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.

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

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

X. THE MOUNTAIN TOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, still chanting his mystic song, he led Benita by the hand out of the light, onward into darkness, away from life, onward into the place of death.
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:04 am

XI. THE SLEEPERS IN THE CAVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is Mr. Meyer?” she asked.

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

Benita uttered an exclamation of horror.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They shook their heads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Still, I will descend it, and to-morrow,” said Meyer.
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:04 am

XII. THE BEGINNING OF THE SEARCH

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

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

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

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

“What happened to you?” asked Clifford.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, with a contemptuous glance at Jacob, the old man turned and glided back into the darkness out of which he had appeared.
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:04 am

XIII. BENITA PLANS ESCAPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

She started, but answered readily enough:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I travel my road alone, Mr. Meyer.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What reason, Benita?”

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

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

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

“Also what, dear?”

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

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

“Go on.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He stared at her and answered:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh! I forgot. The Makalanga with their ghosts and you with your Sunday—really I do not know which is the worse. Well, then, I must do my own share and yours too, I suppose,” and he turned with a shrug of his shoulders.
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:05 am

XIV. THE FLIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, why don’t you?” asked Benita.

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

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

Mr. Clifford looked after him doubtfully.

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

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

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

“Dear Meyer,

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

“T. Clifford.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The two of them consulted hastily together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Matabele,” he said. “My God! the Matabele!”
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:05 am

XV. THE CHASE

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

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

“That runs back to Bambatse,” faltered Benita.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you see that?” he asked.

She nodded; then said:

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

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

So they pushed on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Never, never!” she exclaimed.

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

By way of answer Benita pulled up the horse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh! how can I——” he faltered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So you have returned from your ride, Miss Clifford, and perhaps it was as well that the thought came from you to me that you wished me to meet you here in this very place.”
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:05 am

XVI. BACK AT BAMBATSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But are you safe, my Father?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who?”

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

“The Molimo said that too, but why?”

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

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

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

“Why, why?” gasped Benita again.

“God knows,” he answered with a groan; “but I think that he is sure that we shall never find the gold without you, since the Molimo has told him that it is for you and you alone, and he says the old man has second sight, or something of the sort. Well, he would have murdered me—I saw it in his eye—so I thought it better to give in rather than that you should be left here sick and alone. Of course there was one way——” and he paused.

She looked at him and asked:

“What way?”

“To shoot him before he shot me,” he answered in a whisper, “for your sake, dear—but I could not bring myself to do it.”

“No,” she said with a shudder, “not that—not that. Better that we should die than that his blood should be upon our hands. Now I will get up and try to show no fear. I am sure that is best, and perhaps we shall be able to escape somehow. Meanwhile, let us humour him, and pretend to go on looking for this horrible treasure.”

So Benita rose to discover that, save for her stiffness, she was but little the worse, and finding all things placed in readiness, set to work with her father’s help to cook the evening meal as usual. Of Meyer, who doubtless had placed things in readiness, she saw nothing.

Before nightfall he came, however, as she knew he would. Indeed, although she heard no step and her back was towards him, she felt his presence; the sense of it fell upon her like a cold shadow. Turning round she beheld the man. He was standing close by, but above her, upon a big granite boulder, in climbing which his soft veld schoons, or hide shoes, had made no noise, for Meyer could move like a cat. The last rays from the sinking sun struck him full, outlining his agile, nervous shape against the sky, and in their intense red light, which flamed upon him, he appeared terrible. He looked like a panther about to spring; his eyes shone like a panther’s, and Benita knew that she was the prey whom he desired. Still, remembering her resolution, she determined to show no fear, and addressed him:

“Good-evening, Mr. Meyer. Oh! I am so stiff that I cannot lift my neck to look at you,” and she laughed.

He bounded softly from the rock, like a panther again, and stood in front of her.

“You should thank the God you believe in,” he said, “that by now you are not stiff indeed—all that the jackals have left of you.”

“I do, Mr. Meyer, and I thank you, too; it was brave of you to come out to save us. Father,” she called, “come and tell Mr. Meyer how grateful we are to him.”

Mr. Clifford hobbled out from his hut under the tree, saying:

“I have told him already, dear.”

“Yes,” answered Jacob, “you have told me; why repeat yourself? I see that supper is ready. Let us eat, for you must be hungry; afterwards I have something to tell you.”

So they ate, with no great appetite, any of them—indeed Meyer touched but little food, though he drank a good deal, first of strong black coffee and afterwards of squareface and water. But on Benita he pressed the choicest morsels that he could find, eyeing her all the while, and saying that she must take plenty of nutriment or her beauty would suffer and her strength wane. Benita bethought her of the fairy tales of her childhood, in which the ogre fed up the princess whom he purposed to devour.

“You should think of your own strength, Mr. Meyer,” she said; “you cannot live on coffee and squareface.”

“It is all I need to-night. I am astonishingly well since you came back. I can never remember feeling so well, or so strong. I can do the work of three men, and not be tired; all this afternoon, for instance, I have been carrying provisions and other things up that steep wall, for we must prepare for a long siege together; yet I should never know that I had lifted a single basket. But while you were away—ah! then I felt tired.”

Benita changed the subject, asking him if he had made any discoveries.

“Not yet, but now that you are back the discoveries will soon come. Do not be afraid; I have my plan which cannot fail. Also, it was lonely working in that cave without you, so I only looked about a little outside till it was time to go to meet you, and shoot some of those Matabele. Do you know?—I killed seven of them myself. When I was shooting for your sake I could not miss,” and he smiled at her.

Benita shrank from him visibly, and Mr. Clifford said in an angry voice:

“Don’t talk of those horrors before my daughter. It is bad enough to have to do such things, without speaking about them afterwards.”

“You are right,” he replied reflectively; “and I apologise, though personally I never enjoyed anything so much as shooting those Matabele. Well, they are gone, and there are plenty more outside. Listen! They are singing their evening hymn,” and with his long finger he beat time to the volleying notes of the dreadful Matabele war-chant, which floated up from the plain below. “It sounds quite religious, doesn’t it? only the words—no, I will not translate them. In our circumstances they are too personal.

“Now I have something to say to you. It was unkind of you to run away and leave me like that, not honourable either. Indeed,” he added with a sudden outbreak of the panther ferocity, “had you alone been concerned, Clifford, I tell you frankly that when we met again, I should have shot you. Traitors deserve to be shot, don’t they?”

“Please stop talking to my father like that,” broke in Benita in a stern voice, for her anger had overcome her fear. “Also it is I whom you should blame.”

“It is a pleasure to obey you,” he answered bowing; “I will never mention the subject any more. Nor do I blame you—who could?—not Jacob Meyer. I quite understand that you found it very dull up here, and ladies must be allowed their fancies. Also you have come back; so why talk of the matter? But listen: on one point I have made up my mind; for your own sake you shall not go away any more until we leave this together. When I had finished carrying up the food I made sure of that. If you go to look to-morrow morning you will find that no one can come up that wall—and, what is more, no one can go down it. Moreover, that I may be quite certain, in future I shall sleep near the stair myself.”

Benita and her father stared at each other.

“The Molimo has a right to come,” she said; “it is his sanctuary.”

“Then he must celebrate his worship down below for a little while. The old fool pretends to know everything, but he never guessed what I was going to do. Besides, we don’t want him breaking in upon our privacy, do we? He might see the gold when we find it, and rob us of it afterwards.”
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:06 am

XVII. THE FIRST EXPERIMENT

Again Benita and her father stared at each other blankly, almost with despair. They were trapped, cut off from all help; in the power of a man who was going mad. Mr. Clifford said nothing. He was old and growing feeble; for years, although he did not know it, Meyer had dominated him, and never more so than in this hour of stress and bewilderment. Moreover, the man had threatened to murder him, and he was afraid, not so much for himself as for his daughter. If he were to die now, what would happen to her, left alone with Jacob Meyer? The knowledge of his own folly, understood too late, filled him with shame. How could he have been so wicked as to bring a girl upon such a quest in the company of an unprincipled Jew, of whose past he knew nothing except that it was murky and dubious? He had committed a great crime, led on by a love of lucre, and the weight of it pressed upon his tongue and closed his lips; he knew not what to say.

For a little while Benita was silent also; hope died within her. But she was a bold-spirited woman, and by degrees her courage re-asserted itself. Indignation filled her breast and shone through her dark eyes. Suddenly she turned upon Jacob, who sat before them smoking his pipe and enjoying their discomfiture.

“How dare you?” she asked in a low, concentrated voice. “How dare you, you coward?”

He shrank a little beneath her scorn and anger; then seemed to recover and brace himself, as one does who feels that a great struggle is at hand, upon the issue of which everything depends.

“Do not be angry with me,” he answered. “I cannot bear it. It hurts—ah! you don’t know how it hurts. Well, I will tell you, and before your father, for that is more honourable. I dare—for your sake.”

“For my sake? How can it benefit me to be cooped up in this horrible place with you? I would rather trust myself with the Makalanga, or even,” she added with bitter scorn, “even with those bloody-minded Matabele.”

“You ran away from them very fast a little while ago, Miss Clifford. But you do not understand me. When I said for your sake, I meant for my own. See, now. You tried to leave me the other day and did not succeed. Another time you might succeed, and then—what would happen to me?”

“I do not know, Mr. Meyer,” and her eyes added—“I do not care.”

“Ah! but I know. Last time it drove me nearly mad; next time I should go quite mad.”

“Because you believe that through me you will find this treasure of which you dream day and night, Mr. Meyer——”

“Yes,” he interrupted quickly. “Because I believe that in you I shall find the treasure of which I dream day and night, and because that treasure has become necessary to my life.”

Benita turned quickly towards her father, who was puzzling over the words, but before either of them could speak Jacob passed his hand across his brow in a bewildered way and said:

“What was I talking of? The treasure, yes, the uncountable treasure of pure gold, that lies hid so deep, that is so hard to discover and to possess; the useless, buried treasure that would bring such joy and glory to us both, if only it could be come at and reckoned out, piece by piece, coin by coin, through the long, long years of life.”

Again he paused; then went on.

“Well, Miss Clifford, you are quite right; that is why I have dared to make you a prisoner, because, as the old Molimo said, the treasure is yours and I wish to share it. Now, about this treasure, it seems that it can’t be found, can it, although I have worked so hard?” and he looked at his delicate, scarred hands.

“Quite so, Mr. Meyer, it can’t be found, so you had better let us go down to the Makalanga.”

“But there is a way, Miss Clifford, there is a way. You know where it lies, and you can show me.”

“If I knew I would show you soon enough, Mr. Meyer, for then you could take the stuff and our partnership would be at an end.”

“Not until it is divided ounce by ounce and coin by coin. But first—first you must show me, as you say you will, and as you can.”

“How, Mr. Meyer? I am not a magician.”

“Ah! but you are. I will tell you how, having your promise. Listen now, both of you. I have studied. I know a great many secret things, and I read in your face that you have the gift—let me look in your eyes a while, Miss Clifford, and you will go to sleep quite gently, and then in your sleep, which shall not harm you at all, you will see where that gold lies hidden, and you will tell us.”

“What do you mean?” asked Benita, bewildered.

“I know what he means,” broke in Mr. Clifford. “You mean that you want to mesmerize her as you did the Zulu chief.”

Benita opened her lips to speak, but Meyer said quickly:

“No, no; hear me first before you refuse. You have the gift, the precious gift of clairvoyance, that is so rare.”

“How do you know that, Mr. Meyer? I have never been mesmerized in my life.”

“It does not matter how. I do know it; I have been sure of it from the moment when first we met, that night by the kloof. Although, perhaps, you felt nothing then, it was that gift of yours working upon a mind in tune, my mind, which led me there in time to save you, as it was that gift of yours which warned you of the disaster about to happen to the ship—oh! I have heard the story from your own lips. Your spirit can loose itself from the body: it can see the past and the future; it can discover the hidden things.”

“I do not believe it,” answered Benita; “but at least it shall not be loosed by you.”

“It shall, it shall,” he cried with passion, his eyes blazing on her as he spoke. “Oh! I foresaw all this, and that is why I was determined you should come with us, so that, should other means fail, we might have your power to fall back upon. Well, they have failed; I have been patient, I have said nothing, but now there is no other way. Will you be so selfish, so cruel, as to deny me, you who can make us all rich in an hour, and take no hurt at all, no more than if you had slept awhile?”

“Yes,” answered Benita. “I refuse to deliver my will into the keeping of any living man, and least of all into yours, Mr. Meyer.”

He turned to her father with a gesture of despair.

“Cannot you persuade her, Clifford? She is your daughter, she will obey you.”

“Not in that,” said Benita.

“No,” answered Mr. Clifford. “I cannot, and I wouldn’t if I could. My daughter is quite right. Moreover, I hate this supernatural kind of thing. If we can’t find this gold without it, then we must let it alone, that is all.”

Meyer turned aside to hide his face, and presently looked up again, and spoke quite softly.

“I suppose that I must accept my answer, but when you talked of any living man just now, Miss Clifford, did you include your father?”

She shook her head.

“Then will you allow him to try to mesmerize you?”

Benita laughed.

“Oh, yes, if he likes,” she said. “But I do not think that the operation will be very successful.”

“Good, we will see to-morrow. Now, like you, I am tired. I am going to bed in my new camp by the wall,” he added significantly.

“Why are you so dead set against this business?” asked her father, when he had gone.

“Oh, father!” she answered, “can’t you see, don’t you understand? Then it is hard to have to tell you, but I must. In the beginning Mr. Meyer only wanted the gold. Now he wants more, me as well as the gold. I hate him! You know that is why I ran away. But I have read a good deal about this mesmerism, and seen it once or twice, and who knows? If once I allow his mind to master my mind, although I hate him so much, I might become his slave.”

“I understand now,” said Mr. Clifford. “Oh, why did I ever bring you here? It would have been better if I had never seen your face again.”

On the morrow the experiment was made. Mr. Clifford attempted to mesmerize his daughter. All the morning Jacob, who, it now appeared, had practical knowledge of this doubtful art, tried to instruct him therein. In the course of the lesson he informed him that for a short period in the past, having great natural powers in that direction, he had made use of them professionally, only giving up the business because he found it wrecked his health. Mr. Clifford remarked that he had never told him that before.

“There are lots of things in my life that I have never told you,” replied Jacob with a little secret smile. “For instance, once I mesmerized you, although you did not know it, and that is why you always have to do what I want you to, except when your daughter is near you, for her influence is stronger than mine.”

Mr. Clifford stared at him.

“No wonder Benita won’t let you mesmerize her,” he said shortly.

Then Jacob saw his mistake.

“You are more foolish than I thought,” he said. “How could I mesmerize you without your knowing it? I was only laughing at you.”

“I didn’t see the laugh,” replied Mr. Clifford uneasily, and they went on with the lesson.

That afternoon it was put to proof—in the cave itself, where Meyer seemed to think that the influences would be propitious. Benita, who found some amusement in the performance, was seated upon the stone steps underneath the crucifix, one lamp on the altar and others one each side of her.

In front stood her father, staring at her and waving his hands mysteriously in obedience to Jacob’s directions. So ridiculous did he look indeed while thus engaged that Benita had the greatest difficulty in preventing herself from bursting into laughter. This was the only effect which his grimaces and gesticulations produced upon her, although outwardly she kept a solemn appearance, and even from time to time shut her eyes to encourage him. Once, when she opened them again, it was to perceive that he was becoming very hot and exhausted, and that Jacob was watching him with such an unpleasant intentness that she re-closed her eyes that she might not see his face.

It was shortly after this that of a sudden Benita did feel something, a kind of penetrating power flowing upon her, something soft and subtle that seemed to creep into her brain like the sound of her mother’s lullaby in the dim years ago. She began to think that she was a lost traveller among alpine snows wrapped round by snow, falling, falling in ten myriad flakes, every one of them with a little heart of fire. Then it came to her that she had heard this snow-sleep was dangerous, the last of all sleeps, and that its victims must rouse themselves, or die.

Benita roused herself just in time—only just, for now she was being borne over the edge of a precipice upon the wings of swans, and beneath her was darkness wherein dim figures walked with lamps where their hearts should be. Oh, how heavy were her eyelids! Surely a weight hung to each of them, a golden weight. There, there, they were open, and she saw. Her father had ceased his efforts; he was rubbing his brow with a red pocket-handkerchief, but behind him, with rigid arms outstretched, his glowing eyes fastened on her face, stood Jacob Meyer. By an effort she sprang to her feet, shaking her head as a dog does.

“Have done with this nonsense,” she said. “It tires me,” and snatching one of the lamps she ran swiftly down the place.

Benita expected that Jacob Meyer would be very angry with her, and braced herself for a scene. But nothing of the sort happened. A while afterwards she saw the two of them approaching, engaged apparently in amicable talk.

“Mr. Meyer says that I am no mesmerist, love,” said her father, “and I can quite believe him. But for all that it is a weary job. I am as tired as I was after our escape from the Matabele.”

She laughed and answered:

“To judge by results I agree with you. The occult is not in your line, father. You had better give it up.”

“Did you, then, feel nothing?” asked Meyer.

“Nothing at all,” she answered, looking him in the eyes. “No, that’s wrong, I felt extremely bored and sorry to see my father making himself ridiculous. Grey hairs and nonsense of that sort don’t go well together.”

“No,” he answered. “I agree with you—not of that sort,” and the subject dropped.

For the next few days, to her intense relief, Benita heard no more of mesmerism. To begin with, there was something else to occupy their minds. The Matabele, tired of marching round the fortress and singing endless war-songs, had determined upon an assault. From their point of vantage on the topmost wall the three could watch the preparations which they made. Trees were cut down and brought in from a great distance that rude ladders might be fashioned out of them; also spies wandered round reconnoitring for a weak place in the defences. When they came too near the Makalanga fired on them, killing some, so that they retreated to the camp, which they had made in a fold of ground at a little distance. Suddenly it occurred to Meyer that although here the Matabele were safe from the Makalanga bullets, it was commanded from the greater eminence, and by way of recreation he set himself to harass them. His rifle was a sporting Martini, and he had an ample supply of ammunition. Moreover, he was a beautiful marksman, with sight like that of a hawk.

A few trial shots gave him the range; it was a shade under seven hundred yards, and then he began operations. Lying on the top of the wall and resting his rifle upon a stone, he waited until the man who was superintending the manufacture of the ladders came out into the open, when, aiming carefully, he fired. The soldier, a white-bearded savage, sprang into the air, and fell backwards, while his companions stared upwards, wondering whence the bullet had come.

“Pretty, wasn’t it?” said Meyer to Benita, who was watching through a pair of field-glasses.

“I dare say,” she answered. “But I don’t want to see any more,” and giving the glasses to her father, she climbed down the wall.

But Meyer stayed there, and from time to time she heard the report of his rifle. In the evening he told her that he had killed six men and wounded ten more, adding that it was the best day’s shooting which he could remember.

“What is the use when there are so many?” she asked.

“Not much,” he answered. “But it annoys them and amuses me. Also, it was part of our bargain that we should help the Makalanga if they were attacked.”

“I believe that you like killing people,” she said.

“I don’t mind it, Miss Clifford, especially as they tried to kill you.”
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:06 am

XVIII. THE OTHER BENITA

At irregular times, when he had nothing else to do, Jacob went on with his man-shooting, in which Mr. Clifford joined him, though with less effect. Soon it became evident that the Matabele were very much annoyed by the fatal accuracy of this fire. Loss of life they did not mind in the abstract, but when none of them knew but that their own turn might come next to perish beneath these downward plunging bullets, the matter wore a different face to them. To leave their camp was not easy, since they had made a thorn boma round it, to protect them in case the Makalanga should make a night sally; also they could find no other convenient spot. The upshot of it all was to hurry their assault, which they delivered before they had prepared sufficient ladders to make it effective.

At the first break of dawn on the third day after Mr. Clifford’s attempt at mesmerism, Benita was awakened by the sounds of shouts and firing. Having dressed herself hastily, she hurried in the growing light towards that part of the wall from below which the noise seemed to come, and climbing it, found her father and Jacob already seated there, their rifles in hand.

“The fools are attacking the small gate through which you went out riding, Miss Clifford, the very worst place that they could have chosen, although the wall looks very weak there,” said the latter. “If those Makalanga have any pluck they ought to teach them a lesson.”

Then the sun rose and they saw companies of Matabele, who carried ladders in their hands, rushing onwards through the morning mist till their sight of them was obstructed by the swell of the hill. On these companies the two white men opened fire, with what result they could not see in that light. Presently a great shout announced that the enemy had gained the fosse and were setting up the ladders. Up to this time the Makalanga appeared to have done nothing, but now they began to fire rapidly from the ancient bastions which commanded the entrance the impi was striving to storm, and soon through the thinning fog they perceived wounded Matabele staggering and crawling back towards their camp. Of these, the light now better, Jacob did not neglect to take his toll.

Meanwhile, the ancient fortress rang with the hideous tumult of the attack. It was evident that again and again, as their fierce war-shouts proclaimed, the Matabele were striving to scale the wall, and again and again were beaten back by the raking rifle fire. Once a triumphant yell seemed to announce their success. The fire slackened and Benita grew pale with fear.

“The Makalanga cowards are bolting,” muttered Mr. Clifford, listening with terrible anxiety.

But if so their courage came back to them, for presently the guns cracked louder and more incessant than before, and the savage cries of “Kill! Kill! Kill!” dwindled and died away. Another five minutes and the Matabele were in full retreat, bearing with them many dead and wounded men upon their backs or stretched out on the ladders.

“Our Makalanga friends should be grateful to us for those hundred rifles,” said Jacob as he loaded and fired rapidly, sending his bullets wherever the clusters were thickest. “Had it not been for them their throats would have been cut by now,” he added, “for they could never have stopped those savages with the spear.”

“Yes, and ours too before nightfall,” said Benita with a shudder, for the sight of this desperate fray and fear of how it might end had sickened her. “Thank Heaven, it is over! Perhaps they will give up the siege and go away.”

But, notwithstanding their costly defeat, for they had lost over a hundred men, the Matabele, who were afraid to return to Buluwayo except as victors, did nothing of the sort. They only cut down a quantity of reeds and scrub, and moved their camp nearly to the banks of the river, placing it in such a position that it could no longer be searched by the fire of the two white men. Here they sat themselves down sullenly, hoping to starve out the garrison or to find some other way of entering the fortress.

Now Meyer’s shooting having come to an end for lack of men to shoot at, since the enemy exposed themselves no more, he was again able to give his full attention to the matter of the treasure hunt.

As nothing could be found in the cave he devoted himself to the outside enclosure which, it may be remembered, was grown over with grass and trees and crowded with ruins. In the most important of these ruins they began to dig somewhat aimlessly, and were rewarded by finding a certain amount of gold in the shape of beads and ornaments, and a few more skeletons of ancients. But of the Portuguese hoard there was no sign. Thus it came about that they grew gloomier day by day, till at last they scarcely spoke to each other. Jacob’s angry disappointment was written on his face, and Benita was filled with despair, since to escape from their gaoler above and the Matabele below seemed impossible. Moreover, she had another cause for anxiety.

The ill-health which had been threatening her father for a long while now fell upon him in earnest, so that of a sudden he became a very old man. His strength and energy left him, and his mind was so filled with remorse for what he held to be his crime in bringing his daughter to this awful place, and with terror for the fate that threatened her, that he could think of nothing else. In vain did she try to comfort him. He would only wring his hands and groan, praying that God and she would forgive him. Now, too, Meyer’s mastery over him became continually more evident. Mr. Clifford implored the man, almost with tears, to unblock the wall and allow them to go down to the Makalanga. He even tried to bribe him with the offer of all his share of the treasure, if it were found, and when that failed, of his property in the Transvaal.

But Jacob only told him roughly not to be a fool, as they had to see the thing through together. Then he would go again and brood by himself, and Benita noticed that he always took his rifle or a pistol with him. Evidently he feared lest her father should catch him unprepared, and take the law into his own hands by means of a sudden bullet.

One comfort she had, however: although he watched her closely, the Jew never tried to molest her in any way, not even with more of his enigmatic and amorous speeches. By degrees, indeed, she came to believe that all this was gone from his mind, or that he had abandoned his advances as hopeless.

A week passed since the Matabele attack, and nothing had happened. The Makalanga took no notice of them, and so far as she was aware the old Molimo never attempted to climb the blocked wall or otherwise to communicate with them, a thing so strange that, knowing his affection for her, Benita came to the conclusion that he must be dead, killed perhaps in the attack. Even Jacob Meyer had abandoned his digging, and sat about all day doing nothing but think.

Their meal that night was a miserable affair, since in the first place provisions were running short and there was little to eat, and in the second no one spoke a word. Benita could swallow no food; she was weary of that sun-dried trek-ox, for since Meyer had blocked the wall they had little else. But by good fortune there remained plenty of coffee, and of this she drank two cups, which Jacob prepared and handed to her with much politeness. It tasted very bitter to her, but this, Benita reflected, was because they lacked milk and sugar. Supper ended, Meyer rose and bowed to her, muttering that he was going to bed, and a few minutes later Mr. Clifford followed his example. She went with her father to the hut beneath the tree, and having helped him to remove his coat, which now he seemed to find difficulty in doing for himself, bade him good-night and returned to the fire.

It was very lonely there in the silence, for no sound came from either the Matabele or the Makalanga camps, and the bright moonlight seemed to people the place with fantastic shadows that looked alive. Benita cried a little now that her father could not see her, and then also sought refuge in bed. Evidently the end, whatever it might be, was near, and of it she could not bear to think. Moreover, her eyes were strangely heavy, so much so that before she had finished saying her prayers sleep fell upon her, and she knew no more.

Had she remained as wakeful as it was often her fate to be during those fearful days, towards midnight she might have heard some light-footed creature creeping to her tent, and seen that the moon-rays which flowed through the gaping and ill-closed flap were cut off by the figure of a man with glowing eyes, whose projected arms waved over her mysteriously. But Benita neither heard nor saw. In her drugged rest she did not know that her sleep turned gradually to a magic swoon. She had no knowledge of her rising, or of how she threw her thick cloak about her, lit her lamp, and, in obedience to that beckoning finger, glided from the tent. She never heard her father stumble from his hut, disturbed by the sound of footsteps, or the words that passed between him and Jacob Meyer, while, lamp in hand, she stood near them like a strengthless ghost.

“If you dare to wake her,” hissed Jacob, “I tell you that she will die, and afterwards you shall die,” and he fingered the pistol at his belt. “No harm shall come to her—I swear it! Follow and see. Man, man, be silent; our fortunes hang on it.”

Then, overcome also by the strange fierceness of that voice and gaze, he followed.

On they go to the winding neck of the cavern, first Jacob walking backwards like the herald of majesty; then majesty itself in the shape of this long-haired, death-like woman, cloaked and bearing in her hand the light; and last, behind, the old, white-bearded man, like Time following Beauty to the grave. Now they were in the great cavern, and now, avoiding the open tombs, the well mouth and the altar, they stood beneath the crucifix.

“Be seated,” said Meyer, and the entranced Benita sat herself down upon the steps at the foot of the cross, placing the lamp on the rock pavement before her, and bowing her head till her hair fell upon her naked feet and hid them. He held his hands above her for a while, then asked:

“Do you sleep?”

“I sleep,” came the strange, slow answer.

“Is your spirit awake?”

“It is awake.”

“Command it to travel backwards through the ages to the beginning, and tell me what you see here.”

“I see a rugged cave and wild folk dwelling in it; an old man is dying yonder,” and she pointed to the right; “and a black woman with a babe at her breast tends him. A man, it is her husband, enters the cave. He holds a torch in one hand, and with the other drags a buck.”

“Cease,” said Meyer. “How long is this ago?”

“Thirty-three thousand two hundred and one years,” came the answer, spoken without any hesitation.

“Pass on,” he said, “pass on thirty thousand years, and tell me what you see.”

For a long while there was silence.

“Why do you not speak?” he asked.

“Be patient; I am living through those thirty thousand years; many a life, many an age, but none may be missed.”

Again there was silence for a long while, till at length she spoke:

“They are done, all of them, and now three thousand years ago I see this place changed and smoothly fashioned, peopled by a throng of worshippers clad in strange garments with clasps upon them. Behind me stands the graven statue of a goddess with a calm and cruel face, in front of the altar burns a fire, and on the altar white-robed priests are sacrificing an infant which cries aloud.”

“Pass on, pass on,” Meyer said hurriedly, as though the horror of that scene had leapt to his eyes. “Pass on two thousand seven hundred years and tell me what you see.”

Again there was a pause, while the spirit he had evoked in the body of Benita lived through those ages. Then slowly she answered:

“Nothing, the place is black and desolate, only the dead sleep beneath its floor.”

“Wait till the living come again,” he commanded; “then speak.”

“They are here,” she replied presently. “Tonsured monks, one of whom fashions this crucifix, and their followers who bow before the Host upon the altar. They come, they go—of whom shall I tell you?”

“Tell me of the Portuguese; of those who were driven here to die.”

“I see them all,” she answered, after a pause. “Two hundred and three of them. They are ragged and wayworn and hungry. Among them is a beautiful woman, a girl. She draws near to me, she enters into me. You must ask her,”—this was spoken in a very faint voice—“I am I no more.”

Mr. Clifford attempted to interrupt, but fiercely Meyer bade him to be silent.

“Speak,” he commanded, but the crouching figure shook her head.

“Speak,” he said again, whereon another voice, not that of Benita, answered in another tongue:

“I hear; but I do not understand your language.”

“Great Heaven!” said Meyer, “it is Portuguese,” and for a while the terror of the thing struck him dumb, for he was aware that Benita knew no Portuguese. He knew it, however, who had lived at Lorenço Marquez.

“Who are you?” he asked in that tongue.

“I am Benita da Ferreira. I am the daughter of the Captain da Ferreira and of his wife, the lady Christinha, who stand by you now. Turn, and you will see them.”

Jacob started and looked about him uneasily.

“What did she say? I did not catch it all,” asked Mr. Clifford.

He translated her words.

“But this is black magic,” exclaimed the old man. “Benita knows no Portuguese, so how comes she to speak it?”

“Because she is no longer our Benita; she is another Benita, Benita da Ferreira. The Molimo was right when he said that the spirit of the dead woman went with her, as it seems the name has gone,” he added.

“Have done,” said Mr. Clifford; “the thing is unholy. Wake her up, or I will.”

“And bring about her death. Touch or disturb her, and I tell you she will die,” and he pointed to Benita, who crouched before them so white and motionless that indeed it seemed as though already she were dead. “Be quiet,” he went on. “I swear to you that no hurt shall come to her, also that I will translate everything to you. Promise, or I will tell you nothing, and her blood be on your head.”

Then Mr. Clifford groaned and said:

“I promise.”

“Tell me your story, Benita da Ferreira. How came you and your people here?”

“The tribes of Monomotapa rose against our rule. They killed many of us in the lower land, yes, they killed my brother and him to whom I was affianced. The rest of us fled north to this ancient fortress, hoping thence to escape by the river, the Zambesi. The Mambo, our vassal, gave us shelter here, but the tribes besieged the walls in thousands, and burnt all the boats so that we could not fly by the water. Many times we beat them back from the wall; the ditch was full of their dead, and at last they dared to attack no more.

“Then we began to starve and they won the first wall. We went on starving and they won the second wall, but the third wall they could not climb. So we died; one by one we laid ourselves down in this cave and died, till I alone was left, for while our people had food they gave it to me who was the daughter of their captain. Yes, alone I knelt at the foot of this crucifix by the body of my father, praying to the blessed Son of Mary for the death that would not come, and kneeling there I swooned. When I awoke again the Mambo and his men stood about me, for now, knowing us to be dead, the tribes had gone, and those who were in hiding across the river had returned and knew how to climb the wall. They bore me from among the dead, they gave me food so that my strength came back; but in the night I, who in my wickedness would not live, escaped from them and climbed the pillar of black rock, so that when the sun rose they saw me standing there. They begged of me to come down, promising to protect me, but I said ‘No,’ who in the evil of my heart only desired to die, that I might join my father and my brother, and one who was dearer to me than all. They asked of me where the great treasure was hidden.”

At these words Jacob gasped, then rapidly translated them, while the figure before them became silent, as though it felt that for the moment the power of his will was withdrawn.

“Speak on, I bid you,” he said, and she continued, the rich, slow voice dropping word after word from the lips of Benita in the alien speech that this Benita never knew.

“I answered that it was where it was, and that if they gave it up to any save the one appointed, then that fate which had befallen my people would befall theirs also. Yes, I gave it into their keeping until I came again, since with his dying breath my father had commanded me to reveal it to none, and I believed that I who was about to die should never come again.

“Then I made my last prayer, I kissed the golden crucifix that now hangs upon this breast wherein I dwell,” and the hand of the living Benita was lifted, and moving like the hand of a dead thing, slowly drew out the symbol from beneath the cloak, held it for a moment in the lamplight, and let it fall to its place again. “I put my hands before my eyes that I might not see, and I hurled myself from the pinnacle.”

Now the voice ceased, but from the lips came a dreadful sound, such as might be uttered by one whose bones are shattered upon rocks, followed by other sounds like those of one who chokes in water. They were so horrible to hear that Mr. Clifford nearly fainted, and even Jacob Meyer staggered and turned white as the white face of Benita.

“Wake her! For God’s sake, wake her!” said her father. “She is dying, as that woman died hundreds of years ago.”

“Not till she has told us where the gold is. Be quiet, you fool. She does not feel or suffer. It is the spirit within her that lives through the past again.”

Once more there was silence. It seemed as though the story were all told and the teller had departed.

“Benita da Ferreira,” said Meyer at length, “I command you, tell me, are you dead?”

“Oh! would that I were dead, as my body is dead!” wailed the lips of Benita. “Alas! I cannot die who suffer this purgatory, and must dwell on here alone until the destined day. Yes, yes, the spirit of her who was Benita da Ferreira must haunt this place in solitude. This is her doom, to be the guardian of that accursed gold which was wrung from the earth by cruelty and paid for with the lives of men.”

“Is it still safe?” whispered Jacob.

“I will look;” then after a pause, “I have looked. It is there, every grain of it, in ox-hide bags; only one of them has fallen and burst, that which is black and red.”

“Where is it?” he said again.

“I may not tell you; never, never.”

“Is there anyone whom you may tell?”

“Yes.”

“Whom?”

“Her in whose breast I lie.”

“Tell her then.”

“I have told her; she knows.”

“And may she tell me?”

“Let her guard the secret as she will. O my Guardian, I thank thee. My burden is departed; my sin of self-murder is atoned.”

“Benita da Ferreira, are you gone?”

No answer.

“Benita Clifford, do you hear me?”

“I hear you,” said the voice of Benita, speaking in English, although Jacob, forgetting, had addressed her in Portuguese.

“Where is the gold?”

“In my keeping.”

“Tell me, I command you.”

But no words came; though he questioned her many times no words came, till at last her head sank forward upon her knees, and in a faint voice she murmured:

“Loose me, or I die.”
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Re: Benita: An African Romance by H. Rider Haggard

Postby admin » Thu May 31, 2018 6:07 am

XIX. THE AWAKING

Still Jacob Meyer hesitated. The great secret was unlearned, and, if this occasion passed, might never be learned. But if he hesitated, Mr. Clifford did not. The knowledge of his child’s danger, the sense that her life was mysteriously slipping away from her under pressure of the ghastly spell in which she lay enthralled, stirred him to madness. His strength and manhood came back to him. He sprang straight at Meyer’s throat, gripped it with one hand, and with the other drew the knife he wore.

“You devil!” he gasped. “Wake her or you shall go with her!” and he lifted the knife.

Then Jacob gave in. Shaking off his assailant he stepped to Benita, and while her father stood behind him with the lifted blade, began to make strange upward passes over her, and to mutter words of command. For a long while they took no effect; indeed, both of them were almost sure that she was gone. Despair gripped her father, and Meyer worked at his black art so furiously that the sweat burst out upon his forehead and fell in great drops to the floor.

Oh, at last, at last she stirred! Her head lifted itself a little, her breast heaved.

“Lord in Heaven, I have saved her!” muttered Jacob in German, and worked on.

Now the eyes of Benita opened, and now she stood up and sighed. But she said nothing; only like a person walking in her sleep, she began to move towards the entrance of the cave, her father going before her with the lamp. On she went, and out of it straight to her tent, where instantly she cast herself upon her bed and sank into deep slumber. It was as though the power of the drug-induced oblivion, which for a while was over-mastered by that other stronger power invoked by Jacob, had reasserted itself.

Meyer watched her for awhile; then said to Mr. Clifford:

“Don’t be afraid and don’t attempt to disturb her. She will wake naturally in the morning.”

“I hope so for both our sakes,” he answered, glaring at him, “for if not, you or I, or the two of us, will never see another.”

Meyer took no notice of his threats; indeed the man seemed so exhausted that he could scarcely stand.

“I am done,” he said. “Now, as she is safe, I don’t care what happens to me. I must rest,” and he staggered from the tent, like a drunken man.

Outside, at the place where they ate, Mr. Clifford heard him gulping down raw gin from the bottle. Then he heard no more.

All the rest of the night, and for some hours of the early morning, did her father watch by the bed of Benita, although, lightly clad as he was, the cold of dawn struck to his bones. At length, when the sun was well up, she rose in her bed, and her eyes opened.

“What are you doing here, father?” she said.

“I have come to see where you were, dear. You are generally out by now.”

“I suppose that I must have overslept myself then,” she replied wearily. “But it does not seem to have refreshed me much, and my head aches. Oh! I remember,” she added with a start. “I have had such a horrid dream.”

“What about?” he asked as carelessly as he could.

“I can’t recall it quite, but it had to do with Mr. Meyer,” and she shivered. “It seemed as though I had passed into his power, as though he had taken possession of me, body and soul, and forced me to tell him all the secret things.”

“What secret things, Benita?”

She shook her head.

“I don’t know now, but we went away among dead people, and I told him there. Oh! father, I am afraid of that man—terribly afraid! Protect me from him,” and she began to cry a little.

“Of course I will protect you, dear. Something has upset your nerves. Come, dress yourself and you’ll soon forget it all. I’ll light the fire.”

A quarter of an hour later Benita joined him, looking pale and shaken, but otherwise much as usual. She was ravenously hungry, and ate of the biscuits and dried meat with eagerness.

“The coffee tastes quite different from that which I drank last night,” she said. “I think there must have been something in it which gave me those bad dreams. Where is Mr. Meyer? Oh, I know!” and again she put her hand to her head. “He is still asleep by the wall.”

“Who told you that?”

“I can’t say, but it is so. He will not come here till one o’clock. There, I feel much better now. What shall we do, father?”

“Sit in the sun and rest, I think, dear.”

“Yes, let us do that, on the top of the wall. We can see the Makalanga from there, and it will be a comfort to be sure that there are other human beings left in the world besides ourselves and Jacob Meyer.”

So presently they went, and from the spot whence Meyer used to shoot at the Matabele camp, looked down upon the Makalanga moving about the first enclosure far below. By the aid of the glasses Benita even thought that she recognised Tamas, although of this it was difficult to be sure, for they were all very much alike. Still, the discovery quite excited her.

“I am sure it is Tamas,” she said. “And oh! how I wish that we were down there with him, although it is true that then we should be nearer to the Matabele. But they are better than Mr. Meyer, much better.”

Now for a while they were silent, till at length she said suddenly:

“Father, you are keeping something back from me, and things begin to come back. Tell me; did I go anywhere last night with Mr. Meyer—you and he and I together?”

He hesitated and looked guilty; Mr. Clifford was not a good actor.

“I see that we did; I am sure that we did. Father, tell me. I must know, I will know.”

Then he gave way.

“I didn’t want to speak, dear, but perhaps it is best. It is a very strange story. Will you promise not to be upset?”

“I will promise not to be more upset than I am at present,” she answered, with a sad little laugh. “Go on.”

“You remember that Jacob Meyer wanted to mesmerize you?”

“I am not likely to forget it,” she answered.

“Well, last night he did mesmerize you.”

“What?” she said. “What? Oh! how dreadful! Now I understand it all. But when?”

“When you were sound asleep, I suppose. At least, the first I knew of it was that some noise woke me, and I came out of the hut to see you following him like a dead woman, with a lamp in your hand.”

Then he told her all the story, while she listened aghast.

“How dared he!” she gasped, when her father had finished the long tale. “I hate him; I almost wish that you had killed him,” and she clenched her little hands and shook them in the air.

“That is not very Christian of you, Miss Clifford,” said a voice behind her. “But it is past one o’clock, and as I am still alive I have come to tell you that it is time for luncheon.”

Benita wheeled round upon the stone on which she sat, and there, standing amidst the bushes a little way from the foot of the wall, was Jacob Meyer. Their eyes met; hers were full of defiance, and his of conscious power.

“I do not want any luncheon, Mr. Meyer,” she said.

“But I am sure that you do. Please come down and have some. Please come down.”

The words were spoken humbly, almost pleadingly, yet to Benita they seemed as a command. At any rate, with slow reluctance she climbed down the shattered wall, followed by her father, and without speaking they went back to their camping place, all three of them, Jacob leading the way.

When they had eaten, or made pretence to eat, he spoke.

“I see that your father has told you everything, Miss Clifford, and of that I am glad. As for me, it would have been awkward, who must ask your forgiveness for so much. But what could I do? I knew, as I have always known, that it was only possible to find this treasure by your help. So I gave you something to make you sleep, and then in your sleep I hypnotized you, and—you know the rest. I have great experience in this art, but I have never seen or heard of anything like what happened, and I hope I never shall again.”

Hitherto Benita had sat silent, but now her burning indignation and curiosity overcame her shame and hatred.

“Mr. Meyer,” she said, “you have done a shameful and a wicked thing, and I tell you at once that I can never forgive you.”

“Don’t say that. Please don’t say that,” he interrupted in tones of real grief. “Make allowances for me. I had to learn, and there was no other way. You are a born clairvoyante, one among ten thousand, my art told me so, and you know all that is at stake.”

“By which you mean so many ounces of gold, Mr. Meyer.”

“By which I mean the greatness that gold can give, Miss Clifford.”

“Such greatness, Mr. Meyer, as a week of fever, or a Matabele spear, or God’s will can rob you of. But the thing is done, and soon or late the sin must be paid for. Now I want to ask you a question. You believe in nothing; you have told me so several times. You say that there is no such thing as a spirit, that when we die, we die, and there’s an end. Do you not?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then tell me, what was it that spoke out of my lips last night, and how came it that I, who know no Portuguese, talked to you in that tongue?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“You have put a difficult question, but one I think that can be answered. There is no such thing as a spirit, an identity that survives death. But there is such a thing as the subconscious self, which is part of the animating principle of the universe, and, if only its knowledge can be unsealed, knows all that has passed and all that is passing in that universe. One day perhaps you will read the works of my compatriot, Hegel, and there you will find it spoken of.”

“You explain nothing.”

“I am about to explain, Miss Clifford. Last night I gave to your sub-conscious self—that which knows all—the strength of liberty, so that it saw the past as it happened in this place. Already you knew the story of the dead girl, Benita da Ferreira, and that story you re-enacted, talking the tongue she used as you would have talked Greek or any other tongue, had it been hers. It was not her spirit that animated you, although at the time I called it so for shortness, but your own buried knowledge, tricked out and furnished by the effort of your human imagination. That her name, Benita, should have been yours also is no doubt a strange coincidence, but no more. Also we have no proof that it was so; only what you said in your trance.”

“Perhaps,” said Benita, who was in no mood for philosophical argument. “Perhaps also one day you will see a spirit, Mr. Meyer, and think otherwise.”

“When I see a spirit and know that it is a spirit, then doubtless I shall believe in spirits. But what is the good of talking of such things? I do not seek spirits; I seek Portuguese gold. Now, I am sure you can tell where that gold lies. You would have told us last night, had not your nervous strength failed you, who are unaccustomed to the state of trance. Speaking as Benita da Ferreira, you said that you saw it and described its condition. Then you could, or would, say no more, and it became necessary to waken you. Miss Clifford, you must let me mesmerize you once again for a few minutes only, for then we will waste no time on past histories, and we shall find the gold. Unless, indeed,” he added by an afterthought, and looking at her sharply, “you know already where it is; in which case I need not trouble you.”

“I do not know, Mr. Meyer. I remember nothing about the gold.”

“Which proves my theory. What purported to be the spirit of Benita da Ferreira said that it had passed the secret on to you, but in your waking state you do not know that secret. In fact, she did not pass it on because she had no existence. But in your sub-conscious state you will know. Therefore I must mesmerize you again. Not at once, but in a few days’ time, when you have quite recovered. Let us say next Wednesday, three days hence.”

“You shall never mesmerize me again, Mr. Meyer.”

“No, not while I live,” broke in her father, who had been listening to this discussion in silence.

Jacob bowed his head meekly.

“You think so now, but I think otherwise. What I did last night I did against your will, and that I can do again, only much more easily. But I had rather do it with your will, who work not for my own sake only, but for the sake of all of us. And now let us talk no more of the matter, lest we should grow angry.” Then he rose and went away.

The next three days were passed by Benita in a state of constant dread. She knew in herself that Jacob Meyer had acquired a certain command over her; that an invincible intimacy had sprung up between them. She was acquainted with his thoughts; thus, before he asked for it, she would find herself passing him some article at table or elsewhere, or answering a question that he was only about to ask. Moreover, he could bring her to him from a little distance. Thus, on two or three occasions when she was wandering about their prison enclosure, as she was wont to do for the sake of exercise, she found her feet draw to some spot—now one place and now another—and when she reached it there before her was Jacob Meyer.

“Forgive me for bringing you here,” he would say, smiling after his crooked fashion, and lifting his hat politely, “but I wish to ask you if you have not changed your mind as to being mesmerized?”

Then for a while he would hold her with his eyes, so that her feet seemed rooted to the ground, till at length it was as though he cut a rope by some action of his will and set her free, and, choked with wrath and blind with tears, Benita would turn and run from him as from a wild beast.

But if her days were evil, oh! what were her nights? She lived in constant terror lest he should again drug her food or drink, and, while she slept, throw his magic spell upon her. To protect herself from the first danger she would swallow nothing that had been near him. Now also she slept in the hut with her father, who lay near its door, a loaded rifle at his side, for he had told Jacob outright that if he caught him at his practices he would shoot him, a threat at which the younger man laughed aloud, for he had no fear of Mr. Clifford.

Throughout the long hours of darkness they kept watch alternately, one of them lying down to rest while the other peered and listened. Nor did Benita always listen in vain, for twice at least she heard stealthy footsteps creeping about the hut, and felt that soft and dreadful influence flowing in upon her. Then she would wake her father, whispering, “He is there, I can feel that he is there.” But by the time that the old man had painfully dragged himself to his feet—for now he was becoming very feeble and acute rheumatism or some such illness had got hold of him—and crept from the hut, there was no one to be seen. Only through the darkness he would hear the sound of a retreating step, and of low, mocking laughter.

Thus those miserable days went by, and the third morning came, that dreaded Wednesday. Before it was dawn Benita and her father, neither of whom had closed their eyes that night, talked over their strait long and earnestly, and they knew that its crisis was approaching.

“I think that I had better try to kill him, Benita,” he said. “I am growing dreadfully weak, and if I put it off I may find no strength, and you will be at his mercy. I can easily shoot him when his back is turned, and though I hate the thought of such a deed, surely I shall be forgiven. Or if not, I cannot help it. I must think of my duty to you, not of myself.”

“No, no,” she answered. “I will not have it. It would be murder, although he has threatened you. After all, father, I believe that the man is half mad, and not responsible. We must take our chance and trust to God to save us. If He does not,” she added, “at the worst I can always save myself,” and she touched the pistol which now she wore day and night.

“So be it,” said Mr. Clifford, with a groan. “Let us pray for deliverance from this hell and keep our hands clean of blood.”
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