Benita An African Romance
H. Rider Haggard
Part 1 out of 5
Etext prepared by John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
and Emma Dudding, email@example.com
Etext prepared by John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
Emma Dudding, email@example.com
and Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
AN AFRICAN ROMANCE
by H. RIDER HAGGARD
It may interest readers of this story to know that its author
believes it to have a certain foundation in fact.
It was said about five-and-twenty or thirty years ago that an
adventurous trader, hearing from some natives in the territory
that lies at the back of Quilimane, the legend of a great treasure
buried in or about the sixteenth century by a party of Portuguese
who were afterwards massacred, as a last resource attempted its
discovery by the help of a mesmerist. According to this history
the child who was used as a subject in the experiment, when in a
state of trance, detailed the adventures and death of the unhappy
Portuguese men and women, two of whom leapt from the point of a
high rock into the Zambesi. Although he knew no tongue but
English, this clairvoyant child is declared to have repeated in
Portuguese the prayers these unfortunates offered up, and even to
have sung the very hymns they sang. Moreover, with much other
detail, he described the burial of the great treasure and its
exact situation so accurately that the white man and the mesmerist
were able to dig for and find the place where /it had been/--for
the bags were gone, swept out by the floods of the river.
Some gold coins remained, however, one of them a ducat of Aloysius
Mocenigo, Doge of Venice. Afterwards the boy was again thrown into
a trance (in all he was mesmerized eight times), and revealed
where the sacks still lay; but before the white trader could renew
his search for them, the party was hunted out of the country by
natives whose superstitious fears were aroused, barely escaping
with their lives.
It should be added that, as in the following tale, the chief who
was ruling there when the tragedy happened, declared the place to
be sacred, and that if it were entered evil would befall his
tribe. Thus it came about that for generations it was never
violated, until at length his descendants were driven farther from
the river by war, and from one of them the white man heard the
AN AFRICAN ROMANCE
Beautiful, beautiful was that night! No air that stirred; the black
smoke from the funnels of the mail steamer /Zanzibar/ lay low over the
surface of the sea like vast, floating ostrich plumes that vanished
one by one in the starlight. Benita Beatrix Clifford, for that was her
full name, who had been christened Benita after her mother and Beatrix
after her father's only sister, leaning idly over the bulwark rail,
thought to herself that a child might have sailed that sea in a boat
of bark and come safely into port.
Then a tall man of about thirty years of age, who was smoking a cigar,
strolled up to her. At his coming she moved a little as though to make
room for him beside her, and there was something in the motion which,
had anyone been there to observe it, might have suggested that these
two were upon terms of friendship, or still greater intimacy. For a
moment he hesitated, and while he did so an expression of doubt, of
distress even, gathered on his face. It was as though he understood
that a great deal depended on whether he accepted or declined that
gentle invitation, and knew not which to do.
Indeed, much did depend upon it, no less than the destinies of both of
them. If Robert Seymour had gone by to finish his cigar in solitude,
why then this story would have had a very different ending; or,
rather, who can say how it might have ended? The dread, foredoomed
event with which that night was big would have come to its awful birth
leaving certain words unspoken. Violent separation must have ensued,
and even if both of them had survived the terror, what prospect was
there that their lives would again have crossed each other in that
But it was not so fated, for just as he put his foot forward to
continue his march Benita spoke in her low and pleasant voice.
"Are you going to the smoking-room or to the saloon to dance, Mr.
Seymour? One of the officers just told me that there is to be a
dance," she added, in explanation, "because it is so calm that we
might fancy ourselves ashore."
"Neither," he answered. "The smoking-room is stuffy, and my dancing
days are over. No; I proposed to take exercise after that big dinner,
and then to sit in a chair and fall asleep. But," he added, and his
voice grew interested, "how did you know that it was I? You never
turned your head."
"I have ears in my head as well as eyes," she answered with a little
laugh, "and after we have been nearly a month together on this ship I
ought to know your step."
"I never remember that anyone ever recognized it before," he said,
more to himself than to her, then came and leaned over the rail at her
side. His doubts were gone. Fate had spoken.
For a while there was silence between them, then he asked her if she
were not going to the dance.
Benita shook her head.
"Why not? You are fond of dancing, and you dance very well. Also there
are plenty of officers for partners, especially Captain----" and he
"I know," she said; "it would be pleasant, but--Mr. Seymour, will you
think me foolish if I tell you something?"
"I have never thought you foolish yet, Miss Clifford, so I don't know
why I should begin now. What is it?"
"I am not going to the dance because I am afraid, yes, horribly
"Afraid! Afraid of what?"
"I don't quite know, but, Mr. Seymour, I feel as though we were all of
us upon the edge of some dreadful catastrophe--as though there were
about to be a mighty change, and beyond it another life, something new
and unfamiliar. It came over me at dinner--that was why I left the
table. Quite suddenly I looked, and all the people were different,
yes, all except a few."
"Was I different?" he asked curiously.
"No, you were not," and he thought he heard her add "Thank God!"
beneath her breath.
"And were you different?"
"I don't know. I never looked at myself; I was the seer, not the seen.
I have always been like that."
"Indigestion," he said reflectively. "We eat too much on board ship,
and the dinner was very long and heavy. I told you so, that's why I'm
taking--I mean why I wanted to take exercise."
"And to go to sleep afterwards."
"Yes, first the exercise, then the sleep. Miss Clifford, that is the
rule of life--and death. With sleep thought ends, therefore for some
of us your catastrophe is much to be desired, for it would mean long
sleep and no thought."
"I said that they were changed, not that they had ceased to think.
Perhaps they thought the more."
"Then let us pray that your catastrophe may be averted. I prescribe
for you bismuth and carbonate of soda. Also in this weather it seems
difficult to imagine such a thing. Look now, Miss Clifford," he added,
with a note of enthusiasm in his voice, pointing towards the east,
Her eyes followed his outstretched hand, and there, above the level
ocean, rose the great orb of the African moon. Lo! of a sudden all
that ocean turned to silver, a wide path of rippling silver stretched
from it to them. It might have been the road of angels. The sweet soft
light beat upon their ship, showing its tapering masts and every
detail of the rigging. It passed on beyond them, and revealed the low,
foam-fringed coast-line rising here and there, dotted with kloofs and
their clinging bush. Even the round huts of Kaffir kraals became
faintly visible in that radiance. Other things became visible also--
for instance, the features of this pair.
The man was light in his colouring, fair-skinned, with fair hair which
already showed a tendency towards greyness, especially in the
moustache, for he wore no beard. His face was clean cut, not
particularly handsome, since, their fineness notwithstanding, his
features lacked regularity; the cheekbones were too high and the chin
was too small, small faults redeemed to some extent by the steady and
cheerful grey eyes. For the rest, he was broad-shouldered and well-
set-up, sealed with the indescribable stamp of the English gentleman.
Such was the appearance of Robert Seymour.
In that light the girl at his side looked lovely, though, in fact, she
had no real claims to loveliness, except perhaps as regards her
figure, which was agile, rounded, and peculiarly graceful. Her
foreign-looking face was unusual, dark-eyed, a somewhat large and very
mobile mouth, fair and waving hair, a broad forehead, a sweet and at
times wistful face, thoughtful for the most part, but apt to be
irradiated by sudden smiles. Not a beautiful woman at all, but
exceedingly attractive, one possessing magnetism.
She gazed, first at the moon and the silver road beneath it, then,
turning, at the land beyond.
"We are very near to Africa, at last," she said.
"Too near, I think," he answered. "If I were the captain I should
stand out a point or two. It is a strange country, full of surprises.
Miss Clifford, will you think me rude if I ask you why you are going
there? You have never told me--quite."
"No, because the story is rather a sad one; but you shall hear it if
you wish. Do you?"
He nodded, and drew up two deck chairs, in which they settled
themselves in a corner made by one of the inboard boats, their faces
still towards the sea.
"You know I was born in Africa," she said, "and lived there till I was
thirteen years old--why, I find I can still speak Zulu; I did so this
afternoon. My father was one of the early settlers in Natal. His
father was a clergyman, a younger son of the Lincolnshire Cliffords.
They are great people there still, though I don't suppose that they
are aware of my existence."
"I know them," answered Robert Seymour. "Indeed, I was shooting at
their place last November--when the smash came," and he sighed; "but
"Well, my father quarrelled with his father, I don't know what about,
and emigrated. In Natal he married my mother, a Miss Ferreira, whose
name--like mine and her mother's--was Benita. She was one of two
sisters, and her father, Andreas Ferreira, who married an English
lady, was half Dutch and half Portuguese. I remember him well, a fine
old man with dark eyes and an iron-grey beard. He was wealthy as
things went in those days--that is to say, he had lots of land in
Natal and the Transvaal, and great herds of stock. So you see I am
half English, some Dutch, and more than a quarter Portuguese--quite a
mixture of races. My father and mother did not get on well together.
Mr. Seymour, I may as well tell you all the truth: he drank, and
although he was passionately fond of her, she was jealous of him. Also
he gambled away most of her patrimony, and after old Andreas
Ferreira's death they grew poor. One night there was a dreadful scene
between them, and in his madness he struck her.
"Well, she was a very proud woman, determined, too, and she turned on
him and said--for I heard her--'I will never forgive you; we have done
with each other.' Next morning, when my father was sober, he begged
her pardon, but she made no answer, although he was starting somewhere
on a fortnight's trek. When he had gone my mother ordered the Cape
cart, packed up her clothes, took some money that she had put away,
drove to Durban, and after making arrangements at the bank about a
small private income of her own, sailed with me for England, leaving a
letter for my father in which she said that she would never see him
again, and if he tried to interfere with me she would put me under the
protection of the English court, which would not allow me to be taken
to the home of a drunkard.
"In England we went to live in London with my aunt, who had married a
Major King, but was a widow with five children. My father often wrote
to persuade my mother to go back to him, but she never would, which I
think was wrong of her. So things went on for twelve years or more,
till one day my mother suddenly died, and I came into her little
fortune of between £200 and £300 a year, which she had tied up so that
nobody can touch it. That was about a year ago. I wrote to tell my
father of her death, and received a pitiful letter; indeed, I have had
several of them. He implored me to come out to him and not to leave
him to die in his loneliness, as he soon would do of a broken heart,
if I did not. He said that he had long ago given up drinking, which
was the cause of the ruin of his life, and sent a certificate signed
by a magistrate and a doctor to that effect. Well, in the end,
although all my cousins and their mother advised me against it, I
consented, and here I am. He is to meet me at Durban, but how we shall
get on together is more than I can say, though I long to see him, for
after all he is my father."
"It was good of you to come, under all the circumstances. You must
have a brave heart," said Robert reflectively.
"It is my duty," she answered. "And for the rest, I am not afraid who
was born to Africa. Indeed, often and often have I wished to be back
there again, out on the veld, far away from the London streets and
fog. I am young and strong, and I want to see things, natural things--
not those made by man, you know--the things I remember as a child. One
can always go back to London."
"Yes, or at least some people can. It is a curious thing, Miss
Clifford, but as it happens I have met your father. You always
reminded me of the man, but I had forgotten his name. Now it comes
back to me; it /was/ Clifford."
"Where on earth?" she asked, astonished.
"In a queer place. As I told you, I have visited South Africa before,
under different circumstances. Four years ago I was out here big-game
shooting. Going in from the East coast my brother and I--he is dead
now, poor fellow--got up somewhere in the Matabele country, on the
banks of the Zambesi. As we didn't find much game there we were going
to strike south, when some natives told us of a wonderful ruin that
stood on a hill overhanging the river a few miles farther on. So,
leaving the waggon on the hither side of the steep nek, over which it
would have been difficult to drag it, my brother and I took our rifles
and a bag of food and started. The place was farther off than we
thought, although from the top of the nek we could see it clearly
enough, and before we reached it dark had fallen.
"Now we had observed a waggon and a tent outside the wall which we
thought must belong to white men, and headed for them. There was a
light in the tent, and the flap was open, the night being very hot.
Inside two men were seated, one old, with a grey beard, and the other,
a good-looking fellow--under forty, I should say--with a Jewish face,
dark, piercing eyes, and a black, pointed beard. They were engaged in
examining a heap of gold beads and bangles, which lay on the table
between them. As I was about to speak, the black-bearded man heard or
caught sight of us, and seizing a rifle that leaned against the table,
swung round and covered me.
"'For God's sake don't shoot, Jacob,' said the old man; 'they are
"'Best dead, any way,' answered the other, in a soft voice, with a
slight foreign accent, 'we don't want spies or thieves here.'
"'We are neither, but I can shoot as well as you, friend,' I remarked,
for by this time my rifle was on him.
"Then he thought better of it, and dropped his gun, and we explained
that we were merely on an archæological expedition. The end of it was
that we became capital friends, though neither of us could cotton much
to Mr. Jacob--I forget his other name. He struck me as too handy with
his rifle, and was, I gathered, an individual with a mysterious and
rather lurid past. To cut a long story short, when he found out that
we had no intention of poaching, your father, for it was he, told us
frankly that they were treasure-hunting, having got hold of some story
about a vast store of gold which had been hidden away there by
Portuguese two or three centuries before. Their trouble was, however,
that the Makalanga, who lived in the fortress, which was called
Bambatse, would not allow them to dig, because they said the place was
haunted, and if they did so it would bring bad luck to their tribe."
"And did they ever get in?" asked Benita.
"I am sure I don't know, for we went next day, though before we left
we called on the Makalanga, who admitted us all readily enough so long
as we brought no spades with us. By the way, the gold we saw your
father and his friend examining was found in some ancient graves
outside the walls, but had nothing to do with the big and mythical
"What was the place like? I love old ruins," broke in Benita again.
"Oh! wonderful. A gigantic, circular wall built by heaven knows who,
then half-way up the hill another wall, and near the top a third wall
which, I understood, surrounded a sort of holy of holies, and above
everything, on the brink of the precipice, a great cone of granite."
"Artificial or natural?"
"I don't know. They would not let us up there, but we were introduced
to their chief and high priest, Church and State in one, and a
wonderful old man he was, very wise and very gentle. I remember he
told me he believed we should meet again, which seemed an odd thing
for him to say. I asked him about the treasure and why he would not
let the other white men look for it. He answered that it would never
be found by any man, white or black, that only a woman would find it
at the appointed time, when it pleased the Spirit of Bambatse, under
whose guardianship it was."
"Who was the Spirit of Bambatse, Mr. Seymour?"
"I can't tell you, couldn't make out anything definite about her,
except that she was said to be white, and to appear sometimes at
sunrise, or in the moonlight, standing upon the tall point of rock of
which I told you. I remember that I got up before the dawn to look for
her--like an idiot, for of course I saw nothing--and that's all I know
about the matter."
"Did you have any talk with my father, Mr. Seymour--alone, I mean?"
"Yes, a little. The next day he walked back to our waggon with us,
being glad, I fancy, of a change from the perpetual society of his
partner Jacob. That wasn't wonderful in a man who had been brought up
at Eton and Oxford, as I found out he had, like myself, and whatever
his failings may have been--although we saw no sign of them, for he
would not touch a drop of spirits--was a gentleman, which Jacob
wasn't. Still, he--Jacob--had read a lot, especially on out-of-the-way
subjects, and could talk every language under the sun--a clever and
agreeable scoundrel in short."
"Did my father say anything about himself?"
"Yes; he told me that he had been an unsuccessful man all his life,
and had much to reproach himself with, for we got quite confidential
at last. He added that he had a family in England--what family he
didn't say--whom he was anxious to make wealthy by way of reparation
for past misdeeds, and that was why he was treasure-hunting. However,
from what you tell me, I fear he never found anything."
"No, Mr. Seymour, he never found it and never will, but all the same I
am glad to hear that he was thinking of us. Also I should like to
explore that place, Bambatse."
"So should I, Miss Clifford, in your company, and your father's, but
not in that of Jacob. If ever you should go there with him, I say:--
'Beware of Jacob.'"
"Oh! I am not afraid of Jacob," she answered with a laugh, "although I
believe that my father still has something to do with him--at least in
one of his letters he mentioned his partner, who was a German."
"A German! I think that he must have meant a German Jew."
After this there was silence between them for a time, then he said
suddenly, "You have told me your story, would you like to hear mine?"
"Yes," she answered.
"Well, it won't take you long to listen to it, for, Miss Clifford,
like Canning's needy knife-grinder, I have really none to tell. You
see before you one of the most useless persons in the world, an
undistinguished member of what is called in England the 'leisured
class,' who can do absolutely nothing that is worth doing, except
"Indeed," said Benita.
"You do not seem impressed with that accomplishment," he went on, "yet
it is an honest fact that for the last fifteen years--I was thirty-two
this month--practically my whole time has been given up to it, with a
little fishing thrown in in the spring. As I want to make the most of
myself, I will add that I am supposed to be among the six best shots
in England, and that my ambition--yes, great Heavens! my ambition--was
to become better than the other five. By that sin fell the poor man
who speaks to you. I was supposed to have abilities, but I neglected
them all to pursue this form of idleness. I entered no profession, I
did no work, with the result that at thirty-two I am ruined and almost
"Why ruined and hopeless?" she asked anxiously, for the way in which
they were spoken grieved her more than the words themselves.
"Ruined because my old uncle, the Honourable John Seymour Seymour,
whose heir I was, committed the indiscretion of marrying a young lady
who has presented him with thriving twins. With the appearance of
those twins my prospects disappeared, as did the allowance of £1,500 a
year that he was good enough to make me on which to keep up a position
as his next-of-kin. I had something of my own, but also I had debts,
and at the present moment a draft in my pocket for £2,163 14s. 5d.,
and a little loose cash, represents the total of my worldly goods,
just about the sum I have been accustomed to spend per annum."
"I don't call that ruin, I call that riches," said Benita, relieved.
"With £2,000 to begin on you may make a fortune in Africa. But how
about the hopelessness?"
"I am hopeless because I have absolutely nothing to which to look
forward. Really, when that £2,000 is gone I do not know how to earn a
sixpence. In this dilemma it occurred to me that the only thing I
could do was to turn my shooting to practical account, and become a
hunter of big game. Therefore I propose to kill elephants until an
elephant kills me. At least," he added in a changed voice, "I did so
propose until half an hour ago."
THE END OF THE "ZANZIBAR."
"Until half an hour ago? Then why----" and Benita stopped.
"Have I changed my very modest scheme of life? Miss Clifford, as you
are so good as to be sufficiently interested, I will tell you. It is
because a temptation which hitherto I have been able to resist, has
during the last thirty minutes become too strong for me. You know
everything has its breaking strain." He puffed nervously at his cigar,
threw it into the sea, paused, then went on: "Miss Clifford, I have
dared to fall in love with you. No; hear me out. When I have done it
will be quite time enough to give me the answer that I expect.
Meanwhile, for the first time in my life, allow me the luxury of being
in earnest. To me it is a new sensation, and therefore very priceless.
May I go on?"
Benita made no answer. He rose with a certain deliberateness which
characterized all his movements--for Robert Seymour never seemed to be
in a hurry--and stood in front of her so that the moonlight shone upon
her face, while his own remained in shadow.
"Beyond that £2,000 of which I have spoken, and incidentally its
owner, I have nothing whatsoever to offer to you. I am an indigent and
worthless person. Even in my prosperous days, when I could look
forward to a large estate, although it was often suggested to me, I
never considered myself justified in asking any lady to share--the
prospective estate. I think now that the real reason was that I never
cared sufficiently for any lady, since otherwise my selfishness would
probably have overcome my scruples, as it does to-night. Benita, for I
will call you so, if for the first and last time, I--I--love you.
"Listen now," he went on, dropping his measured manner, and speaking
hurriedly, like a man with an earnest message and little time in which
to deliver it, "it is an odd thing, an incomprehensible thing, but
true, true--I fell in love with you the first time I saw your face.
You remember, you stood there leaning over the bulwark when I came on
board at Southampton, and as I walked up the gangway, I looked and my
eyes met yours. Then I stopped, and that stout old lady who got off at
Madeira bumped into me, and asked me to be good enough to make up my
mind if I were going backward or forward. Do you remember?"
"Yes," she answered in a low voice.
"Which things are an allegory," he continued. "I felt it so at the
time. Yes, I had half a mind to answer 'Backward' and give up my berth
in this ship. Then I looked at you again, and something inside of me
said 'Forward.' So I came up the rest of the gangway and took off my
hat to you, a salutation I had no right to make, but which, I recall,
He paused, then continued: "As it began, so it has gone on. It is
always like that, is it not? The beginning is everything, the end must
follow. And now it has come out, as I was fully determined that it
should not do half an hour ago, when suddenly you developed eyes in
the back of your head, and--oh! dearest, I love you. No, please be
quiet; I have not done. I have told you what I am, and really there
isn't much more to say about me, for I have no particular vices except
the worst of them all, idleness, and not the slightest trace of any
virtue that I can discover. But I have a certain knowledge of the
world acquired in a long course of shooting parties, and as a man of
the world I will venture to give you a bit of advice. It is possible
that to you my life and death affair is a mere matter of board-ship
amusement. Yet it is possible also that you might take another view of
the matter. In that case, as a friend and a man of the world, I
entreat you--don't. Have nothing to do with me. Send me about my
business; you will never regret it."
"Are you making fun, or is all this meant, Mr. Seymour?" asked Benita,
still speaking beneath her breath, and looking straight before her.
"Meant? Of course it is meant. How can you ask?"
"Because I have always understood that on such occasions people wish
to make the best of themselves."
"Quite so, but I never do what I ought, a fact for which I am grateful
now come to think of it, since otherwise I should not be here
to-night. I wish to make the worst of myself, the very worst, for
whatever I am not, at least I am honest. Now having told you that I
am, or was half an hour ago, an idler, a good-for-nothing,
prospectless failure, I ask you--if you care to hear any more?"
She half rose, and, glancing at him for the first time, saw his face
contract itself and turn pale in the moonlight. It may be that the
sight of it affected her, even to the extent of removing some adverse
impression left by the bitter mocking of his self-blame. At any rate,
Benita seemed to change her mind, and sat down again, saying:
"Go on, if you wish."
He bowed slightly, and said:
"I thank you. I have told you what I /was/ half an hour ago; now,
hoping that you will believe me, I will tell you what I /am/. I am a
truly repentant man, one upon whom a new light has risen. I am not
very old, and I think that underneath it all I have some ability.
Opportunity may still come my way; if it does not, for your sake I
will make the opportunity. I do not believe that you can ever find
anyone who would love you better or care for you more tenderly. I
desire to live for you in the future, more completely even than in the
past I have lived for myself. I do not wish to influence you by
personal appeals, but in fact I stand at the parting of the ways. If
you will give yourself to me I feel as though I might still become a
husband of whom you could be proud--if not, I write 'Finis' upon the
tombstone of the possibilities of Robert Seymour. I adore you. You are
the one woman with whom I desire to pass my days; it is you who have
always been lacking to my life. I ask you to be brave, to take the
risk of marrying me, although I can see nothing but poverty ahead of
us, for I am an adventurer."
"Don't speak like that," she said quickly. "We are all of us
adventurers in this world, and I more than you. We have just to
consider ourselves, not what we have or have not."
"So be it, Miss Clifford. Then I have nothing more to say; now it is
for you to answer."
Just then the sound of the piano and the fiddle in the saloon ceased.
One of the waltzes was over, and some of the dancers came upon deck to
flirt or to cool themselves. One pair, engaged very obviously in the
former occupation, stationed themselves so near to Robert and Benita
that further conversation between them was impossible, and there
proceeded to interchange the remarks common to such occasions.
For a good ten minutes did they stand thus, carrying on a mock quarrel
as to a dance of which one of them was supposed to have been
defrauded, until Robert Seymour, generally a very philosophical
person, could have slain those innocent lovers. He felt, he knew not
why, that his chances were slipping away from him; that sensation of
something bad about to happen, of which Benita had spoken, spread from
her to him. The suspense grew exasperating, terrible even, nor could
it be ended. To ask her to come elsewhere was under the circumstances
not feasible, especially as he would also have been obliged to request
the other pair to make way for them, and all this time, with a sinking
of the heart, he felt that probably Benita was beating down any
tenderness which she might feel towards him; that when her long-
delayed answer did come the chances were it would be "No."
The piano began to play again in the saloon, and the young people,
still squabbling archly, at length prepared to depart. Suddenly there
was a stir upon the bridge, and against the tender sky Robert saw a
man dash forward. Next instant the engine-room bell rang fiercely. He
knew the signal--it was "Stop," followed at once by other ringings
that meant "Full speed astern."
"I wonder what is up?" said the young man to the young woman.
Before the words had left his lips they knew. There was a sensation as
though all the hull of the great ship had come to a complete
standstill, while the top part of her continued to travel forward;
followed by another sensation still more terrible and sickening in its
nature--that of slipping over something, helplessly, heavily, as a man
slips upon ice or a polished floor. Spars cracked, ropes flew in two
with a noise as of pistol shots. Heavy objects rushed about the deck,
travelling forwards all of them. Benita was hurled from her chair
against Robert so that the two of them rolled into the scuppers. He
was unhurt and picked himself up, but she lay still, and he saw that
something had struck her upon the head, for blood was running down her
cheek. He lifted her, and, filled with black horror and despair--for
he thought her gone--pressed his hand upon her heart. Thank God! it
began to beat again--she still lived.
The music in the saloon had stopped, and for a little while there was
silence. Then of an instant there arose the horrible clamour of
shipwreck; wild-eyed people rushed to and fro aimlessly; here and
there women and children shrieked; a clergyman fell upon his knees and
began to pray.
This went on for a space, till presently the second officer appeared
and, affecting an unconcerned air, called out that it was all right,
the captain said no one was to be afraid. He added that they were not
more than six miles from the shore, and that the ship would be beached
in half an hour. Indeed, as he spoke the engines, which had been
stopped, commenced to work again, and her head swung round in a wide
circle, pointing to the land. Evidently they had passed over the rock
and were once more in deep water, through which they travelled at a
good speed but with a heavy list to starboard. The pumps got to work
also with a monotonous, clanging beat, throwing out great columns of
foaming water on to the oily sea. Men began to cut the covers off the
boats, and to swing some of them outboard. Such were the things that
went on about them.
With the senseless Benita clasped to his breast, the blood from her
cut head running down his shoulder, Robert stood still awhile,
thinking. Then he made up his mind. As it chanced, she had a deck
cabin, and thither he forced his way, carrying her tenderly and with
patience through the distracted throng of passengers, for there were
five hundred souls on board that ship. He reached the place to find
that it was quite empty, her cabinmate having fled. Laying Benita upon
the lower bunk, he lit the swinging candle. As soon as it burned up he
searched for the lifebelts and by good fortune found two of them, one
of which, not without great difficulty, he succeeded in fastening
round her. Then he took a sponge and bathed her head with water. There
was a great bruise upon her temple where the block or whatever it was
had struck her, and the blood still flowed; but the wound was not very
deep or extensive, nor, so far as he could discover, did the bone
appear to be broken or driven in. He had good hope that she was only
stunned, and would revive presently. Unable to do more for her, a
thought struck him. On the floor of the cabin, thrown by the shock
from the rack, lay her writing case. He opened it, and taking a piece
of paper wrote these words hurriedly in pencil:
"You gave me no answer, and it is more than probable that I shall
receive none in this world which one or both of us may be upon
the verge of leaving. In the latter case we can settle the matter
elsewhere--perhaps. In the former, should it be my lot to go and
yours to stay, I hope that you will think kindly of me at times
as of one who loved you truly. Should it be yours to go, then
you will never read these words. Yet if to the dead is given
knowledge, be assured that as you left me so you shall find me,
yours and yours alone. Or perhaps we both may live; I pray
so.--S. R. S."
Folding up the paper, he undid a button of Benita's blouse and thrust
it away there, knowing that thus she would certainly find it should
she survive. Then he stepped out on to the deck to see what was
happening. The vessel still steamed, but made slow progress; moreover,
the list to starboard was now so pronounced that it was difficult to
stand upright. On account of it nearly all the passengers were huddled
together upon the port side, having instinctively taken refuge as far
as possible above the water. A man with a white, distraught face
staggered towards him, supporting himself by the bulwarks. It was the
captain. For a moment he paused as though to think, holding to a
stanchion. Robert Seymour saw his opportunity and addressed him.
"Forgive me," he said; "I do not like interfering with other people's
business, but for reasons unconnected with myself I suggest to you
that it would be wise to stop this ship and get out the boats. The sea
is calm; if it is not left till too late there should be no difficulty
in launching them."
The man stared at him absently, then said:
"They won't hold everybody, Mr. Seymour. I hope to beach her."
"At least they will hold some," he answered, "whereas----" And he
pointed to the water, which by now was almost level with the deck.
"Perhaps you are right, Mr. Seymour. It doesn't matter to me, anyway.
I am a ruined man; but the poor passengers--the poor passengers!" And
he scrambled away fiercely towards the bridge like a wounded cat along
the bough of a tree, whence in a few seconds Robert heard him shouting
A minute or so afterwards the steamer stopped. Too late the captain
had decided to sacrifice his ship and save those she carried. They
were beginning to get out the boats. Now Robert returned to the cabin
where Benita was lying senseless, and wrapped her up in a cloak and
some blankets. Then, seeing the second lifebelt on the floor, by an
afterthought he put it on, knowing that there was time to spare. Next
he lifted Benita, and feeling sure that the rush would be for the
starboard side, on which the boats were quite near the water, carried
her, with difficulty, for the slope was steep, to the port-cutter,
which he knew would be in the charge of a good man, the second
officer, whom he had seen in command there at Sunday boat-drills.
Here, as he had anticipated, the crowd was small, since most people
thought that it would not be possible to get this boat down safely to
the water; or if their powers of reflection were gone, instinct told
them so. That skilful seaman, the second officer, and his appointed
crew, were already at work lowering the cutter from the davits.
"Now," he said, "women and children first."
A number rushed in, and Robert saw that the boat would soon be full.
"I am afraid," he said, "that I must count myself a woman as I carry
one," and by a great effort, holding Benita with one arm, with the
other he let himself down the falls and, assisted by a quartermaster,
gained the boat in safety.
One or two other men scrambled after him.
"Push her off," said the officer; "she can hold no more," and the
ropes were let go.
When they were about twelve feet from the ship's side, from which they
thrust themselves clear with oars, there came a rush of people,
disappointed of places in the starboard boats. A few of the boldest of
these swarmed down the falls, others jumped and fell among them, or
missed and dropped into the sea, or struck upon the sides of the boat
and were killed. Still she reached the water upon an even keel, though
now much overladen. The oars were got out, and they rowed round the
bow of the great ship wallowing in her death-throes, their first idea
being to make for the shore, which was not three miles away.
This brought them to the starboard side, where they saw a hideous
scene. Hundreds of people seemed to be fighting for room, with the
result that some of the boats were overturned, precipitating their
occupants into the water. Others hung by the prow or the stern, the
ropes having jammed in the davits in the frantic haste and confusion,
while from them human beings dropped one by one. Round others not yet
launched a hellish struggle was in progress, the struggle of men,
women, and children battling for their lives, in which the strong, mad
with terror, showed no mercy to the weak.
From that mass of humanity, most of them about to perish, went up a
babel of sounds which in its sum shaped itself to one prolonged
scream, such as might proceed from a Titan in his agony. All this
beneath a brooding, moonlit sky, and on a sea as smooth as glass. Upon
the ship, which now lay upon her side, the siren still sent up its
yells for succour, and some brave man continued to fire rockets, which
rushed heavenwards and burst in showers of stars.
Robert remembered that the last rocket he had seen was fired at an
evening /fête/ for the amusement of the audience. The contrast struck
him as dreadful. He wondered whether there were any power or infernal
population that could be amused by a tragedy such as enacted itself
before his eyes; how it came about also that such a tragedy was
permitted by the merciful Strength in which mankind put their faith.
The vessel was turning over, compressed air or steam burst up the
decks with loud reports; fragments of wreckage flew into the air.
There the poor captain still clung to the rail of the bridge. Seymour
could see his white face--the moonlight seemed to paint it with a
ghastly smile. The officer in command of their boat shouted to the
crew to give way lest they should be sucked down with the steamer.
Look! Now she wallowed like a dying whale, the moonrays shone white
upon her bottom, showing the jagged rent made in it by the rock on
which she had struck, and now she was gone. Only a little cloud of
smoke and steam remained to mark where the /Zanzibar/ had been.
HOW ROBERT CAME ASHORE
In place of the /Zanzibar/ a great pit on the face of the ocean, in
which the waters boiled and black objects appeared and disappeared.
"Sit still, for your lives' sake," said the officer in a quiet voice;
"the suck is coming."
In another minute it came, dragging them downward till the water
trickled over the sides of the boat, and backward towards the pit. But
before ever they reached it the deep had digested its prey, and, save
for the great air-bubbles which burst about them and a mixed,
unnatural swell, was calm again. For the moment they were safe.
"Passengers," said the officer, "I am going to put out to sea--at any
rate, till daylight. We may meet a vessel there, and if we try to row
ashore we shall certainly be swamped in the breakers."
No one objected; they seemed too stunned to speak, but Robert thought
to himself that the man was wise. They began to move, but before they
had gone a dozen yards something dark rose beside them. It was a piece
of wreckage, and clinging to it a woman, who clasped a bundle to her
breast. More, she was alive, for she began to cry to them to take her
"Save me and my child!" she cried. "For God's sake save me!"
Robert recognized the choking voice; it was that of a young married
lady with whom he had been very friendly, who was going out with her
baby to join her husband in Natal. He stretched out his hand and
caught hold of her, whereon the officer said, heavily:
"The boat is already overladen. I must warn you that to take more
aboard is not safe."
Thereon the passengers awoke from their stupor.
"Push her off," cried a voice; "she must take her chance." And there
was a murmur of approval at the dreadful words.
"For Christ's sake--for Christ's sake!" wailed the drowning woman, who
clung desperately to Robert's hand.
"If you try to pull her in, we will throw you overboard," said the
voice again, and a knife was lifted as though to hack at his arm. Then
the officer spoke once more.
"This lady cannot come into the boat unless someone goes out of it. I
would myself, but it is my duty to stay. Is there any man here who
will make place for her?"
But all the men there--seven of them, besides the crew--hung their
heads and were silent.
"Give way," said the officer in the same heavy voice; "she will drop
While the words passed his lips Robert seemed to live a year. Here was
an opportunity of atonement for his idle and luxurious life. An hour
ago he would have taken it gladly, but now--now, with Benita senseless
on his breast, and that answer still locked in her sleeping heart? Yet
Benita would approve of such a death as this, and even if she loved
him not in life, would learn to love his memory. In an instant his
mind was made up, and he was speaking rapidly.
"Thompson," he said to the officer, "if I go, will you swear to take
her in and her child?"
"Certainly, Mr. Seymour."
"Then lay to; I am going. If any of you live, tell this lady how I
died," and he pointed to Benita, "and say I thought that she would
"She shall be told," said the officer again, "and saved, too, if I can
"Hold Mrs. Jeffreys, then, till I am out of this. I'll leave my coat
to cover her."
A sailor obeyed, and with difficulty Robert wrenched free his hand.
Very deliberately he pressed Benita to his breast and kissed her on
the forehead, then let her gently slide on to the bottom of the boat.
Next he slipped off his overcoat and slowly rolled himself over the
gunwale into the sea.
"Now," he said, "pull Mrs. Jeffreys in."
"God bless you; you are a brave man," said Thompson. "I shall remember
you if I live a hundred years."
But no one else said anything; perhaps they were all too much ashamed,
"I have only done my duty," Seymour answered from the water. "How far
is it to the shore?"
"About three miles," shouted Thompson. "But keep on that plank, or you
will never live through the rollers. Good-bye."
"Good-bye," answered Robert.
Then the boat passed away from him and soon vanished in the misty face
of the deep.
Resting on the plank which had saved the life of Mrs. Jeffreys, Robert
Seymour looked about him and listened. Now and again he heard a faint,
choking scream uttered by some drowning wretch, and a few hundred
yards away caught sight of a black object which he thought might be a
boat. If so, he reflected that it must be full. Moreover, he could not
overtake it. No; his only chance was to make for the shore. He was a
strong swimmer, and happily the water was almost as warm as milk.
There seemed to be no reason why he should not reach it, supported as
he was by a lifebelt, if the sharks would leave him alone, which they
might, as there was plenty for them to feed on. The direction he knew
well enough, for now in the great silence of the sea he could hear the
boom of the mighty rollers breaking on the beach.
Ah, those rollers! He remembered how that very afternoon Benita and he
had watched them through his field glass sprouting up against the
cruel walls of rock, and wondered that when the ocean was so calm they
had still such power. Now, should he live to reach them, he was doomed
to match himself against that power. Well, the sooner he did so the
sooner it would be over, one way or the other. This was in his favour:
the tide had turned, and was flowing shorewards. Indeed, he had little
to do but to rest upon his plank, which he placed crosswise beneath
his breast, and steered himself with his feet. Even thus he made good
progress, nearly a mile an hour perhaps. He could have gone faster had
he swum, but he was saving his strength.
It was a strange journey upon that silent sea beneath those silent
stars, and strange thoughts came into Robert's soul. He wondered
whether Benita would live and what she would say. Perhaps, however,
she was already dead, and he would meet her presently. He wondered if
he were doomed to die, and whether this sacrifice of his would be
allowed to atone for his past errors. He hoped so, and put up a
petition to that effect, for himself and for Benita, and for all the
poor people who had gone before, hurled from their pleasure into the
halls of Death.
So he floated on while the boom of the breakers grew ever nearer,
companioned by his wild, fretful thoughts, till at length what he took
to be a shark appeared quite close to him, and in the urgency of the
moment he gave up wondering. It proved to be only a piece of wood, but
later on a real shark did come, for he saw its back fin. However, this
cruel creature was either gorged or timid, for when he splashed upon
the water and shouted, it went away, to return no more.
Now, at length, Robert entered upon the deep hill and valley swell
which preceded the field of the rollers. Suddenly he shot down a
smooth slope, and without effort of his own found himself borne up an
opposing steep, from the crest of which he had a view of white lines
of foam, and beyond them of a dim and rocky shore. At one spot, a
little to his right, the foam seemed thinner and the line of cliff to
be broken, as though here there was a cleft. For this cleft, then, he
steered his plank, taking the swell obliquely, which by good fortune
the set of the tide enabled him to do without any great exertion.
The valleys grew deeper, and the tops of the opposing ridges were
crested with foam. He had entered the rollers, and the struggle for
life began. Before him they rushed solemn and mighty. Viewed from some
safe place even the sight of these combers is terrible, as any who
have watched them from this coast, or from that of the Island of
Ascension, can bear witness. What their aspect was to this shipwrecked
man, supported by a single plank, may therefore be imagined, seen, as
he saw them, in the mysterious moonlight and in utter loneliness. Yet
his spirit rose to meet the dread emergency; if he were to die, he
would die fighting. He had grown cold and tired, but now the chill and
weariness left him; he felt warm and strong. From the crest of one of
the high rollers he thought he saw that about half a mile away from
him a little river ran down the centre of the gorge, and for the mouth
of this river he laid his course.
At first all went well. He was borne up the seas; he slid down the
seas in a lather of white foam. Presently the rise and fall grew
steeper, and the foam began to break over his head. Robert could no
longer guide himself; he must go as he was carried. Then in an instant
he was carried into a hell of waters where, had it not been for his
lifebelt and the plank, he must have been beaten down and have
perished. As it was, now he was driven into the depths, and now he
emerged upon their surface to hear their seething hiss around him, and
above it all a continuous boom as of great guns--the boom of the
The plank was almost twisted from his grasp, but he clung to it
desperately, although its edges tore his arms. When the rollers broke
over him he held his breath, and when he was tossed skywards on their
curves, drew it again in quick, sweet gasps. Now he sat upon the very
brow of one of them as a merman might; now he dived like a dolphin,
and now, just as his senses were leaving him, his feet touched bottom.
Another moment and Robert was being rolled along that bottom with a
weight on him like the weight of mountains. The plank was rent from
him, but his cork jacket brought him up. The backwash drew him with it
into deeper water, where he lay helpless and despairing, for he no
longer had any strength to struggle against his doom.
Then it was that there came a mighty roller, bigger than any that he
had seen--such a one as on that coast the Kaffirs call "a father of
waves." It caught him in the embrace of its vast green curve. It bore
him forward as though he were but a straw, far forward over the
stretch of cruel rocks. It broke in thunder, dashing him again upon
the stones and sand of the little river bar, rolling him along with
its resistless might, till even that might was exhausted, and its foam
began to return seawards, sucking him with it.
Robert's mind was almost gone, but enough of it remained to tell him
that if once more he was dragged into the deep water he must be lost.
As the current haled him along he gripped at the bottom with his
hands, and by the mercy of Heaven they closed on something. It may
have been a tree-stump embedded there, or a rock--he never knew. At
least, it was firm, and to it he hung despairingly. Would that rush
never cease? His lungs were bursting; he must let go! Oh! the foam was
thinning; his head was above it now; now it had departed, leaving him
like a stranded fish upon the shingle. For half a minute or more he
lay there gasping, then looked behind him to see another comber
approaching through the gloom. He struggled to his feet, fell, rose
again, and ran, or rather, staggered forward with that tigerish water
hissing at his heels. Forward, still forward, till he was beyond its
reach--yes, on dry sand. Then his vital forces failed him; one of his
legs gave way, and, bleeding from a hundred hurts, he fell heavily
onto his face, and there was still.
The boat in which Benita lay, being so deep in the water, proved very
hard to row against the tide, for the number of its passengers
encumbered the oarsmen. After a while a light off land breeze sprang
up, as here it often does towards morning; and the officer, Thompson,
determined to risk hoisting the sail. Accordingly this was done--with
some difficulty, for the mast had to be drawn out and shipped--
although the women screamed as the weight of the air bent their frail
craft over till the gunwale was almost level with the water.
"Anyone who moves shall be thrown overboard!" said the officer, who
steered, after which they were quiet.
Now they made good progress seawards, but the anxieties of those who
knew were very great, since the wind showed signs of rising, and if
any swell should spring up that crowded cutter could scarcely hope to
live. In fact, two hours later they were forced to lower the sail
again and drift, waiting for the dawn. Mr. Thompson strove to cheer
them, saying that now they were in the track of vessels, and if they
could see none when the light came, he would run along the shore in
the hope of finding a place free of breakers where they might land. If
they did not inspire hope, at least his words calmed them, and they
sat in heavy silence, watching the sky.
At length it grew grey, and then, with a sudden glory peculiar to
South Africa, the great red sun arose and began to dispel the mist
from the surface of the sea. Half an hour more and this was gone, and
now the bright rays brought life back into their chilled frames as
they stared at each other to see which of their company were still
left alive. They even asked for food, and biscuit was given to them
All this while Benita remained unconscious. Indeed, one callous
fellow, who had been using her body as a footstool, said that she must
be dead, and had better be thrown overboard, as it would lighten the
"If you throw that lady into the sea, living or dead," said Mr.
Thompson, with an ominous lift of his eye, "you go with her, Mr.
Batten. Remember who brought her here and how he died."
Then Mr. Batten held his peace, while Thompson stood up and scanned
the wide expanse of sea. Presently he whispered to a sailor near him,
who also stood up, looked, and nodded.
"That will be the other Line's intermediate boat," he said, and the
passengers, craning their heads round, saw far away to the right a
streak of smoke upon the horizon. Orders were given, a little corner
of sail was hoisted, with a white cloth of some sort tied above it,
and the oars were got out. Once more the cutter moved forward, bearing
to the left in the hope of intercepting the steamer.
She came on with terrible swiftness, and they who had miles of water
to cover, dared hoist no more sail in that breeze. In half an hour she
was nearly opposite to them, and they were still far away. A little
more sail was let out, driving them through the water at as quick a
rate as they could venture to go. The steamer was passing three miles
or so away, and black despair took hold of them. Now the resourceful
Thompson, without apologies, undressed, and removing the white shirt
that he had worn at the dance, bade a sailor to tie it to an oar and
wave it to and fro.
Still the steamer went on, until presently they heard her siren going,
and saw that she was putting about.
"She has seen us," said Thompson. "Thank God, all of you, for there is
wind coming up. Pull down that sail; we shan't need it any more."
Half an hour later, with many precautions, for the wind he prophesied
was already troubling the sea and sending little splashes of water
over the stern of their deeply laden boat, they were fast to a line
thrown from the deck of the three thousand ton steamer /Castle/, bound
for Natal. Then, with a rattle, down came the accommodation ladder,
and strong-armed men, standing on its grating, dragged them one by one
from the death to which they had been so near. The last to be lifted
up, except Thompson, was Benita, round whom it was necessary to reeve
"Any use?" asked the officer on the grating as he glanced at her quiet
"Can't say; I hope so," answered Thompson. "Call your doctor." And
gently enough she was borne up the ship's side.
They wanted to cast off the boat, but Thompson remonstrated, and in
the end that also was dragged to deck. Meanwhile the news had spread,
and the awakened passengers of the /Castle/, clad in pyjamas,
dressing-gowns, and even blankets, were crowding round the poor
castaways or helping them to their cabins.
"I am a teetotaller," said second officer Thompson when he had made a
brief report to the captain of the /Castle/, "but if anyone will stand
me a whiskey and soda I shall be obliged to him."
Although the shock of the blow she had received upon her head was
sufficient to make her insensible for so many hours, Benita's injuries
were not of a really serious nature, for as it happened the falling
block, or whatever it may have been, had hit her forehead slantwise,
and not full, to which accident she owed it that, although the skin
was torn and the scalp bruised, her skull had escaped fracture. Under
proper medical care her senses soon came back to her, but as she was
quite dazed and thought herself still on board the /Zanzibar/, the
doctor considered it wise to preserve her in that illusion for a
while. So after she had swallowed some broth he gave her a sleeping
draught, the effects of which she did not shake off till the following
Then she came to herself completely, and was astonished to feel the
pain in her head, which had been bandaged, and to see a strange
stewardess sitting by her with a cup of beef-tea in her hand.
"Where am I? Is it a dream?" she asked.
"Drink this and I will tell you," answered the stewardess.
Benita obeyed, for she felt hungry, then repeated her question.
"Your steamer was shipwrecked," said the stewardess, "and a great many
poor people were drowned, but you were saved in a boat. Look, there
are your clothes; they were never in the water."
"Who carried me into the boat?" asked Benita in a low voice.
"A gentleman, they say, Miss, who had wrapped you in a blanket and put
a lifebelt on you."
Now Benita remembered everything that happened before the darkness
fell--the question to which she had given no answer, the young couple
who stood flirting by her--all came back to her.
"Was Mr. Seymour saved?" she whispered, her face grey with dread.
"I dare say, Miss," answered the stewardess evasively. "But there is
no gentleman of that name aboard this ship."
At that moment the doctor came in, and him, too, she plied with
questions. But having learned the story of Robert's self-sacrifice
from Mr. Thompson and the others, he would give her no answer, for he
guessed how matters had stood between them, and feared the effects of
the shock. All he could say was that he hoped Mr. Seymour had escaped
in some other boat.
It was not until the third morning that Benita was allowed to learn
the truth, which indeed it was impossible to conceal any longer. Mr.
Thompson came to her cabin and told her everything, while she listened
silently, horrified, amazed.
"Miss Clifford," he said, "I think it was one of the bravest things
that a man ever did. On the ship I always thought him rather a head-
in-air kind of swell, but he was a splendid fellow, and I pray God
that he has lived, as the lady and child for whom he offered himself
up have done, for they are both well again."
"Yes," she repeated after him mechanically, "splendid fellow indeed,
and," she added, with a strange flash of conviction, "I believe that
he /is/ still alive. If he were dead I should know it."
"I am glad to hear you say so," said Mr. Thompson, who believed the
"Listen," she went on. "I will tell you something. When that dreadful
accident occurred Mr. Seymour had just asked me to marry him, and I
was going to answer that I would--because I love him. I believe that I
shall still give him that answer."
Mr. Thompson replied again that he hoped so, which, being as honest
and tender-hearted as he was brave and capable, he did most earnestly;
but in his heart he reflected that her answer would not be given this
side of the grave. Then, as he had been deputed to do, he handed her
the note which had been found in the bosom of her dress, and, able to
bear no more of this painful scene, hurried from the cabin. She read
it greedily twice, and pressed it to her lips, murmuring:
"Yes, I will think kindly of you, Robert Seymour, kindly as woman can
of man, and now or afterwards you shall have your answer, if you still
wish for it. Whenever you come or wherever I go, it shall be ready for
That afternoon, when she was more composed, Mrs. Jeffreys came to see
Benita, bringing her baby with her. The poor woman was still pale and
shaken, but the child had taken no hurt at all from its immersion in
that warm water.
"What can you think of me?" she said, falling on her knees by Benita.
"But oh! I did not know what I was doing. It was terror and my child,"
and she kissed the sleeping infant passionately. "Also I did not
understand at the time--I was too dazed. And--that hero--he gave his
life for me when the others wished to beat me off with oars. Yes, his
blood is upon my hands--he who died that I and my child might live."
Benita looked at her and answered, very gently:
"Perhaps he did not die after all. Do not grieve, for if he did it was
a very glorious death, and I am prouder of him than I could have been
had he lived on like the others--who wished to beat you off with oars.
Whatever is, is by God's Will, and doubtless for the best. At the
least, you and your child will be restored to your husband, though it
cost me one who would have been--my husband."
That evening Benita came upon the deck and spoke with the other ladies
who were saved, learning every detail that she could gather. But to
none of the men, except to Mr. Thompson, would she say a single word,
and soon, seeing how the matter stood, they hid themselves away from
her as they had already done from Mrs. Jeffreys.
The /Castle/ had hung about the scene of the shipwreck for thirty
hours, and rescued one other boatload of survivors, also a stoker
clinging to a piece of wreckage. But with the shore she had been
unable to communicate, for the dreaded wind had risen, and the
breakers were quite impassable to any boat. To a passing steamer bound
for Port Elizabeth, however, she had reported the terrible disaster,
which by now was known all over the world, together with the names of
those whom she had picked up in the boats.
On the night of the day of Benita's interview with Mrs. Jeffreys, the
/Castle/ arrived off Durban and anchored, since she was too big a
vessel to cross the bar as it was in those days. At dawn the
stewardess awoke Benita from the uneasy sleep in which she lay, to
tell her that an old gentleman had come off in the tug and wished to
see her; for fear of exciting false hopes she was very careful to add
that word "old." With her help Benita dressed herself, and as the sun
rose, flooding the Berea, the Point, the white town and fair Natal
beyond with light, she went on to the deck, and there, leaning over
the bulwark, saw a thin, grey-bearded man of whom after all these
years the aspect was still familiar.
A curious thrill went through her as she looked at him leaning there
lost in thought. After all, he was her father, the man to whom she
owed her presence upon this bitter earth, this place of terrors and
delights, of devastation and hope supernal. Perhaps, too, he had been
as much sinned against as sinning. She stepped up to him and touched
him on the shoulder.
"Father," she said.
He turned round with all the quickness of a young man, for about him
there was a peculiar agility which his daughter had inherited. Like
his mind, his body was still nimble.
"My darling," he said, "I should have known your voice anywhere. It
has haunted my sleep for years. My darling, thank you for coming back
to me, and thank God for preserving you when so many were lost." Then
he threw his arms about her and kissed her.
She shrank from him a little, for by inadvertence he had pressed upon
the wound in her forehead.
"Forgive me," she said; "it is my head. It was injured, you know."
Then he saw the bandage about her brow, and was very penitent.
"They did not tell me that you had been hurt, Benita," he exclaimed in
his light, refined voice, one of the stamps of that gentility of blood
and breeding whereof all his rough years and errors had been unable to
deprive him. "They only told me that you were saved. It is part of my
ill-fortune that at our first moment of greeting I should give you
pain, who have caused you so much already."
Benita felt that the words were an apology for the past, and her heart
"It is nothing," she answered. "You did not know or mean it."
"No, dear, I never knew or meant it. Believe me, I was not a willing
sinner, only a weak one. You are beautiful, Benita--far more so than I
"What," she answered smiling, "with this bandage round my head? Well,
in your eyes, perhaps." But inwardly she thought to herself that the
description would be more applicable to her father, who in truth,
notwithstanding his years, was wonderfully handsome, with his quick
blue eyes, mobile face, gentle mouth with the wistful droop at the
corners so like her own, and grey beard. How, she wondered, could this
be the man who had struck her mother. Then she remembered him as he
had been years before when he was a slave to liquor, and knew that the
answer was simple.
"Tell me about your escape, love," he said, patting her hand with his
thin fingers. "You don't know what I've suffered. I was waiting at the
Royal Hotel here, when the cable came announcing the loss of the
/Zanzibar/ and all on board. For the first time for many a year I
drank spirits to drown my grief--don't be afraid, dear--for the first
time and the last. Then afterwards came another cable giving the names
of those who were known to be saved, and--thank God, oh! thank God--
yours among them," and he gasped at the recollection of that relief.
"Yes," she said; "I suppose I should thank--Him--and another. Have you
heard the story about--how Mr. Seymour saved me, I mean?"
"Some of it. While you were dressing yourself, I have been talking to
the officer who was in command of your boat. He was a brave man,
Benita, and I am sorry to tell you he is gone."
She grasped a stanchion and clung there, staring at him with a wild,
"How do you know that, Father?"
Mr. Clifford drew a copy of the /Natal Mercury/ of the previous day
from the pocket of his ulster, and while she waited in an agony he
hunted through the long columns descriptive of the loss of the
/Zanzibar/. Presently he came to the paragraph he sought, and read it
aloud to her. It ran:
"The searchers on the coast opposite the scene of the shipwreck
report that they met a Kaffir who was travelling along the
seashore, who produced a gold watch which he said he had taken
from the body of a white man that he found lying on the sand at
the mouth of the Umvoli River. Inside the watch is engraved, 'To
Seymour Robert Seymour, from his uncle, on his twenty-first
birthday.' The name of Mr. Seymour appears as a first-class
passenger to Durban by the /Zanzibar/. He was a member of an old
English family in Lincolnshire. This was his second journey to
South Africa, which he visited some years ago with his brother on
a big-game shooting expedition. All who knew him then will join
with us in deploring his loss. Mr. Seymour was a noted shot and an
English gentleman of the best stamp. He was last seen by one of
the survivors of the catastrophe, carrying Miss Clifford, the
daughter of the well-known Natal pioneer of that name, into a
boat, but as this young lady is reported to have been saved, and
as he entered the boat with her, no explanation is yet forthcoming
as to how he came to his sad end."
"I fear that is clear enough," said Mr. Clifford, as he folded up his
"Yes, clear enough," she repeated in a strained voice. "And yet--yet--
oh! Father, he had just asked me to marry him, and I can't believe
that he is dead before I had time to answer."
"Good Heavens!" said the old man, "they never told me that. It is
dreadfully sad. God help you, my poor child! There is nothing more to
say except that he was only one among three hundred who have gone with
him. Be brave now, before all these people. Look--here comes the tug."
The following week was very much of a blank to Benita. When they
reached shore some old friends of her father's took her and him to
their house, a quiet place upon the Berea. Here, now that the first
excitement of rescue and grief was over, the inevitable reaction set
in, bringing with it weakness so distressing that the doctor insisted
upon her going to bed, where she remained for the next five days. With
the healing up of the wound in her head her strength came back to her
at last, but it was a very sad Benita who crept from her room one
afternoon on to the verandah and looked out at the cruel sea, peaceful
now as the sky above.
Her father, who had nursed her tenderly during these dark days, came
and sat by her, taking her hand in his.
"This is capital," he said, glancing at her anxiously. "You are
getting quite yourself again."
"I shall never be myself again," she answered. "My old self is dead,
although the outside of me has recovered. Father, I suppose that it is
wrong, but I wish that I were dead too. I wish that he had taken me
with him when he jumped into the sea to lighten the boat."
"Don't speak like that," he broke in hastily. "Of course I know that I
am not much to you--how can I be after all that is past? But I love
you, dear, and if I were left quite alone again----" And he broke off.
"You shall not be left alone if I can help it," she replied, looking
at the old man with her dark and tender eyes. "We have only each other
in the world now, have we? The rest have gone, never to return."
He threw his arms about her, and, drawing her to him, kissed her
"If only you could learn to love me!" he said.
"I do love you," she answered, "who now shall never love any other man
upon the earth."
This was the beginning of a deep affection which sprang up between Mr.
Clifford and his daughter, and continued to the end.
"Is there any news?" she asked a little later.
"None--none about him. The tide took his body away, no doubt, after
the Kaffir had gone. I remember him well now. He was a fine young man,
and it comes into my mind that when I said good-bye to him above those
old ruins, I wished that I had a son like that. And to think that he
went so near to becoming a son to me! Well, the grass must bend when
the wind blows, as the natives say."
"I am glad that you knew him," she answered simply.
Then they began talking about other matters. He told her that all the
story had become known, and that people spoke of Robert Seymour as
"the hero"; also that there was a great deal of curiosity about her.
"Then let us get away as soon as we can," she said nervously. "But,
Father, where are we going?"
"That will be for you to decide, love. Listen, now; this is my
position. I have been quite steady for years, and worked hard, with
the result that I and my partner have a fine farm in the Transvaal, on
the high land near Lake Chrissie, out Wakkerstroom way. We breed
horses there, and have done very well with them. I have £1,500 saved,
and the farm brings us in quite £600 a year beyond the expenses. But
it is a lonely place, with only a few Boers about, although they are
good fellows enough. You might not care to live there with no
"I don't think that I should mind," she answered, smiling.
"Not now, but by-and-by you would when you know what it is like. Now I
might sell my share in the farm to my partner, who, I think, would buy
it, or I might trust to him to send me a part of the profits, which
perhaps he would not. Then, if you wish it, we could live in or near
one of the towns, or even, as you have an income of your own, go home
to England, if that is your will."
"Is it your will?" she asked.
He shook his head. "No; all my life is here. Also, I have something to
find before I die--for your sake, dear."
"Do you mean up among those ruins?" she asked, looking at him
"Yes. So you know about it?" he answered, with a flash of his blue
eyes. "Oh! of course, Seymour told you. Yes, I mean among the ruins--
but I will tell you that story another time--not here, not here. What
do you wish to do, Benita? Remember, I am in your hands; I will obey
you in all things."
"Not to stop in a town and not to go to England," she replied, while
he hung eagerly upon her words, "for this has become my holy land.
Father, I will go with you to your farm; there I can be quiet, you and
"Yes," he answered rather uneasily; "but, you see, Benita, we shall
not be quite alone there. My partner, Jacob Meyer, lives with me."
"Jacob Meyer? Ah! I remember," and she winced. "He is a German, is he
"German Jew, I imagine, and very odd. Should have made his fortune a
dozen times over, and yet has never done anything. Too unpractical,
too visionary, with all his brains and scheming. Not a good man,
Benita, although he suits me, and, for the matter of that, under our
agreement I cannot get rid of him."
"How did he become your partner?" she asked.
"Oh! a good many years ago he turned up at the place with a doleful
story. Said that he had been trading among the Zulus; he was what we
call a 'smouse' out here, and got into a row with them, I don't know
how. The end of it was that they burned his waggon, looted his trade-
goods and oxen, and killed his servants. They would have killed him
too, only, according to his own account, he escaped in a very queer
"Well, he says by mesmerising the chief and making the man lead him
through his followers. An odd story enough, but I can quite believe it
of Jacob. He worked for me for six months, and showed himself very
clever. Then one night, I remember it was a few days after I had told
him of the story of the Portuguese treasure in Matabeleland, he
produced £500 in Bank of England notes out of the lining of his
waistcoat, and offered to buy a half interest in the farm. Yes, £500!
Although for all those months I had believed him to be a beggar. Well,
as he was so /slim/, and better than no company in that lonely place,
in the end I accepted. We have done well since, except for the
expedition after the treasure which we did not get, although we more
than paid our expenses out of the ivory we bought. But next time we
shall succeed, I am sure," he added with enthusiasm, "that is, if we
can persuade those Makalanga to let us search on the mountain."
"I think you had better stick to the horsebreeding," she said.
"You shall judge when you hear the story. But you have been brought up
in England; will you not be afraid to go to Lake Chrissie?"
"Afraid of what?" she asked.
"Oh! of the loneliness, and of Jacob Meyer."
"I was born on the veld, Father, and I have always hated London. As
for your odd friend, Mr. Meyer, I am not afraid of any man on earth. I
have done with men. At the least I will try the place and see how I
"Very well," answered her father with a sigh of relief. "You can
always come back, can't you?"
"Yes," she said indifferently. "I suppose that I can always come
More than three weeks had gone by when one morning Benita, who slept
upon the cartel or hide-strung bed in the waggon, having dressed
herself as best she could in that confined place, thrust aside the
curtain and seated herself upon the voorkisse, or driving-box. The sun
was not yet up, and the air was cold with frost, for they were on the
Transvaal high-veld at the end of winter. Even through her thick cloak
Benita shivered and called to the driver of the waggon, who also acted
as cook, and whose blanket-draped form she could see bending over a
fire into which he was blowing life, to make haste with the coffee.
"By and by, Missie--by and by," he answered, coughing the rank smoke
from his lungs. "Kettle no sing yet, and fire black as hell."
Benita reflected that popular report painted this locality red, but
without entering into argument sat still upon the chest waiting till
the water boiled and her father appeared.
Presently he emerged from under the side flap of the waggon where he
slept, and remarking that it was really too cold to think of washing,
climbed to her side by help of the disselboom, and kissed her.
"How far are we now from Rooi Krantz, Father?" she asked, for that was
the name of Mr. Clifford's farm.
"About forty miles, dear. The waggon cannot make it to-night with
these two sick oxen, but after the midday outspan we will ride on, and
be there by sundown. I am afraid you are tired of this trekking."
"No," she answered. "I like it very much; it is so restful, and I
sleep sound upon that cartel. I feel as though I should like to trek
on for the rest of my life."
"So you shall if you wish, dear, for whole months. South Africa is
big, and when the grass grows, if you still wish it, we will take a
She smiled, but made no answer, knowing that he was thinking of the
place so far away where he believed that once the Portuguese had
The kettle was singing now merrily enough, and Hans, the cook, lifting
it from the fire in triumph--for his blowing exertions had been
severe--poured into it a quantity of ground coffee from an old mustard
tin. Then, having stirred the mixture with a stick, he took a red
ember from the fire and dropped it into the kettle, a process which,
as travellers in the veld know well, has a clearing effect upon the
coffee. Next he produced pannikins, and handed them up with a pickle
jar full of sugar to Mr. Clifford, upon the waggon chest. Milk they
had none, yet that coffee tasted a great deal better than it looked;
indeed, Benita drank two cups of it to warm herself and wash down the
hard biscuit. Before the day was over glad enough was she that she had
The sun was rising; huge and red it looked seen through the clinging
mist, and, their breakfast finished, Mr. Clifford gave orders that the
oxen, which were filling themselves with the dry grass near at hand,
should be got up and inspanned. The voorlooper, a Zulu boy, who had
left them for a little while to share the rest of the coffee with
Hans, rose from his haunches with a grunt, and departed to fetch them.
A minute or two later Hans ceased from his occupation of packing up
the things, and said in a low voice:
"/Kek!/ Baas"--that is "Look!"
Following the line of his outstretched hand, Benita and her father
perceived, not more than a hundred yards away from them, a great troop
of wilderbeeste, or gnu, travelling along a ridge, and pausing now and
again to indulge in those extraordinary gambols which cause the Boers
to declare that these brutes have a worm in their brains.
"Give me my rifle, Hans," said Mr. Clifford. "We want meat."
By the time that the Westley-Richards was drawn from its case and
loaded, only one buck remained, for, having caught sight of the
waggon, it turned to stare at it suspiciously. Mr. Clifford aimed and
fired. Down went the buck, then springing to its feet again, vanished
behind the ridge. Mr. Clifford shook his head sadly.
"I don't often do that sort of thing, my dear, but the light is still
very bad. Still, he's hit. What do you say? Shall we get on the horses
and catch him? A canter would warm you."
Benita, who was tender-hearted, reflected that it would be kinder to
put the poor creature out of its pain, and nodded her head. Five
minutes later they were cantering together up the rise, Mr. Clifford
having first ordered the waggon to trek on till they rejoined it, and
slipped a packet of cartridges into his pocket. Beyond the rise lay a
wide stretch of marshy ground, bordered by another rise half a mile or
more away, from the crest of which--for now the air was clear enough--
they saw the wounded bull standing. On they went after him, but before
they could come within shot, he had moved forward once more, for he
was only lightly hurt in the flank, and guessed whence his trouble
Again and again did he retreat as they drew near, until at length,
just as Mr. Clifford was about to dismount to risk a long shot, the
beast took to its heels in earnest.
"Come on," he said; "don't let's be beat," for by this time the hunter
was alive in him.
So off they went at a gallop, up slopes and down slopes that reminded
Benita of the Bay of Biscay in a storm, across half-dried vleis that
in the wet season were ponds, through stony ground and patches of ant-
bear holes in which they nearly came to grief. For five miles at least
the chase went on, since at the end of winter the wilderbeeste was
thin and could gallop well, notwithstanding its injury, faster even
than their good horses. At last, rising a ridge, they found whither it
was going, for suddenly they were in the midst of vast herds of game,
thousands and tens of thousands of them stretching as far as the eye
It was a wondrous sight that now, alas! will be seen no more--at any
rate upon the Transvaal veld; wilderbeeste, blesbok, springbok, in
countless multitudes, and amongst them a few quagga and hartebeeste.
With a sound like that of thunder, their flashing myriad hoofs casting
up clouds of dust from the fire-blackened veld, the great herds
separated at the appearance of their enemy, man. This way and that
they went in groups and long brown lines, leaving the wounded and
exhausted wilderbeeste behind them, so that presently he was the sole
tenant of that great cup of land.
At him they rode till Mr. Clifford, who was a little ahead of his
daughter, drew almost alongside. Then the poor maddened brute tried
its last shift. Stopping suddenly, it wheeled round and charged head
down. Mr. Clifford, as it came, held out his rifle in his right hand
and fired at a hazard. The bullet passed through the bull, but could
not stop its charge. Its horns, held low, struck the forelegs of the
horse, and next instant horse, man, and wilderbeeste rolled on the
Benita, who was fifty yards behind, uttered a little cry of fear, but
before ever she reached him, her father had risen laughing, for he was
quite unhurt. The horse, too, was getting up, but the bull could rise
no more. It struggled to its forefeet, uttered a kind of sobbing
groan, stared round wildly, and rolled over, dead.
"I never knew a wilderbeeste charge like that before," said Mr.
Clifford. "Confound it! I believe my horse is lamed."
Lamed it was, indeed, where the bull had struck the foreleg, though,
as it chanced, not badly. Having tied a handkerchief to the horn of
the buck in order to scare away the vultures, and thrown some tufts of
dry grass upon its body, which he proposed, if possible, to fetch or
send for, Mr. Clifford mounted his lame horse and headed for the
waggon. But they had galloped farther than they thought, and it was
midday before they came to what they took to be the road. As there was
no spoor upon it, they followed this track backwards, expecting to
find the waggon outspanned, but although they rode for mile upon mile,
no waggon could they see. Then, realizing their mistake, they retraced
their steps, and leaving this path at the spot where they had found
it, struck off again to the right.
Meanwhile, the sky was darkening, and at about three o'clock in the
afternoon a thunderstorm broke over them accompanied by torrents of
icy rain, the first fall of the spring, and a bitter wind which
chilled them through. More, after the heavy rain came drizzle and a
thick mist that deepened as evening approached.
Now their plight was very wretched. Lost, starved, soaked to the skin,
with tired horses one of which was lame, they wandered about on the
lonely veld. Only one stroke of fortune came to them. As the sun set,
for a few moments its rays pierced the mist, telling them in what
direction they should go. Turning their horses, they headed for it,
and so rode on until the darkness fell. Then they halted a while, but
feeling that if they stood still in that horrible cold they would
certainly perish before morning, once more pushed on again. By now Mr.
Clifford's horse was almost too lame to ride, so he led it, walking at
his daughter's side, and reproaching himself bitterly for his
foolishness in having brought her into this trouble.
"It doesn't matter, Father," she answered wearily, for she was very
tired. "Nothing matters; one may as well die upon the veld as in the
sea or anywhere else."
On they plodded, they knew not whither. Benita fell asleep upon her
saddle, and was awakened once by a hyena howling quite close to them,
and once by her horse falling to its knees.
"What is the time?" she said at last.
Her father struck a match and looked at his watch. It was ten o'clock;
they had been fifteen hours away from the waggon and without food. At
intervals Mr. Clifford, who had remounted, fired his rifle. Now there
was but one cartridge left, and having caught sight of his daughter's
exhausted face by the light of the match, he fired this also, though
in that desperate wilderness there was little hope of its bringing
"Shall we stop or go on?" he asked.
"I do not care," she answered. "Only if I stop I think it will be for
ever. Let us go on."
Now the rain had ceased, but the mist was as dense as before. Also
they seemed to have got among bush, for wet leaves brushed their
faces. Utterly exhausted they stumbled forward, till suddenly Benita
felt her horse stop as though a hand had seized its bridle, and heard
a man's voice, speaking with a foreign accent, say:
"Mein Gott! Where are you going?"
"I wish I knew," she answered, like one in a dream.
At this instant the moon rose above the mists, and Benita saw Jacob
Meyer for the first time.
In that light his appearance was not unpleasing. A man of about forty
years of age, not over tall, slight and active in build, with a
pointed black beard, regular, Semitic features, a complexion of an
ivory pallor which even the African sun did not seem to tan, and dark,
lustrous eyes that appeared, now to sleep, and now to catch the fire
of the thoughts within. Yet, weary though she was, there was something
in the man's personality which repelled and alarmed Benita, something
wild and cruel. She felt that he was filled with unsatisfied ambitions
and desires, and that to attain to them he would shrink at nothing. In
a moment he was speaking again in tones that compelled her attention.
"It was a good thought that brought me here to look for you. No; not a
thought--what do you call it?--an instinct. I think your mind must
have spoken to my mind, and called me to save you. See now, Clifford,
my friend, where you have led your daughter. See, see!" And he pointed
They leaned forward and stared. There, immediately beneath them, was a
mighty gulf whereof the moonlight did not reveal the bottom.
"You are no good veld traveller, Clifford, my friend; one more step of
those silly beasts, and down below there would have been two red heaps
with bits of bones sticking out of them--yes, there on the rocks five
hundred feet beneath. Ah! you would have slept soundly to-night, both
"Where is the place?" asked Mr. Clifford in a dazed fashion.
"Yes; Leopard's Kloof, no other. You have travelled along the top of
the hill, not at the bottom. Certainly that was a good thought which
came to me from the lady your daughter, for she is one of the thought
senders, I am sure. Ah! it came to me suddenly; it hit me like a stick
whilst I was searching for you, having found that you had lost the
waggon. It said to me, 'Ride to the top of Leopard's Kloof. Ride
hard.' I rode hard through the rocks and the darkness, through the
mist and the rain, and not one minute had I been here when you came
and I caught the lady's bridle."
"I am sure we are very grateful to you," murmured Benita.
"Then I am paid back ten thousand times. No; it is I who am grateful--
I who have saved your life through the thought you sent me."
"Thought or no thought, all's well that ends well," broke in Mr.
Clifford impatiently. "And thank Heaven we are not more than three
miles away from home. Will you lead the way, Jacob? You always could
see in the dark?"
"Yes, yes," and he took hold of Benita's bridle with his firm, white
hand. "Oh! my horse will follow, or put your arm through his rein--so.
Now come on, Miss Clifford, and be afraid no more. With Jacob Meyer
you are safe."
So they began their descent of the hill. Meyer did not speak again;
all his attention seemed to be concentrated upon finding a safe path
on which the horses would not stumble. Nor did Benita speak; she was
too utterly exhausted--so exhausted, indeed, that she could no longer
control her mind and imagination. These seemed to loose themselves
from her and to acquire new powers, notably that of entering into the
secret thoughts of the man at her side. She saw them pass before her
like living things, and yet she could not read them. Still, something
she did understand--that she had suddenly grown important to this man,
not in the way in which women are generally important to men, but
otherwise. She felt as though she had become interwoven with the
objects of his life, and was henceforth necessary to their fulfilment,
as though she were someone whom he had been seeking for years on
years, the one person who could give him light in his darkness.
These imaginings troubled her, so that she was very thankful when they
passed away as swiftly as they had arisen, and she knew only that she
was half dead with weariness and cold; that her limbs ached and that
the steep path seemed endless.
At length they reached level ground, and after travelling along it for
a while and crossing the bed of a stream, passed through a gate, and
stopped suddenly at the door of a house with lighted windows.
"Here is your home at last, Miss Clifford," said the musical voice of
Jacob Meyer, "and I thank the Fate which rules us that it has taught
me to bring you to it safely."
Making no answer she slid from the saddle, only to find that she could
not stand, for she sank into a heap upon the ground. With a gentle
exclamation he lifted her, and calling to two Kaffirs who had appeared
to take the horses, led her into the house.
"You must go to bed at once," he said, conducting her to a door which
opened out of the sitting-room. "I have had a fire lit in your chamber
in case you should come, and old Tante Sally will bring you soup with
brandy in it, and hot water for your feet. Ah! there you are, old
vrouw. Come now; help the lady, your mistress. Is all ready?"
"All, Baas," answered the woman, a stout half-breed with a kindly
face. "Come now, my little one, and I will undress you."
Half an hour later Benita, having drunk more brandy than ever she had
done in her life before, was wrapped up and fast asleep.
When she awoke the sun was streaming through the curtained window of
her room, and by the light of it she saw that the clock which stood
upon the mantelpiece pointed to half-past eleven. She had slept for
nearly twelve hours, and felt that, notwithstanding the cold and
exposure, save for stiffness and a certain numb feeling in her head--
the result, perhaps, of the unaccustomed brandy--she was well and,
what was more, quite hungry.
Outside on the verandah she heard the voice of Jacob Meyer, with which
she seemed already to have become familiar, telling some natives to
stop singing, as they would wake the chieftainess inside. He used the
Zulu word Inkosi-kaas, which, she remembered, meant head-lady or
chieftainess. He was very thoughtful for her, she reflected, and was
grateful, till suddenly she remembered the dislike she had taken to
Then she looked round her room and saw that it was very pretty, well
furnished and papered, with water-colour pictures on the walls of no
mean merit, things that she had not expected in this far-off place.
Also on a table stood a great bowl of arum lilies. She wondered who
had put them there; whether it were the old half-breed, Sally, or
Jacob Meyer. Also she wondered who had painted the pictures, which
were all of African scenery, and something told her that both the
flowers and the pictures came from Jacob Meyer.
On the little table by her bed was a handbell, which presently she
rang. Instantly she heard the voice of Sally calling for the coffee
"quick," and next minute the woman entered, bringing a tray with it,
and bread and butter--yes, and toast and eggs, which had evidently
been made ready for her. Speaking in English mixed with Dutch words,
she told Benita that her father was still in bed, but sent her his
love, and wished to know how she did. Then, while she ate her
breakfast with appetite, Sally set her a bath, and subsequently
appeared carrying the contents of the box she had used upon the
waggon, which had now arrived safely at the farm. Benita asked who had
ordered the box to be unpacked, and Sally answered that the Heer Meyer
had ordered it so that she might not be disturbed in her sleep, and
that her things should be ready for her when she woke.
"The Heer Meyer thinks a great deal about other people," said Benita.
"Ja, ja!" answered the old half-breed. "He tink much about people when
he want to tink about them, but he tink most about himself. Baas
Meyer, he a very clever man--oh! a very clever man, who want to be a
great man too. And one day, Missee, he be a great man, great and rich
--if the Heer God Almighty let him."
THE GOLD COIN
Six weeks had gone by since the eventful evening of Benita's arrival
at Rooi Krantz. Now the spring had fully come, the veld was emerald
with grass and bright with flowers. In the kloof behind the house
trees had put out their leaves, and the mimosas were in bloom, making
the air heavy with their scent. Amongst them the ringdoves nested in
hundreds, and on the steep rocks of the precipice the red-necked
vultures fed their young. Along the banks of the stream and round the
borders of the lake the pig-lilies bloomed, a sheet of white. All the
place was beautiful and full of life and hope. Nothing seemed dead and
hopeless except Benita's heart.
Her health had quite come back to her; indeed, never before had she
felt so strong and well. But the very soul had withered in her breast.
All day she thought, and all night she dreamed of the man who, in cold
blood, had offered up his life to save a helpless woman and her child.
She wondered whether he would have done this if he had heard the
answer that was upon her lips. Perhaps that was why she had not been
given time to speak that answer, which might have made a coward of
him. For nothing more had been heard of Robert Seymour; indeed,
already the tragedy of the ship /Zanzibar/ was forgotten. The dead had
buried their dead, and since then worse disasters had happened in the
But Benita could not bury her dead. She rode about the veld, she sat
by the lake and watched the wild fowl, or at night heard them
flighting over her in flocks. She listened to the cooing of the doves,
the booming of the bitterns in the reeds, and the drumming of the
snipe high in air. She counted the game trekking along the ridge till
her mind grew weary. She sought consolation from the breast of Nature
and found none; she sought it in the starlit skies, and oh! they were
very far away. Death reigned within her who outwardly was so fair to
In the society of her father, indeed, she took pleasure, for he loved
her, and love comforted her wounded heart. In that of Jacob Meyer also
she found interest, for now her first fear of the man had died away,
and undoubtedly he was very interesting; well-bred also after a
fashion, although a Jew who had lost his own faith and rejected that
of the Christians.
He told her that he was a German by birth, that he had been sent to
England as a boy, to avoid the conscription, which Jews dislike, since
in soldiering there is little profit. Here he had become a clerk in a
house of South African merchants, and, as a consequence--having shown
all the ability of his race--was despatched to take charge of a branch
business in Cape Colony. What happened to him there Benita never
discovered, but probably he had shown too much ability of an oblique
nature. At any rate, his connection with the firm terminated, and for
years he became a wandering "smouse," or trader, until at length he
drifted into partnership with her father.
Whatever might have been his past, however, soon she found that he was
an extremely able and agreeable man. It was he and no other who had
painted the water-colours that adorned her room, and he could play and
sing as well as he painted. Also, as Robert had told her, Mr. Meyer
was very well-read in subjects that are not usually studied on the
veld of South Africa; indeed, he had quite a library of books, most of
them histories or philosophical and scientific works, of which he
would lend her volumes. Fiction, however, he never read, for the
reason, he told her, that he found life itself and the mysteries and
problems which surround it so much more interesting.
One evening, when they were walking together by the lake, watching the
long lights of sunset break and quiver upon its surface, Benita's
curiosity overcame her, and she asked him boldly how it happened that
such a man as he was content to live the life he did.
"In order that I may reach a better," he answered. "Oh! no, not in the
skies, Miss Clifford, for of them I know nothing, nor, as I believe,
is there anything to know. But here--here."
"What do you mean by a better life, Mr. Meyer?"
"I mean," he answered, with a flash of his dark eyes, "great wealth,
and the power that wealth brings. Ah! I see you think me very sordid
and materialistic, but money is God in this world, Miss Clifford--
money is God."
She smiled and answered: "I fear, then, that he is likely to prove an
invisible god on the high veld, Mr. Meyer. You will scarcely make a
great fortune out of horse-breeding, and here there is no one to
"Do you suppose, then, that is why I stop at Rooi Krantz, just to
breed horses? Has not your father told you about the great treasure
hidden away up there among the Makalanga?"
"I have heard something of it," she answered with a sigh. "Also that
both of you went to look for it and were disappointed."
"Ah! The Englishman who was drowned--Mr. Seymour--he spoke of it, did
he not? He found us there."
"Yes; and you wished to shoot him--do you remember?"
"God in Heaven! Yes, because I thought he had come to rob us. Well, I
did not shoot, and afterwards we were hunted out of the place, which
does not much matter, as those fools of natives refused to let us dig
in the fortress."
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