Benita An African Romance
H. Rider Haggard
Part 5 out of 5
"What's all that?" he asked, pointing to the hide sacks, while they
waited for the two scared Kaffirs to join them.
"Oh!" she answered indifferently, "gold, I believe. Look, there is
some of it on the floor, over Benita da Ferreira's footsteps."
"Gold! Why, it must be worth----! And who on earth is Benita da
"I will tell you afterwards. She has been dead two or three hundred
years; it was her gold, or her people's, and those are her footprints
in the dust. How stupid you are not to understand! Never mind the
hateful stuff; come on quickly."
So they passed the door which she had opened that morning, and
clambered up the remaining stairway. So full was Benita of terrors
that she could never remember how she climbed them. Suppose that the
foot of the crucifix had swung to; suppose that her father were dead;
suppose that Jacob Meyer had broken into the cave? Well for herself
she was no longer afraid of Jacob Meyer. Oh, they were there! The
heavy door /had/ begun to close, but mercifully her bit of rock kept
"Father! Father!" she cried, running towards the tent.
No answer came. She threw aside the flap, held down the lantern and
looked. There he lay, white and still. She was too late!
"He is dead, he is dead!" she wailed. Robert knelt down at her side,
and examined the old man, while she waited in an agony.
"He ought to be," he said slowly; "but, Benita, I don't think he is. I
can feel his heart stir. No, don't stop to talk. Pour out some of that
squareface, and here, mix it with this milk."
She obeyed, and while he held up her father's head, with a trembling
hand emptied a little of the drink into his mouth. At first it ran out
again, then almost automatically he swallowed some, and they knew that
he was alive, and thanked Heaven. Ten minutes later Mr. Clifford was
sitting up staring at them with dull and wondering eyes, while outside
the two Zulus, whose nerves had now utterly broken down, were
contemplating the pile of skeletons in the corner and the white
towering crucifix, and loudly lamenting that they should have been
brought to perish in this place of bones and ghosts.
"Is it Jacob Meyer who makes that noise?" asked Mr. Clifford faintly.
"And, Benita, where have you been so long, and--who is this gentleman
with you? I seem to remember his face."
"He is the white man who was in the waggon, father, an old friend come
to life again. Robert, can't you stop the howling of those Kaffirs?
Though I am sure I don't wonder that they howl; I should have liked to
do so for days. Oh! father, father, don't you understand me? We are
saved, yes, snatched out of hell and the jaws of death."
"Is Jacob Meyer dead, then?" he asked.
"I don't know where he is or what has happened to him, and I don't
care, but perhaps we had better find out. Robert, there is a madman
outside. Make the Kaffirs pull down that wall, would you? and catch
"What wall? What madman?" he asked, staring at her.
"Oh, of course you don't know that, either. You know nothing. I'll
show you, and you must be prepared, for probably he will shoot at us."
"It all sounds a little risky, doesn't it?" asked Robert doubtfully.
"Yes, but we must take the risk. We cannot carry my father down that
place, and unless we can get him into light and air soon, he will
certainly die. The man outside is Jacob Meyer, his partner--you
remember him. All these weeks of hardship and treasure-hunting have
sent him off his head, and he wanted to mesmerize me and----"
"And what? Make love to you?"
She nodded, then went on:
"So when he could not get his way about the mesmerism and so forth, he
threatened to murder my father, and that is why we had to hide in this
cave and build ourselves up, till at last I found the way out."
"Amiable gentleman, Mr. Jacob Meyer, now as always," said Robert
flushing. "To think that you should have been in the power of a
scoundrel like that! Well, I hope to come square with him."
"Don't hurt him, dear, unless you are obliged. Remember he is not
responsible. He thought he saw a ghost here the other day."
"Unless he behaves himself he is likely to see a good many soon,"
Then they went down the cave, and as silently as possible began to
work at the wall, destroying in a few minutes what had been built up
with so much labour. When it was nearly down the Zulus were told that
there was an enemy outside, and that they must help to catch him if
necessary, but were not to harm him. They assented gladly enough;
indeed, to get out of that cave they would have faced half a dozen
Now there was a hole right through the wall, and Robert bade Benita
stand to one side. Then as soon as his eyes became accustomed to the
little light that penetrated there, he drew his revolver and beckoned
the Kaffirs to follow. Down the passage they crept, slowly, lest they
should be blinded when they came to the glare of the sunshine, while
Benita waited with a beating heart.
A little time went by, she never knew how long, till suddenly a rifle
shot rang through the stillness. Benita was able to bear no more. She
rushed down the winding passage, and presently, just beyond its mouth,
in a blurred and indistinct fashion saw that the two white men were
rolling together on the ground, while the Kaffirs sprang round
watching for an opportunity to seize one of them. At that moment they
succeeded, and Robert rose, dusting his hands and knees.
"Amiable gentleman, Mr. Jacob Meyer," he repeated. "I could have
killed him as his back was towards me, but didn't because you asked me
not. Then I stumbled with my lame leg, and he whipped round and let
drive with his rifle. Look," and he showed her where the bullet had
cut his ear. "Luckily I got hold of him before he could loose off
Benita could find no words, her heart was too full of thankfulness.
Only she seized Robert's hand and kissed it. Then she looked at Jacob.
He was lying upon the broad of his back, the two big Zulus holding his
arms and legs; his lips were cracked, blue and swollen; his face was
almost black, but his eyes still shone bright with insanity and hate.
"I know you," he screamed hoarsely to Robert. "You are another ghost,
the ghost of that man who was drowned. Otherwise my bullet would have
"Yes, Mr. Meyer," Seymour answered, "I am a ghost. Now, you boys,
here's a bit of rope. Tie his hands behind his back and search him.
There is a pistol in that pocket."
They obeyed, and presently Meyer was disarmed and bound fast to a
"Water," he moaned. "For days I have had nothing but the dew I could
lick off the leaves."
Pitying his plight, Benita ran into the cave and returned presently
with a tin of water. One of the Kaffirs held it to his lips, and he
drank greedily. Then, leaving one Zulu to watch him, Robert, Benita,
and the other Zulu went back, and as gently as they could carried out
Mr. Clifford on his mattress, placing him in the shade of a rock,
where he lay blessing them feebly, because they had brought him into
the light again. At the sight of the old man Meyer's rage blazed up
"Ah," he screamed, "if only I had killed you long ago, she would be
mine now, not that fellow's. It was you who stood between us."
"Look here, my friend," broke in Robert. "I forgive you everything
else, but, mad or sane, be good enough to keep Miss Clifford's name
off your lips, or I will hand you over to those Kaffirs to be dealt
with as you deserve."
Then Jacob understood, and was silent. They gave him more water and
food to eat, some of the meat that they had brought with them, which
he devoured ravenously.
"Are you sensible now?" asked Robert when he had done. "Then listen to
me; I have some good news for you. That treasure you have been hunting
for has been found. We are going to give you half of it, one of the
waggons and some oxen, and clear you out of this place. Then if I set
eyes on you again before we get to a civilized country, I shoot you
like a dog."
"You lie!" said Meyer sullenly. "You want to turn me out into the
wilderness to be murdered by the Makalanga or the Matabele."
"Very well," said Robert. "Untie him, boys, and bring him along. I
will show him whether I lie."
"Where are they taking me to?" asked Meyer. "Not into the cave? I
won't go into the cave; it is haunted. If it hadn't been for the ghost
there I would have broken down their wall long ago, and killed that
old snake before her eyes. Whenever I went near that wall I saw it
"First time I ever heard of a ghost being useful," remarked Robert.
"Bring him along. No, Benita, he shall see whether I am a liar."
So the lights were lit, and the two stalwart Zulus hauled Jacob
forward, Robert and Benita following. At first he struggled violently,
then, on finding that he could not escape, went on, his teeth
chattering with fear.
"It is cruel," remonstrated Benita.
"A little cruelty will not do him any harm," Robert answered. "He has
plenty to spare for other people. Besides, he is going to get what he
has been looking for so long."
They led Jacob to the foot of the crucifix, where a paroxysm seemed to
seize him, then pushed him through the swinging doorway beneath, and
down the steep stairs, till once more they all stood in the treasure-
"Look," said Robert, and, drawing his hunting-knife, he slashed one of
the hide bags, whereon instantly there flowed out a stream of beads
and nuggets. "Now, my friend, am I a liar?" he asked.
At this wondrous sight Jacob's terror seemed to depart from him, and
he grew cunning.
"Beautiful, beautiful!" he said, "more than I thought--sacks and sacks
of gold. I shall be a king indeed. No, no, it is all a dream--like the
rest. I don't believe it's there. Loose my arms and let me feel it."
"Untie him," said Robert, at the same time drawing his pistol and
covering the man; "he can't do us any hurt."
The Kaffirs obeyed, and Jacob, springing at the slashed bag, plunged
his thin hands into it.
"No lie," he screamed, "no lie," as he dragged the stuff out and smelt
at it. "Gold, gold, gold! Hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of
gold! Let's make a bargain, Englishman, and I won't kill you as I
meant to do. You take the girl and give me all the gold," and in his
ecstasy he began to pour the glittering ingots over his head and body.
"A new version of the tale of Danaë," began Robert in a sarcastic
voice, then suddenly paused, for a change had come over Jacob's face,
a terrible change.
It turned ashen beneath the tan, his eyes grew large and round, he put
up his hands as though to thrust something from him, his whole frame
shivered, and his hair seemed to erect itself. Slowly he retreated
backwards, and would have fallen down the unclosed trap-hole had not
one of the Kaffirs pushed him away. Back he went, still back, till he
struck the further wall and stood there, perhaps for half a minute. He
lifted his hand and pointed first to those ancient footprints, some of
which still remained in the dust of the floor, and next, as they
thought, at Benita. His lips moved fast, he seemed to be pleading,
remonstrating, yet--and this was the ghastliest part of it--from them
there came no sound. Lastly, his eyes rolled up until only the whites
of them were visible, his face became wet as though water had been
poured over it, and, still without a sound, he fell forward and moved
So terrible was the scene that with a howl of fear the two Kaffirs
turned and fled up the stairway. Robert sprang to the Jew, dragged him
over on to his back, put his hand upon his breast and lifted his
"Dead," he said. "Stone dead. Privation, brain excitement, heart
failure--that's the story."
"Perhaps," answered Benita faintly; "but really I think that I begin
to believe in ghosts also. Look, I never noticed them before, and I
didn't walk there, but those footsteps seem to lead right up to him."
Then she turned too and fled.
Another week had gone by. The waggons were laden with a burden more
precious perhaps than waggons have often borne before. In one of them,
on a veritable bed of gold, slept Mr. Clifford, still very weak and
ill, but somewhat better than he had been, and with a good prospect of
recovery, at any rate for a while. They were to trek a little after
dawn, and already Robert and Benita were up and waiting. She touched
his arm and said to him:
"Come with me. I have a fancy to see that place once more, for the
So they climbed the hill and the steep steps in the topmost wall that
Meyer had blocked--re-opened now--and reaching the mouth of the cave,
lit the lamps which they had brought with them, and entered. There
were the fragments of the barricade that Benita had built with
desperate hands, there was the altar of sacrifice standing cold and
grey as it had stood for perhaps three thousand years. There was the
tomb of the old monk who had a companion now, for in it Jacob Meyer
lay with him, his bones covered by the /débris/ that he himself had
dug out in his mad search for wealth; and there the white Christ hung
awful on His cross. Only the skeletons of the Portuguese were gone,
for with the help of his Kaffirs Robert had moved them every one into
the empty treasure-chamber, closing the trap beneath, and building up
the door above, so that there they might lie in peace at last.
In this melancholy place they tarried but a little while, then,
turning their backs upon it for ever, went out and climbed the granite
cone to watch the sun rise over the broad Zambesi. Up it came in
glory, that same sun which had shone upon the despairing Benita da
Ferreira, and upon the English Benita when she had stood there in
utter hopelessness, and seen the white man captured by the Matabele.
Now, different was their state indeed, and there in that high place,
whence perhaps many a wretched creature had been cast to death, whence
certainly the Portuguese maiden had sought her death, these two happy
beings were not ashamed to give thanks to Heaven for the joy which it
had vouchsafed to them, and for their hopes of life full and long to
be travelled hand in hand. Behind them was the terror of the cave,
beneath them were the mists of the valley, but above them the light
shone and rolled and sparkled, and above them stretched the eternal
They descended the pillar, and near the foot of it saw an old man
sitting. It was Mambo, the Molimo of the Makalanga: even when they
were still far away from him they knew his snow-white head and thin,
ascetic face. As they drew near Benita perceived that his eyes were
closed, and whispered to Robert that he was asleep. Yet he had heard
them coming, and even guessed her thought.
"Maiden," he said in his gentle voice, "maiden who soon shall be a
wife, I do not sleep, although I dream of you as I have dreamt before.
What did I say to you that day when first we met? That for you I had
good tidings; that though death was all about you, you need not fear;
that in this place you who had known great sorrow should find
happiness and rest. Yet, maiden, you would not believe the words of
the Munwali, spoken by his prophet's lips, as he at your side, who
shall be your husband, would not believe me in years past when I told
him that we should meet again."
"Father," she answered, "I thought your rest was that which we find
only in the grave."
"You would not believe," he went on without heeding her, "and
therefore you tried to fly, and therefore your heart was torn with
terror and with agony, when it should have waited for the end in
confidence and peace."
"Father, my trial was very sore."
"Maiden, I know it, and because it was so sore that patient Spirit of
Bambatse bore with you, and through it all guided your feet aright.
Yes, with you has that Spirit gone, by day, by night, in the morning
and in the evening. Who was it that smote the man who lies dead yonder
with horror and with madness when he would have bent your will to his
and made you a wife to him? Who was it that told you the secret of the
treasure-pit, and what footsteps went before you down its stair? Who
was it that led you past the sentries of the Amandabele and gave you
wit and power to snatch your lord's life from Maduna's bloody hand?
Yes, with you it has gone and with you it will go. No more shall the
White Witch stand upon the pillar point at the rising of the sun, or
in the shining of the moon."
"Father, I have never understood you, and I do not understand you
now," said Benita. "What has this spirit to do with me?"
He smiled a little, then answered slowly:
"That I may not tell you; that you shall learn one day, but never
here. When you also have entered into silence, then you shall learn.
But I say to you that this shall not be till your hair is as white as
mine, and your years are as many. Ah! you thought that I had deserted
you, when fearing for your father's life you wept and prayed in the
darkness of the cave. Yet it was not so, for I did but suffer the doom
which I had read to fulfil itself as it must do."
He rose to his feet and, resting on his staff, laid one withered hand
upon the head of Benita.
"Maiden," he said, "we meet no more beneath the sun. Yet because you
have brought deliverance to my people, because you are sweet and pure
and true, take with you the blessing of Munwali, spoken by the mouth
of his servant Mambo, the old Molimo of Bambatse. Though from time to
time you must know tears and walk in the shade of sorrows, long and
happy shall be your days with him whom you have chosen. Children shall
spring up about you, and children's children, and with them also shall
the blessing go. The gold you white folk love is yours, and it shall
multiply and give food to the hungry and raiment to those that are
a-cold. Yet in your own heart lies a richer store that cannot melt
away, the countless treasure of mercy and of love. When you sleep and
when you wake Love shall take you by the hand, till at length he leads
you through life's dark cave to that eternal house of purest gold
which soon or late those that seek it shall inherit," and with his
staff he pointed to the glowing morning sky wherein one by one little
rosy clouds floated upwards and were lost.
To Robert and to Benita's misty eyes they looked like bright-winged
angels throwing wide the black doors of night, and heralding that
conquering glory at whose advent despair and darkness flee away.
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