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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBenita - Chapter XVI - BACK AT BAMBATSE
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Benita - Chapter XVI - BACK AT BAMBATSE Post by :missmimz Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :June 2011 Read :1948

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Benita - Chapter XVI - BACK AT BAMBATSE


How they reached Bambatse Benita never could remember, but afterwards
she was told that both she and her father were carried upon litters
made of ox-hide shields. When she came to her own mind again, it was
to find herself lying in her tent outside the mouth of the cave within
the third enclosure of the temple-fortress. Her feet were sore and her
bones ached, physical discomforts that brought back to her in a flash
all the terrors through which she had passed.

Again she saw the fierce pursuing Matabele; again heard their cruel
shouts and the answering crack of the rifles; again, amidst the din
and the gathering darkness, distinguished the gentle, foreign voice of
Meyer speaking his words of sarcastic greeting. Next oblivion fell
upon her, and after it a dim memory of being helped up the hill with
the sun pouring on her back and assisted to climb the steep steps of
the wall by means of a rope placed around her. Then forgetfulness

The flap of her tent was drawn aside and she shrank back upon her bed,
shutting her eyes for fear lest they should fall upon the face of
Jacob Meyer. Feeling that it was not he, or learning it perhaps from
the footfall, she opened them a little, peeping at her visitor from
between her long lashes. He proved to be--not Jacob or her father, but
the old Molimo, who stood beside her holding in his hand a gourd
filled with goat's milk. Then she sat up and smiled at him, for Benita
had grown very fond of this ancient man, who was so unlike anyone that
she had ever met.

"Greeting, Lady," he said softly, smiling back at her with his lips
and dreamy eyes, for his old face did not seem to move beneath its
thousand wrinkles. "I bring you milk. Drink; it is fresh and you need

So she took the gourd and drank to the last drop, for it seemed to her
that she had never tasted anything so delicious.

"Good, good," murmured the Molimo; "now you will be well again."

"Yes, I shall get well," she answered; "but oh! what of my father?"

"Fear not; he is still sick, but he will recover also. You shall see
him soon."

"I have drunk all the milk," she broke out; "there is none left for

"Plenty, plenty," he answered, waving his thin hand. "There are two
cups full--one for each. We have not many she-goats down below, but
the best of their milk is saved for you."

"Tell me all that has happened, Father," and the old priest, who liked
her to call him by that name, smiled again with his eyes, and squatted
down in the corner of the tent.

"You went away, you remember that you would go, although I told you
that you must come back. You refused my wisdom and you went, and I
have learned all that befell you and how you two escaped the impi.
Well, that night after sunset, when you did not return, came the Black
One--yes, yes, I mean Meyer, whom we name so because of his beard,
and," he added deliberately, "his heart. He came running down the hill
asking for you, and I gave him the letter.

"He read it, and oh! then he went mad. He cursed in his own tongue; he
threw himself about; he took a rifle and wished to shoot me, but I sat
silent and looked at him till he grew quiet. Then he asked why I had
played him this trick, but I answered that it was no trick of mine who
had no right to keep you and your father prisoners against your will,
and that I thought you had gone away because you were afraid of him,
which was not wonderful if that was how he talked to you. I told him,
too, I who am a doctor, that unless he was careful he would go mad;
that already I saw madness in his eye; after which he became quiet,
for my words frightened him. Then he asked what could be done, and I
said--that night, nothing, since you must be far away, so that it
would be useless to follow you, but better to go to meet you when you
came back. He asked what I meant by your coming back, and I answered
that I meant what I said, that you would come back in great haste and
peril--although you would not believe me when I told you so--for I had
it from the Munwali whose child you are.

"So I sent out my spies, and that night went by, and the next day and
night went by, and we sat still and did nothing, though the Black One
wished to wander out alone after you. But on the following morning, at
the dawn, a messenger came in who reported that it had been called to
him by his brethren who were hidden upon hilltops and in other places
for miles and miles, that the Matabele impi, having destroyed another
family of the Makalanga far down the Zambesi, was advancing to destroy
us also. And in the afternoon came a second spy, who reported that you
two had been surrounded by the impi, but had broken through them, and
were riding hitherward for your lives. Then I took fifty of the best
of our people and put them under the command of Tamas, my son, and
sent them to ambush the pass, for against the Matabele warriors on the
plain we, who are not warlike, do not dare to fight.

"The Black One went with them, and when he saw how sore was your
strait, wished to run down to meet the Matabele, for he is a brave
man. But I had said to Tamas--'No, do not try to fight them in the
open, for there they will certainly kill you.' Moreover, Lady, I was
sure that you would reach the top of the poort. Well, you reached it,
though but by the breadth of a blade of grass, and my children shot
with the new rifles, and the place being narrow so that they could not
miss, killed many of those hyenas of Amandabele. But to kill Matabele
is like catching fleas on a dog's back: there are always more. Still
it served its turn, you and your father were brought away safely, and
we lost no one."

"Where, then, are the Matabele now?" asked Benita.

"Outside our walls, a whole regiment of them: three thousand men or
more, under the command of the Captain Maduna, he of the royal blood,
whose life you begged, but who nevertheless hunted you like a buck."

"Perhaps he did not know who it was," suggested Benita.

"Perhaps not," the Molimo answered, rubbing his chin, "for in such
matters even a Matabele generally keeps faith, and you may remember he
promised you life for life. However, they are here ravening like lions
round the walls, and that is why we carried you up to the top of the
hill, that you might be safe from them."

"But are you safe, my Father?"

"I think so," he replied with a dry little chuckle in his throat.
"Whoever built this fortress built it strong, and we have blocked the
gates. Also, they caught no one outside; all are within the walls,
together with the sheep and goats. Lastly, we have sent most of the
women and children across the Zambesi in canoes, to hide in places we
know of whither the Amandabele cannot follow, for they dare not swim a
river. Therefore, for those of us that remain we have food for three
months, and before then the rains will drive the impi out."

"Why did you not all go across the river, Father?"

"For two reasons, Lady. The first is, that if we once abandoned our
stronghold, which we have held from the beginning, Lobengula would
take it, and keep it, so that we could never re-enter into our
heritage, which would be a shame to us and bring down the vengeance of
the spirits of our ancestors upon our heads. The second is, that as
you have returned to us we stay to protect you."

"You are very good to me," murmured Benita.

"Nay, nay, we brought you here, and we do what I am told to do from
Above. Trouble may still come upon you; yes, I think that it will
come, but once more I pray you, have no fear, for out of this evil
root shall spring a flower of joy," and he rose to go.

"Stay," said Benita. "Has the chief Meyer found the gold?"

"No; he has found nothing; but he hunts and hunts like a hungry jackal
digging for a bone. But that bone is not for him; it is for you, Lady,
you and you only. Oh! I know, you do not seek, still you shall find.
Only the next time that you want help, do not run away into the
wilderness. Hear the word of Munwali given by his mouth, the Molimo of
Bambatse!" And as he spoke, the old priest backed himself out of the
tent, stopping now and again to bow to Benita.

A few minutes later her father entered, looking very weak and shaken,
and supporting himself upon a stick. Happy was the greeting of these
two who, with their arms about each other's neck, gave thanks for
their escape from great peril.

"You see, Benita, we can't get away from this place," Mr. Clifford
said presently. "We must find that gold."

"Bother the gold," she answered with energy; "I hate its very name.
Who can think of gold with three thousand Matabele waiting to kill

"Somehow I don't feel afraid of them any more," said her father; "they
have had their chance and lost it, and the Makalanga swear that now
they have guns to command the gates, the fortress cannot be stormed.
Still, I am afraid of someone."


"Jacob Mayer. I have seen him several times, and I think that he is
going mad."

"The Molimo said that too, but why?"

"From the look of him. He sits about muttering and glowing with those
dark eyes of his, and sometimes groans, and sometimes bursts into
shouts of laughter. That is when the fit is on him, for generally he
seems right enough. But get up if you think you can, and you shall
judge for yourself."

"I don't want to," said Benita feebly. "Father, I am more afraid of
him now than ever. Oh! why did you not let me stop down below, among
the Makalanga, instead of carrying me up here again, where we must
live alone with that terrible Jew?"

"I wished to, dear, but the Molimo said we should be safer above, and
ordered his people to carry you up. Also, Jacob swore that unless you
were brought back he would kill me. Now you understand why I believe
that he is mad."

"Why, why?" gasped Benita again.

"God knows," he answered with a groan; "but I think that he is sure
that we shall never find the gold without you, since the Molimo has
told him that it is for you and you alone, and he says the old man has
second sight, or something of the sort. Well, he would have murdered
me--I saw it in his eye--so I thought it better to give in rather than
that you should be left here sick and alone. Of course there was one
way----" and he paused.

She looked at him and asked:

"What way?"

"To shoot him before he shot me," he answered in a whisper, "for your
sake, dear--but I could not bring myself to do it."

"No," she said with a shudder, "not that--not that. Better that we
should die than that his blood should be upon our hands. Now I will
get up and try to show no fear. I am sure that is best, and perhaps we
shall be able to escape somehow. Meanwhile, let us humour him, and
pretend to go on looking for this horrible treasure."

So Benita rose to discover that, save for her stiffness, she was but
little the worse, and finding all things placed in readiness, set to
work with her father's help to cook the evening meal as usual. Of
Meyer, who doubtless had placed things in readiness, she saw nothing.

Before nightfall he came, however, as she knew he would. Indeed,
although she heard no step and her back was towards him, she felt his
presence; the sense of it fell upon her like a cold shadow. Turning
round she beheld the man. He was standing close by, but above her,
upon a big granite boulder, in climbing which his soft veld schoons,
or hide shoes, had made no noise, for Meyer could move like a cat. The
last rays from the sinking sun struck him full, outlining his agile,
nervous shape against the sky, and in their intense red light, which
flamed upon him, he appeared terrible. He looked like a panther about
to spring; his eyes shone like a panther's, and Benita knew that she
was the prey whom he desired. Still, remembering her resolution, she
determined to show no fear, and addressed him:

"Good-evening, Mr. Meyer. Oh! I am so stiff that I cannot lift my neck
to look at you," and she laughed.

He bounded softly from the rock, like a panther again, and stood in
front of her.

"You should thank the God you believe in," he said, "that by now you
are not stiff indeed--all that the jackals have left of you."

"I do, Mr. Meyer, and I thank you, too; it was brave of you to come
out to save us. Father," she called, "come and tell Mr. Meyer how
grateful we are to him."

Mr. Clifford hobbled out from his hut under the tree, saying:

"I have told him already, dear."

"Yes," answered Jacob, "you have told me; why repeat yourself? I see
that supper is ready. Let us eat, for you must be hungry; afterwards I
have something to tell you."

So they ate, with no great appetite, any of them--indeed Meyer touched
but little food, though he drank a good deal, first of strong black
coffee and afterwards of squareface and water. But on Benita he
pressed the choicest morsels that he could find, eyeing her all the
while, and saying that she must take plenty of nutriment or her beauty
would suffer and her strength wane. Benita bethought her of the fairy
tales of her childhood, in which the ogre fed up the princess whom he
purposed to devour.

"You should think of your own strength, Mr. Meyer," she said; "you
cannot live on coffee and squareface."

"It is all I need to-night. I am astonishingly well since you came
back. I can never remember feeling so well, or so strong. I can do the
work of three men, and not be tired; all this afternoon, for instance,
I have been carrying provisions and other things up that steep wall,
for we must prepare for a long siege together; yet I should never know
that I had lifted a single basket. But while you were away--ah! then I
felt tired."

Benita changed the subject, asking him if he had made any discoveries.

"Not yet, but now that you are back the discoveries will soon come. Do
not be afraid; I have my plan which cannot fail. Also, it was lonely
working in that cave without you, so I only looked about a little
outside till it was time to go to meet you, and shoot some of those
Matabele. Do you know?--I killed seven of them myself. When I was
shooting for your sake I could not miss," and he smiled at her.

Benita shrank from him visibly, and Mr. Clifford said in an angry

"Don't talk of those horrors before my daughter. It is bad enough to
have to do such things, without speaking about them afterwards."

"You are right," he replied reflectively; "and I apologise, though
personally I never enjoyed anything so much as shooting those
Matabele. Well, they are gone, and there are plenty more outside.
Listen! They are singing their evening hymn," and with his long finger
he beat time to the volleying notes of the dreadful Matabele war-
chant, which floated up from the plain below. "It sounds quite
religious, doesn't it? only the words--no, I will not translate them.
In our circumstances they are too personal.

"Now I have something to say to you. It was unkind of you to run away
and leave me like that, not honourable either. Indeed," he added with
a sudden outbreak of the panther ferocity, "had you alone been
concerned, Clifford, I tell you frankly that when we met again, I
should have shot you. Traitors deserve to be shot, don't they?"

"Please stop talking to my father like that," broke in Benita in a
stern voice, for her anger had overcome her fear. "Also it is I whom
you should blame."

"It is a pleasure to obey you," he answered bowing; "I will never
mention the subject any more. Nor do I blame you--who could?--not
Jacob Meyer. I quite understand that you found it very dull up here,
and ladies must be allowed their fancies. Also you have come back; so
why talk of the matter? But listen: on one point I have made up my
mind; for your own sake you shall not go away any more until we leave
this together. When I had finished carrying up the food I made sure of
that. If you go to look to-morrow morning you will find that no one
can come up that wall--and, what is more, no one can go down it.
Moreover, that I may be quite certain, in future I shall sleep near
the stair myself."

Benita and her father stared at each other.

"The Molimo has a right to come," she said; "it is his sanctuary."

"Then he must celebrate his worship down below for a little while. The
old fool pretends to know everything, but he never guessed what I was
going to do. Besides, we don't want him breaking in upon our privacy,
do we? He might see the gold when we find it, and rob us of it afterwards."

Content of CHAPTER XVI - BACK AT BAMBATSE (H. Rider Haggard's novel: Benita)

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CHAPTER XVII - THE FIRST EXPERIMENTAgain Benita and her father stared at each other blankly, almost withdespair. They were trapped, cut off from all help; in the power of aman who was going mad. Mr. Clifford said nothing. He was old andgrowing feeble; for years, although he did not know it, Meyer haddominated him, and never more so than in this hour of stress andbewilderment. Moreover, the man had threatened to murder him, and hewas afraid, not so much for himself as for his daughter. If he were todie now, what would happen to her, left alone with Jacob Meyer? Theknowledge

Benita - Chapter XV - THE CHASE Benita - Chapter XV - THE CHASE

Benita - Chapter XV - THE CHASE
CHAPTER XV - THE CHASEThe Matabele it was, sure enough; there could be no doubt of it, forsoon three other men joined the sentry and began to talk with him,pointing with their great spears at the side of the hill. Evidentlythey were arranging a surprise when there was sufficient light tocarry it out."They have seen our fire," whispered her father to Benita; "now, if wewish to save our lives, there is only one thing to do--ride for itbefore they muster. The impi will be camped upon the other side of thehill, so we must take the road we came by.""That runs