As she was speaking Benita heard a shuffling sound behind her, and turned to learn its cause. Then she saw a strange sight. Jacob Meyer was staggering towards them, dragging one foot after the other through the grass and stones. His face was ghastly pale, his jaw had dropped like that of a dead man, and his eyes were set wide open and full of horror.
“What is the matter with you, man?” asked Mr. Clifford.
“I—I—have seen a ghost,” he whispered. “You did not come back into the cave, did you?” he added, pointing at Benita, who shook her head.
“What ghost?” asked Mr. Clifford.
“I don’t know, but my lamp went out, and then a light began to shine behind me. I turned, and on the steps of that crucifix I saw a woman kneeling. Her arms clasped the feet of the figure, her forehead rested upon the feet, her long black hair flowed down, she was dressed in white, and the light came from her body and her head. Very slowly she turned and looked at me, and oh, Heaven! that face——” and he put his hand before his eyes and groaned. “It was beautiful; yes, yes, but fearful to see, like an avenging angel. I fled, and the light—only the light—came with me down the cave, even at the mouth of it there was a little. I have seen a spirit, I who did not believe in spirits, I have seen a spirit, and I tell you that not for all the gold in the world will I enter that place again.”
Then before they could answer, suddenly as though his fear had got some fresh hold of him, Jacob sprang forward and fled away, crashing through the bushes and leaping from rock to rock like a frightened buck.
THE MESSAGE FROM THE DEAD
“Meyer always said that he did not believe in spirits,” remarked Mr. Clifford reflectively.
“Well, he believes in them now,” answered Benita with a little laugh. “But, father, the poor man is mad, that is the fact of it, and we must pay no attention to what he says.”
“The old Molimo and some of his people—Tamas, for instance—declared that they have seen the ghost of Benita da Ferreira. Are they mad also, Benita?”
“I don’t know, father. Who can say? All these things are a mystery. All I do know is that I have never seen a ghost, and I doubt if I ever shall.”
“No, but when you were in that trance something that was not you spoke out of your mouth, which something said that it was your namesake, the other Benita. Well, as you say, we can’t fathom these things, especially in a haunted kind of place like this, but the upshot of it is that I don’t think we have much more to fear from Jacob.”
“I am not so sure, father. Mad people change their moods very suddenly.”
As it happened Benita was quite right. Towards suppertime Jacob Meyer reappeared, looking pale and shaken, but otherwise much as usual.
“I had a kind of fit this morning,” he explained, “the result of an hallucination which seized me when my light went out in that cave. I remember that I thought I had seen a ghost, whereas I know very well that no such thing exists. I was the victim of disappointment, anxieties, and other still stronger emotions,” and he looked at Benita. “Therefore, please forget anything I said or did, and—would you give me some supper?”