad spears also looked red as though they had been
dipped in blood. They could even hear their taunting shouts as they
called to them to sit down and be killed, and save trouble.

Now they were not three hundred yards away, and the crest of the pass
was still half a mile ahead. Five minutes passed, and here, where the
track was very rough, the horse blundered upwards slowly. Mr. Clifford
was riding at the time, and Benita running at his side, holding to the
stirrup leather. She looked behind her. The savages, fearing that their
victims might find shelter over the hill, were making a rush, and
the horse could go no faster. One man, a great tall fellow, quite
out-distanced his companions. Two minutes more and he was not over a
hundred paces from them, a little nearer than they were to the top of
the pass. Then the horse stopped and refused to stir any more.

Mr. Clifford jumped from the saddle, and Benita, who could not speak,
pointed to the pursuing Matabele. He sat down upon a rock, cocked his
rifle, took a deep breath, and aimed and fired at the soldier who was
coming on carelessly in the open. Mr. Clifford was a good shot, and
shaken though he was, at this supreme moment his skill did not fail
him. The man was struck somewhere, for he staggered about and fell;
then slowly picked himself up, and began to hobble back towards his
companions, who, when they met him, stopped a minute to give him some
kind of assistance.

That halt proved their salvation, for it gave them time to make one last
despairing rush, and gain the brow of the poort. Not that this would
have saved them, however, since where they could go the Matabele could
follow, and there was still light by which the pursuers would have been
able to see to catch them. Indeed, the savages, having laid down the
wounded man, came on with a yell of rage, fifty or more of them.

Over the pass father and daughter struggled, Benita riding; after them,
perhaps sixty yards away, ran the Matabele, gathered in a knot now upon
the narrow, ancient road, bordered by steep hillsides.

Then suddenly from all about them, as it appeared to Benita, broke
out the blaze and roar of rifles, rapid and continuous. Down went the
Matabele by twos and threes, till at last it seemed as though but quite
a few of them were left upon their feet, and those came on no more;
they turned and fled from the neck of the narrow pass to the open slope
beyond.

Benita sank to the ground, and the next thing that she could remember
was hearing the soft voice of Jacob Meyer, who said:

“So you have returned from your ride, Miss Clifford, and perhaps it was
as well that the thought came from you to me that you wished me to meet
you here in this very place.”



XVI

BACK AT BAMBATSE

How they reached Bambatse Benita never could remember, but afterwards
she was told that both she and her father were carried upon litters made
of ox-hide shields. When she came to her own mind again, it was to find
herself lying in her tent outside the mouth of the cave within the
third enclosure of the temple-fortress. Her feet were sore and her bones
ached, physical discomforts that brought back to her in a flash all the
terrors through which she had passed.

Again she saw the fierce pursuing Matabele; again heard their cruel
shouts and the answering crack of the rifles; again, amidst the din and
the gathering darkness, distinguished the gentle, foreign voice of Meyer
speaking his words of sarcastic greeting. Next oblivion fell upon her,
and after it a dim memory of being helped up the hill with the sun
pouring on her back and assisted to climb the steep steps of the wall by
means of a rope placed around her. Then forgetfulness again.

The flap of her tent was drawn aside and she shrank back upon her bed,
shutting her eyes for fear lest they should fall upon the face of Jacob
Meyer. Feeling that it was not he, or learning it perhaps from the
footfall, she opened them a little, peeping at her visitor from between
her long lashes. He proved to be--not Jacob or her father, but the old
Molimo, who stood beside her holding in his hand a gourd filled with
goat’s milk. Then she sat up and smiled at him, for Benita had grown
very fond of this ancient man, who was so unlike anyone that she had
ever met.

“Greeting, Lady,” he said softly, smiling back at her with his lips and
dreamy eyes, for his old face did not seem to move beneath its thousand
wrinkles. “I bring you milk. Drink; it is fresh and you need food.”

So she took the gourd and drank to the last drop, for it seemed to her
that she had never tasted anything so delicious.

“Good, good,” murmured the Molimo; “now you will be well again.”

“Yes, I shall get well,” she answered; “but oh! what of my father?”

“Fear not; he is still sick, but he will recover also. You shall see him
soon.”

“I have drunk all the milk,” she broke out; “there is none left for
him.”

“Plenty, plenty,” he answered, waving his thin hand. “There are two cups
full--one for each. We have not many she-goats down below, but the best
of their milk is saved for you.”

“Tell me all that has happened, Father,” and the old priest, who liked
her to call him by that name, smiled again with his eyes, and squatted
down in the corner of the tent.

“You went away, you remember that you would go, although I told you
that you must come back. You refused my wisdom and you went, and I have
learned all that befell you and how you two escaped the impi. Well, that
night after sunset, when you did not return, came the Black One--yes,
yes, I mean Meyer, whom we name so because of his beard, and,” he added
deliberately, “his heart. He came running down the hill asking for you,
and I gave him the letter.

“He read it, and oh! then he went mad. He cursed in his own tongue; he
threw himself about; he took a rifle and wished to shoot me, but I sat
silent and looked at him till he grew quiet. Then he asked why I had
played him this trick, but I answered that it was no trick of mine who
had no right to keep you and your father prisoners against your will,
and that I thought you had gone away because you were afraid of him,
which was not wonderful if that was how he talked to you. I told him,
too, I who am a doctor, that unless he was careful he would go mad; that
already I saw madness in his eye; after which he became quiet, for my
words frightened him. Then he asked what could be done, and I said--that
night, nothing, since you must be far away, so that it would be useless
to follow you, but better to go to meet you when you came back. He asked
what I meant by your coming back, and I answered that I meant what I
said, that you would come back in great haste and peril--although you
would not believe me when I told you so--for I had it from the Munwali
whose child you are.

“So I sent out my spies, and that night went by, and the next day and
night went by, and we sat still and did nothing, though the Black One
wished to wander out alone after you. But on the following morning, at
the dawn, a messenger came in who reported that it had been called to
him by his brethren who were hidden upon hilltops and in other places
for miles and miles, that the Matabele impi, having destroyed another
family of the Makalanga far down the Zambesi, was advancing to destroy
us also. And in the afternoon came a second spy, who reported that you
two had been surrounded by the impi, but had broken through them, and
were riding hitherward for your lives. Then I took fifty of the best
of our people and put them under the command of Tamas, my son, and sent
them to ambush the pass, for against the Matabele warriors on the plain
we, who are not warlike, do not dare to fight.

“The Black One went with them, and when he saw how sore was your strait,
wished to run down to meet the Matabele, for he is a brave man. But I
had said to Tamas--‘No, do not try to fight them in the open, for there
they will certainly kill you.’ Moreover, Lady, I was sure that you would
reach the top of the poort. Well, you reached it, though but by the
breadth of a blade of grass, and my children shot with the new rifles,
and the place being narrow so that they could not miss, killed many of
those hyenas of Amandabele. But to kill Matabele is like catching fleas
on a dog’s back: there are always more. Still it served its turn, you
and your father were brought away safely, and we lost no one.”

“Where, then, are the Matabele now?” asked Benita.

“Outside our walls, a whole regiment of them: three thousand men or
more, under the command of the Captain Maduna, he of the royal blood,
whose life you begged, but who nevertheless hunted you like a buck.”

“Perhaps he did not know who it was,” suggested Benita.

“Perhaps not,” the Molimo answered, rubbing his chin, “for in such
matters even a Matabele generally keeps faith, and you may remember he
promised you life for life. However, they are here ravening like lions
round the walls, and that is why we carried you up to the top of the
hill, that you might be safe from them.”

“But are you safe, my Father?”

“I think so,” he replied with a dry little chuckle in his throat.
“Whoever built this fortress built it strong, and we have blocked the
gates. Also, they caught no one outside; all are within the walls,
together with the sheep and goats. Lastly, we have sent most of the
women and children across the Zambesi in canoes, to hide in places we
know of whither the Amandabele cannot follow, for they dare not swim
a river. Therefore, for those of us that remain we have food for three
months, and before then the rains will drive the impi out.”

“Why did you not all go across the river, Father?”

“For two reasons, Lady. The first is, that if we once abandoned our
stronghold, which we have held from the beginning, Lobengula would take
it, and keep it, so that we could never re-enter into our heritage,
which would be a shame to us and bring down the vengeance of the
spirits of our ancestors upon our heads. The second is, that as you have
returned to us we stay to protect you.”

“You are very good to me,” murmured Benita.

“Nay, nay, we brought you here, and we do what I am told to do from
Above. Trouble may still come upon you; yes, I think that it will come,
but once more I pray you, have no fear, for out of this evil root shall
spring a flower of joy,” and he rose to go.

“Stay,” said Benita. “Has the chief Meyer found the gold?”

“No; he has found nothing; but he hunts and hunts like a hungry jackal
digging for a bone. But that bone is not for him; it is for you, Lady,
you and you only. Oh! I know, you do not seek, still you shall find.
Only the next time that you want help, do not run away into the
wilderness. Hear the word of Munwali given by his mouth, the Molimo of
Bambatse!” And as he spoke, the old priest backed himself out of the
tent, stopping now and again to bow to Benita.

A few minutes later her father entered, looking very weak and shaken,
and supporting himself upon a stick. Happy was the greeting of these
two who, with their arms about each other’s neck, gave thanks for their
escape from great peril.

“You see, Benita, we can’t get away from this place,” Mr. Clifford said
presently. “We must find that gold.”

“Bother the gold,” she answered with energy; “I hate its very name. Who
can think of gold with three thousand Matabele waiting to kill us?”

“Somehow I don’t feel afraid of them any more,” said her father; “they
have had their chance and lost it, and the Makalanga swear that now they
have guns to command the gates, the fortress cannot be stormed. Still, I
am afraid of someone.”

“Who?”

“Jacob Mayer. I have seen him several times, and I think that he is
going mad.”

“The Molimo said that too, but why?”

“From the look of him. He sits about muttering and glowing with those
dark eyes of his, and sometimes groans, and sometimes bursts into shouts
of laughter. That is when the fit is on him, for generally he seems
right enough. But get up if you think you can, and you shall judge for
yourself.”

“I don’t want to,” said Benita feebly. “Father, I am more afraid of him
now than ever. Oh! why did you not let me stop down below, among the
Makalanga, instead of carrying me up here again, where we must live
alone with that terrible Jew?”

“I wished to, dear, but the Molimo said we should be safer above, and
ordered his people to carry you up. Also, Jacob swore that unless you
were brought back he would kill me. Now you understand why I believe
that he is mad.”

“Why, why?” gasped Benita again.

“God knows,” he answered with a groan; “but I think that he is sure that
we shall never find the gold without you, since the Molimo has told him
that it is for you and you alone, and he says the old man has second
sight, or something of the sort. Well, he would have murdered me--I saw
it in his eye--so I thought it better to give in rather than that you
should be left here sick and alone. Of course there was one way----” and
he paused.

She looked at him and asked:

“What way?”

“To shoot him before he shot me,” he answered in a whisper, “for your
sake, dear--but I could not bring myself to do it.”

“No,” she said with a shudder, “not that--not that. Better that we
should die than that his blood should be upon our hands. Now I will get
up and try to show no fear. I am sure that is best, and perhaps we shall
be able to escape somehow. Meanwhile, let us humour him, and pretend to
go on looking for this horrible treasure.”

So Benita rose to discover that, save for her stiffness, she was but
little the worse, and finding all things placed in readiness, set to
work with her father’s help to cook the evening meal as usual. Of Meyer,
who doubtless had placed things in readiness, she saw nothing.

Before nightfall he came, however, as she knew he would. Indeed,
although she heard no step and her back was towards him, she felt his
presence; the sense of it fell upon her like a cold shadow. Turning
round she beheld the man. He was standing close by, but above her, upon
a big granite boulder, in climbing which his soft veld schoons, or hide
shoes, had made no noise, for Meyer could move like a cat. The last rays
from the sinking sun struck him full, outlining his agile, nervous shape
against the sky, and in their intense red light, which flamed upon him,
he appeared terrible. He looked like a panther about to spring; his eyes
shone like a panther’s, and Benita knew that she was the prey whom he
desired. Still, remembering her resolution, she determined to show no
fear, and addressed him:

“Good-evening, Mr. Meyer. Oh! I am so stiff that I cannot lift my neck
to look at you,” and she laughed.

He bounded softly from the rock, like a panther again, and stood in
front of her.

“You should thank the God you believe in,” he said, “that by now you are
not stiff indeed--all that the jackals have left of you.”

“I do, Mr. Meyer, and I thank you, too; it was brave of you to come out
to save us. Father,” she called, “come and tell Mr. Meyer how grateful
we are to him.”

Mr. Clifford hobbled out from his hut under the tree, saying:

“I have told him already, dear.”

“Yes,” answered Jacob, “you have told me; why repeat yourself? I see
that supper is ready. Let us eat, for you must be hungry; afterwards I
have something to tell you.”

So they ate, with no great appetite, any of them--indeed Meyer touched
but little food, though he drank a good deal, first of strong black
coffee and afterwards of squareface and water. But on Benita he pressed
the choicest morsels that he could find, eyeing her all the while, and
saying that she must take plenty of nutriment or her beauty would suffer
and her strength wane. Benita bethought her of the fairy tales of her
childhood, in which the ogre fed up the princess whom he purposed to
devour.

“You should think of your own strength, Mr. Meyer,” she said; “you
cannot live on coffee and squareface.”

“It is all I need to-night. I am astonishingly well since you came back.
I can never remember feeling so well, or so strong. I can do the work
of three men, and not be tired; all this afternoon, for instance, I have
been carrying provisions and other things up that steep wall, for we
must prepare for a long siege together; yet I should never know that
I had lifted a single basket. But while you were away--ah! then I felt
tired.”

Benita changed the subject, asking him if he had made any discoveries.

“Not yet, but now that you are back the discoveries will soon come. Do
not be afraid; I have my plan which cannot fail. Also, it was lonely
working in that cave without you, so I only looked about a little
outside till it was time to go to meet you, and shoot some of those
Matabele. Do you know?--I killed seven of them myself. When I was
shooting for your sake I could not miss,” and he smiled at her.

Benita shrank from him visibly, and Mr. Clifford said in an angry voice:

“Don’t talk of those horrors before my daughter. It is bad enough to
have to do such things, without speaking about them afterwards.”

“You are right,” he replied reflectively; “and I apologise, though
personally I never enjoyed anything so much as shooting those Matabele.
Well, they are gone, and there are plenty more outside. Listen! They are
singing their evening hymn,” and with his long finger he beat time to
the volleying notes of the dreadful Matabele war-chant, which floated up
from the plain below. “It sounds quite religious, doesn’t it? only the
words--no, I will not translate them. In our circumstances they are too
personal.

“Now I have something to say to you. It was unkind of you to run away
and leave me like that, not honourable either. Indeed,” he added with a
sudden outbreak of the panther ferocity, “had you alone been concerned,
Clifford, I tell you frankly that when we met again, I should have shot
you. Traitors deserve to be shot, don’t they?”

“Please stop talking to my father like that,” broke in Benita in a
stern voice, for her anger had overcome her fear. “Also it is I whom you
should blame.”

“It is a pleasure to obey you,” he answered bowing; “I will never
mention the subject any more. Nor do I blame you--who could?--not Jacob
Meyer. I quite understand that you found it very dull up here, and
ladies must be allowed their fancies. Also you have come back; so why
talk of the matter? But listen: on one point I have made up my mind;
for your own sake you shall not go away any more until we leave this
together. When I had finished carrying up the food I made sure of that.
If you go to look to-morrow morning you will find that no one can come
up that wall--and, what is more, no one can go down it. Moreover, that I
may be quite certain, in future I shall sleep near the stair myself.”

Benita and her father stared at each other.

“The Molimo has a right to come,” she said; “it is his sanctuary.”

“Then he must celebrate his worship down below for a little while. The
old fool pretends to know everything, but he never guessed what I was
going to do. Besides, we don’t want him breaking in upon our privacy, do
we? He might see the gold when we find it, and rob us of it afterwards.”



XVII

THE FIRST EXPERIMENT

Again Benita and her father stared at each other blankly, almost with
despair. They were trapped, cut off from all help; in the power of a
man who was going mad. Mr. Clifford said nothing. He was old and growing
feeble; for years, although he did not know it, Meyer had dominated
him, and never more so than in this hour of stress and bewilderment.
Moreover, the man had threatened to murder him, and he was afraid, not
so much for himself as for his daughter. If he were to die now, what
would happen to her, left alone with Jacob Meyer? The knowledge of his
own folly, understood too late, filled him with shame. How could he have
been so wicked as to bring a girl upon such a quest in the company of an
unprincipled Jew, of whose past he knew nothing except that it was murky
and dubious? He had committed a great crime, led on by a love of lucre,
and the weight of it pressed upon his tongue and closed his lips; he
knew not what to say.

For a little while Benita was silent also; hope died within her. But
she was a bold-spirited woman, and by degrees her courage re-asserted
itself. Indignation filled her breast and shone through her dark eyes.
Suddenly she turned upon Jacob, who sat before them smoking his pipe and
enjoying their discomfiture.

“How dare you?” she asked in a low, concentrated voice. “How dare you,
you coward?”

He shrank a little beneath her scorn and anger; then seemed to recover
and brace himself, as one does who feels that a great struggle is at
hand, upon the issue of which everything depends.

“Do not be angry with me,” he answered. “I cannot bear it. It hurts--ah!
you don’t know how it hurts. Well, I will tell you, and before your
father, for that is more honourable. I dare--for your sake.”

“For my sake? How can it benefit me to be cooped up in this horrible
place with you? I would rather trust myself with the Makalanga, or
even,” she added with bitter scorn, “even with those bloody-minded
Matabele.”

“You ran away from them very fast a little while ago, Miss Clifford. But
you do not understand me. When I said for your sake, I meant for my
own. See, now. You tried to leave me the other day and did not succeed.
Another time you might succeed, and then--what would happen to me?”

“I do not know, Mr. Meyer,” and her eyes added--“I do not care.”

“Ah! but I know. Last time it drove me nearly mad; next time I should go
quite mad.”

“Because you believe that through me you will find this treasure of
which you dream day and night, Mr. Meyer----”

“Yes,” he interrupted quickly. “Because I believe that in you I shall
find the treasure of which I dream day and night, and because that
treasure has become necessary to my life.”

Benita turned quickly towards her father, who was puzzling over the
words, but before either of them could speak Jacob passed his hand
across his brow in a bewildered way and said:

“What was I talking of? The treasure, yes, the uncountable treasure of
pure gold, that lies hid so deep, that is so hard to discover and to
possess; the useless, buried treasure that would bring such joy and
glory to us both, if only it could be come at and reckoned out, piece by
piece, coin by coin, through the long, long years of life.”

Again he paused; then went on.

“Well, Miss Clifford, you are quite right; that is why I have dared to
make you a prisoner, because, as the old Molimo said, the treasure is
yours and I wish to share it. Now, about this treasure, it seems that it
can’t be found, can it, although I have worked so hard?” and he looked
at his delicate, scarred hands.

“Quite so, Mr. Meyer, it can’t be found, so you had better let us go
down to the Makalanga.”

“But there is a way, Miss Clifford, there is a way. You know where it
lies, and you can show me.”

“If I knew I would show you soon enough, Mr. Meyer, for then you could
take the stuff and our partnership would be at an end.”

“Not until it is divided ounce by ounce and coin by coin. But
first--first you must show me, as you say you will, and as you can.”

“How, Mr. Meyer? I am not a magician.”

“Ah! but you are. I will tell you how, having your promise. Listen now,
both of you. I have studied. I know a great many secret things, and I
read in your face that you have the gift--let me look in your eyes a
while, Miss Clifford, and you will go to sleep quite gently, and then
in your sleep, which shall not harm you at all, you will see where that
gold lies hidden, and you will tell us.”

“What do you mean?” asked Benita, bewildered.

“I know what he means,” broke in Mr. Clifford. “You mean that you want
to mesmerize her as you did the Zulu chief.”

Benita opened her lips to speak, but Meyer said quickly:

“No, no; hear me first before you refuse. You have the gift, the
precious gift of clairvoyance, that is so rare.”

“How do you know that, Mr. Meyer? I have never been mesmerized in my
life.”

“It does not matter how. I do know it; I have been sure of it from the
moment when first we met, that night by the kloof. Although, perhaps,
you felt nothing then, it was that gift of yours working upon a mind in
tune, my mind, which led me there in time to save you, as it was that
gift of yours which warned you of the disaster about to happen to the
ship--oh! I have heard the story from your own lips. Your spirit can
loose itself from the body: it can see the past and the future; it can
discover the hidden things.”

“I do not believe it,” answered Benita; “but at least it shall not be
loosed by you.”

“It shall, it shall,” he cried with passion, his eyes blazing on her as
he spoke. “Oh! I foresaw all this, and that is why I was determined you
should come with us, so that, should other means fail, we might have
your power to fall back upon. Well, they have failed; I have been
patient, I have said nothing, but now there is no other way. Will you be
so selfish, so cruel, as to deny me, you who can make us all rich in an
hour, and take no hurt at all, no more than if you had slept awhile?”

“Yes,” answered Benita. “I refuse to deliver my will into the keeping of
any living man, and least of all into yours, Mr. Meyer.”

He turned to her father with a gesture of despair.

“Cannot you persuade her, Clifford? She is your daughter, she will obey
you.”

“Not in that,” said Benita.

“No,” answered Mr. Clifford. “I cannot, and I wouldn’t if I could. My
daughter is quite right. Moreover, I hate this supernatural kind of
thing. If we can’t find this gold without it, then we must let it alone,
that is all.”

Meyer turned aside to hide his face, and presently looked up again, and
spoke quite softly.

“I suppose that I must accept my answer, but when you talked of any
living man just now, Miss Clifford, did you include your father?”

She shook her head.

“Then will you allow him to try to mesmerize you?”

Benita laughed.

“Oh, yes, if he likes,” she said. “But I do not think that the operation
will be very successful.”

“Good, we will see to-morrow. Now, like you, I am tired. I am going to
bed in my new camp by the wall,” he added significantly.

*****

“Why are you so dead set against this business?” asked her father, when
he had gone.

“Oh, father!” she answered, “can’t you see, don’t you understand? Then
it is hard to have to tell you, but I must. In the beginning Mr. Meyer
only wanted the gold. Now he wants more, me as well as the gold. I hate
him! You know that is why I ran away. But I have read a good deal about
this mesmerism, and seen it once or twice, and who knows? If once I
allow his mind to master my mind, although I hate him so much, I might
become his slave.”

“I understand now,” said Mr. Clifford. “Oh, why did I ever bring you
here? It would have been better if I had never seen your face again.”


On the morrow the experiment was made. Mr. Clifford attempted to
mesmerize his daughter. All the morning Jacob, who, it now appeared, had
practical knowledge of this doubtful art, tried to instruct him therein.
In the course of the lesson he informed him that for a short period in
the past, having great natural powers in that direction, he had made use
of them professionally, only giving up the business because he found
it wrecked his health. Mr. Clifford remarked that he had never told him
that before.

“There are lots of things in my life that I have never told you,”
 replied Jacob with a little secret smile. “For instance, once I
mesmerized you, although you did not know it, and that is why you always
have to do what I want you to, except when your daughter is near you,
for her influence is stronger than mine.”

Mr. Clifford stared at him.

“No wonder Benita won’t let you mesmerize her,” he said shortly.

Then Jacob saw his mistake.

“You are more foolish than I thought,” he said. “How could I mesmerize
you without your knowing it? I was only laughing at you.”

“I didn’t see the laugh,” replied Mr. Clifford uneasily, and they went
on with the lesson.

That afternoon it was put to proof--in the cave itself, where Meyer
seemed to think that the influences would be propitious. Benita, who
found some amusement in the performance, was seated upon the stone steps
underneath the crucifix, one lamp on the altar and others one each side
of her.

In front stood her father, staring at her and waving his hands
mysteriously in obedience to Jacob’s directions. So ridiculous did he
look indeed while thus engaged that Benita had the greatest difficulty
in preventing herself from bursting into laughter. This was the only
effect which his grimaces and gesticulations produced upon her, although
outwardly she kept a solemn appearance, and even from time to time shut
her eyes to encourage him. Once, when she opened them again, it was to
perceive that he was becoming very hot and exhausted, and that Jacob was
watching him with such an unpleasant intentness that she re-closed her
eyes that she might not see his face.

It was shortly after this that of a sudden Benita did feel something,
a kind of penetrating power flowing upon her, something soft and subtle
that seemed to creep into her brain like the sound of her mother’s
lullaby in the dim years ago. She began to think that she was a lost
traveller among alpine snows wrapped round by snow, falling, falling in
ten myriad flakes, every one of them with a little heart of fire. Then
it came to her that she had heard this snow-sleep was dangerous, the
last of all sleeps, and that its victims must rouse themselves, or die.

Benita roused herself just in time--only just, for now she was being
borne over the edge of a precipice upon the wings of swans, and beneath
her was darkness wherein dim figures walked with lamps where their
hearts should be. Oh, how heavy were her eyelids! Surely a weight hung
to each of them, a golden weight. There, there, they were open, and she
saw. Her father had ceased his efforts; he was rubbing his brow with a
red pocket-handkerchief, but behind him, with rigid arms outstretched,
his glowing eyes fastened on her face, stood Jacob Meyer. By an effort
she sprang to her feet, shaking her head as a dog does.

“Have done with this nonsense,” she said. “It tires me,” and snatching
one of the lamps she ran swiftly down the place.

Benita expected that Jacob Meyer would be very angry with her, and
braced herself for a scene. But nothing of the sort happened. A while
afterwards she saw the two of them approaching, engaged apparently in
amicable talk.

“Mr. Meyer says that I am no mesmerist, love,” said her father, “and I
can quite believe him. But for all that it is a weary job. I am as tired
as I was after our escape from the Matabele.”

She laughed and answered:

“To judge by results I agree with you. The occult is not in your line,
father. You had better give it up.”

“Did you, then, feel nothing?” asked Meyer.

“Nothing at all,” she answered, looking him in the eyes. “No, that’s
wrong, I felt extremely bored and sorry to see my father making
himself ridiculous. Grey hairs and nonsense of that sort don’t go well
together.”

“No,” he answered. “I agree with you--not of that sort,” and the subject
dropped.

For the next few days, to her intense relief, Benita heard no more
of mesmerism. To begin with, there was something else to occupy their
minds. The Matabele, tired of marching round the fortress and singing
endless war-songs, had determined upon an assault. From their point of
vantage on the topmost wall the three could watch the preparations which
they made. Trees were cut down and brought in from a great distance that
rude ladders might be fashioned out of them; also spies wandered round
reconnoitring for a weak place in the defences. When they came too near
the Makalanga fired on them, killing some, so that they retreated to
the camp, which they had made in a fold of ground at a little distance.
Suddenly it occurred to Meyer that although here the Matabele were safe
from the Makalanga bullets, it was commanded from the greater eminence,
and by way of recreation he set himself to harass them. His rifle was a
sporting Martini, and he had an ample supply of ammunition. Moreover, he
was a beautiful marksman, with sight like that of a hawk.

A few trial shots gave him the range; it was a shade under seven hundred
yards, and then he began operations. Lying on the top of the wall
and resting his rifle upon a stone, he waited until the man who was
superintending the manufacture of the ladders came out into the open,
when, aiming carefully, he fired. The soldier, a white-bearded savage,
sprang into the air, and fell backwards, while his companions stared
upwards, wondering whence the bullet had come.

“Pretty, wasn’t it?” said Meyer to Benita, who was watching through a
pair of field-glasses.

“I dare say,” she answered. “But I don’t want to see any more,” and
giving the glasses to her father, she climbed down the wall.

But Meyer stayed there, and from time to time she heard the report of
his rifle. In the evening he told her that he had killed six men and
wounded ten more, adding that it was the best day’s shooting which he
could remember.

“What is the use when there are so many?” she asked.

“Not much,” he answered. “But it annoys them and amuses me. Also, it
was part of our bargain that we should help the Makalanga if they were
attacked.”

“I believe that you like killing people,” she said.

“I don’t mind it, Miss Clifford, especially as they tried to kill you.”



XVIII

THE OTHER BENITA

At irregular times, when he had nothing else to do, Jacob went on with
his man-shooting, in which Mr. Clifford joined him, though with less
effect. Soon it became evident that the Matabele were very much annoyed
by the fatal accuracy of this fire. Loss of life they did not mind in
the abstract, but when none of them knew but that their own turn might
come next to perish beneath these downward plunging bullets, the matter
wore a different face to them. To leave their camp was not easy, since
they had made a thorn _boma_ round it, to protect them in case the
Makalanga should make a night sally; also they could find no other
convenient spot. The upshot of it all was to hurry their assault, which
they delivered before they had prepared sufficient ladders to make it
effective.

At the first break of dawn on the third day after Mr. Clifford’s attempt
at mesmerism, Benita was awakened by the sounds of shouts and firing.
Having dressed herself hastily, she hurried in the growing light towards
that part of the wall from below which the noise seemed to come, and
climbing it, found her father and Jacob already seated there, their
rifles in hand.

“The fools are attacking the small gate through which you went out
riding, Miss Clifford, the very worst place that they could have chosen,
although the wall looks very weak there,” said the latter. “If those
Makalanga have any pluck they ought to teach them a lesson.”

Then the sun rose and they saw companies of Matabele, who carried
ladders in their hands, rushing onwards through the morning mist till
their sight of them was obstructed by the swell of the hill. On these
companies the two white men opened fire, with what result they could not
see in that light. Presently a great shout announced that the enemy had
gained the fosse and were setting up the ladders. Up to this time the
Makalanga appeared to have done nothing, but now they began to fire
rapidly from the ancient bastions which commanded the entrance the impi
was striving to storm, and soon through the thinning fog they perceived
wounded Matabele staggering and crawling back towards their camp. Of
these, the light now better, Jacob did not neglect to take his toll.

Meanwhile, the ancient fortress rang with the hideous tumult of the
attack. It was evident that again and again, as their fierce war-shouts
proclaimed, the Matabele were striving to scale the wall, and again and
again were beaten back by the raking rifle fire. Once a triumphant yell
seemed to announce their success. The fire slackened and Benita grew
pale with fear.

“The Makalanga cowards are bolting,” muttered Mr. Clifford, listening
with terrible anxiety.

But if so their courage came back to them, for presently the guns
cracked louder and more incessant than before, and the savage cries of
“Kill! Kill! Kill!” dwindled and died away. Another five minutes and the
Matabele were in full retreat, bearing with them many dead and wounded
men upon their backs or stretched out on the ladders.

“Our Makalanga friends should be grateful to us for those hundred
rifles,” said Jacob as he loaded and fired rapidly, sending his bullets
wherever the clusters were thickest. “Had it not been for them their
throats would have been cut by now,” he added, “for they could never
have stopped those savages with the spear.”

“Yes, and ours too before nightfall,” said Benita with a shudder,
for the sight of this desperate fray and fear of how it might end had
sickened her. “Thank Heaven, it is over! Perhaps they will give up the
siege and go away.”

But, notwithstanding their costly defeat, for they had lost over a
hundred men, the Matabele, who were afraid to return to Buluwayo except
as victors, did nothing of the sort. They only cut down a quantity of
reeds and scrub, and moved their camp nearly to the banks of the river,
placing it in such a position that it could no longer be searched by
the fire of the two white men. Here they sat themselves down sullenly,
hoping to starve out the garrison or to find some other way of entering
the fortress.

Now Meyer’s shooting having come to an end for lack of men to shoot at,
since the enemy exposed themselves no more, he was again able to give
his full attention to the matter of the treasure hunt.

As nothing could be found in the cave he devoted himself to the outside
enclosure which, it may be remembered, was grown over with grass and
trees and crowded with ruins. In the most important of these ruins they
began to dig somewhat aimlessly, and were rewarded by finding a certain
amount of gold in the shape of beads and ornaments, and a few more
skeletons of ancients. But of the Portuguese hoard there was no sign.
Thus it came about that they grew gloomier day by day, till at last they
scarcely spoke to each other. Jacob’s angry disappointment was written
on his face, and Benita was filled with despair, since to escape from
their gaoler above and the Matabele below seemed impossible. Moreover,
she had another cause for anxiety.

The ill-health which had been threatening her father for a long while
now fell upon him in earnest, so that of a sudden he became a very old
man. His strength and energy left him, and his mind was so filled with
remorse for what he held to be his crime in bringing his daughter to
this awful place, and with terror for the fate that threatened her, that
he could think of nothing else. In vain did she try to comfort him. He
would only wring his hands and groan, praying that God and she would
forgive him. Now, too, Meyer’s mastery over him became continually more
evident. Mr. Clifford implored the man, almost with tears, to unblock
the wall and allow them to go down to the Makalanga. He even tried to
bribe him with the offer of all his share of the treasure, if it were
found, and when that failed, of his property in the Transvaal.

But Jacob only told him roughly not to be a fool, as they had to see the
thing through together. Then he would go again and brood by himself,
and Benita noticed that he always took his rifle or a pistol with him.
Evidently he feared lest her father should catch him unprepared, and
take the law into his own hands by means of a sudden bullet.

One comfort she had, however: although he watched her closely, the
Jew never tried to molest her in any way, not even with more of his
enigmatic and amorous speeches. By degrees, indeed, she came to believe
that all this was gone from his mind, or that he had abandoned his
advances as hopeless.

A week passed since the Matabele attack, and nothing had happened. The
Makalanga took no notice of them, and so far as she was aware the
old Molimo never attempted to climb the blocked wall or otherwise to
communicate with them, a thing so strange that, knowing his affection
for her, Benita came to the conclusion that he must be dead, killed
perhaps in the attack. Even Jacob Meyer had abandoned his digging, and
sat about all day doing nothing but think.

Their meal that night was a miserable affair, since in the first place
provisions were running short and there was little to eat, and in the
second no one spoke a word. Benita could swallow no food; she was weary
of that sun-dried trek-ox, for since Meyer had blocked the wall they had
little else. But by good fortune there remained plenty of coffee, and
of this she drank two cups, which Jacob prepared and handed to her
with much politeness. It tasted very bitter to her, but this, Benita
reflected, was because they lacked milk and sugar. Supper ended, Meyer
rose and bowed to her, muttering that he was going to bed, and a few
minutes later Mr. Clifford followed his example. She went with her
father to the hut beneath the tree, and having helped him to remove his
coat, which now he seemed to find difficulty in doing for himself, bade
him good-night and returned to the fire.

It was very lonely there in the silence, for no sound came from either
the Matabele or the Makalanga camps, and the bright moonlight seemed to
people the place with fantastic shadows that looked alive. Benita cried
a little now that her father could not see her, and then also sought
refuge in bed. Evidently the end, whatever it might be, was near, and of
it she could not bear to think. Moreover, her eyes were strangely heavy,
so much so that before she had finished saying her prayers sleep fell
upon her, and she knew no more.

Had she remained as wakeful as it was often her fate to be during those
fearful days, towards midnight she might have heard some light-footed
creature creeping to her tent, and seen that the moon-rays which flowed
through the gaping and ill-closed flap were cut off by the figure of a
man with glowing eyes, whose projected arms waved over her mysteriously.
But Benita neither heard nor saw. In her drugged rest she did not know
that her sleep turned gradually to a magic swoon. She had no knowledge
of her rising, or of how she threw her thick cloak about her, lit her
lamp, and, in obedience to that beckoning finger, glided from the tent.
She never heard her father stumble from his hut, disturbed by the sound
of footsteps, or the words that passed between him and Jacob Meyer,
while, lamp in hand, she stood near them like a strengthless ghost.

“If you dare to wake her,” hissed Jacob, “I tell you that she will die,
and afterwards you shall die,” and he fingered the pistol at his belt.
“No harm shall come to her--I swear it! Follow and see. Man, man, be
silent; our fortunes hang on it.”

Then, overcome also by the strange fierceness of that voice and gaze, he
followed.

On they go to the winding neck of the cavern, first Jacob walking
backwards like the herald of majesty; then majesty itself in the shape
of this long-haired, death-like woman, cloaked and bearing in her hand
the light; and last, behind, the old, white-bearded man, like Time
following Beauty to the grave. Now they were in the great cavern, and
now, avoiding the open tombs, the well mouth and the altar, they stood
beneath the crucifix.

“Be seated,” said Meyer, and the entranced Benita sat herself down
upon the steps at the foot of the cross, placing the lamp on the rock
pavement before her, and bowing her head till her hair fell upon her
naked feet and hid them. He held his hands above her for a while, then
asked:

“Do you sleep?”

“I sleep,” came the strange, slow answer.

“Is your spirit awake?”

“It is awake.”

“Command it to travel backwards through the ages to the beginning, and
tell me what you see here.”

“I see a rugged cave and wild folk dwelling in it; an old man is dying
yonder,” and she pointed to the right; “and a black woman with a babe
at her breast tends him. A man, it is her husband, enters the cave. He
holds a torch in one hand, and with the other drags a buck.”

“Cease,” said Meyer. “How long is this ago?”

“Thirty-three thousand two hundred and one years,” came the answer,
spoken without any hesitation.

“Pass on,” he said, “pass on thirty thousand years, and tell me what you
see.”

For a long while there was silence.

“Why do you not speak?” he asked.

“Be patient; I am living through those thirty thousand years; many a
life, many an age, but none may be missed.”

Again there was silence for a long while, till at length she spoke:

“They are done, all of them, and now three thousand years ago I see this
place changed and smoothly fashioned, peopled by a throng of worshippers
clad in strange garments with clasps upon them. Behind me stands the
graven statue of a goddess with a calm and cruel face, in front of the
altar burns a fire, and on the altar white-robed priests are sacrificing
an infant which cries aloud.”

“Pass on, pass on,” Meyer said hurriedly, as though the horror of that
scene had leapt to his eyes. “Pass on two thousand seven hundred years
and tell me what you see.”

Again there was a pause, while the spirit he had evoked in the body of
Benita lived through those ages. Then slowly she answered:

“Nothing, the place is black and desolate, only the dead sleep beneath
its floor.”

“Wait till the living come again,” he commanded; “then speak.”

“They are here,” she replied presently. “Tonsured monks, one of whom
fashions this crucifix, and their followers who bow before the Host upon
the altar. They come, they go--of whom shall I tell you?”

“Tell me of the Portuguese; of those who were driven here to die.”

“I see them all,” she answered, after a pause. “Two hundred and three of
them. They are ragged and wayworn and hungry. Among them is a beautiful
woman, a girl. She draws near to me, she enters into me. You must ask
her,”--this was spoken in a very faint voice--“I am I no more.”

Mr. Clifford attempted to interrupt, but fiercely Meyer bade him to be
silent.

“Speak,” he commanded, but the crouching figure shook her head.

“Speak,” he said again, whereon another voice, not that of Benita,
answered in another tongue:

“I hear; but I do not understand your language.”

“Great Heaven!” said Meyer, “it is Portuguese,” and for a while the
terror of the thing struck him dumb, for he was aware that Benita knew
no Portuguese. He knew it, however, who had lived at Lorenço Marquez.

“Who are you?” he asked in that tongue.

“I am Benita da Ferreira. I am the daughter of the Captain da Ferreira
and of his wife, the lady Christinha, who stand by you now. Turn, and
you will see them.”

Jacob started and looked about him uneasily.

“What did she say? I did not catch it all,” asked Mr. Clifford.

He translated her words.

“But this is black magic,” exclaimed the old man. “Benita knows no
Portuguese, so how comes she to speak it?”

“Because she is no longer our Benita; she is another Benita, Benita da
Ferreira. The Molimo was right when he said that the spirit of the dead
woman went with her, as it seems the name has gone,” he added.

“Have done,” said Mr. Clifford; “the thing is unholy. Wake her up, or I
will.”

“And bring about her death. Touch or disturb her, and I tell you she
will die,” and he pointed to Benita, who crouched before them so white
and motionless that indeed it seemed as though already she were dead.
“Be quiet,” he went on. “I swear to you that no hurt shall come to her,
also that I will translate everything to you. Promise, or I will tell
you nothing, and her blood be on your head.”

Then Mr. Clifford groaned and said:

“I promise.”

“Tell me your story, Benita da Ferreira. How came you and your people
here?”

“The tribes of Monomotapa rose against our rule. They killed many of
us in the lower land, yes, they killed my brother and him to whom I was
affianced. The rest of us fled north to this ancient fortress, hoping
thence to escape by the river, the Zambesi. The Mambo, our vassal, gave
us shelter here, but the tribes besieged the walls in thousands, and
burnt all the boats so that we could not fly by the water. Many times we
beat them back from the wall; the ditch was full of their dead, and at
last they dared to attack no more.

“Then we began to starve and they won the first wall. We went on
starving and they won the second wall, but the third wall they could not
climb. So we died; one by one we laid ourselves down in this cave and
died, till I alone was left, for while our people had food they gave it
to me who was the daughter of their captain. Yes, alone I knelt at the
foot of this crucifix by the body of my father, praying to the blessed
Son of Mary for the death that would not come, and kneeling there I
swooned. When I awoke again the Mambo and his men stood about me, for
now, knowing us to be dead, the tribes had gone, and those who were in
hiding across the river had returned and knew how to climb the wall.
They bore me from among the dead, they gave me food so that my strength
came back; but in the night I, who in my wickedness would not live,
escaped from them and climbed the pillar of black rock, so that when
the sun rose they saw me standing there. They begged of me to come down,
promising to protect me, but I said ‘No,’ who in the evil of my heart
only desired to die, that I might join my father and my brother, and one
who was dearer to me than all. They asked of me where the great treasure
was hidden.”

At these words Jacob gasped, then rapidly translated them, while the
figure before them became silent, as though it felt that for the moment
the power of his will was withdrawn.

“Speak on, I bid you,” he said, and she continued, the rich, slow voice
dropping word after word from the lips of Benita in the alien speech
that this Benita never knew.

“I answered that it was where it was, and that if they gave it up to
any save the one appointed, then that fate which had befallen my people
would befall theirs also. Yes, I gave it into their keeping until I came
again, since with his dying breath my father had commanded me to reveal
it to none, and I believed that I who was about to die should never come
again.

“Then I made my last prayer, I kissed the golden crucifix that now hangs
upon this breast wherein I dwell,” and the hand of the living Benita was
lifted, and moving like the hand of a dead thing, slowly drew out the
symbol from beneath the cloak, held it for a moment in the lamplight,
and let it fall to its place again. “I put my hands before my eyes that
I might not see, and I hurled myself from the pinnacle.”

Now the voice ceased, but from the lips came a dreadful sound, such as
might be uttered by one whose bones are shattered upon rocks, followed
by other sounds like those of one who chokes in water. They were so
horrible to hear that Mr. Clifford nearly fainted, and even Jacob Meyer
staggered and turned white as the white face of Benita.

“Wake her! For God’s sake, wake her!” said her father. “She is dying, as
that woman died hundreds of years ago.”

“Not till she has told us where the gold is. Be quiet, you fool. She
does not feel or suffer. It is the spirit within her that lives through
the past again.”

Once more there was silence. It seemed as though the story were all told
and the teller had departed.

“Benita da Ferreira,” said Meyer at length, “I command you, tell me, are
you dead?”

“Oh! would that I were dead, as my body is dead!” wailed the lips of
Benita. “Alas! I cannot die who suffer this purgatory, and must dwell on
here alone until the destined day. Yes, yes, the spirit of her who was
Benita da Ferreira must haunt this place in solitude. This is her doom,
to be the guardian of that accursed gold which was wrung from the earth
by cruelty and paid for with the lives of men.”

“Is it still safe?” whispered Jacob.

“I will look;” then after a pause, “I have looked. It is there, every
grain of it, in ox-hide bags; only one of them has fallen and burst,
that which is black and red.”

“Where is it?” he said again.

“I may not tell you; never, never.”

“Is there anyone whom you may tell?”

“Yes.”

“Whom?”

“Her in whose breast I lie.”

“Tell her then.”

“I have told her; she knows.”

“And may she tell me?”

“Let her guard the secret as she will. O my Guardian, I thank thee. My
burden is departed; my sin of self-murder is atoned.”

“Benita da Ferreira, are you gone?”

No answer.

“Benita Clifford, do you hear me?”

“I hear you,” said the voice of Benita, speaking in English, although
Jacob, forgetting, had addressed her in Portuguese.

“Where is the gold?”

“In my keeping.”

“Tell me, I command you.”

But no words came; though he questioned her many times no words came,
till at last her head sank forward upon her knees, and in a faint voice
she murmured:

“Loose me, or I die.”



XIX

THE AWAKING

Still Jacob Meyer hesitated. The great secret was unlearned, and, if
this occasion passed, might never be learned. But if he hesitated, Mr.
Clifford did not. The knowledge of his child’s danger, the sense that
her life was mysteriously slipping away from her under pressure of the
ghastly spell in which she lay enthralled, stirred him to madness. His
strength and manhood came back to him. He sprang straight at Meyer’s
throat, gripped it with one hand, and with the other drew the knife he
wore.

“You devil!” he gasped. “Wake her or you shall go with her!” and he
lifted the knife.

Then Jacob gave in. Shaking off his assailant he stepped to Benita, and
while her father stood behind him with the lifted blade, began to make
strange upward passes over her, and to mutter words of command. For a
long while they took no effect; indeed, both of them were almost sure
that she was gone. Despair gripped her father, and Meyer worked at his
black art so furiously that the sweat burst out upon his forehead and
fell in great drops to the floor.

Oh, at last, at last she stirred! Her head lifted itself a little, her
breast heaved.

“Lord in Heaven, I have saved her!” muttered Jacob in German, and worked
on.

Now the eyes of Benita opened, and now she stood up and sighed. But she
said nothing; only like a person walking in her sleep, she began to move
towards the entrance of the cave, her father going before her with the
lamp. On she went, and out of it straight to her tent, where instantly
she cast herself upon her bed and sank into deep slumber. It was as
though the power of the drug-induced oblivion, which for a while
was over-mastered by that other stronger power invoked by Jacob, had
reasserted itself.

Meyer watched her for awhile; then said to Mr. Clifford:

“Don’t be afraid and don’t attempt to disturb her. She will wake
naturally in the morning.”

“I hope so for both our sakes,” he answered, glaring at him, “for if
not, you or I, or the two of us, will never see another.”

Meyer took no notice of his threats; indeed the man seemed so exhausted
that he could scarcely stand.

“I am done,” he said. “Now, as she is safe, I don’t care what happens to
me. I must rest,” and he staggered from the tent, like a drunken man.

Outside, at the place where they ate, Mr. Clifford heard him gulping
down raw gin from the bottle. Then he heard no more.

All the rest of the night, and for some hours of the early morning, did
her father watch by the bed of Benita, although, lightly clad as he was,
the cold of dawn struck to his bones. At length, when the sun was well
up, she rose in her bed, and her eyes opened.

“What are you doing here, father?” she said.

“I have come to see where you were, dear. You are generally out by now.”

“I suppose that I must have overslept myself then,” she replied wearily.
“But it does not seem to have refreshed me much, and my head aches. Oh!
I remember,” she added with a start. “I have had such a horrid dream.”

“What about?” he asked as carelessly as he could.

“I can’t recall it quite, but it had to do with Mr. Meyer,” and she
shivered. “It seemed as though I had passed into his power, as though he
had taken possession of me, body and soul, and forced me to tell him all
the secret things.”

“What secret things, Benita?”

She shook her head.

“I don’t know now, but we went away among dead people, and I told him
there. Oh! father, I am afraid of that man--terribly afraid! Protect me
from him,” and she began to cry a little.

“Of course I will protect you, dear. Something has upset your nerves.
Come, dress yourself and you’ll soon forget it all. I’ll light the
fire.”

A quarter of an hour later Benita joined him, looking pale and shaken,
but otherwise much as usual. She was ravenously hungry, and ate of the
biscuits and dried meat with eagerness.

“The coffee tastes quite different from that which I drank last night,”
 she said. “I think there must have been something in it which gave me
those bad dreams. Where is Mr. Meyer? Oh, I know!” and again she put her
hand to her head. “He is still asleep by the wall.”

“Who told you that?”

“I can’t say, but it is so. He will not come here till one o’clock.
There, I feel much better now. What shall we do, father?”

“Sit in the sun and rest, I think, dear.”

“Yes, let us do that, on the top of the wall. We can see the Makalanga
from there, and it will be a comfort to be sure that there are other
human beings left in the world besides ourselves and Jacob Meyer.”

So presently they went, and from the spot whence Meyer used to shoot at
the Matabele camp, looked down upon the Makalanga moving about the first
enclosure far below. By the aid of the glasses Benita even thought that
she recognised Tamas, although of this it was difficult to be sure, for
they were all very much alike. Still, the discovery quite excited her.

“I am sure it is Tamas,” she said. “And oh! how I wish that we were down
there with him, although it is true that then we should be nearer to the
Matabele. But they are better than Mr. Meyer, much better.”

Now for a while they were silent, till at length she said suddenly:

“Father, you are keeping something back from me, and things begin to
come back. Tell me; did I go anywhere last night with Mr. Meyer--you and
he and I together?”

He hesitated and looked guilty; Mr. Clifford was not a good actor.

“I see that we did; I am sure that we did. Father, tell me. I must know,
I will know.”

Then he gave way.

“I didn’t want to speak, dear, but perhaps it is best. It is a very
strange story. Will you promise not to be upset?”

“I will promise not to be more upset than I am at present,” she
answered, with a sad little laugh. “Go on.”

“You remember that Jacob Meyer wanted to mesmerize you?”

“I am not likely to forget it,” she answered.

“Well, last night he did mesmerize you.”

“What?” she said. “_What?_ Oh! how dreadful! Now I understand it all.
But when?”

“When you were sound asleep, I suppose. At least, the first I knew of
it was that some noise woke me, and I came out of the hut to see you
following him like a dead woman, with a lamp in your hand.”

Then he told her all the story, while she listened aghast.

“How dared he!” she gasped, when her father had finished the long tale.
“I hate him; I almost wish that you had killed him,” and she clenched
her little hands and shook them in the air.

“That is not very Christian of you, Miss Clifford,” said a voice behind
her. “But it is past one o’clock, and as I am still alive I have come to
tell you that it is time for luncheon.”

Benita wheeled round upon the stone on which she sat, and there,
standing amidst the bushes a little way from the foot of the wall, was
Jacob Meyer. Their eyes met; hers were full of defiance, and his of
conscious power.

“I do not want any luncheon, Mr. Meyer,” she said.

“But I am sure that you do. Please come down and have some. Please come
down.”

The words were spoken humbly, almost pleadingly, yet to Benita they
seemed as a command. At any rate, with slow reluctance she climbed down
the shattered wall, followed by her father, and without speaking they
went back to their camping place, all three of them, Jacob leading the
way.

When they had eaten, or made pretence to eat, he spoke.

“I see that your father has told you everything, Miss Clifford, and of
that I am glad. As for me, it would have been awkward, who must ask your
forgiveness for so much. But what could I do? I knew, as I have always
known, that it was only possible to find this treasure by your help.
So I gave you something to make you sleep, and then in your sleep I
hypnotized you, and--you know the rest. I have great experience in this
art, but I have never seen or heard of anything like what happened, and
I hope I never shall again.”

Hitherto Benita had sat silent, but now her burning indignation and
curiosity overcame her shame and hatred.

“Mr. Meyer,” she said, “you have done a shameful and a wicked thing, and
I tell you at once that I can never forgive you.”

“Don’t say that. Please don’t say that,” he interrupted in tones of real
grief. “Make allowances for me. I had to learn, and there was no other
way. You are a born clairvoyante, one among ten thousand, my art told me
so, and you know all that is at stake.”

“By which you mean so many ounces of gold, Mr. Meyer.”

“By which I mean the greatness that gold can give, Miss Clifford.”

“Such greatness, Mr. Meyer, as a week of fever, or a Matabele spear, or
God’s will can rob you of. But the thing is done, and soon or late the
sin must be paid for. Now I want to ask you a question. You believe in
nothing; you have told me so several times. You say that there is no
such thing as a spirit, that when we die, we die, and there’s an end. Do
you not?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then tell me, what was it that spoke out of my lips last night, and how
came it that I, who know no Portuguese, talked to you in that tongue?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“You have put a difficult question, but one I think that can be
answered. There is no such thing as a spirit, an identity that survives
death. But there is such a thing as the subconscious self, which is part
of the animating principle of the universe, and, if only its knowledge
can be unsealed, knows all that has passed and all that is passing in
that universe. One day perhaps you will read the works of my compatriot,
Hegel, and there you will find it spoken of.”

“You explain nothing.”

“I am about to explain, Miss Clifford. Last night I gave to your
sub-conscious self--that which knows all--the strength of liberty, so
that it saw the past as it happened in this place. Already you knew
the story of the dead girl, Benita da Ferreira, and that story you
re-enacted, talking the tongue she used as you would have talked Greek
or any other tongue, had it been hers. It was not her spirit that
animated you, although at the time I called it so for shortness, but
your own buried knowledge, tricked out and furnished by the effort of
your human imagination. That her name, Benita, should have been yours
also is no doubt a strange coincidence, but no more. Also we have no
proof that it was so; only what you said in your trance.”

“Perhaps,” said Benita, who was in no mood for philosophical argument.
“Perhaps also one day you will see a spirit, Mr. Meyer, and think
otherwise.”

“When I see a spirit and know that it is a spirit, then doubtless
I shall believe in spirits. But what is the good of talking of such
things? I do not seek spirits; I seek Portuguese gold. Now, I am sure
you can tell where that gold lies. You would have told us last night,
had not your nervous strength failed you, who are unaccustomed to the
state of trance. Speaking as Benita da Ferreira, you said that you saw
it and described its condition. Then you could, or would, say no more,
and it became necessary to waken you. Miss Clifford, you must let me
mesmerize you once again for a few minutes only, for then we will waste
no time on past histories, and we shall find the gold. Unless, indeed,”
 he added by an afterthought, and looking at her sharply, “you know
already where it is; in which case I need not trouble you.”

“I do not know, Mr. Meyer. I remember nothing about the gold.”

“Which proves my theory. What purported to be the spirit of Benita
da Ferreira said that it had passed the secret on to you, but in your
waking state you do not know that secret. In fact, she did not pass it
on because she had no existence. But in your sub-conscious state you
will know. Therefore I must mesmerize you again. Not at once, but in
a few days’ time, when you have quite recovered. Let us say next
Wednesday, three days hence.”

“You shall never mesmerize me again, Mr. Meyer.”

“No, not while I live,” broke in her father, who had been listening to
this discussion in silence.

Jacob bowed his head meekly.

“You think so now, but I think otherwise. What I did last night I did
against your will, and that I can do again, only much more easily. But I
had rather do it with your will, who work not for my own sake only, but
for the sake of all of us. And now let us talk no more of the matter,
lest we should grow angry.” Then he rose and went away.

The next three days were passed by Benita in a state of constant dread.
She knew in herself that Jacob Meyer had acquired a certain command over
her; that an invincible intimacy had sprung up between them. She was
acquainted with his thoughts; thus, before he asked for it, she
would find herself passing him some article at table or elsewhere, or
answering a question that he was only about to ask. Moreover, he could
bring her to him from a little distance. Thus, on two or three occasions
when she was wandering about their prison enclosure, as she was wont to
do for the sake of exercise, she found her feet draw to some spot--now
one place and now another--and when she reached it there before her was
Jacob Meyer.

“Forgive me for bringing you here,” he would say, smiling after his
crooked fashion, and lifting his hat politely, “but I wish to ask you if
you have not changed your mind as to being mesmerized?”

Then for a while he would hold her with his eyes, so that her feet
seemed rooted to the ground, till at length it was as though he cut a
rope by some action of his will and set her free, and, choked with wrath
and blind with tears, Benita would turn and run from him as from a wild
beast.

But if her days were evil, oh! what were her nights? She lived in
constant terror lest he should again drug her food or drink, and, while
she slept, throw his magic spell upon her. To protect herself from the
first danger she would swallow nothing that had been near him. Now also
she slept in the hut with her father, who lay near its door, a loaded
rifle at his side, for he had told Jacob outright that if he caught him
at his practices he would shoot him, a threat at which the younger man
laughed aloud, for he had no fear of Mr. Clifford.

Throughout the long hours of darkness they kept watch alternately, one
of them lying down to rest while the other peered and listened. Nor
did Benita always listen in vain, for twice at least she heard stealthy
footsteps creeping about the hut, and felt that soft and dreadful
influence flowing in upon her. Then she would wake her father,
whispering, “He is there, I can feel that he is there.” But by the time
that the old man had painfully dragged himself to his feet--for now he
was becoming very feeble and acute rheumatism or some such illness had
got hold of him--and crept from the hut, there was no one to be seen.
Only through the darkness he would hear the sound of a retreating step,
and of low, mocking laughter.

Thus those miserable days went by, and the third morning came, that
dreaded Wednesday. Before it was dawn Benita and her father, neither of
whom had closed their eyes that night, talked over their strait long and
earnestly, and they knew that its crisis was approaching.

“I think that I had better try to kill him, Benita,” he said. “I am
growing dreadfully weak, and if I put it off I may find no strength,
and you will be at his mercy. I can easily shoot him when his back is
turned, and though I hate the thought of such a deed, surely I shall be
forgiven. Or if not, I cannot help it. I must think of my duty to you,
not of myself.”

“No, no,” she answered. “I will not have it. It would be murder,
although he has threatened you. After all, father, I believe that the
man is half mad, and not responsible. We must take our chance and trust
to God to save us. If He does not,” she added, “at the worst I can
always save myself,” and she touched the pistol which now she wore day
and night.

“So be it,” said Mr. Clifford, with a groan. “Let us pray for
deliverance from this hell and keep our hands clean of blood.”



XX

JACOB MEYER SEES A SPIRIT

For a while they were silent, then Benita said:

“Father, is it not possible that we might escape, after all? Perhaps
that stair on the rampart is not so completely blocked that we could not
climb over it.”

Mr. Clifford, thinking of his stiff limbs and aching back, shook his
head and answered:

“I don’t know; Meyer has never let me near enough to see.”

“Well, why do you not go to look? You know he sleeps till late now,
because he is up all night. Take the glasses and examine the top of the
wall from inside that old house near by. He will not see or hear you,
but if I came near, he would know and wake up.”

“If you like, love, I can try, but what are you going to do while I am
away?”

“I shall climb the pillar.”

“You don’t mean----” and he stopped.

“No, no, nothing of that sort. I shall not follow the example of Benita
da Ferreira unless I am driven to it; I want to look, that is all. One
can see far from that place, if there is anything to see. Perhaps the
Matabele are gone now, we have heard nothing of them lately.”

So they dressed themselves, and as soon as the light was sufficiently
strong, came out of the hut and parted, Mr. Clifford, rifle in hand,
limping off towards the wall, and Benita going towards the great
cone. She climbed it easily enough, and stood in the little cup-like
depression on its dizzy peak, waiting for the sun to rise and disperse
the mists which hung over the river and its banks.

Now whatever may have been the exact ceremonial use to which the
ancients put this pinnacle, without doubt it had something to do with
sun-worship. This, indeed, was proved by the fact that, at any rate at
this season of the year, the first rays of the risen orb struck full
upon its point. Thus it came about that, as she stood there waiting,
Benita of a sudden found herself suffused in light so vivid and intense
that, clothed as she was in a dress which had once been white, it must
have caused her to shine like a silver image. For several minutes,
indeed, this golden spear of fire blinded her so that she could see
nothing, but stood quite still, afraid to move, and waiting until,
as the sun grew higher, its level rays passed over her. This they did
presently, and plunging into the valley, began to drive away the fog.
Now she looked down, along the line of the river.

The Matabele camp was invisible, for it lay in a hollow almost at the
foot of the fortress. Beyond it, however, was a rising swell of ground;
it may have been half a mile from where she stood, and on the crest
of it she perceived what looked like a waggon tent with figures moving
round it. They were shouting also, for through the silence of the
African morn the sound of their voices floated up to her.

As the mist cleared off Benita saw that without doubt it was a waggon,
for there stood the long row of oxen, also it had just been captured
by the Matabele, for these were about it in numbers. At the moment,
however, they appeared to be otherwise occupied, for they were pointing
with their spears to the pillar on Bambatse.

Then it occurred to Benita that, placed as she was in that fierce light
with only the sky for background, she must be perfectly visible from
the plain below, and that it might be her figure perched like an eagle
between heaven and earth which excited their interest. Yes, and not
theirs only, for now a white man appeared, who lifted what might have
been a gun, or a telescope, towards her. She was sure from the red
flannel shirt and the broad hat which he wore that he must be a white
man, and oh! how her heart yearned towards him, whoever he might be! The
sight of an angel from heaven could scarcely have been more welcome to
Benita in her wretchedness.

Yet surely she must be dreaming. What should a white man and a waggon
be doing in that place? And why had not the Matabele killed him at once?
She could not tell, yet they appeared to have no murderous intentions,
since they continued to gesticulate and talk whilst he stared upwards
with the telescope, if it were a telescope. So things went on for a
long time, for meanwhile the oxen were outspanned, until, indeed, more
Matabele arrived, who led off the white man, apparently against his
will, towards their camp, where he disappeared. Then there was nothing
more to be seen. Benita descended the column.

At its foot she met her father, who had come to seek her.

“What is the matter?” he asked, noting her excited face.

“Oh!” she said or rather sobbed, “there is a waggon with a white man
below. I saw the Matabele capture him.”

“Then I am sorry for the poor devil,” answered the father, “for he
is dead by now. But what could a white man have been doing here? Some
hunter, I suppose, who has walked into a trap.”

The face of Benita fell.

“I hoped,” she said, “that he might help us.”

“As well might he hope that we could help him. He is gone, and there is
an end. Well, peace to his soul, and we have our own troubles to think
of. I have been to look at that wall, and it is useless to think of
climbing it. If he had been a professional mason, Meyer could not have
built it up better; no wonder that we have seen nothing more of the
Molimo, for only a bird could reach us.”

“Where was Mr. Meyer,” asked Benita.

“Asleep in a blanket under a little shelter of boughs by the stair. At
least, I thought so, though it was rather difficult to make him out in
the shadow; at any rate, I saw his rifle set against a tree. Come, let
us go to breakfast. No doubt he will turn up soon enough.”

So they went, and for the first time since the Sunday Benita ate a
hearty meal of biscuits soaked in coffee. Although her father was so
sure that by now he must have perished on the Matabele spears, the sight
of the white man and his waggon had put new life into her, bringing her
into touch with the world again. After all, might it not chance that he
had escaped?

All this while there had been no sign of Jacob Meyer. This, however, did
not surprise them, for now he ate his meals alone, taking his food from
a little general store, and cooking it over his own fire. When they had
finished their breakfast Mr. Clifford remarked that they had no more
drinking water left, and Benita said that she would go to fetch a
pailful from the well in the cave. Her father suggested that he should
accompany her, but she answered that it was not necessary as she was
quite able to wind the chain by herself. So she went, carrying the
bucket in one hand and a lamp in the other.

As she walked down the last of the zigzags leading to the cave, Benita
stopped a moment thinking that she saw a light, and then went on,
since on turning the corner there was nothing but darkness before her.
Evidently she had been mistaken. She reached the well and hung the pail
on to the great copper hook, wondering as she did so how many folk had
done likewise in the far, far past, for the massive metal of that hook
was worn quite thin with use. Then she let the roller run, and the sound
of the travelling chain clanked dismally in that vaulted, empty place.
At length the pail struck the water, and she began to wind up again,
pausing at times to rest, for the distance was long and the chain heavy.
The bucket appeared. Benita drew it to the side of the well, and lifted
it from the hook, then took up her lamp to be gone.

Feeling or seeing something, which she was not sure, she held the lamp
above her head, and by its light perceived a figure standing between her
and the entrance to the cave.

“Who are you?” she asked, whereon a soft voice answered out of the
darkness, the voice of Jacob Meyer.

“Do you mind standing still for a few minutes, Miss Clifford? I have
some paper here and I wish to make a sketch. You do not know how
beautiful you look with that light above your head illuminating the
shadows and the thorn-crowned crucifix beyond. You know, whatever paths
fortune may have led me into, by nature I am an artist, and never in my
life have I seen such a picture. One day it will make me famous.

     ‘How statue-like I see thee stand!
     The agate lamp within thy hand.’

That’s what I should put under it; you know the lines, don’t you?”

“Yes, Mr. Meyer, but I am afraid you will have to paint your picture
from memory, as I cannot hold up this lamp any longer; my arm is aching
already. I do not know how you came here, but as you have followed me
perhaps you will be so kind as to carry this water.”

“I did not follow you, Miss Clifford. Although you never saw me I
entered the cave before you to take measurements.”

“How can you take measurements in the dark?”

“I was not in the dark. I put out my light when I caught sight of you,
knowing that otherwise you would run away, and fate stood me in good
stead. You came on, as I willed that you should do. Now let us talk.
Miss Clifford, have you changed your mind? You know the time is up.”

“I shall never change my mind. Let me pass you, Mr. Meyer.”

“No, no, not until you have listened. You are very cruel to me, very
cruel indeed. You do not understand that, rather than do you the
slightest harm, I would die a hundred times.”

“I do not ask you to die; I ask you to leave me alone--a much easier
matter.”

“But how can I leave you alone when you are a part of me, when--I love
you? There, the truth is out, and now say what you will.”

Benita lifted the bucket of water; its weight seemed to steady her. Then
she put it down again, since escape was impracticable; she must face the
situation.

“I have nothing to say, Mr. Meyer, except that _I_ do not love _you_ or
any living man, and I never shall. I thank you for the compliment you
have paid me, and there is an end.”

“Any living man,” he repeated after her. “That means you love a dead
man--Seymour, he who was drowned. No wonder that I hated him when first
my eyes fell on him years ago, long before you had come into our lives.
Prescience, the sub-conscious self again. Well, what is the use of
loving the dead, those who no longer have any existence, who have
gone back into the clay out of which they were formed and are not, nor
evermore shall be? You have but one life; turn, turn to the living, and
make it happy.”

“I do not agree with you, Mr. Meyer. To me the dead are still living;
one day I shall find them. Now let me go.”

“I will not let you go. I will plead and wrestle with you as in the
old fable my namesake of my own race wrestled with the angel, until at
length you bless me. You despise me because I am a Jew, because I have
had many adventures and not succeeded; because you think me mad. But I
tell you that there is the seed of greatness in me. Give yourself to me
and I will make you great, for now I know that it was you whom I needed
to supply what is lacking in my nature. We will win the wealth, and
together we will rule----”

“Until a few days hence we starve or the Matabele make an end of us. No,
Mr. Meyer, no,” and she tried to push past him.

He stretched out his arms and stopped her.

“Listen,” he said, “I have pleaded with you as man with woman. Now, as
you refuse me and as you alone stand between me and madness, I will take
another course. I am your master, your will is servant to my will; I bid
you obey me.”

He fixed his eyes upon hers, and Benita felt her strength begin to fail.

“Ah!” he said, “you are my servant now, and to show it I shall kiss you
on the lips; then I shall throw the sleep upon you, and you will tell me
what I want to know. Afterwards we can be wed when it pleases me. Oh! do
not think that your father will defend you, for if he interferes I shall
kill that foolish old man, whom until now I have only spared for your
sake. Remember that if you make me angry, I shall certainly kill him,
and your father’s blood will be on your head. Now I am going to kiss
you.”

Benita lifted her hand to find the pistol at her waist. It fell back
again; she had no strength; it was as though she were paralysed as a
bird is paralysed by a snake so that it cannot open its wings and fly
away, but sits there awaiting death. She was given over into the
hands of this man whom she hated. Could Heaven allow such a thing? she
wondered dimly, and all the while his lips drew nearer to her face.

They touched her own, and then, why or wherefore Benita never
understood, the spell broke. All his power was gone, she was as she had
been, a free woman, mistress of herself. Contemptuously she thrust the
man aside, and, not even troubling to run, lifted her pail of water and
walked away.

Soon she saw the light again, and joyfully extinguished her lamp.
Indeed, the breast of Benita, which should have been so troubled after
the scene through which she had passed, strangely enough was filled with
happiness and peace. As that glorious sunlight had broken on her eyes,
so had another light of freedom arisen in her soul. She was no longer
afraid of Jacob Meyer; that coward kiss of his had struck off the
shackles which bound her to him. Her mind had been subject to his mind,
but now that his physical nature was brought into the play, his mental
part had lost its hold upon her.

As she approached the hut she saw her father seated on a stone outside
it, since the poor old man was now so weak and full of pain that he
could not stand for very long, and seeing, remembered Meyer’s threats
against him. At the thought all her new-found happiness departed.

She might be safe; she felt sure that she was safe, but how about her
father? If Meyer could not get his way probably he would be as good as
his word, and kill him. She shivered at the thought, then, recovering
herself, walked forward steadily with her bucket of water.

“You have been a long while gone, my love,” said Mr. Clifford.

“Yes, father, Mr. Meyer was in the cave, and kept me.”

“How did he get there, and what did he want?”

“I don’t know how he got there--crept in when we were not looking, I
suppose. But as for what he wanted--listen, dear,” and word for word she
told him what had passed.

Before she had finished, her father was almost choking with wrath.

“The dirty Jew! The villain!” he gasped. “I never dreamed that he would
dare to attempt such an outrage. Well, thank Heaven! I can still hold a
rifle, and when he comes out----”

“Father,” she said gently, “that man is mad. He is not responsible for
his actions, and therefore, except in self-defence, you must not think
of such a thing. As for what he said about you, I believe it was only
an empty threat, and for me you need have no fear, his power over me is
gone; it went like a flash when his lips touched me,” and she rubbed her
own as though to wipe away some stain. “I am afraid of nothing more. I
believe--yes, I believe the old Molimo was right, and that all will end
well----”

As she was speaking Benita heard a shuffling sound behind her, and
turned to learn its cause. Then she saw a strange sight. Jacob Meyer was
staggering towards them, dragging one foot after the other through the
grass and stones. His face was ghastly pale, his jaw had dropped like
that of a dead man, and his eyes were set wide open and full of horror.

“What is the matter with you, man?” asked Mr. Clifford.

“I--I--have seen a ghost,” he whispered. “You did not come back into the
cave, did you?” he added, pointing at Benita, who shook her head.

“What ghost?” asked Mr. Clifford.

“I don’t know, but my lamp went out, and then a light began to shine
behind me. I turned, and on the steps of that crucifix I saw a woman
kneeling. Her arms clasped the feet of the figure, her forehead rested
upon the feet, her long black hair flowed down, she was dressed in
white, and the light came from her body and her head. Very slowly she
turned and looked at me, and oh, Heaven! that face----” and he put
his hand before his eyes and groaned. “It was beautiful; yes, yes, but
fearful to see, like an avenging angel. I fled, and the light--only the
light--came with me down the cave, even at the mouth of it there was a
little. I have seen a spirit, I who did not believe in spirits, I have
seen a spirit, and I tell you that not for all the gold in the world
will I enter that place again.”

Then before they could answer, suddenly as though his fear had got some
fresh hold of him, Jacob sprang forward and fled away, crashing through
the bushes and leaping from rock to rock like a frightened buck.



XXI

THE MESSAGE FROM THE DEAD

“Meyer always said that he did not believe in spirits,” remarked Mr.
Clifford reflectively.

“Well, he believes in them now,” answered Benita with a little laugh.
“But, father, the poor man is mad, that is the fact of it, and we must
pay no attention to what he says.”

“The old Molimo and some of his people--Tamas, for instance--declared
that they have seen the ghost of Benita da Ferreira. Are they mad also,
Benita?”

“I don’t know, father. Who can say? All these things are a mystery.
All I do know is that I have never seen a ghost, and I doubt if I ever
shall.”

“No, but when you were in that trance something that was not you spoke
out of your mouth, which something said that it was your namesake, the
other Benita. Well, as you say, we can’t fathom these things, especially
in a haunted kind of place like this, but the upshot of it is that I
don’t think we have much more to fear from Jacob.”

“I am not so sure, father. Mad people change their moods very suddenly.”

As it happened Benita was quite right. Towards suppertime Jacob Meyer
reappeared, looking pale and shaken, but otherwise much as usual.

“I had a kind of fit this morning,” he explained, “the result of an
hallucination which seized me when my light went out in that cave. I
remember that I thought I had seen a ghost, whereas I know very
well that no such thing exists. I was the victim of disappointment,
anxieties, and other still stronger emotions,” and he looked at Benita.
“Therefore, please forget anything I said or did, and--would you give me
some supper?”

Benita did so, and he ate in silence, with some heartiness. When he had
finished his food, and swallowed two or three tots of squareface, he
spoke again:

“I have come here, where I know I am not welcome, upon business,” he
said in a calm, matter-of-fact voice. “I am tired of this place, and
I think it is time that we attained the object of our journey here,
namely, to find the hidden gold. That, as we all know, can only be done
in a certain way, through the clairvoyant powers of one of us and the
hypnotic powers of another. Miss Clifford, I request that you will allow
me to throw you into a state of trance. You have told us everything
else, but you have not yet told us where the treasure is hidden, and
this it is necessary that we should know.”

“And if I refuse, Mr. Meyer?”

“Then I am sorry, but I must take means to compel your obedience. Under
those circumstances, much against my will, I shall be obliged”--here
his eye blazed out wildly--“to execute your father, whose obstinacy
and influence stand between us and splendid fortunes. No, Clifford,” he
added, “don’t stretch out your hand towards that rifle, for I am already
covering you with the pistol in my pocket, and the moment your hand
touches it I shall fire. You poor old man, do you imagine for a single
second that, sick as you are, and with your stiff limbs, you can hope to
match yourself against my agility, intellect, and strength? Why, I could
kill you in a dozen ways before you could lift a finger against me, and
by the God I do not believe in, unless your daughter is more compliant,
kill you I will!”

“That remains to be seen, my friend,” said Mr. Clifford with a laugh,
for he was a brave old man. “I am not certain that the God--whom you do
not believe in--will not kill you first.”

Now Benita, who had been taking counsel with herself, looked up and said
suddenly:

“Very well, Mr. Meyer, I consent--because I must. To-morrow morning you
shall try to mesmerize me, if you can, in the same place, before the
crucifix in the cave.”

“No,” he answered quickly. “It was not there, it was here, and here it
shall be again. The spot you mention is unpropitious to me; the attempt
would fail.”

“It is the spot that I have chosen,” answered Benita stubbornly.

“And this is the spot that I have chosen, Miss Clifford, and my will
must prevail over yours.”

“Because you who do not believe in spirits are afraid to re-enter the
cave, Mr. Meyer, lest you should chance----”

“Never mind what I am or am not afraid of,” he replied with fury. “Make
your choice between doing my will and your father’s life. To-morrow
morning I shall come for your answer, and if you are still obstinate,
within half an hour he will be dead, leaving you and me alone together.
Oh! you may call me wicked and a villain, but it is you who are wicked,
you, you, _you_ who force me to this deed of justice.”

Then without another word he sprang up and walked away from them
backwards, as he went covering Mr. Clifford with the pistol which he
had drawn from his pocket. The last that they saw of him were his eyes,
which glowered at them through the darkness like those of a lion.

“Father,” said Benita, when she was sure that he had gone, “that madman
really means to murder you; there is no doubt of it.”

“None whatever, dear; if I am alive to-morrow night I shall be lucky,
unless I can kill him first or get out of his way.”

“Well,” she said hurriedly, “I think you can. I have an idea. He is
afraid to go into that cave, I am sure. Let us hide ourselves there.
We can take food and shall have plenty of water, whereas, unless rain
falls, he can get nothing to drink.”

“But what then, Benita? We can’t stop in the dark for ever.”

“No, but we can wait there until something happens. Something must and
will happen. His disease won’t stand still. He may go raving mad and
kill himself. Or he may attempt to attack us, though that is not likely,
and then we must do what we can in self defence. Or help may reach us
from somewhere. At the worst we shall only die as we should have died
outside. Come, let us be quick, lest he should change his mind, and
creep back upon us.”

So Mr. Clifford gave way, knowing that even if he could steel himself
to do the deed of attempting to kill Jacob, he would have little chance
against that strong and agile man. Such a struggle would only end in his
own death, and Benita must then be left alone with Meyer and his insane
passions.

Hurriedly they carried their few belongings into the cave. First
they took most of the little store of food that remained, the three
hand-lamps and all the paraffin; there was but one tin. Then returning
they fetched the bucket, the ammunition, and their clothes. Afterwards,
as there was still no sign of Meyer, they even dared to drag in the
waggon tent to make a shelter for Benita, and all the wood that they
had collected for firing. This proved a wearisome business, for the logs
were heavy, and in his crippled state Mr. Clifford could carry no great
burden. Indeed, towards the end Benita was forced to complete the task
alone, while he limped beside her with his rifle, lest Jacob should
surprise them.

When at length everything was done it was long past midnight, and so
exhausted were they that, notwithstanding their danger, they flung
themselves down upon the canvas tent, which lay in a heap at the end of
the cave near the crucifix, and fell asleep.

When Benita woke the lamp had gone out, and it was pitch dark.
Fortunately, however, she remembered where she had put the matches and
the lantern with a candle in it. She lit the candle and looked at her
watch. It was nearly six o’clock. The dawn must be breaking outside,
within an hour or two Jacob Meyer would find that they had gone. Suppose
that his rage should overcome his fear and that he should creep upon
them. They would know nothing of it until his face appeared in the faint
ring of light. Or he might even shoot her father out of the darkness.
What could she do that would give them warning? A thought came to her.

Taking one of the tent ropes and the lantern, for her father still slept
heavily, she went down to the entrance of the cave, and at the end of
the last zigzag where once a door had been, managed to make it fast to a
stone hinge about eighteen inches above the floor, and on the other side
to an eye opposite that was cut in the solid rock to receive a bolt of
wood or iron. Meyer, she knew, had no lamps or oil, only matches and
perhaps a few candles. Therefore if he tried to enter the cave it was
probable that he would trip over the rope and thus give them warning.
Then she went back, washed her face and hands with some water that they
had drawn on the previous night to satisfy their thirst, and tidied
herself as best she could. This done, as her father still slept, she
filled the lamps, lit one of them, and looked about her, for she was
loth to wake him.

Truly it was an awful place in which to dwell. There above them towered
the great white crucifix; there in the corner were piled the remains of
the Portuguese. A skull with long hair still hanging to it grinned at
her, a withered hand was thrust forward as though to clutch her. Oh, no
wonder that in such a spot Jacob Meyer had seen ghosts! In front, too,
was the yawning grave where they had found the monk; indeed, his bones
wrapped in dark robes still lay within, for Jacob had tumbled them back
again. Then beyond and all around deep, dark, and utter silence.

At last her father woke, and glad enough was she of his human company.
They breakfasted upon some biscuits and water, and afterwards, while Mr.
Clifford watched near the entrance with his rifle, Benita set to work
to arrange their belongings. The tent she managed to prop up against the
wall of the cave by help of some of the wood which they had carried in.
Beneath it she spread their blankets, that it might serve as a sleeping
place for them both, and outside placed the food and other things.

While she was thus engaged she heard a sound at the mouth of the
cave--Jacob Meyer was entering and had fallen over her rope. Down it
she ran, lantern in hand, to her father, who, with his rifle raised, was
shouting:

“If you come in here, I put a bullet through you!”

Then came the answer in Jacob’s voice, which rang hollow in that vaulted
place:

“I do not want to come in; I shall wait for you to come out. You cannot
live long in there; the horror of the dark will kill you. I have only to
sit in the sunlight and wait.”

Then he laughed, and they heard the sound of his footsteps retreating
down the passage.

“What are we to do?” asked Mr. Clifford despairingly. “We cannot live
without light, and if we have light he will certainly creep to the
entrance and shoot us. He is quite mad now; I am sure of it from his
voice.”

Benita thought a minute, then she answered:

“We must build up the passage. Look,” and she pointed to the lumps of
rock that the explosion of their mine had shaken down from the roof,
and the slabs of cement that they had broken from the floor with the
crowbar. “At once, at once,” she went on; “he will not come back for
some hours, probably not till night.”

So they set to work, and never did Benita labour as it was her lot to do
that day. Such of the fragments as they could lift they carried between
them, others they rolled along by help of the crowbar. For hour after
hour they toiled at their task. Luckily for them, the passage was not
more than three feet wide by six feet six high, and their material was
ample. Before the evening they had blocked it completely with a wall
several feet in thickness, which wall they supported on the inside with
lengths of the firewood lashed across to the old hinges and bolt-holes,
or set obliquely against its face.

It was done, and they regarded their work with pride, although it seemed
probable that they were building up their own tomb. Because of its
position at an angle of the passage, they knew that Meyer could not get
to it with a pole to batter it down. Also, there was no loose powder
left, so his only chance would be to pull it to pieces with his hands,
and this, they thought, might be beyond his power. At least, should he
attempt it, they would have ample warning. Yet that day was not to pass
without another trouble.

Just as they had rolled up and levered into place a long fragment of
rock designed to prevent the ends of their supporting pieces of wood
from slipping on the cement floor, Mr. Clifford uttered an exclamation,
then said:

“I have wrung my back badly. Help me to the tent. I must lie down.”

Slowly and with great pain they staggered up the cave, Mr. Clifford
leaning on Benita and a stick, till, reaching the tent at last, he
almost fell on to the blankets and remained there practically crippled.

Now began Benita’s terrible time, the worst of all her life. Every hour
her father became more ill. Even before they took refuge in the cave
he was completely broken down, and now after this accident he began to
suffer very much. His rheumatism or sciatica, or whatever it was, seemed
to settle upon the hurt muscles of his back, causing him so much pain
that he could scarcely sleep for ten minutes at a stretch. Moreover, he
would swallow but little of the rough food which was all Benita was
able to prepare for him; nothing, indeed, except biscuit soaked in black
coffee, which she boiled over a small fire made of wood that they had
brought with them, and occasionally a little broth, tasteless stuff
enough, for it was only the essence of biltong, or sun-dried flesh,
flavoured with some salt.

Then there were two other terrors against she must fight, the darkness
and the dread of Jacob Meyer. Perhaps the darkness was the worse of
them. To live in that hideous gloom in which their single lamp, for she
dared burn no more lest the oil should give out, seemed but as one star
to the whole night, ah! who that had not endured it could know what it
meant? There the sick man, yonder the grinning skeletons, around the
blackness and the silence, and beyond these again a miserable death,
or Jacob Meyer. But of him Benita saw nothing, though once or twice she
thought that she heard his voice raving outside the wall which they had
built. If so, either he did not try to pull it down, or he failed in
the attempt, or perhaps he feared that should he succeed, he would be
greeted by a bullet. So at last she gave up thinking about him. Should
he force his way into the cave she must deal with the situation as best
she could. Meanwhile, her father’s strength was sinking fast.

Three awful days went by in this fashion, and the end drew near.
Although she tried to force herself to it, Benita could not swallow
enough food to keep up her strength. Now that the passage was closed the
atmosphere of this old vault, for it was nothing more, thickened by
the smoke of the fire which she was obliged to burn, grew poisonous and
choked her. Want of sleep exhausted her, dread of what the morrow might
bring forth crushed her strong spirit. She began to break down, knowing
that the hour was near when she and her father must die together.

Once, as she slept awhile at his side, being wakened by his groaning,
Benita looked at her watch. It was midnight. She rose, and going to the
embers of the little fire, warmed up some of her biltong broth which she
poured into a tin pannikin. With difficulty she forced him to swallow
a few mouthfuls of it, then, feeling a sudden weakness, drank the rest
herself. It gave her power to think, and her father dozed off into an
uneasy sleep.

Alas! thinking was of no use, nothing could be done. There was no hope
save in prayer. Restlessness seized Benita, and taking the lantern she
wandered round the cave. The wall that they had built remained intact,
and oh! to think that beyond it flowed the free air and shone the
blessed stars! Back she came again, skirting the pits that Jacob Meyer
had dug, and the grave of the old monk, till she reached the steps of
the crucifix, and holding up her candle, looked at the thorn-crowned
brow of the Christ above.

It was wonderfully carved; that dying face was full of pity. Would not
He Whom it represented pity her? She knelt down on the topmost step, and
clasping the pierced feet with her arms, began to pray earnestly, not
for herself but that she might save her father. She prayed as she had
never prayed before, and so praying, sank into a torpor or a swoon.

It seemed to Benita that this sleep of hers suddenly became alive; in it
she saw many things. For instance, she saw herself seated in a state of
trance upon that very step where now she knelt, while before her stood
her father and Jacob Meyer. Moreover, something spoke in her; she could
not hear a voice, but she seemed to see the words written in the air
before her. These were the words:--

“_Clasp the feet of the Christ and draw them to the left. The passage
beneath leads to the chamber where the gold is hid, and thence to the
river bank. That is the secret which ere I depart, I the dead Benita,
pass on to you, the living Benita, as I am commanded. In life and death
peace be to your soul._”

Thrice did this message appear to repeat itself in the consciousness
of Benita. Then, suddenly as she had slept, she woke again with every
letter of it imprinted on her mind. Doubtless it was a dream, nothing
but a dream bred by the fact that her arms were clasping the feet of the
crucifix. What did it say? “Draw them to the left.”

She did so, but nothing stirred. Again she tried, and still nothing
stirred. Of course it was a dream. Why had such been sent to mock her?
In a kind of mad irritation she put out all her remaining strength and
wrestled with those stony feet. _They moved a little_--then of a sudden,
without any further effort on her part, swung round as high as the knees
where drapery hung, concealing the join in them. Yes, they swung round,
revealing the head of a stair, up which blew a cold wind that it was
sweet to breathe.

Benita rose, gasping. Then she seized her lantern and ran to the little
tent where her father lay.



XXII

THE VOICE OF THE LIVING

Mr. Clifford was awake again now.

“Where have you been?” he asked querulously in a thin voice. “I wanted
you.” Then as the light from the candle shone upon it, he noted the
change that had come over her pale face, and added: “What has happened?
Is Meyer dead? Are we free?”

Benita shook her head. “He was alive a few hours ago, for I could hear
him raving and shouting outside the wall we built. But, father, it has
all come back to me; I believe that I have found it.”

“What has come back? What have you found? Are you mad, too, like Jacob?”

“What something told me when I was in the trance which afterwards I
forgot, but now remember. And I have found the passage which leads to
where they hid the gold. It begins behind the crucifix, where no one
ever thought of looking.”

This matter of the gold did not seem to interest Mr. Clifford. In his
state all the wealth beneath the soil of Africa would not have appealed
to him. Moreover, he hated the name of that accursed treasure, which was
bringing them to such a miserable end.

“Where does the passage run? Have you looked?” he asked.

“Not yet, but the voice in me said--I mean, I dreamed--that it goes down
to the river-side. If you leant on me do you think that you could walk?”

“Not one inch,” he answered. “Here where I am I shall die.”

“No, no, don’t talk like that. We may be saved now that I have found
a way. Oh, if only you could--if only you could walk, or if I had the
strength to carry you!” and she wrung her hands and began to weep, so
weak was she.

Her father looked at her searchingly. Then he said:

“Well, love, I cannot, so there’s an end. But you can, and you had
better go.”

“What! And leave you? Never.”

“Yes, and leave me. Look, there is but a little oil left and only a
few candles. The biscuits are done and neither of us can swallow
that biltong any more. I suppose that I am dying, and your health and
strength are failing you quickly in this darkness; if you stop here
you must soon follow me. And what is the alternative? The madman
outside--that is, if you could find strength to pull down the wall,
which I doubt. You had best go, Benita.”

But still she said she would not.

“Do you not see,” he added, “that it is my only chance of life? If you
go you may be able to bring me help before the end comes. Should there
be a passage the probability is that, although they know nothing of
it, it finishes somewhere by the wall of the first enclosure where the
Makalanga are. If so, you may find the Molimo, or if he is dead, Tamas
or one of the others, and they will help us. Go, Benita, go at once.”

“I never thought of that,” she answered in a changed voice. “Of course,
it may be so, if the passage goes down at all. Well, at least I can look
and come back to tell you.”

Then Benita placed the remainder of the oil close by her father’s
side, so that he could refill the lamp, for the use of his hands still
remained to him. Also, she set there such crumbs of biscuit as were
left, some of the biltong, a flask of Hollands, and a pail of water.
This done, she put on her long cloak, filled one of its pockets with
biltong, and the other with matches and three of the four remaining
candles. The fourth she insisted on leaving beside her father’s bed.
When everything was ready she knelt down at his side, kissed him, and
from her heart put up a prayer that they might both live to meet again,
although she knew well that this they could scarcely hope to do.

Had two people ever been in a more dreadful situation, she wondered, as
she looked at her father lying there, whom she must leave to fight with
Death alone in that awful place, while she went forth to meet him in the
unknown bowels of the earth!

Mr. Clifford read her thoughts. “Yes,” he said, “it is a strange parting
and a wild errand. But who knows? It may please Providence to take you
through, and if not--why, our troubles will soon be over.”

Then once more they kissed, and not daring to try to speak, Benita tore
herself away. Passing into the passage whereof the lower half of the
crucifix formed the door, she paused for a moment to examine it and to
place a fragment of rock in such fashion that it could not shut again
behind her. Her idea was that it worked by aid of some spring, but now
she saw that this was not so, as the whole mass hung upon three stone
hinges beautifully concealed. The dust and corrosion of ages which had
made this door so hard to open, by filling up the tiny spaces between it
and its framework, had also rendered these cracks utterly imperceptible
to the eye. So accurately was it fashioned, indeed, that no one who did
not know its secret would have discovered it if they searched for months
or years.

Though at the time Benita took little note of such details, the
passage beyond and the stair descending from it showed the same perfect
workmanship. Evidently this secret way dated not from the Portuguese
period, but from that of the Phoenicians or other ancients, to whose
treasure-chamber it was the approach, opening as it did from their
holy of holies, to which none were admitted save the head priests. The
passage, which was about seven feet high by four wide, had been hewn out
of the live rock of the mountain, for thousands of little marks left by
the workmen’s chisels were still discernible upon its walls. So it was
with the stair, that had been but little used, and remained fresh as the
day when it was finished.

Down the steps, candle in hand, flitted Benita, counting them as she
went. The thirtieth brought her to a landing. Here it was that she saw
the first traces of that treasure which they had suffered so much to
find. Something glittered at her feet. She picked it up. It was a little
bar of gold weighing two or three ounces that doubtless had been dropped
there. Throwing it down again she looked in front of her, and to her
dismay saw a door of wood with iron bolts. But the bolts had never been
shot, and when she pulled at it the door creaked upon its rusty hinges
and opened. She was on the threshold of the treasure-chamber!

It was square and of the size of a small room, packed on either side
almost to the low, vaulted roof with small bags of raw hide, carelessly
arranged. Quite near to the door one of these bags had slipped down
and burst open. It was filled with gold, some in ingots and some in raw
nuggets, for there they lay in a shining, scattered heap. As she stooped
to look it came into the mind of Benita that her father had said that in
her trance she had told them that one of the bags of treasure was burst,
and that the skin of which it had been made was black and red. Behold!
before her lay the burst bag, and the colour of the hide was black and
red.

She shivered. The thing was uncanny, terrible. Uncanny was it also
to see in the thick dust, which in the course of twenty or more of
centuries had gathered on the floor, the mark of footprints, those of
the last persons who had visited this place. There had been two of them,
a man and a woman, and they were no savages, for they wore shoes. Benita
placed her foot in the print left by that dead woman. It filled it
exactly, it might have been her own. Perhaps, she thought to herself,
that other Benita had descended here with her father, after the
Portuguese had hidden away their wealth, that she might be shown where
it was, and of what it consisted.

One more glance at all this priceless, misery-working gold, and on she
went, she who was seeking the gold of life and liberty for herself and
him who lay above. Supposing that the stairway ended there? She stopped,
she looked round, but could see no other door. To see the better she
halted and opened the glass of her lantern. Still she could perceive
nothing, and her heart sank. Yet why did the candle flicker so fiercely?
And why was the air in this deep place so fresh? She walked forward a
pace or two, then noticed suddenly that those footprints of the dead
that she was following disappeared immediately in front of her, and she
stopped.

It was but just in time. One step more and she would have fallen down
the mouth of a deep pit. Once it had been covered with a stone, but this
stone was removed, and had never been replaced. Look! there it stood
against the wall of the chamber. Well was this for Benita, since her
frail strength would not have sufficed to stir that massive block, even
if she had discovered its existence beneath the dust.

Now she saw that down the pit ran another ladderlike stair of stone,
very narrow and precipitous. Without hesitation she began its descent.
Down she went and down--one hundred steps, two hundred steps, two
hundred and seventy-five steps, and all the way wherever the dust had
gathered the man’s and the woman’s footprints ran before her. There was
a double line of them, one line going down and the other line returning.
Those that returned were the last, for often they appeared over those
that descended. Why had these dead people returned, Benita wondered.

The stair had ended; now she was in a kind of natural cave, for its
sides and roof were rugged; moreover, water trickled and dripped from
them. It was not very large, and it smelt horribly of mud and other
things. Again she searched by the feeble light of her candle, but could
see no exit. Suddenly she saw something else, however, for stepping
on what she took to be a rock, to her horror it moved beneath her. She
heard a snap as of jaws, a violent blow upon the leg nearly knocked
her off her feet, and as she staggered backwards she saw a huge and
loathsome shape rushing away into the darkness. The rock that she had
trodden on was a crocodile which had its den here! With a little scream
she retreated to her stair. Death she had expected--but to be eaten by
crocodiles!

Yet as Benita stood there panting a blessed hope rose in her breast. If
a crocodile came in there it must also get out, and where such a great
creature could go, a woman would be able to follow. Also, she must be
near the water, since otherwise it could never have chosen this hole for
its habitation. She collected her courage, and having clapped her hands
and waved the lantern about to scare any alligators that might still be
lurking there, hearing and seeing nothing more, she descended to where
she had trodden upon the reptile. Evidently this was its bed, for
its long body had left an impress upon the mud, and all about lay the
remains of creatures that it had brought in for food. Moreover, a path
ran outwards, its well-worn trail distinct even in that light.

She followed this path, which ended apparently in a blank wall. Then it
was that Benita guessed why those dead folks’ footprints had returned,
for here had been a doorway which in some past age those who used it
built up with blocks of stone and cement. How, then, did the crocodile
get out? Stooping down she searched, and perceived, a few yards to the
right of the door, a hole that looked as though it were water-worn.
Now Benita thought that she understood. The rock was softer here, and
centuries of flood had eaten it away, leaving a crack in the stratum
which the crocodiles had found out and enlarged. Down she went on her
hands and knees, and thrusting the lantern in front of her, crept along
that noisome drain, for this was what it resembled. And now--oh! now she
felt air blowing in her face, and heard the sound of reeds whispering,
and water running, and saw hanging like a lamp in the blue sky,
a star--the morning star! Benita could have wept, she could have
worshipped it, yet she pushed on between rocks till she found herself
among tall reeds, and standing in water. She had gained the banks of the
Zambesi.

Instantly, by instinct as it were, Benita extinguished her candle,
fearing lest it should betray her, for constant danger had made her very
cunning. The dawn had not yet broken, but the waning moon and the stars
gave a good light. She paused to look. There above her towered the
outermost wall of Bambatse, against which the river washed, except at
such times as the present, when it was very low.

So she was not in the fortress as she had hoped, but without it, and oh!
what should she do? Go back again? How would that serve her father or
herself? Go on? Then she might fall into the hands of the Matabele whose
camp was a little lower down, as from her perch upon the top of the cone
she had seen that poor white man do. Ah! the white man! If only he lived
and she could reach him! Perhaps they had not killed him after all. It
was madness, yet she would try to discover; something impelled her to
take the risk. If she failed and escaped, perhaps then she might call to
the Makalanga, and they would let down a rope and draw her up the wall
before the Matabele caught her. She would not go back empty-handed, to
die in that dreadful place with her poor father. Better perish here in
the sweet air and beneath the stars, even if it were upon a Matabele
spear, or by a bullet from her own pistol.

She looked about her to take her bearings in case it should ever be
necessary for her to return to the entrance of the cave. This proved
easy, for a hundred or so feet above her--where the sheer face of the
cliff jutted out a little, at that very spot indeed on which tradition
said that the body of the Señora da Ferreira had struck in its fall, and
the necklace Benita wore to-day was torn from her--a stunted mimosa grew
in some cleft of the rock. To mark the crocodile run itself she bent
down a bunch of reeds, and having first lit a few Tandstickor brimstone
matches and thrown them about inside of it, that the smell of them might
scare the beast should it wish to return, she set her lantern behind a
stone near to the mouth of the hole.

Then Benita began her journey which, when the river was high, it would
not have been possible for her to make except by swimming. As it was,
a margin of marsh was left between her and the steep, rocky side of the
mount from which the great wall rose, and through this she made her way.
Never was she likely to forget that walk. The tall reeds dripped
their dew upon her until she was soaked; long, black-tailed
finches--saccaboolas the natives call them--flew up undisturbed, and
lobbed away across the river; owls flitted past and bitterns boomed at
the coming of the dawn. Great fish splashed also in the shallows, or
were they crocodiles? Benita hoped not--for one day she had seen enough
of crocodiles.

It was all very strange. Could she be the same woman, she wondered,
who not a year before had been walking with her cousins down Westbourne
Grove, and studying Whiteley’s windows? What would these cousins say
now if they could see her, white-faced, large-eyed, desperate, splashing
through the mud upon the unknown banks of the Zambesi, flying from death
to death!

On she struggled, above her the pearly sky in which the stars were
fading, around her the wet reeds, and pervading all the heavy low-lying
mists of dawn. She was past the round of the walls, and at length stood
upon dry ground where the Matabele had made their camp. But in that fog
she saw no Matabele; probably their fires were out, and she chanced
to pass between the sentries. Instinctively, more than by reason, she
headed for that hillock upon which she had seen the white man’s waggon,
in the vague hope that it might still be there. On she struggled, still
on, till at length she blundered against something soft and warm, and
perceived that it was an ox tied to a trek-tow, beyond which were other
oxen and a white waggon-cap.

So it _was_ still there! But the white man, where was he? Through the
dense mist Benita crept to the disselboom. Then, seeing and hearing
nothing, she climbed to the voorkissie and kneeling on it, separated
the tent flaps and peered into the waggon. Still she could see nothing
because of the mist, yet she heard something, a man breathing in his
sleep. Somehow she thought that it was a white man; a Kaffir did not
breathe like that. She did not know what to do, so remained kneeling
there. It seemed as though the man who was asleep began to feel her
presence, for he muttered to himself--surely the words were English!
Then quite suddenly he struck a match and lit a candle which stood in
a beer bottle by his side. She could not see his face while he lit the
match, for his arm hid it, and the candle burned up slowly. Then the
first thing she saw was the barrel of a revolver pointing straight at
her.

“Now, my black friend,” said a pleasant voice, “down you go or I shoot.
One, two! Oh, my God!”

The candle burned up, its light fell upon the white, elfish face of
Benita, whose long dark hair streamed about her; it shone in her great
eyes. Still she could see nothing, for it dazzled her.

“Oh, my God!” said the voice again. “Benita! Benita! Have you come to
tell me that I must join you? Well, I am ready, my sweet, my sweet! Now
I shall hear your answer.”

“Yes,” she whispered, and crawling forward down the cartel Benita fell
upon his breast.

For she knew him at last--dead or living she cared not--she knew him,
and out of hell crept to him, her heaven and her home!



XXIII

BENITA GIVES HER ANSWER

“Your answer, Benita,” Robert said dreamily, for to him this thing
seemed a dream.

“Have I not given it, months ago? Oh, I remember, it was only in my
heart, not on my lips, when that blow fell on me! Then afterwards I
heard what you had done and I nearly died. I wished that I might die
to be with you, but I could not. I was too strong; now I understand the
reason. Well, it seems that we are both living, and whatever happens,
here is my answer, if it is worth anything to you. Once and for all,
I love you. I am not ashamed to say it, because very soon we may be
separated for the last time. But I cannot talk now, I have come here to
save my father.”

“Where is he, Benita?”

“Dying in a cave up at the top of that fortress. I got down by a secret
way. Are the Matabele still here?”

“Very much so,” he answered. “But something has happened. My guard woke
me an hour ago to say that a messenger had arrived from their king,
Lobengula, and now they are talking over the message. That is how you
came to get through, otherwise the sentries would have assegaied you,
the brutes,” and he drew her to him and kissed her passionately for the
first time; then, as though ashamed of himself, let her go.

“Have you anything to eat?” she asked. “I--I--am starving. I didn’t feel
it before, but now----”

“Starving, you starving, while I--look, here is some cold meat which
I could not get down last night, and put by for the Kaffirs. Great
Heavens! that I should feed you with Kaffirs’ leavings! But it is
good--eat it.”

Benita took the stuff in her fingers and swallowed it greedily; she
who for days had lived on nothing but a little biscuit and biltong. It
tasted delicious to her--never had she eaten anything so good. And all
the while he watched her with glowing eyes.

“How can you look at me?” she said at length. “I must be horrible; I
have been living in the dark and crawling through mud. I trod upon a
crocodile!” and she shuddered.

“Whatever you are I never want to see you different,” he answered
slowly. “To me you are most beautiful.”

Even then, wreck as she was, the poor girl flushed, and there was a mist
in her eyes as she looked up and said:

“Thank you. I don’t care now what happens to me, and what has happened
doesn’t matter at all. But can we get away?”

“I don’t know,” he answered; “but I doubt it. Go and sit on the
waggon-box for a few minutes while I dress, and we will see.”

Benita went. The mist was thinning now, and through it she saw a sight
at which her heart sank, for between her and the mount Bambatse Matabele
were pouring towards their camp on the river’s edge. They were cut off.
A couple of minutes later Robert joined her, and as he came she looked
at him anxiously in the growing light. He seemed older than when
they had parted on the _Zanzibar_; changed, too, for now his face was
serious, and he had grown a beard; also, he appeared to limp.

“I am afraid there is an end,” she said, pointing to the Matabele below.

“Yes, it looks like it. But like you, I say, what does it matter now?”
 and he took her hand in his, adding: “let us be happy while we can if
only for a few minutes. They will be here presently.”

“What are you?” she asked. “A prisoner?”

“That’s it. I was following you when they captured me; for I have been
here before and knew the way. They were going to kill me on general
principles, only it occurred to one of them who was more intelligent
than the rest that I, being a white man, might be able to show them how
to storm the place. Now I was sure that you were there, for I saw you
standing on that point, though they thought you were the Spirit of
Bambatse. So I wasn’t anxious to help them, for then--you know what
happens when the Matabele are the stormers! But--as you still lived--I
wasn’t anxious to die either. So I set them to work to dig a hole with
their assegais and sharp axes, through granite. They have completed
exactly twenty feet of it, and I reckon that there are one hundred and
forty to go. Last night they got tired of that tunnel and talked of
killing me again, unless I could show them a better plan. Now all the
fat is in the fire, and I don’t know what is to happen. Hullo! here they
come. Hide in the waggon, quick!”

Benita obeyed, and from under cover of the tent where the Matabele could
not see her, watched and listened. The party that approached consisted
of a chief and about twenty men, who marched behind him as a guard.
Benita knew that chief. He was the captain Maduna, he of the royal blood
whose life she had saved. By his side was a Natal Zulu, Robert Seymour’s
driver, who could speak English and acted as interpreter.

“White man,” said Maduna, “a message has reached us from our king.
Lobengula makes a great war and has need of us. He summons us back from
this petty fray, this fight against cowards who hide behind walls, whom
otherwise we would have killed, everyone, yes, if we sat here till we
grew old. So for this time we leave them alone.”

Robert answered politely that he was glad to hear it, and wished them a
good journey.

“Wish yourself a good journey, white man,” was the stern reply.

“Why? Do you desire that I should accompany you to Lobengula?”

“No, you go before us to the kraal of the Black One who is even greater
than the child of Moselikatse, to that king who is called Death.”

Robert crossed his arms and said: “Say on.”

“White man, I promised you life if you would show us how to pierce or
climb those walls. But you have made fools of us--you have set us to cut
through rock with spears and axes. Yes, to hoe at rock as though it were
soil--you who with the wisdom of your people could have taught us some
better way. Therefore we must go back to our king disgraced, having
failed in his service, and therefore you who have mocked us shall die.
Come down now, that we may kill you quietly, and learn whether or no you
are a brave man.”

Then it was, while her lover’s hand was moving towards the pistol hidden
beneath his coat, that Benita, with a quick movement, emerged from the
waggon in which she crouched, and stood up at his side upon the driving
box.

“_Ow!_” said the Captain. “It is the White Maiden. Now how came she
here? Surely this is great magic. Can a woman fly like a bird?” and they
stared at her amazed.

“What does it matter how I came, chief Maduna?” she answered in Zulu.
“Yet I will tell you why I came. It was to save you from dipping your
spear in the innocent blood, and bringing on your head the curse of the
innocent blood. Answer me now. Who gave you and your brother yonder your
lives within that wall when the Makalanga would have torn you limb from
limb, as hyenas tear a buck? Was it I or another?”

“Inkosi-kaas--Chieftainess,” replied the great Captain, raising his
broad spear in salute. “It was you and no other.”

“And what did you promise me then, Prince Maduna?”

“Maiden of high birth, I promised you your life and your goods, should
you ever fall into my power.”

“Does a leader of the Amandabele, one of the royal blood, lie like a
Mashona or a Makalanga slave? Does he do worse--tell half the truth
only, like a cheat who buys and keeps back half the price?” she asked
contemptuously. “Maduna, you promised me not one life, but two, two
lives and the goods that belong to both. Ask of your brother there, who
was witness of the words.”

“Great Heavens!” muttered Robert Seymour to himself, as he looked at
Benita standing with outstretched hand and flashing eyes. “Who would
have thought that a starved woman could play such a part with death on
the hazard?”

“It is as this daughter of white chiefs says,” answered the man to whom
she had appealed. “When she freed us from the fangs of those dogs, you
promised her two lives, my brother, one for yours and one for mine.”

“Hear him,” went on Benita. “He promised me two lives, and how did this
prince of the royal blood keep his promise? When I and the old man, my
father, rode hence in peace, he loosed his spears upon us; he hunted us.
Yet it was the hunters who fell into the trap, not the hunted.”

“Maiden,” replied Maduna, in a shamed voice, “that was your fault, not
mine. If you had appealed to me I would have let you go. But you killed
my sentry, and then the chase began, and ere I knew who you were my
runners were out of call.”

“Little time had I to ask your mercy; but so be it,” said Benita. “I
accept your word, and I forgive you that offence. Now fulfil your oath.
Begone and leave us in peace.”

Still Maduna hesitated.

“I must make report to the king,” he said. “What is this white man to
you that I should spare him? I give you your life and your father’s
life, not that of this white man who has tricked us. If he were your
father, or your brother, it would be otherwise. But he is a stranger,
and belongs to me, not to you.”

“Maduna,” she asked, “do women such as I am share the waggon of a
stranger? This man is more to me than father or brother. He is my
husband, and I claim his life.”

“_Ow!_” said the spokesman of the audience, “we understand now. She is
his wife, and has a right to him. If she were not his wife she would not
be in his waggon. It is plain that she speaks the truth, though how she
came here we do not know, unless, as we think, she is a witch,” and he
smiled at his own cleverness.

“Inkosi-kaas,” said Maduna, “you have persuaded me. I give you the life
of that white fox, your husband, and I hope that he will not trick you
as he has tricked us, and set you to hoe rock instead of soil,” and he
looked at Robert wrathfully. “I give him to you and all his belongings.
Now, is there anything else that you would ask?”

“Yes,” replied Benita coolly, “you have many oxen there which you took
from the other Makalanga. Mine are eaten and I need cattle to draw
my waggon. I ask a present of twenty of them, and,” she added by an
afterthought, “two cows with young calves, for my father is sick yonder,
and must have milk.”

“Oh! give them to her. Give them to her,” said Maduna, with a tragic
gesture that in any other circumstances would have made Benita laugh.
“Give them to her and see that they are good ones, before she asks our
shields and spears also--for after all she saved my life.”

So men departed to fetch those cows and oxen, which presently were
driven in.

While this talk was in progress the great impi of the Matabele was
massing for the march, on the flat ground a little to the right of
them. Now they began to come past in companies, preceded by the lads
who carried the mats and cooking-pots and drove the captured sheep and
cattle. By this time the story of Benita, the witch-woman whom they
could not kill, and who had mysteriously flown from the top of the peak
into their prisoner’s waggon, had spread among them. They knew also that
it was she who had saved their general from the Makalanga, and those who
had heard her admired the wit and courage with which she had pleaded
and won her cause. Therefore, as they marched past in their companies,
singing a song of abuse and defiance of the Makalanga who peered at them
from the top of the wall, they lifted their great spears in salutation
to Benita standing upon the waggon-box.

Indeed, they were a wondrous and imposing spectacle, such a one as few
white women have ever seen.

At length all were gone except Maduna and a body-guard of two hundred
men. He walked to the front of the waggon and addressed Robert Seymour.

“Listen, you fox who set us to hoe granite,” he said indignantly. “You
have outwitted us this time, but if ever I meet you again, then you die.
Now I have given you your life, but,” he added, almost pleadingly, “if
you are really brave as white men are said to be, will you not come down
and fight me man to man for honour’s sake?”

“I think not,” answered Robert, when he understood this challenge, “for
what chance should I have against so brave a warrior? Also this lady--my
wife--needs my help on her journey home.”

Maduna turned from him contemptuously to Benita.

“I go,” he said, “and fear not; you will meet no Matabele on that
journey. Have you more words for me, O Beautiful One, with a tongue of
oil and a wit that cuts like steel?”

“Yes,” answered Benita. “You have dealt well with me, and in reward I
give you of my good luck. Bear this message to your king from the
White Witch of Bambatse, for I am she and no other. That he leave these
Makalanga, my servants, to dwell unharmed in their ancient home, and
that he lift no spear against the White Men, lest that evil which the
Molimo foretold to you, should fall upon him.”

“Ah!” said Maduna, “now I understand how you flew from the mountain top
into this man’s waggon. You are not a white woman, you are the ancient
Witch of Bambatse herself. You have said it, and with such it is not
well to war. Great lady of Magic, Spirit from of old, I salute you, and
I thank you for your gifts of life and fortune. Farewell.”

Then he, too, stalked away at the head of his guard, so that presently,
save for the three Zulu servants and the herd of cattle, Robert and
Benita were left utterly alone.

Now, her part played and the victory won, Benita burst into tears and
fell upon her lover’s breast.

Presently she remembered, and freed herself from his arms.

“I am a selfish wretch,” she said. “How dare I be so happy when my
father is dead or dying? We must go at once.”

“Go where?” asked the bewildered Robert.

“To the top of the mountain, of course, whence I came. Oh! please don’t
stop to question me, I’ll tell you as we walk. Stay,” and she called
to the Zulu driver, who with an air of utter amazement was engaged in
milking one of the gift cows, to fill two bottles with the milk.

“Had we not better shout to the Makalanga to let us in?” suggested
Robert, while this was being done, and Benita wrapped some cooked meat
in a cloth.

“No, no. They will think I am what I said I was--the Witch of Bambatse,
whose appearance heralds misfortune, and fear a trap. Besides, we could
not climb the top wall. You must follow my road, and if you can trust
them, bring two of those men with you with lanterns. The lad can stop to
herd the cattle.”

Three minutes later, followed by the two Zulus, they were walking--or
rather, running--along the banks of the Zambesi.

“Why do you not come quicker?” she asked impatiently. “Oh, I beg your
pardon, you are lame. Robert, what made you lame, and oh! why are you
not dead, as they all swore you were, you, you--hero, for I know that
part of the story?”

“For a very simple reason, Benita: because I didn’t die. When that
Kaffir took the watch from me I was insensible, that’s all. The sun
brought me to life afterwards. Then some natives turned up, good people
in their way, although I could not understand a word they said. They
made a stretcher of boughs and carried me for some miles to their kraal
inland. It hurt awfully, for my thigh was broken, but I arrived at last.
There a Kaffir doctor set my leg in his own fashion; it has left it an
inch shorter than the other, but that’s better than nothing.

“In that place I lay for two solid months, for there was no white
man within a hundred miles, and if there had been I could not have
communicated with him. Afterwards I spent another month limping up
towards Natal, until I could buy a horse. The rest is very short.
Hearing of my reported death, I came as fast as I could to your father’s
farm, Rooi Krantz, where I learned from the old vrouw Sally that you had
taken to treasure-hunting, the same treasure that I told you of on the
_Zanzibar_.

“So I followed your spoor, met the servants whom you had sent back, who
told me all about you, and in due course, after many adventures, as they
say in a book, walked into the camp of our friends, the Matabele.

“They were going to kill me at once, when suddenly you appeared upon
that point of rock, glittering like--like the angel of the dawn. I knew
that it must be you, for I had found out about your attempted escape,
and how you were hunted back to this place. But the Matabele all thought
that it was the Spirit of Bambatse, who has a great reputation in these
parts. Well, that took off their attention, and afterwards, as I told
you, it occurred to them that I might be an engineer. You know the rest,
don’t you?”

“Yes,” answered Benita softly. “I know the rest.”

Then they plunged into the reeds and were obliged to stop talking, since
they must walk in single file. Presently Benita looked up and saw that
she was under the thorn which grew in the cleft of the rock. Also, with
some trouble she found the bunch of reeds that she had bent down, to
mark the inconspicuous hole through which she had crept, and by it her
lantern. It seemed weeks since she had left it there.

“Now,” she said, “light your candles, and if you see a crocodile, please
shoot.”



XXIV

THE TRUE GOLD

“Let me go first,” said Robert.

“No,” answered Benita. “I know the way; but please do watch for that
horrible crocodile.”

Then she knelt down and crept into the hole, while after her came
Robert, and after him the two Zulus, who protested that they were not
ant-bears to burrow under ground. Lifting the lantern she searched the
cave, and as she could see no signs of the crocodile, walked on boldly
to where the stair began.

“Be quick,” she whispered to Robert, for in that place it seemed natural
to speak low. “My father is above and near his death. I am dreadfully
afraid lest we should be too late.”

So they toiled up the endless steps, a very strange procession, for the
two Zulus, bold men enough outside, were shaking with fright, till at
length Benita clambered out of the trap door on to the floor of the
treasure chamber, and turned to help Robert, whose lameness made him
somewhat slow and awkward.

“What’s all that?” he asked, pointing to the hide sacks, while they
waited for the two scared Kaffirs to join them.

“Oh!” she answered indifferently, “gold, I believe. Look, there is some
of it on the floor, over Benita da Ferreira’s footsteps.”

“Gold! Why, it must be worth----! And who on earth is Benita da
Ferreira?”

“I will tell you afterwards. She has been dead two or three hundred
years; it was her gold, or her people’s, and those are her footprints in
the dust. How stupid you are not to understand! Never mind the hateful
stuff; come on quickly.”

So they passed the door which she had opened that morning, and clambered
up the remaining stairway. So full was Benita of terrors that she
could never remember how she climbed them. Suppose that the foot of the
crucifix had swung to; suppose that her father were dead; suppose that
Jacob Meyer had broken into the cave? Well for herself she was no longer
afraid of Jacob Meyer. Oh, they were there! The heavy door _had_ begun
to close, but mercifully her bit of rock kept it ajar.

“Father! Father!” she cried, running towards the tent.

No answer came. She threw aside the flap, held down the lantern and
looked. There he lay, white and still. She was too late!

“He is dead, he is dead!” she wailed. Robert knelt down at her side, and
examined the old man, while she waited in an agony.

“He ought to be,” he said slowly; “but, Benita, I don’t think he is. I
can feel his heart stir. No, don’t stop to talk. Pour out some of that
squareface, and here, mix it with this milk.”

She obeyed, and while he held up her father’s head, with a trembling
hand emptied a little of the drink into his mouth. At first it ran out
again, then almost automatically he swallowed some, and they knew that
he was alive, and thanked Heaven. Ten minutes later Mr. Clifford was
sitting up staring at them with dull and wondering eyes, while
outside the two Zulus, whose nerves had now utterly broken down, were
contemplating the pile of skeletons in the corner and the white towering
crucifix, and loudly lamenting that they should have been brought to
perish in this place of bones and ghosts.

“Is it Jacob Meyer who makes that noise?” asked Mr. Clifford faintly.
“And, Benita, where have you been so long, and--who is this gentleman
with you? I seem to remember his face.”

“He is the white man who was in the waggon, father, an old friend come
to life again. Robert, can’t you stop the howling of those Kaffirs?
Though I am sure I don’t wonder that they howl; I should have liked
to do so for days. Oh! father, father, don’t you understand me? We are
saved, yes, snatched out of hell and the jaws of death.”

“Is Jacob Meyer dead, then?” he asked.

“I don’t know where he is or what has happened to him, and I don’t care,
but perhaps we had better find out. Robert, there is a madman outside.
Make the Kaffirs pull down that wall, would you? and catch him.”

“What wall? What madman?” he asked, staring at her.

“Oh, of course you don’t know that, either. You know nothing. I’ll show
you, and you must be prepared, for probably he will shoot at us.”

“It all sounds a little risky, doesn’t it?” asked Robert doubtfully.

“Yes, but we must take the risk. We cannot carry my father down that
place, and unless we can get him into light and air soon, he will
certainly die. The man outside is Jacob Meyer, his partner--you remember
him. All these weeks of hardship and treasure-hunting have sent him off
his head, and he wanted to mesmerize me and----”

“And what? Make love to you?”

She nodded, then went on:

“So when he could not get his way about the mesmerism and so forth, he
threatened to murder my father, and that is why we had to hide in this
cave and build ourselves up, till at last I found the way out.”

“Amiable gentleman, Mr. Jacob Meyer, now as always,” said Robert
flushing. “To think that you should have been in the power of a
scoundrel like that! Well, I hope to come square with him.”

“Don’t hurt him, dear, unless you are obliged. Remember he is not
responsible. He thought he saw a ghost here the other day.”

“Unless he behaves himself he is likely to see a good many soon,”
 muttered Robert.

Then they went down the cave, and as silently as possible began to work
at the wall, destroying in a few minutes what had been built up with so
much labour. When it was nearly down the Zulus were told that there was
an enemy outside, and that they must help to catch him if necessary, but
were not to harm him. They assented gladly enough; indeed, to get out of
that cave they would have faced half a dozen enemies.

Now there was a hole right through the wall, and Robert bade Benita
stand to one side. Then as soon as his eyes became accustomed to the
little light that penetrated there, he drew his revolver and beckoned
the Kaffirs to follow. Down the passage they crept, slowly, lest they
should be blinded when they came to the glare of the sunshine, while
Benita waited with a beating heart.

A little time went by, she never knew how long, till suddenly a rifle
shot rang through the stillness. Benita was able to bear no more. She
rushed down the winding passage, and presently, just beyond its mouth,
in a blurred and indistinct fashion saw that the two white men were
rolling together on the ground, while the Kaffirs sprang round watching
for an opportunity to seize one of them. At that moment they succeeded,
and Robert rose, dusting his hands and knees.

“Amiable gentleman, Mr. Jacob Meyer,” he repeated. “I could have killed
him as his back was towards me, but didn’t because you asked me not.
Then I stumbled with my lame leg, and he whipped round and let drive
with his rifle. Look,” and he showed her where the bullet had cut his
ear. “Luckily I got hold of him before he could loose off another.”

Benita could find no words, her heart was too full of thankfulness. Only
she seized Robert’s hand and kissed it. Then she looked at Jacob.

He was lying upon the broad of his back, the two big Zulus holding his
arms and legs; his lips were cracked, blue and swollen; his face was
almost black, but his eyes still shone bright with insanity and hate.

“I know you,” he screamed hoarsely to Robert. “You are another ghost,
the ghost of that man who was drowned. Otherwise my bullet would have
killed you.”

“Yes, Mr. Meyer,” Seymour answered, “I am a ghost. Now, you boys, here’s
a bit of rope. Tie his hands behind his back and search him. There is a
pistol in that pocket.”

They obeyed, and presently Meyer was disarmed and bound fast to a tree.

“Water,” he moaned. “For days I have had nothing but the dew I could
lick off the leaves.”

Pitying his plight, Benita ran into the cave and returned presently with
a tin of water. One of the Kaffirs held it to his lips, and he drank
greedily. Then, leaving one Zulu to watch him, Robert, Benita, and
the other Zulu went back, and as gently as they could carried out Mr.
Clifford on his mattress, placing him in the shade of a rock, where he
lay blessing them feebly, because they had brought him into the light
again. At the sight of the old man Meyer’s rage blazed up afresh.

“Ah,” he screamed, “if only I had killed you long ago, she would be mine
now, not that fellow’s. It was you who stood between us.”

“Look here, my friend,” broke in Robert. “I forgive you everything else,
but, mad or sane, be good enough to keep Miss Clifford’s name off your
lips, or I will hand you over to those Kaffirs to be dealt with as you
deserve.”

Then Jacob understood, and was silent. They gave him more water and
food to eat, some of the meat that they had brought with them, which he
devoured ravenously.

“Are you sensible now?” asked Robert when he had done. “Then listen to
me; I have some good news for you. That treasure you have been hunting
for has been found. We are going to give you half of it, one of the
waggons and some oxen, and clear you out of this place. Then if I set
eyes on you again before we get to a civilized country, I shoot you like
a dog.”

“You lie!” said Meyer sullenly. “You want to turn me out into the
wilderness to be murdered by the Makalanga or the Matabele.”

“Very well,” said Robert. “Untie him, boys, and bring him along. I will
show him whether I lie.”

“Where are they taking me to?” asked Meyer. “Not into the cave? I won’t
go into the cave; it is haunted. If it hadn’t been for the ghost there
I would have broken down their wall long ago, and killed that old snake
before her eyes. Whenever I went near that wall I saw it watching me.”

“First time I ever heard of a ghost being useful,” remarked Robert.
“Bring him along. No, Benita, he shall see whether I am a liar.”

So the lights were lit, and the two stalwart Zulus hauled Jacob forward,
Robert and Benita following. At first he struggled violently, then, on
finding that he could not escape, went on, his teeth chattering with
fear.

“It is cruel,” remonstrated Benita.

“A little cruelty will not do him any harm,” Robert answered. “He has
plenty to spare for other people. Besides, he is going to get what he
has been looking for so long.”

They led Jacob to the foot of the crucifix, where a paroxysm seemed to
seize him, then pushed him through the swinging doorway beneath,
and down the steep stairs, till once more they all stood in the
treasure-chamber.

“Look,” said Robert, and, drawing his hunting-knife, he slashed one of
the hide bags, whereon instantly there flowed out a stream of beads and
nuggets. “Now, my friend, am I a liar?” he asked.

At this wondrous sight Jacob’s terror seemed to depart from him, and he
grew cunning.

“Beautiful, beautiful!” he said, “more than I thought--sacks and sacks
of gold. I shall be a king indeed. No, no, it is all a dream--like the
rest. I don’t believe it’s there. Loose my arms and let me feel it.”

“Untie him,” said Robert, at the same time drawing his pistol and
covering the man; “he can’t do us any hurt.”

The Kaffirs obeyed, and Jacob, springing at the slashed bag, plunged his
thin hands into it.

“No lie,” he screamed, “no lie,” as he dragged the stuff out and smelt
at it. “Gold, gold, gold! Hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of
gold! Let’s make a bargain, Englishman, and I won’t kill you as I meant
to do. You take the girl and give me all the gold,” and in his ecstasy
he began to pour the glittering ingots over his head and body.

“A new version of the tale of Danaë,” began Robert in a sarcastic
voice, then suddenly paused, for a change had come over Jacob’s face, a
terrible change.

It turned ashen beneath the tan, his eyes grew large and round, he put
up his hands as though to thrust something from him, his whole frame
shivered, and his hair seemed to erect itself. Slowly he retreated
backwards, and would have fallen down the unclosed trap-hole had not one
of the Kaffirs pushed him away. Back he went, still back, till he struck
the further wall and stood there, perhaps for half a minute. He lifted
his hand and pointed first to those ancient footprints, some of which
still remained in the dust of the floor, and next, as they thought, at
Benita. His lips moved fast, he seemed to be pleading, remonstrating,
yet--and this was the ghastliest part of it--from them there came no
sound. Lastly, his eyes rolled up until only the whites of them were
visible, his face became wet as though water had been poured over it,
and, still without a sound, he fell forward and moved no more.

So terrible was the scene that with a howl of fear the two Kaffirs
turned and fled up the stairway. Robert sprang to the Jew, dragged
him over on to his back, put his hand upon his breast and lifted his
eyelids.

“Dead,” he said. “Stone dead. Privation, brain excitement, heart
failure--that’s the story.”

“Perhaps,” answered Benita faintly; “but really I think that I begin to
believe in ghosts also. Look, I never noticed them before, and I didn’t
walk there, but those footsteps seem to lead right up to him.” Then she
turned too and fled.


Another week had gone by. The waggons were laden with a burden more
precious perhaps than waggons have often borne before. In one of them,
on a veritable bed of gold, slept Mr. Clifford, still very weak and
ill, but somewhat better than he had been, and with a good prospect
of recovery, at any rate for a while. They were to trek a little after
dawn, and already Robert and Benita were up and waiting. She touched his
arm and said to him:

“Come with me. I have a fancy to see that place once more, for the last
time.”

So they climbed the hill and the steep steps in the topmost wall that
Meyer had blocked--re-opened now--and reaching the mouth of the cave,
lit the lamps which they had brought with them, and entered. There were
the fragments of the barricade that Benita had built with desperate
hands, there was the altar of sacrifice standing cold and grey as it had
stood for perhaps three thousand years. There was the tomb of the old
monk who had a companion now, for in it Jacob Meyer lay with him, his
bones covered by the _débris_ that he himself had dug out in his mad
search for wealth; and there the white Christ hung awful on His cross.
Only the skeletons of the Portuguese were gone, for with the help of his
Kaffirs Robert had moved them every one into the empty treasure-chamber,
closing the trap beneath, and building up the door above, so that there
they might lie in peace at last.

In this melancholy place they tarried but a little while, then, turning
their backs upon it for ever, went out and climbed the granite cone to
watch the sun rise over the broad Zambesi. Up it came in glory, that
same sun which had shone upon the despairing Benita da Ferreira, and
upon the English Benita when she had stood there in utter hopelessness,
and seen the white man captured by the Matabele.

Now, different was their state indeed, and there in that high place,
whence perhaps many a wretched creature had been cast to death, whence
certainly the Portuguese maiden had sought her death, these two happy
beings were not ashamed to give thanks to Heaven for the joy which it
had vouchsafed to them, and for their hopes of life full and long to be
travelled hand in hand. Behind them was the terror of the cave, beneath
them were the mists of the valley, but above them the light shone and
rolled and sparkled, and above them stretched the eternal sky!

They descended the pillar, and near the foot of it saw an old man
sitting. It was Mambo, the Molimo of the Makalanga: even when they were
still far away from him they knew his snow-white head and thin, ascetic
face. As they drew near Benita perceived that his eyes were closed, and
whispered to Robert that he was asleep. Yet he had heard them coming,
and even guessed her thought.

“Maiden,” he said in his gentle voice, “maiden who soon shall be a wife,
I do not sleep, although I dream of you as I have dreamt before. What
did I say to you that day when first we met? That for you I had good
tidings; that though death was all about you, you need not fear; that
in this place you who had known great sorrow should find happiness
and rest. Yet, maiden, you would not believe the words of the Munwali,
spoken by his prophet’s lips, as he at your side, who shall be your
husband, would not believe me in years past when I told him that we
should meet again.”

“Father,” she answered, “I thought your rest was that which we find only
in the grave.”

“You would not believe,” he went on without heeding her, “and therefore
you tried to fly, and therefore your heart was torn with terror and with
agony, when it should have waited for the end in confidence and peace.”

“Father, my trial was very sore.”

“Maiden, I know it, and because it was so sore that patient Spirit of
Bambatse bore with you, and through it all guided your feet aright. Yes,
with you has that Spirit gone, by day, by night, in the morning and in
the evening. Who was it that smote the man who lies dead yonder with
horror and with madness when he would have bent your will to his and
made you a wife to him? Who was it that told you the secret of the
treasure-pit, and what footsteps went before you down its stair? Who was
it that led you past the sentries of the Amandabele and gave you wit and
power to snatch your lord’s life from Maduna’s bloody hand? Yes, with
you it has gone and with you it will go. No more shall the White Witch
stand upon the pillar point at the rising of the sun, or in the shining
of the moon.”

“Father, I have never understood you, and I do not understand you now,”
 said Benita. “What has this spirit to do with me?”

He smiled a little, then answered slowly:

“That I may not tell you; that you shall learn one day, but never here.
When you also have entered into silence, then you shall learn. But I say
to you that this shall not be till your hair is as white as mine, and
your years are as many. Ah! you thought that I had deserted you, when
fearing for your father’s life you wept and prayed in the darkness of
the cave. Yet it was not so, for I did but suffer the doom which I had
read to fulfil itself as it must do.”

He rose to his feet and, resting on his staff, laid one withered hand
upon the head of Benita.

“Maiden,” he said, “we meet no more beneath the sun. Yet because you
have brought deliverance to my people, because you are sweet and pure
and true, take with you the blessing of Munwali, spoken by the mouth of
his servant Mambo, the old Molimo of Bambatse. Though from time to time
you must know tears and walk in the shade of sorrows, long and happy
shall be your days with him whom you have chosen. Children shall spring
up about you, and children’s children, and with them also shall the
blessing go. The gold you white folk love is yours, and it shall
multiply and give food to the hungry and raiment to those that are
a-cold. Yet in your own heart lies a richer store that cannot melt away,
the countless treasure of mercy and of love. When you sleep and when
you wake Love shall take you by the hand, till at length he leads you
through life’s dark cave to that eternal house of purest gold which soon
or late those that seek it shall inherit,” and with his staff he pointed
to the glowing morning sky wherein one by one little rosy clouds floated
upwards and were lost.

To Robert and to Benita’s misty eyes they looked like bright-winged
angels throwing wide the black doors of night, and heralding that
conquering glory at whose advent despair and darkness flee away.





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