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
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
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 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
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
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
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
"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
"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 L200 and L300 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
"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
"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
"'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 archaological 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
"What was the place like? I love old ruins," broke in Benita
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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 L1,500 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 L2,163 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 L2,000 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 L2,000 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."