The Story of an African Farm
Olive Schreiner (Ralph Iron)
Part 2 out of 6
when the Boer-woman impressively laid her hand upon his arm.
"That is his head," said Tant Sannie, "that is his head."
"But what might it be?" asked the German, looking from one to the other,
churn-stick in hand.
A low hollow bellow prevented reply, and the voice of Bonaparte lifted
itself on high.
"Mary-Ann! my angel! my wife!"
"Isn't it dreadful?" said Tant Sannie, as the blows were repeated fiercely.
"He has got a letter; his wife is dead. You must go and comfort him," said
Tant Sannie at last, "and I will go with you. It would not be the thing
for me to go alone--me, who am only thirty-three, and he an unmarried man
now," said Tant Sannie, blushing and smoothing out her apron.
Upon this they all trudged round the house in company--the Hottentot maid
carrying the light, Tant Sannie and the German following, and the Kaffer
girl bringing up the rear.
"Oh," said Tant Sannie, "I see now it wasn't wickedness made him do without
his wife so long--only necessity."
At the door she motioned to the German to enter, and followed him closely.
On the stretcher behind the sacks Bonaparte lay on his face, his head
pressed into a pillow, his legs kicking gently. The Boer-woman sat down on
a box at the foot of the bed. The German stood with folded hands looking
"We must all die," said Tant Sannie at last; "it is the dear Lord's will."
Hearing her voice, Bonaparte turned himself on to his back.
"It's very hard," said Tant Sannie, "I know, for I've lost two husbands."
Bonaparte looked up into the German's face.
"Oh, what does she say? Speak to me words of comfort!"
The German repeated Tant Sannie's remark.
"Ah, I--I also! Two dear, dear wives, whom I shall never see any more!"
cried Bonaparte, flinging himself back upon the bed.
He howled, till the tarantulas, who lived between the rafters and the zinc
roof, felt the unusual vibration, and looked out with their wicked bright
eyes, to see what was going on.
Tant Sannie sighed, the Hottentot maid sighed, the Kaffer girl who looked
in at the door put her hand over her mouth and said "Mow-wah!"
"You must trust in the Lord," said Tant Sannie. "He can give you more than
you have lost."
"I do, I do!" he cried; "but oh, I have no wife! I have no wife!"
Tant Sannie was much affected, and came and stood near the bed.
"Ask him if he won't have a little pap--nice, fine, flour pap. There is
some boiling on the kitchen fire."
The German made the proposal, but the widower waved his hand.
"No, nothing shall pass my lips. I should be suffocated. No, no! Speak
not of food to me!"
"Pap, and a little brandy in," said Tant Sannie coaxingly.
Bonaparte caught the word.
"Perhaps, perhaps--if I struggled with myself--for the sake of my duties I
might imbibe a few drops," he said, looking with quivering lip up into the
German's face. "I must do my duty, must I not?"
Tant Sannie gave the order, and the girl went for the pap.
"I know how it was when my first husband died. They could do nothing with
me," the Boer-woman said, "till I had eaten a sheep's trotter, and honey,
and a little roaster-cake. I know."
Bonaparte sat up on the bed with his legs stretched out in front of him,
and a hand on each knee, blubbering softly.
"Oh, she was a woman! You are very kind to try and comfort me, but she was
my wife. For a woman that is my wife I could live; for the woman that is
my wife I could die! For a woman that is my wife I could--Ah! that sweet
word "wife"; when will it rest upon my lips again?"
When his feelings had subsided a little he raised the corners of his
turned-down mouth, and spoke to the German with flabby lips.
"Do you think she understands me? Oh, tell her every word, that she may
know I thank her."
At that instant the girl reappeared with a basin of steaming gruel and a
Tant Sannie poured some of its contents into the basin, stirred it well,
and came to the bed.
"Oh, I can't, I can't! I shall die! I shall die!" said Bonaparte, putting
his hands to his side.
"Come, just a little," said Tant Sannie coaxingly; "just a drop."
"It's too thick, it's too thick. I should choke."
Tant Sannie added from the contents of the bottle and held out a spoonful;
Bonaparte opened his mouth like a little bird waiting for a worm, and held
it open, as she dipped again and again into the pap.
"Ah, this will do your heart good," said Tant Sannie, in whose mind the
relative functions of heart and stomach were exceedingly ill-defined.
When the basin was emptied the violence of his grief was much assuaged; he
looked at Tant Sannie with gentle tears.
"Tell him," said the Boer-woman, "that I hope he will sleep well, and that
the Lord will comfort him, as the Lord only can."
"Bless you, dear friend, God bless you," said Bonaparte.
When the door was safely shut on the German, the Hottentot, and the
Dutchwoman, he got off the bed and washed away the soap he had rubbed on
"Bon," he said, slapping his leg, "you're the cutest lad I ever came
across. If you don't turn out the old Hymns-and-prayers, and pummel the
Ragged coat, and get your arms round the fat one's waist and a wedding-ring
on her finger, then you are not Bonaparte. But you are Bonaparte. Bon,
you're a fine boy!"
Making which pleasing reflection, he pulled off his trousers and got into
Chapter 1.VII. He Sets His Trap.
"May I come in? I hope I do not disturb you, my dear friend," said
Bonaparte, late one evening, putting his nose in at the cabin door, where
the German and his son sat finishing their supper.
It was now two months since he had been installed as schoolmaster in Tant
Sannie's household, and he had grown mighty and more mighty day by day. He
visited the cabin no more, sat close to Tant Sannie drinking coffee all the
evening, and walked about loftily with his hands under the coat-tails of
the German's black cloth and failed to see even a nigger who wished him a
deferential good morning. It was therefore with no small surprise that the
German perceived Bonaparte's red nose at the door.
"Walk in, walk in," he said joyfully. "Boy, boy, see if there is any
coffee left. Well, none. Make a fire. We have done supper, but--"
"My dear friend," said Bonaparte, taking off his hat, "I came not to sup,
not for mere creature comforts, but for an hour of brotherly intercourse
with a kindred spirit. The press of business and the weight of thought,
but they alone, may sometimes prevent me from sharing the secrets of my
bosom with him for whom I have so great a sympathy. You perhaps wonder
when I shall return the two pounds--"
"Oh, no, no! Make a fire, make a fire, boy. We will have a pot of hot
coffee presently," said the German, rubbing his hands and looking about,
not knowing how best to show his pleasure at the unexpected visit.
For three weeks the German's diffident "Good evening" had met with a
stately bow; the chin of Bonaparte lifting itself higher daily; and his
shadow had not darkened the cabin doorway since he came to borrow the two
pounds. The German walked to the head of the bed and took down a blue bag
that hung there. Blue bags were a speciality of the German's. He kept
above fifty stowed away in different corners of his room--some filled with
curious stones, some with seeds that had been in his possession fifteen
years, some with rusty nails, buckles, and bits of old harness--in all, a
wonderful assortment, but highly prized.
"We have something here not so bad," said the German, smiling knowingly, as
he dived his hand into the bag and took out a handful of almonds and
raisins; "I buy these for my chickens. They increase in size, but they
still think the old man must have something nice for them. And the old
man--well, a big boy may have a sweet tooth sometimes, may he not? Ha,
ha!" said the German, chuckling at his own joke, as he heaped the plate
with almonds. "Here is a stone--two stones to crack them--no late patent
improvement--well, Adam's nut-cracker; ha, ha! But I think we shall do.
We will not leave them uncracked. We will consume a few without
Here the German sat down on one side of the table, Bonaparte on the other;
each one with a couple of flat stones before him, and the plate between
"Do not be afraid," said the German, "do not be afraid. I do not forget
the boy at the fire; I crack for him. The bag is full. Why, this is
strange," he said suddenly, cracking upon a large nut; "three kernels! I
have not observed that before. This must be retained. This is valuable."
He wrapped the nut gravely in paper, and put it carefully in his waistcoat
pocket. "Valuable, very valuable!" he said, shaking his head.
"Ah, my friend," said Bonaparte, "what joy it is to be once more in your
The German's eyes glistened, and Bonaparte seized his hand and squeezed it
warmly. They then proceeded to crack and eat. After a while Bonaparte
said, stuffing a handful of raisins into his mouth:
"I was so deeply grieved, my dear friend, that you and Tant Sannie had some
slight unpleasantness this evening."
"Oh, no, no," said the German; "it is all right now. A few sheep missing;
but I make it good myself. I give my twelve sheep, and work in the other
"It is rather hard that you should have to make good the lost sheep, said
Bonaparte; "it is no fault of yours."
"Well," said the German, "this is the case. Last evening I count the sheep
at the kraal--twenty are missing. I ask the herd; he tells me they are
with the other flock; he tells me so distinctly; how can I think he lies?
This afternoon I count the other flock. The sheep are not there. I come
back here: the herd is gone; the sheep are gone. But I cannot--no, I will
not--believe he stole them," said the German, growing suddenly excited.
"Some one else, but not he. I know that boy. I knew him three years. He
is a good boy. I have seen him deeply affected on account of his soul.
And she would send the police after him! I say I would rather make the
loss good myself. I will not have it; he has fled in fear. I know his
heart. It was," said the German, with a little gentle hesitation, "under
my words that he first felt his need of a Saviour."
Bonaparte cracked some more almonds, then said, yawning, and more as though
he asked for the sake of having something to converse about than from any
interest he felt in the subject:
"And what has become of the herd's wife?"
The German was alight again in a moment.
"Yes; his wife. She has a child six days old, and Tant Sannie would turn
her out into the fields this night. That," said the German rising, "that
is what I call cruelty--diabolical cruelty. My soul abhors that deed. The
man that could do such a thing I could run him through with a knife!" said
the German, his grey eyes flashing, and his bushy black beard adding to the
murderous fury of his aspect. Then suddenly subsiding, he said, "But all
is now well; Tant Sannie gives her word that the maid shall remain for some
days. I go to Oom Muller's tomorrow to learn if the sheep may not be
there. If they are not, then I return. They are gone, that is all. I
make it good."
"Tant Sannie is a singular woman," said Bonaparte, taking the tobacco bag
the German passed to him.
"Singular! Yes," said the German; "but her heart is on her right side. I
have lived long years with her, and I may say, I have for her an affection,
which she returns. I may say," added the German with warmth, "I may say,
that there is not one soul on this farm for whom I have not an affection."
"Ah, my friend," said Bonaparte, "when the grace of God is in our hearts,
is it not with us all? Do we not love the very worm we tread upon, and as
we tread upon it? Do we know distinctions of race, or of sex, or of
"'Love so amazing, so divine,
It fills my soul, my life, my all.'"
After a time he sank into a less fervent mood, and remarked:
"The coloured female who waits upon Tant Sannie appears to be of a virtuous
disposition, an individual who--"
"Virtuous!" said the German; "I have confidence in her. There is that in
her which is pure, that which is noble. The rich and high that walk this
earth with lofty eyelids might exchange with her."
The German here got up to bring a coal for Bonaparte's pipe, and they sat
together talking for a while. At length Bonaparte knocked the ashes out of
"It is time that I took my departure, dear friend," he said; "but, before I
do so, shall we not close this evening of sweet communion and brotherly
intercourse by a few words of prayer? Oh, how good and how pleasant a
thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the dew
upon the mountains of Hermon; for there the Lord bestowed a blessing, even
life for evermore."
"Stay and drink some coffee," said the German.
"No, thank you, my friend; I have business that must be done tonight," said
Bonaparte. "Your dear son appears to have gone to sleep. He is going to
take the wagon to the mill tomorrow! What a little man he is."
"A fine boy."
But though the boy nodded before the fire he was not asleep; and they all
knelt down to pray.
When they rose from their knees Bonaparte extended his hand to Waldo, and
patted him on the head.
"Good night, my lad," said he. "As you go to the mill tomorrow, we shall
not see you for some days. Good night! Good-bye! The Lord bless and
guide you; and may He bring you back to us in safety and find us all as you
have left us!" He laid some emphasis on the last words. "And you, my dear
friend," he added, turning with redoubled warmth to the German, "long, long
shall I look back to this evening as a time of refreshing from the presence
of the Lord, as an hour of blessed intercourse with a brother in Jesus.
May such often return. The Lord bless you!" he added, with yet deeper
fervour, "richly, richly."
Then he opened the door and vanished out into the darkness.
"He, he, he!" laughed Bonaparte, as he stumbled over the stones. "If there
isn't the rarest lot of fools on this farm that ever God Almighty stuck
legs to. He, he, he! When the worms come out then the blackbirds feed.
Ha, ha, ha!" Then he drew himself up; even when alone he liked to pose
with a certain dignity; it was second nature to him.
He looked in at the kitchen door. The Hottentot maid who acted as
interpreter between Tant Sannie and himself was gone, and Tant Sannie
herself was in bed.
"Never mind, Bon, my boy," he said, as he walked round to his own room,
"tomorrow will do. He, he, he!"
Chapter 1.VIII. He Catches the Old Bird.
At four o'clock the next afternoon the German rode across the plain,
returning from his search for the lost sheep. He rode slowly, for he had
been in the saddle since sunrise and was somewhat weary, and the heat of
the afternoon made his horse sleepy as it picked its way slowly along the
sandy road. Every now and then a great red spider would start out of the
karoo on one side of the path and run across to the other, but nothing else
broke the still monotony. Presently, behind one of the highest of the
milk-bushes that dotted the roadside, the German caught sight of a Kaffer
woman, seated there evidently for such shadow as the milk-bush might afford
from the sloping rays of the sun.
The German turned the horse's head out of the road. It was not his way to
pass a living creature without a word of greeting. Coming nearer, he found
it was no other than the wife of the absconding Kaffer herd. She had a
baby tied on her back by a dirty strip of red blanket; another strip hardly
larger was twisted round her waist, for the rest her black body was naked.
She was a sullen, ill-looking woman with lips hideously protruding.
The German questioned her as to how she came there. She muttered in broken
Dutch that she had been turned away. Had she done evil? She shook her
head sullenly. Had she had food given her? She grunted a negative, and
fanned the flies from her baby. Telling the woman to remain where she was,
he turned his horse's head to the road and rode off at a furious pace.
"Hard-hearted! cruel! Oh, my God! Is this the way? Is this charity?"
"Yes, yes, yes," ejaculated the old man as he rode on; but, presently, his
anger began to evaporate, his horse's pace slackened, and by the time he
had reached his own door he was nodding and smiling.
Dismounting quickly, he went to the great chest where his provisions were
kept. Here he got out a little meal, a little mealies, a few roaster-
cakes. These he tied up in three blue handkerchiefs, and putting them into
a sailcloth bag, he strung them over his shoulders. Then he looked
circumspectly out at the door. It was very bad to be discovered in the act
of giving; it made him red up to the roots of his old grizzled hair. No
one was about, however, so he rode off again. Beside the milk-bush sat the
Kaffer woman still--like Hagar, he thought, thrust out by her mistress in
the wilderness to die. Telling her to loosen the handkerchief from her
head, he poured into it the contents of his bag. The woman tied it up in
"You must try and get to the next farm," said the German.
The woman shook her head; she would sleep in the field.
The German reflected. Kaffer women were accustomed to sleep in the open
air; but then, the child was small, and after so hot a day the night might
be chilly. That she would creep back to the huts at the homestead when the
darkness favoured her, the German's sagacity did not make evident to him.
He took off the old brown salt-and-pepper coat, and held it out to her.
The woman received it in silence, and laid it across her knee. "With that
they will sleep warmly; not so bad. Ha, ha!" said the German. And he rode
home, nodding his head in a manner that would have made any other man
"I wish he would not come back tonight," said Em, her face wet with tears.
"It will be just the same if he comes back tomorrow," said Lyndall.
The two girls sat on the step of the cabin weeping for the German's return.
Lyndall shaded her eyes with her hand from the sunset light.
"There he comes," she said, "whistling 'Ach Jerusalem du schone' so loud I
can hear him from here."
"Perhaps he has found the sheep."
"Found them!" said Lyndall. "He would whistle just so if he knew he had to
"You look at the sunset, eh, chickens?" the German said, as he came up at a
smart canter. "Ah, yes, that is beautiful!" he added, as he dismounted,
pausing for a moment with his hand on the saddle to look at the evening
sky, where the sun shot up long flaming streaks, between which and the eye
thin yellow clouds floated. "Ei! you weep?" said the German, as the girls
ran up to him.
Before they had time to reply the voice of Tant Sannie was heard.
"You child, of the child, of the child of a Kaffer's dog, come here!"
The German looked up. He thought the Dutchwoman, come out to cool herself
in the yard, called to some misbehaving servant. The old man looked round
to see who it might be.
"You old vagabond of a praying German, are you deaf?"
Tant Sannie stood before the steps of the kitchen; upon them sat the lean
Hottentot, upon the highest stood Bonaparte Blenkins, both hands folded
under the tails of his coat, and his eyes fixed on the sunset sky.
The German dropped the saddle on the ground.
"Bish, bish, bish! what may this be?" he said, and walked toward the house.
The girls followed him: Em still weeping; Lyndall with her face rather
white and her eyes wide open.
"And I have the heart of a devil, did you say? You could run me through
with a knife, could you?" cried the Dutchwoman. "I could not drive the
Kaffer maid away because I was afraid of you, was I? Oh, you miserable
rag! I loved you, did I? I would have liked to marry you, would I? would
I? WOULD I?" cried the Boer-woman; "you cat's tail, you dog's paw! Be near
my house tomorrow morning when the sun rises," she gasped, "my Kaffers will
drag you through the sand. They would do it gladly, any of them, for a bit
of tobacco, for all your prayings with them."
"I am bewildered, I am bewildered, said the German, standing before her and
raising his hand to his forehead; "I--I do not understand."
"Ask him, ask him?" cried Tant Sannie, pointing to Bonaparte; "he knows.
You thought he could not make me understand, but he did, he did, you old
fool! I know enough English for that. You be here," shouted the
Dutchwoman, "when the morning star rises, and I will let my Kaffers take
you out and drag you, till there is not one bone left in your old body that
is not broken as fine as bobootie-meat, you old beggar! All your rags are
not worth that--they should be thrown out onto the ash-heap," cried the
Boer-woman; "but I will have them for my sheep. Not one rotten hoof of
your old mare do you take with you; I will have her--all, all for my sheep
that you have lost, you godless thing!"
The Boer-woman wiped the moisture from her mouth with the palm of her hand.
The German turned to Bonaparte, who still stood on the step absorbed in the
beauty of the sunset.
"Do not address me; do not approach me, lost man," said Bonaparte, not
moving his eye nor lowering his chin. "There is a crime from which all
nature revolts; there is a crime whose name is loathsome to the human ear--
that crime is yours; that crime is ingratitude. This woman has been your
benefactress; on her farm you have lived; after her sheep you have looked;
into her house you have been allowed to enter and hold Divine service--an
honour of which you were never worthy; and how have you rewarded her?--
basely, basely, basely!"
"But it is all false, lies and falsehoods. I must, I will speak," said the
German, suddenly looking round bewildered. "Do I dream? Are you mad?
What may it be?"
"Go, dog," cried the Dutchwoman; "I would have been a rich woman this day
if it had not been for your laziness. Praying with the Kaffers behind the
kraal walls. Go, you Kaffer's dog!"
"But what then is the matter? What may have happened since I left?" said
the German, turning to the Hottentot woman, who sat upon the step.
She was his friend; she would tell him kindly the truth. The woman
answered by a loud, ringing laugh.
"Give it him, old missis! Give it him!"
It was so nice to see the white man who had been master hunted down. The
coloured woman laughed, and threw a dozen mealie grains into her mouth to
All anger and excitement faded from the old man's face. He turned slowly
away and walked down the little path to his cabin, with his shoulders bent;
it was all dark before him. He stumbled over the threshold of his own
Em, sobbing bitterly, would have followed him; but the Boer-woman prevented
her by a flood of speech which convulsed the Hottentot, so low were its
"Come, Em," said Lyndall, lifting her small proud head, "let us go in. We
will not stay to hear such language."
She looked into the Boer-woman's eyes. Tant Sannie understood the meaning
of the look if not the words. She waddled after them, and caught Em by the
arm. She had struck Lyndall once years before, and had never done it
again, so she took Em.
"So you will defy me, too, will you, you Englishman's ugliness!" she cried,
and with one hand she forced the child down, and held her head tightly
against her knee; with the other she beat her first upon one cheek, and
then upon the other.
For one instant Lyndall looked on, then she laid her small fingers on the
Boer-woman's arm. With the exertion of half its strength Tant Sannie might
have flung the girl back upon the stones. It was not the power of the
slight fingers, tightly though they clinched her broad wrist--so tightly
that at bedtime the marks were still there; but the Boer-woman looked into
the clear eyes and at the quivering white lips, and with a half-surprised
curse relaxed her hold. The girl drew Em's arm through her own.
"Move!" she said to Bonaparte, who stood in the door, and he, Bonaparte the
invincible, in the hour of his triumph, moved to give her place.
The Hottentot ceased to laugh, and an uncomfortable silence fell on all the
three in the doorway.
Once in their room, Em sat down on the floor and wailed bitterly. Lyndall
lay on the bed with her arm drawn across her eyes, very white and still.
"Hoo, hoo!" cried Em; "and they won't let him take the grey mare; and Waldo
has gone to the mill. Hoo, hoo, and perhaps they won't let us go and say
good-bye to him. Hoo, hoo, hoo!"
"I wish you would be quiet," said Lyndall without moving. "Does it give
you such felicity to let Bonaparte know he is hurting you? We will ask no
one. It will be suppertime soon. Listen--and when you hear the clink of
the knives and forks we will go out and see him.
Em suppressed her sobs and listened intently, kneeling at the door.
Suddenly some one came to the window and put the shutter up.
"Who was that?" said Lyndall, starting.
"The girl, I suppose," said Em. How early she is this evening!"
But Lyndall sprang from the bed and seized the handle of the door, shaking
it fiercely. The door was locked on the outside. She ground her teeth.
"What is the matter?" asked Em.
The room was in perfect darkness now.
"Nothing," said Lyndall quietly; "only they have locked us in."
She turned, and went back to bed again. But ere long Em heard a sound of
movement. Lyndall had climbed up into the window, and with her fingers
felt the woodwork that surrounded the panes. Slipping down, the girl
loosened the iron knob from the foot of the bedstead, and climbing up again
she broke with it every pane of glass in the window, beginning at the top
and ending at the bottom.
"What are you doing?" asked Em, who heard the falling fragments.
Her companion made her no reply; but leaned on every little cross-bar,
which cracked and gave way beneath her. Then she pressed with all her
strength against the shutter. She had thought the wooden buttons would
give way, but by the clinking sound she knew that the iron bar had been put
across. She was quite quiet for a time. Clambering down, she took from
the table a small one-bladed penknife, with which she began to peck at the
hard wood of the shutter.
"What are you doing now?" asked Em, who had ceased crying in her wonder,
and had drawn near.
"Trying to make a hole," was the short reply.
"Do you think you will be able to?"
"No; but I am trying."
In an agony of suspense Em waited. For ten minutes Lyndall pecked. The
hole was three-eighths of an inch deep--then the blade sprung into ten
"What has happened now?" Em asked, blubbering afresh.
"Nothing," said Lyndall. "Bring me my nightgown, a piece of paper, and the
Wondering, Em fumbled about till she found them.
"What are you going to do with them?" she whispered.
"Burn down the window."
"But won't the whole house take fire and burn down too?"
"But will it not be very wicked?"
"Yes, very. And I do not care."
She arranged the nightgown carefully in the corner of the window, with the
chips of the frame about it. There was only one match in the box. She
drew it carefully along the wall. For a moment it burnt up blue, and
showed the tiny face with its glistening eyes. She held it carefully to
the paper. For an instant it burnt up brightly, then flickered and went
out. She blew the spark, but it died also. Then she threw the paper on to
the ground, trod on it, and went to her bed, and began to undress.
Em rushed to the door, knocking against it wildly.
"Oh, Tant Sannie! Tant Sannie! Oh, let us out!" she cried. "Oh, Lyndall,
what are we to do?"
Lyndall wiped a drop of blood off the lip she had bitten.
"I am going to sleep," she said. "If you like to sit there and howl till
the morning, do. Perhaps you will find that it helps; I never heard that
howling helped any one."
Long after, when Em herself had gone to bed and was almost asleep, Lyndall
came and stood at her bedside.
"Here," she said, slipping a little pot of powder into her hand; "rub some
on to your face. Does it not burn where she struck you?"
Then she crept back to her own bed. Long, long after, when Em was really
asleep, she lay still awake, and folded her hands on her little breast, and
"When that day comes, and I am strong, I will hate everything that has
power, and help everything that is weak." And she bit her lip again.
The German looked out at the cabin door for the last time that night. Then
he paced the room slowly and sighed. Then he drew out pen and paper, and
sat down to write, rubbing his old grey eyes with his knuckles before he
"My Chickens: You did not come to say good-bye to the old man. Might you?
Ah, well, there is a land where they part no more, where saints immortal
"I sit here alone, and I think of you. Will you forget the old man? When
you wake tomorrow he will be far away. The old horse is lazy, but he has
his stick to help him; that is three legs. He comes back one day with gold
and diamonds. Will you welcome him? Well, we shall see. I go to meet
Waldo. He comes back with the wagon; then he follows me. Poor boy? God
knows. There is a land where all things are made right, but that land is
"My little children, serve the Saviour; give your hearts to Him while you
are yet young. Life is short.
"Nothing is mine, otherwise I would say, Lyndall, take my books, Em my
stones. Now I say nothing. The things are mine: it is not righteous, God
knows? But I am silent. Let it be. But I feel it, I must say I feel it.
"Do not cry too much for the old man. He goes out to seek his fortune, and
comes back with it in a bag, it may be.
"I love my children. Do they think of me? I am Old Otto, who goes out to
seek his fortune.
Having concluded this quaint production, he put it where the children would
find it the next morning, and proceeded to prepare his bundle. He never
thought of entering a protest against the loss of his goods; like a child,
he submitted, and wept. He had been there eleven years, and it was hard to
go away. He spread open on the bed a blue handkerchief, and on it put one
by one the things he thought most necessary and important--a little bag of
curious seeds, which he meant to plant some day, an old German hymn-book,
three misshapen stones that he greatly valued, a Bible, a shirt and two
handkerchiefs; then there was room for nothing more. He tied up the bundle
tightly and put it on a chair by his bedside.
"That is not much; they cannot say I take much," he said, looking at it.
He put his knotted stick beside it, his blue tobacco bag and his short
pipe, and then inspected his coats. He had two left--a moth-eaten overcoat
and a black alpaca, out at the elbows. He decided for the overcoat; it was
warm, certainly, but then he could carry it over his arm and only put it on
when he met some one along the road. It was more respectable than the
He hung the greatcoat over the back of the chair, and stuffed a hard bit of
roaster-cake under the knot of the bundle, and then his preparations were
completed. The German stood contemplating them with much satisfaction. He
had almost forgotten his sorrow at leaving in his pleasure at preparing.
Suddenly he started; an expression of intense pain passed over his face.
He drew back his left arm quickly, and then pressed his right hand upon his
"Ah, the sudden pang again," he said.
His face was white, but it quickly regained its colour. Then the old man
busied himself in putting everything right.
"I will leave it neat. They shall not say I did not leave it neat," he
said. Even the little bags of seeds on the mantelpiece he put in rows and
dusted. Then he undressed and got into bed. Under his pillow was a little
storybook. He drew it forth. To the old German a story was no story. Its
events were as real and as important to himself as the matters of his own
He could not go away without knowing whether that wicked earl relented and
whether the baron married Emilina. So he adjusted his spectacles and began
to read. Occasionally, as his feelings became too strongly moved, he
ejaculated: "Ah, I thought so! That was a rogue! I saw it before! I
knew it from the beginning!" More than half an hour had passed when he
looked up to the silver watch at the top of his bed.
"The march is long tomorrow; this will not do," he said, taking off his
spectacles and putting them carefully into the book to mark the place.
"This will be good reading as I walk along tomorrow," he added, as he
stuffed the book into the pocket of the greatcoat; "very good reading." He
nodded his head and lay down. He thought a little of his own troubles, a
good deal of the two little girls he was leaving, of the earl, of Emilina,
of the baron; but he was soon asleep--sleeping as peacefully as a little
child, upon whose innocent soul sorrow and care cannot rest.
It was very quiet in the room. The coals in the fireplace threw a dull red
light across the floor upon the red lions on the quilt. Eleven o'clock
came, and the room was very still.
One o'clock came. The glimmer had died out, though the ashes were still
warm, and the room was very dark. The grey mouse, who had his hole under
the toolbox, came out and sat on the sacks in the corner; then, growing
bolder, the room was so dark, it climbed the chair at the bedside, nibbled
at the roaster-cake, took one bite quickly at the candle, and then sat on
his haunches listening. It heard the even breathing of the old man, and
the steps of the hungry Kaffer dog going his last round in search of a bone
or a skin that had been forgotten; and it heard the white hen call out as
the wild cat ran away with one of her brood, and it heard the chicken cry.
Then the grey mouse went back to its hole under the toolbox, and the room
was quiet. And two o'clock came. By that time the night was grown dull
and cloudy. The wild cat had gone to its home on the kopje; the Kaffer dog
had found a bone, and lay gnawing it.
An intense quiet reigned everywhere. Only in her room the Boer-woman
tossed her great arms in her sleep; for she dreamed that a dark shadow with
outstretched wings fled slowly over her house, and she moaned and shivered.
And the night was very still.
But, quiet as all places were, there was a quite peculiar quiet in the
German's room. Though you strained your ear most carefully you caught no
sound of breathing.
He was not gone, for the old coat still hung on the chair--the coat that
was to be put on when he met any one; and the bundle and stick were ready
for tomorrow's long march. The old German himself lay there, his wavy
black hair just touched with grey thrown back upon the pillow. The old
face was lying there alone in the dark, smiling like a little child's--oh,
so peacefully. There is a stranger whose coming, they say, is worse than
all the ills of life, from whose presence we flee away trembling; but he
comes very tenderly sometimes. And it seemed almost as though Death had
known and loved the old man, so gently it touched him. And how could it
deal hardly with him--the loving, simple, childlike old man?
So it smoothed out the wrinkles that were in the old forehead, and fixed
the passing smile, and sealed the eyes that they might not weep again; and
then the short sleep of time was melted into the long, long sleep of
"How has he grown so young in this one night?" they said when they found
him in the morning.
Yes, dear old man; to such as you time brings no age. You die with the
purity and innocence of your childhood upon you, though you die in your
Chapter 1.IX. He Sees A Ghost.
Bonaparte stood on the ash-heap. He espied across the plain a moving speck
and he chucked his coat-tails up and down in expectancy of a scene.
The wagon came on slowly. Waldo laid curled among the sacks at the back of
the wagon, the hand in his breast resting on the sheep-shearing machine.
It was finished now. The right thought had struck him the day before as he
sat, half asleep, watching the water go over the mill-wheel. He muttered
to himself with half-closed eyes:
"Tomorrow smooth the cogs--tighten the screws a little--show it to them."
Then after a pause--"Over the whole world--the whole world--mine, that I
have made!" He pressed the little wheels and pulleys in his pocket till
they cracked. Presently his muttering became louder--"And fifty pounds--a
black hat for my dadda--for Lyndall a blue silk, very light; and one purple
like the earth-bells, and white shoes." He muttered on--"A box full, full
of books. They shall tell me all, all, all," he added, moving his fingers
desiringly: "why the crystals grow in such beautiful shapes; why lightning
runs to the iron; why black people are black; why the sunlight makes things
warm. I shall read, read, read," he muttered slowly. Then came over him
suddenly what he called "The presence of God"; a sense of a good, strong
something folding him round. He smiled through his half-shut eyes. "Ah,
Father, my own Father, it is so sweet to feel you, like the warm sunshine.
The Bibles and books cannot tell of you and all I feel you. They are mixed
with men's words; but you--"
His muttering sank into inaudible confusion, till, opening his eyes wide,
it struck him that the brown plain he looked at was the old home farm. For
half an hour they had been riding in it, and he had not known it. He
roused the leader, who sat nodding on the front of the wagon in the early
morning sunlight. They were within half a mile of the homestead. It
seemed to him that he had been gone from them all a year. He fancied he
could see Lyndall standing on the brick wall to watch for him; his father,
passing from one house to the other, stopping to look.
He called aloud to the oxen. For each one at home he had brought
something. For his father a piece of tobacco, bought at the shop by the
mill; for Em a thimble; for Lyndall a beautiful flower dug out by the
roots, at a place where they had outspanned; for Tant Sannie a
handkerchief. When they drew near the house he threw the whip to the
Kaffer leader, and sprung from the side of the wagon to run on. Bonaparte
stopped him as he ran past the ash-heap.
"Good morning, my dear boy. Where are you running to so fast with your
The boy looked up at him, glad even to see Bonaparte.
"I am going to the cabin," he said, out of breath.
"You won't find them in just now--not your good old father," said
"Where is he?" asked the lad.
"There, beyond the camps," said Bonaparte, waving his hand oratorically
toward the stone-walled ostrich-camps.
"What is he doing there?" asked the boy.
Bonaparte patted him on the cheek kindly.
"We could not keep him any more, it was too hot. We've buried him, my
boy," said Bonaparte, touching with his finger the boy's cheek. We
couldn't keep him any more. He, he, he!" laughed Bonaparte, as the boy
fled away along the low stone wall, almost furtively, as one in fear.
At five o'clock Bonaparte knelt before a box in the German's room. He was
busily unpacking it.
It had been agreed upon between Tant Sannie and himself, that now the
German was gone he, Bonaparte, was to be no longer schoolmaster, but
overseer of the farm. In return for his past scholastic labours he had
expressed himself willing to take possession of the dead man's goods and
room. Tant Sannie hardly liked the arrangement. She had a great deal more
respect for the German dead than the German living, and would rather his
goods had been allowed to descend peacefully to his son. For she was a
firm believer in the chinks in the world above, where not only ears, but
eyes might be applied to see how things went on in this world below. She
never felt sure how far the spirit-world might overlap this world of sense,
and, as a rule, prudently abstained from doing anything which might offend
unseen auditors. For this reason she abstained from ill-using the dead
Englishman's daughter and niece, and for this reason she would rather the
boy had had his father's goods. But it was hard to refuse Bonaparte
anything when she and he sat so happily together in the evening drinking
coffee, Bonaparte telling her in the broken Dutch he was fast learning how
he adored fat women, and what a splendid farmer he was.
So at five o'clock on this afternoon Bonaparte knelt in the German's room.
"Somewhere, here it is," he said, as he packed the old clothes carefully
out of the box, and, finding nothing, packed them in again. "Somewhere in
this room it is; and if it's here Bonaparte finds it," he repeated. "You
didn't stay here all these years without making a little pile somewhere, my
lamb. You weren't such a fool as you looked. Oh, no!" said Bonaparte.
He now walked about the room, diving his fingers in everywhere: sticking
them into the great crevices in the wall and frightening out the spiders;
rapping them against the old plaster till it cracked and fell in pieces;
peering up the chimney, till the soot dropped on his bald head and
blackened it. He felt in little blue bags; he tried to raise the hearth-
stone; he shook each book, till the old leaves fell down in showers on the
It was getting dark, and Bonaparte stood with his finger on his nose
reflecting. Finally he walked to the door, behind which hung the trousers
and waistcoat the dead man had last worn. He had felt in them, but
hurriedly, just after the funeral the day before; he would examine them
again. Sticking his fingers into the waistcoat pockets, he found in one
corner a hole. Pressing his hand through it, between the lining and the
cloth, he presently came into contact with something. Bonaparte drew it
forth--a small, square parcel, sewed up in sail-cloth. He gazed at it,
squeezed it; it cracked, as though full of bank-notes. He put it quickly
into his own waistcoat pocket, and peeped over the half-door to see if
there was any one coming. There was nothing to be seen but the last rays
of yellow sunset light, painting the karoo bushes in the plain, and shining
on the ash-heap, where the fowls were pecking. He turned and sat down on
the nearest chair, and, taking out his pen-knife, ripped the parcel open.
The first thing that fell was a shower of yellow faded papers. Bonaparte
opened them carefully one by one, and smoothed them out on his knee. There
was something very valuable to be hidden so carefully, though the German
characters he could not decipher. When he came to the last one, he felt
there was something hard in it.
"You've got it, Bon, my boy! you've got it!" he cried, slapping his leg
hard. Edging nearer to the door, for the light was fading, he opened the
paper carefully. There was nothing inside but a plain gold wedding-ring.
"Better than nothing!" said Bonaparte, trying to put it on his little
finger, which, however, proved too fat.
He took it off and set it down on the table before him, and looked at it
with his crosswise eyes.
"When that auspicious hour, Sannie," he said, "shall have arrived, when,
panting, I shall lead thee, lighted by Hymen's torch, to the connubial
altar, then upon thy fair amaranthine finger, my joyous bride, shall this
"Thy fair body, oh, my girl,
Shall Bonaparte possess;
His fingers in thy money-bags,
He therein, too, shall mess."
Having given utterance to this flood of poesy, he sat lost in joyous
"He therein, too, shall mess," he repeated meditatively.
At this instant, as Bonaparte swore, and swore truly to the end of his
life, a slow and distinct rap was given on the crown of his bald head.
Bonaparte started and looked up. No riem or strap, hung down from the
rafters above, and not a human creature was near the door. It was growing
dark; he did not like it. He began to fold up the papers expeditiously.
He stretched out his hand for the ring. The ring was gone! Gone, although
no human creature had entered the room; gone, although no form had crossed
the doorway. Gone!
He would not sleep there, that was certain.
He stuffed the papers into his pocket. As he did so, three slow and
distinct taps were given on the crown of his head. Bonaparte's jaw fell:
each separate joint lost its power: he could not move; he dared not rise;
his tongue lay loose in his mouth.
"Take all, take all!" he gurgled in his throat. "I--I do not want them.
Here a resolute tug at the grey curls at the back of his head caused him to
leap up, yelling wildly. Was he to sit still paralyzed, to be dragged away
bodily to the devil? With terrific shrieks he fled, casting no glance
When the dew was falling, and the evening was dark, a small figure moved
toward the gate of the furthest ostrich-camp, driving a bird before it.
When the gate was opened and the bird driven in and the gate fastened, it
turned away, but then suddenly paused near the stone wall.
"Is that you, Waldo?" said Lyndall, hearing a sound.
The boy was sitting on the damp ground with his back to the wall. He gave
her no answer.
"Come," she said, bending over him, "I have been looking for you all day."
He mumbled something.
"You have had nothing to eat. I have put some supper in your room. You
must come home with me, Waldo."
She took his hand, and the boy rose slowly.
She made him take her arm, and twisted her small fingers among his.
"You must forget," she whispered. "Since it happened I walk, I talk, I
never sit still. If we remember, we cannot bring back the dead." She knit
her little fingers closer among his. "Forgetting is the best thing. He
did watch it coming," she whispered presently. "That is the dreadful
thing, to see it coming!" She shuddered. "I want it to come so to me too.
Why do you think I was driving that bird?" she added quickly. "That was
Hans, the bird that hates Bonaparte. I let him out this afternoon; I
thought he would chase him and perhaps kill him."
The boy showed no sign of interest.
"He did not catch him; but he put his head over the half-door of your cabin
and frightened him horribly. He was there, busy stealing your things.
Perhaps he will leave them alone now; but I wish the bird had trodden on
They said no more till they reached the door of the cabin.
"There is a candle and supper on the table. You must eat," she said
authoritatively. "I cannot stay with you now, lest they find out about the
He grasped her arm and brought his mouth close to her ear.
"There is no God!" he almost hissed; "no God; not anywhere!"
He ground it out between his teeth, and she felt his hot breath on her
"Waldo, you are mad," she said, drawing herself from him, instinctively.
He loosened his grasp and turned away from her also.
In truth, is it not life's way? We fight our little battles alone; you
yours, I mine. We must not help or find help.
When your life is most real, to me you are mad; when your agony is
blackest, I look at you and wonder. Friendship is good, a strong stick;
but when the hour comes to lean hard, it gives. In the day of their
bitterest need all souls are alone.
Lyndall stood by him in the dark, pityingly, wonderingly. As he walked to
the door, she came after him.
"Eat your supper; it will do you good," she said.
She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder and then ran away.
In the front room the little woolly Kaffer girl was washing Tant Sannie's
feet in a small tub, and Bonaparte, who sat on the wooden sofa, was pulling
off his shoes and stockings that his own feet might be washed also. There
were three candles burning in the room, and he and Tant Sannie sat close
together, with the lean Hottentot not far off; for when ghosts are about
much light is needed, there is great strength in numbers. Bonaparte had
completely recovered from the effects of his fright in the afternoon, and
the numerous doses of brandy that it had been necessary to administer to
him to effect his restoration had put him into a singularly pleasant and
"That boy Waldo," said Bonaparte, rubbing his toes, "took himself off
coolly this morning as soon as the wagon came, and has not done a stiver of
work all day. I'll not have that kind of thing now I'm master of this
The Hottentot maid translated.
"Ah, I expect he's sorry that his father's dead," said Tant Sannie. "It's
nature, you know. I cried the whole morning when my father died. One can
always get another husband, but one can't get another father," said Tant
Sannie, casting a sidelong glance at Bonaparte.
Bonaparte expressed a wish to give Waldo his orders for the next day's
work, and accordingly the little woolly-headed Kaffer was sent to call him.
After a considerable time the boy appeared, and stood in the doorway.
If they had dressed him in one of the swallow-tailed coats, and oiled his
hair till the drops fell from it, and it lay as smooth as an elder's on
sacrament Sunday, there would still have been something unanointed in the
aspect of the fellow. As it was, standing there in his strange old
costume, his head presenting much the appearance of having been deeply
rolled in sand, his eyelids swollen, the hair hanging over his forehead,
and a dogged sullenness on his features, he presented most the appearance
of an ill-conditioned young buffalo.
"Beloved Lord," cried Tant Sannie, "how he looks! Come in, boy. Couldn't
you come and say good-day to me? Don't you want some supper?"
He said he wanted nothing, and turned his heavy eyes away from her.
"There's a ghost been seen in your father's room," said Tant Sannie. "If
you're afraid you can sleep in the kitchen."
"I will sleep in our room," said the boy slowly.
"Well, you can go now," she said; "but be up early to take the sheep. The
"Yes, be up early, my boy," interrupted Bonaparte, smiling. "I am to be
master of this farm now; and we shall be good friends, I trust, very good
friends, if you try to do your duty, my dear boy."
Waldo turned to go, and Bonaparte, looking benignly at the candle,
stretched out one unstockinged foot, over which Waldo, looking at nothing
in particular, fell with a heavy thud upon the floor.
"Dear me! I hope you are not hurt, my boy," said Bonaparte. "You'll have
many a harder thing than that though, before you've gone through life," he
added consolingly, as Waldo picked himself up.
The lean Hottentot laughed till the room rang again; and Tant Sannie
tittered till her sides ached.
When he had gone the little maid began to wash Bonaparte's feet.
"Oh, Lord, beloved Lord, how he did fall! I can't think of it," cried Tant
Sannie, and she laughed again. "I always did know he was not right; but
this evening any one could see it," she added, wiping the tears of mirth
from her face. "His eyes are as wild as if the devil was in them. He
never was like other children. The dear Lord knows, if he doesn't walk
alone for hours talking to himself. If you sit in the room with him you
can see his lips moving the whole time; and if you talk to him twenty times
he doesn't hear you. Daft-eyes; he's as mad as mad can be."
This repetition of the word mad conveyed meaning to Bonaparte's mind. He
left off paddling his toes in the water.
"Mad, mad? I know that kind of mad," said Bonaparte, "and I know the thing
to give for it. The front end of a little horsewhip, the tip! Nice thing;
takes it out," said Bonaparte.
The Hottentot laughed, and translated.
"No more walking about and talking to themselves on this farm now," said
Bonaparte; "no more minding of sheep and reading of books at the same time.
The point of a horsewhip is a little thing, but I think he'll have a taste
of it before long." Bonaparte rubbed his hands and looked pleasantly
across his nose; and then the three laughed together grimly.
And Waldo in his cabin crouched in the dark in a corner, with his knees
drawn up to his chin.
Chapter 1.X. He Shows His Teeth.
Doss sat among the karoo bushes, one yellow ear drawn over his wicked
little eye, ready to flap away any adventurous fly that might settle on his
nose. Around him in the morning sunlight fed the sheep; behind him lay his
master polishing his machine. He found much comfort in handling it that
morning. A dozen philosophical essays, or angelically atuned songs for the
consolation of the bereaved, could never have been to him what that little
sheep-shearing machine was that day.
After struggling to see the unseeable, growing drunk with the endeavour to
span the infinite, and writhing before the inscrutable mystery, it is a
renovating relief to turn to some simple, feelable, weighable substance; to
something which has a smell and a colour, which may be handled and turned
over this way and that. Whether there be or be not a hereafter, whether
there be any use in calling aloud to the Unseen power, whether there be an
Unseen power to call to, whatever be the true nature of the "I" who call
and of the objects around me, whatever be our meaning, our internal
essence, our cause (and in a certain order of minds death and the agony of
loss inevitably awaken the wild desire, at other times smothered, to look
into these things), whatever be the nature of that which lies beyond the
unbroken wall which the limits of the human intellect build up on every
hand, this thing is certain--a knife will cut wood, and one cogged wheel
will turn another. This is sure.
Waldo found an immeasurable satisfaction in the handling of his machine;
but Doss winked and blinked, and thought it all frightfully monotonous out
there on the flat, and presently dropped asleep, sitting bolt upright.
Suddenly his eyes opened wide; something was coming from the direction of
the homestead. Winking his eyes and looking intently, he perceived it was
the grey mare. Now Doss had wondered much of late what had become of her
master. Seeing she carried some one on her back, he now came to his own
conclusion, and began to move his tail violently up and down. Presently he
pricked up one ear and let the other hang; his tail became motionless, and
the expression of his mouth was one of decided disapproval bordering on
scorn. He wrinkled his lips up on each side into little lines.
The sand was soft, and the grey mare came on so noiselessly that the boy
heard nothing till Bonaparte dismounted. Then Doss got up and moved back a
step. He did not approve of Bonaparte's appearance. His costume, in
truth, was of a unique kind. It was a combination of the town and country.
The tails of his black cloth coat were pinned up behind to keep them from
rubbing; he had on a pair of moleskin trousers and leather gaiters, and in
his hand he carried a little whip of rhinoceros hide.
Waldo started and looked up. Had there been a moment's time he would have
dug a hole in the sand with his hands and buried his treasure. It was only
a toy of wood, but he loved it, as one of necessity loves what has been
born of him, whether of the flesh or spirit. When cold eyes have looked at
it, the feathers are rubbed off our butterfly's wing forever.
"What have you here, my lad?" said Bonaparte, standing by him, and pointing
with the end of his whip to the medley of wheels and hinges.
The boy muttered something inaudible, and half spread over the thing.
"But this seems to be a very ingenious little machine," said Bonaparte,
seating himself on the antheap, and bending down over it with deep
interest. "What is it for, my lad?"
"It is a very nice little machine," said Bonaparte. "How does it work,
now? I have never seen anything so ingenious!"
There was never a parent who heard deception in the voice that praised his
child--his first-born. Here was one who liked the thing that had been
created in him. He forgot everything. He showed how the shears would work
with a little guidance, how the sheep would be held, and the wool fall into
the trough. A flush burst over his face as he spoke.
"I tell you what, my lad," said Bonaparte emphatically, when the
explanation was finished, "we must get you a patent. Your fortune is made.
In three years' time there'll not be a farm in this colony where it isn't
working. You're a genius, that's what you are!" said Bonaparte, rising.
"If it were made larger," said the boy, raising his eyes, "it would work
more smoothly. Do you think there would be any one in this colony would be
able to make it?"
"I'm sure they could," said Bonaparte; "and if not, why I'll do my best for
you. I'll send it to England. It must be done somehow. How long have you
worked at it?"
"Nine months," said the boy.
"Oh, it is such a nice little machine," said Bonaparte, "one can't help
feeling an interest in it. There is only one little improvement, one very
little improvement, I should like to make."
Bonaparte put his foot on the machine and crushed it into the sand. The
boy looked up into his face.
"Looks better now," said Bonaparte, "doesn't it? If we can't have it made
in England we'll send it to America. Good-bye; ta-ta," he added. "You're
a great genius, a born genius, my dear boy, there's no doubt about it."
He mounted the grey mare and rode off. The dog watched his retreat with
cynical satisfaction; but his master lay on the ground with his head on his
arms in the sand, and the little wheels and chips of wood lay on the ground
around him. The dog jumped on to his back and snapped at the black curls,
till, finding that no notice was taken, he walked off to play with a black
beetle. The beetle was hard at work trying to roll home a great ball of
dung it had been collecting all the morning: but Doss broke the ball, and
ate the beetle's hind legs, and then bit off its head. And it was all
play, and no one could tell what it had lived and worked for. A striving,
and a striving, and an ending in nothing.
Chapter 1.XI. He Snaps.
"I have found something in the loft," said Em to Waldo, who was listlessly
piling cakes of fuel on the kraal wall, a week after. "It is a box of
books that belonged to my father. We thought Tant Sannie had burnt them."
The boy put down the cake he was raising and looked at her.
"I don't think they are very nice, not stories," she added, "but you can go
and take any you like."
So saying, she took up the plate in which she had brought his breakfast,
and walked off to the house.
After that the boy worked quickly. The pile of fuel Bonaparte had ordered
him to pack was on the wall in half an hour. He then went to throw salt on
the skins laid out to dry. Finding the pot empty, he went to the loft to
Bonaparte Blenkins, whose door opened at the foot of the ladder, saw the
boy go up, and stood in the doorway waiting for his return. He wanted his
boots blacked. Doss, finding he could not follow his master up the round
bars, sat patiently at the foot of the ladder. Presently he looked up
longingly, but no one appeared. Then Bonaparte looked up also, and began
to call; but there was no answer. What could the boy be doing? The loft
was an unknown land to Bonaparte. He had often wondered what was up there;
he liked to know what was in all locked-up places and out-of-the-way
corners, but he was afraid to climb the ladder. So Bonaparte looked up,
and in the name of all that was tantalizing, questioned what the boy did up
there. The loft was used only as a lumber-room. What could the fellow
find up there to keep him so long?
Could the Boer-woman have beheld Waldo at that instant, any lingering doubt
which might have remained in her mind as to the boy's insanity would
instantly have vanished. For, having filled the salt-pot, he proceeded to
look for the box of books among the rubbish that filled the loft. Under a
pile of sacks he found it--a rough packing-case, nailed up, but with one
loose plank. He lifted that, and saw the even backs of a row of books. He
knelt down before the box, and ran his hand along its rough edges, as if to
assure himself of its existence. He stuck his hand in among the books, and
pulled out two. He felt them, thrust his fingers in among the leaves, and
crumpled them a little, as a lover feels the hair of his mistress. The
fellow gloated over his treasure. He had had a dozen books in the course
of his life; now here was a mine of them opened at his feet. After a while
he began to read the titles, and now and again opened a book and read a
sentence; but he was too excited to catch the meanings distinctly. At last
he came to a dull, brown volume. He read the name, opened it in the
centre, and where he opened began to read. It was a chapter on property
that he fell upon--Communism, Fourierism, St. Simonism, in a work on
Political Economy. He read down one page and turned over to the next; he
read down that without changing his posture by an inch; he read the next,
and the next, kneeling up all the while with the book in his hand, and his
All he read he did not fully understand; the thoughts were new to him; but
this was the fellow's startled joy in the book--the thoughts were his, they
belonged to him. He had never thought them before, but they were his.
He laughed silently and internally, with the still intensity of triumphant
So, then, all thinking creatures did not send up the one cry--"As thou,
dear Lord, has created things in the beginning, so are they now, so ought
they to be, so will they be, world without end; and it doesn't concern us
what they are. Amen." There were men to whom not only kopjes and stones
were calling out imperatively, "What are we, and how came we here?
Understand us, and know us;" but to whom even the old, old relations
between man and man, and the customs of the ages called, and could not be
made still and forgotten.
The boy's heavy body quivered with excitement. So he was not alone, not
alone. He could not quite have told any one why he was so glad, and this
warmth had come to him. His cheeks were burning. No wonder that Bonaparte
called in vain, and Doss put his paws on the ladder, and whined till three-
quarters of an hour had passed. At last the boy put the book in his breast
and buttoned it tightly to him. He took up the salt pot, and went to the
top of the ladder. Bonaparte, with his hands folded under his coat-tails,
looked up when he appeared, and accosted him.
"You've been rather a long time up there, my lad," he said, as the boy
descended with a tremulous haste, most unlike his ordinary slow movements.
"You didn't hear me calling, I suppose?"
Bonaparte whisked the tails of his coat up and down as he looked at him.
He, Bonaparte Blenkins, had eyes which were very far-seeing. He looked at
the pot. It was rather a small pot to have taken three-quarters of an hour
in the filling. He looked at the face. It was flushed. And yet, Tant
Sannie kept no wine--he had not been drinking; his eyes were wide open and
bright--he had not been sleeping; there was no girl up there--he had not
been making love. Bonaparte looked at him sagaciously. What would account
for the marvellous change in the boy coming down the ladder from the boy
going up the ladder? One thing there was. Did not Tant Sannie keep in the
loft bultongs, and nice smoked sausages? There must be something nice to
eat up there! Aha! that was it!
Bonaparte was so interested in carrying out this chain of inductive
reasoning that he quite forgot to have his boots blacked.
He watched the boy shuffle off with the salt-pot under his arm; then he
stood in his doorway and raised his eyes to the quiet blue sky, and audibly
propounded this riddle to himself:
"What is the connection between the naked back of a certain boy with a
greatcoat on and a salt-pot under his arm, and the tip of a horsewhip?
Answer: No connection at present, but there will be soon."
Bonaparte was so pleased with this sally of his wit that he chuckled a
little and went to lie down on his bed.
There was bread-baking that afternoon, and there was a fire lighted in the
brick oven behind the house, and Tant Sannie had left the great wooden-
elbowed chair in which she passed her life, and waddled out to look at it.
Not far off was Waldo, who, having thrown a pail of food into the pigsty,
now leaned over the sod wall looking at the pigs. Half of the sty was dry,
but the lower half was a pool of mud, on the edge of which the mother sow
lay with closed eyes, her ten little ones sucking; the father pig, knee-
deep in the mud, stood running his snout into a rotten pumpkin and
wriggling his curled tail.
Waldo wondered dreamily as he stared why they were pleasant to look at.
Taken singly they were not beautiful; taken together they were. Was it not
because there was a certain harmony about them? The old sow was suited to
the little pigs, and the little pigs to their mother, the old boar to the
rotten pumpkin, and all to the mud. They suggested the thought of nothing
that should be added, of nothing that should be taken away. And, he
wondered on vaguely, was not that the secret of all beauty, that you who
look on-- So he stood dreaming, and leaned further and further over the
sod wall, and looked at the pigs.
All this time Bonaparte Blenkins was sloping down from the house in an
aimless sort of way; but he kept one eye fixed on the pigsty, and each
gyration brought him nearer to it. Waldo stood like a thing asleep when
Bonaparte came close up to him.
In old days, when a small boy, playing in an Irish street-gutter, he,
Bonaparte, had been familiarly known among his comrades under the title of
Tripping Ben; this, from the rare ease and dexterity with which, by merely
projecting his foot, he could precipitate any unfortunate companion on to
the crown of his head. Years had elapsed, and Tripping Ben had become
Bonaparte; but the old gift was in him still. He came close to the pigsty.
All the defunct memories of his boyhood returned on him in a flood, as,
with an adroit movement, he inserted his leg between Waldo and the wall and
sent him over into the pigsty.
The little pigs were startled at the strange intruder, and ran behind their
mother, who sniffed at him. Tant Sannie smote her hands together and
laughed; but Bonaparte was far from joining her. Lost in reverie, he gazed
at the distant horizon.
The sudden reversal of head and feet had thrown out the volume that Waldo
carried in his breast. Bonaparte picked it up and began to inspect it, as
the boy climbed slowly over the wall. He would have walked off sullenly,
but he wanted his book, and he waited until it should be given him.
"Ha!" said Bonaparte, raising his eyes from the leaves of the book which he
was examining, "I hope your coat has not been injured; it is of an elegant
cut. An heirloom, I presume, from your paternal grandfather? It looks
"Oh, Lord! oh! Lord!" cried Tant Sannie, laughing and holding her sides;
how the child looks--as though he thought the mud would never wash off.
Oh, Lord, I shall die! You, Bonaparte, are the funniest man I ever saw."
Bonaparte Blenkins was now carefully inspecting the volume he had picked
up. Among the subjects on which the darkness of his understanding had been
enlightened during his youth, Political Economy had not been one. He was
not, therefore, very clear as to what the nature of the book might be; and
as the name of the writer, J.S. Mill, might, for anything he knew to the
contrary, have belonged to a venerable member of the British and Foreign
Bible Society, it by no means threw light upon the question. He was not in
any way sure that Political Economy had nothing to do with the cheapest way
of procuring clothing for the army and navy, which would be certainly both
a political and economical subject.
But Bonaparte soon came to a conclusion as to the nature of the book and
its contents, by the application of a simple rule now largely acted upon,
but which, becoming universal, would save much thought and valuable time.
It is of marvellous simplicity, of infinite utility, of universal
applicability. It may easily be committed to memory and runs thus:
Whenever you come into contact with any book, person, or opinion of which
you absolutely comprehend nothing, declare that book, person or opinion to
be immoral. Bespatter it, vituperate against it, strongly insist that any
man or woman harbouring it is a fool or a knave, or both. Carefully
abstain from studying it. Do all that in you lies to annihilate that book,
person, or opinion.
Acting on this rule, so wide in its comprehensiveness, so beautifully
simple in its working, Bonaparte approached Tant Sannie with the book in
his hand. Waldo came a step nearer, eyeing it like a dog whose young has
fallen into evil hands.
"This book," said Bonaparte, "is not a fit and proper study for a young and
Tant Sannie did not understand a word, and said:
"This book," said Bonaparte, bringing down his finger with energy on the
cover, "this book is sleg, sleg, Davel, Davel!"
Tant Sannie perceived from the gravity of his countenance that it was no
laughing matter. From the words "sleg" and "Davel" she understood that the
book was evil, and had some connection with the prince who pulls the wires
of evil over the whole earth.
"Where did you get this book?" she asked, turning her twinkling little eyes
on Waldo. "I wish that my legs may be as thin as an Englishman's if it
isn't one of your father's. He had more sins than all the Kaffers in
Kafferland, for all that he pretended to be so good all those years, and to
live without a wife because he was thinking of the one that was dead! As
though ten dead wives could make up for one fat one with arms and legs!"
cried Tant Sannie, snorting.
"It was not my father's book," said the boy savagely. "I got it from your
"My loft! my book! How dare you?" cried Tant Sannie.
"It was Em's father's. She gave it me," he muttered more sullenly.
"Give it here. What is the name of it? What is it about?" she asked,
putting her finger upon the title.
"Political Economy," he said slowly.
"Dear Lord!" said Tant Sannie, "cannot one hear from the very sound what an
ungodly book it is! One can hardly say the name. Haven't we got curses
enough on this farm?" cried Tant Sannie, eloquently; "my best imported
Merino ram dying of nobody knows what, and the short-horn cow casting her
two calves, and the sheep eaten up with the scab and the drought? And is
this a time to bring ungodly things about the place, to call down the
vengeance of Almighty God to punish us more? Didn't the minister tell me
when I was confirmed not to read any book except my Bible and hymn-book,
that the devil was in all the rest? And I never have read any other book,"
said Tant Sannie with virtuous energy, "and I never will!"
Waldo saw that the fate of his book was sealed, and turned sullenly on his
"So you will not stay to hear what I say!" cried Tant Sannie. "There, take
your Polity-gollity-gominy, your devil's book!" she cried, flinging the
book at his head with much energy.
It merely touched his forehead on one side and fell to the ground.
"Go on," she cried; "I know you are going to talk to yourself. People who
talk to themselves always talk to the devil. Go and tell him all about it.
Go, go! run!" cried Tant Sannie.
But the boy neither quickened nor slackened his pace, and passed sullenly
round the back of the wagon-house.
Books have been thrown at other heads before and since that summer
afternoon, by hands more white and delicate than those of the Boer-woman;
but whether the result of the process has been in any case wholly
satisfactory, may be questioned. We love that with a peculiar tenderness,
we treasure it with a peculiar care, it has for us quite a fictitious
value, for which we have suffered. If we may not carry it anywhere else we
will carry it in our hearts, and always to the end.
Bonaparte Blenkins went to pick up the volume, now loosened from its cover,
while Tant Sannie pushed the stumps of wood further into the oven.
Bonaparte came close to her, tapped the book knowingly, nodded, and looked
at the fire. Tant Sannie comprehended, and, taking the volume from his
hand, threw it into the back of the oven. It lay upon the heap of coals,
smoked, flared, and blazed, and the "Political Economy" was no more--gone
out of existence, like many another poor heretic of flesh and blood.
Bonaparte grinned, and to watch the process brought his face so near the
oven door that the white hair on his eyebrows got singed. He then inquired
if there were any more in the loft.
Learning that there were, he made signs indicative of taking up armfuls and
flinging them into the fire. But Tant Sannie was dubious. The deceased
Englishman had left all his personal effects specially to his child. It
was all very well for Bonaparte to talk of burning the books. He had had
his hair spiritually pulled, and she had no wish to repeat his experience.
She shook her head. Bonaparte was displeased. But then a happy thought
occurred to him. He suggested that the key of the loft should henceforth
be put into his own safe care and keeping--no one gaining possession of it
without his permission. To this Tant Sannie readily assented, and the two
walked lovingly to the house to look for it.
Chapter 1.XII. He Bites.
Bonaparte Blenkins was riding home on the grey mare. He had ridden out
that afternoon, partly for the benefit of his health, partly to maintain
his character as overseer of the farm. As he rode on slowly, he
thoughtfully touched the ears of the grey mare with his whip.
"No, Bon, my boy," he addressed himself, "don't propose! You can't marry
for four years, on account of the will; then why propose? Wheedle her,
tweedle her, teedle her, but don't let her make sure of you. When a
woman," said Bonaparte, sagely resting his finger against the side of his
nose, "When a woman is sure of you she does what she likes with you; but
when she isn't, you do what you like with her. And I--" said Bonaparte.
Here he drew the horse up suddenly and looked. He was now close to the
house, and leaning over the pigsty wall, in company with Em, who was
showing her the pigs, was a strange female figure. It was the first
visitor that had appeared on the farm since his arrival, and he looked at
her with interest. She was a tall, pudgy girl of fifteen, weighing a
hundred and fifty pounds, with baggy pendulous cheeks and up-turned nose.
She strikingly resembled Tant Sannie, in form and feature, but her sleepy
good eyes lacked that twinkle that dwelt in the Boer-woman's small orbs.
She was attired in a bright green print, wore brass rings in her ears and
glass beads round her neck, and was sucking the tip of her large finger as
she looked at the pigs.
"Who is it that has come?" asked Bonaparte, when he stood drinking his
coffee in the front room.
"Why, my niece, to be sure," said Tant Sannie, the Hottentot maid
translating. "She's the only daughter of my only brother Paul, and she's
come to visit me. She'll be a nice mouthful to the man that can get her,"
added Tant Sannie. "Her father's got two thousand pounds in the green
wagon box under his bed, and a farm, and five thousand sheep, and God
Almighty knows how many goats and horses. They milk ten cows in mid-
winter, and the young men are after her like flies about a bowl of milk.
She says she means to get married in four months, but she doesn't yet know
to whom. It was so with me when I was young," said Tant Sannie. "I've sat
up with the young men four and five nights a week. And they will come
riding again, as soon as ever they know that the time's up that the
Englishman made me agree not to marry in."
The Boer-woman smirked complacently.
"Where are you going to?" asked Tant Sannie presently, seeing that
"Ha! I'm just going to the kraals; I'll be in to supper," said Bonaparte.
Nevertheless, when he reached his own door he stopped and turned in there.
Soon after he stood before the little glass, arrayed in his best white
shirt with the little tucks, and shaving himself. He had on his very best
trousers, and had heavily oiled the little fringe at the back of his head,
which, however, refused to become darker. But what distressed him most was
his nose--it was very red. He rubbed his finger and thumb on the wall, and
put a little whitewash on it; but, finding it rather made matters worse, he
rubbed it off again. Then he looked carefully into his own eyes. They
certainly were a little pulled down at the outer corners, which gave them
the appearance of looking crosswise; but then they were a nice blue. So he
put on his best coat, took up his stick, and went out to supper, feeling on
the whole well satisfied.
"Aunt," said Trana to Tant Sannie when that night they lay together in the
great wooden bed, "why does the Englishman sigh so when he looks at me?"
"Ha!" said Tant Sannie, who was half asleep, but suddenly started, wide
awake. "It's because he thinks you look like me. I tell you, Trana," said
Tant Sannie, "the man is mad with love of me. I told him the other night I
couldn't marry till Em was sixteen, or I'd lose all the sheep her father
left me. And he talked about Jacob working seven years and seven years
again for his wife. And of course he meant me," said Tant Sannie
pompously. "But he won't get me so easily as he thinks; he'll have to ask
more than once."
"Oh!" said Trana, who was a lumpish girl and not much given to talking; but
presently she added, "Aunt, why does the Englishman always knock against a
person when he passes them?"
"That's because you are always in the way," said Tant Sannie.
"But, aunt, said Trana, presently, "I think he is very ugly."
"Phugh!" said Tant Sannie. It's only because we're not accustomed to such
noses in this country. In his country he says all the people have such
noses, and the redder your nose is the higher you are. He's of the family
of the Queen Victoria, you know," said Tant Sannie, wakening up with her
subject; "and he doesn't think anything of governors and church elders and
such people; they are nothing to him. When his aunt with the dropsy dies
he'll have money enough to buy all the farms in this district."
"Oh!" said Trana. That certainly made a difference.
"Yes," said Tant Sannie; "and he's only forty-one, though you'd take him to
be sixty. And he told me last night the real reason of his baldness."
Tant Sannie then proceeded to relate how, at eighteen years of age,
Bonaparte had courted a fair young lady. How a deadly rival, jealous of
his verdant locks, his golden flowing hair, had, with a damnable and
insinuating deception, made him a present of a pot of pomatum. How,
applying it in the evening, on rising in the morning he found his pillow
strewn with the golden locks, and, looking into the glass, beheld the
shining and smooth expanse which henceforth he must bear. The few
remaining hairs were turned to a silvery whiteness, and the young lady
married his rival.
"And," said Tant Sannie solemnly, "if it had not been for the grace of God,
and reading of the psalms, he says he would have killed himself. He says
he could kill himself quite easily if he wants to marry a woman and she
"Alle wereld!" said Trana: and then they went to sleep.
Every one was lost in sleep soon; but from the window of the cabin the
light streamed forth. It came from a dung fire, over which Waldo sat
brooding. Hour after hour he sat there, now and again throwing a fresh
lump of fuel on to the fire, which burnt up bravely, and then sank into a
great bed of red coals, which reflected themselves in the boy's eyes as he
sat there brooding, brooding, brooding. At last, when the fire was blazing
at its brightest, he rose suddenly and walked slowly to a beam from which
an ox riem hung. Loosening it, he ran a noose in one end and then doubled
it round his arm.
"Mine, mine! I have a right," he muttered; and then something louder, "if
I fall and am killed, so much the better!"
He opened the door and went out into the starlight.
He walked with his eyes bent upon the ground, but overhead it was one of
those brilliant southern nights when every space so small that your hand
might cover it shows fifty cold white points, and the Milky-Way is a belt
of sharp frosted silver. He passed the door where Bonaparte lay dreaming
of Trana and her wealth, and he mounted the ladder steps. From those he
clambered with some difficulty on to the roof of the house. It was of old
rotten thatch with a ridge of white plaster, and it crumbled away under his
feet at every step. He trod as heavily as he could. So much the better if
He knelt down when he got to the far gable, and began to fasten his riem to
the crumbling bricks. Below was the little window of the loft. With one
end of the riem tied round the gable, the other end round his waist, how
easy to slide down to it, and to open it, through one of the broken panes,
and to go in, and to fill his arms with books, and to clamber up again!
They had burnt one book--he would have twenty. Every man's hand was
against his--his should be against every man's. No one would help him--he
would help himself.
He lifted the black damp hair from his knit forehead, and looked round to
cool his hot face. Then he saw what a regal night it was. He knelt
silently and looked up. A thousand eyes were looking down at him, bright
and so cold. There was a laughing irony in them.
"So hot, so bitter, so angry? Poor little mortal?"
He was ashamed. He folded his arms, and sat on the ridge of the roof
looking up at them.
"So hot, so bitter, so angry?"
It was as though a cold hand had been laid upon his throbbing forehead, and
slowly they began to fade and grow dim. Tant Sannie and the burnt book,
Bonaparte and the broken machine, the box in the loft, he himself sitting
there--how small they all became! Even the grave over yonder. Those stars
that shone on up above so quietly, they had seen a thousand such little
existences fight just so fiercely, flare up just so brightly and go out;
and they, the old, old stars, shone on forever.
"So hot, so angry, poor little soul?" they said.
The riem slipped from his fingers; he sat with his arms folded, looking up.
"We," said the stars, have seen the earth when it was young. We have seen
small things creep out upon its surface--small things that prayed and loved
and cried very loudly, and then crept under it again. But we," said the
stars, "are as old as the Unknown."
He leaned his chin against the palm of his hand and looked up at them. So
long he sat there that bright stars set and new ones rose, and yet he sat
Then at last he stood up, and began to loosen the riem from the gable.
What did it matter about the books? The lust and the desire for them had
died out. If they pleased to keep them from him they might. What matter?
it was a very little thing. Why hate, and struggle, and fight? Let it be
as it would.
He twisted the riem round his arm and walked back along the ridge of the
By this time Bonaparte Blenkins had finished his dream of Trana, and as he
turned himself round for a fresh doze he heard the steps descending the
ladder. His first impulse was to draw the blanket over his head and his
legs under him, and to shout; but recollecting that the door was locked and
the window carefully bolted, he allowed his head slowly to crop out among
the blankets, and listened intently. Whosoever it might be, there was no
danger of their getting at him; so he clambered out of bed, and going on
tiptoe to the door, applied his eye to the keyhole. There was nothing to
be seen; so walking to the window, he brought his face as close to the
glass as his nose would allow. There was a figure just discernible. The
lad was not trying to walk softly, and the heavy shuffling of the well-
known velschoens could be clearly heard through the closed window as they
crossed the stones in the yard. Bonaparte listened till they had died away
round the corner of the wagon-house; and, feeling that his bare legs were
getting cold, he jumped back into bed again.
"What do you keep up in your loft?" inquired Bonaparte of the Boer-woman
the next evening, pointing upwards and elucidating his meaning by the
addition of such Dutch words as he knew, for the lean Hottentot was gone
"Dried skins," said the Boer-woman, "and empty bottles, and boxes, and
sacks, and soap."
"You don't keep any of your provisions there--sugar, now?" said Bonaparte,
pointing to the sugar-basin and then up at the loft.
Tant Sannie shook her head.
"Only salt, and dried peaches."
"Dried peaches! Eh?" said Bonaparte. "Shut the door, my dear child, shut
it tight," he called out to Em, who stood in the dining room. Then he
leaned over the elbow of the sofa and brought his face as close as possible
to the Boer-woman's, and made signs of eating. Then he said something she
did not comprehend; then said, "Waldo, Waldo, Waldo," pointed up to the
loft, and made signs of eating again.
Now an inkling of his meaning dawned on the Boer-woman's mind. To make it
clearer, he moved his legs after the manner of one going up a ladder,
appeared to be opening a door, masticated vigorously, said, "Peaches,
peaches, peaches," and appeared to be coming down the ladder.
It was now evident to Tant Sannie that Waldo had been in her loft and eaten
To exemplify his own share in the proceedings, Bonaparte lay down on the
sofa, and shutting his eyes tightly, said, "Night, night, night!" Then he
sat up wildly, appearing to be intently listening, mimicked with his feet
the coming down a ladder, and looked at Tant Sannie. This clearly showed
how, roused in the night, he had discovered the theft.
"He must have been a great fool to eat my peaches," said Tant Sannie.
"They are full of mites as a sheepskin, and as hard as stones."
Bonaparte, fumbling in his pocket, did not even hear her remark, and took
out from his coat-tail a little horsewhip, nicely rolled up. Bonaparte
winked at the little rhinoceros horsewhip, at the Boer-woman, and then at
"Shall we call him--Waldo, Waldo?" he said.
Tant Sannie nodded, and giggled. There was something so exceedingly
humorous in the idea that he was going to beat the boy, though for her own
part she did not see that the peaches were worth it. When the Kaffer maid
came with the wash-tub she was sent to summon Waldo; and Bonaparte doubled
up the little whip and put it in his pocket. Then he drew himself up, and
prepared to act his important part with becoming gravity. Soon Waldo stood
in the door, and took off his hat.
"Come in, come in, my lad," said Bonaparte, "and shut the door behind."
The boy came in and stood before them.
"You need not be so afraid, child," said Tant Sannie. "I was a child
myself once. It's no great harm if you have taken a few."
Bonaparte perceived that her remark was not in keeping with the nature of
the proceedings, and of the little drama he intended to act. Pursing out
his lips, and waving his hand, he solemnly addressed the boy.
"Waldo, it grieves me beyond expression to have to summon you for so
painful a purpose; but it is at the imperative call of duty, which I dare
not evade. I do not state that frank and unreserved confession will
obviate the necessity of chastisement, which if requisite shall be fully
administered; but the nature of that chastisement may be mitigated by free
and humble confession. Waldo, answer me as you would your own father, in
whose place I now stand to you; have you, or have you not, did you, or did
you not, eat of the peaches in the loft?"
"Say you took them, boy, say you took them, then he won't beat you much,"
said the Dutchwoman, good-naturedly, getting a little sorry for him.
The boy raised his eyes slowly and fixed them vacantly upon her, then
suddenly his face grew dark with blood.
"So, you haven't got anything to say to us, my lad?" said Bonaparte,
momentarily forgetting his dignity, and bending forward with a little
snarl. "But what I mean is just this, my lad--when it takes a boy three-
quarters of an hour to fill a salt-pot, and when at three o'clock in the
morning he goes knocking about the doors of a loft, it's natural to suppose
there's mischief in it. It's certain there is mischief in it; and where
there's mischief in, it must be taken out," said Bonaparte, grinning into
the boy's face. Then, feeling that he had fallen from that high gravity
which was as spice to the pudding, and the flavour of the whole little
tragedy, he drew himself up. "Waldo," he said, "confess to me instantly,
and without reserve, that you ate the peaches."
The boy's face was white now. His eyes were on the ground, his hands
doggedly clasped before him.
"What, do you not intend to answer?"
The boy looked up at them once from under his bent eyebrows, and then
looked down again.
"The creature looks as if all the devils in hell were in it," cried Tant
Sannie. "Say you took them, boy. Young things will be young things; I was
older than you when I used to eat bultong in my mother's loft, and get the
little niggers whipped for it. Say you took them."
But the boy said nothing.
"I think a little solitary confinement might perhaps be beneficial," said
Bonaparte. "It will enable you, Waldo, to reflect on the enormity of the
sin you have committed against our Father in heaven. And you may also
think of the submission you owe to those who are older and wiser than you
are, and whose duty it is to check and correct you."
Saying this, Bonaparte stood up and took down the key of the fuel-house,
which hung on a nail against the wall.
"Walk on, my boy," said Bonaparte, pointing to the door; and as he followed
him out he drew his mouth expressively on one side, and made the lash of
the little horsewhip stick out of his pocket and shake up and down.
Tant Sannie felt half sorry for the lad; but she could not help laughing,
it was always so funny when one was going to have a whipping, and it would
do him good. Anyhow, he would forget all about it when the places were
healed. Had not she been beaten many times and been all the better for it?
Bonaparte took up a lighted candle that had been left burning on the
kitchen table, and told the boy to walk before him. They went to the fuel-
house. It was a little stone erection that jutted out from the side of the
wagon-house. It was low and without a window, and the dried dung was piled
in one corner, and the coffee-mill stood in another, fastened on the top of
a short post about three feet high. Bonaparte took the padlock off the
"Walk in, my lad," he said.
Waldo obeyed sullenly; one place to him was much the same as another. He
had no objection to being locked up.
Bonaparte followed him in, and closed the door carefully. He put the light
down on the heap of dung in the corner, and quietly introduced his hand
under his coat-tails, and drew slowly from his pocket the end of a rope,
which he concealed behind him.
"I'm very sorry, exceedingly sorry, Waldo, my lad, that you should have
acted in this manner. It grieves me," said Bonaparte.
He moved round toward the boy's back. He hardly liked the look in the
fellow's eyes, though he stood there motionless. If he should spring on
So he drew the rope out very carefully, and shifted round to the wooden
post. There was a slipknot in one end of the rope, and a sudden movement
drew the boy's hands to his back and passed it round them. It was an
instant's work to drag it twice round the wooden post: then Bonaparte was
For a moment the boy struggled to free himself; then he knew that he was
powerless, and stood still.
"Horses that kick must have their legs tied," said Bonaparte, as he passed
the other end of the rope round the boy's knees. "And now, my dear Waldo,"
taking the whip out of his pocket, "I am going to beat you."
He paused for a moment. It was perfectly quiet; they could hear each
"'Chasten thy son while there is hope,'" said Bonaparte, "'and let not thy
soul spare for his crying.' Those are God's words. I shall act as a
father to you, Waldo. I think we had better have your naked back."
He took out his penknife, and slit the shirt down from the shoulder to the
"Now," said Bonaparte, "I hope the Lord will bless and sanctify to you what
I am going to do to you."
The first cut ran from the shoulder across the middle of the back; the
second fell exactly in the same place. A shudder passed through the boy's
"Nice, eh?" said Bonaparte, peeping round into his face, speaking with a
lisp, as though to a very little child. "Nith, eh?"
But the eyes were black and lustreless, and seemed not to see him. When he
had given sixteen Bonaparte paused in his work to wipe a little drop of
blood from his whip.
"Cold, eh? What makes you shiver so? Perhaps you would like to pull up
your shirt? But I've not quite done yet."
When he had finished he wiped the whip again, and put it back in his
pocket. He cut the rope through with his penknife, and then took up the
"You don't seem to have found your tongue yet. Forgotten how to cry?" said
Bonaparte, patting him on the cheek.
The boy looked up at him--not sullenly, not angrily. There was a wild,
fitful terror in the eyes. Bonaparte made haste to go out and shut the
door, and leave him alone in the darkness. He himself was afraid of that
It was almost morning. Waldo lay with his face upon the ground at the foot
of the fuel-heap. There was a round hole near the top of the door, where a
knot of wood had fallen out, and a stream of grey light came in through it.
Ah, it was going to end at last. Nothing lasts forever, not even the
night. How was it he had never thought of that before? For in all that
long dark night he had been very strong, had never been tired, never felt
pain, had run on and on, up and down, up and down; he had not dared to
stand still, and he had not known it would end. He had been so strong,
that when he struck his head with all his force upon the stone wall it did
not stun him nor pain him--only made him laugh. That was a dreadful night.
When he clasped his hands frantically and prayed--"O God, my beautiful God,
my sweet God, once, only once, let me feel you near me tonight!" he could
not feel him. He prayed aloud, very loud, and he got no answer; when he
listened it was all quite quiet--like when the priests of Baal cried aloud
to their god--"Oh, Baal, hear us! Oh, Baal, hear us! But Baal was gone a-
That was a long wild night, and wild thoughts came and went in it; but they
left their marks behind them forever: for, as years cannot pass without
leaving their traces behind them, neither can nights into which are forced
the thoughts and sufferings of years. And now the dawn was coming, and at
last he was very tired. He shivered and tried to draw the shirt up over
his shoulders. They were getting stiff. He had never known they were cut
in the night. He looked up at the white light that came in through the
hole at the top of the door and shuddered. Then he turned his face back to
the ground and slept again.
Some hours later Bonaparte came toward the fuel-house with a lump of bread
in his hand. He opened the door and peered in; then entered, and touched
the fellow with his boot. Seeing that he breathed heavily, though he did
not rouse, Bonaparte threw the bread down on the ground. He was alive,
that was one thing. He bent over him, and carefully scratched open one of
the cuts with the nail of his forefinger, examining with much interest his
last night's work. He would have to count his sheep himself that day; the
boy was literally cut up. He locked the door and went away again.
"Oh, Lyndall," said Em, entering the dining room, and bathed in tears, that
afternoon, "I have been begging Bonaparte to let him out, and he won't."
"The more you beg the more he will not," said Lyndall.
She was cutting out aprons on the table.
"Oh, but it's late, and I think they want to kill him," said Em, weeping
bitterly; and finding that no more consolation was to be gained from her
cousin, she went off blubbering--"I wonder you can cut out aprons when
Waldo is shut up like that."
For ten minutes after she was gone Lyndall worked on quietly; then she
folded up her stuff, rolled it tightly together, and stood before the
closed door of the sitting room with her hands closely clasped. A flush
rose to her face: she opened the door quickly, and walked in, went to the
nail on which the key of the fuel-room hung. Bonaparte and Tant Sannie sat
there and saw her.
"What do you want?" they asked together.
"This key," she said, holding it up, and looking at them.
"Do you mean her to have it?" said Tant Sannie in Dutch.
"Why don't you stop her?" asked Bonaparte in English.
"Why don't you take it from her?" said Tant Sannie.
So they looked at each other, talking, while Lyndall walked to the fuel-
house with the key, her underlip bitten in.
"Waldo," she said, as she helped him to stand up, and twisted his arm about
her waist to support him, "we will not be children always; we shall have
the power, too, some day." She kissed his naked shoulder with her soft
little mouth. It was all the comfort her young soul could give him.
Chapter 1.XIII. He Makes Love.
"Here," said Tant Sannie to her Hottentot maid, "I have been in this house
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