An African Romance

An African Romance

AN AFRICAN ROMANCE 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 ...