So they went down without much difficulty, since, from the accumulation of rubbish and other causes, the wall was a great deal lower on this side, and found themselves in the usual dense growth of vegetation and brushwood through which ran a little path. It led them past the ruins of buildings whereof the use and purpose were long since forgotten, for their roofs had fallen in hundreds or thousands of years ago, to the entrance of a cave which was placed almost at the foot of the monolithic cone, but thirty or forty yards further from the circle of the wall. Here the Molimo bade them stay while he lit the lamps within. Five minutes passed and he returned, saying that all was ready.
“Be not afraid of what you may see,” he added, “for know, white people, that save my forefathers and myself, none have entered this place since the Portuguese perished here, nor have we, who do but come hither to pray and receive the word of the Munwali, ever ventured to disturb it. As it was, so it is. Come, Lady, come; she whose spirit goes with you was the last of your white race to pass this door. It is therefore fitting that your feet and her spirit should be the first to enter it again.”
Benita hung back a little, for the adventure was eerie, then, determined that she would show no fear in the presence of this old priest, took the thin hand he stretched out to her, and walked forward with head erect. The two men began to follow her, but the Molimo stopped them, saying:
“Not so. The maiden enters first alone with me; it is her house, and should it please her to ask you to dwell therein, so be it. But first she must visit her house alone.”
“Nonsense,” said Mr. Clifford angrily. “I will not have it. It will frighten her.”
“Lady, do you trust me?” asked the Molimo.
“Yes,” she answered; adding, “Father, I think you had better let me go alone. I am not afraid now, and it may be wisest not to thwart him. This is a very strange business—not like anything else—and really I think that I had better go alone. If I do not come back presently, you can follow.”
“Those who break in upon the sleep of the dead should walk gently, gently,” piped the old Molimo in a sing-song voice. “The maiden’s breath is pure; the maiden’s foot is light; her breath will not offend the dead; her step will not disturb the dead. White men, white men, anger not the dead, for the dead are mighty, and will be revenged upon you when you are dead; soon, very soon, when you are dead—dead in your sorrows, dead in your sins, dead, gathered to that company of the dead who await us here.”
And, still chanting his mystic song, he led Benita by the hand out of the light, onward into darkness, away from life, onward into the place of death.
THE SLEEPERS IN THE CAVE