Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

That's French for "the ancient system," as in the ancient system of feudal privileges and the exercise of autocratic power over the peasants. The ancien regime never goes away, like vampires and dinosaur bones they are always hidden in the earth, exercising a mysterious influence. It is not paranoia to believe that the elites scheme against the common man. Inform yourself about their schemes here.

Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 5:59 am

Benita: An African Romance
by H. Rider Haggard
1906

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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.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

• I
• II
• III
• IV
• V
• VI
• VII
• VIII
• IX
• X
• XI
• XII
• XIII
• XIV
• XV
• XVI
• XVII
• XVIII
• XIX
• XX
• XXI
• XXII
• XXIII
• XXIV
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:00 am

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.”
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:01 am

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.
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:01 am

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.”
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:01 am

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.”
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:02 am

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.”
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:02 am

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.
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:02 am

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.
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:03 am

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.”
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:03 am

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.”
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