E-text prepared by Charles Klingman
CINDERELLA IN THE SOUTH
New York Agents Longmans, Green & Co. Fourth Avenue and 30th Street
CINDERELLA IN THE SOUTH
South African Tales
ARTHUR SHEARLY CRIPPS
Author of 'Faerylands Forlorn,' 'Lyra Evangelistica,' Etc.
Oxford B. H. Blackwell, Broad Street MCMXVIII
To C. H. CRIPPS
FRIEND AND KINSMAN.
Grace me these veld spoils rude with name of thine! Mine's been the luck not thine these long years now To tread the veld. What other use had'st thou, Hunter and Horseman, made of chances mine! Nor horns nor heads have I to give to thee, Yet spoils of sorts veld spoils I bring with me.
A. S. C.
October 11th, 1917.
THE THING THAT HATH BEEN
NEW LIGHT ON AN OLD CHAMPION
FUEL OF FIRE
'LA BELLE DAME'
THE SCENTED TOWN
THE PLACE OF PILGRIMAGE
THE LEPER WINDOWS
THE BURNT OFFERING
EIGHTY-EIGHT IN LAVENDER
THE DOUBLE CABIN
A CREDIT BALANCE
MAN'S AIRY NOTIONS
A LION IN THE WAY
AS TREES WALKING
THE BLACK DEATH
AN OLD-WORLD SCRUPLE
FOR HIS COUNTRY'S GOOD
LE ROI EST MORT
THE RIDING OF THE RED HORSE
THREE AND AFRICA
OUR LADY OF THE LAKE
[AFRICA AND HER SISTERS.]
Some fifteen years now I have been her guest, For all this land's hers, tho' she does not reign. She's but a ward, at what late age she'll gain Her freedom and her kingdom, it were best To risk no surmise rash. E'en now she's drest Sometimes in skins. Give her ground-nuts and grain, Cattle and thatch'd hut, then she'll not complain, She's happier-hearted than her Sisters blest.
Her Sisters blest! Of them what shall I say? I like them better when they keep away, And toil in their own lands, not loll in hers. They use her ill. She's not so old as they. She drudges for them. But her youth confers A charm on her they've lost these many years.
THE THING THAT HATH BEEN
What's the good of him?' said the bar-tender to me. 'If he could tell us how the Ruins came he might be worth a forty-pound cheque every month, or at least a twenty one. But he can't.'
We were discussing the new appointment of a Government Curator at the Mabgwe Ruins. I approved it, the bar-tender did not. I pleaded that he was a bit exacting, that the Curator had a very cold scent to puzzle out, and that he had tried plodding about from ruins to ruins, moling and sapping and mining, not to speak of writing to the Rhodesian Press. Afterwards I shouldered my knapsack, sought counsel with my carriers as to ways and means, crossed the river and took the Ruins road. A motor-car hurtled past me when I was within two miles. Its driver had been pointed out to me as a Jo'burg magnate; his passengers I did not know, but I was soon to know them. I was the first to reach the Ruins after all; for their arrival time being one o'clock, and their halting-place a hotel. Civilization demanded that they should lunch there.
I drank from the fair water by the temple's western approach, and sat down to smoke under a tree in the precincts. The big cone of the main tower was just in sight. I had seen the walls before, and was in no analytical mood; synthesis was enough for me. I took in with my delighted eyes a roofless dome worthy to be a temple of some sort, even if it were not, a blue roof that bettered mere human aspiration, debris testifying to earthly incompleteness, a broken column with its memento mori all these were simmering in my vision and my judgment. I half dozed until the voices of the lunchers began to interest me. They were doing the rounds rather hastily, lunch having cut into their time, so short at its very best.
A Church dignitary from our own territory was with them. He introduced himself to me, and he also introduced an engineer. He was a patriotic Rhodesian, that dignitary, and denounced McIver, who had dared to assign to the Ruins a native origin.
'Such nonsense!' he said. 'Believe me, my dear sir, I know the natives, and I know the natives never built these walls. Poor creatures; they want firm handling, don't they? They're always in want of bossing-up. But as for this display of art, they haven't it in them, and they never had.'
The engineer did not seem interested in what was said, or in what I answered. He was a man of few words. He went off to the eastern wall, whither we followed him. I found him poking about there with a stick. The Jo'burg charioteer was soon fussing along, hurrying on tea-time. 'He didn't want to get a dose of fever this trip,' he said. He had heard about our unhealthy season up north, and the month was now April. He wanted to be back by sunset. So it came to pass that his party went off to tea with but side-glances at the hill-fastness.
'I'm neither a baboon nor a nigger,' said their host, when I proposed that he should go up. After all, it was good-natured of him to motor the dignitary out, I considered. He himself affected no sort of interest in antiquities, and the dignified antiquarian under his care was so wearily keen. I went to tea with them, postponing my reveries to camping time and night. It was not until we were eating guavas at the end of our meal that the engineer came in. Then the Jo'burger told him to hurry up, and went off to cherish his car. As to the engineer, his scanty tea-time was not left in peace. The dignitary lectured him on the true and patriotic theory of Ophir, on Astarte's worship, and Solomon's gold. He answered very little, but he hinted that there were difficulties. His lecturer glowed, and appealed to the Curator, who had just come in, bent and shaken with fever. Unhappily, yet happily for me, he trod on one of the curator's archaeological corns and involved himself in an apology. Before he was out of the wood I had asked the engineer a question or two.
'No time to talk now,' he said, 'too much cackle. Come and see me in the town. Or, if I miss you there, I may see you on the road, mayn't I? I'm due out your way in three days.'
Soon after he was petroled away. I went to camp in a clearing, to sup, to smoke, to read my guidebook. At last the night aged, and the moon rose. My carriers slept. I looked up in the night's starred face and beheld 'Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance' there. But would I ever live to trace them by 'the magic hand of chance,' as Keats called the grace of God? I began again to mumble the lines of my guide-book, and found them rather bare and dry. I looked up at the vast tapering walls. Why was there no script there? After all, that trenchant argument outweighed a many arguments; it scaled up like Brennus's sword, and made for a clear issue. I looked at the sleeping carriers. Did they hold the secret, not in tradition, not in history, but in the fleshy tables of the heart and brain and aspiration of their race? I went to sleep and dreamed of men building, building, building. They were building stone kraals for their sacred trusts of kine, chipping and carving away at their totem hawks and their crocodiles, breaking limbs and necks over a sky-high tower, with stones for their bricks, and no slime to make them mortar. How they sang over their work, and how it grew! Talk of Troy's walls; if only Kaffirs would start building a Troy, or a Palace of Art, or a Spiritual City, how the work would go forward to the music of them! I could hear all the parts in their melodies the checking and countering and refrains and responses of them. But, before I woke, the parts were merged in full chorus. With that unison music in my ears I rose and knelt and rose again hastily. Then I ran round to the eastern wall under the zig-zag patterns. I came only just in time to see the sunrise by so doing.
It was three days after that I caught up Spenser, the Government engineer.
'I have seen buildings in North Africa,' he told me. 'They weren't much like those at Mabgwe. In the north, if they built with stones they built with great slabs. But those granite flakes at Mabgwe were easy for a primitive people to manage a very primitive people. Very primitive, or why did they build on sand when, six inches deeper, they might have founded on bed-rock? They didn't understand arches, seemingly. They weren't very careful about bond in building, were they? Nor were they very careful to break joint outside, much less inside, so far as I can judge. And the script; where is it? And the graves; where are they? If they were Semites, why didn't they write? If they were Semites, why didn't they bury? . . . But it isn't as easy as it looks, the riddle. There are one or two jagged ends that conical tower, for instance.'
We camped that evening near a Mission. I admired the oblong iron-roofed church there. It wasn't my style of art, but it seemed to me fair of its kind.
'Quite good,' growled my expert friend, and he said no more at the time. He spoke more freely over a last pipe.
'I'm sorry,' he said, 'not to take more interest in this sort of thing. Only, after all, it's African-built, and Europeans could do the thing a bit better, couldn't they? This sort of thing seems rather a wrong line of advance. If I hadn't seen Mabgwe so lately I mightn't mind so much.'
They showed us to a hut, a very clean one. 'That's better; that's ever so much better,' he said. On the wall was a rude frieze in Bushman painting style, but white, not red. I enlightened him as to tsenza work, as to how you could use the cool watery roots like crayons.
'Why, that's surely Jezebel looking out of that grain-bin,' he hazarded. 'But what are those?'
'The dogs to eat her,' I answered.
They were horrid little whelps with human heads. I told him about certain night-fears common among natives. 'It was a solid Christian who dared to paint these,' I surmised.
'If you could only get Africans to believe what Christians believed in the thirteenth century you might see signs and wonders yet,' he said.
He has not been our way again since April, but I met him at the Pro-Cathedral Pageant in January. It was organized by a Pageant Master, our mutual friend the dignitary. Therein Asia, King Solomon and Sheba's Queen, were represented. Africa was relegated to her proper Cinderella and Plantation Chorus part. 'Poor creatures!' Spenser said, with a grimace, and winked at me.
'Come, and I will show you a thing,' he said to me afterwards; 'a thing I chanced on in the Christmas holidays. It's ten miles out. I want to inspan at six sharp to-morrow.'
I was guilty of three omissions next day. I cut a clerical meeting; I flouted the True Romance in the shape of the Pageant's second performance; I also missed the bazaar of St. Uriel's Native Church that was held on the Pageant ground. St. Uriel's structure had been put out to European contract; it was a very didactic building, so the Pageant-Master told us. We passed it on our way out to the kopje country.
'About as sensuously lovely as a Pills' advertisement,' was Spenser's comment. 'A good pity and terror purge.'
I sighed indulgently.
'It's very popular, I've heard, among the town boys. It's so very European to native eyes, so extra corrugated and angular.'
We came up at last to that which we sought a huge ellipse and dome of stones and earth, rising and broadening under our very eyes. It was on a farm among the granite hills, many miles from Rosebery. 'It's only a glorified stone cattle-byre, and an intensified stone Kaffir hut,' Spenser commented. 'It's not even built the old Mabgwe way. These are only blocks of granite; a few of them broken, but not one of them dressed. And there's lots of mud to eke them out.'
'Yet there's hope in the thing. It's not an artistic dead-end like Saint Uriel's,' I pleaded.
One or two Europeans, very unskilled ones I could see, had planned this bit of work, and taken part in it. They had made themselves at charges for it, though African gifts had not been wanting. They had, so to speak, coaxed their African pack on to try an old scent. Now the moving European spirit was gone home for months to England. Before he went the former rains had ruined some of the work. He had been too ambitious, too scornful of delay. Forewarned by Africans, he had pressed to a midsummer disaster. Now he had left Africans in charge. He had trusted them to go on. One Christian, in particular, he had trusted his fellow and his master in building. The boy had built at a colonial's cattle-kraal once. His skill had multiplied as he built on at the great church, and now he was a master craftsman. Doggedly he was building up again the rain-ruined bastions. The work was going with a swing, if a slow one. The scent was no longer a cold one. The pack were belling and chiming over it, and they were running with their huntsman out of sight.
'I don't understand this bit of work properly,' Spenser said. 'What's made the dry bones live?'
'Inspiration,' I said reverently. 'Looked at in one way it's Art. Looked at all ways it's Religion. It's the same sort of thing as went on, I suppose, when the faith of sun and moon was a power. Now the faith of Christ is gathering force in the land. The land isn't an Italy, and our twentieth century isn't that old thirteenth century; yet look out for the signs and wonders you spoke of. Likely enough they're to be expected.'
We went to the Pageant Master's lecture on the Mabgwe Ruins that night, when we had driven back to Rosebery. It was more interesting to me as a subjective study than an objective display of learning.
'Poor creatures!' the lecturer said of the natives. 'Don't put them in a false light. Whatever claims they may have to equable treatment, they have no claim to be considered romantic. The ancient romance of this country is the romance of a nobler race the romance of the Tyrian trader, Tyrian or Sabaean. Allow me but a trifling emendation, and Matthew Arnold's lines will serve to indicate that romance.' Substituting 'Zambesians' for 'Iberians,' he gave us the last lines of 'The Scholar Gipsy.' 'In that era of Tyre's trade,' he concluded, 'I place the golden age of our country a golden age which under our own Imperial rule begins anew.'
'H'm,' said Spenser. 'That live Mashona building-boy's worth many dead Phoenicians to me, at any rate. As to defining romance, we'd better agree to differ. 'Do well unto thyself, and all men will speak well of thee,' he went on, with a tang of bitterness. 'Jew-boys and Arabs mopped up trade when they were living, now they jump other men's kudos, being dead.'
'Never mind.' I said. 'Art for Art's sake, aspiration for aspiration's, faith for faith's! And some there be which have no memorial; who are perished as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them.'
'Never mind,' it was his turn to say. 'That granite kopje church is rising, and Magbwe Ruins stand the quick and the dead. These shall both come up for judgment and get justice. Yes, if they have to wait for it till the Supreme Court of Alt holds session.'
NEW LIGHT ON AN OLD CHAMPION
We were going on an expedition long before the morning light came. Our ship was an armed steamer a converted cargo boat. We had reinforced our naval guns' crews and our Indian ship's guard by taking officers and native soldiers (askaris) aboard at a certain bay. We had reinforced our artillery by borrowing a Maxim from the shore. I had a guest on board that night, a cheerful padre. How he seemed to relish his craft, and how able I esteemed him. I was very raw at the work, and he helped me to understand what my defects were both in nature and grace. He had the sort of smile, I thought the real, right sort to warm a naval parishioner's heart. He was very keen on the new sort of thrills and experiences that he had sought for himself by coming aboard.
We reclined on camp beds high up on the bridge-deck, but we did not drop asleep when the electric light failed and faded. We asked each other's ages, and discussed parts of England as we had known them in more peaceful days; then we assured one another that we wanted to rise early. We were to steam off on our sudden raid in the dark. Coffee had been ordered about 5:30; action might be expected to begin not much later than 6 a.m. We speculated as to whether it were true that our ship would have to face an old field gun's fire on the morrow, as well as a Maxim's. I was eloquent as I told how our four-inch gun might be expected to shake the ship. After that, in the dimness we talked shop; we had neither of us possibly had many easy openings for that ravishing employment lately.
Was it right to pray for our own side's success? I was steadfast in my scruples as to praying thus, my new-found friend was inclined to be a little scornful of them. 'Is there a God of the Germans fighting the English tribal God?' I asked rather irreverently, and my friend showed that he was shocked. I apologized. 'Let's leave the Supreme Power out,' I said. 'Let's consider the action of the saints in this war. Are they supposed to be scrapping like the gods in Homer English Saint George against German Saint Michael and so on?' But my friend did not seem very keen about either Homer or hagiology. He explained that he was a C.M.S. man, and not a medievalist. The discussion languished, ere he murmured 'Good night.'
I slept rather fitfully. I was awake long before the ship moved away on her fierce errand. At last, when she had been steaming some while, I stole down in the dark to the bathroom. When I came out of it the grey twilight was beginning. I crept aft and looked over the bulwark, wondering how far we were away now. The shore Maxim was in place there with plenty of sand bags about it, but the officer in charge of it was still stretched abed. His friend the Intelligence Officer, who had messed with us last night, was snoring on another bed beside him. I stood looking at a dusky island in the moonlight, and began praying a favorite prayer of mine for those times, asking God to let Saint Michael cover our heads in the day of battle. I muttered the prayer very low, but it appeared that somebody heard. A slim figure, seemingly in khaki, that I had not noticed, rose up from a seal; on the sand bags.
'Are you praying something about battles?' it asked. I started, and assented clumsily.
'How does one pray about battles nowadays?' the investigator proceeded. He spoke in the friendliest way, and managed to set even me at ease. So I told him what I had prayed for.
'It sounds a fair sort of prayer; better than some I've heard,' he allowed, as he sat down again. 'Some people seem to forget the last lot of the Books in the Bible when they pray nowadays.' I heartily agreed.
'I don't believe for one,' he went on, 'that Saint Michael is passionately interested in wiping out either English or askaris or Germans. It's surely better to pray about him like you prayed. I should think the negative work appeals to him more than the positive, the salvage more than the blotting.'
His voice was clear, and evidently carried. The Maxim's warden grumbled, and began to sit up in bed.
'Possibly,' this disturber of slumber went on quite unconcernedly, 'Saint Michael has a clearer notion as to the real enemy than some clients who invoke him.'
Then the officer in pyjamas accosted me, and the thread of the other's talk was lost. When I moved off to dress he had already left his perch among the sand bags. I climbed the ladder, and had my coffee. Soon after came the scurry to stations. We were coming into the bay in the glory of that morning under hangings of amber and rose and feathery grey. The four-inch gun's crew were in their places. I stood trying to read the Prayer before Action in its very small print. I murmured what I was doing to my cheery colleague, so much more enthusiastic than I was about what seemed to be coming. Then someone came up and spoke to me. It was surely my friend from the sand bags. I could see him properly now. He was surely an officer. He stood up slender and shapely in his khaki, but he was not wearing a single star or a regimental badge of any kind. Had he forgotten these in the hurry of this eager morning? With but a few words, he passed on towards the guns' crews. Soon our four-inch gun was shaking the ship horribly. We were shelling a trench that ran up a hillside, they said. I sat under cover of the bulwark near some kneeling riflemen, far from enjoying myself. Yet no gun roared back in answer to our own. It seemed to be one-sided enough, this operation of war.
'It's a fearful weapon,' remarked my colleague rather complacently, as he paced towards the gun platform. One prayed for those who were naked to its fearsomeness up on the hill there, and prayed about Saint Michael's intervention to Saint Michael's Commander-in-Chief. The long-drawn moments slurred by us. A bell rang as the ship wound her way in slowly. The mournful cry of him who took the soundings came again and again. Then we stopped dead anew, and our gun's mouth roared and flamed.
'Such a crowd of askaris; the hill's black with them!' So the signalman cried to the doctor, as he sped by on a message. I was interested in watching the gun-layer as he readjusted the dragon mouth. But what had my friend of the sand-bags to do with the matter? He moved among the gun's crew, and none said him nay; his hands were on the gun after the accredited gunlayer's. We shelled another position, and then another. Afterwards came a lull, and some of us hurried up to breakfast.
There was much talk there of the possible or probable slaughter we had effected. Doubtless the store ship that had followed us and hung behind us had served us well. Those on shore Had surely been more disposed to hold to their positions, fearing that she carried troops, and meant to land them. Now she was steaming slowly away. How many did our bag amount to? The Intelligence Officer was sanguine, so was my colleague, but the gunnery officer was rather pessimistic. 'Two or three of those rounds went just wrong,' he grunted. 'We've struck a bad day.' After that the porridge and the bacon and the eggs were done with; we were soon back at our stations. Once more our gun bombarded. Once more no answer came. Now occurred the cruise of the motor boat; the best adventure of the day so far, as it seemed to me.
The boat was lowered, and the shore Maxim mounted in it. Sand bags were piled up in plenty. A Naval Reserve officer, fair-haired and young faced, sprang in to join the gun's officer. There was also a British bluejacket ready to go, and there were African soldiers and sailors, as well as the two engine-men, English and Goanese. They were to beat up the river, and hunt down canoes, should any appear.
My heart thrilled as I uttered God-speed to the Maxim warden. I think he was unmarried, but his fellow officer was both husband and father; they might have a fiery time in front. Last my graceful friend, with no stars or badges on his khaki, slipped into the boat. He seemed to come and go as he liked, and none refused his services. The boat hummed away from us, past some rocks, and round a headland into the unseen. Then our ship traveled on slowly, before she stopped and fired again. She shot away many rounds that time. I was sick and weary of the firing as I sat on the deck by the doctor's cabin. My colleague was much more alert and cheerful. He had secured a shell-case by the naval commander's bounty. 'They make such splendid trophies,' he told me. But I did not covet one much. I thought of how such war trophies were in demand for Christmas decoration vases in a church by the lakeside. I also thought of the quite possible horror and havoc of shattered askaris' bodies that those splendid trophies might be supposed to have wrought. How one thought besides of the adventurers in that whizzing motor-boat during that next half-hour. But as it turned out, according to their disappointed report, not a shot was fired at them.
'We let fly with the Maxim at some natives and one European on shore,' the gun-worker shouted, as they drew up at the ship's side. 'We saw some canoes, three of them. Askaris were in them, and urging the paddlers on. Then, of all times, the Maxim took it into its head to jam badly. So we didn't get them.' I happened to catch my friend in khaki's eye as the other lamented. He looked quite cheerful about things, while the other went on, 'We'd have sunk the lot, if it hadn't jammed just then.'
The thought flickered into my mind as to whether anybody was responsible for that singular coincidence. I looked in my friend's face with some sort of an uneasy question. But he only smiled. His face was strangely prepossessing, so entirely fearless, yet not the least truculent. His brown eyes and boy's lips answered my question with the most engaging of smiles. Those brown eyes assorted piquantly with his very fair hair. He had pushed his white helmet far back on his yellow head. Half an hour later we were in our action stations once more. Our riflemen were firing at individual askaris (were they all askaris, and not unhappy villagers?) who could be descried upon the shore. The signalman, passing by again, snatched a rifle and fired just beside me. One of the Maxims meanwhile was working away grimly, the officer's face was set firm as he steadied his coughing machine. Then it was that I saw my unattached friend step towards him, and take up his stand behind him. Ping! A bullet came just over the gun-director's head. 'That was a near shave,' the warrant officer told me afterwards. 'Someone aimed too high, or he'd have got him that worked the gun.'
Yet it was a mystery to me why the bullet did not get that handsome head behind and above him, the head that I reflected had doubtless helped to draw the fire so high. He who had exposed himself came to me untouched. 'It looked near,' he allowed to me smiling. He stayed by us for the rest of that fell morning. He smiled, and bade me cheer up, when the naval commander went by; had he not twitted me for sitting safe under the bulwark and wincing when the four-inch gun roared? He smiled also a little ironically when my colleague came up, still fondling his trophy and dilating on its splendor. Then he smiled again and again as he moved behind him to and fro on the deck, watching him in the pitiless firing. He smiled moreover when he moved up to the gun; he was revising the gunlayer's work now and then, so far as I could make out his movements. He smiled afterwards when the Intelligence Officer made such sanguine estimates of the slaughter we had dealt out to forts and trenches. They were talking together, he and his comrade of the Maxim gun, discussing whether the bag was really a big one, the former as glib with the pros as the latter was with the cons. The tall listener smiled rather wistfully as he heard them. After the last round from the six-pounder had been fired, before we went to lunch, he came up and said farewell to me. 'But I shall see you again on board, shan't I?' I asked. 'We shan't put you off at the Bay till nearly sunset, shall we?' 'I may be getting off long before then,' he said, but he did not explain how. My prayer book had fallen on the deck, and he picked it up and gave it to me. 'Mind you keep to your own line,' he said. 'I like that prayer in your prayer book about Saint Michael. Doubtless he's covered not a few people's heads in this day of battle, not all of them on the one side. It's likely enough he has unearthly notions about war, as he's an unearthly being. Perhaps the dragon he makes war on, war to the death, is neither England nor Germany, but just the scrapping between them.'
'What do you mean?' I asked, rather puzzled. Yet he only smiled, he was not very explicit.
'Oh, by the way,' he said. 'They tell me you've promised to build a mission church to Saint Michael if you get back to the south safe and sound.' I wondered afterwards who they were that had told him.
'Yes, I said, 'and if I don't, the building of it's endowed in my will.'
'Why not take the shell-cases,' he said, 'if they offer you some? You needn't use them in your church as altar-vases. They'd make a splendid trophy under Saint Michael's feet, a gleaming, sleek-barreled serpent of slaughter, just the sort of dragon for him to tread, and delight in treading. Good-bye.'
He was gone amongst the sailors, just as the steward called me up to the cold soup. I saw no more of him on the voyage, nor have I seen him since that September day. The one or two I asked about him seemed not to know whom I meant. I have often wondered who he was since then, and have framed a theory. Perhaps you can guess what it is without my needing to write it down.
FUEL OF FIRE
I was lucky to get a lift. We had risen before the moon took to her bed, and the sun had left his. We were driving through green woodlands when the light grew clear around us. A little while ago their graceful trees had been ruddy or bronze doubtless. Now it was the turn of the hill-trees on the great kopje that we passed within a mile, to grow bronzed and to redden. For the month of November had only just come in. We outspanned in a valley where the new green of the grass had come already. No doubt a month ago it had looked very black and fire-scathed. Now the showers had brought kind healing and amendment. We made our morning Memorial together (being all of us Christians bound on some sort of a Christian pilgrimage), and after that we breakfasted and smoked at ease while the mules grazed close by, and the driver boiled his pot, and fed it with meal, and stirred and ladled out, and ate in the fullness of time. My heart was very thankful. How much better and kindlier one's lot seemed now fallen as it was once again in this fair ground of a country at peace in Wartime. This countryside pleased me ever so much better than British East or German East this Mashonaland. There to north I remembered without enthusiasm the tropical passions of the elements, I remembered rather miserably some of the things that a state of war had meant.
After breakfast, there was no hurry about our inspanning. But when we had once got off we were soon up level with the farmhouse on the hill's shoulder. We halted for friendship's sake, and waited for the cups of coffee that we were assured would be soon ready. Our host was Dutch-looking, but seemed British; I thought rather narrowly British in his sympathies. He discussed the War keenly and thoughtfully with my companion. He had two brothers in German East, I knew, and he was soon asking me about them. But our paths up that way had not converged. I could only tell him by hearsay about the main advance, wherein they had been sharing, and I had not. As I told, a dark handsome, gentle-voiced woman brought our coffee out. Soon a shy little girl put her head round the corner of the stoep, and withdrew' it again. I jumped down to greet her. Then she agreed to come and shake hands with us both. Her father colored up, and smiled as he told me of a great scheme. A lady in town had offered to board this child. So kind, wasn't it? She was of sturdy English make (her father's father was an Essex man. I had been told). Her hair and eyes were very dark; she looked ever so capable.
'Yes, very kind,' I murmured, but I was reflecting that the lady's kindness might not be so very ill-rewarded. The child might prove useful and cost little. She might give the sort of help that is apt to be useful and costly in a country like ours. 'Yes,' said the father smiling, 'and she may get to the day school that way, the lady says. We couldn't have nearly afforded to send her into town otherwise. But now she's got her chance of a regular school.' 'Oh, really,' said my friend. His kind ugly face looked none too pleasant as he said it, I remember noticing that.
Then he went to his mules to 'buckle' up a strap somewhere. I was surprised to hear him cursing something under his breath. It was not his manner, I thought, to curse straps or mules. We said good-bye a very cordial one and then drove down towards the main road. It winds through a vlei towards the town. We had got almost to the big water-course so banked up in thirsty sand, when he told me what he was cursing. He repeated his words deliberately: 'Damn it, damn it to hell,' he said. I protested faintly till he made it clear to me what he was damning, then I recklessly endorsed his damnation. For he was not cursing Heaven or humanity; he was cursing that blessed Anglo-Dutch, or rather Dutch-English, institution of South Africa, the color-bar. He had been told by one of the managers that should the father apply for admission to school on behalf of the child we had seen, he would be certainly refused. The father was really much too poor to send her away, he told me.
'They're ever so honest and hard-worked. They've put up a great fight on mealie meal against bad seasons. They've pinched hard for the child's poor little outfit. He's got into debt for it. He's a Britisher, and has got two brothers fighting. Very dubious, dark children have been admitted already, as presumably Dutch. Dutch and colonials rule the roost here. And to leave Christianity alone, where does British Imperialism come in? It's risking spoiling a life, and the life of such a decent kid.'
Thereat he certainly condemned guiltily, as he should not have condemned, Dutchmen and colonials, their churches, their social order, and their sanctimony. 'Thank God I was at plebeian Oxford,' he said, 'and was free to mix with colored men. This is far more select, this dorp academy, with its elect Principal and its supermen-managers.' We nearly had a row about his language.
We came over a rolling down towards the commonage. 'They've kept free from fires here,' I said. 'Yes,' he said, 'but I'm doubtful if their vigilance pays, if their game's worth the candle. I mean if such absence of illumination is worth all their watching about.' 'It saves waste of life.' I said, 'animal and vegetable, if you can only keep the fires away.' I appealed to the wisdom of our laws as well as to the argument of mercy which I appealed to me. 'And you get that sort of thing.' he said, pointing to the thick brown tufts of unappetizing feed. 'That's been going more than a year, hasn't it? 'Oh for a wind and a fire,' say I.
We passed over the commonage, which showed very black with recent fires. 'It looks rather knocked out,' I said. 'Yet not without hope,' he answered. We were driving back about the same time next fore-noon. A great fire was rushing wind-driven over that rolling upland. 'At last,' he said. I sighed. A mile further on we came into the smiling green vlei. 'This was black a while back,' he said. 'Doesn't the fire help a bit after all? Who wants that moldy stuffy old feed, isn't it parabolic of that fusty Dutch-Anglo dorp and its prejudices? What are they meant for, and it? 'Fuel of fire,' say I.' I smiled indulgently. Since we had got into town things had happened. We had had our memorial services for the Dead that last night, and this same morning. It was the week of All Hallows and All Souls, a time that often tempts me to homesickness. One is apt to think of hazy, yellow-leaved, dreamy times in old England just about then not to speak of old familiar faces. That night of the first Service was very starry, and the morning of the second Service was brilliantly clear, the rain seemed to be very far away for the time being. People had come at night rather well. Not to speak of one of the school managers having died quite recently, news of one of our police's death out scouting had leaked through from German East. I preached Paradise to that attentive congregation in the iron-roofed church that natives had been so discouraged from attending. I was glad one straggled into the back seats I had battled for, just to demonstrate one's principle of barring out the color-bar. It was all very soul-soothing, thought I, that Memorial Evensong, the stars outside, and the golden evening brightening in the west of the hymn, and the lesson about white robes and palms, presumably of victory or harvest-homing. My friend waited for me outside under the lamp. 'Very fine,' he said in his grimmest way, 'the Anglican view of hopeful souls turned promiscuously into a sort of orchard and rose-garden with plenty of light to gild them, and rest to wrap them.' I smiled. 'True enough in its way,' I said. 'There's another side doubtless, yet the preaching of that doesn't appeal to me particularly. I don't want to work on people's apprehensions. But don't let me stand in your light. You're a lay reader with a bishop's license. You can preach and welcome to-morrow morning.' 'Trust me not to refuse,' he said. 'I don't want to play up to apprehensions exactly. I want to state what seem to me to be relentless laws of cause and effect, and to show the only way with any sort of hope in Christ that I happen by faith to see.' So he had preached that morning. He preached quite simply on the trying of every man's work, on the burning of flimsy work, on the saving of the workman, yet so as by fire. There was a small but select gathering in the Church of Saint Tertullian; two of the school managers even were there. Surely I had baited the trap, I thought guiltily as I looked upon them, by my over-amiabilities of the night before.
Yet that side was true enough, the side I had preached. And was not this side also true in its way? The preacher seemed at first to be referring to my own obsession with the words 'resist not evil,' my following of Tolstoy in my own evangel. He was warm in his commendation. 'And yet,' he said, 'let us remember a just God's resistance to evil. He resists and judges righteously, where we may neither resist nor judge. If we agree not to resist evil violently for Jesus' sake, yet ought we not to warn people of their God's unrelenting resistance? While we would not obscure the fear of our just God by the fear of us unjust men, let us remember our just God!' He spoke of judgment and of purgation, of what seemed to be indicated hereafter by the stupidity and cruelty of people's prejudices in South Africa. He painted quite luridly the purgation he anticipated as likely for such as would dare to wreck a child's education, and possibly her life for a color-scruple. He glowed and kindled. There was no mistaking his drift. He painted the fires of purgation. He painted, too, their presumable fuel, much as I believe old preachers limned the flames of hell and their denizens. 'And it may lengthen out into hell! Who knows?' he kept interjecting. 'Who knows but that that prejudiced spirit you play with may be a damned spirit after all, fuel for the fire that is not quenched, food for the worm that does not die?'
T could not have preached happily on his lines, but for all that I acknowledged that the thing might well be of God this bizarre surprise at his preaching that was glassed in at least two of his listeners' eyes. Did that sermon do any good? Let me anticipate! The child came into town as a half-time servant. Somebody's letter got handed up to the Administrator, and he made a request to the managers. The child was clearly European by predominance of race. They spent five hours of their precious time in discussion. The officials wanted to oblige the Administrator, and they had their way at last. But whether the child once admitted will have much of a time, I am inclined to doubt, should she pass into the Paradise of so select an academy. I heard an ominous story of the Dutch minister last week, how he had threatened a hiding to any child of his that spoke to this forlorn little girl, who seems hard up for playmates. I heard yesterday that one of my Church magnates had asked that the child should not come up to play with his own. Yet the Fire of God has been preached, and I am willing to allow that the thing may have wanted doing rather badly in my amiable parish. Doesn't any real true Christian Peace Doctrine mean spiritual fire and sword? Doesn't it mean burning and fuel of fire as set against the confused noise and garments rolled in blood of earthly campaigns? Doesn't any real true Christian Imperialism mean the sword of the Spirit and the fire of the Gospel against South African Racialism? Perfect love casteth out fear, but what has Racialism to do with such a perfect love as will banish the fear of God?
After all, can any reasonable and lively Christian Faith avail to find any evangelically reasonable destination short of hell for South African Racialists dying in their Racialism save such place of purgation as my friend indicated? Yes, of course, God's prerogative of mercy in Jesus is limitless, but are these Racialists so merciful to little colored children that they should obtain mercy without judgment from Jesus' judgment?
And if the purgative fire seem so inevitable, why not warn its prospective fuel?
Granted the Love of Jesus (Who was certainly what South Africans would call a Jew Boy, Who was possibly so dark that any dorp school would have hummed over His admission, Who enrolled Himself in that House of David one of Whose ancestresses was the Hamitic Rahab apparently, Who took Ham's curse as well as Japheth's); granted that that Love is the one and only supreme motive for Christian Reform, yet for all that, facts are facts, and it may be kind to tell people into what fires the fires of Racialism threaten to merge their selves. On the whole, I am glad that our lay reader preached on that bright morning that over-gloomed sermon, preaching from my own soothing pulpit to my startled congregation. They did not seem to know what to make of it. But the preacher himself seemed quite unrepentant about it. He was talking to me about it that morning when we drove home again, he to his farm and I with him, to walk on to my mission. We outspanned in a very green valley, I remember, and sat long over roast monkey-nuts that his driver benignantly provided.
'The Lord put a word into my mouth,' my friend said quite firmly and simply. 'Was there not the cause the cause of a child's career? Didn't our Savior speak plainly as to the ugly analogy of the man drowned like a dog with a stone round his neck in the deep of the sea? Weren't His children in question when Jesus spoke; wasn't there a Christian child in question when I preached?'
I thought he made out something of a case for his position as a preacher of fiery doom. We were sitting on a beautiful green carpet. The Earth there had come through her bad time. Away on the hillside a black forbidding patch testified to the unpleasantness of the remedial stage. Away in the distance was a beautiful tree-shaded granite hill with much show of brown foliage and purplish underspaces. Just beside that hill the flames came driving (through the old last year's feed, I suppose). His eyes followed mine the way of the flames. 'Hurray!' he said heartily. 'Now we shan't be so very long surely after all. Don't you see the green grass on its way? It was a snug corner, verily, for the old dry stuff. Look, how the flames leap up in the thick of it! Not very juicy browse nor tasty feed, but fine fuel for the fire; good for that, anyway. It was a snug corner, but at last the time was ripe when the fire came driving straight for it the fire with the wind behind. 'Which things are a parable,' he said, his ugly sunburnt face twitching curiously, his eyes quite handsome, nay, even splendid with honest scorn. He was shaking his fist towards the prim little dorp that we had left behind over the ridges. 'No doubt but ye are the people,' he said, 'ye that have made the freedom of England and the franchise of Jesus of no effect by your tradition your sacrosanct tradition. What's the good of the frowsy old stuff? It must be some good; what is it? It isn't very good pasture for sheep or horses, not to speak of dairy cattle, but it's noble food for fire, don't you think?
There it lies-up so snug and sheltered and screened the old dead survival hidden in the prim little corrugated iron-roofed houses, and the narrow gumtree avenues, and the whitewashed Dutch tabernacle where they sing "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" (would you believe it?) But the time will come, it mayn't come in my day or in yours, but the time will come sure enough, when the Fire will trek dead straight for this old dead-ripe stuff, the Fire with the Wind behind. Then God have mercy on them whose work it was! For their work shall be burnt, aren't we sure of that? But as to they themselves being the sort to be saved so as by fire can we be so very sanguine? Meanwhile. . . . . . .
The way he so humbly appealed to me for my opinion on that moot point, did much to conciliate me. He had not carried me with him all the while. He seemed to me a bit out of date, too like an ante-Christian prophet. Yet how my heart went out to him as he ended up so very abruptly with his 'meanwhile.' His voice broke queerly, and his eyes shone. 'Meanwhile they may manage to give a child or two a rough passage. They've got pluck enough for that, the blighters, haven't they?' He turned away from me with a sort of a sob. 'The time'll come sure enough, but it's their time now, and they know it,' he said. 'God pity her!'
'LA BELLE DAME'
Inhabiting this country you inhabit the Middle Ages, you dwell in the wild Marchlands without the pale of Christendom. Here a man may take to the forest roads in the old spirit of errantry. How darkly the shadow of witchcraft falls upon the path; we might be in Lapland or Thessaly! What strange satyr voices the drums have of nights! I suppose it is the reading about such things long ago that gives me this sense of having been here before, of having come back to this country!'
His eyes glistened as he sat over his wine, and smoked Transvaal tobacco in a calabash pipe. He looked much more as he used to look twenty years back, I thought. I had deemed him aged almost out of recognition when first we sat down to dinner. He had come up to Mashonaland with some learned association on a holiday trip. His name was Gerald Browne; he had lectured on English literature these many years in an ancient northern university.
With him came his wife, a very plain and quiet lady, and also an undergraduate pupil named Drayton.
I was asked to meet them, and to stay in the same house with them by a certain minor potentate of Rosebery, who had had rooms near Browne's and mine in years gone by. It was Saturday night, and I had just come in from the veld, while Browne's party had reached Rosebery by the morning train. Dinner had gone rather quietly, and our host had looked bored, I thought. Then, when the ladies had left us, Browne had kindled up, and we all three had a glorious hour, voicing the praises of Africa in a sort of three-man descant or glee. Meanwhile the fourth man, Drayton, a dark, plump and smiling youth, listened to us with a charming air of respectful attention. Transvaal tobacco was good, and the talk was good, though I say it who should not. Drayton's silence was also good, a very complimentary silence with a distinct character, as it seemed to me. On Sunday after lunch this youth came for a walk with me, while the Brownes and our host reclined.
'Mr. Browne's got a sort of call to the Simple Life,' he suddenly blurted out with a grin. 'It's even money on his selling up at Oxford and coming out here for good. What's going to happen to Mrs. Browne, I wonder?'
I laughed, as I thought he expected me to do.
'He seems rather smitten,' I admitted. 'He certainly raved a bit last night; but, then, so many people do that when they first come out.'
Drayton looked at me as if he might have said much more. But I changed the subject; it never occurred to me then that it might be a thrilling one. I went home later on and sat on the stoep and talked to my host. Browne had very little to say. He went off for a sunset walk, and never came to church at night. We sat up in the moonlight waiting for him afterwards. He came in at last and joined us on the stoep, but he was very silent. He would not have any supper. He smoked away furiously till bed-time.
I arranged a riding trip for all three visitors next morning. They were to off-saddle under some high kopjes about ten miles from town; they were to have a picnic and an amazing view. I could not go myself, as I had an appointment to keep. But I sent two Mashona boys to be their retinue; one of them was Johannes, my own right hand at home. I solemnly entrusted the strangers and their steeds to his keeping.
When I came in about sunset that Monday evening they had not returned. But before the daylight failed, three of them were back Mrs. Browne, Drayton, and the under-boy. Where were Browne and Johannes? Mrs. Browne seemed to be a little uneasy, but she affected to make light of what had happened. She said that her husband had wanted to see the country beyond, so he had gone on with the boy. He was sure to be back to-morrow, as he had taken so little food with him. Drayton said nothing at the time, but after dinner, when we were smoking on the stoep, he began to quote to me:
'I met a lady in the meads, Full beautiful a faery's child; Her hair was long, her foot was light, And her eyes were wild.'
'What do you mean to insinuate?' I said.
'Oh, I don't mean anything libelous. Browne hasn't gone off with a comely Mashona. But, for all that, I believe he's taken Africa much too seriously. She has a grim fascination for me, but she doesn't stop at that with him. She grips him and orders him to come along.'
'Tell me about today,' I said.
'Browne acknowledged a little to me three days ago,' Drayton said. 'He told me that this huge Tamburlaine (or rather Zenocrate) of a country was giving him too heady a welcome. He said she was still in the Middle Ages, and not only there, but more than half outside the pale of Christendom, such as it was then. So she had strange forces at work in her, and used incantations to allure, in prodigal variety. He talked about Lapland, and some footling researches he had made into the magic of the north. He also told me a horrible tale or two of the South that he had found in the Bodleian. One was a real curdler, I can tell you. Jerry Browne's own moustache seemed to turn up like a German's as he imparted it to me. You know he's romantic enough in his way, though he does lead such a repressed life. You should see him at home.'
'But do tell me why he's gone off so suddenly,' said I, with some impatience.
'I can't tell you very much,' said Drayton. 'We rode out, and Jerry seemed tremendously cheerful quite sportive. Anyone who'd only known him in Park Crescent would have been much surprised to watch him and listen to the things he said. Mrs. Browne seemed a bit puzzled, I thought, at last. Then we came to the kopjes where there was a consummate view. You could see a long way to the north across a hugely wide plain. Browne climbed up on the highest rock with me a sort of flat slab, whereon you might immolate a hecatomb. He seemed more exhilarated than ever just then. Soon he slipped away down the rocks and left me smoking my pipe on high. About five minutes after I observed him making tracks across the northern plain. He was cantering his dappled mule for all it was worth; he was carrying nothing so far as I could see.
'I made haste down. I found that boy you said we could trust. I gave him two or three picnic rugs and what was left of our food to carry. I asked him to follow the rideaway, to stick to him, and to bring him back as soon as ever he could. Then I went to Mrs. Browne. She was sitting behind some bushes crying. She said Browne had said such a curious good-bye to her. He had spoken of riding on to see more of the country he had said he would be back in the morning. She had tried to dissuade him, but he seemed hardly to listen. She could scarcely believe that he had really gone without blankets or food. I reassured her, telling her that I had sent the boy and that you had said the boy was a good 'un. But if she thinks, or you think, that the old man will come back tomorrow, I don't.'
Tuesday passed anxiously both for Mrs. Browne and for me. Drayton was anxious in the wrong way, unless I misjudged him. I seemed to read triumph in his face as the hours went by and brought no Browne.
I grew haggard when evening drew on. What was I to do? But about sunset tidings came. A native, who had traveled into town from the north, brought me a penciled note from Johannes: 'My father, I ask you to come to us. Let your horse make haste. The white man will not turn. He has finished his food. He goes to the hills, he says. I think that he is mad. Pray for us! Johannes.'
I went to Mrs. Browne at once. I remember I found her sitting under a flaming hibiscus bush. She looked very pale and washed-out against it. I told her that her husband wanted to extend his tour. She burst into tears, and said she could not understand it. Then I told her that I meant going after him in the morning to try to hasten his return. She brightened up at that, and fell to planning what I should take with me. What comforts could she send Gerald in the comfortless desert without overloading me? I showed Johannes' note to Drayton after dinner. He whistled, and, to his credit, looked grave.
'I'm to go after him to-morrow,' I said. 'I've thought over it, and I think you may as well come too. You may be useful, as knowing his ways.'
He nodded. 'Rather bad about his running out of skoff, isn't it?' he asked. 'I wonder if he's out of baccy and just breaking his heart.' His plump face was pitiful.
'Don't you fret,' I answered. 'It only means he's run out of our food. They'll surely buy monkey-nuts or sweet-potatoes or rice in the kraals. He's probably developed a passion for native food by now, also for native snuff. He'll be able to buy some of that, surely.'
'Just so,' said Drayton. He began to quote again in a sort of droning chant as if he were a chorus recording the onsweep of a tragedy:
'I set her on my pacing steed, And nothing else saw all day long, For sidelong would she lean, and sing A faery's song.
'She found me roots of relish sweet, And honey wild, and manna-dew, And sure in language strange she said I love thee true.'
In the morning we got a flying start after all, though Drayton was in bed when I came back from church. We went away at eight, and soon found, to our joy, that we were really well mounted. It was joy, too, to remember what a stubborn mule Browne had for pacing steed. He had not got away far, we assured ourselves. But we did not catch him that night.
We asked at kraals as we went along, and struck a hot scent about three in the afternoon. A white man had passed that morning a white man riding a dappled mule, with a boy carrying blankets behind him. Straightway we gave our ponies an off-saddle.
Afterwards we rode on hard in what we deemed to be the right direction till darkness fell: We sought shelter at a village then. There was no village gossip, alas! about the passing of a white man that day! They were good to us, though, those villagers, and gave us beans and monkey-nuts for supper and mealies for our ponies. After we had finished eating we spread out the rush-mat they had lent us and lay down to smoke and meditate and surmise as to our passionate pilgrim. They had given us a hut that was old and grimy with fires. Its floor teemed with life.
Therefore we changed our resting-place and went out to camp under a rocky eminence. There with a bedrock of austere granite we slept in peace. At glimmer of dawn we were saddling up. We rode to another kraal, but the folk there had no news for us.
We were close on the hills now at last. We came to a low river at the foot of them. We chose a landlocked pool that seemed to be immune from crocodiles, for a plunge. Next I girded myself for Sacrifice, and he served me. Then we made a fire and cooked a huge breakfast in the hungry morning air. Drayton grew quite lyrical as to the charm of the country before the meal was over.
'Browne's not far wrong about her,' he said; 'but there's reason in all things.'
That whole day we heard no news and found no spoor or sign. The hill-country gave us stiff climbing and rocky paths to ride. Kraals and clusters of gardens places where we might hope to hear tidings how few they were in that hill-country! We camped disconsolately at last in a forlorn garden among grey boulders where stumps of trees were burning. We found no trouble in building up a good night fire of half-burnt logs. We gave our ponies their nosebags and ate our own bread and bully rather silently. Then we surmised with some weariness and gloom over our pipes. At last we slept under the many eyes of the heavens.
About first cock-crow, when a chill struck through my blanket, I opened my eyes and looked towards the fire. Someone was sitting beside it watching me. Now that he saw me stirring he greeted me.
It was Johannes. 'I saw your fire but just now,' he said. 'Our fire is up there beyond great rocks. The white man has been very sick. I think he will come home now.'
I sprang to my feet and roused Drayton. He would not get up for a long time. I suspect he combined breakfast and lunch fairly often at Oxford. But I roused him mercilessly. I told him the news.
He argued in desperate fashion at first. 'How far's the sick bed,' he asked.
'Not more than a mile or so,' said I.
'Need we go till morning?' said he.
'Shame!' said I.
At last he sprang up.
As we clambered among the boulders, piloted by Johannes, he droned away at his chorus part:
'She took me to her elfin grot, And there she wept, and sighed full sore, And there I shut her wild, sad eyes With kisses four.
'And there she lulled me asleep, And there I dream'd Ah woe betide! The latest dream I ever dream'd On the cold hill's side.'
We found Browne in a nook among the rocks. A fire was burning beside him. He seemed to be sleeping.
'He looks as if he'd been sick,' I said. 'We'd better let him sleep on!'
'Yes; let's go to bed ourselves,' said Drayton, yawning.
So we lay down on opposite sides of the fire. Such a red and splendid fire that cold cock-crow time!
Browne kept giving sharp little moans in his sleep, just as a dog will do of nights.
'He's started a nightmare,' said I. 'I wish we could help him to better dreams. I'd like to see what he sees just now.'
Drayton began to drone from his side of the fire:
'I saw pale kings and princes, too; Pale warriors death-pale were they all. They cried, "La Belle Dame sans Merci" hath thee in thrall.
'I saw their starved lips in the gloom With horrid warning gaped wide, And I awoke and found me here On the cold hill's side.'
I asked a question: 'What will Browne like for breakfast, Drayton?'
'If he's come back to his civilized tastes, you'd better open that tin of sausages,' he said. 'You've got some squish, too, haven't you? Don't give him that bush-tea of yours!'
I was up long before Drayton. I had secured Browne's confidences before the sun had been risen an hour. 'I've had a sort of miserable ague,' he said. 'A cold and hot fever has been plaguing me. Some part of this last night has been savagely horrible. But I've sweated pounds of my weight away, and my fever's gone. Strange, isn't it?'
'Quite ordinary in this part of Africa,' I said, sharply and minimizingly. I handed him a shirt, and he doffed his drenched one. He did not tell me any more just then. His eyes watched me in a dazed, miserable way. I asked him to excuse me, and went off with Johannes to my service. When I came back his eyes were clearer, they had less of their look of wan-hope.
'Sinister country, this Africa,' he said. 'I was infatuated with her yesterday. Today I can't understand just what the attraction was. Her desolate moors seemed to make me drunk. See how she's served me! I never felt quite so sick as I've done most of this last day and night. Just before I woke it seemed to me I saw them in my dreams tens and twenties of her victims; men she's charmed and led on and on, and demoralized, ruined, killed and buried, and helped down-hill the way of the bottomless pit. I am better now; but I'm shaken. How thankful I'll be if only I get out of her, and can only stop thinking about her after that.'
I listened with grave attention. Then I gave him some bread and sausages, and he ate away ravenously. How ever many cups of tea did he drink afterwards?'
The above was all the avowal that Browne made to me. I do not think that he said nearly as much to Drayton as he did to me. Drayton plied me with questions that night, and I told him too much, to my regret.
Months afterwards a copy of an undergraduate paper, containing a fantasia on the events that I have recorded, reached me. It comprised much African coloring and some little humor. I wonder if it reached Browne or Mrs. Browne?
We got Browne home in little over a day. He hurried on, oftentimes when we wanted to rest. He seemed as anxious to emerge from the African desert as he had been to explore the deeps of it. He looked rakish and wretched as he bumped about upon his mule. His face was livid, and his black beard, that he used to cut so formally, desperately out of trim. His eyes were strangely bloodshot.
We reached home safely with our prize by noon on Saturday. Browne, as I have said, was all for getting on fast, and when we once started, his stubborn mount went well. It was won to emulation by the willingness of our ponies, I imagine.
Mrs. Browne was delighted at her Gerald's return. Yet I think it must have taken some months to restore her confidence in his sanity. She had had a sore shock. Drayton and I, indeed, were both discreet in our brief narratives of what had really happened. But I was heedless enough to forget Johannes. I did not caution him in time. So Mrs. Browne gathered rather a bizarre account from him while we were at church on Sunday evening. It is to her credit that, despite her thrift, she gave the boy a whole gold sovereign.
The three travelers left by the slow down-train on the Monday morning. I went to the station with them. I saw Drayton into a smoking-carriage, and climbed in and sat with him. There was still ten minutes' grace allowed us.
'Where's Browne, and where's Mrs. Browne?' I asked.
'Along there, ever so far!' he said; 'with Professor Ayres and the Misses Ayres, and all sorts of good company. But, hullo! Look there!'
Browne was coming up the platform towards the bookstall, looking forlorn and sad.
'Ah! what can ail thee, wretched wight, Alone and palely loitering?' murmured Drayton. 'It's a bad job for me, Jerry's getting off-color like this. How's he going to train men for Firsts next June, when he's gone in himself?'
'Oh. he'll pick up as soon as he gets out of Africa, never fear.' I reassured him.
Browne loitered up to the stall and amassed two month-old English magazines. Then he stood by the stall, looking on to the distances near and far behind it. Our feverish contact had not spoilt much of the landscape there as yet. Beyond a few railway sheds showed some bushes, as it were, of wild cherry-blossom, flaunting a true white under the sky's true blue. Spring colors dressed the woodland behind them red and bronze, and also the two famous colors of Faeryland. Behind that, again, the view was spread out widely diverse, certain blue hills standing up very delicately. Meanwhile in the near foreground some Kaffir herds helped the picture not a little. They were driving their flock between the white-blossomed bushes.
Browne stood a long while and watched that landscape. I would have given something to have read his face all the while, but his back was turned to us.
At last he began to pace up and down by the bookstall. Then he stood to gaze again, scouring, as it seemed, the far distance with eyes straining their utmost. Our eyes followed his.
Did not some ironstone kopjes rise up dimly to the north there?
Assuredly Browne saw those blue peaks and ridges, and remembered them.
'Do you remember them?' I asked Drayton.
'Don't I just?' he said.
He began again in his chanting chorus tone: he was reading and transposing from a pocket copy of Theocritus.
'They all call thee a "gipsy," gracious Africa, and "lean" and "sunburnt," 'tis only I that call thee "honey-pale." Yea, and the violet is swart, and swart the lettered hyacinth, but yet these flowers are chosen the first in garlands. . . . Ah, gracious Africa, thy feet are fashioned like carven ivory, thy voice is drowsy sweet, and thy ways, I cannot tell of them.'
The engine whistled. Browne roused himself to my intense relief, and climbed into the train.
'Good-bye,' I called to him as they steamed away.
'Au revoir,' he called back to me.
THE SCENTED TOWN (A TRIPPER'S TALE)
It is now more than two years since I was invalided out of my country parish one bitter March, and sent on a southern voyage. I had ten weeks to recruit in, and I passed by the Mediterranean to the eastern coast of Africa. It was hard to tear myself away from Zanzibar, but at last I went on southward and struck up into the wilder country of the central tableland. I meant to take the rail for Cape Town when my time should be up.
It happened in Easter week that I camped out disconsolately, and rose anxiously, having lost my way overnight. I had spent Easter Day in a cathedral, or pro-cathedral, town, and was now on my way to a certain mission. I had hoped to make it that last night the third night of the journey but had somehow missed it in the dark after a big effort. There seemed to be no native village near, and no passers-by. My carriers were strangers to that neighborhood, and I was afraid of going far past the house in benighted wanderings, so I bent my resolution and lay down. I rose just before the sun did. It was April and the dews were very heavy.
From a rocky hill above me the baboons were barking. Just below us was a fair stream with a rich grove of native trees on the further bank. Some native gardens showed on the slope above. The white path wound through them, then away among boulders, some of them very big ones. While I watched the stream I saw a white body of mist mounting up. Just at that moment the sun showed. As I looked on the sacred sight I saw somebody coming down the path. It was the man whose mission station I had been looking for. He was coming through the long grass in a hurry. Soon he splashed through the drift. After that he caught sight of me, and rushed up to our camp, glowing. It was Leonard Reeve. He looked much the same as he did that day in London three years before—dark, pale, slight, earnest. I had been to his sendoff and gone down to Victoria Docks with him. I had written to tell him; I was most likely coming his way after Easter. He seemed ever so glad to see me.
'But where were you off to?' I said.
'It's only a mile on that I'm going,' he answered. 'There's a little chapel on that hill over there with some native villages near by. I want to have an Easter service there.'
'Let me come,' said I. 'You can be back to breakfast here, can't you, when we've done?'
He said he could. Even as he nodded I felt a little anxious when I remembered that we had no meat of any sort left. I took Jack, my head carrier, aside and asked him to do what he could while we were gone. Couldn't he buy some eggs for salt, or do something useful in the way of foraging? He said three words in kitchen Kaffir that sounded hopeful.
Then I went on with my chill, damp little friend. One of the coldest ways surely of taking a bath is to tramp through the long grass (it is very long in that country) when it is drenched with dew or rain. However it is all right if you are sturdy and in good heart, and keep going a stirring pace, and never sit down till you are dry again. My companion did not seem very buoyant, though he made no complaint and trudged on without flagging. We had a glorious service in a quaint church of wattles and earth and grass on a hill-top. One way it looked over a great spread of village gardens I think there were at least three villages in sight. The other way it looked on some well-wooded uplands that the eastern sun lighted tenderly. There were only a few people in church at the end of the rite, though a great crowd was there at the outset, and the 'Kyrie' and first two hymns raised the hill echoes.
There was no sermon. When the unbaptized were gone the tiny church, that had seemed so thronged and stifling, grew to be roomy and cool.
That was to me a very beautiful rendering of the Liturgy. Yet I only understood a word here and there. I could follow the action of the Divine Pageant throughout, and I would not have had the mystery and aloofness of the words one whit lessened.
After it was over Reeve took me across to the native teacher's house, where we found a very shy wife and a very composed baby to greet us. Meanwhile the husband bustled about and gave us tea. I liked his laugh and his boyish face, as well as his Biblical English. He did not stint the tea in his blue pot. Soon we were on our way back to my camp.
Jack had got a real good fire now in the shelter of the rocks, and a hearty smell of fish frying reassured me as we drew near.
Reeve, who had seemed a little tired and washed out as we came away from the church, now brightened up marvelously.
'I declare,' he said, 'it's just like old times. You know the Tooting Road, where I used to work? It's just like the fried-fish shop there, next door to the Surrey Arms. If we'd only got the fog and the trams and a few of the old people here how fine it'd be!'
We had found a subject that interested us both and lasted most of the breakfast-time. His enthusiasm struck me as a little too emphatic. I remarked that I thought he was well out of the Tooting Road and out under blue sky on an African moorland.
'Look up there!' I said. 'That makes the Tooting Road seem rather monstrous when one comes to think of it.' I pointed to the many cattle and sheep and goats coming down to the stream at a swinging pace through the gleaming woodland.
Two little boys were mounted on bulls; two or three others came rushing behind. There was a barking of dogs and an ecstasy of shouting.
'Oh, it's all very well,' he said, and his eyes flashed a little scornfully.
Afterwards he took me to his home. His church stood out nobly as we came up the path towards it. Within it was beautifully kept, but I confess I was disappointed. It was all very neat, but it suggested the skill of the church-furnishing firm too strongly. I sighed a little as he showed me four enormous brazen vases of a too familiar type. I longed for the two or three little red and black earthen vases that I had seen on his teacher's altar; but I kept my longing to myself.
He was a marvelous man for method, Leonard Reeve. He seemed to me to organize classes with real talent anybody who came to the Mission at all habitually was pigeon-holed as 'Inquirer,' 'Hearer,' 'Catechumen,' 'Under a cloud,' or something else, and dealt with accordingly. His work, as I watched it day by day, and evening by evening in church and school and villages and Mission farm seemed to me well-considered and painstaking. On the other hand he seemed to me not so happy, and not so very well.
The mail came in on the Monday.
I was to start the following Thursday for the railroad on my way to my home again. We gloated over the letters and papers that evening it was really a superb mail. The native boy with the bag (I remember he was lanky and handsome and wore a rose-and-blue zephyr) came up just as we stood in the avenue leading to the house. We were smoking our pipes and arguing. The sun was almost down.
What were we arguing about? Oh, he was arguing rather recklessly about the glories of town-work. I retorted with few words, but strong ones, in favor of work out in the country. Once I pressed him rather inquisitively and mischievously as to his present work on the veld. 'How can you hold such views and do it?' I asked him point-blank. Thereat the fine side of the man showed.
His face flushed and his lips quivered. 'It's my job,' he said, 'and I'm not going to talk against it. I was arguing about country-work in the abstract over there in England.' Then it was that the boy came in sight with the letters. Reeve looked up and watched him with real pleasure and gratitude. He said something to him in the native language that seemed to amuse the boy very much. I had thought his manners towards his flock very courteous, but cold. I noticed a new tenderness now and from this night forward.
I could read him like a book, this town-lover so I thought. He had said too much to me, he had avowed to me his want of affection for his work in so many words, and now he was on the watch against himself, and burning to render reparation to a very quick conscience.
He had a big mail, but he was not communicative about it. Indeed we had not much time for our letters just then. We had Evensong soon after sunset, then there was a class for catechumens that I attended. I could not understand much, but it was good to watch how they listened, all but the vigorous mail-boy, who nodded at whiles unless I am mistaken. Afterwards we had a meal. It was by mutual agreement that we read our letters over our bread and tea and cheese. I read one of my letters with some indignation. It was a letter from my schoolmaster, who was not very encouraging on the subject of my locum tenens' industry.
'I thought I had got a first-rate man in Cochrane,' I said aloud.
'Cochrane of Peckham Downs?' asked Reeve, looking up and eyeing me. 'What about him? Yes, I should say he was in his way quite first-rate.'
'I'm glad to hear it, but I wish he would find country work more congenial. My correspondent says he's quite got the hump about our village.'
Leonard smiled. 'Some villages do tend to give people like Cochrane and me the hump,' he said. 'But of course yours is different.' 'Of course it is. Come and see it some day.' His mouth twitched. 'If I get home-leave in two years' time,' he said. 'I don't want to spend it in the country, not any of it, thank you all the same. I like the town much too well.'
'The smell of the shop you named attracts you just like thyme does me.'
'Yes,' he said, with a rather wry smile and a very real sigh.
Then we went on reading till bed-time. In the morning Lorenzo, his house-boy, knocked me up just as the sun was rising. 'The father is very sick,' he said. So he was very bad indeed with fever, at least so it seemed to me. But I am not used to nursing that malady. I think his temperature was 103 that day, which may seem a modest figure to a pioneer, but struck a chance visitor as none too reassuring. However, I kept my anxieties to myself, and looked after him quietly. He said there was no need to worry about a doctor. That night he seemed to be delirious, and talking at large. I made up my mind I would send for the doctor in the morning if his symptoms should last. But they did not. He appeared to be quiet and sensible at sunrise, and his temperature was a normal one. The morning after that, again, he seemed so well that I left him with a fairish conscience on my return journey for England. I want to tell you about that anxious night. He gave himself away then. I don't think he remembered much of what he had said next morning. It seemed sad to me his self-revelation. He said he did not know what in the world to do, he felt so ill and anxious. He was a Cockney born, and he had loved his South London work. He really wanted to tackle the job in front of him here. But the romance was there behind him in that English city the unique sense of being in the right place the great adventure the gleam.
Oh! why had he caught the fever? Not this fever, but the malaria of Imperialism, and felt drawn to go so very far afield. He didn't abuse the veld, the camping-out, the foot-slogging, the primitive people. He was a very chivalrous person even in his delirium.
But he spoke ecstatically of the streets, the tram-roads, the lights of the town, the smartness of his flock, the delights of their up-to-date humor.
The tragedy thickened. He told me of her who had promised to marry him by Eastertide next year. Cecilia was her name.
She was a Londoner, and shared his views. 'Whatever will she think of this place?' he asked. My eyes wandered to the iron roof, to the floor-boarded walls, to the candle in a bottle that fought the draught so bravely. He told me about a letter of hers he had got by this mail. She had been working as a governess these last few months at a country rectory in the Berkshire moors. She found the village, and the neighborhood, and the life there in general very flat indeed. They bored her; yet she was keen, he said, on 'the work,' 'the work' as she had known it when she worked for him in London. 'Whatever will she think of this place?' he repeated. I looked at the floor, freshly treated with cow-dung, and thought again for an answer, but I could think of no very suitable one.
'I'll give you her letter to read,' he said, in a burst of confidence. 'That puts it far more plainly than I can. My head's so bad.' He looked worried, and I thought I had better leave him.
'No,' he said; 'do read to me a bit before you go.'
'What shall I read?'
He looked at me meditatively. 'You'll find something to the point in there,' he said. He reached up to the little candle-box bookcase over his head, and showed me a little crimson book. It was an anthology. I should think it might be commendably put on the 'Index Expurgatorius' of upcountry missionaries.
It was called 'The Cheerful City,' and dwelt on the delights of civilization and urbanity. Doubtless it may serve a useful purpose, thought I, in reconciling Londoners to their wen; but, here, what does it spell for my delirious Cockney save only desiderium?
I read him two or three selections obediently, but without enthusiasm. Were they from Herrick and Charles Lamb? I rather think they were.
Afterwards he asked me for a few verses of the Gospel. I cheered up.
'What would you like?'
'Oh, that story at the end of St. John. I've often thought of it since I was so cold and wet; and got to your camp-fire. "The fire of coals, and fish laid thereon, and bread," that's it.'
I read with a will, but rather sadly.
'That's it,' he said. 'It seems to bring back the fog, and going to early Service past that coffee-stall, and the smell of that shop next to the Surrey Arms.'
I thought of his homely comparison after I had left him for the night. It moved me strangely. I read the letter he had lent me the letter of Cecilia, who found the Berkshire moors so banal. Yes, she promised to prove a very undesirable help-meet on the veld, so far as I could judge. I thought over things generally that night, and I made up my mind to make a Quixotic offer in the morning. I would offer to take on Leonard's work. Let him go home and be happy in his scented town, with his intolerantly urban (or suburban) Cecilia. He was splendid stuff. He might do much, surely, in that quaint atmosphere of light and locomotion and fragrance that his sense of romance demanded. Here Cecilia would surely be either impossible or a very great nuisance. While, even without Cecilia, Leonard did not seem well suited in his sphere, and I judged that he would soon be rotten with fever and wouldn't last.
As for me, I liked country life much, and roughing it a little. I had no particular fear of fever. I compared my physique with Leonard's not without complacency. I thought of the other side, too: the east country that village of all villages, those villagers of all villagers.
But that night I was full of over-seas fervor. I remembered phrases that had rung cut finely at meetings Outpost Duty, the Church in Greater Britain, The White Man's Burden, In Darkest Africa, etc., etc. When I fell asleep there seemed to be a symphony in my ears sounding brass and tinkling cymbals enough and to spare, but flute-voices of honest pity and sympathy as well.
In the morning I took Leonard's place in his church. We had the English Liturgy again. The thatched dome, with much tinier windows than the windows at home, but much more sun to fill them, seemed a sort of parable to me that morning. After I had finished the rite, I stayed on in the church, and spread out two letters before the Lord, so to speak. One was my schoolmaster's, the other was that one from Cecilia.
It took me half an hour to feel fairly sure of my answer. But I felt very sure then just as sure as I had been the night before but the answer was different.
I thought of my own fold and flock as I read my own friend's letter. How little the locum tenens seemed to see what I saw in them! I read Cecilia's letter, and compared 'her view of the importance of a country cure with my own. After all, I thought, the latter tended to be an exceptional view in our megalomaniac days. On the other hand, the locum tenens' view might be rather a normal one, and so might Cecilia's be. Cecilia's scorn, it was, that materially helped the answer to come as clearly as it did. The thought of a Cecilia reigning in that east-country vicarage seemed no more right than pleasant. It sounds a callous thing to say, but I left my lonely and convalescent friend with something of a sigh of relief, and no real misgiving. I felt troubled about his future certainly, but I saw clearly that I was not meant to take his place. I hoped to find the man who was meant to take it, however.
And, by God's help, I believe that I really did find him before many months were over.
A cousin of mine Richard East had been persuaded by a certain bishop to accept an urban charge.
I fancy the said bishop had been reared in a rather strait school of enthusiasts, who regarded work in slums as ideally the best sphere for clerics of activity. So he had routed my cousin out of his west-country village, and brought him to a big town—my cousin, who was an outdoor man from his youth. Curiously enough, at Cape Town, there was a letter waiting for me from him. Wouldn't I tell him something about the 'great spaces washed with sun'? The midland town in general seemed not to have gained his affections, though he loved his people one by one. 'I want to clear out,' he wrote, 'for the parish's sake more than for my own, if only I can find the right place to clear to. I'm not a townsman, and I think by now the bishop understands my small-mindedness. I haven't the breadth of a good modern citizen. I want to go to some Little Peddlington an African village might suit me. No, directly the right man turns up, I don't doubt the bishop will want to put him here in my room. Do you know of anyone likely?' I did know of someone.
I did not write back; I got on my boat and started off for home. I went down to the east country and set free the locum tenens. The village had a bridal look for my eyes; the red-thorn tree was just coming out, the roses would not be long now. I was in time to be at our yearly May games after all. Next day I went to the Midland town and saw my cousin; also, I saw his charge. I tried to look at it with Leonard Reeve's eyes, recalling to my remembrance that delirious night of his. Yes, though it was not South London, it had a drab look on a dull June day. There was a Warwick Arms, if no Surrey Arms. There was a shop with the authentic fragrance only two or three doors off. I knew that bishop, and I found him in, and in a listening mood, on the following day. He wanted to hear about Africa. I described missions and missionaries to him. Then I told him at some length about Leonard Reeve.
'Yes, you have drawn the man convincingly,' he said. 'You didn't invent those touches. I think he's a man after my own heart. I don't understand you people that bury yourselves in little rose-covered, immoral, earthy country villages. But I think I do understand the man that you have described.' I went straight to the point, and spoke of my cousin's parish. He agreed that my cousin was a disappointment. 'He's got the same peddling way of looking at things as you,' he said. 'I thought he'd flourish after transplantation, but I admit he doesn't seem to. Yes, I should think a desert and a barbarous people might suit him. I don't deny that he has vision, but his sense of perspective seems to be rather ridiculous.' I tried to arrange matters there and then after that, but his lordship became politic, and seemed a little afraid that he had said too much to me.
However, the business was on the way to be settled before I parted from him. It has been settled quite a long while now. My cousin, Richard East, now tramps the Kaffir paths and ministers in the hill chapel and in that seven-domed church at the mission station. I do not think that there is any Cecilia in his case, nor that there is likely to be one. He personifies the abstract too passionately to need the love of women.
Africa is personified to him the Cinderella of the continents, the drudge with a destiny worthy of her charms and her good-temper. He is writing a monograph on the Song of Solomon, he tells me. He follows certain scholars in his conjecture that the Shulamite was given back to a humble shepherd by Solomon, when she had conquered the latter by the power of her impassioned chastity. But he has his own theory as well that the true lovers were both of African blood, that she came from the Ophir-land south of the Zambesi, and thither returned in peace at last from the foam of perilous seas. Perhaps his argument is slender; but it is good for him to believe in it himself, I think, for surely it helps his work among those that he deems her descendants.
He works on out there, personifying and idealizing. I think he is as much in love with his country parish as I am with mine in England. May we both, in our placid and unfashionable ways, dream our dreams and see our visions! Meanwhile Leonard Reeve reigns in that midland town, and is treasured by the bishop who was not deceived when he expected a kindred spirit. He and Cecilia have chosen a date in this next November for their deferred marriage.
Their choice of month seems to me characteristic. I do not think they will be disappointed if the day is a little urban in its murkiness.
It is good for a man to be in love with his charge, is it not? Next time some fanatic of West-End work, or East-End work, or foreign mission work gets hold of you and talks excellent sense about discipline, and offering yourself to your bishop, and packing up your kit at a week's notice remember this story of mine!
Is it not well to import something of the precise devotion of Holy Matrimony into the general self-oblation of Holy Orders?
It is good to think that three of us friends have the very same sort of feeling Leonard Reeve for the crowds and the fogs and the odors; my cousin for the rock-sown plains and the little circles of thatched huts; I for the cornlands and the elm-shaded ridges and the cottage people.
Yes, to Leonard anything grimy is just as romantic as green fields to me, or brown veld to my cousin.
Do you know, I was asked to preach Leonard's Institution sermon last Whit Monday, and I dared to preach it? Cecilia, who was stately but really pleasant-looking, sat beneath me in the front pew. Leonard, in his stall, looked oppressed with the weight of the ceremony.
But his eyes lighted up, I saw, as I gave out my text. It was from the end of St. John's Gospel. I preached very shortly. I drew for that poor and earnest-looking congregation the picture of a dripping missionary as I had seen him. I told of him going about his business at dawn, cheered by the Easter Feast in front at the chapel on the hill. I passed up to it by the cheery camp-fire. I did not forget the smell of breakfast cooking, with its reminder of home afterwards.
Then I spoke of the charm of the town work that Leonard had been called to take up once again. I tried to paint it as he dreamed of it the crowds, the classes, the fog, the scent of the streets. Then I went higher to the Easter scene, the shore in the morning, the vision of the altar that dawns on a true man's work however deep the night of his failure may have been, wheresoever in all the world he is working.
Leonard looked gratefully at me as I came down the pulpit steps.
While we hurried along from the Service on our way to the station (Reeve was coming to see me off), I quoted some words to him. We were just passing that fish-shop.
'Awake, O north wind, and come, thou south; blow upon my garden that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden.'
His eyes kindled. 'Yes, old man,' he said; 'I've come into my garden. How I used to dream of this sort of reek out in Africa!'
I felt a gross materialist as I hurried home to my roses and red-thorn, leaving him to that visionary garden and those mystical spices.
THE PLACE OF PILGRIMAGE
'When you have set Thought free for one particular end you cannot bind her again as you will.' Such is the purport of a certain historian's dictum, and I have proved the truth of what he says. Edgar used to go to the Place of Pilgrimage long ago in his holidays, but I used not to go with him. I did not sympathize with his veneration overmuch in those times of long ago. But I respected the desire for hero-worship, and helped him thither each year that he wanted to visit his shrine. He used to come up for his long holidays every year from the colony. I had known his father rather well, and he had not any settled home. His mother was dead, as well as his father. No one now that knew him need know what she was like, for he took after his father almost unmitigatedly. His father was blonde and aggressively Saxon in appearance. His mother had been Dutch, semi-Dutch, of the colored Dutch type, as I very well knew. She came from the Western province, and died when he was but a year old, to be followed by his father some ten years later, just when he had come back to South Africa from England. Then I, acting on my own responsibility, sent him to school in the Eastern Province. No one seemed to bother, even if they had any inkling of his mother's parentage; he looked to be so completely his father's son.
It was in Edgar's schooldays that the Place of Pilgrimage was inaugurated, and that a big star of hope swam into his ken. I had told him about Oxford before, but there had then seemed no sort of path open for him to go up thither. Now, in the midst of his schooldays, there opened out to him a path that he thought he might climb. It was then in the next long holiday time that he took his path, a curious and grateful pilgrim, to the Matopos, to explore the shrine and to give thanks before it.