AN AFRICAN ROMANCE
AN AFRICAN ROMANCE
H. RIDER HAGGARD
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
AN AFRICAN ROMANCE
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
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
"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
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