The Story of an African Farm
Olive Schreiner (Ralph Iron)
Part 6 out of 6
side. She made Gregory turn open the bosom of her nightdress, that the dog
might put his black muzzle between her breasts. She crossed her arms over
him. Gregory left them lying there together.
Next day, when they asked her how she was, she answered "Better."
"Some one ought to tell her," said the landlady; "we can't let her soul go
out into eternity not knowing, especially when I don't think it was all
right about the child. You ought to go and tell her, doctor."
So, the little doctor, edged on and on, went in at last. When he came out
of the room he shook his fist in the landlady's face.
"The next time you have any devil's work to do, do it yourself," he said,
and he shook his fist in her face again, and went away swearing.
When Gregory went into the bedroom he only found her moved, her body curled
up, and drawn close to the wall. He dared not disturb her. At last, after
a long time, she turned.
"Bring me food," she said, "I want to eat. Two eggs, and toast, and meat--
two large slices of toast, please."
Wondering, Gregory brought a tray with all that she had asked for.
"Sit me up, and put it close to me," she said; "I am going to eat it all."
She tried to draw the things near her with her fingers, and re-arranged the
plates. She cut the toast into long strips, broke open both eggs, put a
tiny morsel of bread into her own mouth, and fed the dog with pieces of
meat put into his jaws with her fingers.
"Is it twelve o'clock yet?" she said; "I think I do not generally eat so
early. Put it away, please, carefully--no, do not take it away--only on
the table. When the clock strikes twelve I will eat it."
She lay down trembling. After a little while she said:
"Give me my clothes."
He looked at her.
"Yes; I am going to dress tomorrow. I should get up now, but it is rather
late. Put them on that chair. My collars are in the little box, my boots
behind the door."
Her eyes followed him intently as he collected the articles one by one, and
placed them on the chair as she directed.
"Put it nearer," she said, "I cannot see it;" and she lay watching the
clothes, with her hand under her cheek.
"Now open the shutter wide," she said; "I am going to read."
The old, old tone was again in the sweet voice. He obeyed her; and opened
the shutter, and raised her up among the pillows.
"Now bring my books to me," she said, motioning eagerly with her fingers;
"the large book, and the reviews and the plays--I want them all."
He piled them round her on the bed; she drew them greedily closer, her eyes
very bright, but her face as white as a mountain lily.
"Now the big one off the drawers. No, you need not help me to hold my
book," she said; "I can hold it for myself."
Gregory went back to his corner, and for a little time the restless turning
over of leaves was to be heard.
"Will you open the window," she said, almost querulously, "and throw this
book out? It is so utterly foolish. I thought it was a valuable book; but
the words are merely strung together, they make no sense. Yes--so!" she
said with approval, seeing him fling it out into the street. "I must have
been very foolish when I thought that book good."
Then she turned to read, and leaned her little elbows resolutely on the
great volume, and knit her brows. This was Shakespeare--it must mean
"I wish you would take a handkerchief and tie it tight round my head, it
He had not been long in his seat when he saw drops fall from beneath the
hands that shaded the eyes, on to the page.
"I am not accustomed to so much light, it makes my head swim a little," she
said. "Go out and close the shutter."
When he came back, she lay shrivelled up among the pillows.
He heard no sound of weeping, but the shoulders shook. He darkened the
When Gregory went to his sofa that night, she told him to wake her early;
she would be dressed before breakfast. Nevertheless, when morning came,
she said it was a little cold, and lay all day watching her clothes upon
the chair. Still she sent for her oxen in the country; they would start on
Monday and go down to the Colony.
In the afternoon she told him to open the window wide, and draw the bed
It was a leaden afternoon, the dull rain-clouds rested close to the roofs
of the houses, and the little street was silent and deserted. Now and then
a gust of wind eddying round caught up the dried leaves, whirled them
hither and thither under the trees, and dropped them again into the gutter;
then all was quiet. She lay looking out.
Presently the bell of the church began to toll, and up the village street
came a long procession. They were carrying an old man to his last resting-
place. She followed them with her eyes till they turned in among the trees
at the gate.
"Who was that?" she asked.
"An old man," he answered, "a very old man; they say he was ninety-four;
but his name I do not know."
She mused a while, looking out with fixed eyes.
"That is why the bell rang so cheerfully," she said. "When the old die it
is well; they have had their time. It is when the young die that the bells
weep drops of blood."
"But the old love life?" he said; for it was sweet to hear her speak.
She raised herself on her elbow.
"They love life, they do not want to die," she answered, "but what of that?
They have had their time. They knew that a man's life is three-score years
and ten; they should have made their plans accordingly!
"But the young," she said, "the young, cut down, cruelly, when they have
not seen, when they have not known--when they have not found--it is for
them that the bells weep blood. I heard in the ringing it was an old man.
When the old die-- Listen to the bell! it is laughing--'It is right, it is
right; he has had his time.' They cannot ring so for the young."
She fell back exhausted; the hot light died from her eyes, and she lay
looking out into the street. By and by stragglers from the funeral began
to come back and disappear here and there among the houses; then all was
quiet, and the night began to settle down upon the village street.
Afterward, when the room was almost dark, so that they could not see each
other's faces, she said, "It will rain tonight;" and moved restlessly on
the pillows. "How terrible when the rain falls down on you."
He wondered what she meant, and they sat on in the still darkening room.
She moved again.
"Will you presently take my cloak--and new grey cloak from behind the door-
-and go out with it. You will find a little grave at the foot of the tall
gum-tree; the water drips off the long, pointed leaves; you must cover it
up with that."
She moved restlessly as though in pain.
Gregory assented, and there was silence again. It was the first time she
had ever spoken of her child.
"It was so small," she said; "it lived such a little while--only three
hours. They laid it close by me, but I never saw it; I could feel it by
me." She waited; "its feet were so cold; I took them in my hand to make
them warm, and my hand closed right over them they were so little." There
was an uneven trembling in the voice. "It crept close to me; it wanted to
drink, it wanted to be warm." She hardened herself--"I did not love it;
its father was not my prince; I did not care for it; but it was so little."
She moved her hand. "They might have kissed it, one of them, before they
put it in. It never did any one any harm in all its little life. They
might have kissed it, one of them."
Gregory felt that some one was sobbing in the room.
Late on in the evening, when the shutter was closed and the lamp lighted,
and the rain-drops beat on the roof, he took the cloak from behind the door
and went away with it. On his way back he called at the village post-
office and brought back a letter. In the hall he stood reading the
address. How could he fail to know whose hand had written it? Had he not
long ago studied those characters on the torn fragments of paper in the old
parlour? A burning pain was at Gregory's heart. If now, now at the last,
one should come, should step in between! He carried the letter into the
bedroom and gave it to her. "Bring me the lamp nearer," she said. When
she had read it she asked for her desk.
Then Gregory sat down in the lamp-light on the other side of the curtain,
and heard the pencil move on the paper. When he looked round the curtain
she was lying on the pillow musing. The open letter lay at her side; she
glanced at it with soft eyes. The man with the languid eyelids must have
been strangely moved before his hand set down those words:
"Let me come back to you! My darling, let me put my hand round you, and
guard you from all the world. As my wife they shall never touch you. I
have learnt to love you more wisely, more tenderly, than of old; you shall
have perfect freedom. Lyndall, grand little woman, for your own sake be my
"Why did you send that money back to me? You are cruel to me; it is not
She rolled the little red pencil softly between her fingers, and her face
grew very soft. Yet:
"It cannot be," she wrote; "I thank you much for the love you have shown
me; but I cannot listen. You will call me mad, foolish--the world would do
so; but I know what I need and the kind of path I must walk in. I cannot
marry you. I will always love you for the sake of what lay by me those
three hours; but there it ends. I must know and see, I cannot be bound to
one whom I love as I love you. I am not afraid of the world--I will fight
the world. One day--perhaps it may be far off--I shall find what I have
wanted all my life; something nobler, stronger than I, before which I can
kneel down. You lose nothing by not having me now; I am a weak, selfish,
erring woman. One day I shall find something to worship, and then I shall
"Nurse," she said; "take my desk away; I am suddenly so sleepy; I will
write more tomorrow." She turned her face to the pillow; it was the sudden
drowsiness of great weakness. She had dropped asleep in a moment, and
Gregory moved the desk softly, and then sat in the chair watching. Hour
after hour passed, but he had no wish for rest, and sat on, hearing the
rain cease, and the still night settle down everywhere. At a quarter-past
twelve he rose, and took a last look at the bed where she lay sleeping so
peacefully; then he turned to go to his couch. Before he had reached the
door she had started up and was calling him back.
"You are sure you have put it up?" she said, with a look of blank terror at
the window. "It will not fall open in the night, the shutter--you are
He comforted her. Yes, it was tightly fastened.
"Even if it is shut," she said, in a whisper, "you cannot keep it out! You
feel it coming in at four o'clock, creeping, creeping, up, up; deadly
cold!" She shuddered.
He thought she was wandering, and laid her little trembling body down among
"I dreamed just now that it was not put up," she said, looking into his
eyes; "and it crept right in and I was alone with it."
"What do you fear?" he asked, tenderly.
"The Grey Dawn," she said, glancing round at the window. "I was never
afraid of anything, never, when I was a little child, but I have always
been afraid of that. You will not let it come in to me?"
"No, no; I will stay with you," he continued.
But she was growing calmer. "No, you must go to bed. I only awoke with a
start; you must be tired. I am childish, that is all;" but she shivered
He sat down beside her, after some time she said: "Will you not rub my
He knelt down at the foot of the bed and took the tiny foot in his hand; it
was swollen and unsightly now, but as he touched it he bent down and
covered it with kisses.
"It makes it better when you kiss it; thank you. What makes you all love
me so?" Then dreamily she muttered to herself: "Not utterly bad, not
quite bad--what makes them all love me so?"
Kneeling there, rubbing softly, with his cheek pressed against the little
foot, Gregory dropped to sleep at last. How long he knelt there he could
not tell; but when he started up awake she was not looking at him. The
eyes were fixed on the far corner, gazing wide and intent, with an
He looked round fearfully. What did she see there? God's angels come to
call her? Something fearful? He saw only the purple curtain with the
shadows that fell from it. Softly he whispered, asking what she saw there.
And she said, in a voice strangely unlike her own: "I see the vision of a
poor, weak soul striving after good. It was not cut short, and in the end
it learnt, through tears and much pain, that holiness is an infinite
compassion for others; that greatness is to take the common things of life
and walk truly among them; that"--She moved her white hand and laid it on
her forehead--"happiness is a great love and much serving. It was not cut
short; and it loved what it had learnt--it loved--and--"
Was that all she saw in the corner?
Gregory told the landlady the next morning that she had been wandering all
night. Yet, when he came in to give her her breakfast, she was sitting up
against the pillows, looking as he had not seen her look before.
"Put it close to me," she said, "and when I have had breakfast I am going
She finished all he had brought her eagerly.
"I am sitting up quite by myself," she said. "Give me his meat;" and she
fed the dog herself, cutting his food small for him. She moved to the side
of the bed.
"Now bring the chair near and dress me. It is being in this room so long,
and looking at that miserable little bit of sunshine that comes in through
the shutter, that is making me so ill. Always that lion's paw!" she said,
with a look of disgust at it. "Come and dress me." Gregory knelt on the
floor before her, and tried to draw on one stocking, but the little swollen
foot refused to be covered.
"It is very funny that I should have grown so fat since I have been so
ill," she said, peering down curiously. "Perhaps it is want of exercise."
She looked troubled and said again, "Perhaps it is want of exercise." She
wanted Gregory to say so too. But he only found a larger pair; and then
tried to force the shoes, oh, so tenderly, on to her little feet.
"There," she said, looking down at them when they were on, with the delight
of a small child over its first shoes, "I could walk far now. How nice it
"No," she said, seeing the soft gown he had prepared for her, "I will not
put that on. Get one of my white dresses--the one with the pink bows. I
do not even want to think I have been ill. It is thinking and thinking of
things that makes them real," she said. "When you draw your mind together,
and resolve that a thing shall not be, it gives way before you; it is not.
Everything is possible if one is resolved," she said. She drew in her
little lips together, and Gregory obeyed her; she was so small and slight
now it was like dressing a small doll. He would have lifted her down from
the bed when he had finished, but she pushed him from her, laughing very
softly. It was the first time she had laughed in those long, dreary
"No, no; I can get down myself," she said, slipping cautiously on to the
floor. "You see!" She cast a defiant glance of triumph when she stood
there. "Hold the curtain up high, I want to look at myself."
He raised it, and stood holding it. She looked into the glass on the
Such a queenly little figure in its pink and white. Such a transparent
little face, refined by suffering into an almost angel-like beauty. The
face looked at her; she looked back, laughing softly. Doss, quivering with
excitement, ran round her, barking. She took one step toward the door,
balancing herself with outstretched hands.
"I am nearly there," she said.
Then she groped blindly.
"Oh, I cannot see! I cannot see! Where am I?" she cried.
When Gregory reached her she had fallen with her face against the sharp
foot of the wardrobe and cut her forehead. Very tenderly he raised the
little crushed heap of muslin and ribbons, and laid it on the bed. Doss
climbed up, and sat looking down at it. Very softly Gregory's hands
"You will be stronger tomorrow, and then we shall try again," he said, but
she neither looked at him nor stirred.
When he had undressed her, and laid her in bed, Doss stretched himself
across her feet and lay whining softly.
So she lay all that morning, and all that afternoon.
Again and again Gregory crept close to the bedside and looked at her; but
she did not speak to him. Was it stupor or was it sleep that shone under
those half-closed eyelids. Gregory could not tell.
At last in the evening he bent over her.
"The oxen have come," he said; "we can start tomorrow if you like. Shall I
get the wagon ready tonight?"
Twice he repeated his question. Then she looked up at him, and Gregory saw
that all hope had died out of the beautiful eyes. It was not stupor that
shone there, it was despair.
"Yes, let us go," she said.
"It makes no difference," said the doctor; "staying or going; it is close
So the next day Gregory carried her out in his arms to the wagon which
stood inspanned before the door. As he laid her down on the kartel she
looked far out across the plain. For the first time she spoke that day.
"That blue mountain, far away; let us stop when we get to it, not before."
She closed her eyes again. He drew the sails down before and behind, and
the wagon rolled away slowly. The landlady and the niggers stood to watch
it from the stoep.
Very silently the great wagon rolled along the grass-covered plain. The
driver on the front box did not clap his whip or call to his oxen, and
Gregory sat beside him with folded arms. Behind them, in the closed wagon,
she lay with the dog at her feet, very quiet, with folded hands. He,
Gregory, dared not be in there. Like Hagar, when she laid her treasure
down in the wilderness, he sat afar off:--"For Hagar said, Let me not see
the death of the child."
Evening came, and yet the blue mountain was not reached, and all the next
day they rode on slowly, but still it was far off. Only at evening they
reached it; not blue now, but low and brown, covered with long waving
grasses and rough stones. They drew the wagon up close to its foot for the
night. It was a sheltered, warm spot.
When the dark night had come, when the tired oxen were tied to the wheels,
and the driver and leader had rolled themselves in their blankets before
the fire, and gone to sleep, then Gregory fastened down the sails of the
wagon securely. He fixed a long candle near the head of the bed, and lay
down himself on the floor of the wagon near the back. He leaned his head
against the kartel, and listened to the chewing of the tired oxen, and to
the crackling of the fire, till, overpowered by weariness, he fell into a
heavy sleep. Then all was very still in the wagon. The dog slept on his
mistress' feet, and only two mosquitoes, creeping in through a gap in the
front sail, buzzed drearily round.
The night was grown very old when from a long, peaceful sleep Lyndall
awoke. The candle burnt at her head, the dog lay on her feet; but he
shivered; it seemed as though a coldness struck up to him from his resting-
place. She lay with folded hands, looking upward; and she heard the oxen
chewing, and she saw the two mosquitoes buzzing drearily round and round,
and her thoughts--her thoughts ran far back into the past.
Through these months of anguish a mist had rested on her mind; it was
rolled together now, and the old clear intellect awoke from its long
torpor. It looked back into the past, it saw the present; there was no
future now. The old strong soul gathered itself together for the last
time; it knew where it stood.
Slowly raising herself on her elbow, she took from the sail a glass that
hung pinned there. Her fingers were stiff and cold. She put the pillow on
her breast, and stood the glass against it. Then the white face on the
pillow looked into the white face in the glass. They had looked at each
other often so before. It had been a child's face once, looking out above
its blue pinafore; it had been a woman's face, with a dim shadow in the
eyes, and a something which had said, "We are not afraid, you and I; we are
together; we will fight, you and I." Now tonight it had come to this.
The dying eyes on the pillow looked into the dying eyes in the glass; they
knew that their hour had come. She raised one hand and pressed the stiff
fingers against the glass. They were growing very stiff. She tried to
speak to it, but she would never speak again. Only the wonderful yearning
light was in the eyes still. The body was dead now, but the soul, clear
and unclouded, looked forth.
Then slowly, without a sound, the beautiful eyes closed. The dead face
that the glass reflected was a thing of marvelous beauty and tranquillity.
The Grey Dawn crept in over it and saw it lying there.
Had she found what she sought for--something to worship? Had she ceased
from being? Who shall tell us? There is a veil of terrible mist over the
face of the Hereafter.
Chapter 2.XIII. Dreams.
"Tell me what a soul desires, and I will tell you what it is." So runs the
"Tell me what a man dreams, and I will tell you what he loves." That also
has its truth.
For, ever from the earliest childhood to the latest age, day by day, and
step by step, the busy waking life is followed and reflected by the life of
dreams--waking dreams, sleeping dreams. Weird, misty, and distorted as the
inverted image of a mirage, or a figure seen through the mountain mist,
they are still the reflections of a reality.
On the night when Gregory told his story Waldo sat alone before the fire,
his untasted supper before him. He was weary after his day's work--too
weary to eat. He put the plate down on the floor for Doss, who licked it
clean, and then went back to his corner. After a time the master threw
himself across the foot of the bed without undressing, and fell asleep
there. He slept so long that the candle burnt itself out, and the room was
in darkness. But he dreamed a lovely dream as he lay there.
In his dream, to his right rose high mountains, their tops crowned with
snow, their sides clothed with bush and bathed in the sunshine. At their
feet was the sea, blue and breezy, bluer than any earthly sea, like the sea
he had dreamed of in his boyhood. In the narrow forest that ran between
the mountains and the sea the air was rich that the scent of the honey-
creeper that hung from dark green bushes, and through the velvety grass
little streams ran purling down into the sea.
He sat on a high square rock among the bushes, and Lyndall sat by him and
sang to him. She was only a small child, with a blue pinafore, and a
grave, grave, little face. He was looking up at the mountains, then
suddenly when he looked round she was gone. He slipped down from his rock,
and went to look for her, but he found only her little footmarks; he found
them on the bright green grass, and in the moist sand, and there where the
little streams ran purling down into the sea. In and out, in and out, and
among the bushes where the honey-creeper hung, he went looking for her. At
last, far off, in the sunshine, he saw her gathering shells upon the sand.
She was not a child now, but a woman, and the sun shone on her soft brown
hair, and in her white dress she put the shells she gathered. She was
stooping, but when she heard his step she stood up, holding her skirt close
about her, and waited for his coming. One hand she put in his, and
together they walked on over the glittering sand and pink sea-shells; and
they heard the leaves talking, and they heard the waters babbling on their
way to the sea, and they heard the sea singing to itself, singing, singing.
At last they came to a place where was a long reach of pure white sand;
there she stood still, and dropped on to the sand one by one the shells
that she had gathered. Then she looked up into his face with her beautiful
eyes. She said nothing; but she lifted one hand and laid it softly on his
forehead; the other she laid on his heart.
With a cry of suppressed agony Waldo sprung from the bed, flung open the
upper half of the door, and leaned out, breathing heavily.
Great God! it might be only a dream, but the pain was very real, as though
a knife ran through his heart, as though some treacherous murderer crept on
him in the dark! The strong man drew his breath like a frightened woman.
"Only a dream, but the pain was very real," he muttered, as he pressed his
right hand upon his breast. Then he folded his arms on the door, and stood
looking out into the starlight.
The dream was with him still; the woman who was his friend was not
separated from him by years--only that very night he had seen her. He
looked up into the night sky that all his life long had mingled itself with
his existence. There were a thousand faces that he loved looking down at
him, a thousand stars in their glory, in crowns, and circles, and solitary
grandeur. To the man they were not less dear than to the boy they had been
not less mysterious; yet he looked up at them and shuddered; at last turned
away from them with horror. Such countless multitudes stretching out far
into space, and yet not in one of them all was she! Though he searched
through them all, to the furthest, faintest point of light, nowhere should
he ever say, "She is here!" Tomorrow's sun would rise and gild the world's
mountains, and shine into its thousand valleys; it would set and the stars
creep out again. Year after year, century after century, the old changes
of nature would go on, day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and
harvest; but in none of them all would she have part!
He shut the door to keep out their hideous shining, and because the dark
was intolerable lit a candle, and paced the little room, faster and faster
yet. He saw before him the long ages of eternity that would roll on, on,
on, and never bring her. She would exist no more. A dark mist filled the
"Oh, little hand! oh, little voice! oh, little form!" he cried; oh, little
soul that walked with mine! oh, little soul, that looked so fearlessly down
into the depths, do you exist no more for ever--for all time?" He cried
more bitterly: "It is for this hour--this--that men blind reason, and
crush out thought! For this hour--this, this--they barter truth and
knowledge, take any lie, any creed, so it does not whisper to them of the
dead that they are dead! Oh, God! for a Hereafter!"
Pain made his soul weak; it cried for the old faith. They are the tears
that fall into the new-made grave that cement the power of the priest. For
the cry of the soul that loves and loses is this, only this: "Bridge over
Death; blend the Here with the Hereafter; cause the mortal to robe himself
in immortality; let me not say of my Dead that it is dead! I will believe
all else, bear all else, endure all else!"
Muttering to himself, Waldo walked with bent head, the mist in his eyes.
To the soul's wild cry for its own there are many answers. He began to
think of them. Was not there one of them all from which he might suck one
drop of comfort?
"You shall see her again," says the Christian, the true Bible Christian.
"Yes, you shall see her again. 'And I saw the dead, great and small, stand
before God. And the books were opened, and the dead were judged from those
things which were written in the books. And whosoever was not found
written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire, which is the
second death.' Yes; you shall see her again. She died so--with her knee
unbent, with her hand unraised, with a prayer unuttered, in the pride of
her intellect and the strength of her youth. She loved and she was loved;
but she said no prayer to God; she cried for no mercy; she repented of no
sin! Yes; you shall see her again."
In his bitterness Waldo laughed low:
Ah, he had long ceased to hearken to the hellish voice.
But yet another speaks.
"You shall see her again," said the nineteenth-century Christian, deep into
whose soul modern unbelief and thought have crept, though he knows it not.
He it is who uses his Bible as the pearl-fishers use their shells, sorting
out gems from refuse; he sets his pearls after his own fashion, and he sets
them well. "Do not fear," he says; "hell and judgment are not. God is
love. I know that beyond this blue sky above us is a love as wide-
spreading over all. The All-Father will show her to you again; not spirit
only--the little hands, the little feet you loved, you shall lie down and
kiss them if you will. Christ arose, and did eat and drink, so shall she
arise. The dead, all the dead, raised incorruptible! God is love. You
shall see her again."
It is a heavenly song, this of the nineteenth-century Christian. A man
might dry his tears to listen to it, but for this one thing--Waldo muttered
to himself confusedly:
"The thing I loved was a woman proud and young; it had a mother once, who,
dying, kissed her little baby, and prayed God that she might see it again.
If it had lived the loved thing would itself have had a son, who, when he
closed the weary eyes and smoothed the wrinkled forehead of his mother,
would have prayed God to see that old face smile again in the Hereafter.
To the son heaven will be no heaven if the sweet worn face is not in one of
the choirs; he will look for it through the phalanx of God's glorified
angels; and the youth will look for the maid, and the mother for the baby.
'And whose then shall she be at the resurrection of the dead?'"
"Ah, God! ah, God! a beautiful dream," he cried; "but can any one dream it
Waldo paced on, moaning in agony and longing.
He heard the Transcendentalist's high answer.
"What have you to do with flesh, the gross and miserable garment in which
spirit hides itself? You shall see her again. But the hand, the foot, the
forehead you loved, you shall see no more. The loves, the fears, the
frailties that are born with the flesh, with the flesh they shall die. Let
them die! There is that in man that cannot die--a seed, a germ an embryo,
a spiritual essence. Higher than she was on earth, as the tree is higher
than the seed, the man than the embryo, so shall you behold her; changed,
High words, ringing well; they are the offering of jewels to the hungry, of
gold to the man who dies for bread. Bread is corruptible, gold is
incorruptible; bread is light, gold is heavy; bread is common, gold is
rare; but the hungry man will barter all your mines for one morsel of
bread. Around God's throne there may be choirs and companies of angels,
cherubim and seraphim, rising tier above tier, but not for one of them all
does the soul cry aloud. Only perhaps for a little human woman full of
sin, that it once loved.
"Change is death, change is death!" he cried. "I want no angel, only she;
no holier and no better, with all her sins upon her, so give her me or give
And, truly, does not the heart love its own with the strongest passion for
their very frailties? Heaven might keep its angels if men were but left to
"Change is death," he cried, "change is death! Who dares to say the body
never dies, because it turns again to grass and flowers? And yet they dare
to say the spirit never dies, because in space some strange unearthly being
may have sprung up upon its ruins. Leave me! Leave me!" he cried in
frantic bitterness. "Give me back what I have lost, or give me nothing."
For the soul's fierce cry for immortality is this--only this: Return to me
after death the thing as it was before. Leave me in the Hereafter the
being that I am today. Rob me of the thoughts, the feelings, the desires
that are my life, and you have left nothing to take. Your immortality is
annihilation, your Hereafter is a lie.
Waldo flung open the door, and walked out into the starlight, his pain-
stricken thoughts ever driving him on as he paced there.
"There must be a Hereafter because man longs for it!" he whispered. "Is
not all life from the cradle to the grave one long yearning for that which
we never touch? There must be a Hereafter because we cannot think of any
end to life. Can we think of a beginning? Is it easier to say 'I was not'
than to say 'I shall not be'? And yet, where were we ninety years ago?
Dreams, dreams! Ah, all dreams and lies! No ground anywhere."
He went back into the cabin and walked there. Hour after hour passed, and
he was dreaming.
For, mark you, men will dream; the most that can be asked of them is but
that the dream be not in too glaring discord with the thing they know. He
walked with bent head.
All dies, all dies! the roses are red with the matter that once reddened
the cheek of the child; the flowers bloom the fairest on the last year's
battleground; the work of death's finger cunningly wreathed over is at the
heart of all things, even of the living.
Death's finger is everywhere. The rocks are built up of a life that was.
Bodies, thoughts, and loves die: from where springs that whisper to the
tiny soul of man, "You shall not die"? Ah, is there no truth of which this
dream is shadow?
He fell into perfect silence. And, at last, as he walked there with his
bent head, his soul passed down the steps of contemplation into that vast
land where there is always peace; that land where the soul, gazing long,
loses all consciousness of its little self, and almost feels its hand on
the old mystery of Universal unity that surrounds it.
"No death, no death," he muttered; "there is that which never dies--which
abides. It is but the individual that perishes, the whole remains. It is
the organism that vanishes, the atoms are there. It is but the man that
dies, the Universal Whole of which he is part reworks him into its inmost
self. Ah, what matter that man's day be short!--that the sunrise sees him,
and the sunset sees his grave; that of which he is but the breath has
breathed him forth and drawn him back again. That abides--we abide."
For the little soul that cries aloud for continued personal existence for
itself and its beloved, there is no help. For the soul which knows itself
no more as a unit, but as a part of the Universal Unity of which the
Beloved also is a part; which feels within itself the throb of the
Universal Life; for that soul there is no death.
"Let us die, beloved, you and I, that we may pass on forever through the
Universal Life! In that deep world of contemplation all fierce desires die
out, and peace comes down. He, Waldo, as he walked there, saw no more the
world that was about him; cried out no more for the thing that he had lost.
His soul rested. Was it only John, think you, who saw the heavens open?
The dreamers see it every day.
Long years before the father had walked in the little cabin, and seen
choirs of angels, and a prince like unto men, but clothed in immortality.
The son's knowledge was not as the father's, therefore the dream was new-
tinted, but the sweetness was all there, the infinite peace that men find
not in the little cankered kingdom of the tangible. The bars of the real
are set close about us; we cannot open our wings but they are struck
against them, and drop bleeding. But, when we glide between the bars into
the great unknown beyond, we may sail forever in the glorious blue, seeing
nothing but our own shadows.
So age succeeds age, and dream succeeds dream, and of the joy of the
dreamer no man knoweth but he who dreameth.
Our fathers had their dream; we have ours; the generation that follows will
have its own. Without dreams and phantoms man cannot exist.
Chapter 2.XIV. Waldo Goes Out to Sit in the Sunshine.
It had been a princely day. The long morning had melted slowly into a rich
afternoon. Rains had covered the karoo with a heavy coat of green that hid
the red earth everywhere. In the very chinks of the stone walls dark green
leaves hung out, and beauty and growth had crept even into the beds of the
sandy furrows and lined them with weeds. On the broken sod walls of the
old pigsty chick-weeds flourished, and ice-plants lifted heir transparent
leaves. Waldo was at work in the wagon-house again. He was making a
kitchen table for Em. As the long curls gathered in heaps before his
plane, he paused for an instant now and again to throw one down to a small
naked nigger, who had crept from its mother, who stood churning in the
sunshine, and had crawled into the wagon-house.
From time to time the little animal lifted its fat hand as it expected a
fresh shower of curls; till Doss, jealous of his master's noticing any
other small creature but himself, would catch the curl in his mouth and
roll the little Kaffer over in the sawdust, much to that small animal's
contentment. It was too lazy an afternoon to be really ill-natured, so
Doss satisfied himself with snapping at the little nigger's fingers, and
sitting on him till he laughed. Waldo, as he worked, glanced down at them
now and then, and smiled; but he never looked out across the plain. He was
conscious without looking of that broad green earth; it made his work
pleasant to him. Near the shadow at the gable the mother of the little
nigger stood churning. Slowly she raised and let fall the stick in her
hands, murmuring to herself a sleepy chant such as her people love; it
sounded like the humming of far-off bees.
A different life showed itself in the front of the house, where Tant
Sannie's cart stood ready inspanned and the Boer-woman herself sat in the
front room drinking coffee.
She had come to visit her stepdaughter, probably for the last time, as she
now weighed two hundred and sixty pounds, and was not easily able to move.
On a chair sat her mild young husband nursing the baby--a pudding-faced,
"You take it and get into the cart with it," said Tant Sannie. "What do
you want here, listening to our woman's talk?"
The young man arose, and meekly went out with the baby.
"I'm very glad you are going to be married, my child," said Tant Sannie, as
she drained the last drop from her coffee cup. "I wouldn't say so while
that boy was here, it would make him too conceited; but marriage is the
finest thing in the world. I've been at it three times, and if it pleased
God to take this husband from me I should have another. There's nothing
like it, my child; nothing."
"Perhaps it might not suit all people, at all times, as well as it suits
you, Tant Sannie," said Em. There was a little shade of weariness in the
"Not suit every one!" said Tant Sannie. "If the beloved Redeemer didn't
mean men to have wives what did He make women for? That's what I say. If
a woman's old enough to marry, and doesn't, she's sinning against the Lord-
-it's a wanting to know better than Him. What, does she think the Lord
took all that trouble in making her for nothing? It's evident He wants
babies, otherwise why does He send them? Not that I've done much in that
way myself," said Tant Sannie, sorrowfully; "but I've done my best."
She rose with some difficulty from her chair, and began moving slowly
toward the door.
"It's a strange thing," she said, "but you can't love a man till you've had
a baby by him. Now there's that boy there, when we were first married if
he only sneezed in the night I boxed his ears; now if he lets his pipe-ash
come on my milk-cloths I don't think of laying a finger on him. There's
nothing like being married," said Tant Sannie, as she puffed toward the
door. "If a woman's got a baby and a husband she's got the best things the
Lord can give her; if only the baby doesn't have convulsions. As for a
husband, it's very much the same who one has. Some men are fat, and some
men are thin; some men drink brandy, and some men drink gin; but it all
comes to the same thing in the end; it's all one. A man's a man, you
Here they came upon Gregory, who was sitting in the shade before the house.
Tant Sannie shook hands with him.
"I'm glad you're going to get married," she said. "I hope you'll have as
many children in five years as a cow has calves, and more too. I think
I'll just go and have a look at your soap-pot before I start," she said,
turning to Em. "Not that I believe in this new plan of putting soda in the
pot. If the dear Father had meant soda to be put into soap what would He
have made milk-bushes for, and stuck them all over the veld as thick as
lambs in the lambing season?"
She waddled off after Em in the direction of the built-in soap-pot, leaving
Gregory as they found him, with his dead pipe lying on the bench beside
him, and his blue eyes gazing out far across the flat, like one who sits on
the seashore watching that which is fading, fading from him.
Against his breast was a letter found in the desk addressed to himself, but
never posted. It held only four words: "You must marry Em." He wore it
in a black bag round his neck. It was the only letter she had ever written
"You see if the sheep don't have the scab this year!" said Tant Sannie as
she waddled after Em. "It's with all these new inventions that the wrath
of God must fall on us. What were the children of Israel punished for, if
it wasn't for making a golden calf? I may have my sins, but I do remember
the tenth commandment: 'Honour thy father and mother that it may be well
with thee, and that thou mayest live long in the land which the Lord thy
God giveth thee!' It's all very well to say we honour them, and then to be
finding out things that they never knew, and doing things in a way that
they never did them! My mother boiled soap with bushes, and I will boil
soap with bushes. If the wrath of God is to fall upon this land," said
Tant Sannie, with the serenity of conscious virtue, "it shall not be
"Let them make their steam-wagons and their fire-carriages; let them go on
as though the dear Lord didn't know what he was about when He gave horses
and oxen legs--the destruction of the Lord will follow them. I don't know
how such people read their Bibles. When do we hear of Moses or Noah riding
in a railway? The Lord sent fire-carriages out of heaven in those days:
there's no chance of His sending them for us if we go on in this way," said
Tant Sannie sorrowfully, thinking of the splendid chance which this
generation had lost.
Arrived at the soap-pot she looked over into it thoughtfully.
"Depend upon it you'll get the itch, or some other disease; the blessing of
the Lord'll never rest upon it," said the Boer-woman. Then suddenly she
broke forth. "And she eighty-two, and goats, and rams, and eight thousand
morgen, and the rams real angora, and two thousand sheep, and a short-horn
bull," said Tant Sannie, standing upright and planting a hand on each hip.
Em looked at her in silent wonder. Had connubial bliss and the joys of
motherhood really turned the old Boer-woman's head?
"Yes," said Tant Sannie; "I had almost forgotten to tell you. By the Lord
if I had him here! We were walking to church last Sacrament Sunday, Piet
and I. Close in front of us with old Tant Trana, with dropsy and cancer,
and can't live eight months. Walking by her was something with its hands
under its coat-tails, flap, flap, flap; and its chin in the air, and a
stick-up collar, and the black hat on the very back of the head. I knew
him! 'Who's that?' I asked. 'The rich Englishman that Tant Trana married
last week.' 'Rich Englishman! I'll rich Englishman him,' I said; 'I'll
tell Tant Trana a thing or two. My fingers were just in his little white
curls. If it hadn't been the blessed Sacrament, he wouldn't have walked so
sourka, sourka, sourka, any more. But I thought. Wait till I've had it,
and then--. But he, sly fox, son of Satan, seed of the Amalekite, he saw
me looking at him in the church.
"The blessed Sacrament wasn't half over when he takes Tant Trana by the
arm, and out they go. I clap my baby down to its father, and I go after
them. But," said Tant Sannie, regretfully, "I couldn't get up to them; I
am too fat. When I got to the corner he was pulling Tant Trana up into the
cart. 'Tant Trana,' I said, 'you've married a Kaffer's dog, a Hottentot's
brakje.' I hadn't any more breath. He winked at me; he winked at ME,"
said Tant Sannie, her sides shaking with indignation, "first with one eye,
and then with the other, and then drove away. Child of the Amalekite!"
said Tant Sannie, "if it hadn't been the blessed Sacrament. Lord, Lord,
Here the little Bush-girl came running to say that the horses would stand
no longer, and still breathing out vengeance against her old adversary she
laboured toward the cart. Shaking hands and affectionately kissing Em, she
was with some difficulty drawn up. Then slowly the cart rolled away, the
good Boer-woman putting her head out between the sails to smile and nod.
Em stood watching it for a time, then as the sun dazzled her eyes she
turned away. There was no use in going to sit with Gregory! he liked best
sitting there alone, staring across the the green karoo; and till the maid
had done churning there was nothing to do; so Em walked away to the wagon-
house, and climbed on to the end of Waldo's table, and sat there, swinging
one little foot slowly to and fro, while the wooden curls from the plane
heaped themselves up against her black print dress.
"Waldo," she said at last, "Gregory has given me the money he got for the
wagon and oxen, and I have fifty pounds besides that once belonged to some
one. I know what they would have liked to have done with it. You must
take it and go to some place and study for a year or two."
"No, little one, I will not take it," he said, as he planed slowly away;
"the time was when I would have been very grateful to any one who would
have given me a little money, a little help, a little power of gaining
knowledge. But now, I have gone so far alone I may go on to the end. I
don't want it, little one."
She did not seem pained at his refusal, but swung her foot to and fro, the
little old wrinkled forehead more wrinkled up than ever.
"Why is it always so, Waldo, always so?" she said; "we long for things, and
long for them, and pray for them; we would give all we have to come near to
them, but we never reach them. Then at last, too late, just when we don't
want them any more, when all the sweetness is taken out of them, then they
come. We don't want them then," she said, folding their hands resignedly
on her little apron. After a while she added: "I remember once, very long
ago, when I was a very little girl, my mother had a workbox full of
coloured reels. I always wanted to play with them, but she would never let
me. At last one day she said I might take the box. I was so glad I hardly
knew what to do. I ran round the house, and sat down with it on the back
steps. But when I opened the box all the cottons were taken out."
She sat for a while longer, till the Kaffer maid had finished churning, and
was carrying the butter toward the house. Then Em prepared to slip off the
table, but first she laid her little hand on Waldo's. He stopped his
planing and looked up.
"Gregory is going to the town tomorrow. He is going to give in our bans to
the minister; we are going to be married in three weeks."
Waldo lifted her very gently from the table. He did not congratulate her;
perhaps he thought of the empty box, but he kissed her forehead gravely.
She walked away toward the house, but stopped when she got half-way. "I
will bring you a glass of buttermilk when it is cool," she called out; and
soon her clear voice came ringing out through the back windows as she sang
the "Blue Water" to herself, and washed the butter.
Waldo did not wait till she returned. Perhaps he had at last really grown
weary of work; perhaps he felt the wagon-house chilly (for he had shuddered
two or three times), though this was hardly likely in that warm summer
weather; or, perhaps, and most probably, one of his old dreaming fits had
come upon him suddenly.
He put his tools together, ready for tomorrow, and walked slowly out. At
the side of the wagon-house there was a world of bright sunshine, and a hen
with her chickens was scratching among the gravel. Waldo seated himself
near them with his back against the red-brick wall. The long afternoon was
half spent, and the kopje was just beginning to cast its shadow over the
round-headed yellow flowers that grew between it and the farmhouse. Among
the flowers the white butterflies hovered and on the old kraal mounds three
white kids gambolled, and at the door of one of the huts an old grey-headed
Kaffer-woman sat on the ground mending her mats. A balmy, restful
peacefulness seemed to reign everywhere. Even the old hen seemed well
satisfied. She scratched among the stones and called to her chickens when
she found a treasure; and all the while tucked to herself with intense
Waldo, as he sat with his knees drawn up to his chin and his arms folded on
them, looked at it all and smiled. An evil world, a deceitful,
treacherous, mirage-like world it might be; but a lovely world for all
that, and to sit there gloating in the sunlight was perfect. It was worth
having been a little child, and having cried and prayed so one might sit
there. He moved his hands as though he were washing them in the sunshine.
There will always be something worth living for while there are shimmery
afternoons. Waldo chuckled with intense inward satisfaction as the old hen
had done--she, over the insects and the warmth; he, over the old brick
walls, and the haze, and the little bushes. Beauty is God's wine, with
which He recompenses the souls that love Him; He makes them drunk.
The fellow looked, and at last stretched out one hand to a little ice-plant
that grew on the sod wall of the sty; not as though he would have picked
it, but as it were in a friendly greeting. He loved it. One little leaf
of the ice-plant stood upright, and the sun shone through it. He could see
every little crystal cell like a drop of ice in the transparent green, and
it thrilled him.
There are only rare times when a man's soul can see Nature.
So long as any passion holds its revel there, the eyes are holden that they
should not see her.
Go out if you will and walk alone on the hillside in the evening, but if
your favourite child lies ill at home, or your lover comes tomorrow, or at
your heart there lies a scheme for the holding of wealth, then you will
return as you went out; you will have seen nothing. For Nature, ever, like
the Old Hebrew God, cries out, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
Only then, when there comes a pause, a blank in your life, when the old
idol is broken, when the old hope is dead, when the old desire is crushed,
then the Divine compensation of Nature is made manifest. She shows herself
to you. So near she draws you, that the blood seems to flow from her to
you, through a still uncut cord: you feel the throb of her life.
When that day comes, that you sit down broken, without one human creature
to whom you cling, with your loves the dead and the living-dead; when the
very thirst for knowledge through long-continued thwarting has grown dull;
when in the present there is no craving, and in the future no hope, then,
oh, with a beneficent tenderness, Nature infolds you.
Then the large white snow-flakes as they flutter down, softly, one by one,
whisper soothingly, "Rest, poor heart, rest!" It is as though our mother
smoothed our hair, and we are comforted.
And yellow-legged bees as they hum make a dreamy lyric; and the light on
the brown stone wall is a great work of art; and the glitter through the
leaves makes the pulses beat.
Well to die then; for, if you live, so surely as the years come, so surely
as the spring succeeds the winter, so surely will passions arise. They
will creep back, one by one, into the bosom that has cast them forth, and
fasten there again, and peace will go. Desire, ambition, and the fierce
agonizing flood of love for the living they will spring again. Then Nature
will draw down her veil; with all your longing you shall not be able to
raise one corner; you cannot bring back those peaceful days. Well to die
Sitting there with his arms folded on his knees, and his hat slouched down
over his face, Waldo looked out into the yellow sunshine that tinted even
the very air with the colour of ripe corn, and was happy.
He was an uncouth creature with small learning, and no prospect in the
future but that of making endless tables and stone walls, yet it seemed to
him as he sat there that life was a rare and very rich thing. He rubbed
his hands in the sunshine. Ah, to live on so, year after year, how well!
Always in the present; letting each day glide, bringing its own labour, and
its own beauty; the gradual lighting up of the hills, night and the stars,
firelight and the coals! To live on so, calmly, far from the paths of men;
and to look at the lives of clouds and insects; to look deep into the heart
of flowers, and see how lovingly the pistil and the stamens nestle there
together; and to see in the thorn-pods how the little seeds suck their life
through the delicate curled-up string, and how the little embryo sleeps
inside! Well, how well, to sit so on one side taking no part in the
world's life; but when great men blossom into books looking into those
flowers also, to see how the world of men too opens beautifully, leaf after
leaf. Ah! life is delicious; well to live long, and see the darkness
breaking, and the day coming! The day when soul shall not thrust back soul
that would come to it; when men shall not be driven to seek solitude
because of the crying-out of their hearts for love and sympathy. Well to
live long and see the new time breaking. Well to live long; life is sweet,
sweet, sweet! In his breast pocket, where of old the broken slate used to
be, there was now a little dancing shoe of his friend who was sleeping. He
could feel it when he folded his arm tight against his breast; and that was
well also. He drew his hat lower over his eyes and sat so motionless that
the chickens thought he was asleep, and gathered closer around him. One
even ventured to peck at his boot, but he ran away quickly. Tiny, yellow
fellow that he was, he knew that men were dangerous; even sleeping they
might awake. But Waldo did not sleep, and coming back from his sunshiny
dream, stretched out his hand for the tiny thing to mount. But the chicken
eyed the hand, and then ran off to hide under its mother's wing, and from
beneath it it sometimes put out its round head to peep at the great figure
sitting there. Presently its brothers ran off after a little white moth
and it ran out to join them; and when the moth fluttered away over their
heads they stood looking up disappointed, and then ran back to their
Waldo through his half-closed eyes looked at them. Thinking, fearing,
craving, those tiny sparks of brother life, what were they, so real there
in that old yard on that sunshiny afternoon? A few years--where would they
be? Strange little brother spirits! He stretched his hand toward them,
for his heart went out to them; but not one of the little creatures came
nearer him, and he watched them gravely for a time; then he smiled, and
began muttering to himself after his old fashion. Afterward he folded his
arms upon his knees, and rested his forehead on them. And so he sat there
in the yellow sunshine, muttering, muttering, muttering, to himself.
It was not very long after when Em came out at the back door with a towel
thrown across her head, and in her hand a cup of milk.
"Ah," she said, coming close to him, "he is sleeping now. He will find it
when he wakes, and be glad of it."
She put it down upon the ground beside him. The mother-hen was at work
still among the stones, but the chickens had climbed about him and were
perching on him. One stood upon his shoulder, and rubbed its little head
softly against his black curls: another tried to balance itself on the
very edge of the old felt hat. One tiny fellow stood upon his hand, and
tried to crow; another had nestled itself down comfortably on the old coat-
sleeve and gone to sleep there.
Em did not drive them away; but she covered the glass softly at his side.
"He will wake soon," she said, "and be glad of it."
But the chickens were wiser.
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