The Story of an African Farm
Olive Schreiner (Ralph Iron)
Part 3 out of 6
four years, and never been up in the loft. Fatter women than I go up
ladders; I will go up today and see what it is like, and put it to rights
up there. You bring the little ladder and stand at the bottom."
"There's one would be sorry if you were to fall," said the Hottentot maid,
leering at Bonaparte's pipe, that lay on the table.
"Hold your tongue, jade," said her mistress, trying to conceal a pleased
smile, "and go and fetch the ladder."
There was a never-used trap-door at one end of the sitting room: this the
Hottentot maid pushed open, and setting the ladder against it, the Boer-
woman with some danger and difficulty climbed into the loft. Then the
Hottentot maid took the ladder away, as her husband was mending the wagon-
house, and needed it; but the trap-door was left open.
For a little while Tant Sannie poked about among the empty bottles and
skins, and looked at the bag of peaches that Waldo was supposed to have
liked so; then she sat down near the trap-door beside a barrel of salt
mutton. She found that the pieces of meat were much too large, and took
out her clasp-knife to divide them.
That was always the way when one left things to servants, she grumbled to
herself: but when once she was married to her husband Bonaparte it would
not matter whether a sheep spoiled or no--when once his rich aunt with the
dropsy was dead. She smiled as she dived her hand into the pickle-water.
At that instant her niece entered the room below, closely followed by
Bonaparte, with his head on one side, smiling mawkishly. Had Tant Sannie
spoken at that moment the life of Bonaparte Blenkins would have run a
wholly different course; as it was, she remained silent, and neither
noticed the open trap-door above their heads.
"Sit there, my love," said Bonaparte, motioning Trana into her aunt's
elbow-chair, and drawing another close up in front of it, in which he
seated himself. "There, put your feet upon the stove too. Your aunt has
gone out somewhere. Long have I waited for this auspicious event!"
Trana, who understood not one word of English, sat down in the chair and
wondered if this was one of the strange customs of other lands, that an old
gentleman may bring his chair up to yours, and sit with his knees touching
you. She had been five days in Bonaparte's company, and feared the old
man, and disliked his nose.
"How long have I desired this moment!" said Bonaparte. "But that aged
relative of thine is always casting her unhallowed shadow upon us. Look
into my eyes, Trana."
Bonaparte knew that she comprehended not a syllable; but he understood that
it is the eye, the tone, the action, and not at all the rational word, that
touches the love-chords. He saw she changed colour.
"All night," said Bonaparte, "I lie awake; I see naught but thy angelic
countenance. I open my arms to receive thee--where art thou, where? Thou
art not there!" said Bonaparte, suiting the action to the words, and
spreading out his arms and drawing them to his breast.
"Oh, please, I don't understand," said Trana, "I want to go away."
"Yes, yes," said Bonaparte, leaning back in his chair, to her great relief,
and pressing his hands on his heart, "since first thy amethystine
countenance was impressed here--what have I not suffered, what have I not
felt? Oh, the pangs unspoken, burning as an ardent coal in a fiery and
uncontaminated bosom!" said Bonaparte, bending forward again.
"Dear Lord!" said Trana to herself, "how foolish I have been! The old man
has a pain in his stomach, and now, as my aunt is out, he has come to me to
She smiled kindly at Bonaparte, and pushing past him, went to the bedroom,
quickly returning with a bottle of red drops in her hand.
"They are very good for benauwdheid; my mother always drinks them," she
said, holding the bottle out.
The face in the trap-door was a fiery red. Like a tiger-cat ready to
spring. Tant Sannie crouched, with the shoulder of mutton in her hand.
Exactly beneath her stood Bonaparte. She rose and clasped with both arms
the barrel of salt meat.
"What, rose of the desert, nightingale of the colony, that with thine
amorous lay whilest the lonesome night!" cried Bonaparte, seizing the hand
that held the vonlicsense. Nay, struggle not! Fly as a stricken fawn into
the arms that would embrace thee, thou--"
Here a stream of cold pickle-water, heavy with ribs and shoulders,
descending on his head abruptly terminated his speech. Half-blinded,
Bonaparte looked up through the drops that hung from his eyelids, and saw
the red face that looked down at him. With one wild cry he fled. As he
passed out at the front door a shoulder of mutton, well-directed, struck
the black coat in the small of the back.
"Bring the ladder! bring the ladder! I will go after him!" cried the Boer-
woman, as Bonaparte Blenkins wildly fled into the fields.
Late in the evening of the same day Waldo knelt on the floor of his cabin.
He bathed the foot of his dog which had been pierced by a thorn. The
bruises on his own back had had five days to heal in, and, except a little
stiffness in his movements, there was nothing remarkable about the boy.
The troubles of the young are soon over; they leave no external mark. If
you wound the tree in its youth the bark will quickly cover the gash; but
when the tree is very old, peeling the bark off, and looking carefully, you
will see the scar there still. All that is buried is not dead.
Waldo poured the warm milk over the little swollen foot; Doss lay very
quiet, with tears in his eyes. Then there was a tap at the door. In an
instant Doss looked wide awake, and winked the tears out from between his
"Come in," said Waldo, intent on his work; and slowly and cautiously the
"Good evening, Waldo, my boy," said Bonaparte Blenkins in a mild voice, not
venturing more than his nose within the door. "How are you this evening?"
Doss growled and showed his little teeth, and tried to rise, but his paw
hurt him so he whined.
"I'm very tired, Waldo, my boy," said Bonaparte plaintively.
Doss showed his little white teeth again. His master went on with his work
without looking round. There are some people at whose hands it is best not
to look. At last he said:
Bonaparte stepped cautiously a little way into the room, and left the door
open behind him. He looked at the boy's supper on the table.
"Waldo, I've had nothing to eat all day--I'm very hungry," he said.
"Eat!" said Waldo after a moment, bending lower over his dog.
"You won't go and tell her that I am here, will you, Waldo?" said Bonaparte
most uneasily. "You've heard how she used me, Waldo? I've been badly
treated; you'll know yourself what it is some day when you can't carry on a
little conversation with a lady without having salt meat and pickle-water
thrown at you. Waldo, look at me; do I look as a gentleman should?"
But the boy neither looked up nor answered, and Bonaparte grew more uneasy.
"You wouldn't go and tell her that I am here, would you?" said Bonaparte,
whiningly. "There's no knowing what she would do to me. I've such trust
in you, Waldo; I've always thought you such a promising lad, though you
mayn't have known it, Waldo."
"Eat," said the boy, "I shall say nothing."
Bonaparte, who knew the truth when another spoke it, closed the door,
carefully putting on the button. Then he looked to see that the curtain of
the window was closely pulled down, and seated himself at the table. He
was soon munching the cold meat and bread. Waldo knelt on the floor,
bathing the foot with hands which the dog licked lovingly. Once only he
glanced at the table, and turned away quickly.
"Ah, yes! I don't wonder that you can't look at me, Waldo," said
Bonaparte; "my condition would touch any heart. You see, the water was
fatty, and that has made all the sand stick to me; and my hair," said
Bonaparte, tenderly touching the little fringe at the back of his head, "is
all caked over like a little plank; you wouldn't think it was hair at all,"
said Bonaparte, plaintively. "I had to creep all along the stone walls for
fear she'd see me, and with nothing on my head but a red handkerchief, tied
under my chin, Waldo; and to hide in a sloot the whole day, with not a
mouthful of food, Waldo. And she gave me such a blow, just here," said
He had cleared the plate of the last morsel, when Waldo rose and walked to
"Oh, Waldo, my dear boy, you are not going to call her," said Bonaparte,
"I am going to sleep in the wagon," said the boy, opening the door.
"Oh, we can both sleep in this bed; there's plenty of room. Do stay, my
But Waldo stepped out.
"It was such a little whip, Waldo," said Bonaparte, following him
deprecatingly. "I didn't think it would hurt you so much. It was such a
little whip. I am sure you didn't take the peaches. You aren't going to
call her, Waldo, are you?"
But the boy walked off.
Bonaparte waited till his figure had passed round the front of the wagon-
house, and then slipped out. He hid himself round the corner, but kept
peeping out to see who was coming. He felt sure the boy was gone to call
Tant Sannie. His teeth chattered with inward cold as he looked round into
the darkness and thought of the snakes that might bite him, and the
dreadful things that might attack him, and the dead that might arise out of
their graves if he slept out in the field all night. But more than an hour
passed and no footstep approached.
Then Bonaparte made his way back to the cabin. He buttoned the door and
put the table against it and, giving the dog a kick to silence his whining
when the foot throbbed, he climbed into bed. He did not put out the light,
for fear of the ghost, but, worn out with the sorrows of the day, was soon
About four o'clock Waldo, lying between the seats of the horse-wagon, was
awakened by a gentle touch on his head.
Sitting up, he espied Bonaparte looking through one of the windows with a
lighted candle in his hand.
"I'm about to depart, my dear boy, before my enemies arise, and I could not
leave without coming to bid you farewell," said Bonaparte.
Waldo looked at him.
"I shall always think of you with affection" said Bonaparte. "And there's
that old hat of yours, if you could let me have it for a keepsake--"
"Take it," said Waldo.
"I thought you would say so, so I brought it with me," said Bonaparte,
putting it on. "The Lord bless you, my dear boy. You haven't a few
shillings--just a trifle you don't need--have you?"
"Take the two shillings that are in the broken vase."
"May the blessing of my God rest upon you, my dear child," said Bonaparte;
"may He guide and bless you. Give me your hand."
Waldo folded his arms closely, and lay down.
"Farewell, adieu!" said Bonaparte. "May the blessing of my God and my
father's God rest on you, now and evermore."
With these words the head and nose withdrew themselves, and the light
vanished from the window.
After a few moments the boy, lying in the wagon, heard stealthy footsteps
as they passed the wagon-house and made their way down the road. He
listened as they grew fainter and fainter, and at last died away
altogether, and from that night the footstep of Bonaparte Blenkins was
heard no more at the old farm.
END Of PART I.
"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 2.I. Times and Seasons.
Waldo lay on his stomach on the sand. Since he prayed and howled to his
God in the fuel-house three years had passed.
They say that in the world to come time is not measured out by months and
years. Neither is it here. The soul's life has seasons of its own;
periods not found in any calendar, times that years and months will not
scan, but which are as deftly and sharply cut off from one another as the
smoothly-arranged years which the earth's motion yields us.
To stranger eyes these divisions are not evident; but each, looking back at
the little track his consciousness illuminates, sees it cut into distinct
portions, whose boundaries are the termination of mental states.
As man differs from man, so differ these souls' years. The most material
life is not devoid of them; the story of the most spiritual is told in
them. And it may chance that some, looking back, see the past cut out
after this fashion:
The year of infancy, where from the shadowy background of forgetfulness
start out pictures of startling clearness, disconnected, but brightly
coloured, and indelibly printed in the mind. Much that follows fades, but
the colours of those baby-pictures are permanent.
There rises, perhaps, a warm summer's evening; we are seated on the
doorstep; we have yet the taste of the bread and milk in our mouth, and the
red sunset is reflected in our basin.
Then there is a dark night, where, waking with a fear that there is some
great being in the room, we run from our own bed to another, creep close to
some large figure, and are comforted.
Then there is remembrance of the pride when, on some one's shoulder, with
our arms around their head, we ride to see the little pigs, the new little
pigs with their curled tails and tiny snouts--where do they come from?
Remembrance of delight in the feel and smell of the first orange we ever
see; of sorrow which makes us put up our lip, and cry hard, when one
morning we run out to try and catch the dewdrops, and they melt and wet our
little fingers; of almighty and despairing sorrow when we are lost behind
the kraals, and cannot see the house anywhere.
And then one picture starts out more vividly than any.
There has been a thunderstorm; the ground, as far as the eye can reach, is
covered with white hail; the clouds are gone, and overhead a deep blue sky
is showing; far off a great rainbow rests on the white earth. We, standing
in a window to look, feel the cool, unspeakably sweet wind blowing in on
us, and a feeling of longing comes over us--unutterable longing, we cannot
tell for what. We are so small, our head only reaches as high as the first
three panes. We look at the white earth, and the rainbow, and the blue
sky; and oh, we want it, we want--we do not know what. We cry as though
our heart was broken. When one lifts our little body from the window we
cannot tell what ails us. We run away to play.
So looks the first year.
Now the pictures become continuous and connected. Material things still
rule, but the spiritual and intellectual take their places.
In the dark night when we are afraid we pray and shut our eyes. We press
our fingers very hard upon the lids, and see dark spots moving round and
round, and we know they are heads and wings of angels sent to take care of
us, seen dimly in the dark as they move round our bed. It is very
In the day we learn our letters, and are troubled because we cannot see why
k-n-o-w should be know, and p-s-a-l-m psalm. They tell us it is so because
it is so. We are not satisfied; we hate to learn; we like better to build
little stone houses. We can build them as we please, and know the reason
Other joys too we have incomparably greater then even the building of stone
We are run through with a shudder of delight when in the red sand we come
on one of those white wax flowers that lie between their two green leaves
flat on the sand. We hardly dare pick them, but we feel compelled to do
so; and we smell and smell till the delight becomes almost pain. Afterward
we pull the green leaves softly into pieces to see the silk threads run
Beyond the kopje grow some pale-green, hairy-leaved bushes. We are so
small, they meet over our head, and we sit among them, and kiss them, and
they love us back; it seems as though they were alive.
One day we sit there and look up at the blue sky, and down at our fat
little knees; and suddenly it strikes us, Who are we? This I, what is it?
We try to look in upon ourselves, and ourself beats back upon ourself.
Then we get up in great fear and run home as hard as we can. We can't tell
any one what frightened us. We never quite lose that feeling of self
And then a new time rises. We are seven years old. We can read now--read
the Bible. Best of all we like the story of Elijah in his cave at Horeb,
and the still small voice.
One day, a notable one, we read on the kopje, and discover the fifth
chapter of Matthew, and read it all through. It is a new gold-mine. Then
we tuck the Bible under our arm and rushed home. They didn't know it was
wicked to take your things again if some one took them, wicked to go to
law, wicked to--! We are quite breathless when we get to the house; we
tell them we have discovered a chapter they never heard of; we tell them
what it says. The old wise people tell us they knew all about it. Our
discovery is a mare's-nest to them; but to us it is very real. The ten
commandments and the old "Thou shalt" we have heard about long enough and
don't care about it; but this new law sets us on fire.
We will deny ourself. Our little wagon that we have made, we give to the
little Kaffers. We keep quiet when they throw sand at us (feeling, oh, so
happy). We conscientiously put the cracked teacup for ourselves at
breakfast, and take the burnt roaster-cake. We save our money, and buy
threepence of tobacco for the Hottentot maid who calls us names. We are
exotically virtuous. At night we are profoundly religious; even the
ticking watch says, "Eternity, eternity! hell, hell, hell!" and the silence
talks of God, and the things that shall be.
Occasionally, also, unpleasantly shrewd questions begin to be asked by some
one, we know not who, who sits somewhere behind our shoulder. We get to
know him better afterward.
Now we carry the questions to the grown-up people, and they give us
answers. We are more or less satisfied for the time. The grown-up people
are very wise, and they say it was kind of God to make hell, and very
loving of Him to send men there; and besides, he couldn't help Himself, and
they are very wise, we think, so we believe them--more or less.
Then a new time comes, of which the leading feature is, that the shrewd
questions are asked louder. We carry them to the grown-up people; they
answer us, and we are not satisfied.
And now between us and the dear old world of the senses the spirit-world
begins to peep in, and wholly clouds it over. What are the flowers to us?
They are fuel waiting for the great burning. We look at the walls of the
farmhouse and the matter-of-fact sheep-kraals, with the merry sunshine
playing over all; and do not see it. But we see a great white throne, and
him that sits on it. Around Him stand a great multitude that no man can
number, harpers harping with their harps, a thousand times ten thousand,
and thousands of thousands. How white are their robes, washed in the blood
of the Lamb! And the music rises higher, and rends the vault of heaven
with its unutterable sweetness. And we, as we listen, ever and anon, as it
sinks on the sweetest, lowest note, hear a groan of the damned from below.
We shudder in the sunlight.
"The torment," says Jeremy Taylor, whose sermons our father reads aloud in
the evening, "comprises as many torments as the body of man has joints,
sinews, arteries, etc., being caused by that penetrating and real fire of
which this temporal fire is but a painted fire. What comparison will there
be between burning for a hundred years' space and to be burning without
intermission as long as God is God!"
We remember the sermon there in the sunlight. One comes and asks why we
sit there nodding so moodily. Ah, they do not see what we see.
"A moment's time, a narrow space,
Divides me from that heavenly place,
Or shuts me up in hell."
So says Wesley's hymn, which we sing evening by evening. What matter
sunshine and walls, men and sheep?
"The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen
are eternal." They are real.
The Bible we bear always in our breast; its pages are our food; we learn to
repeat it; we weep much, for in sunshine and in shade, in the early morning
or the late evening, in the field or in the house, the devil walks with us.
He comes to a real person, copper-coloured face, head a little on one side,
forehead knit, asking questions. Believe me, it were better to be followed
by three deadly diseases than by him. He is never silenced--without mercy.
Though the drops of blood stand out on your heart he will put his question.
Softly he comes up (we are only a wee bit child); "Is it good of God to
make hell? Was it kind of Him to let no one be forgiven unless Jesus
Then he goes off, and leaves us writhing. Presently he comes back.
"Do you love Him?"--waits a little. "Do you love Him? You will be lost if
We say we try to.
"But do you?" Then he goes off.
It is nothing to him if we go quite mad with fear at our own wickedness.
He asks on, the questioning devil; he cares nothing what he says. We long
to tell some one, that they may share our pain. We do not yet know that
the cup of affliction is made with such a narrow mouth that only one lip
can drink at a time, and that each man's cup is made to match his lip.
One day we try to tell some one. Then a grave head is shaken solemnly at
us. We are wicked, very wicked, they say we ought not to have such
thoughts. God is good, very good. We are wicked, very wicked. That is
the comfort we get. Wicked! Oh, Lord! do we not know it? Is it not the
sense of our own exceeding wickedness that is drying up our young heart,
filling it with sand, making all life a dust-bin for us?
Wicked? We know it! Too vile to live, too vile to die, too vile to creep
over this, God's earth, and move among His believing men. Hell is the one
place for him who hates his master, and there we do not want to go. This
is the comfort we get from the old.
And once again we try to seek for comfort. This time great eyes look at us
wondering, and lovely little lips say:
"If it makes you so unhappy to think of these things, why do you not think
of something else, and forget?"
Forget! We turn away and shrink into ourself. Forget, and think of other
things! Oh, God! do they not understand that the material world is but a
film, through every pore of which God's awful spirit world is shining
through on us? We keep as far from others as we can.
One night, a rare clear moonlight night, we kneel in the window; every one
else is asleep, but we kneel reading by the moonlight. It is a chapter in
the prophets, telling how the chosen people of God shall be carried on the
Gentiles' shoulders. Surely the devil might leave us alone; there is not
much to handle for him there. But presently he comes.
"Is it right there should be a chosen people? To Him, who is father to
all, should not all be dear?"
How can we answer him? We were feeling so good till he came. We put our
head down on the Bible and blister it with tears. Then we fold our hands
over our head and pray, till our teeth grind together. Oh, that from that
spirit-world, so real and yet so silent, that surrounds us, one word would
come to guide us! We are left alone with this devil; and God does not
whisper to us. Suddenly we seize the Bible, turning it round and round,
and say hurriedly:
"It will be God's voice speaking to us; His voice as though we heard it."
We yearn for a token from the inexorably Silent One.
We turn the book, put our finger down on a page, and bend to read by the
moonlight. It is God's answer. We tremble.
"Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and
took Titus with me also."
For an instant our imagination seizes it; we are twisting, twirling, trying
to make an allegory. The fourteen years are fourteen months; we are Paul
and the devil is Barnabas, Titus is-- Then a sudden loathing comes to us:
we are liars and hypocrites, we are trying to deceive ourselves. What is
Paul to us--and Jerusalem? We are Barnabas and Titus? We know not the
men. Before we know we seize the book, swing it round our head, and fling
it with all our might to the further end of the room. We put down our head
again and weep.
Youth and ignorance; is there anything else that can weep so? It is as
though the tears were drops of blood congealed beneath the eyelids; nothing
else is like those tears. After a long time we are weak with crying, and
lie silent, and by chance we knock against the wood that stops the broken
pane. It falls. Upon our hot stiff face a sweet breath of wind blows. We
raise our head, and with our swollen eyes look out at the beautiful still
world, and the sweet night-wind blows in upon us, holy and gentle, like a
loving breath from the lips of God. Over us a deep peace comes, a calm,
still joy; the tears now flow readily and softly. Oh, the unutterable
gladness! At last, at last we have found it! "The peace with God." "The
sense of sins forgiven." All doubt vanished, God's voice in the soul, the
Holy Spirit filling us! We feel Him! We feel Him! Oh, Jesus Christ,
through you, through you this joy! We press our hands upon our breast and
look upward with adoring gladness. Soft waves of bliss break through us.
"The peace with God." "The sense of sins forgiven." Methodists and
revivalists say the words, and the mocking world shoots out its lip, and
walks by smiling--"Hypocrite."
There are more fools and fewer hypocrites than the wise world dreams of.
The hypocrite is rare as icebergs in the tropics; the fool common as
buttercups beside a water-furrow: whether you go this way or that you
tread on him; you dare not look at your own reflection in the water but you
see one. There is no cant phrase, rotten with age, but it was the dress of
a living body; none but at heart it signifies a real bodily or mental
condition which some have passed through.
After hours and nights of frenzied fear of the supernatural desire to
appease the power above, a fierce quivering excitement in every inch of
nerve and blood vessel, there comes a time when nature cannot endure
longer, and the spring long bent recoils. We sink down emasculated. Up
creeps the deadly delicious calm.
"I have blotted out as a cloud thy sins, and as a thick cloud thy
trespasses, and will remember them no more for ever." We weep with soft
A few experience this; many imagine they experience it, one here and there
lies about it. In the main, "The peace with God; a sense of sins
forgiven," stands for a certain mental and physical reaction. Its reality
those know who have felt it.
And we, on that moonlight night, put down our head on the window, "Oh, God!
we are happy, happy; thy child forever. Oh, thank you, God!" and we drop
Next morning the Bible we kiss. We are God's forever. We go out to work,
and it goes happily all day, happily all night; but hardly so happily, not
happily at all, the next day; and the next night the devil asks us, "where
is your Holy Spirit?"
We cannot tell.
So month by month, summer and winter, the old life goes on--reading,
praying, weeping, praying. They tell us we become utterly stupid. We know
it. Even the multiplication table we learnt with so much care we forgot.
The physical world recedes further and further from us. Truly we love not
the world, neither the things that are in it. Across the bounds of sleep
our grief follows us. When we wake in the night we are sitting up in bed
weeping bitterly, or find ourself outside in the moonlight, dressed, and
walking up and down, and wringing our hands, and we cannot tell how we came
there. So pass two years, as men reckon them.
Then a new time.
Before us there were three courses possible--to go mad, to die, to sleep.
We take the latter course; or nature takes it for us.
All things take rest in sleep; the beasts, birds, the very flowers close
their eyes, and the streams are still in winter; all things take rest; then
why not the human reason also? So the questioning devil in us drops
asleep, and in that sleep a beautiful dream rises for us. Though you hear
all the dreams of men, you will hardly find a prettier one than ours. It
In the centre of all things is a mighty Heart, which, having begotten all
things, loves them; and, having born them into life, beats with great
throbs of love towards them. No death for His dear insects, no hell for
His dear men, no burning up for His dear world--His own, own world that he
has made. In the end all will be beautiful. Do not ask us how we make our
dream tally with facts; the glory of a dream is this--that it despises
facts, and makes its own. Our dream saves us from going mad; that is
Its peculiar point of sweetness lay here. When the Mighty Heart's yearning
of love became too great for other expression, it shaped itself into the
sweet Rose of heaven, the beloved Man-god.
Jesus! you Jesus of our dream! how we loved you; no Bible tells of you as
we knew you. Your sweet hands held ours fast; your sweet voice said
always, "I am here, my loved one, not far off; put your arms about me, and
We find Him in everything in those days. When the little weary lamb we
drive home drags its feet, we seize on it, and carry it with its head
against our face. His little lamb! We feel we have got Him.
When the drunken Kaffer lies by the road in the sun we draw his blanket
over his head, and put green branches of milk-bush on it. His Kaffer; why
should the sun hurt him?
In the evening, when the clouds lift themselves like gates, and the red
lights shine through them, we cry; for in such glory He will come, and the
hands that ache to touch Him will hold him, and we shall see the beautiful
hair and eyes of our God. "Lift up your heads, O, ye gates; and be ye
lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and our King of glory shall come in!"
The purple flowers, the little purple flowers, are His eyes, looking at us.
We kiss them, and kneel alone on the flat, rejoicing over them. And the
wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for Him, and the desert
shall rejoice and blossom as a rose.
If ever, in our tearful, joyful ecstasy, the poor, sleepy, half-dead devil
should raise his head, we laugh at him. It is not his hour now.
"If there should be a hell, after all!" he mutters. "If your God should be
cruel! If there should be no God! If you should find out it is all
We laugh at him. When a man sits in the warm sunshine, do you ask him for
proof of it? He feels--that is all. And we feel--that is all. We want no
proof of our God. We feel, we feel!
We do not believe in our God because the Bible tells us of Him. We believe
in the Bible because He tells us of it. We feel Him, we feel Him, we feel-
-that is all! And the poor, half-swamped devil mutters:
"But if the day should come when you do not feel?"
And we laugh and cry him down.
"It will never come--never," and the poor devil slinks to sleep again, with
his tail between his legs. Fierce assertion many times repeated is hard to
stand against; only time separates the truth from the lie. So we dream on.
One day we go with our father to town, to church. The townspeople rustle
in their silks, and the men in their sleek cloth, and settle themselves in
their pews, and the light shines in through the windows on the artificial
flowers in the women's bonnets. We have the same miserable feeling that we
have in a shop where all the clerks are very smart. We wish our father
hadn't brought us to town, and we were out on the karoo. Then the man in
the pulpit begins to preach. His text is "He that believeth not shall be
The day before the magistrate's clerk, who was an atheist, has died in the
street struck by lightning.
The man in the pulpit mentions no name; but he talks of "The hand of God
made visible amongst us." He tells us how, when the white stroke fell,
quivering and naked, the soul fled, robbed of his earthly filament, and lay
at the footstool of God; how over its head has been poured out the wrath of
the Mighty One, whose existence it has denied; and, quivering and
terrified, it has fled to the everlasting shade.
We, as we listen, half start up; every drop of blood in our body has rushed
to our head. He lies! he lies! he lies! That man in the pulpit lies!
Will no one stop him? Have none of them heard--do none of them know, that
when the poor, dark soul shut its eyes on earth it opened them in the still
light of heaven? that there is no wrath where God's face is? that if one
could once creep to the footstool of God, there is everlasting peace there,
like the fresh stillness of the early morning? While the atheist lay
wondering and afraid, God bent down and said: "My child, here I am--I,
whom you have not known; I, whom you have not believed in; I am here. I
sent My messenger, the white sheet-lightning, to call you home. I am
Then the poor soul turned to the light--its weakness and pain were gone
Have they not known, have they not heard, who it is rules?
"For a little moment have I hidden my face from thee; but with everlasting
kindness will I have mercy upon thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer."
We mutter on to ourselves, till some one pulls us violently by the arm to
remind us we are in church. We see nothing but our own ideas.
Presently every one turns to pray. There are six hundred souls lifting
themselves to the Everlasting light.
Behind us sit two pretty ladies; one hands her scent-bottle softly to the
other, and a mother pulls down her little girl's frock. One lady drops her
handkerchief; a gentleman picks it up; she blushes. The women in the choir
turn softly the leaves of their tune-books, to be ready when the praying is
done. It is as though they thought more of the singing than the
Everlasting Father. Oh, would it not be more worship of Him to sit alone
in the karoo and kiss one little purple flower that he had made? Is it not
mockery? Then the thought comes, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" We who
judge, what are we better than they?--rather worse. Is it any excuse to
say, "I am but a child and must come?" Does God allow any soul to step in
between the spirit he made and himself? What do we there in that place,
where all the words are lies against the All Father? Filled with horror,
we turn and flee out of the place. On the pavement we smite our foot, and
swear in our child's soul never again to enter those places where men come
to sing and pray. We are questioned afterward. Why was it we went out of
How can we explain?--we stand silent. Then we are pressed further, and we
try to tell. Then a head is shaken solemnly at us. No one can think it
wrong to go to the house of the Lord; it is the idle excuse of a wicked
boy. When will we think seriously of our souls, and love going to church?
We are wicked, very wicked. And we--we slink away and go alone to cry.
Will it be always so? Whether we hate and doubt, or whether we believe and
love, to our dearest, are we to seem always wicked?
We do not yet know that in the soul's search for truth the bitterness lies
here, the striving cannot always hide itself among the thoughts; sooner or
later it will clothe itself in outward action; then it steps in and divides
between the soul and what it loves. All things on earth have their price;
and for truth we pay the dearest. We barter it for love and sympathy. The
road to honour is paved with thorns; but on the path to truth, at every
step you set your foot down on your own heart.
Then at last a new time--the time of waking; short, sharp, and not
pleasant, as wakings often are.
Sleep and dreams exist on this condition--that no one wake the dreamer.
And now life takes us up between her finger and thumb, shakes us furiously,
till our poor nodding head is well-nigh rolled from our shoulders, and she
sets us down a little hard on the bare earth, bruised and sore, but
preternaturally wide awake.
We have said in our days of dreaming, "Injustice and wrong are a seeming;
pain is a shadow. Our God, He is real, He who made all things, and He only
Now life takes us by the neck and shows us a few other things,--new-made
graves with the red sand flying about them; eyes that we love with the
worms eating them; evil men walking sleek and fat, the whole terrible
hurly-burly of the thing called life,--and she says, "What do you think of
these?" We dare not say "Nothing." We feel them; they are very real. But
we try to lay our hands about and feel that other thing we felt before. In
the dark night in the fuel-room we cry to our Beautiful dream-god: "Oh,
let us come near you, and lay our head against your feet. Now in our hour
of need be near us." But He is not there; He is gone away. The old
questioning devil is there.
We must have been awakened sooner or later. The imagination cannot always
triumph over reality, the desire over truth. We must have been awakened.
If it was done a little sharply, what matter? It was done thoroughly, and
it had to be done.
And a new life begins for us--a new time, a life as cold as that of a man
who sits on the pinnacle of an iceberg and sees the glittering crystals all
about him. The old looks indeed like a long hot delirium, peopled with
phantasies. The new is cold enough.
Now we have no God. We have had two: the old God that our fathers handed
down to us, that we hated, and never liked: the new one that we made for
ourselves, that we loved; but now he has flitted away from us, and we see
what he was made of--the shadow of our highest ideal, crowned and throned.
Now we have no God.
"The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." It may be so. Most
things said or written have been the work of fools.
This thing is certain--he is a fool who says, "No man hath said in his
heart, There is no God."
It has been said many thousand times in hearts with profound bitterness of
We do not cry and weep: we sit down with cold eyes and look at the world.
We are not miserable. Why should we be? We eat and drink, and sleep all
night; but the dead are not colder.
And we say it slowly, but without sighing, "Yes, we see it now; there is no
And, we add, growing a little colder yet. "There is no justice. The ox
dies in the yoke, beneath its master's whip; it turns its anguish-filled
eyes on the sunlight, but there is no sign of recompense to be made it.
The black man is shot like a dog, and it goes well with the shooter. The
innocent are accused and the accuser triumphs. If you will take the
trouble to scratch the surface anywhere, you will see under the skin a
sentient being writhing in impotent anguish."
And, we say further, and our heart is as the heart of the dead for
coldness, "There is no order: all things are driven about by a blind
What a soul drinks in with its mother's milk will not leave it in a day.
From our earliest hour we have been taught that the thought of the heart,
the shaping of the rain-cloud, the amount of wool that grows on a sheep's
back, the length of a drought, and the growing of the corn, depend on
nothing that moves immutable, at the heart of all things; but on the
changeable will of a changeable being, whom our prayers can alter. To us,
from the beginning, nature has been but a poor plastic thing, to be toyed
with this way or that, as man happens to please his deity or not; to go to
church or not; to say his prayers right or not; to travel on a Sunday or
not. Was it possible for us in an instant to see Nature as she is--the
flowing vestment of an unchanging reality? When the soul breaks free from
the arms of a superstition, bits of the claws and talons break themselves
off in him. It is not the work of a day to squeeze them out.
And so, for us, the human-like driver and guide being gone, all existence,
as we look out at it with our chilled, wondering eyes, is an aimless rise
and swell of shifting waters. In all that weltering chaos we can see no
spot so large as a man's hand on which we may plant our foot.
Whether a man believes in a human-like God or no is a small thing. Whether
he looks into the mental and physical world and sees no relation between
cause and effect, no order, but a blind chance sporting, this is the
mightiest fact that can be recorded in any spiritual existence. It were
almost a mercy to cut his throat, if indeed he does not do it for himself.
We, however, do not cut our throats. To do so would imply some desire and
feeling, and we have no desire and no feeling; we are only cold. We do not
wish to live, and we do not wish to die. One day a snake curls itself
round the waist of a Kaffer woman. We take it in our hand, swing it round
and round, and fling it on the ground--dead. Every one looks at us with
eyes of admiration. We almost laugh. Is it wonderful to risk that for
which we care nothing?
In truth, nothing matters. This dirty little world full of confusion, and
the blue rag, stretched overhead for a sky, is so low we could touch it
with our hand.
Existence is a great pot, and the old Fate who stirs it round cares nothing
what rises to the top and what goes down, and laughs when the bubbles
burst. And we do not care. Let it boil about. Why should we trouble
ourselves? Nevertheless the physical sensations are real. Hunger hurts,
and thirst, therefore we eat and drink: inaction pains us, therefore we
work like galley-slaves. No one demands it, but we set ourselves to build
a great dam in red sand beyond the graves. In the grey dawn before the
sheep are let out we work at it. All day, while the young ostriches we
tend feed about us, we work on through the fiercest heat. The people
wonder what new spirit has seized us now. They do not know we are working
for life. We bear the greatest stones, and feel a satisfaction when we
stagger under them, and are hurt by a pang that shoots through our chest.
While we eat our dinner we carry on baskets full of earth, as though the
devil drove us. The Kaffer servants have a story that at night a witch and
two white oxen come to help us. No wall, they say, could grow so quickly
under one man's hands.
At night, alone in our cabin, we sit no more brooding over the fire. What
should we think of now? All is emptiness. So we take the old arithmetic;
and the multiplication table, which with so much pains we learnt long ago
and forgot directly, we learn now in a few hours, and never forget again.
We take a strange satisfaction in working arithmetical problems. We pause
in our building to cover the stones with figures and calculations. We save
money for a Latin Grammar and Algebra, and carry them about in our pockets,
poring over them as over our Bible of old. We have thought we were utterly
stupid, incapable of remembering anything, of learning anything. Now we
find that all is easy. Has a new soul crept into this old body, that even
our intellectual faculties are changed? We marvel; not perceiving that
what a man expends in prayer and ecstasy he cannot have over for acquiring
knowledge. You never shed a tear, or create a beautiful image, or quiver
with emotion, but you pay for it at the practical, calculating end of your
nature. You have just so much force: when the one channel runs over the
other runs dry.
And now we turn to Nature. All these years we have lived beside her, and
we have never seen her; and now we open our eyes and look at her.
The rocks have been to us a blur of brown: we bend over them, and the
disorganised masses dissolve into a many-coloured, many-shaped, carefully-
arranged form of existence. Here masses of rainbow-tinted crystals, half-
fused together; there bands of smooth grey and red methodically overlying
each other. This rock here is covered with a delicate silver tracery, in
some mineral, resembling leaves and branches; there on the flat stone, on
which we so often have sat to weep and pray, we look down, and see it
covered with the fossil footprints of great birds, and the beautiful
skeleton of a fish. We have often tried to picture in our mind what the
fossiled remains of creatures must be like, and all the while we sat on
them, we have been so blinded by thinking and feeling that we have never
seen the world.
The flat plain has been to us a reach of monotonous red. We look at it,
and every handful of sand starts into life. That wonderful people, the
ants, we learn to know; see them make war and peace, play and work, and
build their huge palaces. And that smaller people we make acquaintance
with, who live in the flowers. The bitto flower has been for us a mere
blur of yellow; we find its heart composed of a hundred perfect flowers,
the homes of the tiny black people with red stripes, who move in and out in
that little yellow city. Every bluebell has its inhabitant. Every day the
karoo shows us a new wonder sleeping in its teeming bosom.
On our way back to work we pause and stand to see the ground-spider make
its trap, bury itself in the sand, and then wait for the falling in of its
Further on walks a horned beetle, and near him starts open the door of a
spider, who peeps out carefully, and quickly pulls it down again. On a
karoo-bush a green fly is laying her silver eggs. We carry them home, and
see the shells pierced, the spotted grub come out, turn to a green fly, and
flit away. We are not satisfied with what Nature shows us, and we see
something for ourselves. Under the white hen we put a dozen eggs, and
break one daily, to see the white spot wax into the chicken. We are not
excited or enthusiastic about it; but a man is not to lay his throat open,
he must think of something. So we plant seeds in rows on our dam-wall, and
pull one up daily to see how it goes with them. Alladeen buried her
wonderful stone, and a golden palace sprung up at her feet. We do far
more. We put a brown seed in the earth, and a living thing starts out--
starts upward--why, no more than Alladeen can we say--starts upward, and
does not desist till it is higher than our heads, sparkling with dew in the
early morning, glittering with yellow blossoms, shaking brown seeds with
little embryo souls on to the ground. We look at it solemnly, from the
time it consists of two leaves peeping above the ground and a soft white
root, till we have to raise our faces to look at it; but we find no reason
for that upward starting.
We look into dead ducks and lambs. In the evening we carry them home,
spread newspapers on the floor, and lie working with them till midnight.
With a started feeling near akin to ecstasy we open the lump of flesh
called a heart, and find little doors and strings inside. We feel them,
and put the heart away; but every now and then return to look, and to feel
them again. Why we like them so we can hardly tell.
A gander drowns itself in our dam. We take it out, and open it on the
bank, and kneel looking at it. Above are the organs divided by delicate
tissues; below are the intestines artistically curved in a spiral form, and
each tier covered by a delicate network of blood-vessels standing out red
against the faint blue background. Each branch of the blood-vessels is
comprised of a trunk, bifurcating and rebifurcating into the most delicate,
hair-like threads, symmetrically arranged. We are struck with its singular
beauty. And, moreover--and here we drop from our kneeling into a sitting
posture--this also we remark: of that same exact shape and outline is our
thorn-tree seen against the sky in mid-winter: of that shape also is
delicate metallic tracery between our rocks; in that exact path does our
water flow when without a furrow we lead it from the dam; so shaped are the
antlers of the horned beetle. How are these things related that such deep
union should exist between them all? Is it chance? Or, are they not all
the fine branches of one trunk, whose sap flows through us all? That would
explain it. We nod over the gander's inside.
This thing we call existence; is it not a something which has its roots far
down below in the dark, and its branches stretching out into the immensity
above, which we among the branches cannot see? Not a chance jungle; a
living thing, a One. The thought gives us intense satisfaction, we cannot
We nod over the gander; then start up suddenly, look into the blue sky,
throw the dead gander and the refuse into the dam, and go to work again.
And so, it comes to pass in time, that the earth ceases for us to be a
weltering chaos. We walk in the great hall of life, looking up and round
reverentially. Nothing is despicable--all is meaning-full; nothing is
small--all is part of a whole, whose beginning and end we know not. The
life that throbs in us is a beginning and end we know not. The life that
throbs in us is a pulsation from it; too mighty for our comprehension, not
And so, it comes to pass at last, that whereas the sky was at first a small
blue rag stretched out over us, and so low that our hands might touch it,
pressing down on us, it raises itself into an immeasurable blue arch over
our heads, and we begin to live again.
Chapter 2.II. Waldo's Stranger.
Waldo lay on his stomach on the red sand. The small ostriches he herded
wandered about him, pecking at the food he had cut, or at pebbles and dry
sticks. On his right lay the graves; to his left the dam; in his hand was
a large wooden post covered with carvings, at which he worked. Doss lay
before him basking in the winter sunshine, and now and again casting an
expectant glance at the corner of the nearest ostrich camp. The scrubby
thorn-trees under which they lay yielded no shade, but none was needed in
that glorious June weather, when in the hottest part of the afternoon the
sun was but pleasantly warm; and the boy carved on, not looking up, yet
conscious of the brown serene earth about him and the intensely blue sky
Presently, at the corner of the camp, Em appeared, bearing a covered saucer
in one hand and in the other a jug, with a cup in the top. She was grown
into a premature little old woman of sixteen, ridiculously fat. The jug
and saucer she put down on the ground before the dog and his master and
dropped down beside them herself, panting and out of breath.
"Waldo, as I came up the camps I met some one on horseback, and I do
believe it must be the new man that is coming."
The new man was an Englishman to whom the Boer-woman had hired half the
"Hum!" said Waldo.
"He is quite young," said Em, holding her side, "and he has brown hair, and
beard curling close to his face, and such dark blue eyes. And, Waldo, I
was so ashamed! I was just looking back to see, you know, and he happened
just to be looking back too, and we looked right into each other's faces;
and he got red, and I got so red. I believe he is the new man."
"Yes," said Waldo.
"I must go now. Perhaps he has brought us letters from the post from
Lyndall. You know she can't stay at school much longer, she must come back
soon. And the new man will have to stay with us till his house is built.
I must get his room ready. Good-bye!"
She tripped off again, and Waldo carved on at his post. Doss lay with his
nose close to the covered saucer, and smelt that some one had made nice
little fat cakes that afternoon. Both were so intent on their occupation
that not till a horse's hoofs beat beside them in the sand did they look up
to see a rider drawing in his steed.
He was certainly not the stranger whom Em had described. A dark, somewhat
French-looking little man of eight-and-twenty, rather stout, with heavy,
cloudy eyes and pointed moustaches. His horse was a fiery creature, well
caparisoned; a highly-finished saddlebag hung from the saddle; the man's
hands were gloved, and he presented the appearance-an appearance rare on
that farm--of a well-dressed gentleman.
In an uncommonly melodious voice he inquired whether he might be allowed to
remain there for an hour. Waldo directed him to the farmhouse, but the
stranger declined. He would merely rest under the trees and give his horse
water. He removed the saddle and Waldo led the animal away to the dam.
When he returned, the stranger had settled himself under the trees, with
his back against the saddle. The boy offered him of the cakes. He
declined, but took a draught from the jug; and Waldo lay down not far off
and fell to work again. It mattered nothing if cold eyes saw it. It was
not his sheep-shearing machine. With material loves, as with human, we go
mad once, love out, and have done. We never get up the true enthusiasm a
second time. This was but a thing he had made, laboured over, loved and
liked--nothing more--not his machine.
The stranger forced himself lower down in the saddle and yawned. It was a
drowsy afternoon, and he objected to travel in these out-of-the-world
parts. He liked better civilised life, where at every hour of the day a
man may look for his glass of wine, and his easy-chair, and paper; where at
night he may lock himself into his room with his books and a bottle of
brandy, and taste joys mental and physical. The world said of him--the
all-knowing, omnipotent world, whom no locks can bar, who has the cat-like
propensity of seeing best in the dark--the world said, that better than the
books he loved the brandy, and better than books or brandy that which it
had been better had he loved less. But for the world he cared nothing; he
smiled blandly in its teeth. All life is a dream; if wine and philosophy
and women keep the dream from becoming a nightmare, so much the better. It
is all they are fit for, all they can be used for. There was another side
to his life and thought; but of that the world knew nothing, and said
nothing, as the way of the wise world is.
The stranger looked from beneath his sleepy eyelids at the brown earth that
stretched away, beautiful in spite of itself in that June sunshine; looked
at the graves, the gables of the farmhouse showing over the stone walls of
the camps, at the clownish fellow at his feet, and yawned. But he had
drunk of the hind's tea, and must say something.
"Your father's place I presume?" he inquired sleepily.
"No; I am only a servant."
"And you like the life?"
The boy hesitated.
"On days like these."
"And why on these?"
The boy waited.
"They are very beautiful."
The stranger looked at him. It seemed that as the fellow's dark eyes
looked across the brown earth they kindled with an intense satisfaction;
then they looked back at the carving.
What had that creature, so coarse-clad and clownish, to do with the subtle
joys of the weather? Himself, white-handed and delicate, he might hear the
music with shimmering sunshine and solitude play on the finely-strung
chords of nature; but that fellow! Was not the ear in that great body too
gross for such delicate mutterings?
Presently he said:
"May I see what you work at?"
The fellow handed his wooden post. It was by no means lovely. The men and
birds were almost grotesque in their laboured resemblance to nature, and
bore signs of patient thought. The stranger turned the thing over on his
"Where did you learn this work?"
"I taught myself."
"And these zigzag lines represent--"
The stranger looked.
"It has some meaning, has it not?"
The boy muttered confusedly.
The questioner looked down at him--the huge, unwieldy figure, in size a
man's, in right of his childlike features and curling hair a child's; and
it hurt him--it attracted him and it hurt him. It was something between
pity and sympathy.
"How long have you worked at this?"
From his pocket the stranger drew his pocket-book, and took something from
it. He could fasten the post to his horse in some way, and throw it away
in the sand when at a safe distance.
"Will you take this for your carving?"
The boy glanced at the five-pound note and shook his head.
"No; I cannot."
"You think it is worth more?" asked the stranger with a little sneer.
He pointed with his thumb to a grave.
"No; it is for him."
"And who is there?" asked the stranger.
The man silently returned the note to his pocket-book, and gave the carving
to the boy; and, drawing his hat over his eyes, composed himself to sleep.
Not being able to do so, after a while he glanced over the fellow's
shoulder to watch him work. The boy carved letters into the back.
"If," said the stranger, with his melodious voice, rich with a sweetness
that never showed itself in the clouded eyes--for sweetness will linger on
in the voice long after it has died out in the eyes--"if for such a
purpose, why write that upon it?"
The boy glanced round at him, but made no answer. He had almost forgotten
"You surely believe," said the stranger, "that some day, sooner or later,
these graves will open, and those Boer-uncles with their wives walk about
here in the red sand, with the very fleshly legs with which they went to
sleep? Then why say, 'He sleeps forever?' You believe he will stand up
"Do you?" asked the boy, lifting for an instant his heavy eyes to the
Half taken aback the stranger laughed. It was as though a curious little
tadpole which he held under his glass should suddenly lift its tail and
begin to question him.
"I?--no." He laughed his short thick laugh. "I am a man who believes
nothing, hopes nothing, fears nothing, feels nothing. I am beyond the pale
of humanity; no criterion of what you should be who live here among your
ostriches and bushes."
The next moment the stranger was surprised by a sudden movement on the part
of the fellow, which brought him close to the stranger's feet. Soon after
he raised his carving and laid it across the man's knee.
"Yes, I will tell you," he muttered; "I will tell you all about it."
He put his finger on the grotesque little mannikin at the bottom (ah! that
man who believed nothing, hoped nothing, felt nothing; how he loved him!),
and with eager finger the fellow moved upward, explaining over fantastic
figures and mountains, to the crowning bird from whose wing dropped a
feather. At the end he spoke with broken breath--short words, like one who
utters things of mighty import.
The stranger watched more the face than the carving; and there was now and
then a show of white teeth beneath the moustaches as he listened.
"I think," he said blandly, when the boy had done, "that I partly
understand you. It is something after this fashion, is it not?" (He
smiled.) "In certain valleys there was a hunter." (He touched the
grotesque little figure at the bottom.) "Day by day he went to hunt for
wild-fowl in the woods; and it chanced that once he stood on the shores of
a large lake. While he stood waiting in the rushes for the coming of the
birds, a great shadow fell on him, and in the water he saw a reflection.
He looked up to the sky; but the thing was gone. Then a burning desire
came over him to see once again that reflection in the water, and all day
he watched and waited; but night came and it had not returned. Then he
went home with his empty bag, moody and silent. His comrades came
questioning about him to know the reason, but he answered them nothing; he
sat alone and brooded. Then his friend came to him, and to him he spoke.
"'I have seen today,' he said, 'that which I never saw before--a vast white
bird, with silver wings outstretched, sailing in the everlasting blue. And
now it is as though a great fire burnt within my breast. It was but a
sheen, a shimmer, a reflection in the water; but now I desire nothing more
on earth than to hold her.'
"His friend laughed.
"'It was but a beam playing on the water, or the shadow of your own head.
Tomorrow you will forget her,' he said.
"But tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow the hunter walked alone. He
sought in the forest and in the woods, by the lakes and among the rushes,
but he could not find her. He shot no more wild fowl; what were they to
"'What ails him?' said his comrades.
"'He is mad,' said one.
"'No; but he is worse,' said another; 'he would see that which none of us
have seen, and make himself a wonder.'
"'Come, let us forswear his company,' said all.
"So the hunter walked alone.
"One night, as he wandered in the shade, very heartsore and weeping, an old
man stood before him, grander and taller than the sons of men.
"'Who are you?' asked the hunter.
"'I am Wisdom,' answered the old man; 'but some men call me Knowledge. All
my life I have grown in these valleys; but no man sees me till he has
sorrowed much. The eyes must be washed with tears that are to behold me;
and, according as a man has suffered, I speak.'
"And the hunter cried:
"'Oh, you who have lived here so long, tell me, what is that great wild
bird I have seen sailing in the blue? They would have me believe she is a
dream; the shadow of my own head.'
"The old man smiled.
"'Her name is Truth. He who has once seen her never rests again. Till
death he desires her.'
"And the hunter cried:
"'Oh, tell me where I may find her.'
"But the old man said:
"'You have not suffered enough,' and went.
"Then the hunter took from his breast the shuttle of Imagination, and wound
on it the thread of his Wishes; and all night he sat and wove a net.
"In the morning he spread the golden net upon the ground, and into it he
threw a few grains of credulity, which his father had left him, and which
he kept in his breast-pocket. They were like white puff-balls, and when
you trod on them a brown dust flew out. Then he sat by to see what would
happen. The first that came into the net was a snow-white bird, with
dove's eyes, and he sang a beautiful song--'A human-God! a human-God! a
human-God!' it sang. The second that came was black and mystical, with
dark, lovely eyes, that looked into the depths of your soul, and he sang
"And the hunter took them both in his arms for he said--
"'They are surely of the beautiful family of Truth.'
"Then came another, green and gold, who sang in a shrill voice, like one
crying in the marketplace,--'Reward after Death! Reward after Death!'
"And he said--
"'You are not so fair; but you are fair too,' and he took it.
"And others came, brightly coloured, singing pleasant songs, till all the
grains were finished. And the hunter gathered all his birds together, and
built a strong iron cage called a new creed, and put all his birds in it.
"Then the people came about dancing and singing.
"'Oh, happy hunter!' they cried. 'Oh, wonderful man! Oh, delightful
birds! Oh, lovely songs!'
"No one asked where the birds had come from, nor how they had been caught;
but they danced and sang before them. And the hunter too was glad, for he
"'Surely Truth is among them. In time she will moult her feathers, and I
shall see her snow-white form.'
"But the time passed, and the people sang and danced; but the hunter's
heart grew heavy. He crept alone, as of old, to weep; the terrible desire
had awakened again in his breast. One day, as he sat alone weeping, it
chanced that Wisdom met him. He told the old man what he had done.
"And Wisdom smiled sadly.
"'Many men,' he said, 'have spread that net for Truth; but they have never
found her. On the grains of credulity she will not feed; in the net of
wishes her feet cannot be held; in the air of these valleys she will not
breathe. The birds you have caught are of the brood of Lies. Lovely and
beautiful, but still lies; Truth knows them not.'
"And the hunter cried out in bitterness--
"'And must I then sit still, to be devoured of this great burning?'
"And the old man said,
"'Listen, and in that you have suffered much and wept much, I will tell you
what I know. He who sets out to search for Truth must leave these valleys
of superstition forever, taking with him not one shred that has belonged to
them. Alone he must wander down into the Land of Absolute Negation and
Denial; he must abide there; he must resist temptation; when the light
breaks he must arise and follow it into the country of dry sunshine. The
mountains of stern reality will rise before him; he must climb them; beyond
them lies Truth.'
"'And he will hold her fast! he will hold her in his hands!' the hunter
"Wisdom shook his head.
"'He will never see her, never hold her. The time is not yet.'
"'Then there is no hope?' cried the hunter.
"'There is this,' said Wisdom: 'Some men have climbed on those mountains;
circle above circle of bare rock they have scaled; and, wandering there, in
those high regions, some have chanced to pick up on the ground one white
silver feather, dropped from the wing of Truth. And it shall come to
pass,' said the old man, raising himself prophetically and pointing with
his finger to the sky, 'it shall come to pass, that when enough of those
silver feathers shall have been gathered by the hands of men, and shall
have been woven into a cord, and the cord into a net, that in that net
Truth may be captured. Nothing but Truth can hold Truth.'
"The hunter arose. 'I will go,' he said.
"But wisdom detained him.
"'Mark you well--who leaves these valleys never returns to them. Though he
should weep tears of blood seven days and nights upon the confines, he can
never put his foot across them. Left--they are left forever. Upon the
road which you would travel there is no reward offered. Who goes, goes
freely--for the great love that is in him. The work is his reward.'
"'I go' said the hunter; 'but upon the mountains, tell me, which path shall
"'I am the child of The-Accumulated-Knowledge-of-Ages,' said the man; 'I
can walk only where many men have trodden. On these mountains few feet
have passed; each man strikes out a path for himself. He goes at his own
peril: my voice he hears no more. I may follow after him, but cannot go
"Then Knowledge vanished.
"And the hunter turned. He went to his cage, and with his hands broke down
the bars, and the jagged iron tore his flesh. It is sometimes easier to
build than to break.
"One by one he took his plumed birds and let them fly. But when he came to
his dark-plumed bird he held it, and looked into its beautiful eyes, and
the bird uttered its low, deep cry--'Immortality!'
"And he said quickly: 'I cannot part with it. It is not heavy; it eats no
food. I will hide it in my breast; I will take it with me.' And he buried
it there and covered it over with his cloak.
"But the thing he had hidden grew heavier, heavier, heavier--till it lay on
his breast like lead. He could not move with it. He could not leave those
valleys with it. Then again he took it out and looked at it.
"'Oh, my beautiful! my heart's own!' he cried, 'may I not keep you?'
"He opened his hands sadly.
"'Go!' he said. 'It may happen that in Truth's song one note is like
yours; but I shall never hear it.'
"Sadly he opened his hand, and the bird flew from him forever.
"Then from the shuttle of imagination he took the thread of his wishes, and
threw it on the ground; and the empty shuttle he put into his breast, for
the thread was made in those valleys, but the shuttle came from an unknown
country. He turned to go, but now the people came about him, howling.
"'Fool, hound, demented lunatic!' they cried. 'How dared you break your
cage and let the birds fly?'
"The hunter spoke; but they would not hear him.
"'Truth! who is she? Can you eat her? can you drink her? Who has ever
seen her? Your birds were real: all could hear them sing! Oh, fool! vile
reptile! atheist!' they cried, 'you pollute the air.'
"'Come, let us take up stones and stone him,' cried some.
"'What affair is it of ours?' said others. 'Let the idiot go,' and went
away. But the rest gathered up stones and mud and threw at him. At last,
when he was bruised and cut, the hunter crept away into the woods. And it
was evening about him."
At every word the stranger spoke the fellow's eyes flashed back on him--
yes, and yes, and yes! The stranger smiled. It was almost worth the
trouble of exerting oneself, even on a lazy afternoon, to win those
passionate flashes, more thirsty and desiring than the love-glances of a
"He wandered on and on," said the stranger, "and the shade grew deeper. He
was on the borders now of the land where it is always night. Then he
stepped into it, and there was no light there. With his hands he groped;
but each branch as he touched it broke off, and the earth was covered with
cinders. At every step his foot sank in, and a fine cloud of impalpable
ashes flew up into his face; and it was dark. So he sat down upon a stone
and buried his face in his hands, to wait in the Land of Negation and
Denial till the light came.
"And it was night in his heart also.
"Then from the marshes to his right and left cold mists arose and closed
about him. A fine, imperceptible rain fell in the dark, and great drops
gathered on his hair and clothes. His heart beat slowly, and a numbness
crept through all his limbs. Then, looking up, two merry wisp lights came
dancing. He lifted his head to look at them. Nearer, nearer they came.
So warm, so bright, they danced like stars of fire. They stood before him
at last. From the centre of the radiating flame in one looked out a
woman's face, laughing, dimpled, with streaming yellow hair. In the centre
of the other were merry laughing ripples, like the bubbles on a glass of
wine. They danced before him.
"'Who are you,' asked the hunter, 'who alone come to me in my solitude and
"'We are the twins Sensuality,' they cried. 'Our father's name is Human-
Nature, and our mother's name is Excess. We are as old as the hills and
rivers, as old as the first man; but we never die,' they laughed.
"'Oh, let me wrap my arms about you!; cried the first; 'they are soft and
warm. Your heart is frozen now, but I will make it beat. Oh, come to me!'
"'I will pour my hot life into you,' said the second; 'your brain is numb,
and your limbs are dead now; but they shall live with a fierce free life.
Oh, let me pour it in!'
"'Oh, follow us,' they cried, 'and live with us. Nobler hearts than yours
have sat here in this darkness to wait, and they have come to us and we to
them; and they have never left us, never. All else is a delusion, but we
are real, we are real, we are real. Truth is a shadow; the valleys of
superstition are a farce: the earth is of ashes, the trees all rotten; but
we--feel us--we live! You cannot doubt us. Feel us how warm we are! Oh,
come to us! Come with us!'
"Nearer and nearer round his head they hovered, and the cold drops melted
on his forehead. The bright light shot into his eyes, dazzling him, and
the frozen blood began to run. And he said:
"'Yes, why should I die here in this awful darkness? They are warm, they
melt my frozen blood!' and he stretched out his hands to take them.
"Then in a moment there arose before him the image of the thing he had
loved, and his hand dropped to his side.
"'Oh, come to us!' they cried.
"But he buried his face.
"'You dazzle my eyes,' he cried, 'you make my heart warm; but you cannot
give me what I desire. I will wait here--wait till I die. Go!'
"He covered his face with his hands and would not listen; and when he
looked up again they were two twinkling stars, that vanished in the
"And the long, long night rolled on.
"All who leave the valley of superstition pass through that dark land; but
some go through it in a few days, some linger there for months, some for
years, and some die there."
The boy had crept closer; his hot breath almost touched the stranger's
hand; a mystic wonder filled his eyes.
"At last for the hunter a faint light played along the horizon, and he rose
to follow it; and he reached that light at last, and stepped into the broad
sunshine. Then before him rose the almighty mountains of Dry-facts and
Realities. The clear sunshine played on them, and the tops were lost in
the clouds. At the foot many paths ran up. An exultant cry burst from the
hunter. He chose the straightest and began to climb; and the rocks and
ridges resounded with his song. They had exaggerated; after all, it was
not so high, nor was the road so steep! A few days, a few weeks, a few
months at most, and then the top! Not one feather only would he pick up;
he would gather all that other men had found--weave the net--capture Truth-
-hold her fast--touch her with his hands--clasp her!
"He laughed in the merry sunshine, and sang loud. Victory was very near.
Nevertheless, after a while the path grew steeper. He needed all his
breath for climbing, and the singing died away. On the right and left rose
huge rocks, devoid of lichen or moss, and in the lava-like earth chasms
yawned. Here and there he saw a sheen of white bones. Now too the path
began to grow less and less marked; then it became a mere trace, with a
footmark here and there; then it ceased altogether. He sang no more, but
struck forth a path for himself, until it reached a mighty wall of rock,
smooth and without break, stretching as far as the eye could see. 'I will
rear a stair against it; and, once this wall climbed, I shall be almost
there,' he said bravely; and worked. With his shuttle of imagination he
dug out stones; but half of them would not fit, and half a month's work
would roll down because those below were ill chosen. But the hunter worked
on, saying always to himself, 'Once this wall climbed, I shall be almost
there. This great work ended!'
"At last he came out upon the top, and he looked about him. Far below
rolled the white mist over the valleys of superstition, and above him
towered the mountains. They had seemed low before; they were of an
immeasurable height now, from crown to foundation surrounded by walls of
rock, that rose tier above tier in mighty circles. Upon them played the
eternal sunshine. He uttered a wild cry. He bowed himself on to the
earth, and when he rose his face was white. In absolute silence he walked
on. He was very silent now. In those high regions the rarefied air is
hard to breathe by those born in the valleys; every breath he drew hurt
him, and the blood oozed out from the tips of his fingers. Before the next
wall of rock he began to work. The height of this seemed infinite, and he
said nothing. The sound of his tool rang night and day upon the iron rocks
into which he cut steps. Years passed over him, yet he worked on; but the
wall towered up always above him to heaven. Sometimes he prayed that a
little moss or lichen might spring up on those bare walls to be a companion
to him; but it never came." The stranger watched the boy's face.
"And the years rolled on; he counted them by the steps he had cut--a few
for a year--only a few. He sang no more; he said no more, 'I will do this
or that'--he only worked. And at night, when the twilight settled down,
there looked out at him from the holes and crevices in the rocks strange
"'Stop your work, you lonely man, and speak to us,' they cried.
"'My salvation is in work, if I should stop but for one moment you would
creep down upon me,' he replied. And they put out their long necks
"'Look down into the crevice at your feet,' they said. 'See what lie
there--white bones! As brave and strong a man as you climbed to these
rocks.' And he looked up. He saw there was no use in striving; he would
never hold Truth, never see her, never find her. So he lay down here, for
he was very tired. He went to sleep forever. He put himself to sleep.
Sleep is very tranquil. You are not lonely when you are asleep, neither do
your hands ache, nor your heart. And the hunter laughed between his teeth.
"'Have I torn from my heart all that was dearest; have I wandered alone in
the land of night; have I resisted temptation; have I dwelt where the voice
of my kind is never heard, and laboured alone, to lie down and be food for
you, ye harpies?'
"He laughed fiercely; and the Echoes of Despair slunk away, for the laugh
of a brave, strong heart is as a death blow to them.
"Nevertheless they crept out again and looked at him.
"'Do you know that your hair is white?' they said, 'that your hands begin
to tremble like a child's? Do you see that the point of your shuttle is
gone?--it is cracked already. If you should ever climb this stair,' they
said, 'it will be your last. You will never climb another.'
"And he answered, 'I know it!' and worked on.
"The old, thin hands cut the stones ill and jaggedly, for the fingers were
stiff and bent. The beauty and the strength of the man was gone.
"At last, an old, wizened, shrunken face looked out above the rocks. It
saw the eternal mountains rise with walls to the white clouds; but its work
"The old hunter folded his tired hands and lay down by the precipice where
he had worked away his life. It was the sleeping time at last. Below him
over the valleys rolled the thick white mist. Once it broke; and through
the gap the dying eyes looked down on the trees and fields of their
childhood. From afar seemed borne to him the cry of his own wild birds,
and he heard the noise of people singing as they danced. And he thought he
heard among them the voices of his old comrades; and he saw far off the
sunlight shine on his early home. And great tears gathered in the hunter's
"'Ah! They who die there do not die alone,' he cried.
"Then the mists rolled together again; and he turned his eyes away.
"'I have sought,' he said, 'for long years I have laboured; but I have not
found her. I have not rested, I have not repined, and I have not seen her;
now my strength is gone. Where I lie down worn out other men will stand,
young and fresh. By the steps that I have cut they will climb; by the
stairs that I have built they will mount. They will never know the name of
the man who made them. At the clumsy work they will laugh; when the stones
roll they will curse me. But they will mount, and on my work; they will
climb, and by my stair! They will find her, and through me! And no man
liveth to himself and no man dieth to himself.'
"The tears rolled from beneath the shrivelled eyelids. If Truth had
appeared above him in the clouds now he could not have seen her, the mist
of death was in his eyes.
"'My soul hears their glad step coming,' he said; 'and they shall mount!
they shall mount!' He raised his shrivelled hand to his eyes.
"Then slowly from the white sky above, through the still air, came
something falling, falling, falling. Softly it fluttered down, and dropped
on to the breast of the dying man. He felt it with his hands. It was a
feather. He died holding it."
The boy had shaded his eyes with his hand. On the wood of the carving
great drops fell. The stranger must have laughed at him, or remained
silent. He did so.
"How did you know it?" the boy whispered at last. "It is not written
there--not on that wood. How did you know it?"
"Certainly," said the stranger, "the whole of the story is not written
here, but it is suggested. And the attribute of all true art, the highest
and the lowest, is this--that it rays more than it says, and takes you away
from itself. It is a little door that opens into an infinite hall where
you may find what you please. Men, thinking to detract, say: 'People read
more in this or that work of genius than was ever written in it,' not
perceiving that they pay the highest compliment. If we pick up the finger
and nail of a real man, we can decipher a whole story--could almost
reconstruct the creature again, from head to foot. But half the body of a
Mumboo-jumbow idol leaves us utterly in the dark as to what the rest was
like. We see what we see, but nothing more. There is nothing so
universally intelligible as truth. It has a thousand meanings, and
suggests a thousand more."
He turned over the wooden thing.
"Though a man should carve it into matter with the least possible
manipulative skill, it will yet find interpreters. It is the soul that
looks out with burning eyes through the most gross fleshly filament.
Whosoever should portray truly the life and death of a little flower--its
birth, sucking in of nourishment, reproduction of its kind, withering and
vanishing--would have shaped a symbol of all existence. All true facts of
nature or the mind are related. Your little carving represents some mental
facts as they really are, therefore fifty different true stories might be
read from it. What your work wants is not truth, but beauty of external
form, the other half of art." He leaned almost gently toward the boy.
"Skill may come in time, but you will have to work hard. The love of
beauty and the desire for it must be born in a man; the skill to reproduce
it he must make. He must work hard."
"All my life I have longed to see you," the boy said.
The stranger broke off the end of his cigar, and lit it. The boy lifted
the heavy wood from the stranger's knee and drew yet nearer him. In the
dog-like manner of his drawing near there was something superbly
ridiculous, unless one chanced to view it in another light. Presently the
stranger said, whiffing, "Do something for me."
The boy started up.
"No; stay where you are. I don't want you to go anyowhere; I want you to
talk to me. Tell me what you have been doing all your life."
The boy slunk down again. Would that the man had asked him to root up
bushes with his hands for his horse to feed on; or to run to the far end of
the plain for the fossils that lay there, or to gather the flowers that
grew on the hills at the edge of the plain; he would have run and been back
"I have never done anything," he said.
"Then tell me of that nothing. I like to know what other folks have been
doing whose word I can believe. It is interesting. What was the first
thing you ever wanted very much?"
The boy waited to remember, then began hesitatingly, but soon the words
flowed. In the smallest past we find an inexhaustible mine when once we
begin to dig at it.
A confused, disordered story--the little made large and the large small,
and nothing showing its inward meaning. It is not till the past has
receded many steps that before the clearest eyes it falls into co-ordinate
pictures. It is not till the I we tell of has ceased to exist that it
takes its place among other objective realities, and finds its true niche
in the picture. The present and the near past is a confusion, whose
meaning flashes on us as it slinks away into the distance.
The stranger lit one cigar from the end of another, and puffed and listened
with half-closed eyes.
"I will remember more to tell you if you like," said the boy.
He spoke with that extreme gravity common to all very young things who feel
deeply. It is not till twenty that we learn to be in deadly earnest and to
laugh. The stranger nodded, while the fellow sought for something more to
relate. He would tell all to this man of his--all that he knew, all that
he had felt, his inmost sorest thought. Suddenly the stranger turned upon
"Boy," he said, "you are happy to be here."
Waldo looked at him. Was his delightful one ridiculing him? Here, with
this brown earth and these low hills, while the rare wonderful world lay
all beyond. Fortunate to be here?
The stranger read his glance.
"Yes," he said; "here with the karoo-bushes and red sand. Do you wonder
what I mean? To all who have been born in the old faith there comes a time
of danger, when the old slips from us, and we have not yet planted our feet
on the new. We hear the voice from Sinai thundering no more, and the still
small voice of reason is not yet heard. We have proved the religion our
mothers fed us on to be a delusion; in our bewilderment we see no rule by
which to guide our steps day by day; and yet every day we must step
The stranger leaned forward and spoke more quickly. "We have never once
been taught by word or act to distinguish between religion and the moral
laws on which it has artfully fastened itself, and from which it has sucked
its vitality. When we have dragged down the weeds and creepers that
covered the solid wall and have found them to be rotten wood, we imagine
the wall itself to be rotten wood too. We find it is solid and standing
only when we fall headlong against it. We have been taught that all right
and wrong originate in the will of an irresponsible being. It is some time
before we see how the inexorable 'Thou shalt and shalt not,' are carved
into the nature of things. This is the time of danger."
His dark, misty eyes looked into the boy's.
"In the end experience will inevitably teach us that the laws for a wise
and noble life have a foundation infinitely deeper than the fiat of any
being, God or man, even in the groundwork of human nature.
"She will teach us that whoso sheddeth man's blood, though by man his blood
be not shed, though no man avenge and no hell await, yet every drop shall
blister on his soul and eat in the name of the dead. She will teach that
whoso takes a love not lawfully his own, gathers a flower with a poison on
its petals; that whoso revenges, strikes with a sword that has two edges--
one for his adversary, one for himself; that who lives to himself is dead,
though the ground is not yet on him; that who wrongs another clouds his own
sun; and that who sins in secret stands accursed and condemned before the
one Judge who deals eternal justice--his own all-knowing self.
"Experience will teach us this, and reason will show us why it must be so;
but at first the world swings before our eyes, and no voice cries out,
'This is the way, walk ye in it!' You are happy to be here, boy! When the
suspense fills you with pain you build stone walls and dig earth for
relief. Others have stood where you stand today, and have felt as you
feel; and another relief has been offered them, and they have taken it.
"When the day has come when they have seen the path in which they might
walk, they have not the strength to follow it. Habits have fastened on
them from which nothing but death can free them; which cling closer than
his sacerdotal sanctimony to a priest; which feed on the intellect like a
worm, sapping energy, hope, creative power, all that makes a man higher
than a beast--leaving only the power to yearn, to regret, and to sink lower
in the abyss.
"Boy," he said, and the listener was not more unsmiling now than the
speaker, "you are happy to be here! Stay where you are. If you ever pray,
let it be only the one old prayer--'Lead us not into temptation.' Live on
here quietly. The time may yet come when you will be that which other men
have hoped to be and never will be now."
The stranger rose, shook the dust from his sleeve, and ashamed at his own
earnestness, looked across the bushes for his horse.
"We should have been on our way already," he said. "We shall have a long
ride in the dark tonight."
Waldo hastened to fetch the animal; but he returned leading it slowly. The
sooner it came the sooner would its rider be gone.
The stranger was opening his saddlebag, in which were a bright French novel
and an old brown volume. He took the last and held it out to the boy.
"It may be of some help to you," he said, carelessly. "It was a gospel to
me when I first fell on it. You must not expect too much; but it may give
you a centre round which to hang your ideas, instead of letting them lie
about in a confusion that makes the head ache. We of this generation are
not destined to eat and be satisfied as our fathers were; we must be
content to go hungry."
He smiled his automaton smile, and rebuttoned the bag. Waldo thrust the
book into his breast, and while he saddled the horse the stranger made
inquiries as to the nature of the road and the distance to the next farm.
When the bags were fixed, Waldo took up his wooden post and began to fasten
it on to the saddle, tying it with the little blue cotton handkerchief from
his neck. The stranger looked on in silence. When it was done the boy
held the stirrup for him to mount.
"What is your name?" he inquired, ungloving his right hand when he was in
The boy replied:
"Well, I trust we shall meet again some day, sooner or later."
He shook hands with the ungloved hand; then drew on the glove, and touched
his horse, and rode slowly away. The boy stood to watch him.
Once when the stranger had gone half across the plain he looked back.
"Poor devil," he said, smiling and stroking his moustache. Then he looked
to see if the little blue handkerchief were still safely knotted. "Poor
He smiled, and then he sighed wearily, very wearily.
And Waldo waited till the moving speck had disappeared on the horizon; then
he stooped and kissed passionately a hoof-mark in the sand. Then he called
his young birds together, and put his book under his arm, and walked home
along the stone wall. There was a rare beauty to him in the sunshine that
Chapter 2.III. Gregory Rose Finds His Affinity.
The new man, Gregory Rose, sat at the door of his dwelling, his arms
folded, his legs crossed, and a profound melancholy seeming to rest over
his soul. His house was a little square daub-and-wattle building, far out
in the karoo, two miles from the homestead. It was covered outside with a
sombre coating of brown mud, two little panes being let into the walls for
windows. Behind it were the sheep-kraals, and to the right a large dam,
now principally containing baked mud. Far off the little kopje concealed
the homestead, and was not itself an object conspicuous enough to relieve
the dreary monotony of the landscape.
Before the door sat Gregory Rose in his shirt-sleeves, on a camp-stool, and
ever and anon he sighed deeply. There was that in his countenance for
which even his depressing circumstances failed to account. Again and again
he looked at the little kopje, at the milk-pail at his side, and at the
brown pony, who a short way off cropped the dry bushes--and sighed.
Presently he rose and went into his house. It was one tiny room, the
whitewashed walls profusely covered with prints cut from the "Illustrated
London News", and in which there was a noticeable preponderance of female
faces and figures. A stretcher filled one end of the hut, and a rack for a
gun and a little hanging looking-glass diversified the gable opposite,
while in the centre stood a chair and table. All was scrupulously neat and
clean, for Gregory kept a little duster folded in the corner of his table-
drawer, just as he had seen his mother do, and every morning before he went
out he said his prayers, and made his bed, and dusted the table and the
legs of the chairs, and even the pictures on the wall and the gun-rack.
On this hot afternoon he took from beneath his pillow a watch-bag made by
his sister Jemima, and took out the watch. Only half past four! With a
suppressed groan he dropped it back and sat down beside the table. Half-
past four! Presently he roused himself. He would write to his sister
Jemima. He always wrote to her when he was miserable. She was his safety-
valve. He forgot her when he was happy; but he used her when he was
He took out ink and paper. There was a family crest and motto on the
latter, for the Roses since coming to the colony had discovered that they
were of distinguished lineage. Old Rose himself, an honest English farmer,
knew nothing of his noble descent; but his wife and daughter knew--
especially his daughter. There were Roses in England who kept a park and
dated from the Conquest. So the colonial "Rose Farm" became "Rose Manor"
in remembrance of the ancestral domain, and the claim of the Roses to noble
blood was established--in their own minds at least.
Gregory took up one of the white, crested sheets; but on deeper reflection
he determined to take a pink one, as more suitable to the state of his
feelings. He began:
"My Dear Jemima--"
Then he looked up into the little glass opposite. It was a youthful face
reflected there, with curling brown beard and hair; but in the dark blue
eyes there was a look of languid longing that touched him. He re-dipped
his pen and wrote:
"When I look up into the little glass that hangs opposite me, I wonder if
that changed and sad face--"
Here he sat still and reflected. It sounded almost as if he might be
conceited or unmanly to be looking at his own face in the glass. No, that
would not do. So he looked for another pink sheet and began again.
"Dear Sister,--It is hardly six months since I left you to come to this
spot, yet could you now see me I know what you would say, I know what
mother would say--'Can that be our Greg--that thing with the strange look
in his eyes?'
"Yes, Jemima, it is your Greg, and the change has been coming over me ever
since I came here; but it is greatest since yesterday. You know what
sorrows I have passed through, Jemima; how unjustly I was always treated at
school, the masters keeping me back and calling me a blockhead, though, as
they themselves allowed, I had the best memory of any boy in the school,
and could repeat whole books from beginning to end. You know how cruelly
father always used me, calling me a noodle and a milksop, just because he
couldn't understand my fine nature. You know how he has made a farmer of
me instead of a minister, as I ought to have been; you know it all, Jemima;
and how I have borne it all, not as a woman, who whines for every touch,
but as a man should--in silence.
"But there are things, there is a thing, which the soul longs to pour forth
into a kindred ear.
"Dear sister, have you ever known what it is to keep wanting and wanting
and wanting to kiss some one's mouth, and you may not; to touch some one's
hand, and you cannot? I am in love, Jemima.
"The old Dutchwoman from whom I hire this place has a little stepdaughter,
and her name begins with 'E'.
"She is English. I do not know how her father came to marry a Boer-woman.
It makes me feel so strange to put down that letter, that I can hardly go
on writing 'E'. I've loved her ever since I came here. For weeks I have
not been able to eat or drink; my very tobacco when I smoke has no taste;
and I can remain for no more than five minutes in one place, and sometimes
feel as though I were really going mad.
"Every evening I go there to fetch my milk. Yesterday she gave me some
coffee. The spoon fell on the ground. She picked it up; when she gave it
me her finger touched mine. Jemima, I do not know if I fancied it--I
shivered hot, and she shivered too! I thought, 'It is all right; she will
be mine; she loves me!' Just then, Jemima, in came a fellow, a great,
coarse fellow, a German--a ridiculous fellow, with curls right down to his
shoulders; it makes one sick to look at him. He's only a servant of the
Boer-woman's, and a low, vulgar, uneducated thing; that's never been to
boarding-school in his life. He had been to the next farm seeking sheep.
When he came in she said, 'Good evening, Waldo. Have some coffee!' AND SHE
"All last night I heard nothing else but 'Have some coffee; have some
coffee.' If I went to sleep for a moment I dreamed that her finger was
pressing mine; but when I woke with a start I heard her say, 'Good evening,
Waldo. Have some coffee!'
"Is this madness?
"I have not eaten a mouthful today. This evening I go and propose to her.
If she refuses me I shall go and kill myself tomorrow. There is a dam of
water close by. The sheep have drunk most of it up, but there is still
enough if I tie a stone to my neck.
"It is a choice between death and madness. I can endure no more. If this
should be the last letter you ever get from me, think of me tenderly, and
forgive me. Without her, life would be a howling wilderness, a long
tribulation. She is my affinity; the one love of my life, of my youth, of
my manhood; my sunshine; my God-given blossom.
"'They never loved who dreamed that they loved once,
And who saith, 'I loved once'?--
Not angels, whose deep eyes look down through realms of light!'
"Your disconsolate brother, on what is, in all probability, the last and
distracted night of his life.
"Gregory Nazianzen Rose.
"P.S.--Tell mother to take care of my pearl studs. I left them in the
wash-hand-stand drawer. Don't let the children get hold of them.
"P.P.S.--I shall take this letter with me to the farm. If I turn down one
corner you may know I have been accepted; if not, you may know it is all up
with your heartbroken brother,
Gregory having finished this letter, read it over with much approval, put
it in an envelope, addressed it, and sat contemplating the inkpot, somewhat
relieved in mind.
The evening turned out chilly and very windy after the day's heat. From
afar off, as Gregory neared the homestead on the brown pony, he could
distinguish a little figure in a little red cloak at the door of the cow-
kraal. Em leaned over the poles that barred the gate, and watched the
frothing milk run through the black fingers of the herdsman, while the
unwilling cows stood with tethered heads by the milking poles. She had
thrown the red cloak over her own head, and held it under her chin with a
little hand, to keep from her ears the wind, that playfully shook it, and
tossed the little fringe of yellow hair into her eyes.
"Is it not too cold for you to be standing here?" said Gregory, coming
softly close to her.
"Oh, no; it is so nice. I always come to watch the milking. That red cow
with the short horns is bringing up the calf of the white cow that died.
She loves it so--just as if it were her own. It is so nice to see her lick
its little ears. Just look!"
"The clouds are black. I think it is going to rain tonight," said Gregory.
"Yes," answered Em, looking up as well as she could for the little yellow
"But I'm sure you must be cold," said Gregory, and put his hand under the
cloak, and found there a small fist doubled up, soft, and very warm. He
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