“Oh, my God!” said the voice again. “Benita! Benita! Have you come to tell me that I must join you? Well, I am ready, my sweet, my sweet! Now I shall hear your answer.”
“Yes,” she whispered, and crawling forward down the cartel Benita fell upon his breast.
For she knew him at last—dead or living she cared not—she knew him, and out of hell crept to him, her heaven and her home!
BENITA GIVES HER ANSWER
“Your answer, Benita,” Robert said dreamily, for to him this thing seemed a dream.
“Have I not given it, months ago? Oh, I remember, it was only in my heart, not on my lips, when that blow fell on me! Then afterwards I heard what you had done and I nearly died. I wished that I might die to be with you, but I could not. I was too strong; now I understand the reason. Well, it seems that we are both living, and whatever happens, here is my answer, if it is worth anything to you. Once and for all, I love you. I am not ashamed to say it, because very soon we may be separated for the last time. But I cannot talk now, I have come here to save my father.”
“Where is he, Benita?”
“Dying in a cave up at the top of that fortress. I got down by a secret way. Are the Matabele still here?”
“Very much so,” he answered. “But something has happened. My guard woke me an hour ago to say that a messenger had arrived from their king, Lobengula, and now they are talking over the message. That is how you came to get through, otherwise the sentries would have assegaied you, the brutes,” and he drew her to him and kissed her passionately for the first time; then, as though ashamed of himself, let her go.
“Have you anything to eat?” she asked. “I—I—am starving. I didn’t feel it before, but now——”
“Starving, you starving, while I—look, here is some cold meat which I could not get down last night, and put by for the Kaffirs. Great Heavens! that I should feed you with Kaffirs’ leavings! But it is good—eat it.”
Benita took the stuff in her fingers and swallowed it greedily; she who for days had lived on nothing but a little biscuit and biltong. It tasted delicious to her—never had she eaten anything so good. And all the while he watched her with glowing eyes.
“How can you look at me?” she said at length. “I must be horrible; I have been living in the dark and crawling through mud. I trod upon a crocodile!” and she shuddered.
“Whatever you are I never want to see you different,” he answered slowly. “To me you are most beautiful.”
Even then, wreck as she was, the poor girl flushed, and there was a mist in her eyes as she looked up and said:
“Thank you. I don’t care now what happens to me, and what has happened doesn’t matter at all. But can we get away?”
“I don’t know,” he answered; “but I doubt it. Go and sit on the waggon-box for a few minutes while I dress, and we will see.”