Benita An African Romance
H. Rider Haggard
Part 4 out of 5
die, and afterwards you shall die," and he fingered the pistol at his
belt. "No harm shall come to her--I swear it! Follow and see. Man,
man, be silent; our fortunes hang on it."
Then, overcome also by the strange fierceness of that voice and gaze,
On they go to the winding neck of the cavern, first Jacob walking
backwards like the herald of majesty; then majesty itself in the shape
of this long-haired, death-like woman, cloaked and bearing in her hand
the light; and last, behind, the old, white-bearded man, like Time
following Beauty to the grave. Now they were in the great cavern, and
now, avoiding the open tombs, the well mouth and the altar, they stood
beneath the crucifix.
"Be seated," said Meyer, and the entranced Benita sat herself down
upon the steps at the foot of the cross, placing the lamp on the rock
pavement before her, and bowing her head till her hair fell upon her
naked feet and hid them. He held his hands above her for a while, then
"Do you sleep?"
"I sleep," came the strange, slow answer.
"Is your spirit awake?"
"It is awake."
"Command it to travel backwards through the ages to the beginning, and
tell me what you see here."
"I see a rugged cave and wild folk dwelling in it; an old man is dying
yonder," and she pointed to the right; "and a black woman with a babe
at her breast tends him. A man, it is her husband, enters the cave. He
holds a torch in one hand, and with the other drags a buck."
"Cease," said Meyer. "How long is this ago?"
"Thirty-three thousand two hundred and one years," came the answer,
spoken without any hesitation.
"Pass on," he said, "pass on thirty thousand years, and tell me what
For a long while there was silence.
"Why do you not speak?" he asked.
"Be patient; I am living through those thirty thousand years; many a
life, many an age, but none may be missed."
Again there was silence for a long while, till at length she spoke:
"They are done, all of them, and now three thousand years ago I see
this place changed and smoothly fashioned, peopled by a throng of
worshippers clad in strange garments with clasps upon them. Behind me
stands the graven statue of a goddess with a calm and cruel face, in
front of the altar burns a fire, and on the altar white-robed priests
are sacrificing an infant which cries aloud."
"Pass on, pass on," Meyer said hurriedly, as though the horror of that
scene had leapt to his eyes. "Pass on two thousand seven hundred years
and tell me what you see."
Again there was a pause, while the spirit he had evoked in the body of
Benita lived through those ages. Then slowly she answered:
"Nothing, the place is black and desolate, only the dead sleep beneath
"Wait till the living come again," he commanded; "then speak."
"They are here," she replied presently. "Tonsured monks, one of whom
fashions this crucifix, and their followers who bow before the Host
upon the altar. They come, they go--of whom shall I tell you?"
"Tell me of the Portuguese; of those who were driven here to die."
"I see them all," she answered, after a pause. "Two hundred and three
of them. They are ragged and wayworn and hungry. Among them is a
beautiful woman, a girl. She draws near to me, she enters into me. You
must ask her"--this was spoken in a very faint voice--"I am I no
Mr. Clifford attempted to interrupt, but fiercely Meyer bade him to be
"Speak," he commanded, but the crouching figure shook her head.
"Speak," he said again, whereon another voice, not that of Benita,
answered in another tongue:
"I hear; but I do not understand your language."
"Great Heaven!" said Meyer, "it is Portuguese," and for a while the
terror of the thing struck him dumb, for he was aware that Benita knew
no Portuguese. He knew it, however, who had lived at Lorenšo Marquez.
"Who are you?" he asked in that tongue.
"I am Benita da Ferreira. I am the daughter of the Captain da Ferreira
and of his wife, the lady Christinha, who stand by you now. Turn, and
you will see them."
Jacob started and looked about him uneasily.
"What did she say? I did not catch it all," asked Mr. Clifford.
He translated her words.
"But this is black magic," exclaimed the old man. "Benita knows no
Portuguese, so how comes she to speak it?"
"Because she is no longer our Benita; she is another Benita, Benita da
Ferreira. The Molimo was right when he said that the spirit of the
dead woman went with her, as it seems the name has gone," he added.
"Have done," said Mr. Clifford; "the thing is unholy. Wake her up, or
"And bring about her death. Touch or disturb her, and I tell you she
will die," and he pointed to Benita, who crouched before them so white
and motionless that indeed it seemed as though already she were dead.
"Be quiet," he went on. "I swear to you that no hurt shall come to
her, also that I will translate everything to you. Promise, or I will
tell you nothing, and her blood be on your head."
Then Mr. Clifford groaned and said:
"Tell me your story, Benita da Ferreira. How came you and your people
"The tribes of Monomotapa rose against our rule. They killed many of
us in the lower land, yes, they killed my brother and him to whom I
was affianced. The rest of us fled north to this ancient fortress,
hoping thence to escape by the river, the Zambesi. The Mambo, our
vassal, gave us shelter here, but the tribes besieged the walls in
thousands, and burnt all the boats so that we could not fly by the
water. Many times we beat them back from the wall; the ditch was full
of their dead, and at last they dared to attack no more.
"Then we began to starve and they won the first wall. We went on
starving and they won the second wall, but the third wall they could
not climb. So we died; one by one we laid ourselves down in this cave
and died, till I alone was left, for while our people had food they
gave it to me who was the daughter of their captain. Yes, alone I
knelt at the foot of this crucifix by the body of my father, praying
to the blessed Son of Mary for the death that would not come, and
kneeling there I swooned. When I awoke again the Mambo and his men
stood about me, for now, knowing us to be dead, the tribes had gone,
and those who were in hiding across the river had returned and knew
how to climb the wall. They bore me from among the dead, they gave me
food so that my strength came back; but in the night I, who in my
wickedness would not live, escaped from them and climbed the pillar of
black rock, so that when the sun rose they saw me standing there. They
begged of me to come down, promising to protect me, but I said 'No,'
who in the evil of my heart only desired to die, that I might join my
father and my brother, and one who was dearer to me than all. They
asked of me where the great treasure was hidden."
At these words Jacob gasped, then rapidly translated them, while the
figure before them became silent, as though it felt that for the
moment the power of his will was withdrawn.
"Speak on, I bid you," he said, and she continued, the rich, slow
voice dropping word after word from the lips of Benita in the alien
speech that this Benita never knew.
"I answered that it was where it was, and that if they gave it up to
any save the one appointed, then that fate which had befallen my
people would befall theirs also. Yes, I gave it into their keeping
until I came again, since with his dying breath my father had
commanded me to reveal it to none, and I believed that I who was about
to die should never come again.
"Then I made my last prayer, I kissed the golden crucifix that now
hangs upon this breast wherein I dwell," and the hand of the living
Benita was lifted, and moving like the hand of a dead thing, slowly
drew out the symbol from beneath the cloak, held it for a moment in
the lamplight, and let it fall to its place again. "I put my hands
before my eyes that I might not see, and I hurled myself from the
Now the voice ceased, but from the lips came a dreadful sound, such as
might be uttered by one whose bones are shattered upon rocks, followed
by other sounds like those of one who chokes in water. They were so
horrible to hear that Mr. Clifford nearly fainted, and even Jacob
Meyer staggered and turned white as the white face of Benita.
"Wake her! For God's sake, wake her!" said her father. "She is dying,
as that woman died hundreds of years ago."
"Not till she has told us where the gold is. Be quiet, you fool. She
does not feel or suffer. It is the spirit within her that lives
through the past again."
Once more there was silence. It seemed as though the story were all
told and the teller had departed.
"Benita da Ferreira," said Meyer at length, "I command you, tell me,
are you dead?"
"Oh! would that I were dead, as my body is dead!" wailed the lips of
Benita. "Alas! I cannot die who suffer this purgatory, and must dwell
on here alone until the destined day. Yes, yes, the spirit of her who
was Benita da Ferreira must haunt this place in solitude. This is her
doom, to be the guardian of that accursed gold which was wrung from
the earth by cruelty and paid for with the lives of men."
"Is it still safe?" whispered Jacob.
"I will look;" then after a pause, "I have looked. It is there, every
grain of it, in ox-hide bags; only one of them has fallen and burst,
that which is black and red."
"Where is it?" he said again.
"I may not tell you; never, never."
"Is there anyone whom you may tell?"
"Her in whose breast I lie."
"Tell her then."
"I have told her; she knows."
"And may she tell me?"
"Let her guard the secret as she will. O my Guardian, I thank thee. My
burden is departed; my sin of self-murder is atoned."
"Benita da Ferreira, are you gone?"
"Benita Clifford, do you hear me?"
"I hear you," said the voice of Benita, speaking in English, although
Jacob, forgetting, had addressed her in Portuguese.
"Where is the gold?"
"In my keeping."
"Tell me, I command you."
But no words came; though he questioned her many times no words came,
till at last her head sank forward upon her knees, and in a faint
voice she murmured:
"Loose me, or I die."
Still Jacob Meyer hesitated. The great secret was unlearned, and, if
this occasion passed, might never be learned. But if he hesitated, Mr.
Clifford did not. The knowledge of his child's danger, the sense that
her life was mysteriously slipping away from her under pressure of the
ghastly spell in which she lay enthralled, stirred him to madness. His
strength and manhood came back to him. He sprang straight at Meyer's
throat, gripped it with one hand, and with the other drew the knife he
"You devil!" he gasped. "Wake her or you shall go with her!" and he
lifted the knife.
Then Jacob gave in. Shaking off his assailant he stepped to Benita,
and while her father stood behind him with the lifted blade, began to
make strange upward passes over her, and to mutter words of command.
For a long while they took no effect; indeed, both of them were almost
sure that she was gone. Despair gripped her father, and Meyer worked
at his black art so furiously that the sweat burst out upon his
forehead and fell in great drops to the floor.
Oh, at last, at last she stirred! Her head lifted itself a little, her
"Lord in Heaven, I have saved her!" muttered Jacob in German, and
Now the eyes of Benita opened, and now she stood up and sighed. But
she said nothing; only like a person walking in her sleep, she began
to move towards the entrance of the cave, her father going before her
with the lamp. On she went, and out of it straight to her tent, where
instantly she cast herself upon her bed and sank into deep slumber. It
was as though the power of the drug-induced oblivion, which for a
while was over-mastered by that other stronger power invoked by Jacob,
had reasserted itself.
Meyer watched her for awhile; then said to Mr. Clifford:
"Don't be afraid and don't attempt to disturb her. She will wake
naturally in the morning."
"I hope so for both our sakes," he answered, glaring at him, "for if
not, you or I, or the two of us, will never see another."
Meyer took no notice of his threats; indeed the man seemed so
exhausted that he could scarcely stand.
"I am done," he said. "Now, as she is safe, I don't care what happens
to me. I must rest," and he staggered from the tent, like a drunken
Outside, at the place where they ate, Mr. Clifford heard him gulping
down raw gin from the bottle. Then he heard no more.
All the rest of the night, and for some hours of the early morning,
did her father watch by the bed of Benita, although, lightly clad as
he was, the cold of dawn struck to his bones. At length, when the sun
was well up, she rose in her bed, and her eyes opened.
"What are you doing here, father?" she said.
"I have come to see where you were, dear. You are generally out by
"I suppose that I must have overslept myself then," she replied
wearily. "But it does not seem to have refreshed me much, and my head
aches. Oh! I remember," she added with a start. "I have had such a
"What about?" he asked as carelessly as he could.
"I can't recall it quite, but it had to do with Mr. Meyer," and she
shivered. "It seemed as though I had passed into his power, as though
he had taken possession of me, body and soul, and forced me to tell
him all the secret things."
"What secret things, Benita?"
She shook her head.
"I don't know now, but we went away among dead people, and I told him
there. Oh! father, I am afraid of that man--terribly afraid! Protect
me from him," and she began to cry a little.
"Of course I will protect you, dear. Something has upset your nerves.
Come, dress yourself and you'll soon forget it all. I'll light the
A quarter of an hour later Benita joined him, looking pale and shaken,
but otherwise much as usual. She was ravenously hungry, and ate of the
biscuits and dried meat with eagerness.
"The coffee tastes quite different from that which I drank last
night," she said. "I think there must have been something in it which
gave me those bad dreams. Where is Mr. Meyer? Oh, I know!" and again
she put her hand to her head. "He is still asleep by the wall."
"Who told you that?"
"I can't say, but it is so. He will not come here till one o'clock.
There, I feel much better now. What shall we do, father?"
"Sit in the sun and rest, I think, dear."
"Yes, let us do that, on the top of the wall. We can see the Makalanga
from there, and it will be a comfort to be sure that there are other
human beings left in the world besides ourselves and Jacob Meyer."
So presently they went, and from the spot whence Meyer used to shoot
at the Matabele camp, looked down upon the Makalanga moving about the
first enclosure far below. By the aid of the glasses Benita even
thought that she recognised Tamas, although of this it was difficult
to be sure, for they were all very much alike. Still, the discovery
quite excited her.
"I am sure it is Tamas," she said. "And oh! how I wish that we were
down there with him, although it is true that then we should be nearer
to the Matabele. But they are better than Mr. Meyer, much better."
Now for a while they were silent, till at length she said suddenly:
"Father, you are keeping something back from me, and things begin to
come back. Tell me; did I go anywhere last night with Mr. Meyer--you
and he and I together?"
He hesitated and looked guilty; Mr. Clifford was not a good actor.
"I see that we did; I am sure that we did. Father, tell me. I must
know, I will know."
Then he gave way.
"I didn't want to speak, dear, but perhaps it is best. It is a very
strange story. Will you promise not to be upset?"
"I will promise not to be more upset than I am at present," she
answered, with a sad little laugh. "Go on."
"You remember that Jacob Meyer wanted to mesmerize you?"
"I am not likely to forget it," she answered.
"Well, last night he did mesmerize you."
"What?" she said. "/What?/ Oh! how dreadful! Now I understand it all.
"When you were sound asleep, I suppose. At least, the first I knew of
it was that some noise woke me, and I came out of the hut to see you
following him like a dead woman, with a lamp in your hand."
Then he told her all the story, while she listened aghast.
"How dared he!" she gasped, when her father had finished the long
tale. "I hate him; I almost wish that you had killed him," and she
clenched her little hands and shook them in the air.
"That is not very Christian of you, Miss Clifford," said a voice
behind her. "But it is past one o'clock, and as I am still alive I
have come to tell you that it is time for luncheon."
Benita wheeled round upon the stone on which she sat, and there,
standing amidst the bushes a little way from the foot of the wall, was
Jacob Meyer. Their eyes met; hers were full of defiance, and his of
"I do not want any luncheon, Mr. Meyer," she said.
"But I am sure that you do. Please come down and have some. Please
The words were spoken humbly, almost pleadingly, yet to Benita they
seemed as a command. At any rate, with slow reluctance she climbed
down the shattered wall, followed by her father, and without speaking
they went back to their camping place, all three of them, Jacob
leading the way.
When they had eaten, or made pretence to eat, he spoke.
"I see that your father has told you everything, Miss Clifford, and of
that I am glad. As for me, it would have been awkward, who must ask
your forgiveness for so much. But what could I do? I knew, as I have
always known, that it was only possible to find this treasure by your
help. So I gave you something to make you sleep, and then in your
sleep I hypnotized you, and--you know the rest. I have great
experience in this art, but I have never seen or heard of anything
like what happened, and I hope I never shall again."
Hitherto Benita had sat silent, but now her burning indignation and
curiosity overcame her shame and hatred.
"Mr. Meyer," she said, "you have done a shameful and a wicked thing,
and I tell you at once that I can never forgive you."
"Don't say that. Please don't say that," he interrupted in tones of
real grief. "Make allowances for me. I had to learn, and there was no
other way. You are a born clairvoyante, one among ten thousand, my art
told me so, and you know all that is at stake."
"By which you mean so many ounces of gold, Mr. Meyer."
"By which I mean the greatness that gold can give, Miss Clifford."
"Such greatness, Mr. Meyer, as a week of fever, or a Matabele spear,
or God's will can rob you of. But the thing is done, and soon or late
the sin must be paid for. Now I want to ask you a question. You
believe in nothing; you have told me so several times. You say that
there is no such thing as a spirit, that when we die, we die, and
there's an end. Do you not?"
"Yes, I do."
"Then tell me, what was it that spoke out of my lips last night, and
how came it that I, who know no Portuguese, talked to you in that
He shrugged his shoulders.
"You have put a difficult question, but one I think that can be
answered. There is no such thing as a spirit, an identity that
survives death. But there is such a thing as the subconscious self,
which is part of the animating principle of the universe, and, if only
its knowledge can be unsealed, knows all that has passed and all that
is passing in that universe. One day perhaps you will read the works
of my compatriot, Hegel, and there you will find it spoken of."
"You explain nothing."
"I am about to explain, Miss Clifford. Last night I gave to your sub-
conscious self--that which knows all--the strength of liberty, so that
it saw the past as it happened in this place. Already you knew the
story of the dead girl, Benita da Ferreira, and that story you
re-enacted, talking the tongue she used as you would have talked Greek
or any other tongue, had it been hers. It was not her spirit that
animated you, although at the time I called it so for shortness, but
your own buried knowledge, tricked out and furnished by the effort of
your human imagination. That her name, Benita, should have been yours
also is no doubt a strange coincidence, but no more. Also we have no
proof that it was so; only what you said in your trance."
"Perhaps," said Benita, who was in no mood for philosophical argument.
"Perhaps also one day you will see a spirit, Mr. Meyer, and think
"When I see a spirit and know that it is a spirit, then doubtless I
shall believe in spirits. But what is the good of talking of such
things? I do not seek spirits; I seek Portuguese gold. Now, I am sure
you can tell where that gold lies. You would have told us last night,
had not your nervous strength failed you, who are unaccustomed to the
state of trance. Speaking as Benita da Ferreira, you said that you saw
it and described its condition. Then you could, or would, say no more,
and it became necessary to waken you. Miss Clifford, you must let me
mesmerize you once again for a few minutes only, for then we will
waste no time on past histories, and we shall find the gold. Unless,
indeed," he added by an afterthought, and looking at her sharply, "you
know already where it is; in which case I need not trouble you."
"I do not know, Mr. Meyer. I remember nothing about the gold."
"Which proves my theory. What purported to be the spirit of Benita da
Ferreira said that it had passed the secret on to you, but in your
waking state you do not know that secret. In fact, she did not pass it
on because she had no existence. But in your sub-conscious state you
will know. Therefore I must mesmerize you again. Not at once, but in a
few days' time, when you have quite recovered. Let us say next
Wednesday, three days hence."
"You shall never mesmerize me again, Mr. Meyer."
"No, not while I live," broke in her father, who had been listening to
this discussion in silence.
Jacob bowed his head meekly.
"You think so now, but I think otherwise. What I did last night I did
against your will, and that I can do again, only much more easily. But
I had rather do it with your will, who work not for my own sake only,
but for the sake of all of us. And now let us talk no more of the
matter, lest we should grow angry." Then he rose and went away.
The next three days were passed by Benita in a state of constant
dread. She knew in herself that Jacob Meyer had acquired a certain
command over her; that an invincible intimacy had sprung up between
them. She was acquainted with his thoughts; thus, before he asked for
it, she would find herself passing him some article at table or
elsewhere, or answering a question that he was only about to ask.
Moreover, he could bring her to him from a little distance. Thus, on
two or three occasions when she was wandering about their prison
enclosure, as she was wont to do for the sake of exercise, she found
her feet draw to some spot--now one place and now another--and when
she reached it there before her was Jacob Meyer.
"Forgive me for bringing you here," he would say, smiling after his
crooked fashion, and lifting his hat politely, "but I wish to ask you
if you have not changed your mind as to being mesmerized?"
Then for a while he would hold her with his eyes, so that her feet
seemed rooted to the ground, till at length it was as though he cut a
rope by some action of his will and set her free, and, choked with
wrath and blind with tears, Benita would turn and run from him as from
a wild beast.
But if her days were evil, oh! what were her nights? She lived in
constant terror lest he should again drug her food or drink, and,
while she slept, throw his magic spell upon her. To protect herself
from the first danger she would swallow nothing that had been near
him. Now also she slept in the hut with her father, who lay near its
door, a loaded rifle at his side, for he had told Jacob outright that
if he caught him at his practices he would shoot him, a threat at
which the younger man laughed aloud, for he had no fear of Mr.
Throughout the long hours of darkness they kept watch alternately, one
of them lying down to rest while the other peered and listened. Nor
did Benita always listen in vain, for twice at least she heard
stealthy footsteps creeping about the hut, and felt that soft and
dreadful influence flowing in upon her. Then she would wake her
father, whispering, "He is there, I can feel that he is there." But by
the time that the old man had painfully dragged himself to his feet--
for now he was becoming very feeble and acute rheumatism or some such
illness had got hold of him--and crept from the hut, there was no one
to be seen. Only through the darkness he would hear the sound of a
retreating step, and of low, mocking laughter.
Thus those miserable days went by, and the third morning came, that
dreaded Wednesday. Before it was dawn Benita and her father, neither
of whom had closed their eyes that night, talked over their strait
long and earnestly, and they knew that its crisis was approaching.
"I think that I had better try to kill him, Benita," he said. "I am
growing dreadfully weak, and if I put it off I may find no strength,
and you will be at his mercy. I can easily shoot him when his back is
turned, and though I hate the thought of such a deed, surely I shall
be forgiven. Or if not, I cannot help it. I must think of my duty to
you, not of myself."
"No, no," she answered. "I will not have it. It would be murder,
although he has threatened you. After all, father, I believe that the
man is half mad, and not responsible. We must take our chance and
trust to God to save us. If He does not," she added, "at the worst I
can always save myself," and she touched the pistol which now she wore
day and night.
"So be it," said Mr. Clifford, with a groan. "Let us pray for
deliverance from this hell and keep our hands clean of blood."
JACOB MEYER SEES A SPIRIT
For a while they were silent, then Benita said:
"Father, is it not possible that we might escape, after all? Perhaps
that stair on the rampart is not so completely blocked that we could
not climb over it."
Mr. Clifford, thinking of his stiff limbs and aching back, shook his
head and answered:
"I don't know; Meyer has never let me near enough to see."
"Well, why do you not go to look? You know he sleeps till late now,
because he is up all night. Take the glasses and examine the top of
the wall from inside that old house near by. He will not see or hear
you, but if I came near, he would know and wake up."
"If you like, love, I can try, but what are you going to do while I am
"I shall climb the pillar."
"You don't mean----" and he stopped.
"No, no, nothing of that sort. I shall not follow the example of
Benita da Ferreira unless I am driven to it; I want to look, that is
all. One can see far from that place, if there is anything to see.
Perhaps the Matabele are gone now, we have heard nothing of them
So they dressed themselves, and as soon as the light was sufficiently
strong, came out of the hut and parted, Mr. Clifford, rifle in hand,
limping off towards the wall, and Benita going towards the great cone.
She climbed it easily enough, and stood in the little cup-like
depression on its dizzy peak, waiting for the sun to rise and disperse
the mists which hung over the river and its banks.
Now whatever may have been the exact ceremonial use to which the
ancients put this pinnacle, without doubt it had something to do with
sun-worship. This, indeed, was proved by the fact that, at any rate at
this season of the year, the first rays of the risen orb struck full
upon its point. Thus it came about that, as she stood there waiting,
Benita of a sudden found herself suffused in light so vivid and
intense that, clothed as she was in a dress which had once been white,
it must have caused her to shine like a silver image. For several
minutes, indeed, this golden spear of fire blinded her so that she
could see nothing, but stood quite still, afraid to move, and waiting
until, as the sun grew higher, its level rays passed over her. This
they did presently, and plunging into the valley, began to drive away
the fog. Now she looked down, along the line of the river.
The Matabele camp was invisible, for it lay in a hollow almost at the
foot of the fortress. Beyond it, however, was a rising swell of
ground; it may have been half a mile from where she stood, and on the
crest of it she perceived what looked like a waggon tent with figures
moving round it. They were shouting also, for through the silence of
the African morn the sound of their voices floated up to her.
As the mist cleared off Benita saw that without doubt it was a waggon,
for there stood the long row of oxen, also it had just been captured
by the Matabele, for these were about it in numbers. At the moment,
however, they appeared to be otherwise occupied, for they were
pointing with their spears to the pillar on Bambatse.
Then it occurred to Benita that, placed as she was in that fierce
light with only the sky for background, she must be perfectly visible
from the plain below, and that it might be her figure perched like an
eagle between heaven and earth which excited their interest. Yes, and
not theirs only, for now a white man appeared, who lifted what might
have been a gun, or a telescope, towards her. She was sure from the
red flannel shirt and the broad hat which he wore that he must be a
white man, and oh! how her heart yearned towards him, whoever he might
be! The sight of an angel from heaven could scarcely have been more
welcome to Benita in her wretchedness.
Yet surely she must be dreaming. What should a white man and a waggon
be doing in that place? And why had not the Matabele killed him at
once? She could not tell, yet they appeared to have no murderous
intentions, since they continued to gesticulate and talk whilst he
stared upwards with the telescope, if it were a telescope. So things
went on for a long time, for meanwhile the oxen were outspanned,
until, indeed, more Matabele arrived, who led off the white man,
apparently against his will, towards their camp, where he disappeared.
Then there was nothing more to be seen. Benita descended the column.
At its foot she met her father, who had come to seek her.
"What is the matter?" he asked, noting her excited face.
"Oh!" she said or rather sobbed, "there is a waggon with a white man
below. I saw the Matabele capture him."
"Then I am sorry for the poor devil," answered the father, "for he is
dead by now. But what could a white man have been doing here? Some
hunter, I suppose, who has walked into a trap."
The face of Benita fell.
"I hoped," she said, "that he might help us."
"As well might he hope that we could help him. He is gone, and there
is an end. Well, peace to his soul, and we have our own troubles to
think of. I have been to look at that wall, and it is useless to think
of climbing it. If he had been a professional mason, Meyer could not
have built it up better; no wonder that we have seen nothing more of
the Molimo, for only a bird could reach us."
"Where was Mr. Meyer," asked Benita.
"Asleep in a blanket under a little shelter of boughs by the stair. At
least, I thought so, though it was rather difficult to make him out in
the shadow; at any rate, I saw his rifle set against a tree. Come, let
us go to breakfast. No doubt he will turn up soon enough."
So they went, and for the first time since the Sunday Benita ate a
hearty meal of biscuits soaked in coffee. Although her father was so
sure that by now he must have perished on the Matabele spears, the
sight of the white man and his waggon had put new life into her,
bringing her into touch with the world again. After all, might it not
chance that he had escaped?"
All this while there had been no sign of Jacob Meyer. This, however,
did not surprise them, for now he ate his meals alone, taking his food
from a little general store, and cooking it over his own fire. When
they had finished their breakfast Mr. Clifford remarked that they had
no more drinking water left, and Benita said that she would go to
fetch a pailful from the well in the cave. Her father suggested that
he should accompany her, but she answered that it was not necessary as
she was quite able to wind the chain by herself. So she went, carrying
the bucket in one hand and a lamp in the other.
As she walked down the last of the zigzags leading to the cave, Benita
stopped a moment thinking that she saw a light, and then went on,
since on turning the corner there was nothing but darkness before her.
Evidently she had been mistaken. She reached the well and hung the
pail on to the great copper hook, wondering as she did so how many
folk had done likewise in the far, far past, for the massive metal of
that hook was worn quite thin with use. Then she let the roller run,
and the sound of the travelling chain clanked dismally in that
vaulted, empty place. At length the pail struck the water, and she
began to wind up again, pausing at times to rest, for the distance was
long and the chain heavy. The bucket appeared. Benita drew it to the
side of the well, and lifted it from the hook, then took up her lamp
to be gone.
Feeling or seeing something, which she was not sure, she held the lamp
above her head, and by its light perceived a figure standing between
her and the entrance to the cave.
"Who are you?" she asked, whereon a soft voice answered out of the
darkness, the voice of Jacob Meyer.
"Do you mind standing still for a few minutes, Miss Clifford? I have
some paper here and I wish to make a sketch. You do not know how
beautiful you look with that light above your head illuminating the
shadows and the thorn-crowned crucifix beyond. You know, whatever
paths fortune may have led me into, by nature I am an artist, and
never in my life have I seen such a picture. One day it will make me
'How statue-like I see thee stand!
The agate lamp within thy hand.'
That's what I should put under it; you know the lines, don't you?"
"Yes, Mr. Meyer, but I am afraid you will have to paint your picture
from memory, as I cannot hold up this lamp any longer; my arm is
aching already. I do not know how you came here, but as you have
followed me perhaps you will be so kind as to carry this water."
"I did not follow you, Miss Clifford. Although you never saw me I
entered the cave before you to take measurements."
"How can you take measurements in the dark?"
"I was not in the dark. I put out my light when I caught sight of you,
knowing that otherwise you would run away, and fate stood me in good
stead. You came on, as I willed that you should do. Now let us talk.
Miss Clifford, have you changed your mind? You know the time is up."
"I shall never change my mind. Let me pass you, Mr. Meyer."
"No, no, not until you have listened. You are very cruel to me, very
cruel indeed. You do not understand that, rather than do you the
slightest harm, I would die a hundred times."
"I do not ask you to die; I ask you to leave me alone--a much easier
"But how can I leave you alone when you are a part of me, when--I love
you? There, the truth is out, and now say what you will."
Benita lifted the bucket of water; its weight seemed to steady her.
Then she put it down again, since escape was impracticable; she must
face the situation.
"I have nothing to say, Mr. Meyer, except that /I/ do not love /you/
or any living man, and I never shall. I thank you for the compliment
you have paid me, and there is an end."
"Any living man," he repeated after her. "That means you love a dead
man--Seymour, he who was drowned. No wonder that I hated him when
first my eyes fell on him years ago, long before you had come into our
lives. Prescience, the sub-conscious self again. Well, what is the use
of loving the dead, those who no longer have any existence, who have
gone back into the clay out of which they were formed and are not, nor
evermore shall be? You have but one life; turn, turn to the living,
and make it happy."
"I do not agree with you, Mr. Meyer. To me the dead are still living;
one day I shall find them. Now let me go."
"I will not let you go. I will plead and wrestle with you as in the
old fable my namesake of my own race wrestled with the angel, until at
length you bless me. You despise me because I am a Jew, because I have
had many adventures and not succeeded; because you think me mad. But I
tell you that there is the seed of greatness in me. Give yourself to
me and I will make you great, for now I know that it was you whom I
needed to supply what is lacking in my nature. We will win the wealth,
and together we will rule----"
"Until a few days hence we starve or the Matabele make an end of us.
No, Mr. Meyer, no," and she tried to push past him.
He stretched out his arms and stopped her.
"Listen," he said, "I have pleaded with you as man with woman. Now, as
you refuse me and as you alone stand between me and madness, I will
take another course. I am your master, your will is servant to my
will; I bid you obey me."
He fixed his eyes upon hers, and Benita felt her strength begin to
"Ah!" he said, "you are my servant now, and to show it I shall kiss
you on the lips; then I shall throw the sleep upon you, and you will
tell me what I want to know. Afterwards we can be wed when it pleases
me. Oh! do not think that your father will defend you, for if he
interferes I shall kill that foolish old man, whom until now I have
only spared for your sake. Remember that if you make me angry, I shall
certainly kill him, and your father's blood will be on your head. Now
I am going to kiss you."
Benita lifted her hand to find the pistol at her waist. It fell back
again; she had no strength; it was as though she were paralysed as a
bird is paralysed by a snake so that it cannot open its wings and fly
away, but sits there awaiting death. She was given over into the hands
of this man whom she hated. Could Heaven allow such a thing? she
wondered dimly, and all the while his lips drew nearer to her face.
They touched her own, and then, why or wherefore Benita never
understood, the spell broke. All his power was gone, she was as she
had been, a free woman, mistress of herself. Contemptuously she thrust
the man aside, and, not even troubling to run, lifted her pail of
water and walked away.
Soon she saw the light again, and joyfully extinguished her lamp.
Indeed, the breast of Benita, which should have been so troubled after
the scene through which she had passed, strangely enough was filled
with happiness and peace. As that glorious sunlight had broken on her
eyes, so had another light of freedom arisen in her soul. She was no
longer afraid of Jacob Meyer; that coward kiss of his had struck off
the shackles which bound her to him. Her mind had been subject to his
mind, but now that his physical nature was brought into the play, his
mental part had lost its hold upon her.
As she approached the hut she saw her father seated on a stone outside
it, since the poor old man was now so weak and full of pain that he
could not stand for very long, and seeing, remembered Meyer's threats
against him. At the thought all her new-found happiness departed.
She might be safe; she felt sure that she was safe, but how about her
father? If Meyer could not get his way probably he would be as good as
his word, and kill him. She shivered at the thought, then, recovering
herself, walked forward steadily with her bucket of water.
"You have been a long while gone, my love," said Mr. Clifford.
"Yes, father, Mr. Meyer was in the cave, and kept me."
"How did he get there, and what did he want?"
"I don't know how he got there--crept in when we were not looking, I
suppose. But as for what he wanted--listen, dear," and word for word
she told him what had passed.
Before she had finished, her father was almost choking with wrath.
"The dirty Jew! The villain!" he gasped. "I never dreamed that he
would dare to attempt such an outrage. Well, thank Heaven! I can still
hold a rifle, and when he comes out----"
"Father," she said gently, "that man is mad. He is not responsible for
his actions, and therefore, except in self-defence, you must not think
of such a thing. As for what he said about you, I believe it was only
an empty threat, and for me you need have no fear, his power over me
is gone; it went like a flash when his lips touched me," and she
rubbed her own as though to wipe away some stain. "I am afraid of
nothing more. I believe--yes, I believe the old Molimo was right, and
that all will end well----"
As she was speaking Benita heard a shuffling sound behind her, and
turned to learn its cause. Then she saw a strange sight. Jacob Meyer
was staggering towards them, dragging one foot after the other through
the grass and stones. His face was ghastly pale, his jaw had dropped
like that of a dead man, and his eyes were set wide open and full of
"What is the matter with you, man?" asked Mr. Clifford.
"I--I--have seen a ghost," he whispered. "You did not come back into
the cave, did you?" he added, pointing at Benita, who shook her head.
"What ghost?" asked Mr. Clifford.
"I don't know, but my lamp went out, and then a light began to shine
behind me. I turned, and on the steps of that crucifix I saw a woman
kneeling. Her arms clasped the feet of the figure, her forehead rested
upon the feet, her long black hair flowed down, she was dressed in
white, and the light came from her body and her head. Very slowly she
turned and looked at me, and oh, Heaven! that face----" and he put his
hand before his eyes and groaned. "It was beautiful; yes, yes, but
fearful to see, like an avenging angel. I fled, and the light--only
the light--came with me down the cave, even at the mouth of it there
was a little. I have seen a spirit, I who did not believe in spirits,
I have seen a spirit, and I tell you that not for all the gold in the
world will I enter that place again."
Then before they could answer, suddenly as though his fear had got
some fresh hold of him, Jacob sprang forward and fled away, crashing
through the bushes and leaping from rock to rock like a frightened
THE MESSAGE FROM THE DEAD
"Meyer always said that he did not believe in spirits," remarked Mr.
"Well, he believes in them now," answered Benita with a little laugh.
"But, father, the poor man is mad, that is the fact of it, and we must
pay no attention to what he says."
"The old Molimo and some of his people--Tamas, for instance--declared
that they have seen the ghost of Benita da Ferreira. Are they mad
"I don't know, father. Who can say? All these things are a mystery.
All I do know is that I have never seen a ghost, and I doubt if I ever
"No, but when you were in that trance something that was not you spoke
out of your mouth, which something said that it was your namesake, the
other Benita. Well, as you say, we can't fathom these things,
especially in a haunted kind of place like this, but the upshot of it
is that I don't think we have much more to fear from Jacob."
"I am not so sure, father. Mad people change their moods very
As it happened Benita was quite right. Towards suppertime Jacob Meyer
reappeared, looking pale and shaken, but otherwise much as usual.
"I had a kind of fit this morning," he explained, 'the result of an
hallucination which seized me when my light went out in that cave. I
remember that I thought I had seen a ghost, whereas I know very well
that no such thing exists. I was the victim of disappointment,
anxieties, and other still stronger emotions," and he looked at
Benita. "Therefore, please forget anything I said or did, and--would
you give me some supper?"
Benita did so, and he ate in silence, with some heartiness. When he
had finished his food, and swallowed two or three tots of squareface,
he spoke again:
"I have come here, where I know I am not welcome, upon business," he
said in a calm, matter-of-fact voice. "I am tired of this place, and I
think it is time that we attained the object of our journey here,
namely, to find the hidden gold. That, as we all know, can only be
done in a certain way, through the clairvoyant powers of one of us and
the hypnotic powers of another. Miss Clifford, I request that you will
allow me to throw you into a state of trance. You have told us
everything else, but you have not yet told us where the treasure is
hidden, and this it is necessary that we should know."
"And if I refuse, Mr. Meyer?"
"Then I am sorry, but I must take means to compel your obedience.
Under those circumstances, much against my will, I shall be obliged"--
here his eye blazed out wildly--"to execute your father, whose
obstinacy and influence stand between us and splendid fortunes. No,
Clifford," he added, "don't stretch out your hand towards that rifle,
for I am already covering you with the pistol in my pocket, and the
moment your hand touches it I shall fire. You poor old man, do you
imagine for a single second that, sick as you are, and with your stiff
limbs, you can hope to match yourself against my agility, intellect,
and strength? Why, I could kill you in a dozen ways before you could
lift a finger against me, and by the God I do not believe in, unless
your daughter is more compliant, kill you I will!"
"That remains to be seen, my friend," said Mr. Clifford with a laugh,
for he was a brave old man. "I am not certain that the God--whom you
do not believe in--will not kill you first."
Now Benita, who had been taking counsel with herself, looked up and
"Very well, Mr. Meyer, I consent--because I must. To-morrow morning
you shall try to mesmerize me, if you can, in the same place, before
the crucifix in the cave."
"No," he answered quickly. "It was not there, it was here, and here it
shall be again. The spot you mention is unpropitious to me; the
attempt would fail."
"It is the spot that I have chosen," answered Benita stubbornly.
"And this is the spot that I have chosen, Miss Clifford, and my will
must prevail over yours."
"Because you who do not believe in spirits are afraid to re-enter the
cave, Mr. Meyer, lest you should chance----"
"Never mind what I am or am not afraid of," he replied with fury.
"Make your choice between doing my will and your father's life.
To-morrow morning I shall come for your answer, and if you are still
obstinate, within half an hour he will be dead, leaving you and me
alone together. Oh! you may call me wicked and a villain, but it is
you who are wicked, you, you, /you/ who force me to this deed of
Then without another word he sprang up and walked away from them
backwards, as he went covering Mr. Clifford with the pistol which he
had drawn from his pocket. The last that they saw of him were his
eyes, which glowered at them through the darkness like those of a
"Father," said Benita, when she was sure that he had gone, "that
madman really means to murder you; there is no doubt of it."
"None whatever, dear; if I am alive to-morrow night I shall be lucky,
unless I can kill him first or get out of his way."
"Well," she said hurriedly, "I think you can. I have an idea. He is
afraid to go into that cave, I am sure. Let us hide ourselves there.
We can take food and shall have plenty of water, whereas, unless rain
falls, he can get nothing to drink."
"But what then, Benita? We can't stop in the dark for ever."
"No, but we can wait there until something happens. Something must and
will happen. His disease won't stand still. He may go raving mad and
kill himself. Or he may attempt to attack us, though that is not
likely, and then we must do what we can in self defence. Or help may
reach us from somewhere. At the worst we shall only die as we should
have died outside. Come, let us be quick, lest he should change his
mind, and creep back upon us."
So Mr. Clifford gave way, knowing that even if he could steel himself
to do the deed of attempting to kill Jacob, he would have little
chance against that strong and agile man. Such a struggle would only
end in his own death, and Benita must then be left alone with Meyer
and his insane passions.
Hurriedly they carried their few belongings into the cave. First they
took most of the little store of food that remained, the three hand-
lamps and all the paraffin; there was but one tin. Then returning they
fetched the bucket, the ammunition, and their clothes. Afterwards, as
there was still no sign of Meyer, they even dared to drag in the
waggon tent to make a shelter for Benita, and all the wood that they
had collected for firing. This proved a wearisome business, for the
logs were heavy, and in his crippled state Mr. Clifford could carry no
great burden. Indeed, towards the end Benita was forced to complete
the task alone, while he limped beside her with his rifle, lest Jacob
should surprise them.
When at length everything was done it was long past midnight, and so
exhausted were they that, notwithstanding their danger, they flung
themselves down upon the canvas tent, which lay in a heap at the end
of the cave near the crucifix, and fell asleep.
When Benita woke the lamp had gone out, and it was pitch dark.
Fortunately, however, she remembered where she had put the matches and
the lantern with a candle in it. She lit the candle and looked at her
watch. It was nearly six o'clock. The dawn must be breaking outside,
within an hour or two Jacob Meyer would find that they had gone.
Suppose that his rage should overcome his fear and that he should
creep upon them. They would know nothing of it until his face appeared
in the faint ring of light. Or he might even shoot her father out of
the darkness. What could she do that would give them warning? A
thought came to her.
Taking one of the tent ropes and the lantern, for her father still
slept heavily, she went down to the entrance of the cave, and at the
end of the last zigzag where once a door had been, managed to make it
fast to a stone hinge about eighteen inches above the floor, and on
the other side to an eye opposite that was cut in the solid rock to
receive a bolt of wood or iron. Meyer, she knew, had no lamps or oil,
only matches and perhaps a few candles. Therefore if he tried to enter
the cave it was probable that he would trip over the rope and thus
give them warning. Then she went back, washed her face and hands with
some water that they had drawn on the previous night to satisfy their
thirst, and tidied herself as best she could. This done, as her father
still slept, she filled the lamps, lit one of them, and looked about
her, for she was loth to wake him.
Truly it was an awful place in which to dwell. There above them
towered the great white crucifix; there in the corner were piled the
remains of the Portuguese. A skull with long hair still hanging to it
grinned at her, a withered hand was thrust forward as though to clutch
her. Oh, no wonder that in such a spot Jacob Meyer had seen ghosts! In
front, too, was the yawning grave where they had found the monk;
indeed, his bones wrapped in dark robes still lay within, for Jacob
had tumbled them back again. Then beyond and all around deep, dark,
and utter silence.
At last her father woke, and glad enough was she of his human company.
They breakfasted upon some biscuits and water, and afterwards, while
Mr. Clifford watched near the entrance with his rifle, Benita set to
work to arrange their belongings. The tent she managed to prop up
against the wall of the cave by help of some of the wood which they
had carried in. Beneath it she spread their blankets, that it might
serve as a sleeping place for them both, and outside placed the food
and other things.
While she was thus engaged she heard a sound at the mouth of the cave
--Jacob Meyer was entering and had fallen over her rope. Down it she
ran, lantern in hand, to her father, who, with his rifle raised, was
"If you come in here, I put a bullet through you!"
Then came the answer in Jacob's voice, which rang hollow in that
"I do not want to come in; I shall wait for you to come out. You
cannot live long in there; the horror of the dark will kill you. I
have only to sit in the sunlight and wait."
Then he laughed, and they heard the sound of his footsteps retreating
down the passage.
"What are we to do?" asked Mr. Clifford despairingly. "We cannot live
without light, and if we have light he will certainly creep to the
entrance and shoot us. He is quite mad now; I am sure of it from his
Benita thought a minute, then she answered:
"We must build up the passage. Look," and she pointed to the lumps of
rock that the explosion of their mine had shaken down from the roof,
and the slabs of cement that they had broken from the floor with the
crowbar. "At once, at once," she went on; "he will not come back for
some hours, probably not till night."
So they set to work, and never did Benita labour as it was her lot to
do that day. Such of the fragments as they could lift they carried
between them, others they rolled along by help of the crowbar. For
hour after hour they toiled at their task. Luckily for them, the
passage was not more than three feet wide by six feet six high, and
their material was ample. Before the evening they had blocked it
completely with a wall several feet in thickness, which wall they
supported on the inside with lengths of the firewood lashed across to
the old hinges and bolt-holes, or set obliquely against its face.
It was done, and they regarded their work with pride, although it
seemed probable that they were building up their own tomb. Because of
its position at an angle of the passage, they knew that Meyer could
not get to it with a pole to batter it down. Also, there was no loose
powder left, so his only chance would be to pull it to pieces with his
hands, and this, they thought, might be beyond his power. At least,
should he attempt it, they would have ample warning. Yet that day was
not to pass without another trouble.
Just as they had rolled up and levered into place a long fragment of
rock designed to prevent the ends of their supporting pieces of wood
from slipping on the cement floor, Mr. Clifford uttered an
exclamation, then said:
"I have wrung my back badly. Help me to the tent. I must lie down."
Slowly and with great pain they staggered up the cave, Mr. Clifford
leaning on Benita and a stick, till, reaching the tent at last, he
almost fell on to the blankets and remained there practically
Now began Benita's terrible time, the worst of all her life. Every
hour her father became more ill. Even before they took refuge in the
cave he was completely broken down, and now after this accident he
began to suffer very much. His rheumatism or sciatica, or whatever it
was, seemed to settle upon the hurt muscles of his back, causing him
so much pain that he could scarcely sleep for ten minutes at a
stretch. Moreover, he would swallow but little of the rough food which
was all Benita was able to prepare for him; nothing, indeed, except
biscuit soaked in black coffee, which she boiled over a small fire
made of wood that they had brought with them, and occasionally a
little broth, tasteless stuff enough, for it was only the essence of
biltong, or sun-dried flesh, flavoured with some salt.
Then there were two other terrors against she must fight, the darkness
and the dread of Jacob Meyer. Perhaps the darkness was the worse of
them. To live in that hideous gloom in which their single lamp, for
she dared burn no more lest the oil should give out, seemed but as one
star to the whole night, ah! who that had not endured it could know
what it meant? There the sick man, yonder the grinning skeletons,
around the blackness and the silence, and beyond these again a
miserable death, or Jacob Meyer. But of him Benita saw nothing, though
once or twice she thought that she heard his voice raving outside the
wall which they had built. If so, either he did not try to pull it
down, or he failed in the attempt, or perhaps he feared that should he
succeed, he would be greeted by a bullet. So at last she gave up
thinking about him. Should he force his way into the cave she must
deal with the situation as best she could. Meanwhile, her father's
strength was sinking fast.
Three awful days went by in this fashion, and the end drew near.
Although she tried to force herself to it, Benita could not swallow
enough food to keep up her strength. Now that the passage was closed
the atmosphere of this old vault, for it was nothing more, thickened
by the smoke of the fire which she was obliged to burn, grew poisonous
and choked her. Want of sleep exhausted her, dread of what the morrow
might bring forth crushed her strong spirit. She began to break down,
knowing that the hour was near when she and her father must die
Once, as she slept awhile at his side, being wakened by his groaning,
Benita looked at her watch. It was midnight. She rose, and going to
the embers of the little fire, warmed up some of her biltong broth
which she poured into a tin pannikin. With difficulty she forced him
to swallow a few mouthfuls of it, then, feeling a sudden weakness,
drank the rest herself. It gave her power to think, and her father
dozed off into an uneasy sleep.
Alas! thinking was of no use, nothing could be done. There was no hope
save in prayer. Restlessness seized Benita, and taking the lantern she
wandered round the cave. The wall that they had built remained intact,
and oh! to think that beyond it flowed the free air and shone the
blessed stars! Back she came again, skirting the pits that Jacob Meyer
had dug, and the grave of the old monk, till she reached the steps of
the crucifix, and holding up her candle, looked at the thorn-crowned
brow of the Christ above.
It was wonderfully carved; that dying face was full of pity. Would not
He Whom it represented pity her? She knelt down on the topmost step,
and clasping the pierced feet with her arms, began to pray earnestly,
not for herself but that she might save her father. She prayed as she
had never prayed before, and so praying, sank into a torpor or a
It seemed to Benita that this sleep of hers suddenly became alive; in
it she saw many things. For instance, she saw herself seated in a
state of trance upon that very step where now she knelt, while before
her stood her father and Jacob Meyer. Moreover, something spoke in
her; she could not hear a voice, but she seemed to see the words
written in the air before her. These were the words:--
"/Clasp the feet of the Christ and draw them to the left. The
passage beneath leads to the chamber where the gold is hid, and
thence to the river bank. That is the secret which ere I depart, I
the dead Benita, pass on to you, the living Benita, as I am
commanded. In life and death peace be to your soul./"
Thrice did this message appear to repeat itself in the consciousness
of Benita. Then, suddenly as she had slept, she woke again with every
letter of it imprinted on her mind. Doubtless it was a dream, nothing
but a dream bred by the fact that her arms were clasping the feet of
the crucifix. What did it say? "Draw them to the left."
She did so, but nothing stirred. Again she tried, and still nothing
stirred. Of course it was a dream. Why had such been sent to mock her?
In a kind of mad irritation she put out all her remaining strength and
wrestled with those stony feet. /They moved a little/--then of a
sudden, without any further effort on her part, swung round as high as
the knees where drapery hung, concealing the join in them. Yes, they
swung round, revealing the head of a stair, up which blew a cold wind
that it was sweet to breathe.
Benita rose, gasping. Then she seized her lantern and ran to the
little tent where her father lay.
THE VOICE OF THE LIVING
Mr. Clifford was awake again now.
"Where have you been?" he asked querulously in a thin voice. "I wanted
you." Then as the light from the candle shone upon it, he noted the
change that had come over her pale face, and added: "What has
happened? Is Meyer dead? Are we free?"
Benita shook her head. "He was alive a few hours ago, for I could hear
him raving and shouting outside the wall we built. But, father, it has
all come back to me; I believe that I have found it."
"What has come back? What have you found? Are you mad, too, like
"What something told me when I was in the trance which afterwards I
forgot, but now remember. And I have found the passage which leads to
where they hid the gold. It begins behind the crucifix, where no one
ever thought of looking."
This matter of the gold did not seem to interest Mr. Clifford. In his
state all the wealth beneath the soil of Africa would not have
appealed to him. Moreover, he hated the name of that accursed
treasure, which was bringing them to such a miserable end.
"Where does the passage run? Have you looked?" he asked.
"Not yet, but the voice in me said--I mean, I dreamed--that it goes
down to the river-side. If you leant on me do you think that you could
"Not one inch," he answered. "Here where I am I shall die."
"No, no, don't talk like that. We may be saved now that I have found a
way. Oh, if only you could--if only you could walk, or if I had the
strength to carry you!" and she wrung her hands and began to weep, so
weak was she.
Her father looked at her searchingly. Then he said:
"Well, love, I cannot, so there's an end. But you can, and you had
"What! And leave you? Never."
"Yes, and leave me. Look, there is but a little oil left and only a
few candles. The biscuits are done and neither of us can swallow that
biltong any more. I suppose that I am dying, and your health and
strength are failing you quickly in this darkness; if you stop here
you must soon follow me. And what is the alternative? The madman
outside--that is, if you could find strength to pull down the wall,
which I doubt. You had best go, Benita."
But still she said she would not.
"Do you not see," he added, "that it is my only chance of life? If you
go you may be able to bring me help before the end comes. Should there
be a passage the probability is that, although they know nothing of
it, it finishes somewhere by the wall of the first enclosure where the
Makalanga are. If so, you may find the Molimo, or if he is dead, Tamas
or one of the others, and they will help us. Go, Benita, go at once."
"I never thought of that," she answered in a changed voice. "Of
course, it may be so, if the passage goes down at all. Well, at least
I can look and come back to tell you."
Then Benita placed the remainder of the oil close by her father's
side, so that he could refill the lamp, for the use of his hands still
remained to him. Also, she set there such crumbs of biscuit as were
left, some of the biltong, a flask of Hollands, and a pail of water.
This done, she put on her long cloak, filled one of its pockets with
biltong, and the other with matches and three of the four remaining
candles. The fourth she insisted on leaving beside her father's bed.
When everything was ready she knelt down at his side, kissed him, and
from her heart put up a prayer that they might both live to meet
again, although she knew well that this they could scarcely hope to
Had two people ever been in a more dreadful situation, she wondered,
as she looked at her father lying there, whom she must leave to fight
with Death alone in that awful place, while she went forth to meet him
in the unknown bowels of the earth!
Mr. Clifford read her thoughts. "Yes," he said, "it is a strange
parting and a wild errand. But who knows? It may please Providence to
take you through, and if not--why, our troubles will soon be over."
Then once more they kissed, and not daring to try to speak, Benita
tore herself away. Passing into the passage whereof the lower half of
the crucifix formed the door, she paused for a moment to examine it
and to place a fragment of rock in such fashion that it could not shut
again behind her. Her idea was that it worked by aid of some spring,
but now she saw that this was not so, as the whole mass hung upon
three stone hinges beautifully concealed. The dust and corrosion of
ages which had made this door so hard to open, by filling up the tiny
spaces between it and its framework, had also rendered these cracks
utterly imperceptible to the eye. So accurately was it fashioned,
indeed, that no one who did not know its secret would have discovered
it if they searched for months or years.
Though at the time Benita took little note of such details, the
passage beyond and the stair descending from it showed the same
perfect workmanship. Evidently this secret way dated not from the
Portuguese period, but from that of the Phťnicians or other ancients,
to whose treasure-chamber it was the approach, opening as it did from
their holy of holies, to which none were admitted save the head
priests. The passage, which was about seven feet high by four wide,
had been hewn out of the live rock of the mountain, for thousands of
little marks left by the workmen's chisels were still discernible upon
its walls. So it was with the stair, that had been but little used,
and remained fresh as the day when it was finished.
Down the steps, candle in hand, flitted Benita, counting them as she
went. The thirtieth brought her to a landing. Here it was that she saw
the first traces of that treasure which they had suffered so much to
find. Something glittered at her feet. She picked it up. It was a
little bar of gold weighing two or three ounces that doubtless had
been dropped there. Throwing it down again she looked in front of her,
and to her dismay saw a door of wood with iron bolts. But the bolts
had never been shot, and when she pulled at it the door creaked upon
its rusty hinges and opened. She was on the threshold of the treasure-
It was square and of the size of a small room, packed on either side
almost to the low, vaulted roof with small bags of raw hide,
carelessly arranged. Quite near to the door one of these bags had
slipped down and burst open. It was filled with gold, some in ingots
and some in raw nuggets, for there they lay in a shining, scattered
heap. As she stooped to look it came into the mind of Benita that her
father had said that in her trance she had told them that one of the
bags of treasure was burst, and that the skin of which it had been
made was black and red. Behold! before her lay the burst bag, and the
colour of the hide was black and red.
She shivered. The thing was uncanny, terrible. Uncanny was it also to
see in the thick dust, which in the course of twenty or more of
centuries had gathered on the floor, the mark of footprints, those of
the last persons who had visited this place. There had been two of
them, a man and a woman, and they were no savages, for they wore
shoes. Benita placed her foot in the print left by that dead woman. It
filled it exactly, it might have been her own. Perhaps, she thought to
herself, that other Benita had descended here with her father, after
the Portuguese had hidden away their wealth, that she might be shown
where it was, and of what it consisted.
One more glance at all this priceless, misery-working gold, and on she
went, she who was seeking the gold of life and liberty for herself and
him who lay above. Supposing that the stairway ended there? She
stopped, she looked round, but could see no other door. To see the
better she halted and opened the glass of her lantern. Still she could
perceive nothing, and her heart sank. Yet why did the candle flicker
so fiercely? And why was the air in this deep place so fresh? She
walked forward a pace or two, then noticed suddenly that those
footprints of the dead that she was following disappeared immediately
in front of her, and she stopped.
It was but just in time. One step more and she would have fallen down
the mouth of a deep pit. Once it had been covered with a stone, but
this stone was removed, and had never been replaced. Look! there it
stood against the wall of the chamber. Well was this for Benita, since
her frail strength would not have sufficed to stir that massive block,
even if she had discovered its existence beneath the dust.
Now she saw that down the pit ran another ladderlike stair of stone,
very narrow and precipitous. Without hesitation she began its descent.
Down she went and down--one hundred steps, two hundred steps, two
hundred and seventy-five steps, and all the way wherever the dust had
gathered the man's and the woman's footprints ran before her. There
was a double line of them, one line going down and the other line
returning. Those that returned were the last, for often they appeared
over those that descended. Why had these dead people returned, Benita
The stair had ended; now she was in a kind of natural cave, for its
sides and roof were rugged; moreover, water trickled and dripped from
them. It was not very large, and it smelt horribly of mud and other
things. Again she searched by the feeble light of her candle, but
could see no exit. Suddenly she saw something else, however, for
stepping on what she took to be a rock, to her horror it moved beneath
her. She heard a snap as of jaws, a violent blow upon the leg nearly
knocked her off her feet, and as she staggered backwards she saw a
huge and loathsome shape rushing away into the darkness. The rock that
she had trodden on was a crocodile which had its den here! With a
little scream she retreated to her stair. Death she had expected--but
to be eaten by crocodiles!
Yet as Benita stood there panting a blessed hope rose in her breast.
If a crocodile came in there it must also get out, and where such a
great creature could go, a woman would be able to follow. Also, she
must be near the water, since otherwise it could never have chosen
this hole for its habitation. She collected her courage, and having
clapped her hands and waved the lantern about to scare any alligators
that might still be lurking there, hearing and seeing nothing more,
she descended to where she had trodden upon the reptile. Evidently
this was its bed, for its long body had left an impress upon the mud,
and all about lay the remains of creatures that it had brought in for
food. Moreover, a path ran outwards, its well-worn trail distinct even
in that light.
She followed this path, which ended apparently in a blank wall. Then
it was that Benita guessed why those dead folks' footprints had
returned, for here had been a doorway which in some past age those who
used it built up with blocks of stone and cement. How, then, did the
crocodile get out? Stooping down she searched, and perceived, a few
yards to the right of the door, a hole that looked as though it were
water-worn. Now Benita thought that she understood. The rock was
softer here, and centuries of flood had eaten it away, leaving a crack
in the stratum which the crocodiles had found out and enlarged. Down
she went on her hands and knees, and thrusting the lantern in front of
her, crept along that noisome drain, for this was what it resembled.
And now--oh! now she felt air blowing in her face, and heard the sound
of reeds whispering, and water running, and saw hanging like a lamp in
the blue sky, a star--the morning star! Benita could have wept, she
could have worshipped it, yet she pushed on between rocks till she
found herself among tall reeds, and standing in water. She had gained
the banks of the Zambesi.
Instantly, by instinct as it were, Benita extinguished her candle,
fearing lest it should betray her, for constant danger had made her
very cunning. The dawn had not yet broken, but the waning moon and the
stars gave a good light. She paused to look. There above her towered
the outermost wall of Bambatse, against which the river washed, except
at such times as the present, when it was very low.
So she was not in the fortress as she had hoped, but without it, and
oh! what should she do? Go back again? How would that serve her father
or herself? Go on? Then she might fall into the hands of the Matabele
whose camp was a little lower down, as from her perch upon the top of
the cone she had seen that poor white man do. Ah! the white man! If
only he lived and she could reach him! Perhaps they had not killed him
after all. It was madness, yet she would try to discover; something
impelled her to take the risk. If she failed and escaped, perhaps then
she might call to the Makalanga, and they would let down a rope and
draw her up the wall before the Matabele caught her. She would not go
back empty-handed, to die in that dreadful place with her poor father.
Better perish here in the sweet air and beneath the stars, even if it
were upon a Matabele spear, or by a bullet from her own pistol.
She looked about her to take her bearings in case it should ever be
necessary for her to return to the entrance of the cave. This proved
easy, for a hundred or so feet above her--where the sheer face of the
cliff jutted out a little, at that very spot indeed on which tradition
said that the body of the Se˝ora da Ferreira had struck in its fall,
and the necklace Benita wore to-day was torn from her--a stunted
mimosa grew in some cleft of the rock. To mark the crocodile run
itself she bent down a bunch of reeds, and having first lit a few
Tandstickor brimstone matches and thrown them about inside of it, that
the smell of them might scare the beast should it wish to return, she
set her lantern behind a stone near to the mouth of the hole.
Then Benita began her journey which, when the river was high, it would
not have been possible for her to make except by swimming. As it was,
a margin of marsh was left between her and the steep, rocky side of
the mount from which the great wall rose, and through this she made
her way. Never was she likely to forget that walk. The tall reeds
dripped their dew upon her until she was soaked; long, black-tailed
finches--saccaboolas the natives call them--flew up undisturbed, and
lobbed away across the river; owls flitted past and bitterns boomed at
the coming of the dawn. Great fish splashed also in the shallows, or
were they crocodiles? Benita hoped not--for one day she had seen
enough of crocodiles.
It was all very strange. Could she be the same woman, she wondered,
who not a year before had been walking with her cousins down
Westbourne Grove, and studying Whiteley's windows? What would these
cousins say now if they could see her, white-faced, large-eyed,
desperate, splashing through the mud upon the unknown banks of the
Zambesi, flying from death to death!
On she struggled, above her the pearly sky in which the stars were
fading, around her the wet reeds, and pervading all the heavy low-
lying mists of dawn. She was past the round of the walls, and at
length stood upon dry ground where the Matabele had made their camp.
But in that fog she saw no Matabele; probably their fires were out,
and she chanced to pass between the sentries. Instinctively, more than
by reason, she headed for that hillock upon which she had seen the
white man's waggon, in the vague hope that it might still be there. On
she struggled, still on, till at length she blundered against
something soft and warm, and perceived that it was an ox tied to a
trek-tow, beyond which were other oxen and a white waggon-cap.
So it /was/ still there! But the white man, where was he? Through the
dense mist Benita crept to the disselboom. Then, seeing and hearing
nothing, she climbed to the voorkissie and kneeling on it, separated
the tent flaps and peered into the waggon. Still she could see nothing
because of the mist, yet she heard something, a man breathing in his
sleep. Somehow she thought that it was a white man; a Kaffir did not
breathe like that. She did not know what to do, so remained kneeling
there. It seemed as though the man who was asleep began to feel her
presence, for he muttered to himself--surely the words were English!
Then quite suddenly he struck a match and lit a candle which stood in
a beer bottle by his side. She could not see his face while he lit the
match, for his arm hid it, and the candle burned up slowly. Then the
first thing she saw was the barrel of a revolver pointing straight at
"Now, my black friend," said a pleasant voice, "down you go or I
shoot. One, two! Oh, my God!"
The candle burned up, its light fell upon the white, elfish face of
Benita, whose long dark hair streamed about her; it shone in her great
eyes. Still she could see nothing, for it dazzled her.
"Oh, my God!" said the voice again. "Benita! Benita! Have you come to
tell me that I must join you? Well, I am ready, my sweet, my sweet!
Now I shall hear your answer."
"Yes," she whispered, and crawling forward down the cartel Benita fell
upon his breast.
For she knew him at last--dead or living she cared not--she knew him,
and out of hell crept to him, her heaven and her home!
BENITA GIVES HER ANSWER
"Your answer, Benita," Robert said dreamily, for to him this thing
seemed a dream.
"Have I not given it, months ago? Oh, I remember, it was only in my
heart, not on my lips, when that blow fell on me! Then afterwards I
heard what you had done and I nearly died. I wished that I might die
to be with you, but I could not. I was too strong; now I understand
the reason. Well, it seems that we are both living, and whatever
happens, here is my answer, if it is worth anything to you. Once and
for all, I love you. I am not ashamed to say it, because very soon we
may be separated for the last time. But I cannot talk now, I have come
here to save my father."
"Where is he, Benita?"
"Dying in a cave up at the top of that fortress. I got down by a
secret way. Are the Matabele still here?"
"Very much so," he answered. "But something has happened. My guard
woke me an hour ago to say that a messenger had arrived from their
king, Lobengula, and now they are talking over the message. That is
how you came to get through, otherwise the sentries would have
assegaied you, the brutes," and he drew her to him and kissed her
passionately for the first time; then, as though ashamed of himself,
let her go.
"Have you anything to eat?" she asked. "I--I--am starving. I didn't
feel it before, but now----"
"Starving, you starving, while I--look, here is some cold meat which I
could not get down last night, and put by for the Kaffirs. Great
Heavens! that I should feed you with Kaffirs' leavings! But it is good
Benita took the stuff in her fingers and swallowed it greedily; she
who for days had lived on nothing but a little biscuit and biltong. It
tasted delicious to her--never had she eaten anything so good. And all
the while he watched her with glowing eyes.
"How can you look at me?" she said at length. "I must be horrible; I
have been living in the dark and crawling through mud. I trod upon a
crocodile!" and she shuddered.
"Whatever you are I never want to see you different," he answered
slowly. "To me you are most beautiful."
Even then, wreck as she was, the poor girl flushed, and there was a
mist in her eyes as she looked up and said:
"Thank you. I don't care now what happens to me, and what has happened
doesn't matter at all. But can we get away?"
"I don't know," he answered; "but I doubt it. Go and sit on the
waggon-box for a few minutes while I dress, and we will see."
Benita went. The mist was thinning now, and through it she saw a sight
at which her heart sank, for between her and the mount Bambatse
Matabele were pouring towards their camp on the river's edge. They
were cut off. A couple of minutes later Robert joined her, and as he
came she looked at him anxiously in the growing light. He seemed older
than when they had parted on the /Zanzibar/; changed, too, for now his
face was serious, and he had grown a beard; also, he appeared to limp.
"I am afraid there is an end," she said, pointing to the Matabele
"Yes, it looks like it. But like you, I say, what does it matter now?"
and he took her hand in his, adding: "let us be happy while we can if
only for a few minutes. They will be here presently."
"What are you?" she asked. "A prisoner?"
"That's it. I was following you when they captured me; for I have been
here before and knew the way. They were going to kill me on general
principles, only it occurred to one of them who was more intelligent
than the rest that I, being a white man, might be able to show them
how to storm the place. Now I was sure that you were there, for I saw
you standing on that point, though they thought you were the Spirit of
Bambatse. So I wasn't anxious to help them, for then--you know what
happens when the Matabele are the stormers! But--as you still lived--I
wasn't anxious to die either. So I set them to work to dig a hole with
their assegais and sharp axes, through granite. They have completed
exactly twenty feet of it, and I reckon that there are one hundred and
forty to go. Last night they got tired of that tunnel and talked of
killing me again, unless I could show them a better plan. Now all the
fat is in the fire, and I don't know what is to happen. Hullo! here
they come. Hide in the waggon, quick!"
Benita obeyed, and from under cover of the tent where the Matabele
could not see her, watched and listened. The party that approached
consisted of a chief and about twenty men, who marched behind him as a
guard. Benita knew that chief. He was the captain Maduna, he of the
royal blood whose life she had saved. By his side was a Natal Zulu,
Robert Seymour's driver, who could speak English and acted as
"White man," said Maduna, "a message has reached us from our king.
Lobengula makes a great war and has need of us. He summons us back
from this petty fray, this fight against cowards who hide behind
walls, whom otherwise we would have killed, everyone, yes, if we sat
here till we grew old. So for this time we leave them alone."
Robert answered politely that he was glad to hear it, and wished them
a good journey.
"Wish yourself a good journey, white man," was the stern reply.
"Why? Do you desire that I should accompany you to Lobengula?"
"No, you go before us to the kraal of the Black One who is even
greater than the child of Moselikatse, to that king who is called
Robert crossed his arms and said: "Say on."
"White man, I promised you life if you would show us how to pierce or
climb those walls. But you have made fools of us--you have set us to
cut through rock with spears and axes. Yes, to hoe at rock as though
it were soil--you who with the wisdom of your people could have taught
us some better way. Therefore we must go back to our king disgraced,
having failed in his service, and therefore you who have mocked us
shall die. Come down now, that we may kill you quietly, and learn
whether or no you are a brave man."
Then it was, while her lover's hand was moving towards the pistol
hidden beneath his coat, that Benita, with a quick movement, emerged
from the waggon in which she crouched, and stood up at his side upon
the driving box.
"/Ow!/" said the Captain. "It is the White Maiden. Now how came she
here? Surely this is great magic. Can a woman fly like a bird?" and
they stared at her amazed.
"What does it matter how I came, chief Maduna?" she answered in Zulu.
"Yet I will tell you why I came. It was to save you from dipping your
spear in the innocent blood, and bringing on your head the curse of
the innocent blood. Answer me now. Who gave you and your brother
yonder your lives within that wall when the Makalanga would have torn
you limb from limb, as hyenas tear a buck? Was it I or another?"
"Inkosi-kaas--Chieftainess," replied the great Captain, raising his
broad spear in salute. "It was you and no other."
"And what did you promise me then, Prince Maduna?"
"Maiden of high birth, I promised you your life and your goods, should
you ever fall into my power."
"Does a leader of the Amandabele, one of the royal blood, lie like a
Mashona or a Makalanga slave? Does he do worse--tell half the truth
only, like a cheat who buys and keeps back half the price?" she asked
contemptuously. "Maduna, you promised me not one life, but two, two
lives and the goods that belong to both. Ask of your brother there,
who was witness of the words."
"Great Heavens!" muttered Robert Seymour to himself, as he looked at
Benita standing with outstretched hand and flashing eyes. "Who would
have thought that a starved woman could play such a part with death on
"It is as this daughter of white chiefs says," answered the man to
whom she had appealed. "When she freed us from the fangs of those
dogs, you promised her two lives, my brother, one for yours and one
"Hear him," went on Benita. "He promised me two lives, and how did
this prince of the royal blood keep his promise? When I and the old
man, my father, rode hence in peace, he loosed his spears upon us; he
hunted us. Yet it was the hunters who fell into the trap, not the
"Maiden," replied Maduna, in a shamed voice, "that was your fault, not
mine. If you had appealed to me I would have let you go. But you
killed my sentry, and then the chase began, and ere I knew who you
were my runners were out of call."
"Little time had I to ask your mercy; but so be it," said Benita. "I
accept your word, and I forgive you that offence. Now fulfil your
oath. Begone and leave us in peace."
Still Maduna hesitated.
"I must make report to the king," he said. "What is this white man to
you that I should spare him? I give you your life and your father's
life, not that of this white man who has tricked us. If he were your
father, or your brother, it would be otherwise. But he is a stranger,
and belongs to me, not to you."
"Maduna," she asked, "do women such as I am share the waggon of a
stranger? This man is more to me than father or brother. He is my
husband, and I claim his life."
"/Ow!/" said the spokesman of the audience, "we understand now. She is
his wife, and has a right to him. If she were not his wife she would
not be in his waggon. It is plain that she speaks the truth, though
how she came here we do not know, unless, as we think, she is a
witch," and he smiled at his own cleverness.
"Inkosi-kaas," said Maduna, "you have persuaded me. I give you the
life of that white fox, your husband, and I hope that he will not
trick you as he has tricked us, and set you to hoe rock instead of
soil," and he looked at Robert wrathfully. "I give him to you and all
his belongings. Now, is there anything else that you would ask?"
"Yes," replied Benita coolly, "you have many oxen there which you took
from the other Makalanga. Mine are eaten and I need cattle to draw my
waggon. I ask a present of twenty of them, and," she added by an
afterthought, "two cows with young calves, for my father is sick
yonder, and must have milk."
"Oh! give them to her. Give them to her," said Maduna, with a tragic
gesture that in any other circumstances would have made Benita laugh.
"Give them to her and see that they are good ones, before she asks our
shields and spears also--for after all she saved my life."
So men departed to fetch those cows and oxen, which presently were
While this talk was in progress the great impi of the Matabele was
massing for the march, on the flat ground a little to the right of
them. Now they began to come past in companies, preceded by the lads
who carried the mats and cooking-pots and drove the captured sheep and
cattle. By this time the story of Benita, the witch-woman whom they
could not kill, and who had mysteriously flown from the top of the
peak into their prisoner's waggon, had spread among them. They knew
also that it was she who had saved their general from the Makalanga,
and those who had heard her admired the wit and courage with which she
had pleaded and won her cause. Therefore, as they marched past in
their companies, singing a song of abuse and defiance of the Makalanga
who peered at them from the top of the wall, they lifted their great
spears in salutation to Benita standing upon the waggon-box.
Indeed, they were a wondrous and imposing spectacle, such a one as few
white women have ever seen.
At length all were gone except Maduna and a body-guard of two hundred
men. He walked to the front of the waggon and addressed Robert
"Listen, you fox who set us to hoe granite," he said indignantly. "You
have outwitted us this time, but if ever I meet you again, then you
die. Now I have given you your life, but," he added, almost
pleadingly, "if you are really brave as white men are said to be, will
you not come down and fight me man to man for honour's sake?"
"I think not," answered Robert, when he understood this challenge,
"for what chance should I have against so brave a warrior? Also this
lady--my wife--needs my help on her journey home."
Maduna turned from him contemptuously to Benita.
"I go," he said, "and fear not; you will meet no Matabele on that
journey. Have you more words for me, O Beautiful One, with a tongue of
oil and a wit that cuts like steel?"
"Yes," answered Benita. "You have dealt well with me, and in reward I
give you of my good luck. Bear this message to your king from the
White Witch of Bambatse, for I am she and no other. That he leave
these Makalanga, my servants, to dwell unharmed in their ancient home,
and that he lift no spear against the White Men, lest that evil which
the Molimo foretold to you, should fall upon him."
"Ah!" said Maduna, "now I understand how you flew from the mountain
top into this man's waggon. You are not a white woman, you are the
ancient Witch of Bambatse herself. You have said it, and with such it
is not well to war. Great lady of Magic, Spirit from of old, I salute
you, and I thank you for your gifts of life and fortune. Farewell."
Then he, too, stalked away at the head of his guard, so that
presently, save for the three Zulu servants and the herd of cattle,
Robert and Benita were left utterly alone.
Now, her part played and the victory won, Benita burst into tears and
fell upon her lover's breast.
Presently she remembered, and freed herself from his arms.
"I am a selfish wretch," she said. "How dare I be so happy when my
father is dead or dying? We must go at once."
"Go where?" asked the bewildered Robert.
"To the top of the mountain, of course, whence I came. Oh! please
don't stop to question me, I'll tell you as we walk. Stay," and she
called to the Zulu driver, who with an air of utter amazement was
engaged in milking one of the gift cows, to fill two bottles with the
"Had we not better shout to the Makalanga to let us in?" suggested
Robert, while this was being done, and Benita wrapped some cooked meat
in a cloth.
"No, no. They will think I am what I said I was--the Witch of
Bambatse, whose appearance heralds misfortune, and fear a trap.
Besides, we could not climb the top wall. You must follow my road, and
if you can trust them, bring two of those men with you with lanterns.
The lad can stop to herd the cattle."
Three minutes later, followed by the two Zulus, they were walking--or
rather, running--along the banks of the Zambesi.
"Why do you not come quicker?" she asked impatiently. "Oh, I beg your
pardon, you are lame. Robert, what made you lame, and oh! why are you
not dead, as they all swore you were, you, you--hero, for I know that
part of the story?"
"For a very simple reason, Benita: because I didn't die. When that
Kaffir took the watch from me I was insensible, that's all. The sun
brought me to life afterwards. Then some natives turned up, good
people in their way, although I could not understand a word they said.
They made a stretcher of boughs and carried me for some miles to their
kraal inland. It hurt awfully, for my thigh was broken, but I arrived
at last. There a Kaffir doctor set my leg in his own fashion; it has
left it an inch shorter than the other, but that's better than
"In that place I lay for two solid months, for there was no white man
within a hundred miles, and if there had been I could not have
communicated with him. Afterwards I spent another month limping up
towards Natal, until I could buy a horse. The rest is very short.
Hearing of my reported death, I came as fast as I could to your
father's farm, Rooi Krantz, where I learned from the old vrouw Sally
that you had taken to treasure-hunting, the same treasure that I told
you of on the /Zanzibar/.
"So I followed your spoor, met the servants whom you had sent back,
who told me all about you, and in due course, after many adventures,
as they say in a book, walked into the camp of our friends, the
"They were going to kill me at once, when suddenly you appeared upon
that point of rock, glittering like--like the angel of the dawn. I
knew that it must be you, for I had found out about your attempted
escape, and how you were hunted back to this place. But the Matabele
all thought that it was the Spirit of Bambatse, who has a great
reputation in these parts. Well, that took off their attention, and
afterwards, as I told you, it occurred to them that I might be an
engineer. You know the rest, don't you?"
"Yes," answered Benita softly. "I know the rest."
Then they plunged into the reeds and were obliged to stop talking,
since they must walk in single file. Presently Benita looked up and
saw that she was under the thorn which grew in the cleft of the rock.
Also, with some trouble she found the bunch of reeds that she had bent
down, to mark the inconspicuous hole through which she had crept, and
by it her lantern. It seemed weeks since she had left it there.
"Now," she said, "light your candles, and if you see a crocodile,
THE TRUE GOLD
"Let me go first," said Robert.
"No," answered Benita. "I know the way; but please do watch for that
Then she knelt down and crept into the hole, while after her came
Robert, and after him the two Zulus, who protested that they were not
ant-bears to burrow under ground. Lifting the lantern she searched the
cave, and as she could see no signs of the crocodile, walked on boldly
to where the stair began.
"Be quick," she whispered to Robert, for in that place it seemed
natural to speak low. "My father is above and near his death. I am
dreadfully afraid lest we should be too late."
So they toiled up the endless steps, a very strange procession, for
the two Zulus, bold men enough outside, were shaking with fright, till
at length Benita clambered out of the trap door on to the floor of the
treasure chamber, and turned to help Robert, whose lameness made him
somewhat slow and awkward.
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