For the next few days, to her intense relief, Benita heard no more of mesmerism. To begin with, there was something else to occupy their minds. The Matabele, tired of marching round the fortress and singing endless war-songs, had determined upon an assault. From their point of vantage on the topmost wall the three could watch the preparations which they made. Trees were cut down and brought in from a great distance that rude ladders might be fashioned out of them; also spies wandered round reconnoitring for a weak place in the defences. When they came too near the Makalanga fired on them, killing some, so that they retreated to the camp, which they had made in a fold of ground at a little distance. Suddenly it occurred to Meyer that although here the Matabele were safe from the Makalanga bullets, it was commanded from the greater eminence, and by way of recreation he set himself to harass them. His rifle was a sporting Martini, and he had an ample supply of ammunition. Moreover, he was a beautiful marksman, with sight like that of a hawk.
A few trial shots gave him the range; it was a shade under seven hundred yards, and then he began operations. Lying on the top of the wall and resting his rifle upon a stone, he waited until the man who was superintending the manufacture of the ladders came out into the open, when, aiming carefully, he fired. The soldier, a white-bearded savage, sprang into the air, and fell backwards, while his companions stared upwards, wondering whence the bullet had come.
“Pretty, wasn’t it?” said Meyer to Benita, who was watching through a pair of field-glasses.
“I dare say,” she answered. “But I don’t want to see any more,” and giving the glasses to her father, she climbed down the wall.
But Meyer stayed there, and from time to time she heard the report of his rifle. In the evening he told her that he had killed six men and wounded ten more, adding that it was the best day’s shooting which he could remember.
“What is the use when there are so many?” she asked.
“Not much,” he answered. “But it annoys them and amuses me. Also, it was part of our bargain that we should help the Makalanga if they were attacked.”
“I believe that you like killing people,” she said.
“I don’t mind it, Miss Clifford, especially as they tried to kill you.”
THE OTHER BENITA
At irregular times, when he had nothing else to do, Jacob went on with his man-shooting, in which Mr. Clifford joined him, though with less effect. Soon it became evident that the Matabele were very much annoyed by the fatal accuracy of this fire. Loss of life they did not mind in the abstract, but when none of them knew but that their own turn might come next to perish beneath these downward plunging bullets, the matter wore a different face to them. To leave their camp was not easy, since they had made a thorn boma round it, to protect them in case the Makalanga should make a night sally; also they could find no other convenient spot. The upshot of it all was to hurry their assault, which they delivered before they had prepared sufficient ladders to make it effective.