H. Rider Haggard.

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Produced by John Bickers; Emma Dudding; Dagny





BENITA - AN AFRICAN ROMANCE

By H. Rider Haggard



NOTES

It may interest readers of this story to know that its author
believes it to have a certain foundation in fact.

It was said about five-and-twenty or thirty years ago that an
adventurous trader, hearing from some natives in the territory
that lies at the back of Quilimane, the legend of a great treasure
buried in or about the sixteenth century by a party of Portuguese
who were afterwards massacred, as a last resource attempted its
discovery by the help of a mesmerist. According to this history
the child who was used as a subject in the experiment, when in a
state of trance, detailed the adventures and death of the unhappy
Portuguese men and women, two of whom leapt from the point of a
high rock into the Zambesi. Although he knew no tongue but
English, this clairvoyant child is declared to have repeated in
Portuguese the prayers these unfortunates offered up, and even to
have sung the very hymns they sang. Moreover, with much other
detail, he described the burial of the great treasure and its
exact situation so accurately that the white man and the mesmerist
were able to dig for and find the place where _it had been_ - for
the bags were gone, swept out by the floods of the river.

Some gold coins remained, however, one of them a ducat of Aloysius
Mocenigo, Doge of Venice. Afterwards the boy was again thrown into
a trance (in all he was mesmerized eight times), and revealed
where the sacks still lay; but before the white trader could renew
his search for them, the party was hunted out of the country by
natives whose superstitious fears were aroused, barely escaping
with their lives.

It should be added that, as in the following tale, the chief who
was ruling there when the tragedy happened, declared the place to
be sacred, and that if it were entered evil would befall his
tribe. Thus it came about that for generations it was never
violated, until at length his descendants were driven farther from
the river by war, and from one of them the white man heard the
legend.




BENITA - AN AFRICAN ROMANCE




I

CONFIDENCES

Beautiful, beautiful was that night! No air that stirred; the black
smoke from the funnels of the mail steamer _Zanzibar_ lay low over the
surface of the sea like vast, floating ostrich plumes that vanished one
by one in the starlight. Benita Beatrix Clifford, for that was her full
name, who had been christened Benita after her mother and Beatrix after
her father's only sister, leaning idly over the bulwark rail, thought
to herself that a child might have sailed that sea in a boat of bark and
come safely into port.

Then a tall man of about thirty years of age, who was smoking a cigar,
strolled up to her. At his coming she moved a little as though to make
room for him beside her, and there was something in the motion which,
had anyone been there to observe it, might have suggested that these two
were upon terms of friendship, or still greater intimacy. For a moment
he hesitated, and while he did so an expression of doubt, of distress
even, gathered on his face. It was as though he understood that a great
deal depended on whether he accepted or declined that gentle invitation,
and knew not which to do.

Indeed, much did depend upon it, no less than the destinies of both of
them. If Robert Seymour had gone by to finish his cigar in solitude, why
then this story would have had a very different ending; or, rather, who
can say how it might have ended? The dread, foredoomed event with which
that night was big would have come to its awful birth leaving certain
words unspoken. Violent separation must have ensued, and even if both of
them had survived the terror, what prospect was there that their lives
would again have crossed each other in that wide Africa?

But it was not so fated, for just as he put his foot forward to continue
his march Benita spoke in her low and pleasant voice.

"Are you going to the smoking-room or to the saloon to dance, Mr.
Seymour? One of the officers just told me that there is to be a dance,"
she added, in explanation, "because it is so calm that we might fancy
ourselves ashore."

"Neither," he answered. "The smoking-room is stuffy, and my dancing days
are over. No; I proposed to take exercise after that big dinner, and
then to sit in a chair and fall asleep. But," he added, and his voice
grew interested, "how did you know that it was I? You never turned your
head."

"I have ears in my head as well as eyes," she answered with a little
laugh, "and after we have been nearly a month together on this ship I
ought to know your step."

"I never remember that anyone ever recognized it before," he said, more
to himself than to her, then came and leaned over the rail at her side.
His doubts were gone. Fate had spoken.

For a while there was silence between them, then he asked her if she
were not going to the dance.

Benita shook her head.

"Why not? You are fond of dancing, and you dance very well. Also there
are plenty of officers for partners, especially Captain - - " and he
checked himself.

"I know," she said; "it would be pleasant, but - Mr. Seymour, will you
think me foolish if I tell you something?"

"I have never thought you foolish yet, Miss Clifford, so I don't know
why I should begin now. What is it?"

"I am not going to the dance because I am afraid, yes, horribly afraid."

"Afraid! Afraid of what?"

"I don't quite know, but, Mr. Seymour, I feel as though we were all
of us upon the edge of some dreadful catastrophe - as though there were
about to be a mighty change, and beyond it another life, something
new and unfamiliar. It came over me at dinner - that was why I left the
table. Quite suddenly I looked, and all the people were different, yes,
all except a few."

"Was I different?" he asked curiously.

"No, you were not," and he thought he heard her add "Thank God!" beneath
her breath.

"And were you different?"

"I don't know. I never looked at myself; I was the seer, not the seen. I
have always been like that."

"Indigestion," he said reflectively. "We eat too much on board ship,
and the dinner was very long and heavy. I told you so, that's why I'm
taking - I mean why I wanted to take exercise."

"And to go to sleep afterwards."

"Yes, first the exercise, then the sleep. Miss Clifford, that is the
rule of life - and death. With sleep thought ends, therefore for some of
us your catastrophe is much to be desired, for it would mean long sleep
and no thought."

"I said that they were changed, not that they had ceased to think.
Perhaps they thought the more."

"Then let us pray that your catastrophe may be averted. I prescribe
for you bismuth and carbonate of soda. Also in this weather it seems
difficult to imagine such a thing. Look now, Miss Clifford," he added,
with a note of enthusiasm in his voice, pointing towards the east,
"look."

Her eyes followed his outstretched hand, and there, above the level
ocean, rose the great orb of the African moon. Lo! of a sudden all that
ocean turned to silver, a wide path of rippling silver stretched from
it to them. It might have been the road of angels. The sweet soft light
beat upon their ship, showing its tapering masts and every detail of the
rigging. It passed on beyond them, and revealed the low, foam-fringed
coast-line rising here and there, dotted with kloofs and their clinging
bush. Even the round huts of Kaffir kraals became faintly visible in
that radiance. Other things became visible also - for instance, the
features of this pair.

The man was light in his colouring, fair-skinned, with fair hair which
already showed a tendency towards greyness, especially in the moustache,
for he wore no beard. His face was clean cut, not particularly handsome,
since, their fineness notwithstanding, his features lacked regularity;
the cheekbones were too high and the chin was too small, small faults
redeemed to some extent by the steady and cheerful grey eyes. For
the rest, he was broad-shouldered and well-set-up, sealed with the
indescribable stamp of the English gentleman. Such was the appearance of
Robert Seymour.

In that light the girl at his side looked lovely, though, in fact, she
had no real claims to loveliness, except perhaps as regards her figure,
which was agile, rounded, and peculiarly graceful. Her foreign-looking
face was unusual, dark-eyed, a somewhat large and very mobile mouth,
fair and waving hair, a broad forehead, a sweet and at times wistful
face, thoughtful for the most part, but apt to be irradiated by sudden
smiles. Not a beautiful woman at all, but exceedingly attractive, one
possessing magnetism.

She gazed, first at the moon and the silver road beneath it, then,
turning, at the land beyond.

"We are very near to Africa, at last," she said.

"Too near, I think," he answered. "If I were the captain I should stand
out a point or two. It is a strange country, full of surprises. Miss
Clifford, will you think me rude if I ask you why you are going there?
You have never told me - quite."

"No, because the story is rather a sad one; but you shall hear it if you
wish. Do you?"

He nodded, and drew up two deck chairs, in which they settled themselves
in a corner made by one of the inboard boats, their faces still towards
the sea.

"You know I was born in Africa," she said, "and lived there till I was
thirteen years old - why, I find I can still speak Zulu; I did so this
afternoon. My father was one of the early settlers in Natal. His father
was a clergyman, a younger son of the Lincolnshire Cliffords. They are
great people there still, though I don't suppose that they are aware of
my existence."

"I know them," answered Robert Seymour. "Indeed, I was shooting at their
place last November - when the smash came," and he sighed; "but go on."

"Well, my father quarrelled with his father, I don't know what about,
and emigrated. In Natal he married my mother, a Miss Ferreira, whose
name - like mine and her mother's - was Benita. She was one of two
sisters, and her father, Andreas Ferreira, who married an English lady,
was half Dutch and half Portuguese. I remember him well, a fine old man
with dark eyes and an iron-grey beard. He was wealthy as things went
in those days - that is to say, he had lots of land in Natal and the
Transvaal, and great herds of stock. So you see I am half English, some
Dutch, and more than a quarter Portuguese - quite a mixture of races. My
father and mother did not get on well together. Mr. Seymour, I may as
well tell you all the truth: he drank, and although he was passionately
fond of her, she was jealous of him. Also he gambled away most of her
patrimony, and after old Andreas Ferreira's death they grew poor. One
night there was a dreadful scene between them, and in his madness he
struck her.

"Well, she was a very proud woman, determined, too, and she turned on
him and said - for I heard her - 'I will never forgive you; we have done
with each other.' Next morning, when my father was sober, he begged her
pardon, but she made no answer, although he was starting somewhere on
a fortnight's trek. When he had gone my mother ordered the Cape cart,
packed up her clothes, took some money that she had put away, drove to
Durban, and after making arrangements at the bank about a small private
income of her own, sailed with me for England, leaving a letter for my
father in which she said that she would never see him again, and if he
tried to interfere with me she would put me under the protection of the
English court, which would not allow me to be taken to the home of a
drunkard.

"In England we went to live in London with my aunt, who had married a
Major King, but was a widow with five children. My father often wrote to
persuade my mother to go back to him, but she never would, which I think
was wrong of her. So things went on for twelve years or more, till
one day my mother suddenly died, and I came into her little fortune of
between £200 and £300 a year, which she had tied up so that nobody can
touch it. That was about a year ago. I wrote to tell my father of her
death, and received a pitiful letter; indeed, I have had several of
them. He implored me to come out to him and not to leave him to die in
his loneliness, as he soon would do of a broken heart, if I did not. He
said that he had long ago given up drinking, which was the cause of the
ruin of his life, and sent a certificate signed by a magistrate and a
doctor to that effect. Well, in the end, although all my cousins and
their mother advised me against it, I consented, and here I am. He is to
meet me at Durban, but how we shall get on together is more than I can
say, though I long to see him, for after all he is my father."

"It was good of you to come, under all the circumstances. You must have
a brave heart," said Robert reflectively.

"It is my duty," she answered. "And for the rest, I am not afraid who
was born to Africa. Indeed, often and often have I wished to be back
there again, out on the veld, far away from the London streets and fog.
I am young and strong, and I want to see things, natural things - not
those made by man, you know - the things I remember as a child. One can
always go back to London."

"Yes, or at least some people can. It is a curious thing, Miss Clifford,
but as it happens I have met your father. You always reminded me of the
man, but I had forgotten his name. Now it comes back to me; it _was_
Clifford."

"Where on earth?" she asked, astonished.

"In a queer place. As I told you, I have visited South Africa before,
under different circumstances. Four years ago I was out here big-game
shooting. Going in from the East coast my brother and I - he is dead now,
poor fellow - got up somewhere in the Matabele country, on the banks of
the Zambesi. As we didn't find much game there we were going to strike
south, when some natives told us of a wonderful ruin that stood on
a hill overhanging the river a few miles farther on. So, leaving the
waggon on the hither side of the steep nek, over which it would have
been difficult to drag it, my brother and I took our rifles and a bag
of food and started. The place was farther off than we thought, although
from the top of the nek we could see it clearly enough, and before we
reached it dark had fallen.

"Now we had observed a waggon and a tent outside the wall which we
thought must belong to white men, and headed for them. There was a light
in the tent, and the flap was open, the night being very hot. Inside
two men were seated, one old, with a grey beard, and the other, a
good-looking fellow - under forty, I should say - with a Jewish face,
dark, piercing eyes, and a black, pointed beard. They were engaged
in examining a heap of gold beads and bangles, which lay on the table
between them. As I was about to speak, the black-bearded man heard or
caught sight of us, and seizing a rifle that leaned against the table,
swung round and covered me.

"'For God's sake don't shoot, Jacob,' said the old man; 'they are
English.'

"'Best dead, any way,' answered the other, in a soft voice, with a
slight foreign accent, 'we don't want spies or thieves here.'

"'We are neither, but I can shoot as well as you, friend,' I remarked,
for by this time my rifle was on him.

"Then he thought better of it, and dropped his gun, and we explained
that we were merely on an archæological expedition. The end of it was
that we became capital friends, though neither of us could cotton much
to Mr. Jacob - I forget his other name. He struck me as too handy with
his rifle, and was, I gathered, an individual with a mysterious and
rather lurid past. To cut a long story short, when he found out that
we had no intention of poaching, your father, for it was he, told us
frankly that they were treasure-hunting, having got hold of some
story about a vast store of gold which had been hidden away there by
Portuguese two or three centuries before. Their trouble was, however,
that the Makalanga, who lived in the fortress, which was called
Bambatse, would not allow them to dig, because they said the place was
haunted, and if they did so it would bring bad luck to their tribe."

"And did they ever get in?" asked Benita.

"I am sure I don't know, for we went next day, though before we left we
called on the Makalanga, who admitted us all readily enough so long as
we brought no spades with us. By the way, the gold we saw your father
and his friend examining was found in some ancient graves outside the
walls, but had nothing to do with the big and mythical treasure."

"What was the place like? I love old ruins," broke in Benita again.

"Oh! wonderful. A gigantic, circular wall built by heaven knows who,
then half-way up the hill another wall, and near the top a third wall
which, I understood, surrounded a sort of holy of holies, and above
everything, on the brink of the precipice, a great cone of granite."

"Artificial or natural?"

"I don't know. They would not let us up there, but we were introduced
to their chief and high priest, Church and State in one, and a wonderful
old man he was, very wise and very gentle. I remember he told me he
believed we should meet again, which seemed an odd thing for him to say.
I asked him about the treasure and why he would not let the other white
men look for it. He answered that it would never be found by any man,
white or black, that only a woman would find it at the appointed time,
when it pleased the Spirit of Bambatse, under whose guardianship it
was."

"Who was the Spirit of Bambatse, Mr. Seymour?"

"I can't tell you, couldn't make out anything definite about her, except
that she was said to be white, and to appear sometimes at sunrise, or in
the moonlight, standing upon the tall point of rock of which I told you.
I remember that I got up before the dawn to look for her - like an idiot,
for of course I saw nothing - and that's all I know about the matter."

"Did you have any talk with my father, Mr. Seymour - alone, I mean?"

"Yes, a little. The next day he walked back to our waggon with us, being
glad, I fancy, of a change from the perpetual society of his partner
Jacob. That wasn't wonderful in a man who had been brought up at
Eton and Oxford, as I found out he had, like myself, and whatever his
failings may have been - although we saw no sign of them, for he would
not touch a drop of spirits - was a gentleman, which Jacob wasn't. Still,
he - Jacob - had read a lot, especially on out-of-the-way subjects,
and could talk every language under the sun - a clever and agreeable
scoundrel in short."

"Did my father say anything about himself?"

"Yes; he told me that he had been an unsuccessful man all his life,
and had much to reproach himself with, for we got quite confidential at
last. He added that he had a family in England - what family he didn't
say - whom he was anxious to make wealthy by way of reparation for past
misdeeds, and that was why he was treasure-hunting. However, from what
you tell me, I fear he never found anything."

"No, Mr. Seymour, he never found it and never will, but all the same
I am glad to hear that he was thinking of us. Also I should like to
explore that place, Bambatse."

"So should I, Miss Clifford, in your company, and your father's, but not
in that of Jacob. If ever you should go there with him, I say: - 'Beware
of Jacob.'"

"Oh! I am not afraid of Jacob," she answered with a laugh, "although I
believe that my father still has something to do with him - at least in
one of his letters he mentioned his partner, who was a German."

"A German! I think that he must have meant a German Jew."

After this there was silence between them for a time, then he said
suddenly, "You have told me your story, would you like to hear mine?"

"Yes," she answered.

"Well, it won't take you long to listen to it, for, Miss Clifford,
like Canning's needy knife-grinder, I have really none to tell. You
see before you one of the most useless persons in the world, an
undistinguished member of what is called in England the 'leisured
class,' who can do absolutely nothing that is worth doing, except shoot
straight."

"Indeed," said Benita.

"You do not seem impressed with that accomplishment," he went on, "yet
it is an honest fact that for the last fifteen years - I was thirty-two
this month - practically my whole time has been given up to it, with a
little fishing thrown in in the spring. As I want to make the most of
myself, I will add that I am supposed to be among the six best shots in
England, and that my ambition - yes, great Heavens! my ambition - was to
become better than the other five. By that sin fell the poor man who
speaks to you. I was supposed to have abilities, but I neglected them
all to pursue this form of idleness. I entered no profession, I did
no work, with the result that at thirty-two I am ruined and almost
hopeless."

"Why ruined and hopeless?" she asked anxiously, for the way in which
they were spoken grieved her more than the words themselves.

"Ruined because my old uncle, the Honourable John Seymour Seymour, whose
heir I was, committed the indiscretion of marrying a young lady who has
presented him with thriving twins. With the appearance of those twins my
prospects disappeared, as did the allowance of £1,500 a year that he
was good enough to make me on which to keep up a position as his
next-of-kin. I had something of my own, but also I had debts, and at the
present moment a draft in my pocket for £2,163 14s. 5d., and a little
loose cash, represents the total of my worldly goods, just about the sum
I have been accustomed to spend per annum."

"I don't call that ruin, I call that riches," said Benita, relieved.
"With £2,000 to begin on you may make a fortune in Africa. But how about
the hopelessness?"

"I am hopeless because I have absolutely nothing to which to look
forward. Really, when that £2,000 is gone I do not know how to earn a
sixpence. In this dilemma it occurred to me that the only thing I could
do was to turn my shooting to practical account, and become a hunter of
big game. Therefore I propose to kill elephants until an elephant kills
me. At least," he added in a changed voice, "I did so propose until half
an hour ago."




II

THE END OF THE "ZANZIBAR."

"Until half an hour ago? Then why - - " and Benita stopped.

"Have I changed my very modest scheme of life? Miss Clifford, as you are
so good as to be sufficiently interested, I will tell you. It is because
a temptation which hitherto I have been able to resist, has during the
last thirty minutes become too strong for me. You know everything has
its breaking strain." He puffed nervously at his cigar, threw it into
the sea, paused, then went on: "Miss Clifford, I have dared to fall in
love with you. No; hear me out. When I have done it will be quite time
enough to give me the answer that I expect. Meanwhile, for the first
time in my life, allow me the luxury of being in earnest. To me it is a
new sensation, and therefore very priceless. May I go on?"

Benita made no answer. He rose with a certain deliberateness which
characterized all his movements - for Robert Seymour never seemed to be
in a hurry - and stood in front of her so that the moonlight shone upon
her face, while his own remained in shadow.

"Beyond that £2,000 of which I have spoken, and incidentally its
owner, I have nothing whatsoever to offer to you. I am an indigent and
worthless person. Even in my prosperous days, when I could look forward
to a large estate, although it was often suggested to me, I never
considered myself justified in asking any lady to share - the prospective
estate. I think now that the real reason was that I never cared
sufficiently for any lady, since otherwise my selfishness would probably
have overcome my scruples, as it does to-night. Benita, for I will call
you so, if for the first and last time, I - I - love you.

"Listen now," he went on, dropping his measured manner, and speaking
hurriedly, like a man with an earnest message and little time in which
to deliver it, "it is an odd thing, an incomprehensible thing, but
true, true - I fell in love with you the first time I saw your face. You
remember, you stood there leaning over the bulwark when I came on board
at Southampton, and as I walked up the gangway, I looked and my eyes met
yours. Then I stopped, and that stout old lady who got off at Madeira
bumped into me, and asked me to be good enough to make up my mind if I


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