Benita An African Romance
H. Rider Haggard
Part 3 out of 5
granite pillar and seating himself there, and more than once called
down to her to come up and share his "throne." Still, these outbreaks
were so occasional that her father, whose perceptions appeared to
Benita to be less keen than formerly, scarcely noticed them, and for
the rest his demeanour was what it had always been.
Further researches into the well being out of the question, their next
step was to make a thorough inspection of the chapel-cave itself. They
examined the walls inch by inch, tapping them with a hammer to hear if
they sounded hollow, but without result. They examined the altar, but
it proved to be a solid mass of rock. By the help of a little ladder
they had made, they examined the crucifix, and discovered that the
white figure on the cross had evidently been fashioned out of some
heathen statue of soft limestone, for at its back were the remains of
draperies, and long hair which the artist had not thought it necessary
to cut away. Also, they found that the arms had been added, and were
of a slightly different stone, and that the weight of the figure was
taken partly by an iron staple which supported the body, and partly by
strong copper wire twisted to resemble cord, and painted white, which
was passed round the wrists and supported the arms. This wire ran
through loops of rock cut in the traverse of the cross, that itself
was only raised in relief by chiselling away the solid stone behind.
Curiously enough, this part of the search was left to Mr. Clifford and
Benita, since it was one that Jacob Meyer seemed reluctant to
undertake. A Jew by birth, and a man who openly professed his want of
belief in that or any other religion, he yet seemed to fear this
symbol of the Christian faith, speaking of it as horrible and unlucky;
yes, he who, without qualm or remorse, had robbed and desecrated the
dead that lay about its feet. Well, the crucifix told them nothing;
but as Mr. Clifford, lantern in hand, descended the ladder, which
Benita held, Jacob Meyer, who was in front of the altar, called to
them excitedly that he had found something.
"Then it is more than we have," said Mr. Clifford, as he laid down the
ladder and hurried to him.
Meyer was sounding the floor with a staff of wood--an operation which
he had only just began after the walls proved barren.
"Listen now," he said, letting the heavy staff drop a few paces to the
right of the altar, where it produced the hard, metallic clang that
comes from solid stone when struck. Then he moved to the front of the
altar and dropped it again, but now the note was hollow and
reverberant. Again and again he repeated the experiment, till they had
exactly mapped out where the solid rock ended and that which seemed to
be hollow began--a space of about eight feet square.
"We've got it," he said triumphantly. "That's the entrance to the
place where the gold is," and the others were inclined to agree with
Now it remained to put their theory to the proof--a task of no small
difficulty. Indeed, it took them three days of hard, continual work.
It will be remembered that the floor of the cave was cemented over,
and first of all this cement, which proved to be of excellent quality,
being largely composed of powdered granite, must be broken up. By the
help of a steel crowbar, which they had brought with them in the
waggon, at length that part of their task was completed, revealing the
rock beneath. By this time Benita was confident that, whatever might
lie below, it was not the treasure, since it was evident that the
poor, dying Portuguese would not have had the time or the strength to
cement it over. When she told the others so, however, Meyer, convinced
that he was on the right tack, answered that doubtless it was done by
the Makalanga after the Portuguese days, as it was well known that
they retained a knowledge of the building arts of their forefathers
until quite a recent period, when the Matabele began to kill them out.
When at length the cement was cleared away and the area swept, they
discovered--for there ran the line of it--that here a great stone was
set into the floor; it must have weighed several tons. As it was set
in cement, however, to lift it, even if they had the strength to work
the necessary levers, proved quite impossible. There remained only one
thing to be done--to cut a way through. When they had worked at this
task for several hours, and only succeeded in making a hole six inches
deep, Mr. Clifford, whose old bones ached and whose hands were very
sore, suggested that perhaps they might break it up with gunpowder.
Accordingly, a pound flask of that explosive was poured into the hole,
which they closed over with wet clay and a heavy rock, leaving a quill
through which ran an extemporized fuse of cotton wick. All being
prepared, their fuse was lit, and they left the cave and waited.
Five minutes afterwards the dull sound of an explosion reached their
ears, but more than an hour went by before the smoke and fumes would
allow them to enter the place, and then it was to find that the
results did not equal their expectations. To begin with, the slab was
only cracked--not shattered, since the strength of the powder had been
expended upwards, not downwards, as would have happened in the case of
dynamite, of which they had none. Moreover, either the heavy stone
which they had placed upon it, striking the roof of the cave, or the
concussion of the air, had brought down many tons of rock, and caused
wide and dangerous-looking cracks. Also, though she said nothing of
it, it seemed to Benita that the great white statue on the cross was
leaning a little further forward than it used to do. So the net result
of the experiment was that they were obliged to drag away great
fragments of the fallen roof that lay upon the stone, which remained
almost as solid and obdurate as before.
So there was nothing for it but to go on working with the crowbar. At
length, towards the evening of the third day of their labour, when the
two men were utterly tired out, a hole was broken through,
demonstrating the fact that beneath this cover lay a hollow of some
sort. Mr. Clifford, to say nothing of Benita, who was heartily weary
of the business, wished to postpone proceedings till the morrow, but
Jacob Meyer would not. So they toiled on until about eleven o'clock at
night, when at length the aperture was of sufficient size to admit a
man. Now, as in the case of the well, they let down a stone tied to a
string, to find that the place beneath was not more than eight feet
deep. Then, to ascertain the condition of the air, a candle was
lowered, which at first went out, but presently burnt well enough.
This point settled, they brought their ladder, whereby Jacob descended
with a lantern.
In another minute they heard the sound of guttural German oaths rising
through the hole. Mr. Clifford asked what was the matter, and received
the reply that the place was a tomb, with nothing in it but an
accursed dead monk, information at which Benita could not help
bursting into laughter.
The end of it was that both she and her father went down also, and
there, sure enough, lay the remains of the old missionary in his cowl,
with an ivory crucifix about his neck, and on his breast a scroll
stating that he, Marco, born at Lisbon in 1438, had died at Bambatse
in the year 1503, having laboured in the Empire of Monomotapa for
seventeen years, and suffered great hardships and brought many souls
to Christ. The scroll added that it was he, who before he entered into
religion was a sculptor by trade, that had fashioned the figure on the
cross in this chapel out of that of the heathen goddess which had
stood in the same place from unknown antiquity. It ended with a
request, addressed to all good Christians in Latin, that they who soon
must be as he was would pray for his soul and not disturb his bones,
which rested here in the hope of a blessed resurrection.
When this pious wish was translated to Jacob Meyer by Mr. Clifford,
who still retained some recollection of the classics which he had
painfully acquired at Eton and Oxford, the Jew could scarcely contain
his wrath. Indeed, looking at his bleeding hands, instead of praying
for the soul of that excellent missionary, to reach whose remains he
had laboured with such arduous, incessant toil, he cursed it wherever
it might be, and unceremoniously swept the bones, which the document
asked him not to disturb, into a corner of the tomb, in order to
ascertain whether there was not, perhaps, some stair beneath them.
"Really, Mr. Meyer," said Benita, who, in spite of the solemnity of
the surroundings, could not control her sense of humour, "if you are
not careful the ghosts of all these people will haunt you."
"Let them haunt me if they can," he answered furiously. "I don't
believe in ghosts, and defy them all."
At this moment, looking up, Benita saw a figure gliding out of the
darkness into the ring of light, so silently that she started, for it
might well have been one of those ghosts in whom Jacob Meyer did not
believe. In fact, however, it was the old Molimo, who had a habit of
coming upon them thus.
"What says the white man?" he asked of Benita, while his dreamy eyes
wandered over the three of them, and the hole in the violated tomb.
"He says that he does not believe in spirits, and that he defies
them," she answered.
"The white gold-seeker does not believe in spirits, and he defies
them," Mambo repeated in his sing-song voice. "He does not believe in
the spirits that I see all around me now, the angry spirits of the
dead, who speak together of where he shall lie and of what shall
happen to him when he is dead, and of how they will welcome one who
disturbs their rest and defies and curses them in his search for the
riches which he loves. There is one standing by him now, dressed in a
brown robe with a dead man cut in ivory like to that," and he pointed
to the crucifix in Jacob's hands, "and he holds the ivory man above
him and threatens him with sleepless centuries of sorrow, when he is
also one of those spirits in which he does not believe."
Then Meyer's rage blazed out. He turned upon the Molimo and reviled
him in his own tongue, saying that he knew well where the treasure was
hidden, and that if he did not point it out he would kill him and send
him to his friends, the spirits. So savage and evil did he look that
Benita retreated a little way, while Mr. Clifford strove in vain to
calm him. But although Meyer laid his hand upon the knife in his belt
and advanced upon him, the old Molimo neither budged an inch nor
showed the slightest fear.
"Let him rave on," he said, when at length Meyer paused exhausted.
"Just so in a time of storm the lightnings flash and the thunder
peals, and the water foams down the face of rock; but then comes the
sun again, and the hill is as it has ever been, only the storm is
spent and lost. I am the rock, he is but the wind, the fire, and the
rain. It is not permitted that he should hurt me, and those spirits in
whom he does not believe treasure up his curses, to let them fall
again like stones upon his head."
Then, with a contemptuous glance at Jacob, the old man turned and
glided back into the darkness out of which he had appeared.
BENITA PLANS ESCAPE
The next morning, while she was cooking breakfast, Benita saw Jacob
Meyer seated upon a rock at a little distance, sullen and
disconsolate. His chin was resting on his hand, and he watched her
intently, never taking his eyes from her face. She felt that he was
concentrating his will upon her; that some new idea concerning her had
come into his mind; for it was one of her miseries that she possessed
the power of interpreting the drift of this man's thoughts. Much as
she detested him, there existed that curious link between them.
It may be remembered that, on the night when they first met at the
crest of Leopard's Kloof, Jacob had called her a "thought-sender," and
some knowledge of their mental intimacy had come home to Benita. From
that day forward her chief desire had been to shut a door between
their natures, to isolate herself from him and him from her. Yet the
attempt was never entirely successful.
Fear and disgust took hold of her, bending there above the fire, all
the while aware of the Jew's dark eyes that searched her through and
through. Benita formed a sudden determination. She would implore her
father to come away with her.
Of course, such an attempt would be terribly dangerous. Of the
Matabele nothing had been seen; but they might be about, and even if
enough cattle could be collected to draw the waggon, it belonged to
Meyer as much as to her father, and must therefore be left for him.
Still, there remained the two horses, which the Molimo had told her
were well and getting fat.
At this moment Meyer rose and began to speak to her.
"What are you thinking of, Miss Clifford?" he asked in his soft
She started, but answered readily enough:
"Of the wood which is green, and the kid cutlets which are getting
smoked. Are you not tired of kid, Mr. Meyer?" she went on.
He waved the question aside. "You are so good--oh! I mean it--so
really good that you should not tell stories even about small things.
The wood is not green; I cut it myself from a dead tree; and the meat
is not smoked; nor were you thinking of either. You were thinking of
me, as I was thinking of you; but what exactly was in your mind, this
time I do not know, and that is why I ask you to tell me."
"Really, Mr. Meyer," she answered flushing; "my mind is my own
"Ah! do you say so? Now I hold otherwise--that it is my property, as
mine is yours, a gift that Nature has given to each of us."
"I seek no such gift," she answered; but even then, much as she would
have wished to do so, she could not utter a falsehood, and deny this
horrible and secret intimacy.
"I am sorry for that, as I think it very precious; more precious even
than the gold which we cannot find; for Miss Clifford, it brings me
She turned upon him, but he held up his hand, and went on:
"Oh! do not be angry with me, and do not fear that I am going to
trouble you with soft speeches, for I shall not, unless a time should
come, as I think that perhaps it will, when you may wish to listen to
them. But I want to point out something to you, Miss Clifford. Is it
not a wonderful thing that our minds should be so in tune, and is
there not an object in all this? Did I believe as you do, I should say
that it was Heaven working in us--no: do not answer that the working
comes from lower down. I take no credit for reading that upon your
lips; the retort is too easy and obvious. I am content to say,
however, that the work is that of instinct and nature, or, if you
will, of fate, pointing out a road by which together we might travel
to great ends."
"I travel my road alone, Mr. Meyer."
"I know, I know, and that is the pity of it. The trouble between man
and woman is that not in one case out of a million, even if they be
lovers, do they understand each other. Their eyes may seek one
another, their hands and lips may meet, and yet they remain distinct,
apart, and often antagonistic. There is no communication of the soul.
But when it chances to be hewn from the same rock as it were--oh! then
what happiness may be theirs, and what opportunities!"
"Possibly, Mr. Meyer; but, to be frank, the question does not interest
"Not yet; but I am sure that one day it will. Meanwhile, I owe you an
apology. I lost my temper before you last night. Well, do not judge me
hardly, for I was utterly worn out, and that old idiot vexed me with
his talk about ghosts, in which I do not believe."
"Then why did it make you so angry? Surely you could have afforded to
treat it with contempt, instead of doing--as you did."
"Upon my word! I don't know, but I suppose most of us are afraid lest
we should be forced to accept that which we refuse. This ancient place
gets upon the nerves, Miss Clifford; yours as well as mine. I can
afford to be open about it, because I know that you know. Think of its
associations: all the crime that has been committed here for ages and
ages, all the suffering that has been endured here. Doubtless human
sacrifices were offered in this cave or outside of it; that great
burnt ring in the rock there may have been where they built the fires.
And then those Portuguese starving to death, slowly starving to death
while thousands of savages watched them die. Have you ever thought
what it means? But of course you have, for like myself you are cursed
with imagination. God in heaven! is it wonderful that it gets upon the
nerves? especially when one cannot find what one is looking for, that
vast treasure"--and his face became ecstatic--"that shall yet be yours
and mine, and make us great and happy."
"But which at present only makes me a scullery-maid and most unhappy,"
replied Benita cheerfully, for she heard her father's footstep. "Don't
talk any more of the treasure, Mr. Meyer, or we shall quarrel. We have
enough of that during business hours, when we are hunting for it, you
know. Give me the dish, will you? This meat is cooked at last."
Still Benita could not be rid of that treasure, since after breakfast
the endless, unprofitable search began again. Once more the cave was
sounded, and other hollow places were discovered upon which the two
men got to work. With infinite labour three of them were broken into
in as many days, and like the first, found to be graves, only this
time of ancients who, perhaps, had died before Christ was born. There
they lay upon their sides, their bones burnt by the hot cement that
had been poured over them, their gold-headed and gold-ferruled rods of
office in their hands, their gold-covered pillows of wood, such as the
Egyptians used, beneath their skulls, gold bracelets upon their arms
and ankles, cakes of gold beneath them which had fallen from the
rotted pouches that once hung about their waists, vases of fine glazed
pottery that had been filled with offerings, or in some cases with
gold dust to pay the expenses of their journey in the other world,
standing round them, and so forth.
In their way these discoveries were rich enough--from one tomb alone
they took over a hundred and thirty ounces of gold--to say nothing of
their surpassing archŠological interest. Still they were not what they
sought: all that gathered wealth of Monomotapa which the fleeing
Portuguese had brought with them and buried in this, their last
Benita ceased to take the slightest interest in the matter; she would
not even be at the pains to go to look at the third skeleton, although
it was that of a man who had been almost a giant, and, to judge from
the amount of bullion which he took to the tomb with him, a person of
great importance in his day. She felt as though she wished never to
see another human bone or ancient bead or bangle; the sight of a
street in Bayswater in a London fog--yes, or a toy-shop window in
Westbourne Grove--would have pleased her a hundred times better than
these unique remains that, had they known of them in those days, would
have sent half the learned societies of Europe crazy with delight. She
wished to escape from Bambatse, its wondrous fortifications, its
mysterious cone, its cave, its dead, and--from Jacob Meyer.
Benita stood upon the top of her prison wall and looked with longing
at the wide, open lands below. She even dared to climb the stairs
which ran up the mighty cone of granite, and seated herself in the
cup-like depression on its crest, whence Jacob Meyer had called to her
to come and share his throne. It was a dizzy place, for the pillar
leaning outwards, its point stood almost clear of the water-scarped
rock, so that beneath her was a sheer drop of about four hundred feet
to the Zambesi bed. At first the great height made her feel faint. Her
eyes swam, and unpleasant tremors crept along her spine, so that she
was glad to sink to the floor, whence she knew she could not fall. By
degrees, however, she recovered her nerve, and was able to study the
glorious view of stream and marshes and hills beyond.
For she had come here with a purpose, to see whether it would not be
possible to escape down the river in a canoe, or in native boats such
as the Makalanga owned and used for fishing, or to cross from bank to
bank. Apparently it was impossible, for although the river beneath and
above them was still enough, about a mile below began a cataract that
stretched as far as she could see, and was bordered on either side by
rocky hills covered with forest, over which, even if they could obtain
porters, a canoe could not be carried. This, indeed, she had already
heard from the Molimo, but knowing his timid nature, she wished to
judge of the matter for herself. It came to this then: if they were to
go, it must be on the horses.
Descending the cone Benita went to find her father, to whom as yet she
had said nothing of her plans. The opportunity was good, for she knew
that he would be alone. As it chanced, on that afternoon Meyer had
gone down the hill in order to try to persuade the Makalanga to give
them ten or twenty men to help them in their excavations. In this, it
will be remembered, he had already failed so far as the Molimo was
concerned, but he was not a man easily turned from his purpose, and he
thought that if he could see Tamas and some of the other captains he
might be able by bribery, threats, or otherwise, to induce them to
forget their superstitious fears, and help in the search. As a matter
of fact, he was utterly unsuccessful, since one and all they declared
that for them to enter that sacred place would mean their deaths, and
that the vengeance of Heaven would fall upon their tribe and destroy
it root and branch.
Mr. Clifford, on whom all this heavy labour had begun to tell, was
taking advantage of the absence of his taskmaster, Jacob, to sleep
awhile in the hut which they had now built for themselves beneath the
shadow of the baobab-tree. As she reached it he came out yawning, and
asked her where she had been. Benita told him.
"A giddy place," he said. "I have never ventured to try it myself.
What did you go up there for, dear?"
"To look at the river while Mr. Meyer was away, father; for if he had
seen me do so he would have guessed my reason; indeed, I dare say that
he will guess it now."
"What reason, Benita?"
"To see whether it would not be possible to escape down it in a boat.
But there is no chance. It is all rapids below, with hills and rocks
and trees on either bank."
"What need have you to escape at present?" he asked eyeing her
"Every need," she answered with passion. "I hate this place; it is a
prison, and I loathe the very name of treasure. Also," and she paused.
"Also what, dear?"
"Also," and her voice sank to a whisper, as though she feared that he
should overhear her even at the bottom of the hill; "also, I am afraid
of Mr. Meyer."
This confession did not seem to surprise her father, who merely nodded
his head and said:
"Father, I think that he is going mad, and it is not pleasant for us
to be cooped up here alone with a madman, especially when he has begun
to speak to me as he does now."
"You don't mean that he has been impertinent to you," said the old
man, flushing up, "for if so----"
"No, not impertinent--as yet," and she told him what had passed
between Meyer and herself, adding, "You see, father, I detest this
man; indeed, I want to have nothing to do with any man; for me all
that is over and done with," and she gave a dry little sob which
appeared to come from her very heart. "And yet, he seems to be getting
some kind of power over me. He follows me about with his eyes, prying
into my mind, and I feel that he is beginning to be able to read it. I
can bear no more. Father, father, for God's sake, take me away from
this hateful hill and its gold and its dead, and let us get out into
the veld again together."
"I should be glad enough, dearest," he answered. "I have had plenty of
this wildgoose chase, which I was so mad as to be led into by the love
of wealth. Indeed, I am beginning to believe that if it goes on much
longer I shall leave my bones here."
"And if such a dreadful thing as that were to happen, what would
become of me, alone with Jacob Meyer?" she asked quietly. "I might
even be driven to the same fate as that poor girl two hundred years
ago," and she pointed to the cone of rock behind her.
"For Heaven's sake, don't talk like that!" he broke in.
"Why not? One must face things, and it would be better than Jacob
Meyer; for who would protect me here?"
Mr. Clifford walked up and down for a few minutes, while his daughter
watched him anxiously.
"I can see no plan," he said, stopping opposite her. "We cannot take
the waggon even if there are enough oxen left to draw it, for it is
his as much as mine, and I am sure that he will never leave this
treasure unless he is driven away."
"And I am sure I hope that he will not. But, father, the horses are
our own; it was his that died, you remember. We can ride away on
He stared at her and answered:
"Yes, we could ride away to our deaths. Suppose they got sick or lame;
suppose we meet the Matabele, or could find no game to shoot; suppose
one of us fell ill--oh! and a hundred things. What then?"
"Why, then it is just as well to perish in the wilderness as here,
where our risks are almost as great. We must take our chance, and
trust to God. Perhaps He will be merciful and help us. Listen now,
father. To-morrow is Sunday, when you and I do no work that we can
help. Mr. Meyer is a Jew, and he won't waste Sunday. Well now, I will
say that I want to go down to the outer wall to fetch some clothes
which I left in the waggon, and to take others for the native women to
wash, and of course you will come with me. Perhaps he will be
deceived, and stay behind, especially as he has been there to-day.
Then we can get the horses and guns and ammunition, and anything else
that we can carry in the way of food, and persuade the old Molimo to
open the gate for us. You know, the little side gate that cannot be
seen from up here, and before Mr. Meyer misses us and comes to look,
we shall be twenty miles away, and--horses can't be overtaken by a man
"He will say that we have deserted him, and that will be true."
"You can leave a letter with the Molimo explaining that it was my
fault, that I was getting ill and thought that I should die, and that
you knew it would not be fair to ask him to come, and so to lose the
treasure, to every halfpenny of which he is welcome when it is found.
Oh! father, don't hesitate any longer; say that you will take me away
from Mr. Meyer."
"So be it then," answered Mr. Clifford, and as he spoke, hearing a
sound, they looked up and saw Jacob approaching them.
Luckily he was so occupied with his own thoughts that he never noted
the guilty air upon their faces, and they had time to compose
themselves a little. But even thus his suspicions were aroused.
"What are you talking of so earnestly?" he asked.
"We were wondering how you were getting on with the Makalanga,"
answered Benita, fibbing boldly, "and whether you would persuade them
to face the ghosts. Did you?"
"Not I," he answered with a scowl. "Those ghosts are our worst enemies
in this place; the cowards swore that they would rather die. I should
have liked to take some of them at their word and make ghosts of them;
but I remembered the situation and didn't. Don't be afraid, Miss
Clifford, I never even lost my temper, outwardly at any rate. Well,
there it is; if they won't help us, we must work the harder. I've got
a new plan, and we'll begin on it to-morrow."
"Not to-morrow, Mr. Meyer," replied Benita with a smile. "It is
Sunday, and we rest on Sunday, you know."
"Oh! I forgot. The Makalanga with their ghosts and you with your
Sunday--really I do not know which is the worse. Well, then, I must do
my own share and yours too, I suppose," and he turned with a shrug of
The next morning, Sunday, Meyer went to work on his new plan. What it
was Benita did not trouble to inquire, but she gathered that it had
something to do with the measuring out of the chapel cave into squares
for the more systematic investigation of each area. At twelve o'clock
he emerged for his midday meal, in the course of which he remarked
that it was very dreary working in that place alone, and that he would
be glad when it was Monday, and they could accompany him. His words
evidently disturbed Mr. Clifford not a little, and even excited some
compunction in the breast of Benita.
What would his feelings be, she wondered, when he found that they had
run away, leaving him to deal with their joint undertaking single-
handed! Almost was she minded to tell him the whole truth; yet--and
this was a curious evidence of the man's ascendancy over her--she did
not. Perhaps she felt that to do so would be to put an end to their
scheme, since then by argument, blandishments, threats, force, or
appeal to their sense of loyalty, it mattered not which, he would
bring about its abandonment. But she wanted to fulfil that scheme, to
be free of Bambatse, its immemorial ruins, its graveyard cave, and the
ghoul, Jacob Meyer, who could delve among dead bones and in living
hearts with equal skill and insight, and yet was unable to find the
treasure that lay beneath either of them.
So they hid the truth, and talked with feverish activity about other
things, such as the drilling of the Makalanga, and the chances of an
attack by the Matabele, which happily now seemed to be growing small;
also of the conditions of their cattle, and the prospect of obtaining
more to replace those that had died. Indeed, Benita went farther; in
her new-found zeal of deception she proceeded to act a lie, yes, even
with her father's reproachful eyes fixed upon her. Incidentally she
mentioned that they were going to have an outing, to climb down the
ladder and visit the Makalanga camp between the first and second walls
and mix with the great world for a few hours; also to carry their
washing to be done there, and bring up some clean clothes and certain
books which she had left below.
Jacob came out of his thoughts and calculations, and listened
"I have half a mind to come with you," he said, words at which Benita
shivered. "It certainly is most cursed lonesome in that cave, and I
seem to hear things in it, as though those old bones were rattling,
sounds like sighs and whispers too, which are made by the draught."
"Well, why don't you?" asked Benita.
It was a bold stroke, but it succeeded. If he had any doubts they
vanished, and he answered at once:
"Because I have not the time. We have to get this business finished
one way or another before the wet season comes on, and we are drowned
out of the place with rain, or rotted by fever. Take your afternoon
out, Miss Clifford; every maid of all work is entitled to as much, and
I am afraid that is your billet here. Only," he added, with that care
for her safety which he always showed in his more temperate moods,
"pray be careful, Clifford, to get back before sundown. That wall is
too risky for your daughter to climb in the dusk. Call me from the
foot of it; you have the whistle, and I will come down to help her up.
I think I'll go with you after all. No, I won't. I made myself so
unpleasant to them yesterday that those Makalanga can't wish to see
any more of me at present. I hope you will have a more agreeable
afternoon than I shall. Why don't you take a ride outside the wall?
Your horses are fat and want exercise, and I do not think that you
need be afraid of the Matabele." Then without waiting for an answer,
he rose and left them.
Mr. Clifford looked after him doubtfully.
"Oh, I know," said Benita, "it seems horribly mean, but one must do
shabby things sometimes. Here are the bundles all ready, so let us be
Accordingly they went, and from the top of the wall Benita glanced
back to bid goodbye to that place which she hoped never to see again.
Yet she could not feel as though she looked her last upon it; to her
it wore no air of farewell, and even as she descended the perilous
stairs, she found herself making mental notes as to how they might
best be climbed again. Also, she could not believe that she had done
with Mr. Meyer. It seemed to her as though for a long while yet her
future would be full of him.
They reached the outer fortifications in safety, and there were
greeted with some surprise but with no displeasure by the Makalanga,
whom they found still drilling with the rifles, in the use of which a
certain number of them appeared to have become fairly proficient.
Going to the hut in which the spare goods from the waggon had been
stored, they quickly made their preparations. Here also, Mr. Clifford
wrote a letter, one of the most unpleasant that he had ever been
called upon to compose. It ran thus:
"I don't know what you will think of us, but we are escaping from
this place. The truth is that I am not well, and my daughter can
bear it no longer. She says that if she stops here, she will die,
and that hunting for treasure in that ghastly grave-yard is
shattering her nerves. I should have liked to tell you, but she
begged me not, being convinced that if I did, you would over-
persuade us or stop us in some way. As for the gold, if you can
find it, take it all. I renounce my share. We are leaving you the
waggon and the oxen, and starting down country on our horses. It
is a perilous business, but less so than staying here, under the
circumstances. If we never meet again we hope that you will
forgive us, and wish you all good fortune.--Yours sincerely and
with much regret,
The letter written, they saddled the horses which had been brought up
for their inspection, and were found to be in good case, and fastened
their scanty belongings, and as many cartridges as they could carry in
packs behind their saddles. Then, each of them armed with a rifle--for
during their long journeyings Benita had learned to shoot--they
mounted and made for the little side-entrance, as the main gate
through which they had passed on their arrival was now built up. This
side-entrance, a mere slit in the great wall, with a precipitous
approach, was open, for now that their fear of the Matabele had to
some extent passed off, the Makalanga used it to drive their sheep and
goats in and out, since it was so constructed with several twists and
turns in the thickness of the wall, that in a few minutes it could be
effectually blocked by stones that lay at hand. Also, the ancient
architect had arranged it in such a fashion that it was entirely
commanded from the crest of the wall on either side.
The Makalanga, who had been watching their proceedings curiously, made
no attempt to stop them, although they guessed that they might have a
little trouble with the sentries who guarded the entrances all day,
and even when it was closed at night, with whom also Mr. Clifford
proposed to leave the letter. When they reached the place, however,
and had dismounted to lead the horses down the winding passage and the
steep ascent upon its further side, it was to find that the only guard
visible proved to be the old Molimo himself, who sat there, apparently
But as they came he showed himself to be very much awake, for without
moving he asked them at once whither they were going.
"To take a ride," answered Mr. Clifford. "The lady, my daughter, is
weary of being cooped up in this fortress, and wishes to breathe the
air without. Let us pass, friend, or we shall not be back by sunset."
"If you be coming back at sunset, white man, why do you carry so many
things upon your packs, and why are your saddle-bags filled with
cartridges?" he asked. "Surely you do not speak the truth to me, and
you hope that never more will you see the sun set upon Bambatse."
Now understanding that it was hopeless to deceive him, Benita
"It is so; but oh! my Father, stay us not, for fear is behind us, and
therefore we fly hence."
"And is there no fear before you, maiden? Fear of the wilderness,
where none wander save perchance the Amandabele with their bloody
spears; fear of wild beasts and of sickness that may overtake you so
that, first one and then the other, you perish there?"
"There is plenty, my Father, but none of them so bad as the fear
behind. Yonder place is haunted, and we give up our search and would
dwell there no more."
"It is haunted truly, maiden, but its spirits will not harm you whom
they welcome as one appointed, and we are ever ready to protect you
because of their command that has come to me in dreams. Nor, indeed,
is it the spirits whom you fear, but rather the white man, your
companion, who would bend you to his will. Deny it not, for I have
seen it all."
"Then knowing the truth, surely you will let us go," she pleaded, "for
I swear to you that I dare not stay."
"Who am I that I should forbid you?" he asked. "Yet I tell you that
you would do well to stay and save yourselves much terror. Maiden,
have I not said it days and day ago, that here and here only you must
accomplish your fate? Go now if you will, but you shall return again,"
and once more he seemed to begin to doze in the sun.
The two of them consulted hastily together.
"It is no use turning back now," said Benita, who was almost weeping
with doubt and vexation. "I will not be frightened by his vague talk.
What can he know of the future more than any of the rest of us?
Besides, all he says is that we shall come back again, and if that
does happen, at least we shall have been free for a little while.
"As you wish," answered Mr. Clifford, who seemed too miserable and
depressed to argue. Only he threw down the letter upon the Molimo's
lap, and begged him to give it to Meyer when he came to look for them.
The old man took no notice; no, not even when Benita bade him farewell
and thanked him for his kindness, praying that all good fortune might
attend him and his tribe, did he answer a single word or even look up.
So they led their horses down the narrow passage where there was
scarcely room for them to pass, and up the steep path beyond. On the
further side of the ancient ditch they remounted them while the
Makalanga watched them from the walls, and cantered away along the
same road by which they had come.
Now this road, or rather track, ran first through the gardens and then
among the countless ruined houses that in bygone ages formed the great
city whereof the mount Bambatse had been the citadel and sanctuary.
The relics of a lost civilization extended for several miles, and were
bounded by a steep and narrow neck or pass in the encircling hills,
the same that Robert Seymour and his brother had found too difficult
for their waggon at the season in which they visited the place some
years before. This pass, or port as it is called in South Africa, had
been strongly fortified, for on either side of it were the ruins of
towers. Moreover, at its crest it was so narrow and steep-sided that a
few men posted there, even if they were armed only with bows and
arrows, could hold an attacking force in check for a considerable
time. Beyond it, after the hill was descended, a bush-clad plain
dotted with kopjes and isolated granite pillars formed of boulders
piled one upon another, rolled away for many miles.
Mr. Clifford and Benita had started upon their mad journey about three
o'clock in the afternoon, and when the sun began to set they found
themselves upon this plain fifteen or sixteen miles from Bambatse, of
which they had long lost sight, for it lay beyond the intervening
hills. Near to them was a kopje, where they had outspanned by a spring
of water when on their recent journey, and since they did not dare to
travel in the dark, here they determined to off-saddle, for round this
spring was good grass for the horses.
As it chanced, they came upon some hartebeeste here which were
trekking down to drink, but although they would have been glad of
meat, they were afraid to shoot, fearing lest they should attract
attention; nor for the same reason did they like to light a fire. So
having knee-haltered the horses in such fashion that they could not
wander far, and turned them loose to feed, they sat down under a tree,
and made some sort of a meal off the biltong and cooked corn which
they had brought with them. By the time this was finished darkness
fell, for there was little moon, so that nothing remained to do except
to sleep within a circle of a few dead thorn-boughs which they had
drawn about their camp. This, then, they did, and so weary were they
both, that notwithstanding all the emotions through which they had
passed, and their fears lest lions should attack them--for of these
brutes there were many in this veld--rested soundly and undisturbed
till within half an hour of dawn.
Rising somewhat chilled, for though the air was warm a heavy dew had
soaked their blankets, once more they ate and drank by starlight,
while the horses, which they had tied up close to them during the
night, filled themselves with grass. At the first break of day they
saddled them, and before the sun rose were on their road again. At
length up it came, and the sight and warmth of it put new heart into
Benita. Her fears seemed to depart with the night, and she said to her
father that this successful start was of good augury, to which he only
answered that he hoped so.
All that day they rode forward in beautiful weather, not pressing
their horses, for now they were sure that Jacob Meyer, who if he
followed at all must do so on foot, would never be able to overtake
them. At noon they halted, and having shot a small buck, Benita cooked
some of it in the one pot that they had brought with them, and they
ate a good meal of fresh meat.
Riding on again, towards sundown they came to another of their old
camping-places, also a bush-covered kopje. Here the spring of water
was more than halfway up the hill, so there they off-saddled in a
green bower of a place that because of its ferns and mosses looked
like a rock garden. Now, although they had enough cold meat for food,
they thought themselves quite safe in lighting a fire. Indeed, this it
seemed necessary to do, since they had struck the fresh spoor of
lions, and even caught sight of one galloping away in the tall reeds
on the marshy land at the foot of the hill.
That evening they fared sumptuously upon venison, and as on the
previous day lay down to rest in a little "boma" or fence made of
boughs. But they were not allowed to sleep well this night, for
scarcely had they shut their eyes when a hyena began to howl about
them. They shouted and the brute went away, but an hour or two later,
they heard ominous grunting sounds, followed presently by a loud roar,
which was answered by another roar, whereat the horses began to whinny
in a frightened fashion.
"Lions!" said Mr. Clifford, jumping up and throwing dead wood on the
fire till it burnt to a bright blaze.
After that all sleep became impossible, for although the lions did not
attack them, having once winded the horses they would not go away, but
continued wandering round the kopje, grunting and growling. This went
on till abut three o'clock in the morning, when at last the beasts
took their departure, for they heard them roaring in the distance. Now
that they seemed safe, having first made up the fire, they tried to
get some rest.
When, as it appeared to her, Benita had been asleep but a little
while, she was awakened by a new noise. It was still dark, but the
starlight showed her that the horses were quite quiet; indeed, one of
them was lying down, and the other eating some green leaves from the
branches of the tree to which it was tethered. Therefore that noise
had not come from any wild animal of which they were afraid. she
listened intently, and presently heard it again; it was a murmur like
to that of people talking somewhere at the bottom of the hill. Then
she woke her father and told him, but although once or twice they
thought they heard the sound of footsteps, nothing else could be
distinguished. Still they rose, and having saddled and bridled the
horses as noiselessly as might be, waited for the dawn.
At last it came. Up on the side of the kopje they were in clear air,
above which shone the red lights of morning, but under them lay
billows of dense, pearl-hued mist. By degrees this thinned beneath the
rays of the risen sun, and through it, looking gigantic in that light,
Benita saw a savage wrapped in a kaross, who was walking up and down
and yawning, a great spear in his hand.
"Look," she whispered, "look!" and Mr. Clifford stared down the line
of her outstretched finger.
"The Matabele," he said. "My God! the Matabele!"
The Matabele it was, sure enough; there could be no doubt of it, for
soon three other men joined the sentry and began to talk with him,
pointing with their great spears at the side of the hill. Evidently
they were arranging a surprise when there was sufficient light to
carry it out.
"They have seen our fire," whispered her father to Benita; "now, if we
wish to save our lives, there is only one thing to do--ride for it
before they muster. The impi will be camped upon the other side of the
hill, so we must take the road we came by."
"That runs back to Bambatse," faltered Benita.
"Bambatse is better than the grave," said her father. "Pray Heaven
that we may get there."
To this argument there was no answer, so having drunk a sup of water,
and swallowing a few mouthfuls of food as they went, they crept to the
horses, mounted them, and as silently as possible began to ride down
The sentry was alone again, the other three men having departed. He
stood with his back towards them. Presently when they were quite close
on to him, he heard their horses' hoofs upon the grass, wheeled round
at the sound, and saw them. Then with a great shout he lifted his
spear and charged.
Mr. Clifford, who was leading, held out his rifle at arm's length--to
raise it to his shoulder he had no time--and pulled the trigger.
Benita heard the bullet clap upon the hide shield, and next instant
saw the Matabele warrior lying on his back, beating the air with his
hands and feet. Also, she saw beyond the shoulder of the kopje, which
they were rounding, hundreds of men marching, and behind them a herd
of cattle, the dim light gleaming upon the stabbing spears and on the
horns of the oxen. She glanced to the right, and there were more men.
The two wings of the impi were closing upon them. Only a little lane
was left in the middle. They must get through before it shut.
"Come," she gasped, striking the horse with her heel and the butt of
her gun, and jerking at its mouth.
Her father saw also, and did likewise, so that the beasts broke into a
gallop. Now from the point of each wing sprang out thin lines of men,
looking like great horns, or nippers, whose business it was to meet
and cut them off. Could they pass between them before they did meet?
That was the question, and upon its answer it depended whether or no
they had another three minutes to live. To think of mercy at the hands
of these bloodthirsty brutes, after they had just killed one of their
number before their eyes, was absurd. It was true he had been shot in
self-defence; but what count would savages take of that, or of the
fact that they were but harmless travellers? White people were not
very popular with the Matabele just then, as they knew well; also,
their murder in this remote place, with not another of their race
within a couple of hundred miles, would never even be reported, and
much less avenged. It was as safe as any crime could possibly be.
All this passed through their minds as they galloped towards those
closing points. Oh! the horror of it! But two hundred yards to cover,
and their fate would be decided. Either they would have escaped at
least for a while, or time would be done with them; or, a third
alternative, they might be taken prisoners, in all probability a yet
more dreadful doom. Even then Benita determined that if she could help
it this should not befall her. She had the rifle and the revolver that
Jacob Meyer had given her. Surely she would be able to find a moment
to use one or the other upon herself. She clenched her teeth, and
struck the horse again and again, so that now they flew along. The
Matabele soldiers were running their best to catch them, and if these
had been given but five seconds of start, caught they must have been.
But that short five seconds saved their lives.
When they rushed through them the foremost men of the nippers were not
more than twenty yards apart. Seeing that they had passed, these
halted and hurled a shower of spears after them. One flashed by
Benita's cheek, a line of light; she felt the wind of it. Another cut
her dress, and a third struck her father's horse in the near hind leg
just above the knee-joint, remaining fast there for a stride or two,
and then falling to the ground. At first the beast did not seem to be
incommoded by this wound; indeed, it only caused it to gallop quicker,
and Benita rejoiced, thinking that it was but a scratch. Then she
forgot about it, for some of the Matabele, who had guns, began to
shoot them, and although their marksmanship was vile, one or two of
the bullets went nearer than was pleasant. Lastly a man, the swiftest
runner of them all, shouted after them in Zulu:
"The horse is wounded. We will catch you both before the sun sets."
Then they passed over the crest of a rise and lost sight of them for a
"Thank God!" gasped Benita when they were alone again in the silent
veld; but Mr. Clifford shook his head.
"Do you think they will follow us?" she asked.
"You heard what the fellow said," he answered evasively. "Doubtless
they are on their way to attack Bambatse, and have been round to
destroy some other wretched tribe, and steal the cattle which we saw.
Yes, I fear that they will follow. The question is, which of us can
get to Bambatse first."
"Surely we ought to on the horses, father."
"Yes, if nothing happens to them," and as he spoke the words the mare
which he was riding dropped sharply upon her hind leg, the same that
had been struck with the spear; then recovered herself and galloped
"Did you see that?" he asked.
She nodded; then said:
"Shall we get off and look at the cut?"
"Certainly not," he answered. "Our only chance is to keep her moving;
if once the wound stiffens, there's an end. The sinew cannot have been
severed, or it would have come before now."
So they pushed on.
All that morning did they canter forward wherever the ground was
smooth enough to allow them to do so, and notwithstanding the
increasing lameness of Mr. Clifford's mare, made such good progress
that by midday they reached the place where they had passed the first
night after leaving Bambatse. Here sheer fatigue and want of water
forced them to stop a little while. They dismounted and drank greedily
from the spring, after which they allowed the horses to drink also;
indeed it was impossible to keep them away from the water. Then they
ate a little, not because they desired food, but to keep up their
strength, and while they did so examined the mare. By now her hind leg
was much swollen, and blood still ran from the gash made by the
assegai. Moreover, the limb was drawn up so that the point of the hoof
only rested on the ground.
"We must get on before it sets fast," said Mr. Clifford, and they
Great heavens! what was this? The mare would not stir. In his despair
Mr. Clifford beat it cruelly, whereupon the poor brute hobbled forward
a few paces on three legs, and again came to a standstill. Either an
injured sinew had given or the inflammation was now so intense that it
could not bend its knee. Understanding what this meant to them,
Benita's nerve gave out at last, and she burst into weeping.
"Don't cry, love," he said. "God's will be done. Perhaps they have
given up the hunt by now; at any rate, my legs are left, and Bambatse
is not more than sixteen miles away. Forward now," and holding to her
saddle-strap they went up the long, long slope which led to the poort
in the hills around Bambatse.
They would have liked to shoot the mare, but being afraid to fire a
rifle, could not do so. So they left the unhappy beast to its fate,
and with it everything it carried, except a few of the cartridges.
Before they went, however, at Benita's prayer, her father devoted a
few seconds to unbuckling the girths and pulling off the bridle, so
that it might have a chance of life. For a little way it hobbled after
them on three legs, then, the saddle still upon its back, stood
whinnying piteously, till at last, to Benita's intense relief, a turn
in their path hid it from their sight.
Half a mile further on she looked round in the faint hope that it
might have recovered itself and followed. But no mare was to be seen.
Something else was to be seen, however, for there, three or four miles
away upon the plain behind them, easy to be distinguished in that
dazzling air, were a number of black spots that occasionally seemed to
"What are they?" she asked faintly, as one who feared the answer.
"The Matabele who follow us," answered her father, "or rather a
company of their swiftest runners. It is their spears that glitter so.
Now, my love, this is the position," he went on, as they struggled
forward: "those men will catch us before ever we can get to Bambatse;
they are trained to run like that, for fifty miles, if need be. But
with this start they cannot catch your horse, you must go on and leave
me to look after myself."
"Never, never!" she exclaimed.
"But you shall, and you must. I am your father and I order you. As for
me, what does it matter? I may hide from them and escape, or--at least
I am old, my life is done, whereas yours is before you. Now, good-bye,
and go on," and he let go of the saddle-strap.
By way of answer Benita pulled up the horse.
"Not one yard," she said, setting her mouth.
Then he began to storm at her, calling her disobedient, and undutiful,
and when this means failed to move her, to implore her almost with
"Father, dear," she said, leaning down towards him as he walked, for
now they were going on again, "I told you why I wanted to run away
from Bambatse, didn't I?--because I would rather risk my life than
stay. Well, do you think that I wish to return there and live in that
place alone with Jacob Meyer? Also, I will tell you another thing. You
remember about Mr. Seymour? Well, I can't get over that; I can't get
over it at all, and therefore, although of course I am afraid, it is
all one to me. No, we will escape together, or die together; the first
if we can."
Then with a groan he gave up the argument, and as he found breath they
discussed their chances. Their first idea was to hide, but save for a
few trees all the country was open; there was no place to cover them.
They thought of the banks of the Zambesi, but between them and the
river rose a bare, rock-strewn hill with several miles of slope. Long
before they could reach its crest, even if a horse were able to travel
there, they must be overtaken. In short, there was nothing to do
except to push for the nek, and if they were fortunate enough to reach
it before the Matabele, to abandon the horse there and try to conceal
themselves among the ruins of the houses beyond. This, perhaps, they
might do when once the sun was down.
But they did not deceive themselves; the chances were at least fifty
to one against them, unless indeed their pursuers grew weary and let
At present, however, they were by no means weary, for having perceived
them from far away, the long-legged runners put on the pace, and the
distance between them and their quarry was lessening.
"Father," said Benita, "please understand one thing. I do not mean to
be taken alive by those savages."
"Oh! how can I----" he faltered.
"I don't ask you," she answered. "I will see to that myself. Only, if
I should make any mistake----" and she looked at him.
The old man was getting very tired. He panted up the steep hillside,
and stumbled against the stones. Benita noted it, and slipping from
the horse, made him mount while she ran alongside. Then when he was a
little rested they changed places again, and so covered several miles
of country. Subsequently, when both of them were nearly exhausted,
they tried riding together--she in front and he behind, for their
baggage had long since been thrown away. But the weary beast could not
carry this double burden, and after a few hundred yards of it,
stumbled, fell, struggled to its feet again, and stopped.
So once more they were obliged to ride and walk alternately.
Now there was not much more than an hour of daylight left, and the
narrow pass lay about three miles ahead of them. That dreadful three
miles; ever thereafter it was Benita's favourite nightmare! At the
beginning of it the leading Matabele were about two thousand yards
behind them; half-way, about a thousand; and at the commencement of
the last mile, say five hundred.
Nature is a wonderful thing, and great are its resources in extremity.
As the actual crisis approached, the weariness of these two seemed to
depart, or at any rate it was forgotten. They no longer felt
exhausted, nor, had they been fresh from their beds, could they have
climbed or run better. Even the horse seemed to find new energy, and
when it lagged Mr. Clifford dug the point of his hunting knife into
its flank. Gasping, panting, now one mounted and now the other, they
struggled on towards that crest of rock, while behind them came death
in the shape of those sleuth-hounds of Matabele. The sun was going
down, and against its flaming ball, when they glanced back they could
see their dark forms outlined; the broad spears also looked red as
though they had been dipped in blood. They could even hear their
taunting shouts as they called to them to sit down and be killed, and
Now they were not three hundred yards away, and the crest of the pass
was still half a mile ahead. Five minutes passed, and here, where the
track was very rough, the horse blundered upwards slowly. Mr. Clifford
was riding at the time, and Benita running at his side, holding to the
stirrup leather. She looked behind her. The savages, fearing that
their victims might find shelter over the hill, were making a rush,
and the horse could go no faster. One man, a great tall fellow, quite
out-distanced his companions. Two minutes more and he was not over a
hundred paces from them, a little nearer than they were to the top of
the pass. Then the horse stopped and refused to stir any more.
Mr. Clifford jumped from the saddle, and Benita, who could not speak,
pointed to the pursuing Matabele. He sat down upon a rock, cocked his
rifle, took a deep breath, and aimed and fired at the soldier who was
coming on carelessly in the open. Mr. Clifford was a good shot, and
shaken though he was, at this supreme moment his skill did not fail
him. The man was struck somewhere, for he staggered about and fell;
then slowly picked himself up, and began to hobble back towards his
companions, who, when they met him, stopped a minute to give him some
kind of assistance.
That halt proved their salvation, for it gave them time to make one
last despairing rush, and gain the brow of the poort. Not that this
would have saved them, however, since where they could go the Matabele
could follow, and there was still light by which the pursuers would
have been able to see to catch them. Indeed, the savages, having laid
down the wounded man, came on with a yell of rage, fifty or more of
Over the pass father and daughter struggled, Benita riding; after
them, perhaps sixty yards away, ran the Matabele, gathered in a knot
now upon the narrow, ancient road, bordered by steep hillsides.
Then suddenly from all about them, as it appeared to Benita, broke out
the blaze and roar of rifles, rapid and continuous. Down went the
Matabele by twos and threes, till at last it seemed as though but
quite a few of them were left upon their feet, and those came on no
more; they turned and fled from the neck of the narrow pass to the
open slope beyond.
Benita sank to the ground, and the next thing that she could remember
was hearing the soft voice of Jacob Meyer, who said:
"So you have returned from your ride, Miss Clifford, and perhaps it
was as well that the thought came from you to me that you wished me to
meet you here in this very place."
BACK AT BAMBATSE
How they reached Bambatse Benita never could remember, but afterwards
she was told that both she and her father were carried upon litters
made of ox-hide shields. When she came to her own mind again, it was
to find herself lying in her tent outside the mouth of the cave within
the third enclosure of the temple-fortress. Her feet were sore and her
bones ached, physical discomforts that brought back to her in a flash
all the terrors through which she had passed.
Again she saw the fierce pursuing Matabele; again heard their cruel
shouts and the answering crack of the rifles; again, amidst the din
and the gathering darkness, distinguished the gentle, foreign voice of
Meyer speaking his words of sarcastic greeting. Next oblivion fell
upon her, and after it a dim memory of being helped up the hill with
the sun pouring on her back and assisted to climb the steep steps of
the wall by means of a rope placed around her. Then forgetfulness
The flap of her tent was drawn aside and she shrank back upon her bed,
shutting her eyes for fear lest they should fall upon the face of
Jacob Meyer. Feeling that it was not he, or learning it perhaps from
the footfall, she opened them a little, peeping at her visitor from
between her long lashes. He proved to be--not Jacob or her father, but
the old Molimo, who stood beside her holding in his hand a gourd
filled with goat's milk. Then she sat up and smiled at him, for Benita
had grown very fond of this ancient man, who was so unlike anyone that
she had ever met.
"Greeting, Lady," he said softly, smiling back at her with his lips
and dreamy eyes, for his old face did not seem to move beneath its
thousand wrinkles. "I bring you milk. Drink; it is fresh and you need
So she took the gourd and drank to the last drop, for it seemed to her
that she had never tasted anything so delicious.
"Good, good," murmured the Molimo; "now you will be well again."
"Yes, I shall get well," she answered; "but oh! what of my father?"
"Fear not; he is still sick, but he will recover also. You shall see
"I have drunk all the milk," she broke out; "there is none left for
"Plenty, plenty," he answered, waving his thin hand. "There are two
cups full--one for each. We have not many she-goats down below, but
the best of their milk is saved for you."
"Tell me all that has happened, Father," and the old priest, who liked
her to call him by that name, smiled again with his eyes, and squatted
down in the corner of the tent.
"You went away, you remember that you would go, although I told you
that you must come back. You refused my wisdom and you went, and I
have learned all that befell you and how you two escaped the impi.
Well, that night after sunset, when you did not return, came the Black
One--yes, yes, I mean Meyer, whom we name so because of his beard,
and," he added deliberately, "his heart. He came running down the hill
asking for you, and I gave him the letter.
"He read it, and oh! then he went mad. He cursed in his own tongue; he
threw himself about; he took a rifle and wished to shoot me, but I sat
silent and looked at him till he grew quiet. Then he asked why I had
played him this trick, but I answered that it was no trick of mine who
had no right to keep you and your father prisoners against your will,
and that I thought you had gone away because you were afraid of him,
which was not wonderful if that was how he talked to you. I told him,
too, I who am a doctor, that unless he was careful he would go mad;
that already I saw madness in his eye; after which he became quiet,
for my words frightened him. Then he asked what could be done, and I
said--that night, nothing, since you must be far away, so that it
would be useless to follow you, but better to go to meet you when you
came back. He asked what I meant by your coming back, and I answered
that I meant what I said, that you would come back in great haste and
peril--although you would not believe me when I told you so--for I had
it from the Munwali whose child you are.
"So I sent out my spies, and that night went by, and the next day and
night went by, and we sat still and did nothing, though the Black One
wished to wander out alone after you. But on the following morning, at
the dawn, a messenger came in who reported that it had been called to
him by his brethren who were hidden upon hilltops and in other places
for miles and miles, that the Matabele impi, having destroyed another
family of the Makalanga far down the Zambesi, was advancing to destroy
us also. And in the afternoon came a second spy, who reported that you
two had been surrounded by the impi, but had broken through them, and
were riding hitherward for your lives. Then I took fifty of the best
of our people and put them under the command of Tamas, my son, and
sent them to ambush the pass, for against the Matabele warriors on the
plain we, who are not warlike, do not dare to fight.
"The Black One went with them, and when he saw how sore was your
strait, wished to run down to meet the Matabele, for he is a brave
man. But I had said to Tamas--'No, do not try to fight them in the
open, for there they will certainly kill you.' Moreover, Lady, I was
sure that you would reach the top of the poort. Well, you reached it,
though but by the breadth of a blade of grass, and my children shot
with the new rifles, and the place being narrow so that they could not
miss, killed many of those hyenas of Amandabele. But to kill Matabele
is like catching fleas on a dog's back: there are always more. Still
it served its turn, you and your father were brought away safely, and
we lost no one."
"Where, then, are the Matabele now?" asked Benita.
"Outside our walls, a whole regiment of them: three thousand men or
more, under the command of the Captain Maduna, he of the royal blood,
whose life you begged, but who nevertheless hunted you like a buck."
"Perhaps he did not know who it was," suggested Benita.
"Perhaps not," the Molimo answered, rubbing his chin, "for in such
matters even a Matabele generally keeps faith, and you may remember he
promised you life for life. However, they are here ravening like lions
round the walls, and that is why we carried you up to the top of the
hill, that you might be safe from them."
"But are you safe, my Father?"
"I think so," he replied with a dry little chuckle in his throat.
"Whoever built this fortress built it strong, and we have blocked the
gates. Also, they caught no one outside; all are within the walls,
together with the sheep and goats. Lastly, we have sent most of the
women and children across the Zambesi in canoes, to hide in places we
know of whither the Amandabele cannot follow, for they dare not swim a
river. Therefore, for those of us that remain we have food for three
months, and before then the rains will drive the impi out."
"Why did you not all go across the river, Father?"
"For two reasons, Lady. The first is, that if we once abandoned our
stronghold, which we have held from the beginning, Lobengula would
take it, and keep it, so that we could never re-enter into our
heritage, which would be a shame to us and bring down the vengeance of
the spirits of our ancestors upon our heads. The second is, that as
you have returned to us we stay to protect you."
"You are very good to me," murmured Benita.
"Nay, nay, we brought you here, and we do what I am told to do from
Above. Trouble may still come upon you; yes, I think that it will
come, but once more I pray you, have no fear, for out of this evil
root shall spring a flower of joy," and he rose to go.
"Stay," said Benita. "Has the chief Meyer found the gold?"
"No; he has found nothing; but he hunts and hunts like a hungry jackal
digging for a bone. But that bone is not for him; it is for you, Lady,
you and you only. Oh! I know, you do not seek, still you shall find.
Only the next time that you want help, do not run away into the
wilderness. Hear the word of Munwali given by his mouth, the Molimo of
Bambatse!" And as he spoke, the old priest backed himself out of the
tent, stopping now and again to bow to Benita.
A few minutes later her father entered, looking very weak and shaken,
and supporting himself upon a stick. Happy was the greeting of these
two who, with their arms about each other's neck, gave thanks for
their escape from great peril.
"You see, Benita, we can't get away from this place," Mr. Clifford
said presently. "We must find that gold."
"Bother the gold," she answered with energy; "I hate its very name.
Who can think of gold with three thousand Matabele waiting to kill
"Somehow I don't feel afraid of them any more," said her father; "they
have had their chance and lost it, and the Makalanga swear that now
they have guns to command the gates, the fortress cannot be stormed.
Still, I am afraid of someone."
"Jacob Mayer. I have seen him several times, and I think that he is
"The Molimo said that too, but why?"
"From the look of him. He sits about muttering and glowing with those
dark eyes of his, and sometimes groans, and sometimes bursts into
shouts of laughter. That is when the fit is on him, for generally he
seems right enough. But get up if you think you can, and you shall
judge for yourself."
"I don't want to," said Benita feebly. "Father, I am more afraid of
him now than ever. Oh! why did you not let me stop down below, among
the Makalanga, instead of carrying me up here again, where we must
live alone with that terrible Jew?"
"I wished to, dear, but the Molimo said we should be safer above, and
ordered his people to carry you up. Also, Jacob swore that unless you
were brought back he would kill me. Now you understand why I believe
that he is mad."
"Why, why?" gasped Benita again.
"God knows," he answered with a groan; "but I think that he is sure
that we shall never find the gold without you, since the Molimo has
told him that it is for you and you alone, and he says the old man has
second sight, or something of the sort. Well, he would have murdered
me--I saw it in his eye--so I thought it better to give in rather than
that you should be left here sick and alone. Of course there was one
way----" and he paused.
She looked at him and asked:
"To shoot him before he shot me," he answered in a whisper, "for your
sake, dear--but I could not bring myself to do it."
"No," she said with a shudder, "not that--not that. Better that we
should die than that his blood should be upon our hands. Now I will
get up and try to show no fear. I am sure that is best, and perhaps we
shall be able to escape somehow. Meanwhile, let us humour him, and
pretend to go on looking for this horrible treasure."
So Benita rose to discover that, save for her stiffness, she was but
little the worse, and finding all things placed in readiness, set to
work with her father's help to cook the evening meal as usual. Of
Meyer, who doubtless had placed things in readiness, she saw nothing.
Before nightfall he came, however, as she knew he would. Indeed,
although she heard no step and her back was towards him, she felt his
presence; the sense of it fell upon her like a cold shadow. Turning
round she beheld the man. He was standing close by, but above her,
upon a big granite boulder, in climbing which his soft veld schoons,
or hide shoes, had made no noise, for Meyer could move like a cat. The
last rays from the sinking sun struck him full, outlining his agile,
nervous shape against the sky, and in their intense red light, which
flamed upon him, he appeared terrible. He looked like a panther about
to spring; his eyes shone like a panther's, and Benita knew that she
was the prey whom he desired. Still, remembering her resolution, she
determined to show no fear, and addressed him:
"Good-evening, Mr. Meyer. Oh! I am so stiff that I cannot lift my neck
to look at you," and she laughed.
He bounded softly from the rock, like a panther again, and stood in
front of her.
"You should thank the God you believe in," he said, "that by now you
are not stiff indeed--all that the jackals have left of you."
"I do, Mr. Meyer, and I thank you, too; it was brave of you to come
out to save us. Father," she called, "come and tell Mr. Meyer how
grateful we are to him."
Mr. Clifford hobbled out from his hut under the tree, saying:
"I have told him already, dear."
"Yes," answered Jacob, "you have told me; why repeat yourself? I see
that supper is ready. Let us eat, for you must be hungry; afterwards I
have something to tell you."
So they ate, with no great appetite, any of them--indeed Meyer touched
but little food, though he drank a good deal, first of strong black
coffee and afterwards of squareface and water. But on Benita he
pressed the choicest morsels that he could find, eyeing her all the
while, and saying that she must take plenty of nutriment or her beauty
would suffer and her strength wane. Benita bethought her of the fairy
tales of her childhood, in which the ogre fed up the princess whom he
purposed to devour.
"You should think of your own strength, Mr. Meyer," she said; "you
cannot live on coffee and squareface."
"It is all I need to-night. I am astonishingly well since you came
back. I can never remember feeling so well, or so strong. I can do the
work of three men, and not be tired; all this afternoon, for instance,
I have been carrying provisions and other things up that steep wall,
for we must prepare for a long siege together; yet I should never know
that I had lifted a single basket. But while you were away--ah! then I
Benita changed the subject, asking him if he had made any discoveries.
"Not yet, but now that you are back the discoveries will soon come. Do
not be afraid; I have my plan which cannot fail. Also, it was lonely
working in that cave without you, so I only looked about a little
outside till it was time to go to meet you, and shoot some of those
Matabele. Do you know?--I killed seven of them myself. When I was
shooting for your sake I could not miss," and he smiled at her.
Benita shrank from him visibly, and Mr. Clifford said in an angry
"Don't talk of those horrors before my daughter. It is bad enough to
have to do such things, without speaking about them afterwards."
"You are right," he replied reflectively; "and I apologise, though
personally I never enjoyed anything so much as shooting those
Matabele. Well, they are gone, and there are plenty more outside.
Listen! They are singing their evening hymn," and with his long finger
he beat time to the volleying notes of the dreadful Matabele war-
chant, which floated up from the plain below. "It sounds quite
religious, doesn't it? only the words--no, I will not translate them.
In our circumstances they are too personal.
"Now I have something to say to you. It was unkind of you to run away
and leave me like that, not honourable either. Indeed," he added with
a sudden outbreak of the panther ferocity, "had you alone been
concerned, Clifford, I tell you frankly that when we met again, I
should have shot you. Traitors deserve to be shot, don't they?"
"Please stop talking to my father like that," broke in Benita in a
stern voice, for her anger had overcome her fear. "Also it is I whom
you should blame."
"It is a pleasure to obey you," he answered bowing; "I will never
mention the subject any more. Nor do I blame you--who could?--not
Jacob Meyer. I quite understand that you found it very dull up here,
and ladies must be allowed their fancies. Also you have come back; so
why talk of the matter? But listen: on one point I have made up my
mind; for your own sake you shall not go away any more until we leave
this together. When I had finished carrying up the food I made sure of
that. If you go to look to-morrow morning you will find that no one
can come up that wall--and, what is more, no one can go down it.
Moreover, that I may be quite certain, in future I shall sleep near
the stair myself."
Benita and her father stared at each other.
"The Molimo has a right to come," she said; "it is his sanctuary."
"Then he must celebrate his worship down below for a little while. The
old fool pretends to know everything, but he never guessed what I was
going to do. Besides, we don't want him breaking in upon our privacy,
do we? He might see the gold when we find it, and rob us of it afterwards."
THE FIRST EXPERIMENT
Again Benita and her father stared at each other blankly, almost with
despair. They were trapped, cut off from all help; in the power of a
man who was going mad. Mr. Clifford said nothing. He was old and
growing feeble; for years, although he did not know it, Meyer had
dominated him, and never more so than in this hour of stress and
bewilderment. Moreover, the man had threatened to murder him, and he
was afraid, not so much for himself as for his daughter. If he were to
die now, what would happen to her, left alone with Jacob Meyer? The
knowledge of his own folly, understood too late, filled him with
shame. How could he have been so wicked as to bring a girl upon such a
quest in the company of an unprincipled Jew, of whose past he knew
nothing except that it was murky and dubious? He had committed a great
crime, led on by a love of lucre, and the weight of it pressed upon
his tongue and closed his lips; he knew not what to say.
For a little while Benita was silent also; hope died within her. But
she was a bold-spirited woman, and by degrees her courage re-asserted
itself. Indignation filled her breast and shone through her dark eyes.
Suddenly she turned upon Jacob, who sat before them smoking his pipe
and enjoying their discomfiture.
"How dare you?" she asked in a low, concentrated voice. "How dare you,
He shrank a little beneath her scorn and anger; then seemed to recover
and brace himself, as one does who feels that a great struggle is at
hand, upon the issue of which everything depends.
"Do not be angry with me," he answered. "I cannot bear it. It hurts--
ah! you don't know how it hurts. Well, I will tell you, and before
your father, for that is more honourable. I dare--for your sake."
"For my sake? How can it benefit me to be cooped up in this horrible
place with you? I would rather trust myself with the Makalanga, or
even," she added with bitter scorn, "even with those bloody-minded
"You ran away from them very fast a little while ago, Miss Clifford.
But you do not understand me. When I said for your sake, I meant for
my own. See, now. You tried to leave me the other day and did not
succeed. Another time you might succeed, and then--what would happen
"I do not know, Mr. Meyer," and her eyes added--"I do not care."
"Ah! but I know. Last time it drove me nearly mad; next time I should
go quite mad."
"Because you believe that through me you will find this treasure of
which you dream day and night, Mr. Meyer----"
"Yes," he interrupted quickly. "Because I believe that in you I shall
find the treasure of which I dream day and night, and because that
treasure has become necessary to my life."
Benita turned quickly towards her father, who was puzzling over the
words, but before either of them could speak Jacob passed his hand
across his brow in a bewildered way and said:
"What was I talking of? The treasure, yes, the uncountable treasure of
pure gold, that lies hid so deep, that is so hard to discover and to
possess; the useless, buried treasure that would bring such joy and
glory to us both, if only it could be come at and reckoned out, piece
by piece, coin by coin, through the long, long years of life."
Again he paused; then went on.
"Well, Miss Clifford, you are quite right; that is why I have dared to
make you a prisoner, because, as the old Molimo said, the treasure is
yours and I wish to share it. Now, about this treasure, it seems that
it can't be found, can it, although I have worked so hard?" and he
looked at his delicate, scarred hands.
"Quite so, Mr. Meyer, it can't be found, so you had better let us go
down to the Makalanga."
"But there is a way, Miss Clifford, there is a way. You know where it
lies, and you can show me."
"If I knew I would show you soon enough, Mr. Meyer, for then you could
take the stuff and our partnership would be at an end."
"Not until it is divided ounce by ounce and coin by coin. But first--
first you must show me, as you say you will, and as you can."
"How, Mr. Meyer? I am not a magician."
"Ah! but you are. I will tell you how, having your promise. Listen
now, both of you. I have studied. I know a great many secret things,
and I read in your face that you have the gift--let me look in your
eyes a while, Miss Clifford, and you will go to sleep quite gently,
and then in your sleep, which shall not harm you at all, you will see
where that gold lies hidden, and you will tell us."
"What do you mean?" asked Benita, bewildered.
"I know what he means," broke in Mr. Clifford. "You mean that you want
to mesmerize her as you did the Zulu chief."
Benita opened her lips to speak, but Meyer said quickly:
"No, no; hear me first before you refuse. You have the gift, the
precious gift of clairvoyance, that is so rare."
"How do you know that, Mr. Meyer? I have never been mesmerized in my
"It does not matter how. I do know it; I have been sure of it from the
moment when first we met, that night by the kloof. Although, perhaps,
you felt nothing then, it was that gift of yours working upon a mind
in tune, my mind, which led me there in time to save you, as it was
that gift of yours which warned you of the disaster about to happen to
the ship--oh! I have heard the story from your own lips. Your spirit
can loose itself from the body: it can see the past and the future; it
can discover the hidden things."
"I do not believe it," answered Benita; "but at least it shall not be
loosed by you."
"It shall, it shall," he cried with passion, his eyes blazing on her
as he spoke. "Oh! I foresaw all this, and that is why I was determined
you should come with us, so that, should other means fail, we might
have your power to fall back upon. Well, they have failed; I have been
patient, I have said nothing, but now there is no other way. Will you
be so selfish, so cruel, as to deny me, you who can make us all rich
in an hour, and take no hurt at all, no more than if you had slept
"Yes," answered Benita. "I refuse to deliver my will into the keeping
of any living man, and least of all into yours, Mr. Meyer."
He turned to her father with a gesture of despair.
"Cannot you persuade her, Clifford? She is your daughter, she will
"Not in that," said Benita.
"No," answered Mr. Clifford. "I cannot, and I wouldn't if I could. My
daughter is quite right. Moreover, I hate this supernatural kind of
thing. If we can't find this gold without it, then we must let it
alone, that is all."
Meyer turned aside to hide his face, and presently looked up again,
and spoke quite softly.
"I suppose that I must accept my answer, but when you talked of any
living man just now, Miss Clifford, did you include your father?"
She shook her head.
"Then will you allow him to try to mesmerize you?"
"Oh, yes, if he likes," she said. "But I do not think that the
operation will be very successful."
"Good, we will see to-morrow. Now, like you, I am tired. I am going to
bed in my new camp by the wall," he added significantly.
"Why are you so dead set against this business?" asked her father,
when he had gone.
"Oh, father!" she answered, "can't you see, don't you understand? Then
it is hard to have to tell you, but I must. In the beginning Mr. Meyer
only wanted the gold. Now he wants more, me as well as the gold. I
hate him! You know that is why I ran away. But I have read a good deal
about this mesmerism, and seen it once or twice, and who knows? If
once I allow his mind to master my mind, although I hate him so much,
I might become his slave."
"I understand now," said Mr. Clifford. "Oh, why did I ever bring you
here? It would have been better if I had never seen your face again."
On the morrow the experiment was made. Mr. Clifford attempted to
mesmerize his daughter. All the morning Jacob, who, it now appeared,
had practical knowledge of this doubtful art, tried to instruct him
therein. In the course of the lesson he informed him that for a short
period in the past, having great natural powers in that direction, he
had made use of them professionally, only giving up the business
because he found it wrecked his health. Mr. Clifford remarked that he
had never told him that before.
"There are lots of things in my life that I have never told you,"
replied Jacob with a little secret smile. "For instance, once I
mesmerized you, although you did not know it, and that is why you
always have to do what I want you to, except when your daughter is
near you, for her influence is stronger than mine."
Mr. Clifford stared at him.
"No wonder Benita won't let you mesmerize her," he said shortly.
Then Jacob saw his mistake.
"You are more foolish than I thought," he said. "How could I mesmerize
you without your knowing it? I was only laughing at you."
"I didn't see the laugh," replied Mr. Clifford uneasily, and they went
on with the lesson.
That afternoon it was put to proof--in the cave itself, where Meyer
seemed to think that the influences would be propitious. Benita, who
found some amusement in the performance, was seated upon the stone
steps underneath the crucifix, one lamp on the altar and others one
each side of her.
In front stood her father, staring at her and waving his hands
mysteriously in obedience to Jacob's directions. So ridiculous did he
look indeed while thus engaged that Benita had the greatest difficulty
in preventing herself from bursting into laughter. This was the only
effect which his grimaces and gesticulations produced upon her,
although outwardly she kept a solemn appearance, and even from time to
time shut her eyes to encourage him. Once, when she opened them again,
it was to perceive that he was becoming very hot and exhausted, and
that Jacob was watching him with such an unpleasant intentness that
she re-closed her eyes that she might not see his face.
It was shortly after this that of a sudden Benita did feel something,
a kind of penetrating power flowing upon her, something soft and
subtle that seemed to creep into her brain like the sound of her
mother's lullaby in the dim years ago. She began to think that she was
a lost traveller among alpine snows wrapped round by snow, falling,
falling in ten myriad flakes, every one of them with a little heart of
fire. Then it came to her that she had heard this snow-sleep was
dangerous, the last of all sleeps, and that its victims must rouse
themselves, or die.
Benita roused herself just in time--only just, for now she was being
borne over the edge of a precipice upon the wings of swans, and
beneath her was darkness wherein dim figures walked with lamps where
their hearts should be. Oh, how heavy were her eyelids! Surely a
weight hung to each of them, a golden weight. There, there, they were
open, and she saw. Her father had ceased his efforts; he was rubbing
his brow with a red pocket-handkerchief, but behind him, with rigid
arms outstretched, his glowing eyes fastened on her face, stood Jacob
Meyer. By an effort she sprang to her feet, shaking her head as a dog
"Have done with this nonsense," she said. "It tires me," and snatching
one of the lamps she ran swiftly down the place.
Benita expected that Jacob Meyer would be very angry with her, and
braced herself for a scene. But nothing of the sort happened. A while
afterwards she saw the two of them approaching, engaged apparently in
"Mr. Meyer says that I am no mesmerist, love," said her father, "and I
can quite believe him. But for all that it is a weary job. I am as
tired as I was after our escape from the Matabele."
She laughed and answered:
"To judge by results I agree with you. The occult is not in your line,
father. You had better give it up."
"Did you, then, feel nothing?" asked Meyer.
"Nothing at all," she answered, looking him in the eyes. "No, that's
wrong, I felt extremely bored and sorry to see my father making
himself ridiculous. Grey hairs and nonsense of that sort don't go well
"No," he answered. "I agree with you--not of that sort," and the
For the next few days, to her intense relief, Benita heard no more of
mesmerism. To begin with, there was something else to occupy their
minds. The Matabele, tired of marching round the fortress and singing
endless war-songs, had determined upon an assault. From their point of
vantage on the topmost wall the three could watch the preparations
which they made. Trees were cut down and brought in from a great
distance that rude ladders might be fashioned out of them; also spies
wandered round reconnoitring for a weak place in the defences. When
they came too near the Makalanga fired on them, killing some, so that
they retreated to the camp, which they had made in a fold of ground at
a little distance. Suddenly it occurred to Meyer that although here
the Matabele were safe from the Makalanga bullets, it was commanded
from the greater eminence, and by way of recreation he set himself to
harass them. His rifle was a sporting Martini, and he had an ample
supply of ammunition. Moreover, he was a beautiful marksman, with
sight like that of a hawk.
A few trial shots gave him the range; it was a shade under seven
hundred yards, and then he began operations. Lying on the top of the
wall and resting his rifle upon a stone, he waited until the man who
was superintending the manufacture of the ladders came out into the
open, when, aiming carefully, he fired. The soldier, a white-bearded
savage, sprang into the air, and fell backwards, while his companions
stared upwards, wondering whence the bullet had come.
"Pretty, wasn't it?" said Meyer to Benita, who was watching through a
pair of field-glasses.
"I dare say," she answered. "But I don't want to see any more," and
giving the glasses to her father, she climbed down the wall.
But Meyer stayed there, and from time to time she heard the report of
his rifle. In the evening he told her that he had killed six men and
wounded ten more, adding that it was the best day's shooting which he
"What is the use when there are so many?" she asked.
"Not much," he answered. "But it annoys them and amuses me. Also, it
was part of our bargain that we should help the Makalanga if they were
"I believe that you like killing people," she said.
"I don't mind it, Miss Clifford, especially as they tried to kill you."
THE OTHER BENITA
At irregular times, when he had nothing else to do, Jacob went on with
his man-shooting, in which Mr. Clifford joined him, though with less
effect. Soon it became evident that the Matabele were very much
annoyed by the fatal accuracy of this fire. Loss of life they did not
mind in the abstract, but when none of them knew but that their own
turn might come next to perish beneath these downward plunging
bullets, the matter wore a different face to them. To leave their camp
was not easy, since they had made a thorn /boma/ round it, to protect
them in case the Makalanga should make a night sally; also they could
find no other convenient spot. The upshot of it all was to hurry their
assault, which they delivered before they had prepared sufficient
ladders to make it effective.
At the first break of dawn on the third day after Mr. Clifford's
attempt at mesmerism, Benita was awakened by the sounds of shouts and
firing. Having dressed herself hastily, she hurried in the growing
light towards that part of the wall from below which the noise seemed
to come, and climbing it, found her father and Jacob already seated
there, their rifles in hand.
"The fools are attacking the small gate through which you went out
riding, Miss Clifford, the very worst place that they could have
chosen, although the wall looks very weak there," said the latter. "If
those Makalanga have any pluck they ought to teach them a lesson."
Then the sun rose and they saw companies of Matabele, who carried
ladders in their hands, rushing onwards through the morning mist till
their sight of them was obstructed by the swell of the hill. On these
companies the two white men opened fire, with what result they could
not see in that light. Presently a great shout announced that the
enemy had gained the fosse and were setting up the ladders. Up to this
time the Makalanga appeared to have done nothing, but now they began
to fire rapidly from the ancient bastions which commanded the entrance
the impi was striving to storm, and soon through the thinning fog they
perceived wounded Matabele staggering and crawling back towards their
camp. Of these, the light now better, Jacob did not neglect to take
Meanwhile, the ancient fortress rang with the hideous tumult of the
attack. It was evident that again and again, as their fierce war-
shouts proclaimed, the Matabele were striving to scale the wall, and
again and again were beaten back by the raking rifle fire. Once a
triumphant yell seemed to announce their success. The fire slackened
and Benita grew pale with fear.
"The Makalanga cowards are bolting," muttered Mr. Clifford, listening
with terrible anxiety.
But if so their courage came back to them, for presently the guns
cracked louder and more incessant than before, and the savage cries of
"Kill! Kill! Kill!" dwindled and died away. Another five minutes and
the Matabele were in full retreat, bearing with them many dead and
wounded men upon their backs or stretched out on the ladders.
"Our Makalanga friends should be grateful to us for those hundred
rifles," said Jacob as he loaded and fired rapidly, sending his
bullets wherever the clusters were thickest. "Had it not been for them
their throats would have been cut by now," he added, "for they could
never have stopped those savages with the spear."
"Yes, and ours too before nightfall," said Benita with a shudder, for
the sight of this desperate fray and fear of how it might end had
sickened her. "Thank Heaven, it is over! Perhaps they will give up the
siege and go away."
But, notwithstanding their costly defeat, for they had lost over a
hundred men, the Matabele, who were afraid to return to Buluwayo
except as victors, did nothing of the sort. They only cut down a
quantity of reeds and scrub, and moved their camp nearly to the banks
of the river, placing it in such a position that it could no longer be
searched by the fire of the two white men. Here they sat themselves
down sullenly, hoping to starve out the garrison or to find some other
way of entering the fortress.
Now Meyer's shooting having come to an end for lack of men to shoot
at, since the enemy exposed themselves no more, he was again able to
give his full attention to the matter of the treasure hunt.
As nothing could be found in the cave he devoted himself to the
outside enclosure which, it may be remembered, was grown over with
grass and trees and crowded with ruins. In the most important of these
ruins they began to dig somewhat aimlessly, and were rewarded by
finding a certain amount of gold in the shape of beads and ornaments,
and a few more skeletons of ancients. But of the Portuguese hoard
there was no sign. Thus it came about that they grew gloomier day by
day, till at last they scarcely spoke to each other. Jacob's angry
disappointment was written on his face, and Benita was filled with
despair, since to escape from their gaoler above and the Matabele
below seemed impossible. Moreover, she had another cause for anxiety.
The ill-health which had been threatening her father for a long while
now fell upon him in earnest, so that of a sudden he became a very old
man. His strength and energy left him, and his mind was so filled with
remorse for what he held to be his crime in bringing his daughter to
this awful place, and with terror for the fate that threatened her,
that he could think of nothing else. In vain did she try to comfort
him. He would only wring his hands and groan, praying that God and she
would forgive him. Now, too, Meyer's mastery over him became
continually more evident. Mr. Clifford implored the man, almost with
tears, to unblock the wall and allow them to go down to the Makalanga.
He even tried to bribe him with the offer of all his share of the
treasure, if it were found, and when that failed, of his property in
But Jacob only told him roughly not to be a fool, as they had to see
the thing through together. Then he would go again and brood by
himself, and Benita noticed that he always took his rifle or a pistol
with him. Evidently he feared lest her father should catch him
unprepared, and take the law into his own hands by means of a sudden
One comfort she had, however: although he watched her closely, the Jew
never tried to molest her in any way, not even with more of his
enigmatic and amorous speeches. By degrees, indeed, she came to
believe that all this was gone from his mind, or that he had abandoned
his advances as hopeless.
A week passed since the Matabele attack, and nothing had happened. The
Makalanga took no notice of them, and so far as she was aware the old
Molimo never attempted to climb the blocked wall or otherwise to
communicate with them, a thing so strange that, knowing his affection
for her, Benita came to the conclusion that he must be dead, killed
perhaps in the attack. Even Jacob Meyer had abandoned his digging, and
sat about all day doing nothing but think.
Their meal that night was a miserable affair, since in the first place
provisions were running short and there was little to eat, and in the
second no one spoke a word. Benita could swallow no food; she was
weary of that sun-dried trek-ox, for since Meyer had blocked the wall
they had little else. But by good fortune there remained plenty of
coffee, and of this she drank two cups, which Jacob prepared and
handed to her with much politeness. It tasted very bitter to her, but
this, Benita reflected, was because they lacked milk and sugar. Supper
ended, Meyer rose and bowed to her, muttering that he was going to
bed, and a few minutes later Mr. Clifford followed his example. She
went with her father to the hut beneath the tree, and having helped
him to remove his coat, which now he seemed to find difficulty in
doing for himself, bade him good-night and returned to the fire.
It was very lonely there in the silence, for no sound came from either
the Matabele or the Makalanga camps, and the bright moonlight seemed
to people the place with fantastic shadows that looked alive. Benita
cried a little now that her father could not see her, and then also
sought refuge in bed. Evidently the end, whatever it might be, was
near, and of it she could not bear to think. Moreover, her eyes were
strangely heavy, so much so that before she had finished saying her
prayers sleep fell upon her, and she knew no more.
Had she remained as wakeful as it was often her fate to be during
those fearful days, towards midnight she might have heard some light-
footed creature creeping to her tent, and seen that the moon-rays
which flowed through the gaping and ill-closed flap were cut off by
the figure of a man with glowing eyes, whose projected arms waved over
her mysteriously. But Benita neither heard nor saw. In her drugged
rest she did not know that her sleep turned gradually to a magic
swoon. She had no knowledge of her rising, or of how she threw her
thick cloak about her, lit her lamp, and, in obedience to that
beckoning finger, glided from the tent. She never heard her father
stumble from his hut, disturbed by the sound of footsteps, or the
words that passed between him and Jacob Meyer, while, lamp in hand,
she stood near them like a strengthless ghost.
"If you dare to wake her," hissed Jacob, "I tell you that she will
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