“A German! I think that he must have meant a German Jew.”
After this there was silence between them for a time, then he said suddenly, “You have told me your story, would you like to hear mine?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“Well, it won’t take you long to listen to it, for, Miss Clifford, like Canning’s needy knife-grinder, I have really none to tell. You see before you one of the most useless persons in the world, an undistinguished member of what is called in England the ’leisured class,’ who can do absolutely nothing that is worth doing, except shoot straight.”
“Indeed,” said Benita.
“You do not seem impressed with that accomplishment,” he went on, “yet it is an honest fact that for the last fifteen years—I was thirty-two this month—practically my whole time has been given up to it, with a little fishing thrown in in the spring. As I want to make the most of myself, I will add that I am supposed to be among the six best shots in England, and that my ambition—yes, great Heavens! my ambition—was to become better than the other five. By that sin fell the poor man who speaks to you. I was supposed to have abilities, but I neglected them all to pursue this form of idleness. I entered no profession, I did no work, with the result that at thirty-two I am ruined and almost hopeless.”
“Why ruined and hopeless?” she asked anxiously, for the way in which they were spoken grieved her more than the words themselves.
“Ruined because my old uncle, the Honourable John Seymour Seymour, whose heir I was, committed the indiscretion of marrying a young lady who has presented him with thriving twins. With the appearance of those twins my prospects disappeared, as did the allowance of L1,500 a year that he was good enough to make me on which to keep up a position as his next-of-kin. I had something of my own, but also I had debts, and at the present moment a draft in my pocket for L2,163 14s. 5d., and a little loose cash, represents the total of my worldly goods, just about the sum I have been accustomed to spend per annum.”
“I don’t call that ruin, I call that riches,” said Benita, relieved. “With L2,000 to begin on you may make a fortune in Africa. But how about the hopelessness?”
“I am hopeless because I have absolutely nothing to which to look forward. Really, when that L2,000 is gone I do not know how to earn a sixpence. In this dilemma it occurred to me that the only thing I could do was to turn my shooting to practical account, and become a hunter of big game. Therefore I propose to kill elephants until an elephant kills me. At least,” he added in a changed voice, “I did so propose until half an hour ago.”
The end of the “Zanzibar.”
“Until half an hour ago? Then why——” and Benita stopped.